I Am No Prey by Amal Clare May 25, 2021

12-The Winds Beneath You

I shot up, remembering everything he told me. Levelling out, I kept my legs together and body straight, flapping my wings. That wasn't the hard part, the hard part, I knew, was to turn or switch my position from horizontal to vertical. 

I steeled a breath as I neared the walls and tipped my left wing, leaning in that direction. My other wing missed crashing into the wall by a breadth. I let out a breath and kept on flying, experimenting on what I could do. I moved higher and lower, and turned when I needed to, all without incident.

It was exhilarating and I didn't know how I would be able to walk again without craving the skies. 

 I flew higher to where Daniel was standing, tilting the top of my wings backwards until I was vertical in front of him. I did what he showed me before so I could stay in place. Despite the fact that my wings were slowly becoming sore, I grinned. 

"What did you say about not getting all the positions?" 

He pushed off the ground, the sudden gust of wind pushing me back and startling me. 

"That was only two positions I showed you, not all of them." 

"What else is there? Flying backward and upside down?" 

He nodded. "And more. You should see what our acrobats can do." 

I flew higher, beating my wings harder until I reached the top to where he was. I had only been flying for twenty minutes and I was already exhausted, sweat beading on my forehead and between my shoulders, panting. Now I knew how Everard's training was going to help. Daniel, on the other hand, looked completely composed and probably wasn't even close to tiring. 

"Watch this." 

With no warning, he tucked his wings in and plummeted head first. I gave a cry of surprise which turned into a gasp when he suddenly spread out his wings and stopped his fall. The sight was reminiscent of my childhood, reminding me of the time I saw a hawk free fall when I was ten. Papa and I had gone to the countryside and on the way, we saw a hawk plummet from the sky, moving impossibly fast, its wings tucked in tight until it flared them at the last possible second and caught something. That was what Daniel reminded me of now, a predator. I could only hope that I wasn't the prey. 

When he came back to where I was, I scoffed. "Show off." 

"That was nothing." 

I rolled my eyes and landed on the platform. "So humble." 

"At least I didn't bore you with the physics and formulas of flying."

He flew to where I was standing, and I watched, mesmerized by the way his wings moved. When he landed in front of them with a soft thud, I reached out and touched the leather-like membrane between the bones of his wings and discovered that it felt like skin but slightly rougher. He shuddered and I dropped my hand. 

"Are you all right?" 

"Fine. Wings are just..." 

He reached over and brushed his hands on the insides of my wings and I shivered, except not from the cold. It felt like someone trailing their hands on my stomach or whispering over the shell of my ear. He smiled, satisfactory. 

"It would suck if your wings aren't sensitive like ours." 

I rolled my eyes and pushed open the doors and didn't even get to grab the ladder before he grabbed me and flew the way down. 

"I could've flown down." 

"Yet you still haven't let go, not that I want you to of course." 

Like before, I unwrapped my arms from around his neck and stepped back, managing to keep a blush off my face this time. It didn't matter though, because he still chuckled. He strode towards the doors and stepped out. 

"We're going to have to be quick because the first group of soldiers come back from patrol around now." 

I hurried after him, casting glances behind my shoulder and looking at every door we passed, nervous that soldiers would see me. When we neared the elevator I let out a sigh of relief. We went inside and pressed the button for the fifth floor, eager to leave. 

"Hey, Daniel, hold the elevator, will you?" someone called. 

I panicked and started pressing the button for the doors to close. They didn't. Daniel wrapped a wing around my shoulders and snaked an arm around my waist, tugging me closer until my side was flush against his and his wings covered mine. Even if whoever it was couldn't see my wings, they would think I was human from the lack of scales on my cheekbones, so I placed my head on his shoulder and nuzzled my face against his neck. 

Whoever it was stepped inside. "Well, Daniel, it's about time you got with someone." 

I placed my hand on his chest and started inching it lower, playing every part the brazen lover. "Tell him to go away." 

He covered my hand with his, stopping it's path. "He's only going to the second floor." 

A short while after he said that and the doors opened. Whoever it was left, chuckling under his breath. I didn't move away immediately, taking a deep breath of his woodsy scent. When he shifted and pressed the button for another floor, I lifted my head and moved away. The hand around my waist tightened before letting me go. 

A short while later and we stopped on the third floor. I shot him a quizzical look. 

"Come on," he said, holding the doors open for me. "Everyone who stays on this floor isn't here now." 

I followed him out, curious as to how their legal system worked. 

"So the soldiers come and go on patrol?" 

"All the soldiers are divided into groups," he answered. "Some of them patrol, others move around the city, making sure laws are enforced, there are investigators, spies, and many other...jobs the soldiers are assigned to do." 

"And the ones who stay here?" 

He shrugged. "They're usually the ones with no family or too many troubles back home." 

He walked ahead of me, so I couldn't see his expression. Which one are you? A person with no home or running away from home? I wanted to ask, but didn't. 

He opened a door and beckoned me to follow, I entered after him into a small room. There was a twin bed against the wall, a desk covered with paperwork in a corner, and pictures hanging on the walls. I walked over to the pictures. Most of them were pictures of Rome and sceneries, but there was one with what looked like a younger Daniel, his limbs long and skinny, his posture awkward. Beside him, there was an older woman wearing nurse scrubs and a wide grin on her face as she watched Daniel and the other person in the picture. The other person was a girl laughing and playfully punching Daniel on the arm. 

"My mother and my sister," he explained. 

"They seem nice." 

"They really were." 

I turned around to see his expression. He gazed at the picture, a pensive, sad look on his face that made me want to reach over and hug him. I wanted to tell him I'm sorry for him, but I knew from personal experience that it didn't help and was more annoying than anything, because what did they do to be sorry? 

I reached over, and wrapped my arms around his waist. He startled but wrapped his arms around me too. "I know what it feels like," was all I said. I didn't know what else to say or make it easier. 

He nodded and let out a breath. "Well I brought you here for a reason other than using family photos for you to hold me," he said, returning back to his proud self. 

I laughed, relieved to see the sad look gone from his face. "And what is that?" 

"I had to get something." 

I let go and stepped back as he rummaged through the mess on his desk. A few moments later and he triumphantly pulled out a paper. 

"It took some time, but I managed to note all the schedules of the soldiers who stay here and the ones who drop by." He handed me the paper. "The best time during the day is usually in the evening." 

I took the paper eagerly. "Thank you." I paused, and mulled over what he'd done for me. "Why are you helping me?" 

The look on his face turned inscrutable as he looked at me. "I had my reasons before, but I think they're starting to change." 

During the ride in the elevator, I wondered what he meant by that. Whatever I came up with was far fetched and probably wrong. I gave up and asked him. He gave me a non answer like Everard usually did and told him as much. 

"Don't trust Everard," was all he said.

The doors opened and I stepped out. "I don't trust anyone here." 

I did include him in that statement and slightly regretted it. I turned around to see his expression, but the doors had already closed. 

Back in my room, when I took out the paper from my pocket and looked it over again, I realized that I had lied. I trusted Daniel, and despite his warning, trusted Everard.