A thud of rock woke Sykeet, followed by a rattling of dislodged crystals against the woven walls of her hanging hut. There were no fire pots in her lower reach of the rookery. No light from the moons, either: a storm beat against the suspended village. Her wings twitched in the dark.
There was cursing, then a shriek of panic, “The fledglings!”
Sykeet darted from her hut like a harpoon, flying blind toward the crèche net. Her long wings beat the air, lifting her upward. Sleet hissed against rock, giving her only a minimal sense of location in the dark. More rocks thudded above. She heard the twangs of over-stretched ropes snapping.
She called shrilly to her daughter, “Kyree!”
There were voices in the dark: other mothers and the faint cries of fledglings. Then from above, a wild flapping of fabric and netting. She couldn’t see a thing.
The falling canopy hit her, a glancing blow that knocked loose feathers and sent her tumbling in the dark. She heard waves crashing against the rocky base of the spire below.
Sykeet caught air in her wings, regaining control. Still blind. The plummeting crèche net had fallen below her. She pulled her wings against her body and dove into what she hoped was open air.
“Kyree!” she called again.
The panicked brood, trapped in the net, screeched as they fell toward the sea.
Sykeet followed their cries. The net hadn’t snagged on the crystal-crusted spire. If she could catch it with the talons of her feet or wings, she might slow its fall.
But a gust from the storm blew her sideways, away from the screams. She beat air frantically, trying to get back.
There was a splash as net and brood plunged into the sea.
Cold sleet crusted her feathers, numbing muscles. Spray from the waves blew against her as she fought to stay above them, circling blindly and calling, trying to find her daughter.
Unable to see, she slammed into the spire. Pain shot through her. Dazed and disoriented, she grabbed hold, talons clutching crystals. Fragments cracked loose from the rock. She slipped closer to the waves. Sea spray filled her open beak as she turned toward the water. She choked and coughed.
Sykeet could only cling there, shivering from pain and cold, too numb to take flight. She listened for fledglings, hearing only the roar of wind. Waves pounded the rocky base below her. Her eyes stung from sleet and spray. When she tried to climb lower, more crystals broke off, nearly dropping her into the cold sea.
She folded her wings close against her to conserve heat, and pressed her head against the rock. The world had gone dark, taking the thing she cherished.
She shivered through the night, praying for some sign that her daughter had survived. She saw nothing, heard nothing.
But in the dark hours of early morning, she suddenly dreamt she was elsewhere. Sleet and spray still beat against her, but instead of the rocky spire, she felt she was pressed against something smooth. A net held her down.
Then the dream was gone, as quickly as it had come.