I woke with a start to a pounding on the door of my tree hut. Rising groggily from my nest, I stumbled through the darkened room, wearily wondering what could be urgent enough to justify waking me at such an early hour. What emergency required the aid of a sculptor’s son? I could think of nothing that could not wait for morning. Blearily blinking the sleep from my eyes, I cracked open the door to my abode.
Hands grasped through the door, pulling me forward violently and throwing me to the ground. Around me, I could hear the hisses and clucks of disgust. My mind reeled. What had I done? Shakily attempting to right myself, I am shocked when a cold steel collar finds its way around my neck. Its hold choked me to the point of speechlessness, barely allowing breath to reach my lungs. They already ached with depravation. Before I can recover from this first assault, I am dragged.
They pulled me through the streets by my collar and I scrambled along behind, trying as best I could to stay upright. The assailants did their best to thwart my efforts, jerking sharply on me each time I managed to regain my balance. Their cruelty sent me tumbling, and I quickly became covered in earth.
Finally reaching the end of my forced journey, I am thrown bodily into an empty-looking wooden shed. Its only adornments were a simple wooden table and three roughly hewn stools. Too tired to protest, I hang limp as a rope is fastened between my collar and a thick metal ring in the center of the floor. The weave is too short to allow me to sit, so I lay there, my face resting against the earth.
The room is quiet now. In the silence, I am filled with suspicion and dread. In this place, they passed judgment on our criminals. What had I done that put me in such a position? Why was I dragged to trial without being told the reason? The night gave me many long hours to contemplate my situation. If I was right, I would not be seen until dawn.
Day crested slowly, the sun’s warm tendrils streaking through the hut as I lay in the dirt, my body aching with stillness. Sleep had taunted me all night.
The door to the shed swung wide, allowing our three leaders to enter. First came Vadross, the eldest and wisest of all of us. She taught our people the ways of peace and understanding, patiently and lovingly showed us the gods’ intents for our lives. This day I could see no peace in those eyes. Every glance she shot me was filled with a deep disgust. Inwardly I wilted, unable to bear the scrutiny of her gaze.
Talkar, Lord of the guard, sneered as he passed. This one had never respected the working caste. He treated my family and all the families of craftsmen as lower than waste. Contrary to traditional Avyan views, he felt we did not contribute to our culture and believed the only true path for our people was to fight or directly support our warriors. Sculpture, painting – these passions were never in his heart. He made every effort to punish the artisans while staying on the good side of Vadross. Somehow, he accomplished this with stunning ease.
Last to enter was the one whom we had all came to dread. Remorseless, compassionless, Razzon was our judge, jury and executioner. The Inquisitor. My heart sank to my knees, and I forced a painful gulp past the grip of my restraints. I knew that this day was to be my end. “Hugr, the sculptor,” Razzon began, “You are to be punished for the sins of your parents. They toyed with powers they could not even begin to understand. Let us hope you face your death as well as they did theirs.”
“Abomination!” hissed Vadross, her voice rich with disgust.
“Wait…” This came from Talkar. “I feel execution may be too harsh a punishment for one as weak as this.” His interjection was surprising. Talkar hated my family, why would he want to spare my life? As he continued, I understood. “Cast him out. His death is assured; the poor wretch can’t even handle a spear! The wilderness will take him in short work.” He nodded, confident in my helplessness. “Clip him, then leave him stranded. Then, we will strike his family from the records. Never again will we speak the name ‘Hugr’, and he will no longer be one of us.”
A silence fell over the room as the others considered his words. Razzon bent down and gazed deep into my eyes. His stare was piercing, searching through the very depths of my soul. Finally: “Very well… as this is no direct deed of his own, we will let the world take him…”
Talkar rose from his seat, his features alight with wicked pleasure. I heard the tell-tale scrape of a blade leaving its sheath, and he bent close to whisper into my upturned ear. “I have waited so long for this, creature,” he hissed. “May the abyss take you with the knowledge of your dishonor.” With that, the blades sunk into my arms. Their steely bite wrenched and tore the feathers from my body, robbing me of the wings that were my birthright. I screamed, the sound a twisted mixture of pain, confusion and hatred.
Faster than I could comprehend, I had had my whole life swept away. I was no longer Avyan: I was an outcast. My family was dead. To everyone I knew, it was as though I had never lived. Worst of all these things, I had no idea why.
That morning, Talkar had been mistaken in his predictions. In the days that followed I would not perish as an outcast, but grow. Now, I will discover the truth of my past, and the truth of my parents’ crimes. I will find a way to exact my vengeance upon the three that had so cruelly destroyed my life without any explanation. They had relieved me of my existence, and I will pay them back in kind. One day, soon, they will regret that they had given me the chance to live.