“Magic doesn’t work by itself,” Sylvia said. “It’s a force used by something alive, either here or at a remote site. Perhaps that castle we’re heading for is the source.”

“I have an idea,” Muftin chirped. “Look at the mist. As far as we can see it is half way up the canyon walls. Now if this continued the whole way couldn’t we fly out under it?”

“There’s not much room,” Xentrix the dragon muttered. “If I fly into trouble there is no way I can turn around. You can see the water. We’d never survive if I landed in it.”

“I’ll look,” Muftin said.

“No,” Maxine the other little bird replied. “It’s too dangerous.”

“I’ll fly just above the water and return if the mist appears in front of me.”

“What if it comes down on you?”

“I’ll take the risk.”

“Then I’m coming too,” Maxine replied. “We do it together.”

Muftin was about to protest but the female bird had already risen into the air.

“Coming?” she called.

“Females,” Muftin squawked.

“You can’t do without us,” Cindy replied. “You’d better hurry. Maxine’s almost out of sight.”

Muftin glanced out over the raging water, saw Maxine flapping towards a bend and chased after her. Seconds later the dragon and their friends disappeared behind the canyon’s twisting wall.

If it wasn’t for the raging water below and howling red vapin above, the flight would have been easy. There was no wind and the temperature was cold rather than freezing.

Muftin flew in beside Maxine. “What now?” he called.

“Search for an end of the red mist. Wasn’t that your idea?”

“Yes, but!”

“Muftin,” Maxine squawked. “We came here to help. Now we are doing something. It’s as simple as that.”

Muftin clamped his beak shut and resisted a reply. He glanced across and compared his companion with his human friends. They were mainly female and could cope but with Maxine, it seemed different.

“Oh Muftin,” Maxine said. “I’m okay. Really I am. I’m not just a dainty little egg layer that looks forward to just sitting on a nest for weeks on end. It’s a whole new world out here. We do things together as equal partners. I love you for your concern but that is how I want things to be.”

“It’s all new to me,” Muftin stuttered. “This mating bit I mean. I see the dumb birds and sometimes wish I wasn’t different than them.”

“We’re a little like Tulco, Sylvia and Cindy aren’t we?”

“How?”

“They’re as different from ordinary humans as we are from dumb birds.” Maxine replied. She veered left to avoid a jutting cliff and gave a wee squawk as spray from the river hit them.

“Careful!”

Maxine fluffed up her feathers and flew closer to Muftin. “We’re a good pair, aren’t we?” she said softly.

“We are.”

They flew on, wing tip to wingtip, sandwiched between two raging torrents. Below, the rapids became more savage while the sea of red cloud continued to float above them.

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About Ross

Ross Richdale is a New Zealand author of over 40 novels, both science fiction and contemporary that are sold as ebooks at all the major outlets.

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