At the beginning of the trip, Skyler had maintained a tight grip on the giant bird’s talons. However, now that they had been traveling for a while, he had become more relaxed and found he could actually enjoy the ride. Laying on his stomach he looked down between the talons and noticed the old-man-sphere had turned completely black making it look like an oversized period flying under them.
“Ya know, he needs a name.” He sat up. What could it be? Something mystical or something threatening and dangerous sounding? Or perhaps, something from a scy-fy movie? A word popped into his head that was none of those. He couldn’t remember where he had read it or heard it but there it was, rondure. For some reason he even remembered the definition, gracefully rounded curvature. He repeated it a couple of times but thought it didn’t really sound like a name, more like a description. He said it out loud a few times to see if it sounded any different.
“Rondure…rondure… ron…dure.” Hmm, not very exciting. It sort of sounds like I’m saying Ron Door. He tried it out loud to see if it sounded any better. “Hi, my name is Door, Ron Door.” It’s definitely not threatening, dangerous or even sci-fy. As a matter of fact, it sounds pretty boring. But it’s easy to remember. Skyler peered down at him again and yelled, “I dub thee Sir Ron Door!” He waited for a visual sign from Ron, but he didn’t see anything. To be completely honest, Skyler wasn’t even sure if he heard him over the rushing wind, but he figured that no answer was as good as a “sounds good to me” answer.
He sat back up. “Now for the bird. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me giving him a name too.” He looked at the razor-sharp claws and imagined what they could do to him. Hm, I’m going to have to think really hard about this one. He sat down, crossed his legs and leaned back against his bag. He felt something jab him in the back. He swung the bag around, unzipped it and felt around for whatever had poked him. He pulled out the book Q had given him in Cape Cod. The hard edge of the spine was the culprit. He noticed it had become a little bent, so he flexed it in his hands to try and straighten it out. It sort of worked. He ran his hand across the cover to smooth out a couple of wrinkles. He looked at the title and still thought A Keepers Guide to Capturing and Releasing Forgotten Beasts was a horrible title. The only person who would buy it would a Keeper and how many of them are around? He made a mental note to mention that to the author… (he looked at the cover again) Charlotte Ross, if he ever ran into her.
A little bit curious to what she had to say about forgotten beasts, he flipped it open to a random page. On the left-hand side there was a colored drawing of an animal that he easily recognized as a Griffin. On the opposite page was all kinds of information written about where they’re usually found, what they eat, where they like to live and facts about how to care for them. He flipped a little further ahead. This page had a picture of something that looked like a hyena except it had a huge mouth full of sharp teeth. It was labeled Leucrocotta. He skimmed through the description but stopped when he read- …sometimes exhibits the ability to copy human speech, drawing them closer for the kill. “Woah! I think I better replace that other mental note with a new one- never trust a Leucrocotta!”
What about the flying lion his grandmother used to talk about, I wonder if it’s in here? He flipped to the back of the book and found a glossary. He ran his finger down the list looking for the L’s. He was surprised to see there were quite a few listed. He stopped on one of them- completely covered in dense white fur with large white feathered wings. “No way!”
He flipped to the page listed to see what it said and, sure enough, there was a picture of the animal his grandmother had talked about. It even said it was found in Northern Canada! “This is incredible! I can’t believe it’s true! I always thought she was wasn’t making that stuff up!”
“Hold on, speaking of making things up, is this stuff for real or is Charlotte just copying Wikipedia pages from some online fantasy game?” He scanned the cover more closely then flipped to the inside but couldn’t find anything that said the book was a work of fiction. He checked the back cover to see if there was anything about the author. There was a picture of a young woman standing next to a black horse. He scanned down and read that she was a Keeper living in England with her husband and kids, blah, blah, blah then read ‘the information in this book is based on actual interviews with fellow Keepers.’
“Hmm.” He closed the book, thought for a second, then an idea came to him. He scanned the glossary and was actually surprised to find what he was looking for! This book must be about real animals because, right there, in full color was a drawing of the bird which, at this very moment, held him in its claws. Excited that it was actually in the book, he read on. One fact caught his eye. It said …the giant bird reportedly carried away an elephant that was attacking a village…
“Carried an elephant?” Skyler looked around and tried to imagine an enraged elephant trapped in here with him. “That’s so cool!”
The book went on to say…Found exclusively on the planet Rulveobos, The Roc (Oh man what an awesome name!) is the protector of all the creatures on the planet. Skyler thought to himself Yeah, except elephants.
He closed the book and leaned back. He couldn’t believe that he was flying through the sky in the talons of The Roc, the dread of every wayward pachyderm, while Ron Door, the period-like sphere capable of doing more than ending a sentence, flew below him. He was feeling pretty good about things, so closed his eyes and promptly fell asleep.
Skyler woke to the feeling that he was falling; he felt the wind rushing past him and his stomach in his throat. Instinctively, he flung his arms around the talon he was laying on and shut his eyes tight. After a couple of minutes, when he hadn’t felt himself being crushed in an impact with something solid, he risked opening an eye. He squinted through the talons and could see that the ground was still coming up at him but not that fast. He opened both eyes and soon realized he wasn’t falling uncontrollably, instead, The Roc had started his descent. The big bird gradually slowed even more and flew in a lazy, circular path toward a small beach. Skyler would occasionally feel a cold wind buffeting him every time The Roc flew close to some intimidating looking cliffs that lined one side of the beach. As they got closer to the ground, Skyler could make out a narrow stairway that had been carved out of the cliff face. It led from the beach all the way to the top where it disappeared into a dense grove of huge trees.
Shifting his gaze back to the beach he noticed a person wearing a red sweatshirt with the hood pulled over their head. They were standing on the beach carving something into a large black rock using a hammer and a chisel. Whoever it was must have had no clue they were right above them because they never looked up.
Skyler took a second to look around to see if Ron was still with them but didn’t see him anywhere. He looked back down again and, this time, the hooded figure was looking straight up. There was something strange about their face…
Skyler held tight as The Roc suddenly extended his legs, flared his wings then landed softly on the sand. Using his wings to balance himself, he stuck out the claws Skyler was wrapped in then slowly opened them. Skyler quickly grabbed his bag and jumped out.
Skyler looked up towards The Roc, waved his hand and said, “Thanks for the ride!” The Roc flicked his head up as if he had understood what he had just said. Skyler let out a small laugh then turned to see the person in the sweatshirt walking toward him. They were wearing blue jeans and work boots, but there was something just not right about the way they walked. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was… He put the thought out of his head as the figure stepped up to him, lowered their hood and raised their handto shake his.
He noticed three things in quick succession. One, the head under the hood was not human. Two, the extended hand was covered in dark fur. Three, Ron had appeared out of nowhere and silently slid up to the side of the hairy non-human. Not next to him!
“Hello Skyler, I’ve been expecting you. I’m Sŭchō.”
Skyler stood there with his mouth hanging wide open.
Sŭchō waited for a second then said, “Uh, you may want to close that because the sand flies are pretty thick this time of year.” When Skyler still didn’t respond she reached down to take his hand in hers and gave it a shake. That seemed enough to bring Skyler around.
He stammered, “Oh, I’m sorry…I didn’t know you were a…um…”
Skyler caught a glimpse of Ron. He was displaying a very angry look. Skyler quickly looked back at Sŭchō and was about to say something when a fly flew into his mouth and lodged itself in the back of his throat causing him to have a coughing fit.
Ron rotated back and forth as if he were shaking his head in disbelief.
The person waited until Skyler was able to get himself back under control then said, “An ape?”
With a look of confusion on his face he replied, “Excuse me?”
“I believe you were about to say that you didn’t know that I was an ape.”
“Oh, I’m really sorry, again. It’s just that the only apes I’ve ever seen before have been in a zoo or tried to take over my planet…”
Ron’s pixelated eyes grew large and he turned a bright red.
Skyler threw up his hands in front of him. “Wait, I mean on TV, not for real take over the world!”
Sŭchō replied, “Ah, that clears up everything.”
“Oh my gosh, this Skyler put his hand to his forehead. “This is going completely wrong; you just took me by surprise. I had no idea who I would be meeting but I never expected it to be an ape!” He quickly added, “Which is so cool by the way!”
Ron had turned a color that Skyler did not recognize.
“I understand, I get that all the time.”
“No, not really.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, again, maaa’am…sirrr?” Skyler crunched up his face. “Oh, my goodness this is going so wrong!”
Ron floated away in obvious disgust.
“The name Sŭchō is usually given to a female, sooo…”
There was an awkward pause. Skyler noticed that Ron had come back and was giving him a very evil look.
“Ron, stop, I get it! I’ve made an idiot of myself!”
Sŭchō raised an eyebrow. “You named him Ron?” She looked over at the sphere with a smile on her face.
“Um, well, yes, it was a long flight over here. But he doesn’t know that yet. I haven’t had the chance to tell him.”
She turned and looked at him, perplexed. “What made you think the name Ron would be appropriate?”
“Well, it’s actually Ron Door, Ron for short.” He turned to Ron and said, “It doesn’t have to be that Ron! We can change it!”
Sŭchō shook her head in apparent understanding. “Ron Door as in rondure, meaning gracefully rounded curvature.”
Skyler could have sworn that Ron’s features softened a little when he heard that. “Yes, exactly! Phew, I’m glad that word means what I thought it means.” Skyler looked at Ron. “I was a little worried the word didn’t mean what I thought it meant.”
Sŭchō commented, “Well, from the looks of it, Ron likes it.”
Skyler was relieved. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him turn that color before, not that I’ve spent a lot of time with him.”
“He can sometimes have a temper.”
“You guys know each other?”
Just as she was about to answer, a strong, cold wind blew in off the water almost knocking them over. Roc let out a screech, stood up and shook himself. A few feathers blew off across the beach.
Sŭchō looked at him for a second then turned back to Skyler. “I think he’s right. Why don’t we head up to the house? It’ll be a lot more comfortable and I can answer all your questions.” She pointed toward the path that led up the cliff. Ron shot ahead, quickly disappearing up into the forest above.
Skyler reached down and grabbed his bag. He asked, “It looked to me like you just talked with The Roc! Are you a Keeper?”
Sŭchō watched as the giant bird took flight and headed in the same direction Ron had taken. She asked Skyler, “How did you know he’s called The Roc?”
“I’ve got a book.”
“I see.” As they walked toward the stairs she asked, “Do you think everything needs a name?”
Skyler thought for a second. “Well, sure. I mean it’s a lot easier than saying it or them. I guess It makes for a more personal connection, we have names for each other, right? It’s better than saying Hey you.” He shrugged his shoulders and added, “I think it’s a sign of respect. Why should it be any different for animals and other stuff?”
They paused at the base of the stairs. Sŭchō turned to Skyler and said, “You asked me before if I was a Keeper. The answer is yes, I am. I understand you are too.”
“Nah, my parents and sister are, but I’m not. I can’t talk to animals and I’ve never heard a peep from any of them either.”
“Well, you sounded like one a couple of minutes ago. The things you say about giving animals names to show them respect plus the fact you flew here in the talons of a giant bird and felt relaxed enough to have time to read a book indicates to me you may be mistaken about your abilities.”
Skyler looked at his feet. “I’m pretty sure I’m not.”
They started up the carved steps and climbed for a little while in silence. About halfway up Skyler asked, “Was I right about the bird being The Roc?”
“Yes, you were but I think he now prefers to be called something else?”
“Oh really? What’s that?”
Skyler stopped. “Skuvik?”
Sŭchō stopped, turned back and said, “Yep, it’s Rulveobosian. It means The Avenger.” She started back up.
“The Avenger? What’s he avenging?”
Sŭchō must not have heard him because she continued climbing without answering.