Descendant, The Kacy Chronicles Book 1
By A.L. Knorr and Martha Carr
Sol heard the harpy before he saw it. The whistling, half-scream half-roar couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. Miles of wilderness coastline flew by underneath him, unguarded, unprotected. This was the most dangerous stretch between Rodania and Maticaw, still, it was rare to see harpies this far south. Sol cursed under his breath as another scream rent the air. Even the sound of the crashing waves breaking against the rocks below couldn’t drown out that wretched cry.
Sol’s enormous tawny wings pumped with slow, powerful strokes, catching an updraft and taking him higher. Being an Arpak, a winged human, meant the sky should be his territory. Harpies used to be a non-issue but they were a becoming a menace and growing bolder by the day.
He craned his neck, but couldn’t see the harpy through the cloud cover. He climbed higher in search of the top of the stratocumulus. Fog swirled around him in little cyclones as he powered his way up, tawny wings pumping.
Breaking through the cloud cover, he leveled out and shut the reticulating membranes over his eyes. Nothing but thick gray fluff could be seen behind him, but ahead of him it thinned and he could make out a line of green below. The cliffs were coming to an end and the forest was growing thick. Sol smiled grimly. Harpies and forests didn’t mix well. The woods represented his only opportunity to shake them off. He didn’t relish the thought of one-on-one aerial combat with a harpy, no matter how many tricks he’d learned at the academy.
As the clouds thinned, he tucked his wings in behind him and angled downward, his body becoming a bullet streaking toward earth. As he dropped below the cloud, another hair-raising screech sounded off behind him. Too close. Looking back, he saw a dark shape, broad and powerful, those leathery, dragon-like wings driving the beast forward like the pistons of some great machine. Sol faced front and streaked downward before leveling out over the treetops.
Another glance back had his heart in his mouth.
There’s two of them, now? And they were gaining, fast. He could make out the wrinkled skin of their foreheads and the flat yellow eyes. Sol didn’t have time to process how strange it was to see two harpies hunting together. Everything he’d learned, and everything he knew up until this point, was that they were solitary beasts.
Sol swallowed as their external teeth came into focus. It was far too detailed a visual for his comfort. He skimmed over the treetops with fast powerful strokes, watching for a break in the canopy. Harpies were larger and stronger than Arpaks, but they weren’t nearly as nimble. The odds they’d follow him into the trees were low, he hoped.
The throaty screech behind him, closer yet, made his decision for him. At the next break in the canopy, he dove. Holding his breath, Sol broke through the treetops and dropped face-first with his forearms up in front of him. This kind of maneuver was dangerous for an Arpak, even in a forest of giant Dreesha – trees so big and tall, there was a whole new layer of atmosphere underneath them.
Branches scratched and clawed at Sol’s arms and leather clothing as he broke through at a speed he would never attempt if it weren’t a life-or-death situation. Taking a glancing blow off a thick dreesha limb, Sol lost a bit of speed and wobbled before righting himself below the canopy. He picked up speed again and worked to maintain his height in the strip of atmosphere between the dreesha canopy and the second canopy below him. Light filtered through the trees in soft pillars and flashed in Sol’s eyes as he flew.
The sound of snapping and breaking branches made Sol take a sharp breath.
They’re following me?
Sol gritted his teeth as both harpies let off simultaneous screams. More sounds of breaking limbs and something heavy landing in the canopy below, behind Sol. He glanced down to see a thick dreesha limb fall and crash through the more fragile bottom canopy, leaving a gaping hole. Screaming birds flew up from the trees, scolding the harpies for disrupting them.
Sol’s right hand went down to his blade, and his left hand reached back over his shoulder to grasp a short spear from his quiver.
If I am going to have to fight…
Sol didn’t finish the thought as he saw a break in the canopy below. Surely they wouldn’t follow him down even further; they couldn’t maneuver at all through a forest of the much smaller oaks. Without thinking, Sol dove towards the break.
Realizing their prey was going to evade them, the harpies screamed that grating, ear-drum-destroying cry. The sound of their leathery wings bellowing against the air spurred Sol on. He didn’t dare look back, but every hair on his body stood at attention, anticipating a rake of claws across his legs at any moment. One swipe of those nasty talons and he was very likely finished – if the wounds didn’t kill him, the infection would.
Pinning his wings back and praying for a safe break through the canopy, he braced himself. Yellow sparks and flashes of light went off in his vision. Before Sol had time to realize what he was seeing, he was through the break. His sight went black, and the sounds of a thousand voices and crackling lightning filled his ears. There was a bone-breaking, tooth-jarring impact, and Sol knew no more.
“I was beginning to get worried,” said Jordan from the front step as Allan got out of his Land Rover. His ginger hair was ruffled from driving with the windows down, and his glasses were dusty. Allan was a tall, slight man with a narrow face and generous lips. He was pale, freckled, and handsome in his way. Fine lines bracketed his mouth, and Jordan frowned at the dark smudges under his eyes. “Tough week?” She crossed the gravel and helped her dad take his small suitcase, laptop bag and briefcase inside the manor.
“Very,” Allan sighed. He set down his bag and pulled his daughter in for a hug. “I’m destroyed. Is there any bourbon left?” He released Jordan, reached into his suit coat pockets, and dumped a handful of paper money, change and receipts onto the foyer table.
“Well I sure don’t drink the stuff,” Jordan shuddered. “That bad, huh? You going to numb yourself with alcohol until the pain of politics goes away?”
Allan laughed. “Don’t tempt me. Besides, I don’t think there’s enough alcohol in the world to accomplish that monumental task.” They passed into the parlor. “You did light the fire, after all.” Allan collapsed onto the sofa in front of the flames, toeing off his dress shoes and stretching his legs out in front of him. “You’re such an amphibian. Always with the cold toes, just like your mother.”
“Cal lit it,” Jordan said as she crossed to the side board. “He was here when I arrived.” Jordan was familiar with the stories of Jaclyn freezing Allan in bed with her cold feet.
Any kind of hard liquor you could want was displayed on shelving and backed by a mirror, making the selection look twice as bountiful. She removed the lid from the bourbon decanter and poured a drink. He took it neat; no water, no ice, no nothing but nose-singeing, throat-closing alcohol. Her dad swore it went down smooth. Jordan held the bourbon away from her nose so she didn’t have to smell it, and delivered it to her dad.
“Good ol’ Cal. How did your exams go?” Allan asked her as she plopped down beside him and kicked off her sneakers.
“Aced them,” she sang. Jordan came from a line of overachievers, which she fit right into like a set of those multicolored Russian dolls. When she’d chosen forensic linguistics for her major, Allan began to request case studies from court for her. She was fascinated by the examples of a forensic linguistic expert studying the phrasing of a suicide note left by a young woman. The expert had been able to determine the note was not written by the girl, but by her mother. Only a few lines were needed to damn the woman as the murderer of her own daughter, and the proof was irrefutable.
“Atta girl. Any thoughts on where you want to do your Ph.D.? Maybe VCU, stay close to home?”
Jordan shrugged. Allan always brought the conversation to the future, and Jordan was usually prepared, but this time, she didn’t have any firm suggestions. “I was thinking Europe, maybe Italy?”
Allan took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Why? It’s a cutting-edge industry and America is the tip of the sword.”
“I don’t know, Dad. How about we just chill out and enjoy the weekend? Do you want to go the stables tomorrow? Go for a ride?”
“Maybe Sunday,” Allan replied. He waggled his eyebrows at Jordan. “I’m gonna pick up my new toy. You want to help me set it up?”
“What is it?”
Allan leaned back and slid down into the soft cushions. “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise,” he said with a grin that Jordan was sure hadn’t changed since he was a little boy.
“I won’t be tricked into lining up four thousand teensy toy soldiers like last time,” Jordan tilted her head down and gave him a look.
Allan bellowed and slapped his knee. “That was a good one.”
“If mom was here, she would have skinned you for making me do that,” Jordan laughed.
Allan’s smile faltered for a moment and Jordan thought he forced it back onto his face. His hazel eyes flicked to the photographs on the mantel and back down to the fire.
“It’ll be her birthday next week,” Jordan said. “You want to go visit the grave?”
The frown that crossed Allan’s brow was there and gone so fast Jordan wondered if she’d imagined it. Allan took a breath and looked over at his daughter, her beautiful teal eyes — the shape of Jaclyn’s — and her thick lashes.
“What d’you say we make that an every five years event, instead of every year, Jordan?”
Jordan blinked and the corners of her mouth turned down. “Because that’s how she would be slowly forgotten,” she said quietly. “Is that what you would want if it were you?”
“Yes,” Allan said immediately. “I would want my loved ones to move on, not hang onto the dead.”
“We don’t know for sure that she’s dead.” Jordan began the debate that was as old as her ability to have an adult conversation with her father.
“She’s dead, darling.” Allan pinned Jordan with a look. It was compassionate but resolute. “And she wouldn’t want you to go on holding out hope for the impossible.”
“No body, no proof,” Jordan replied. “You had the headstone erected in Hollywood Cemetery for Grandma and Grandpa so they could have some closure before they died, but it’s still just a stone over an empty plot of earth.”
Allan sighed and rubbed his eyes with one hand underneath the frames of his glasses. He dropped his head back on the top of the sofa and rested his bourbon glass on the arm of the couch. “I don’t think it’s healthy, Jordan.”
“You didn’t raise me to give up,” said Jordan, stoutly.
“I didn’t raise you to waste your youth pining for a dead woman, either,” Allan said so sharply it was almost a bark.
Jordan tensed, stung. She had never heard her father refer to her mother as a ‘dead woman’ before. It was so impersonal, so cold. “Dad…”
Allan sat up and turned to her, regret etched into his features. He put a warm palm on the back of her hand. “I’m sorry. You know I loved your mother more than anyone. There just comes a time when you have to move on. You’ve been so loyal, so devoted to her.” Allan sliced a hand through the air. “To a fault, Jordan. It’s time to pack up all that memorabilia you have in your room,” he gestured to the photos on the mantel, “and everywhere.”
Jordan’s eyes widened.
Allan’s voice softened at the look of horror on his daughter’s face. “I’m not saying to forget entirely; I would never tell you that. Just…” he gestured towards the line of frames holding some kind of image of Jaclyn, “pick one and let that be it. This place feels like a shrine.”
Allan got up and went to stand in front of the fireplace. His hand was up on the mantel, but his face looked down into the dwindling fire.
“I’m going to turn in for the night,” Jordan said.
“Jordy-” Allan said, turning. “Don’t go to bed mad.”
“I’m not mad, Dad. Just tired,” Jordan said. She got up and went to kiss Allan’s cheek. “Have a good sleep.”
Allan kissed her back and wondered if he’d spoken too soon. He watched his daughter leave the parlor, and he set his jaw. No, it wasn’t too soon. His daughter was an adult now. Pining was unhealthy. It would be better for her not to be reminded of her mother every time she was in this house, every time she looked up.
Allan’s hazel eyes went to the image of Jaclyn in her debutante dress. Her painfully beautiful face smiled down at him. The smile used to warm him to his toes, but now it taunted him. He set his bourbon down on the mantel and began to take the pictures off the wooden shelf. Her holding flowers and standing next to her father in his black tails, their wedding photograph. The casual shot of her, taken on the tree-swing hanging from the old oak in the back yard. One by one, he took them down and tucked them into the cupboard under the bookshelf.
By the time Allan doused the flames and went to bed, there was only one shot of Jaclyn left in the room. It was a small oval portrait hidden among a collection of them hanging on the wall behind the grand piano. Now hers was just one picture among many.
Check out A.L. Knorr’s website where she made an audio recording of this snippet at http://bit.ly/2xrUEDK