Waxwing (Part 2)

The waxwing shimmered on Mali’s wrist, its tattooed feathers almost fluttering with life. It called to her, offering something she couldn’t comprehend. Why had her mother taught her about the other avian clans yet held back the secrets of their own?

Three more knocks sounded through the heavy oak door, insistent this time. A gravelly voice murmured something she couldn’t make out. It’s him. Mali’s heart skipped a beat. The man who’d followed her for days – the one with a peregrine falcon on his wrist. Among all the riddles and cryptic warnings Mali’s mom had fed her over the years, only one had sounded plain and true.

“If you see a peregrine falcon, RUN.”

A single, heavy blow rattled the door. She flinched and backed away as the door frame groaned in protest. The man must be a peregrine – everyone knew they were strong. They also never lost their prey. Another thunderous boom echoed and the door bowed inward.

Mali scanned the room. The open window to her right offered escape into the misty night, but it was a three-story drop to the stone alley below. Her mother’s thick walking stick would be good for one swing at most. Her eyes fell to the flintlock pistol hiding halfway under the bed. She’d been comforted by its presence before, never expecting to actually use it. Would the weapon even stop someone like him?

She heard a shout and the door shook as if struck by a blacksmith’s hammer. A crack opened down its center. Mali dove to the floor and scooped up the pistol. Holding it the way her mother had instructed, she backed away from the door and took aim. Whatever happened, she would go down fighting.

A warm breeze rushed through the open window. From the corner of her eye Mali noticed the drapes fluttering. Then it hit her – there were no drapes over the window. With a yelp, she whipped around to behold a man crouching on her window sill, swathed in flowing black and grey fabrics.

Mali pointed the gun at his head, breath frozen in her throat. He regarded her calmly and placed one delicate finger over his lips. His other hand extended toward her, open and beckoning. As his sleeve slid upward, she spotted the dark outline of a cormorant on his wrist. Her mother had spoken reverently of them. But did it mean this one could be trusted? Why had he chosen to appear only now?

The door began to splinter under the peregrine’s assault. Mali could feel each blow in her chest. As she aimed the weapon back toward the widening gap in the door, the cormorant caught her eye and shook his head. His beckoned to her again.

A fist punched through the buckling wood and Mali fell back. The cormorant abandoned subtlety and wildly waved her over. Caught between choices, she glanced frantically from door to pistol to mystery man, unsure which path to choose. Fight, or run?

She chose both.

The door caved inward. Mali fired into the maelstrom of wooden shards, striking the leader in the chest, then dropped her pistol and bolted toward the window. Halfway there, she sprang into a flying leap and careened into the cormorant’s open arms.

As the peregrines piled into the room, she and the cormorant tumbled backward through the window. Mali’s orientation disappeared as they spun through the rushing air. Then she felt a whoosh and a flutter almost like wings.

The misty night embraced them.