Feather Torn: Chapter One

              Chapter One

 

Rock Halk flew underneath the branches, picking up speed and flying dangerously close to the ground. What he’d seen made no sense. They’d run too close for comfort. Rock had told himself multiple times hiding wasn’t honorable. There was a difference between hiding and seeking out privacy. Nonetheless, he forced himself forward, determined to make sense of what he’d seen and what had brought them to this remote corner of the mountain. His feathers were flat against his body, the smell of danger, of discovering something illogical, increased the tension spurring him on.

Nothing pissed Rock off more than someone interrupting his plans. Rock flew the way he wanted to fly. He was honorable, honest, and he wasn’t doing a damn thing wrong. What he saw was wrong though, very wrong, and couldn’t be ignored.

He wouldn’t tolerate anyone, regardless of species, violating a simple code they all lived by.

He’d be damned if he explained to anyone why he was on this side of the mountain though. It wasn’t a crime to fly where he wanted. The fact remained he was here. He saw the leopards push the black leopard, or possibly a jaguar, off the cliff. Rock had flown to the jagged rocks below after the leopards ran off but knew the jaguar was dead before getting close. The creature had returned to his human shape.

Rock wasn’t sure how much longer he could fly like this. Not zigzagging between trees, this pattern was simple enough a fledgling could do it. He wasn’t sure he wanted to continue flying so privately, sharing his personal life with no one, and seeking out remote locations in the mountains so he could spend time with his female. But that was where he’d been, and he’d left Darla when he flew after the leopards. Rock would know who just committed murder. Killing anyone was outlawed unless done with consent of the entire parliament. Rock didn’t know if specific laws or traditions applied to leopards. They were a much more violent species than owls. Forcing a living creature off the side of a cliff so they fell to their death smelled suspicious as hell to him.

The grove of tall, narrow evergreens ended and Rock rose into the air, leaning at an angle as he picked up the current, which lifted him higher into the air. More than once Darla had told him she envied his ability to fly. She would leap from rocks, stretching her limber, sexy body, and glide through the air to the next rock. That was as close as she came to leaving the ground. Rock would lift her into the air if he could, but fate had played a delightful joke on both of them, or so Darla mentioned more than once. He was an owl. Darla was a leopard. That would never change.

Rock trailed the leopards as they ran across the mountain even as his thoughts drifted back to Darla. Lately, she was on his mind more than anything else. When Rock and Darla first started spending time together, the last thing he expected was to find her so fascinating. At first they had spent most of their time in their flesh, discussing politics between their two species. Darla followed most of the same beliefs Rock and his nest did. She had all the respect in the world for every race and species on earth. The only way to truly judge another creature was to get to know them. There were good and bad in every species.

Politics weren’t the only common interest he and Darla shared. But as many things in common they had, there were also distinct differences between them as well. Leopards showed their emotions, growling and hissing just to get someone’s attention. Such a display would be total humiliation for an owl.

He glanced down, having flown high enough most creatures on the ground would have a hard time seeing him. His vision was incredibly powerful in his feathers. It wasn’t hard keeping an eye on the leopards as they tore across the rocky meadow stretching around part of the side of the mountain. They were running at high speed, anxious as hell to get wherever they were going.

When the meadow ended, they jumped dangerously over the rocks, still moving incredibly fast, even for leopards. They were headed back toward the part of the mountain where most of the leopard litters had their dens. Rock was curious which den they would go to. He didn’t know the names of each litter on the mountain. But he would return to Darla, describe the location, and she would probably know. If there were rogue leopards on the mountain, taking life into their own paws, it was a matter for leopards and owls to be aware of.

For a moment, as the leopards continued bounding over jagged rocks and cliffs, racing at a dangerous pace, Rock thought they might be headed to the next mountain. Cariboo lunewulf lived on that mountain. For the most part, all species lived in peace, respecting each other’s territory. There were times, however, when one of the species needed to be reminded of where they could run and hunt, and where they couldn’t. It would be very interesting if the leopards headed to one of the werewolf packs after having killed a jaguar.

At the last minute the leopards swerved, remaining on their mountain and slowing only when they came in smelling distance of other litters. Rock remained above the trees, watching the leopards stay together as they ran around trees and large boulders. They finally slowed and stopped at a rough-looking den buried on the side of the mountain. A stream of smoke curled and twisted as it rose out of a chimney. The cabin wasn’t large and little effort had been put into it other than to ensure it protected them from the elements. The wood cabin wasn’t painted as many dens were, creating individuality for their litter. No flowers grew around the den. It almost appeared to be part of the rough terrain surrounding it. Rock landed on a branch not too far above the leopards and watched the males take on their human forms.

“This will not be discussed from this point forward.” A large male covered in sweat stared at the others who were all in different stages of the change as he unrolled jeans and pulled them on. “Return to your litters and continue with your day. And good hunting to all of you.”

All five of them were dressing now. Rock didn’t know a lot about jaguars and found it interesting five leopards decided to run one jaguar off a cliff. Not to mention, where did one rogue jaguar come from? He didn’t smell anger on any of them. If anything the air smelled clean, fresh, as if all of them viewed the act they’d just committed as incredibly satisfying.

“Do you think this will take care of it?” The male who asked was possibly the youngest. He spoke softly, sniffing the air as he did.

Rock didn’t have any problem hearing all of them. They could whisper and he’d still hear. Owls had better hearing than anyone in their feathers. If he paid attention he could hear what the female leopard inside the cabin said to her cubs. Rock’s attention was on all the males though, putting their human appearance to memory and watching their actions as well as hearing their words.

“It better,” the first male growled.

“It will,” a third male offered. All of them had blond hair with streaks of red. Most leopards looked similar as humans, but it wasn’t something Rock would voice out loud. He imagined leopards might say the same of owls. “When he doesn’t return to his colony, they’ll know leopards aren’t a species to mess with. And they claim jaguars are deadly.”

The group of them chuckled, now smelling proud of themselves.

“We know he won’t be returning to his litter with whatever information he was trying to gather,” the first male said. He also sniffed the air and glanced around them at the trees. “Head to your litters. I don’t want to hide the stench of a lie if I have to explain to anyone what all of you were doing.”

“We’ve done a good and honorable thing.” It was another male who hadn’t spoken yet.

All of them growled, although it sounded more like a soft rumble as they fought not to become a distraction. None of them ever bothered looking up but all continually glanced around them as one by one they parted ways and headed off in different directions toward their litters.

Rock took to flight after all the leopards were out of hearing range. He flew over the trees, watching two of the males until they parted ways and each soon arrived at their dens. He made a mental note of where these litters were located, using the first litter as a reference point. Then, gliding as he gained altitude, he turned around and headed back to Darla.

Rock soared along the side of the mountain, staying out of visual sight of any leopards by flying higher than necessary. In spite of most of them being relatively new to having owls as neighbors, most owls had discovered leopards seldom looked toward the sky. Rock wasn’t going to risk it though. Something was going on and it would be easier to figure out what if those involved weren’t aware they were being watched.

 

He returned to Darla, circling carefully as he searched the ground until he was certain no one was near his female. Emotions and feelings were harder to express in his feathers than they were in his skin. It wasn’t until he landed near the rock where he’d left his clothes and the change began surging through him, that irritation also started twisting in his gut, turning quickly to anger.

Feathers shrunk and receded as the thickness of his skin smoothed, and softer, smooth flesh began tingling in the cold air. Where a moment ago the weather had been the least of his concerns, a hard shiver rushed over him as his legs took shape and he began growing. Suddenly, getting his clothes on was all that mattered. Sharp rocks hurt under his bare feet and he stepped to the side, not quite changed and hopping to avoid cutting his feet. He found a thick patch of moist, freezing grass and regained his balance as he reached his full height of just under six feet.

It was an amazing sensation, changing from owl to human, and human to owl. Rock had always found the experience uplifting, almost cleansing, even as far back as when he was a fledgling. His senses would dull as his less-powerful human half took form and his brain began trying to process and rationalize all he’d just witnessed. In his feathers, he gathered the facts and sorted them. They would be like a puzzle that simply needed assembled. But now as a human, he wanted explanations and understanding of each puzzle piece. There were advantages to living in both forms and he was proud of who he was, a complete creature and part of two honorable lifestyles, one in his feathers and one in his flesh.

Rock finished dressing as he searched the small clearing surrounded by steep boulders that created walls around him. Darla was nearby. Her scent was strong even though he didn’t see her. Her clothes were no longer on the rock next to his.

“Darla?” he called out, glancing around as he sniffed the air and started toward the rocks.

Instead of answering, she popped up from behind a rock and grinned broadly at him. If an owl witnessed another owl with such an open display of happiness, it would be humiliating as hell. Showing emotions at all was beneath any respectable owl. Rock wasn’t sure if Darla’s strong leopard ways appealed to him or not. It had taken getting accustomed to when they first started meeting in Banff, the nearest town and run predominantly by Rock’s parliament.

He leapt up the first two rocks then hoisted his body onto the third, swinging his legs around and joining Darla on the small, flat cliff, which wasn’t noticeable from the ground.

“So, did you see what happened? That wasn’t a black leopard, was it?” Darla had incredibly beautiful eyes. They were a bright green, as were most leopards in their human form, but Darla had gold flecks splattered through the green. Her eyes were compelling, provocative and full of curiosity as she searched his face. “They were running so fast you would have thought the mountain was on fire.”

“I wasn’t sure if he was a jaguar or not, at first,” Rock began, sitting on the flat rock next to Darla and staring at the magnificent Canadian Rockies stretching out all around them. “But I’m pretty sure he was. The leopard males chased the jaguar up the mountain. They were herding him. I noticed that. When the jaguar tried racing in a different direction, the leopards split up, keeping him heading up the mountain to a cliff. The jaguar didn’t know it was there and that particular cliff drops off over half the length of the mountain. From that height, the jaguar raced off the cliff and fell to his death. I flew down to make sure and he was in his human form.”

“Holy crap!” Her surprise and shock filled the air around them.

Rock had grown accustomed to her not giving a thought to her emotions cluttering up the air. “I followed the males back to their litters.”

She grabbed long strands of her pale blonde hair and shoved them over her shoulder as she stared at him. The breeze wrapping around the strands continued blowing them in her face, and also blew her emotions until they were a mixture of aromas added to Darla’s compelling and enticing scent.

“Where were their litters?” Her eyes grew larger as she puckered her lips and stared at Rock.

He glanced at her, searching her face for only a moment before returning his attention to the mountain range in front of him. “There were five males. All of them smelled mated. The oldest was probably close to forty years and the youngest was barely over twenty.”

“Cliff Snipes just mated. He’s twenty-one,” she suggested.

Speculating wouldn’t get them anywhere, but it was something Darla seemed fond of doing. When they’d first started spending time together, Rock hadn’t been convinced he’d be able to fly around her too much. He was sure her blatant display of every emotion she experienced would grow too annoying after just a short time. The more they were together though, instead of finding her nature exasperating, he’d grown rather fond of it. Rock had learned, after months of flying while she ran underneath him, they both possessed the same emotions and feelings. Both of them simply reacted different, such as now.

“The males instructed each other to never discuss this again,” he continued, watching her eyes as they searched his face while he spoke.

“To not discuss what again?” she whispered, although she could smell as easily as he could that there was no one around them.

Her straight pale hair framed her face. Darla would be considered beautiful by any male’s standards, regardless of whether they ran or flew. Her stunning, incredibly distracting sex appeal caused fights all the time. Rock and his nest were on good terms with the mated couple Darla stayed with. Her litter had moved her out to the mountains when they decided there were no acceptable males in their territory for her to mate with. Without having ever flown to Kenora, where Darla had lived before coming here, Rock believed it to be true. There wasn’t a male on this planet worthy of her.

“They believed the jaguar was here sniffing out the mountain and planned to return to his colony, letting them know what he found here.”

“Interesting.” There was a slight curve at the corner of her mouth.

Rock knew she mimicked him, having pointed out to him numerous times how the word interesting was just about the only word almost every owl uttered while following a conversation.

“It is,” he agreed, nodding once. She might tease him about his ways, but he wouldn’t do that to her. Leopards were incredibly emotional, which was their one downfall to an otherwise strong and powerful species. “Several of them assured the others, especially the youngest of the five, how what they’d done would take care of the matter, although there are still many unanswered questions.”

“You’re right.” She tapped his chest with her finger, her excitement smelling as strong as her happiness. “Why do the jaguars want to know about our mountain?”

“And what were they planning to do here?”

“Maybe I should give the new Snipes litter a call, congratulate them on their recent mating,” Darla mused. “It wouldn’t be odd for me to do that. While I’m there, I could sniff out the truth. Cliff is too young and still too wild to hold out the truth on me.”

When she straightened, her perky, round breasts pressed against her thin sweater. Her nipples poked through the material and Rock allowed his gaze to drop, admiring the view, before returning his attention to her face.

“It wouldn’t be logical to put yourself in danger over this.” Rock didn’t know anything about the Snipes litter but imagined all five males would fight to protect their litters after committing murder. “I think I’ll discuss this with my nest and we’ll probably fly to your litter to discuss this with Kane Masters.”

Darla lived with the Masters litter. Her grin grew and her eyes glowed as she stared at Rock. “You better let me know when you will be at our den,” she ordered. “I want to be there and make sure I look good.”

“Darla, you always look good.”

She laughed and ran her fingers down the side of his face. “This is what I love about you, Rock. You say what you think. I never have to sniff the truth out of you. You willingly share it.”

Her usage of the word “love” wasn’t implying she wished to mate with him, but simply how fond she was of him. Nonetheless, everything in him hardened again as blood flowed to his cock. Lately, keeping his hands off Darla was proving harder and harder to do. No matter how much he repeated to himself that pushing their relationship to the next level was extremely illogical, his body didn’t agree with him. Maybe they couldn’t fuck in his feathers or her fur, but they sure as hell could as humans.

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