“Are you sure we’re allowed to be in here?” Bon asks, following Cal into the noisy paddocks. The sound of ruffling feathers and small chirps echo in the dark.
Cal takes her hand and smiles. “It’s okay. Deven said I could come here if I promised to feed them when I did. Come on, it’s almost time.”
They walk through the paddocks. Hokiocs watch them with their large eyes. Cal hands Bon a handful of seed and motions her to hold her hand out to the nearest hok. She does, hesitating. The hok slowly moves forward, its head tilting at odd angles to allow both eyes to see the seed. It gently takes some seed from her hand, cautiously at first, then with more fervor. Bon giggles and Cal motions her to throw. She throws the seed to the floor and the other hoks venture out to peck at the new food.
“Come on.” Cal urges Bon further into the paddocks.
Sunlight shines through holes in the walls. The two move to the back where a single hokioc lies on the floor. She lifts her head and stares at Cal and Bon with wide eyes. Her feathers are a deep scarlet with white stripes on her wings.
Cal tells Bon to stay still. He walks slowly towards the scarlet hok with his hand palm down and eyes lowered. The feathers on the hok’s back rise and she chirps quickly. Cal smiles and coos softly. The hok lowers her feathers and lifts her head up higher. She jerks it in the way birds do to stare at Cal’s hand. Cal reaches his hand forward and holds it in front of the hok’s sharp beak.
“That’s it, Kit. You remember me. I told you I’d bring a friend,” Cal says, gently.
Kit, the scarlet hok, leans close to Cal’s hand. She hesitates then closes the distance, rubbing her beak against Cal’s hand. She closes her eyes and coos, echoing Cal’s soothing voice.
Cal turns his head to look at Bon. “Move slowly and let her touch you first.”
Bon takes a sharp breath in. She moves painfully slow towards Cal and stops next to him, nerves shaking her body. Kit opens her eyes and the feathers on her back rise. Bon places her hand palm down in front of Kit’s beak. The large bird’s eyes scan Bon and she snaps her beak open and closed. Bon pulls her hand back in fear, but tries again, this time meeting the golden eye staring at her.
Kit’s feathers lower and she rubs her beak against Bon’s hand. Bon smiles and looks at Cal. He’s smiling at her and when their eyes meet he turns away, trying to hide the rush of blood to his face.
“You said you had a surprise for me,” Bon says, her smiling growing larger at Cal’s reaction and a tiny flush filling her cheeks.
Cal moves to Kit’s side and kneels down on the ground. Bon follows him and kneels next to him. He taps Kit on the side. “Are they ready, Kit?”
The large bird ruffles her feathers and stands. Underneath her is a nest filled with six eggs. They’re laid in a circle with one at the center. They’re all light purple with brown spots. Kit sits on the opposite side of the nest from Bon and Cal. She gently touches the eggs with her beak and chirps happily.
Bon’s eyes widen with awe and she turns to Cal. “When will they hatch?”
“Today. At least, that’s what Deven said.”
They sit together for many minutes, waiting. Kit continually checks the eggs with her beak and moves them as needed, the way only a mother can tell. Bon leans on Cal, watching with intense eyes. Cal can’t keep a smile from his face with Bon leaning against him. He focuses on the eggs to keep from staring at her. They lose track of how long they’ve been sitting in the paddocks until they see a stream of setting sunlight appear on the wall above them.
The paddocks grow darker and Cal nearly asks Bon if she wants to head out before the sun completely sets.
Before he can say the words, the center egg falls over and Kit’s head perks up. She makes a soft sound and leans down close to the pile. Bon sits and moves closer. Cal watches her.
The center egg rocks and the sound of cracking is heard. A small crack appears on the shell. A small piece falls to the ground and a tiny cheep is heard. The other eggs move as the first tiny hokioc emerges from the center egg.
Its feathers are light blue with light purple stripes on its wings. It falls to the ground and gazes up at Kit. It squeaks loudly for such a small bird. Kit leans down and nudges it back onto its feet. Its tiny legs wobble and it falls to the ground again. Kit nudges it again and this time it’s able to stand. The others emerge from their eggs and squeak together in a tiny chorus. Their colors range from dark blue to white.
“They’re amazing!” Bon gasps. Her voice startles the newborns and they turn to her. Their tiny feathers stand up and low hisses escape their throats.
Kit snaps her beak and puffs out a breath. The tiny hoks face their mother and turn back to Bon. The first to hatch hops to the edge of the nest and tries to jump over the raised edge. Bon reaches to help, but stops and meets Kit’s eyes. Kit motions her head forward, giving permission.
“She trusts you,” Cal says, happily.
Bon reaches her hand down to the tiny hok and holds her palms together inside the nest. The tiny bird hops onto her hands and she carefully lifts it up. She brings it close ot her face and the tiny animal leans close to her. It cheeps happily and rubs its small head on her cheek.
Bon laughs and an idea pops into her head. She quickly turns her head to Cal. “Should I name her?”
“How do you know it’s a girl?”
She raises an eyebrow. “I’m a Healer, remember?”
“I don’t think Kit will mind if you name her.”
Bon returns her attention to the chirping hatchling in her hands. She peers over the light blue and purple feathers and then stares into the hok’s black eyes. The bird chirps and flaps her tiny wings, stretching the new muscles.
Approving her name, Skye hops and trills. The other hatchlings join in the chirping and hop up and down excitedly. Kit nudges each hatchling, her large golden eyes closed with happiness. Bon carefully places Skye back into the nest and she excitedly joins her brothers and sisters.
The hatchlings play together under the watchful eye of their mother, Bon, and Cal. Cal lights nearby lanterns, providing warm light in the paddocks. The hatchlings finally manage to hop out of the nest and play on Bon and Cal, causing both to laugh loudly. The tiny birds move to their mother and climb on top of her back. She’s tired and simply lies still as they playfully wrestle each other on her back.
“Bon, Cal,” a winded voice calls into the paddock.
Both turn and see Lyrrel walking towards them. He’s pale and his usually clear eyes are foggy. His breathing is heavy as though he’d been running.
“Lyrrel, what’s wrong?” Cal asks.
“I need you both.” He kneels behind the two. “And I apologize, but it might be unpleasant.” He places his hands on their shoulders and closes his eyes. The world goes black around them.
When it returns, the three find themselves surrounded by fighting men. Bon screams and Cal moves in front of her, grabbing for a weapon that isn’t there. Lyrrel squeezes their shoulders, comfortingly.
“Stay calm. We aren’t really here. We have an important message to deliver.” Lyrrel leads the two through the fighting where none can see them.
“Why did you need us for this?” Bon asks, turning away from a dying man.
“I needed to tap into your healing magic, Bon. Cal added an extra boost to my ability so I could find the one we need to deliver our message to at the right time.”
“What do you mean at the right time?”
“We’re currently walking through a battle happening a couple days from now.”
Bon and Cal look at each other with a mixture of confusion and surprise.
Ime runs in front of the three, raising the earth to block Klaeon’s men from killing three downed magic users.
“Bon, take Cal’s hand, please,” Lyrrel asks. Bon does so quickly and with his hand free, Lyrrel places it on Ime’s back. The earth suddenly rises around them, encasing the group in an earth tomb. Ime jumps away from Lyrrel’s touch and turns, fire encircling his fist. He stops when he sees Bon, Cal, and Lyrrel.
“How?” Ime demands, the rush of fighting still in his voice.
“There’s no time to explain. Altan is dead. Seera killed him.”
“Jaxon returned and took her. They took her to Klaeon. She should be there by now. You have to save her before the Blood King kills her.” Lyrrel winces and Bon and Cal hold him up. “I’m out of time. Save her, Ime.”
Ime’s eyes fill with hot rage and he destroys the earth surrounding them, shooting rock towards Klaeon’s army. He runs through the shocked crowds of men, easily fighting his way towards Klaeon’s stronghold, his fire burning brightly.
Lyrrel falls to the ground in the paddock, gasping for air. Bon and Cal open their eyes and stare at each other in confusion. Then they turn their attention to Lyrrel.