To Sleep for a Season
Release Date: March 22, 2016
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Starglow should have been Heir Keeper. Nightshadow knows it, but concern for his brother's welfare and clashes over their views on the Stars keep him from admitting it. When a stranger finds her way to the colony, both Nightshadow and Starglow will have to reevaluate everything they thought they knew about the world, their faith, and themselves...
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WAITING, NIGHTSHADOW PERCHED on a branch overlooking the lake. Below him, his brother was swaying back and forth on a mossy boulder. Dawn light filtered down the leaves and birdsong overwhelmed the quiet. A tree-glider scrambled past the trunk; Nightshadow shivered in the dislodged air, flicking his tail to regain his balance. He resettled his wings, then stretched them and yawned. He tried to think only of whether he could go to sleep, to think of anything but the Stars’ betrayal and his brother.
In time the light grew stronger, sharpening the shadows, and the pale, four-pointed marking across Starglow’s back blazed like a true Star. Low and plaintive the peeweww cried out in his sound-voice, and even so far away Nightshadow’s bones reverberated. Then Starglow sprang up to catch the air. Nightshadow didn’t follow until he was certain his brother wouldn’t notice his presence. He still feared that his brother would lose his way or get caught in a tangle of bush, branch, or vine. Grateful for the other peeweww’s bright marking to guide his way, Nightshadow zigzagged after the moving shape.
When Nightshadow reached the large boulder that marked the edge of the colony, he hovered for a moment, then decided to skirt the perimeter instead of flying straight home. Starglow always made such a fuss when he discovered anyone had followed him; Nightshadow wasn’t about to give him another excuse. He was startled by the sound of crackling, rustling undergrowth and the subsequent appearance of a prowler with its young. Nightshadow hid far out of the four-legged creatures’ reach, clinging to a vine thick enough to hold his weight and trying to ignore the sap trickling down his wingclaws and the body-oil it mingled with.
When the footfalls and the cries of the prowler’s young had died away, Nightshadow continued on his own flight around the colony, half lost in his memories.
Do I really care? The question startled him enough to freeze mid-air and drop a few lengths before he remembered to keep himself airborne.
After that, he forced himself to pay proper attention to his surroundings: the slight damp chill of the wait, the soft whisper of leaves or the song of birds... Here and there he paused to study the texture of moss and bark or the gnarled shape of a branch, or the scent of a flower. Nightshadow made himself study what he could to avoid the doubts and questions that never left him for long, that could never be asked. He took every excuse to put off returning home. He’d flit up to a tree, as close as he deemed safe, to study it swaying and hovering. For twinkles on end, he’d perch on a rock, or a branch, or even the slippery ground when it seemed safe. All to avoid facing his brother.
When at last he arrived at his nest, he dipped down to just below the perch, came up, grabbed hold of the supporting branch and scrambled onto the peeweww-made ledge. Once secure before the entrance, he chirruped. No response. Both Morningshade and Starglow had to be asleep already. Nightshadow hopped inside and, affirming his brother was indeed asleep nearby, went to his mate and wrapped his tail around hers, hunching down as best he could. Stars, I’m tired.