“You know,” Werfas said to Archibald, as they sat on the edge of the canyon watching. “I can’t help feeling this is all a very bad idea.” He winced as two birds collided, tangled their ‘sticks together, and were grabbed by a Firedrake and set down before they could fall out of the sky and hurt themselves. Kyrus, on a human sized flight-stick, bounced through the Cuddle Flock, floundering through the air after him. The long, light chain still trailed from the front of his stick, temptingly flashing in the sun. They could hear him whooping as he spun around his axis to whip the end of the lure away from Snakey.
The rest of the flock had followed Silly’s example and started stealing people’s flight sticks. Not everyone liked them, or used them but it cut the travel time between Vertical Falls and Lainz down to a few hours instead of days. People had a lot of them and the birds were suddenly sneaking around and stealing them to fly with. At first no one knew how the stolen sticks all ended up in the Flock’s canyon, thinking that warbirds were too big to be sneaky. Then Tzar, Kyrus’s bird, was caught stealing one so people started taking their sticks and stashing them where the warbirds couldn’t reach.
It had been Silly and Hiss who had started crouching and begging whenever they saw a stick in the air. The first time it happened it had been funny, two enormous warbirds, crouching like chicks, beaks gaping, wings quivering, making the weirdest basso cheeping noise. But the other birds started doing it as well and it didn’t matter if someone were riding them. It went from merely annoying to downright irritating inside the first day that the whole flock started to beg to fly.
Hive Lord Sander had ordered bird-sized sticks and training for the warbirds, after starting them all on human sized flight-sticks and that stopped all the bad behaviour because one threat that the whole flock learned lightning fast was ‘Bad bird, no stick!’
They were all mad for flying and someone whispering ‘Good bird, Yes stick!’ could wake them up from a sound sleep and bring them running from kilometres away. Their war and chase games had gone from merely wild in two dimensions, to downright crazy in three.
“A bad idea?” Archie looked up from his quartz tablet where he had lines of code flickering, as he kept track of the amount of water being pounded into the new lake in the middle of the badlands. Prime, in his fury, was nothing if not thorough, especially if he believed he was pounding an enemy out of existence.
“You don’t see a problem with teaching a bunch of two and a half metre or bigger predators that they can fly?”
“People fly.” Archie blinked distractedly down into the chase game going on in the canyon below. Kyrus dove between Racer and Bucket forcing them to divert or set each other’s tails on fire, and the warbirds hissed at each other but neither let go of the control loops they had clutched in their beaks. Kyrus’s stick was human sized and more manoeuvrable. The bird’s sticks were longer so as not to burn their feathers, because in the excitement of re-learning how to fly they’d proven over and over again that they could not remember to keep their rumps tucked, so all of their tails showed varying degrees of scorch. Magnificent had a ‘u’ shape melted right into the middle of his.
“You know,” Archie said as the birds boxed Kyrus in and Bucket triumphantly snatched the target chain with one of his feet. “We should probably give them a different way to control the sticks… maybe people too. I mean if they are going to fight in the air they'll need their beaks to fight with and people need their hands to manifest and wield things, right?”
Werfas stared at him. “You’re right. We should think about that, all of us. I mean we’ve been having so much fun with these we’ve only been thinking of the Firedrakes as weapons.”
“My mother hasn’t ignored the possibility. Maybe Lord Sander too.”
“My wingbrother is going to be giving these young fliers enough of a workout today that they’ll all be too tired to do anymore. Arch would you tell him I’m in my room and working on some ideas?”
“Sure, Werfas. Hey… do you want to see my new ideas for making miniature torch-driven arrows so that warriors can shoot them from really far away?”
Werfas stopped again. “We’ll leave Kyrus a note.”