Chapter 14:



Sydurnia, Year 814 of Avia, Day 119 

Icarum and Noah walked out of Master Kaza’s classroom together, trying to guess what the cafeteria would serve for dinner. Outside, Ilina waited in the hallway, leaning against the wall.

She walked up to Icarum with a bright smile on her face. “Let’s grab your wings!”

“I think that’s my cue to leave.” Noah snuck away into a nearby crowd of children. Icarum stared awkwardly at Ilina, searching for the right words to say.

“Why do you look more excited than I am?” he blurted out.

“This is a big moment for any teacher, you know. A newly hatched chick is flying for the first time; how could I not be excited?”

Icarum rolled his eyes. “So where are we going?”

“Here.” Ilina led him down the hall with a rusty key in her hand. She abruptly stopped in front of a large, stone wall. She plunged the key into a barely visible keyhole above her, and with a strong push, an entryway into a dark room was revealed.

“Are you sure you’re supposed to show me this? It looks like the rebels want to keep this room a secret.”

“I doubt it matters. What are you gonna do, steal stuff?”

As he entered, a faint purple light began to glow in the corner of the room. The color grew more prominent as he walked closer.

“Is that-”

“Yep! It’s your wings. When they sense that you and your spirit are nearby, it’ll call for you.”

“Ow- ah- crap.”

On his way to his wings, Icarum tripped over metal gears and used devices. It seemed like he was in an incredibly disorganized storage room of some sort.

Icarum placed his hands on his wings and felt the soft yet firm feathers in his grasp. He held them up to the light, admiring the dark-blue hue in front of him.

Ilina noticed the gleam in Icarum’s eyes and gave him a sinister smile.

“Those wings are average, at best,” she joked. “Don’t feel too lucky.”

She nonchalantly spread her own wings out, as if to remind him how more beautiful her own Swan feathers were. Unlike the dark, gloomy purple glow of Icarum’s wings, Ilina’s wings were a heavenly shining white. Icarum gave her a dirty look and conceded defeat.

“Let’s get to training,” she commanded. She locked the room after Icarum left, returning the stone wall to its original position.

Icarum followed Ilina back down the hall and up the staircase, returning to the clearing where Ilina had first shown Icarum her wings. Despite it being Icarum’s second time, he was still mesmerized by the view from the peak of the mountain; the floating islands in the distance and the ominous mist below him didn’t cease to amaze him.

Ilina took Icarum’s wings out of his hands and attached them to his back.

“Place them like this.”

She aligned the middle of the wings with Icarum’s spine. The wings seemed to be attracted to Icarum’s spirit, sticking to Icarum like a magnet.

“How do I take them off?" Icarum asked.

“Your spirit empowers itself through the air you inhale. If you hold your breath for around ten seconds, the wings should naturally fall off.”

Ilina grinned. “Shall we start?”

Icarum nodded. He moved towards the edge of the cliff and prepared to jump. His heart started to beat faster and faster.

“Wait, wait, wait-” Ilina interrupted. “Your wings aren’t fully unfurled yet.”

Ilna turned around and spread out her wings as far as she could. Her well-groomed white feathers blended in perfectly with their snowy surroundings.

“You know how your back muscles tense up when you throw a punch? That’s what you want to do for your wings.”

“By back muscles, you mean lats?”

“Yeah, that.”

Icarum stood in place and tried to follow Ilina’s instructions. His wings shuddered and moved a couple of inches, but they failed to fully extend.

Ilina hit her face with her palm and shook her head. “Even after six months, you’re still weak, huh?”

Icarum did not try to conceal his irritation. “I literally almost beat you yester-”

“Yeah, yeah. I think you’ll be fine. Watch me.”

Ilina crouched down next to the cliff with her arms behind her back. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with cold, thin air.

Ilina leaped off, diving into the clouds. In a matter of seconds, she reappeared in the distance, using the wind to carry her upwards. She glided back to Icarum and landed on her two feet.

“Your turn!”

Icarum felt a rush of adrenaline as he tried to do the same. He wondered how it’d feel to fly for the first time. A mix of emotions overcame him as he frantically tried to calm himself down.

Ilina immediately noticed the nervous expression on his face and placed her hands on his shoulders to support him. “Your wings are a part of you now. Just feel them,” she whispered.

Icarum’s thoughts short-circuited after feeling the hot air from Ilina’s breath. Although she had good intentions, Ilina only made Icarum even more uneasy and unfocused.

“I- I got this.” Icarum forced a smile on his bright red face and shook his head sporadically to clear his mind.

Icarum closed his eyes, shutting out the world momentarily. He searched his memories for a way to pacify his emotions. But no matter what he did, he was still afraid. He was afraid of being weak. Afraid of jumping into the unknown. Afraid of dying.

And for the first time, he felt afraid that he wouldn’t have the willpower to avenge his parents.

The voice from his journey in the desert returned.

Icarum, you’re just a scared, weak, coward.

The words stung, but he accepted them, just as he did before.

I am a coward, he responded.

You’re a worthless piece of crap who abandoned your brother.

I am worthless, he admitted.

Your life is meaningless.

It is, Icarum replied. But it doesn’t have to be.

Icarum opened his eyes. If his life amounted to nothing, it wouldn’t matter if he threw it away. He embraced his fear that none of his actions would ever amount to anything. He encouraged it and let it spread across his mind.

“I am more afraid of living a meaningless life,” he muttered, “than I am of death.”

Icarum jumped. His fear had driven him forward.