The mountains are an arid rampart to the east of the kingdom’s peaceful green valleys. Beyond the range is the desert, a titanic, sandy bowl which cradles the heat with ferocious intent. Even from here, on the easternmost peak, the stony ground ripples with heatwaves like distant hallucinations.
She is not interested in the ground. She has climbed for two weeks in order to reach this specific confluence of desert and height. As she leans out from her rocky perch into the blue void she is circled by thermals: empty air swirls around her, flame-hot on her skin. The sultry breeze lifts her hair from her shoulders, and she laughs.
Because she’s looking for it, she catches the momentary half-seen shimmer on the edge of her vision. It’s not a heatwave. There’s a trick to this; she unfocuses her gaze, squints into the glare. She looks beyond and along, and the sky is momentarily filled with the immeasurable wing-span, transparent and flickering against the sky. The bird-body is curved like a dagger, the eye, glittering and amused, surveying her for a visible instant, flame wisping around the diamond iris. Then it’s gone.
She launches herself from the ledge in an arcing swallow dive as though into a lover’s arms. The maelstrom of heat which embraces her strips the flesh instantly from her bones, unravelling mind and spirit. Ash drifts on the scorching sky.
Disembodied, she floats on the wind, a fierce intelligence re-knitting her tenderly into its airy, insubstantial, tensile net. She circles the air currents borne on the gyr’s invisible breast, feeling the imperceptible wings stretch to the horizon, a flame at her heart.