by S Shane Thomas

Listen to my narration here

Pneuma guards surrounded Jaff. Spears poised, ready to thrust through the young lad who, only months ago, shared their physical appearance. Their steely blue complexions flushed a shade darker from exertion. Long necks ending in wedge shaped heads and long thick tails took more of their body mass than limbs just big enough for walking and wielding weapons.

Jaff was one of the rare few destined to change into something his people abhorred when he reached maturity. Bright red skin and powerful wings gave him away the first time his hood fell out of place. Perhaps if his parents were farmers they could have hidden the lad. Living in the city, he could not remain indoors without being missed. Jaff felt grateful he had been discovered away from the family home, conspiracy to harbor an Anki received the same penalty as simply being Anki; death.

A Pneuma thrust his spear toward the red youth. Jaff raised a hand in fear; the spear tore from the guard's grip and flew backward to clatter harmlessly on the cobbled road. Jaff reeled as a guard on his other side screamed a sonic burst and left the boy momentarily stunned. The red youth felt the next spear pierce his thigh and it seared his mind back into the moment. The boy lashed fire from a dart toothed maw and used his newly discovered telekinesis to wrap the flame about his attackers. Screams of pain erupted as they broke rank and rolled about the ground to extinguish their uniforms.

Jaff tore himself free of his hooded robe and unfurled massive red wings. He used the powerful tail and his unharmed leg to leap into flight. A spear rose to meet him but reached summit before lad and fell harmlessly to the cobblestones. The boy flew only from instinct. Never before in his months since the transformation had he tested the ability, lest he meet fate. Right then, necessity granted what might have been his last wish. The pain from his stab wound throbbed and bled. The boy brimmed with worry and anxiety but still felt awe at the sights of his city from this vantage. He flew until the scenery change to a thick wood. Jaff landed in a clearing miles from the city and his hunters.

The boy staunched his wound with improvised bandages torn from his tunic. The guards would be onto him before nightfall. Their leader King Zaetel and his predecessors since time out of mind hunted and killed any who matured into Anki. The Pneuma were a species on the brink of evolution. Lore stated that once a community of Anki rose to power on Haran and treated the Pneuma as a lower servant class. A rebellion drove the Anki to the stars and the King’s guard suppressed any new Anki from contaminating the Pneuma bloodlines.

Jaff had no idea where to go. He dared not seek refuge in any nearby farm or cottage, since whoever harbored him would take a grave risk on his behalf. His wound and the exertion of a first flight proved too much for the lad and he fell into a deep sleep.

Voices roused Jaff, but not before he had been surrounded by twice the number of guards he encountered in the city. He did not try to negotiate surrender; death alone served as punishment for his existence. He fought with lashes of flame and spent what little of his energy remained by telekinetically dropping a tree branch on two soldiers. The butt of a spear on his temple knocked him into a daze. A guard pushed through his comrades hefting a battle axe. Another held the boy fast to the downed branch, Jaff’s neck outstretched. The axe wielder poised for the death stroke.

“Leave these woods. You have already killed the young Anki,” a voice hissed from shrouds of evening shadow.

The guards’ eyes clouded and the squad gathered their wounded and made for the city without a second thought.

Jaff tried to focus on the situation, but could make no sense of his fortune. Hours passed before he gained consciousness in a small warm room. A bent black skinned figure leaned over his thigh, stitching needle in hand. A wedge head turned to face Jaff.

“It’s nice to have some company after so many years alone,” hissed the same voice from the shadows. An old Anki smiled and returned to its work.

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