Excerpt from The STARLING GOD by Tanya Sousa

The following is an excerpt from The Starling God:

 

“Death!” A voice screeched. “DEATH!”

 “What’s happened,” L’in gasped. Bird-wing sounded everywhere; the Watchers scrabbled for order then darted to and fro to find the source of the cry. Swallows swooped and snapped beaks at invisible enemies, and Hralla came towards the Doves and starling SL’an like a cannonball.

             “Teller!” She wailed. “It’s my sister, Hroo! Her nest has been raided! Two nestlings missing!”

             “Missing?”

             “Dead!” She wailed again. “Missing, but surely dead. There’s blood, and an aura we don’t recognize.”

             L’al was frozen for only a moment, then training and purpose spurred him. “What Blooder is responsible?”

             SL’an wondered what a Blooder was, but held His tongue as His heart pounded wildly.

             “No Blooder was seen! The Watchers witnessed nothing. Hroo witnessed nothing. She returned from gathering food to find two dear babies where there were four, and the horrid feel of death!”

             “A message must be sent – panic has already taken hold.” L’al drew himself up.

             “I can’t be the one to deliver this message!” Hralla cried.

            “Bring SLee,” L’al fixed Hralla with a firm but kind eye. “If you can locate him and send him here, that would be a great service to us all.”

             Hralla flew away as fast as she’d come, and within moments, SLee landed, a most tiny bird for such an important job, starling SL’an thought.

             “Praiser SLee, there’s news to send quickly – the first non-praise message you have ever sent. It must be accurate, and it must be well heard. You must repeat it many times before stopping. Do you understand?”

             SLee was trembling. SL’an had the feeling it wasn’t as much fear as a sense of excitement for a first imperative task. “I will not disappoint, Teller L’al. What’s the message?”

             “Two nestlings gone from Hroo’s nest taken by an unknown Blooder. All birds on alert. All birds report any unusual activity to Watchers and Teller. All birds feed close to their nests until further notice. Now go!”

             SLee’s tiny wings carried him with striking speed to the taut limb where he immediately began the message. Activity ceased as the young purple finch delivered information, clear and true.

             “We should go to Hroo,” L’in said without looking either male in the eye. L’al’s heart nearly broke for his beautiful mate. It didn’t matter that L’in lost her nestlings from never hatching. The pain to her was as great as if a Blooder’s jaws had closed. There was no better to understand Hroo’s dilemma than her, but L’al knew that understanding such loss now meant reliving her own again.

             “What is a Blooder?” SL’an finally dared to ask.

             “Those who eat our flesh and blood. They are the fox, the hawks, the cats, and others in some places. The Gods protect us from Blooders when They can.”

             “Why didn’t Mother protect Hroo’s nest?”

             “Sometimes we don’t understand the Gods’ ways. Sometimes the Gods choose to make an example of a wrong-doer or someone who doesn’t uphold the Law,” L’al sighed. “Hroo is nothing like Hralla, although they are sisters. Hralla chose to be a Praiser, but Hroo has completely rejected the wisdom. She is one who doesn’t recognize Gods as greater than bird, and who refuses to give praise or worship.”

             “Mother wouldn’t allow nestlings to die because of such a thing, would She?” SL’an’s stomach lurched.

             “Flower is a God, Fledgling. It is not Her fault that some birds bring tragedy upon themselves rather than upholding the Law.”

             L’in gave L’al a soft peck. “This isn’t the time for a lesson, One. Hroo needs us now.”

             Without another word, the dove pair launched from the red-berry tree with young SL’an close behind.

             When they reached Hroo’s nest, they found her cowered, wide-eyed, with her young crying miserably for food. Each time one of the two tried to poke his head into their mother to rouse her, she only jiggled slightly, staring without seeing.

             “Hroo, we’re here,” L’in said. “Your pain is consuming, but your babes need to feed.”

             When He landed, a horror filled SL’an’s beak and ecked into his brain. His neck tensed, and His very feathers threatened to stand on end. Death. The aura whispered. Blood. It said.

             “I…I will not leave,” Hroo began to shake. “If I leave, I may return and find them gone – all gone.”

             “Dear one,” L’in spoke softly, and with such sadness, SL’an wondered what had happened in her own life. “If you don’t leave, your nest will be empty for certain. They’ll die with no food.”

             “We’re here.” L’al added. “Go find food for yourself and your nestlings. We’ll stay alert. I’ve put the Watchers and all Birds on guard. Whatever Blooder entered the Sacred Space won’t do it so easily next time.”

             L’in nodded, and Hroo looked sideways at her crying little ones and readied herself for flight. “I’ll be close,” she said.

             “As will we,” L’in assured her.

             After Hroo was gone, L’in whispered to L’al and SL’an, “oh! Can you feel it?”

             “I did when we landed,” the starling said, relieved He wasn’t the only one experiencing the horror.

             “It will go away soon, but Hralla was right, I don’t recognize the kind. This is a Blooder we’ve never seen.”

             SL’an’s flesh crawled again, and He shuddered visibly.

             “We share Your fear, young one,” L’al said, even softer this time so the remaining nestlings wouldn’t hear. He would arrange a special Praise for God Flower tonight, a Praise asking forgiveness and protection from the unseen Blooder in their midst. After arranging this, he knew he must go alone among the flowers to meditate on what these recent events meant and what he should do next. He hadn’t had time to announce an Equal among them, or to consider further if he should. He did know with every feather on his body that the appearance of this strange Blooder now was no coincidence. “Where there is great good, there is great evil,” he murmured.

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