Rhea, Year 814 of Avia, Day 119
Icarum plunged face-first into the clouds, shaking his wings on the way down. The mist that surrounded him blocked his view, preventing him from sensing which way he was going.
The more he struggled, the faster he fell. His fear soon turned into an uncontrollable panic, and he screamed out in distress.
There was no answer. Below him, the mist began to fade out, revealing the base of the mountain. Icarum estimated that he’d hit the ground in another ten seconds.
“Ilina!” he called out desperately.
Nobody was there to help him. He searched his mind for a solution, a hint to help him fly, to no avail. The advice Ilina had given him was nearly useless when he was already in the air.
This is it. Icarum slowly closed his eyes, accepting whatever fate awaited him. But as his world turned from grey to black, he caught a glimpse of a bird with dark feathers flying in front of him. He reached out to touch it, but whenever his arm got close, it would fly just out of reach.
Icarum stopped thinking. He blocked out all the thoughts about falling to his death, and all the thoughts lurking deep within him about avenging his parents and his brother. He squinted and focused his eyes on the desert in front of him, and the forest behind it.
Icarum smiled. The scene was beautiful, and his only desire at the moment was to see it for longer.
Without any conscious effort, his wings fully unfurled, and Icarum’s freefall began to cease. He felt a draft of wind below him pushing him upwards, and he flapped his wings twice in response. He was just a few meters away from the ground; if his wings had extended any later, Icarum may not have survived.
Icarum flew up into the air at an incredible speed with the help of a breeze. He reentered the mist and burst through the top, soaked from head to toe. He landed on the snow on his shoulder with a blank look on his face.
Ilina squatted down and wiped the snow from Icarum’s shirt with a cheerful grin. “I knew you’d make it!” She patted him on the shoulder.
Icarum stared straight ahead, still trying to process what happened. “I’m flying?”
“You bet. You figured it out on your first try, too!”
“If I didn’t figure it out, would I have died?”
“Probably. But I trusted that you’d be able to do it.”
“And what made you think that?”
Ilina shrugged. “Instinct.”
Icarum glared back.
“Anyway,” Ilina started, “try to remember the feeling that you had before you started flying.”
“What’d you do to extend your wings?”
Icarum paused. “When I was trying to do it consciously, my wings wouldn’t listen to my body. But the moment I stopped thinking about it, they suddenly unfurled.”
Ilina gave him a thumbs up. “Your excessive thoughts probably tensed up your muscles. Think of the wings as an extension of your back! If you’re not relaxed, you won’t be able to move them easily.”
“You realize you could’ve told me that be-”
“Also! Are you familiar with the lyre?”
Icarum wasn’t thrilled at how quickly Ilina switched the subject, but he nodded anyway.
“People learn how to play the lyre using sheet music, but once they know the song, it’s actually easier for them to play without it.”
“What does that have to do with flying?”
“It’s the same thing! You might learn how to fly with instructions, but once you’re actually in the air, it’s better to empty your mind. Just feel the wind.”
“Another piece of advice you could’ve told me be-”
“Okay! Follow me!”
Ilina jumped into the clouds before Icarum could finish his sentence. Icarum sighed and followed before he could start thinking again. He didn’t want to freeze up and actually die this time.
Ilina and Icarum hovered above the mist, flapping their wings ever so often to prevent themselves from getting carried away by the wind.
“It’s time for the exciting part!”
Icarum faked a smile. He didn’t like where this was going.
“Let’s do another mock fight.”
Ilina flew around Icarum, somersaulting a couple of times in the air to warm up.
Icarum stretched his right knee out and clenched his hand into a fist. “Of course,” he answered.
Ilina crouched down and angled her arms into an L shape, something that Icarum had seen many times before. Icarum rushed forward, using the wind behind him as momentum. He flew as fast as he could, gritting his teeth as a pocket of freezing air brushed against his face.
Ilina ducked, leaving Icarum confused and disoriented for a second. He was still adjusting to fighting in the air, and being able to dodge by flying downwards wasn’t something one could do when fighting on the ground.
Seizing the opportunity, Ilina used her wings to propel herself into Icarum, kicking him in the stomach. Icarum belched over in pain, his arms too slow to respond. He swung a quick jab, but Ilina had already flown a few meters away. She circled her prey, making Icarum a little dizzy as he turned around again and again to keep his eyes on her.
Now, she thought. The moment Icarum seemed to lose focus, Ilina sprang onto him with her feet aimed straight at his face.
But it was only a feint. Icarum kept Ilina in the corner of his eye through his peripheral vision and swiftly dodged to the side. Unlike their previous fights, Ilina couldn’t use the ground to suddenly switch directions if she kicked the wrong way. She’d have to use her wings to slow herself down first, a move that was easy to predict.
Icarum attempted to kick Ilina as she moved, but he missed by a mile. His wings wouldn’t cooperate and he lost his balance, flipping through the air.
Ilina laughed. “We can stop here.” She flew to the still-spinning Icarum and helped him fly straight.
Feeling defeated, Icarum followed Ilina back to the clearing they came from and sat down next to her on the snow. The sun began to set, once again filling the sky with warm colors.
“This looks familiar,” Icarum said.
Ilina wasn’t listening. Her gaze was focused on the floating island of Sydurnia, which was just starting to light up.
Ilina shuddered and returned to reality. She glanced at Icarum, who looked up at her with bright eyes. She placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Sorry about that,” she laughed. “What’s up?”
“That fighting stance you use,” Icarum started, “with your arms forming an L, what is it? I thought it just helped you jump when you were on the ground, but you seem to use it in the air too.”
“Oh, that! I call it the Swan Dance. It helps me channel my power.”
“Now that you’ve got your wings, you’ll probably start magic training with Master Rhozo soon. There are certain positions that help you use that magic.”
Icarum eyed Ilina suspiciously. “Of course, I didn’t actually use any magic when I fought you! It’s just a habit, I guess.”
The two of them spent the next minute in silence, watching stars begin to twinkle in the sky.
“Icarum,” Ilina said softly. “Why do you want to be a rebel?”
“Is this another one of Master Rhozo’s tests? I could’ve sworn I answered this question al-”
“I’m just curious. When I first found you lying unconscious at the base of the mountain, I almost mistook you for a dead animal. Why would you go to such lengths to join the rebels?”
“The Sydurnians murdered my parents and captured my brother. Is that a good enough answer?”
“But aren’t the Sydurnians who were in power at that time dead now? Princess Sydney took the thr-”
“It doesn’t matter who’s in power. As long as there’s nobody to hold Sydurnia accountable for their actions, I’ll fight them. I won’t let them kill any kid’s parents again.”
“And what would you do after you’ve defeated Sydurnia?”
Icarum had never considered that he’d have a life after he took his revenge. He thought long and hard about his answer. “I’d rule the world, I guess,” he joked.
“How about you?”
“Why do you want to become a rebel?”
Ilina’s expression turned serious. “I’m here to repay a debt.”
“A debt?” Ilina’s eyes looked sad and solemn, and Icarum immediately regretted asking his question.
“Just like you and that group you sit with, I wasn’t born in the mountains.”
Icarum listened and nodded along.
“I don’t tell many people this, but my mother was Trition, not Rhean.”
“While pregnant with me, I heard that she traveled to Sydurnia alone to try to make a living. She wanted enough money to raise me.” Ilina twisted strands of her hair around her finger as she spoke.
“But the Sydurnians shunned her and barely gave her enough scraps to live on. When I was five, she died of malnourishment. She always gave the little food she had to me, rarely ever taking any for herself.”
Ilina's eyes started to water. She forced a smile.
“As a result, I spent much of my childhood living alone on the streets of Sydurnia, fighting and stealing to survive. All the while, I thought it’d be better if I’d never been born.”
“Around the time I turned eight, a girl found me lying on the streets with an infected cut on my arm. She helped me up to my feet and treated me. She wasn’t much older than me, yet she gave me food, water, and a place to stay.”
“She shared my hatred for Sydurnia and suggested I join the rebels. I later learned that her mother was killed by the Sydurnians, just like mine.”
“Through her, I realized that I could be more than a homeless orphan. So here I am, trying to become as strong as I can to change the world for her.”
“You’re one of the strongest people I know,” Icarum blurted out.
Ilina laughed. “Thanks, Icarum.”
She stood up and brushed the snow off her legs. “Well, then, I think we should get going.”
“Now that you’re ready to use your wings, it’s time to talk to Master Rhozo about using magic.” She created a small blue orb in her hands and blew it up in front of Icarum’s face, as if to show off. Grinning from ear to ear, Ilina ran back into the caves and down the staircase, with Icarum trailing not far behind.