Chapter 19: Vultures

Desòchu woke up to a sharp pain in his chest. It thumped between the gap of his ribs, the sharp edge of something feeling like a knife blade as it jabbed into the sensitive spot repeatedly.

His eyes snapped open. He only had a chance to see black wings fluttering above him before he panicked. With a gasp, he sat up but his head thumped against the rock-like skull of some bird as it perched on his arm.

“W-What? Get! Get away!” He flailed helplessly, his hand thumping against feathers and wings as he tried to clear his senses. His mind struggled as he beat helplessly. “Get! Off!”

A wing smacked against his face before the vulture hopped off with a loud screech.

He froze, staring at the bald-headed bird in shock. It had a deep red head with black wings. With its head ducked low, it looked hunched.

The vulture bobbed its head and spread out its wings, screeching loudly.

Desòchu punched it. “Get off!”

The bird’s head snapped to the side and then it came back, screeching louder. It beat its wings violently and pecked at him, the razor-sharp beak slashing at his bare chest.

Snarling, Desòchu fought back with his fists. He punched the bird with both hands, slamming into them as he felt the anger rising up. After everything that he had gone through, a bird was going to best him?

The world wavered around him as he punched the bird with one hand while trying to wrap his hand around the creature’s neck with the other. His hand seemed to flicker for a moment.

He froze as he stopped in shock.

The vulture screeched again, hopping backwards. Its wings beat twice before it hopped back again. It looked almost smug as it regarded him with dark, beady eyes.

Desòchu held up his fists. “Really want to go another round?”

A screech to his side answered.

Desòchu felt a prickle of nervousness rising up as he peeked to the side.

There were three other vultures standing on the rocks above his head. Two more were on the cactus that he had broken open with his fingers to get moisture the night before. Their claws dug into the top of it and one had a glistening head where it had probed the gaping hole in the side.

Desòchu let out his breath but kept his hands ready to strike. “Shit on me.”

Another screen to his other side. Two vultures hopped on the ground, their wings spread out as they stared at him. He found himself staring at their bobbing heads.

Then the first vulture lunged.

“Shit!” Desòchu scrambled to his feet. Punching a bird was one thing, but an entire flock was beyond even his anger.

The bird pecked at his heels.

He scrambled away, his bare feet working weakly as he still struggled to wake up. Fear pushed away everything but the need to run.

One of the vultures landed on his shoulder and pecked at his head.

He flailed at it, punching it in the chest, and kept running away.

More of the birds took to the air around him. Wings fluttered as they dove down, smacking him with beaks and wings as he raced blindly away from them.

The memory of the chasm stopped him. It would be terrible if he fell off while being chased by birds.

The birds kept attacking him.

“Burn!” he bellowed as he lashed back at them, punching and flailing. If he couldn’t run, he would teach them to pick better meals. His blows grew faster and harder, cutting through the air as he felt strange energy surging through his veins.

Unwittingly, his hands opened up until he was chopping at the birds. The blows seemed to do more, driving into the wings with wisps of heat rising up around them.

A beak cut his face.

He snarled and chopped with all his might.

There was a burst of golden flames. The edge of his hand came down on the bird’s wing, snapping bone and slicing through feathers and muscles. Blood sprayed in every direction as he let out a long, screeching yell.

Instantly, the vultures took off, kicking up sand and rocks as they spiraled up into the air.

Desòchu panted as he watched them circle around him, well out of reach. Adrenaline ebbed inside him, sapping the brief strength he had. He felt strange, dizzy and focused at the same time.

He gulped.

Then he realized his hand tingled. Looking down, he saw blood dripping off the ridge of his palm. The crimson droplets splashed to the sand below, blotting them with startling color.

It was the first time he had killed something.

He felt… hungry.

Trembling, he lifted his hand closer to his face. The hot blood dribbled down his wrist and traced a line down his arm.

The hunger rose up, an overwhelming desire to taste it.

Another dribble ran down parallel to the first.

The surreal sense of being dizzy and focused at the same time came back. Wisps of flames sparkled along his arm, visible only in the way it wavered the air above his limb.

A droplet splashed down and suddenly he was overwhelmed with the memory of his brother after the fall at the cliff edge. There was blood then too, sheet of it staining the ground and soaking Kiramíro’s body.

The dizziness turned instantly into nausea and he wrenched away from his arm. He staggered back.

Above him, the vultures screeched shrilly.

He looked up to see them sailing down, spiraling as they swung closer. He could almost feel the anger in the bird’s actions as they swooped to attack. The lead one came low to the ground, claws outstretched as it charged.

Desòchu hesitated. Part of him hungered to feel the rush of power that came from the fight. The wisp of flames were alluring, they were like the ones the clan warriors had whenever they were using their powers. However, no Shimusògo warrior had ever sliced through anything with their hands. Their abilities had to do with speed and throwing things, not melee attacks.

The bird swooped in.

The sensation of being dizzy and focused rushed back. Desòchu stepped forward and brought his hand down. His hand blurred as it came down, the ridge of his palm slicing through the air with wisps of flame.

The bird veered at the last minute.

Desòchu lurched forward, his hand coming down to slam into the sands.

An explosion blasted in all directions. The wind beat against his chest, the last of the cool air rushing past.

The rest of the flock slammed into him, beating at his face and shoulders with their wings as they pecked violently.

He flailed to block their blows. He tried to grasp at the sensation of being focused but it was impossible with so many blows. He grunted and reverted to punching at the hard bodies that attacked him.

Claws tore into his chest and back. The screeching deafened him as they slashed and pecked.

Then the rush of flame and focus came back. Flames sparkled along his hand, tracing along the edges of his flesh. His movements grew harder and more powerful, directed even. He let his hand stretch out and he resumed chopping.

His bare hand sliced through the body of a vulture, spraying him with blood as the bird let out a screech of pain. Before the vulture had fallen off him, he attacked another one. His hands cut through wing and neck, tearing into the vultures with brutal efficiency.

Soon, he was standing in a circle of corpses, covered in blood and feathers. The bodies were twitching around his feet, their death throes giving them the impression they were suffering.

Panting, he looked down at his bloody hand. There was just a hint of flames around his fingers. He stared in shock as the flames faded and the sense of focus slipped away.

Desòchu stared at his hand. There was a lot more blood on his hands. He shook as he stared down, watching as the crimson droplets splattered on the ground.

The hunger returned, the desire to taste the blood.

Slowly, he drew his hand up to his mouth.

His gaze focused on the blood sheeting down his hand. His brother had bled like that. Desòchu could remember the puddle of crimson that had formed on the ground.

For a moment, his heart ached.

The desire to taste the blood faded away into nausea. He snapped his hand away, splattering the ground with the vulture’s gore. He dropped to his knee and fought the urge to vomit; he couldn’t afford to dehydrate himself while exposed to the approaching daylight.

Panting, he caught his breath until the urge to throw up faded. Then he looked at the steaming corpses around him. He had to get away, he needed to escape.

The only thing he could think about was his grandmother’s order to his father, “Run it off.”

With a groan, he stood up and looked around. The chasm had moisture and shelter. To his despair, he couldn’t see it. He frowned and peered around again but the only thing he spotted was the three rocks that made up the Wind’s Teeth.

A screech drew his attention up. The only surviving vulture had taken to circling over him.

He gulped and shook his head. Then he flicked his bloody thumb at it. “Drown in sands, you damn bird!”

Turning on his heels, he ran for the only obvious landmark he could find, the Wind’s Teeth.