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Two summers after Alaric’s first flight Mountain rumbled in the distance, and the boy motioned Faye back into the trees. The Gaerloms never looked into the trees, but they were sure to see her hovering above them if they looked to Mountain. He’d been hungry lately, and it was making the People of the Sea nervous.
It was making Alaric nervous too. He and the other Changelings were supposed to be the Children of Mountain but that didn’t make him feel better about the shaking in the ground or the nervous agitation of the birds. His parents talked of Mountain exploding again, and he could hear the fear in their voices. Anything that could scare his parents scared him.
“Did you see anything?” he asked Faye.
She shook her head. “We just got here.”
“But are the canoes gone?”
“Not all of them.”
He didn’t know what that meant. Momma said the men would be going out to hunt the big fish with the canoes soon, but did they take all of the canoes? Did they leave some behind? He and Faye hadn’t grown up in Gaerlom; they didn’t know what it would look like once the men left for the hunt.
Alaric peered through the leaves as Faye flapped her wings slowly. She was a better flyer than he was, although she had broken more bones and ripped her wings more times than he had learning. He could beat her in a straight race above the trees, but she could weave between the branches without getting slapped in the face by the leaves. Momma said that was why Faye was the one flying out of the trees to look for the canoes, but Alaric knew it was because his father didn’t want him out here. Father said it was too dangerous.
“Stop flapping, Faye, you’re making the limb move.”
She bounced a couple times and fell backwards in a fit of giggles when he swiped at her. She landed easily on the branch below his and crawled to the edge of the limb to peer through the leaves. “Do you see anything?” she said.
“I see huts and the ocean and some canoes, but not as many as last time.”
“Are they looking at Mountain anymore?”
Faye shot out of the tree and hovered above his head. “I wish we could get closer. I can’t tell if those are women or men.”
A scream pierced the air and Alaric grabbed her back into the tree and held her on the branch. The deep, grunting screams of labor had been audible since they arrived, but this was different. It was the bright, final cry of evisceration. Momma told him when they arrived and heard the labor noises that it might happen. She said that sometimes the babes wouldn’t come, especially the babes like him with wings, and they had to be cut out.
A babe cried, and Alaric shuddered.
He looked to the shaded ground. “We’re okay, Momma.”
“Do you see any canoes?”
She sighed. “Let’s go then. It’s too dangerous with the men there.”
Alaric looked to Faye, but she had crawled to the edge of the branch and was peering down. “Comon Faye.”
He followed her gaze to a man carrying what must be the new babe out of the village. “What’s he doing?”
Faye was silent for a moment. “The same thing they did to Montie.” She slipped into the air and began to follow the man.
“Faye!” Alaric hissed as Mountain grumbled and shook the ground. He belched a plume of smoke and Alaric tried to call her back again. What was she doing? They knew where the cove was—they could get the new babe when he left it and not risk being seen.
“Ali, what’s happening?” His mother called from the ground.
Alaric could only watch in horror as Faye swooped down from the sky like an eagle for a fish and grabbed the babe right out of the man’s arms. He yelled, first in surprise and then in anger as she flew with her burden to the safety of the trees. He chased her, and Alaric yelled to the ground.
“Run, Momma! Run! He’s coming!”
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