The world dropped out from under me with the bird/horse’s first strong down flap of its long wings and my stomach went with it. My first thought was “Here’s my chance to die from falling.” I laughed, which The Owl must have taken to be bravery, because he chuckled also. I made the mistake of looking down past my feet – which stuck out over the beast’s shoulders – at the moonlit rocky slope below. It wasn’t bravery, it was terror. I grasped the pommel of the saddle, closed my eyes, and hung on. Closing my eyes had been a mistake. I could still see the soul spark of the creature, glowing in its rainbow brilliance between my legs. At least it wasn’t a machine.
We tilted, turning direction from east to north east and my eyes flew open of their own accord.
The Owl crouched behind me, gripping the cantle with his knees. His left arm snaked under mine and held the reins and the other gripped a hold next to my hand on the pommel. How he stayed on amazed me, for the movements of the beast were not smooth. Each down flap made my teeth snap together and then my stomach churned on the pre-flap.
After a bit, the beast caught a stream of wind and the ride evened out. The Owl tapped my shoulder and pointed below. I glanced down quickly, felt dizzy, and just as quickly looked back up.
“The trader’s road is below us,” he said in my ear. I kept my eyes on the horizon.
A rosey glow off to the right made me look. The split moon, in its full glory, cast a yellow-white light on the land and mountains in the distance. It hung to the north of us. To the east and north, a red and purple swirling globe with yellow and blue flashes took up most of a mountain. The sky above it had dark storm clouds that flashed lightning between them.
“What is that?” I yelled over the wind to The Owl.
“Crown City,” he replied.
“What? How? Crown City?” There were obviously things about the capital of Adnor that I did not know.
He chuckled again.
The beast banked and I clung for my life as we spiraled down into the ruins of an ancient city.
We landed in a courtyard between roofless buildings.
The Owl hopped off and held the beast’s head while I climbed down. Solid ground never felt so good.
The beast bumped me with its head and I touched its fine iridescent black feathers.
“It likes you,” The Owl said.
I had mixed feelings about it. Just as I was about to ask, “What now?” the question died on my lips.
The courtyard had filled with people, standing silent and holding weapons.

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