The main character, Orel, is different than everyone else in his hometown.  He is faster, his eyes are a strange color, and he has a unique ability that no one else in his town possesses, the ability to summon spirits.  He single handedly has turned the once depleted mine into a prosperous coal town.  Still, his life changes when a shrewd railroad baron, Everest Wildworth, buys the town and blackmails Orel into working for him.  Orel moves to the city where the spirits he summons are used to aid in the creation of a new type of fuel.  While there, Orel learns about his heritage.  He’s descended from a strange tribe of creatures called the Aves and he’s having trouble coping with who he really is and where he really came from.  Still, despite everything else, he knows what he really needs to discover is why the spirits are disappearing and what Wildworth is hiding.

The clouds wore dreadful faces on the day that Orel and his Mother fled from their shelter.  Their faces were all dark and dangerous, masks that were distorted with years of hatred and an endless desire for revenge.  Rain soaked his mother’s long, golden feathers and Orel’s speckled ones until they felt like weights, pointing to the ground and coaxing them to fall.  Still, his mother held his hand firmly, as if to say she understood, but she would never let it happen to him.  Still, the wind howled and chuckled in their ears. 

Its sinister voice said, “You will pay for the sins of your ancestors.  The spirits will watch you tumbling to the earth and laugh at the sound of every delicate broken bone that splinters from the impact.”

            Orel began to cry.  The wind was buffeting his wings now, and it felt like invisible claws, pulling his feathers out by the fistfuls.  His Mother was starting to bleed; her bright blood looked black with the backdrop of purple and gray clouds surrounding them.  A flash of lightning lit up her face and he nearly let go of her hand in shock.  Her expression was so fierce and determined she looked like a dreadful spirit as well, a furious angel with bloody wings and righteous rage on its side.

            She shouted above the howling winds, “Orel, do you have the scroll?”

            Orel only nodded, still afraid of that expression that told him they were no longer running.

            She shouted, “I’m going to let go of your hand!  I want you to dive, just like we practiced.  Don’t let the winds knock you down!”

            Orel shouted, “I can’t do it!  Mom, please!”

            Tears glittered in his mother’s eyes for a moment, hardly distinguishable from the rain streaking down her cheeks.

            She said more softly, “You have to live for me.  I love you!”

            She let go of his hand. 

As Orel fell, he realized he was a bird, thrown from the nest.  He tried to fly, but the winds ripped against him fiercely, like hunting dogs trying to retrieve a fallen fowl.  He pushed his wings backward, diving towards the ground, but all he was really doing was tumbling more rapidly through the angry air.  He could hear voices around him, loud, furious and taunting--but there was one kind voice among them, whispering to him, and the tone told him he would be okay, but he had to open his wings--NOW.

            Orel opened his wings, but a moment too late, hitting the ground, with a loud crack in a rush of red liquid and feathers.  The pain wracked his body, making him shutter.  Nausea swept over him in waves as he looked behind him and realized his right wing was crumpled into the shape of a woven basket.  He had fallen in front of a small house, and two figures were rushing towards him, silhouetted by a warm light coming from a living room fire.  He reached out towards the light and everything went black.

Orel woke up, shivering in a cold sweat.  He could feel his back twitching again.  He hated the strange sensation, as though his back muscles were grasping for something that was no longer there.  Already, the dream was starting to fade.

Orel thought, “No, it’s not a dream.  It’s a memory.” 

For seven years Orel had dreamed of the same thing, as though his subconscious was trying to recover his lost memories, showing him disjointed images, giving him all the pieces of the chain, but no tools to connect it with.  At first, he simply accepted his Father’s feeble explanation that he and his Mother found him when he was ten years old, and they couldn’t know what happened to him any better than he could.  They told him that when they found him, he had clearly been through something horrible and he was almost in a catatonic state.  Still, if the images that tormented his sleep were real, then his foster parents knew more than they were willing to tell him.

Orel began to pace around his room, and then stopped in front of his full length mirror.  He took a pocket mirror for shaving out of his desk and turned around, looking through it at the reflection of his back in the full length mirror and the strange “V” shaped scar over his shoulders and to the small of his back.  The flesh on the scar was puffy and white around the edges, but pinkish purple in the center.  It was perfectly straight, almost surgical in precision.  He concentrated and made his back muscles twitch the way they always did when he woke up from his nightmares, and, once again, he saw his shoulder muscles spasm upward, as though they were going to pop right out of his back, then back down again.

Orel thought, “No human has muscles like this.  I know what I am now—why won’t Father just tell me?”    

Golden light began to filter through the window.  Bird song drifted through as well.  As usual, the nightmares woke him up just before sunrise, just early enough for him to not feel awake enough to start the day.  And, today was an important day.  The new owner of the coal mine was coming to town.  The owner wanted to see what he had bought, so everyone was supposed to be on their best behavior.

Orel muttered, “Tonight, after he leaves, I’ll ask Father to tell me.  He won’t want to talk about it as usual, but I won’t take no for an answer, not this time.”

A raspy, mischievous voice said, “That’s what you always say!”

Orel jumped and then threw his pillow in the direction of the four foot tall spirit standing in the corner of his room.  The creature grinned, revealing a row of pointy black teeth the color of coal.  His skin, reddish on his back, but white on his chest and stomach materialized before Orel’s eyes.  Then his hair appeared, looking like open flames on the brow of his head going all the way to the tip of his tail billowing in the breeze coming in through the window.

Orel said, “Damn it, Arden!  Don’t do that!”

Arden shrugged and whispered, “You shouldn’t talk to yourself.  Never know who’ll be listening.”

Orel said, “I was just thinking out loud.  I thought if I said it out loud, maybe this time I would do it.  I’m seventeen.  I’ve waited long enough”

Arden said, “They’re going to tell you soon, you know.”

Orel asked, “What?  How do you know?”

Arden chuckled and said, “I can go invisible remember?  They’ve been discussing it for years now, how you’re old enough to know the truth, but they just don’t know how to tell you.”

Orel asked, “What is the truth?  If you’ve heard them talking about it, why haven’t you told me?”

Arden frowned and said, “It’s not my place to tell you.  They’re your parents.  They haven’t told you for a reason.”

Orel balled his hands into fists and said in a furious whisper, “Fine.  Don’t tell me, then.  I guess I’ve waited this long anyway…”

Arden said, “I’m sorry, Orel.  I didn’t tell you because I thought it would be better to wait until they were ready.”

Orel ignored him and threw on a long-sleeved black button up shirt, his brown work vest, and a pair of gray workpants.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Arden hiss with frustration, a puff of steam rising from his open jaws, and then Arden disappeared.  Orel sighed miserably and ran a comb through his shoulder-length reddish brown hair, but he knew it wouldn’t matter by the time the new “landlord” got there.  It was as dressy as he could get, given that he still had a long day of work to do, whether the wealthy railroad baron came to survey the mine or not.



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