Goth limped through the sky.
For two nights he'd flown south, his lightning-scarred wings shrieking with every stroke. But at least there was no more wretched snow on the ground, and each night the air was slightly warmer. The landscape too was changing, flat and marshy. And now for the first time, he saw some familiar stars on the far horizon, bits of constellations he had grown up with in the jungle. His heart leapt. It wouldn't be long now before he was back home amongst the other Vampyrum Spectrum. In the sacred temple, he would pray to Cama Zotz, and be healed.
For now, his mangled wings made him slow, clumsy, and much of his prey escaped him. Still he managed to catch enough to survive: a dopey but well-fed mouse, a nesting sparrow hidden beneath a canopy of branches. One night he'd been so hungry he'd even eaten a few insects, and nearly gagged in disgust. It was bats he craved, as always, but he'd seen very few, and he didn't know if he was fast enough to catch them in his weakened state.
He was wary now in the night skies, and he hated that. Before being struck by lightning he was fearless, a master of the night; but now he was a crippled creature. He didn't relish the prospect of having to fight an owl right now.
And he was even more worried about the Humans.
They'd been looking for him. Once before, they'd tracked him down in their flying machine, and shot at him with sleeping darts. And just a few nights ago, he'd thought he heard the rhythmic chopping of their machine, and he'd waited breathlessly, deep in a tree, until the sound had passed.
Shade and Marina, those two puny northern bats -- they had brought this calamity upon him. They probably thought he was dead like Throbb. Well, if anyone deserved to be incinerated by lightning, it was Throbb. At least Goth wouldn't have to listen to his whining anymore. The eastern sky was starting to brighten, and Goth swept the landscape with sound, looking for shelter. In a rocky hill, he found a crevice and gratefully flew for it. Inside, using his echo vision, he saw he was in a vast network of caves. Delighted, he flew deeper, and rather than getting colder, the air warmed, until a delicious tropical heat surrounded him. It was coming, he could tell, from vents in the stone floor, as if from the earth's core. How long it had been since he'd felt so warm!
He probed the roof of the cave with sound -- strange that there were no bats roosting here. It seemed a natural place for them. He'd been hoping for a good meal. But he was too warm to feel very disappointed. He wanted to go deeper into the caves, deeper and lower, lured by the warmth -- and something else which beckoned at the very fringes of his mind. What was it, this sense of being drawn His eyes were so heavy, he wanted sleep, and yet he flew on. Would it take him to the very Underworld?
It was so deliciously dark here, and he flew by sound alone, eyes drooping shut. Finally he reached a large, round cave with no other passages leading from it, and he hung, exhausted, from the wall, sleep taking him instantly in its silken wings.
The whisper coiled around his head.
"Goth." "Here I am," he said drowsily. Was he asleep or awake? Then he stiffened. Who was there? Just the voice of sleep maybe. But cold electricity coursed through his body and his fur lifted. His eyes were open but saw nothing. In the impenetrable blackness of the cave, everything was sound -- the corrugated rock walls and ceiling glimmering silver in his head. But there was something else he was seeing now with his mind's eye, a kind of current that swirled slowly, hypnotically through the cave. A current of pure sound.
He watched in awe as it filled the cave within seconds, swirling, never still. His heart thundered.
"Where are you going?" the voice whispered.
"Home," he said. "To the jungle."
Sound pictures were painting themselves on the walls and roof, shifting ceaselessly like moving hieroglyphs. A jaguar, a feathered serpent, a pair of unblinking eyes without pupils.
"Who am I?" the voice asked, grazing his ears.
Goth's body felt icy. He knew, yet he wanted to be sure. He wanted proof.
"Show me," he said boldly. Laughter rumbled through the room. "Not until the sun is dead, Goth, then you will see me in my full glory."
"The sun, dead?" he asked in confusion.
"Who am I, Goth?"
"I know you," he said, and faltered, suddenly afraid to utter the name, now that he was in his very presence.
He swallowed. "Cama Zotz."
"Yesssss," came the slithery reply. "The Humans are chasing you."
"I know. But they won't catch me."
"Let them." "But they are our enemies, Lord Zotz. They treated me like a slave; they mock you."
"They think they are using you, but you will be using them."
"I don't understand."
Goth said nothing for a moment.
"Are you my servant, Goth?" The voice, no longer soothing, cut into his ears, slashing light through his head.
"Yes, Lord Zotz."
"Do my bidding, then, and you will be King."
And then it was as if all the sound was suddenly sucked out of the cave, all the silvery echoes dissolved, and Zotz was gone. Goth was alone. His breathing calmed. The silence was so total, he wondered if he had only dreamed his conversation with Zotz.
Let himself be caught by humans -- it made no sense! These were the Humans who had trapped him in the jungle and brought him north to their artificial jungle and imprisoned him. The Man, always watching him, stabbing him with his darts, watching him. Was he to return to that? What good could it do?
He shook his head, cast echoes around the empty cave. He'd had dreams before, and visions too. But none so vivid, none where he'd felt Zotz's breath on his face, seen the very swirls of his presence. Could Zotz really find him so far north? Maybe it was nothing but a confused dream. Already it seemed unreal.
He could fight sleep no longer. He plunged down into blazing dreams of the jungle, so real he could smell the soil, the damp stone of the royal pyramid. All around him soared the Vampyrum, but they looked smaller somehow, leaner, and there was something wrong with the jungle too, the trees and creepers and fronds all charred and smoking. He bobbed in and out of sleep, wrapped in his dreams. He lost all sense of time. He heard his own voice crying out in pain, and was aware of angrily ripping off the Human bands which festooned his forearms. Or was he just dreaming it? All but one of the bands tore free, and that was the one the Man had put on him back in the artificial jungle. That one he could not tear free.
Dreaming again: and this time, Shade was caught in his claws, pinned to the ground. "I will eat your beating heart," Goth told him. He opened his jaws wide and lunged. He woke. And this time he knew he was fully and truly awake. How long had he slept? A second, a day? He couldn't even guess. He shifted his wings, and noticed instantly how different they felt. He cast a wash of sound over them, and looked. All the Human bands, but one, were gone. And his wings were healed.
Sunwing, Copyright 1999 Kenneth Oppel