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Authors: Kenneth Oppel


BOOK: Sunwing
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For Nathaniel



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chapter 1 GRIFFIN

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Wings trimmed tight, Shade sailed through the forest. The naked elms, maples, and oaks blazed in the moon’s glow, their branches spiked with icicles. Beneath him, trees lay toppled like the skeletons of giant beasts. The groans of freezing wood filled the air, and in the distance Shade heard a mighty crack as yet another branch snapped and fell.

He shivered. Even though he’d been flying for hours, he was still cold, the wind chiseling through his sleek black fur into his bones. Wistfully, he thought of the other Silverwings, roosting snugly back at Hibernaculum. Even though their bodies would now be glistening with frost, they were warm in a deep winter’s sleep that would take them through to spring. They hadn’t wanted to come with him: It was too cold, too dangerous, they said. They didn’t care enough to make the journey. Let them sleep, Shade thought, squinting against a sudden blast of wind. They had no curiosity, no sense of adventure.

He was going to find his father.

And it wasn’t as if he was alone. Weaving through the forest
alongside him were more than a dozen Silverwings. He could see Chinook, skimming over a heavy fir bough, knocking off snow. Up ahead was Shade’s mother, Ariel, speaking softly with Frieda, the chief elder of their colony. There was another bat in the vanguard too, a male called Icarus, who was acting as guide. Shade hoped he knew where he was going. But after all he’d been through recently, he was happy to let someone else blaze the trail for a change. “Cold?” he heard Marina ask beside him.

“Me?” Shade shook his head, trying not to let his teeth chatter. “You?”

She wrinkled her neat, pointy nose, as if the very idea was laughable. “No. But I’m pretty sure I saw you shiver.”

“Not me,” he said, and returned her suspicious look. “Anyway, you’ve got more fur. Look at all that fur!”

“Well, I am older than you,” she pointed out. Shade grunted. As if she ever let him forget!

“And Brightwings have better fur,” she added matter-of-factly. “Just the way it is, Shade.”

“Better fur!” he spluttered indignantly. “I’ve heard it all now! Just because it’s thicker doesn’t mean it’s better.”

“Sure is warm though,” Marina said with a grin. Shade couldn’t help grinning back. Of all the bats traveling with him, Marina was the only one who wasn’t a Silverwing. Her fur was much thicker and brighter than his own, radiant in the moon’s glow. Her wings were narrower, and she had elegant, shell-shaped ears. He’d met her last autumn, after getting lost on his first ever migration. She’d helped him catch up with his colony at Hibernaculum. She was an infuriating know-it-all but, he had to admit, she’d saved his life, once or twice.

A dollop of snow hit him on the back, and Shade looked up sharply to see Chinook swinging lower with a triumphant grin.

“Oh, sorry, Shade, did I get you?”

“You’re hilarious, Chinook. Really.” He shook the snow off before it melted. When they were newborns back at Tree Haven—and it wasn’t so long ago—Chinook had treated him with about as much respect as a mulched-up leaf. After all, Chinook had been the most promising hunter and flyer, and Shade just the runt of the colony. But now, after all Shade’s adventures, Chinook had decided he might be worth talking to.

“Chinook, that’s no way to treat a hero,” Marina said, her eyes flashing gleefully.

Shade sniffed. Hero? He sure didn’t feel like a hero. Maybe the first night or two after he’d gotten back to Hibernaculum, and everyone listened to his stories. But after that, somehow, things went pretty much back to normal. He ate, drank, and slept like everyone else, and felt the same as he always had. Frankly, he’d expected better. What did he have to do to get some respect? He’d escaped from pigeons and rats, from owls and cannibal bats. He’d tunneled beneath the earth and soared through lightning storms. He’d flown in the blazing light of day!

And now he got snow dumped on his head.

Heroes did not get snow dumped on their heads.

With a grimace, he watched as Chinook swooped down beside Marina. Chinook liked her company, that was obvious. Over the past few nights he’d gone out of his way to fly beside her, and roost near her during the day. The amazing thing was, Marina didn’t seem to mind. The snow was probably his way of impressing her, Shade fumed, and it seemed to have worked. Look at her, still smiling about it! Sometimes, watching from a distance, Shade would actually hear her laughing at something Chinook said—a kind of tinkly laugh he’d never heard before. She sure didn’t laugh like that with him. It drove him crazy. What could
Chinook possibly come up with that was so funny? He wasn’t
enough to be funny. Were they laughing at him?

“I’ve been thinking about those two cannibal bats,” Chinook said. “Goth and Throbb.”

“Uh-huh,” said Shade.

“And I figure I could’ve fought them.”

Shade’s ears twitched indignantly. “No, Chinook. They would’ve eaten you.” How many times did he have to go through this? Chinook just never quite believed he himself couldn’t have beaten them in battle. “They were
Shade told him.

Chinook flared his nostrils carelessly. “How huge?”

huge,” said Shade wickedly, and he sang sound right into Chinook’s ears and drew an echo picture in his head of Goth lunging, snout cracking open to show twin mountain ranges of dripping teeth, his three-foot wings slick with sweat, billowing …

The sound picture blazed in Chinook’s mind only a fraction of a second, but was so sudden and so horrifying that he cried out and careened into a fir bough, dousing himself with snow.

“Was that really necessary?” Marina asked Shade.

“Oh, I think so.”

“Nice trick,” grumbled Chinook, shaking the snow from his shoulders.

“Still think you could fight them?” Shade asked.

“Well, we could’ve fought them back at Hibernaculum. There’re thousands of us there.”

“No,” said Marina. “They would’ve waited until you were all asleep, and eaten you one by one through the whole winter. That was their plan. And they really would’ve gone straight for you, Chinook. Lots of flesh on those bones.”

“Well, it’s muscle,” said Chinook proudly, “not fat,” and then he frowned at the idea of being a meal. “I still think I could’ve—”

“Well, they’re dead, so you’ll never know,” Shade said impatiently.

“Throbb, anyway,” said Marina. “We saw him turn to ash. But we only saw Goth get
by the lightning.”

“There’s no way he could’ve lived through that,” said Shade, and he was surprised at the urgency in his voice; he wanted so much for it to be true. He could clearly see Goth’s body spinning down through the thunderhead, charred. He doubted he would ever forget the two cannibals, and they still haunted his dreams. Goth would pin him to the ground, and Shade could feel his weight crushing his chest, smell his rank breath. Then Goth would lower his head to Shade’s and whisper things in his ear, terrible things that he never remembered upon waking at twilight. And for that, he was grateful.

“He’s got to be dead,” he muttered.

“Hope you’re right, that’s all I can say,” said Marina. She looked at the scar Goth’s jaws had left on her wrist. Shade too had been wounded, his wing slashed in two places. Though the rips had healed over, they still burned coldly as he flew. And he often caught himself glancing back over his wing, half expecting to see Goth’s monstrous silhouette.

“Not much farther now.” It was Icarus up ahead.

“We should come out onto grassland soon. And then it’s not more than an hour’s flying. That’s what Cassiel said.”

Shade’s ears pricked at his father’s name. Last spring, before Shade was even born, Cassiel had gone searching for a strange Human building, not far from Hibernaculum, and he’d never come back. Killed by owls: That’s what everyone thought. But last fall, while flying south with Marina, Shade met an albino bat called Zephyr, who could listen to the past, present, and future.

And he’d said Cassiel was alive.

Shade didn’t know much about his father. Only that he’d been banded by the Humans—and he’d wanted desperately to know what it all meant. He must’ve thought he’d get the answers at the building. And Shade was certain this was where he would at last find him, the father he’d never known.

Suddenly up ahead, he saw Frieda flare her left wing in silent warning, and he instantly veered toward the nearest tree with Marina. Digging his claws into icy bark, he flipped upside down, folded his wings tight, and tried to look like an icicle. Below him, he could hear the others quickly finding roosts, then silence. “You see anything?” he whispered to Marina.

She shook her head. Carefully he swept the trees with sound, watching as the returning echoes drew pictures before his mind’s eye.


With its white plumage, the owl was so well camouflaged against the snowy branches, Shade might easily have passed over it with his eyes. But caught in his echo vision, the owl gleamed like quicksilver. It was a winged giant, easily four times his size: a deadly bundle of feather, muscle, and claw, its huge, moonlike eyes unhooded. Fifty more wingbeats and he would’ve flown straight into it. He should’ve been paying more attention.

The mere sight of the owl filled him with loathing. For millions of years, the owls had patrolled the skies at dusk and dawn, making sure the bats never saw the sun. By law, if a bat was sighted during the light of day, he could be hunted down and killed.

Just like they’d nearly killed
last fall. He could remember that dawn so clearly, how he’d waited, hidden, for just a glimpse of the rising sun. He
to see it. And he
a blazing sliver of it that still burned gloriously in his memory. But what
happened afterward was far from glorious. In revenge, the owls burned down Tree Haven, his colony’s age-old nursery roost. He winced at the memory: the smoldering, buckled ruins of his home. That was the price he’d made everyone pay for his peek at the sun.

He glared at the owl. Now not even the
skies were safe anymore. Only months ago, the owls had declared war on them, convinced they were murdering birds. The only bats Shade knew who killed birds were Goth and Throbb, but the owls would never believe that.

“What’s it doing out here?” he whispered to Marina.

It was, after all, the middle of winter, and this owl should be hibernating. Like us, Shade thought with a pang of guilt. It had been his idea to set out for his father in the dead of winter. But he hadn’t realized how agonizing it would be to fight the sleep, how cold it would be. Even Frieda, though, had agreed that at least the skies would be free of owls.

And now here was this one, blocking their way through the forest.

Fly away, Shade thought angrily. Get lost.

But it wasn’t going anywhere. Nor was it alone. A mournful hoot emanated from deep in the trees, and Shade’s heart skipped. The first owl returned the call, and began a slow swivel with its huge head.

One owl might be unlucky; two was definitely suspicious.

“Sentries?” Shade whispered.

“In the middle of winter?” Marina said.

“Maybe we’re near a garrison, or hibernation site.”

“They don’t usually put guards out in winter. Could be they’re just looking for us,” she added grimly. “You don’t break hibernation for nothing.”

He shuddered. If these two owls were awake, how many others were there, and what were they planning?

“Above the tree line,” suggested Shade. “We could fly over them.”

“No. Look.” Shade followed her gaze, and through the naked branches caught the silhouette of an owl circling tightly against the moon.

“We’ll go around,” said Shade. “They can’t have picketed the whole forest.”

His feet, buried in the icy crust of the branch, were starting to go numb. He shifted his claws slightly and then watched in horror as a crazy spiderweb of cracks spread out along the branch. A long husk of ice suddenly broke free, carrying a dozen icicles with it. Down they all fell, clattering through the branches. Shade scrambled to regain his grip, and his eyes shot back to the owl.

Its head swiveled around sharply. “Don’t even blink,” Marina hissed at him.

Shade could hear the owl’s own search echoes striking him, bouncing off, and he tried to make his body stiff as an icicle. It was a horrible feeling, being probed by this raptor, almost feeling its blunt sonic blows against his fur.

Shade waited, hoping fervently the owl would turn away, dismiss the noise as falling ice. You idiot, he raged at himself. Why couldn’t you just stay still? But no, you had to squirm and make a miniature avalanche!

With two strokes of its powerful wings, the owl lifted from its roost and was over the tree. It landed on their branch, its mighty four-taloned foot crunching into the wood just inches from Shade’s tail. His whole body urged him to bolt, but he knew that if he did, the owl would snatch him up in its hooked beak in a second.

He gazed at Marina, and together they locked each other in place with their eyes. The other Silverwings were scattered on the lower branches, and he hoped they too had the sense to stay still.

Suddenly the owl hopped down to the next branch, landing hard, and shaking free a deadly rain of icicles. It knows we’re here, Shade thought in horror. He knew what the owl was doing, trying to flush them out, or impale them in the process. The owl paused, cocking its head. It hopped down another branch. More ice fell. Then the owl ducked its head so that it could look
the branch. It was only a matter of time before it spotted the others.

Then Shade noticed the icicle. It hung on his branch, farther in, and it was much larger than most, fed by a number of twigs. It hung directly over the owl’s head. Quickly he made some calculations.

He caught Marina’s eye and nodded at the icicle.

“Drop it,” he mouthed.

She frowned. How? she asked with her eyes.

There was no time to explain. He picked a frequency the owl wouldn’t hear and focused all his attention on the base of the icicle. Over the past few nights, he’d realized he could not only see things with sound, and sing sound pictures into other bat’s heads—but he could also
things with sound. During the day, he practiced on leaves. He wasn’t very good at it yet. He could shift light things, just a little. But an icicle …

BOOK: Sunwing
4.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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