A Gentle Wing

Music had always filled her thoughts—even before she was born.

During all her months in her mother’s womb, Omarya heard music everywhere. Songs hummed in her still-forming ears, danced to the cadence of her mother’s heartbeat, and flowed through her young veins. None of which was surprising at all, since Omarya was one of the rarest creatures in the spirit realm: a harmonic chimewing.

Youngest in her family—and the first chimewing to be born in many years—her birth inspired a great celebration. Spirit creatures came from all across the realm to sing and dance and play wondrous musical instruments in her honor, crowding around the shimmering silver cloud where her family had lived for eons. The joyful music-making lasted several days . . .and assured Omarya that as rich with song as her time in the womb had been, her new life after birth would be even more sonorous.

In the weeks since, she’d been discovering all the ways she herself could make music. For even though she was a tiny creature— resembling a small butterfly—she possessed the special power of all chimewings: to make music that swelled and flowed out across the spirit realm, reaching countless distant worlds.

All it took to make music, Omarya discovered, was a single beat of her iridescent lavender wings. That simple motion produced the sweeping sound of a dozen violins. (Of course, learning how to play those violins in tune would take years of practice.) Each time she took a breath, the air rang with peals of bells. And the merest twitch of one antenna made a haunting, flutelike sound that echoed eerily for days.

Even better, as a harmonic chimewing, she possessed an additional musical power. She could think any sound into reality. All she needed to do was concentrate on whatever she wanted to hear, blink her faceted green eyes, and that very sound would pour out of her head. While this special skill would take time and devotion to master, the possibilities made her little heart flutter with excitement.

Maybe, she told herself, I could someday become a great bard like my grandfather, invited to perform everywhere.

At this very moment, Omarya wasn’t trying to make music. She was trying, instead, to practice flying. Just a few moments earlier, she’d left her family to take her first solo flight. Though controlling her wings was hard work, she felt increasingly capable.

A sudden gust of wind caught her completely by surprise. She reeled, trying to keep herself upright—but the wind knocked her over, spun her around, and carried her helplessly through the swirling mists. She tumbled out of control as the wind carried her farther and farther away.

Frightened, she made every sound she could, a crashing cacophony of notes and screeches and howls. But the shrieking wind swallowed everything.

Finally, the wind ceased. She found herself floating among dark, shredding clouds, far away from anything she’d ever seen before. The whole region seemed devoid of life, home only to shadows and vapors that felt ominous. Menacing. Frightful.

Omarya couldn’t possibly have known that she’d been blown to the remotest edge of the spirit realm. And even if she had known . . .she couldn’t have understood the full extent of the dangers.

Desperately, she released a wailing chorus of notes. Though she made the sound of hundreds of bells, ringing and ringing across the skies, they were just one voice. Her voice. The bells echoed, wavering, the cry of someone very young.

Very lost.

Very alone.

A distant flash of color caught her attention. A cloud, bright red, glowed invitingly. Beating her lavender wings, she drew closer.

The cloud, while tattered and thin, looked far friendlier than anything else around. Amidst all the shadows and ghostly vapors, it was truly a welcome sight. Its strange red hue glowed warmly, like a wispy firecoal.

She glided nearer. Just as the very tip of her wing brushed against the cloud—she heard a familiar cry from behind. Her mother!

Omarya whirled around. She and her mother flew tight circles around each other, an aerial embrace that sent elated sounds reverberating throughout the realm. Chimes rang, horns blew triumphantly, and drums pounded with joy.

Together, the pair flew off toward home. So relieved and happy was Omarya that she didn’t even glance back for one last look at the luminous cloud. But if she had . . . she would have noticed something strange.

At the instant her wingtip had brushed against the cloud, its light began to fade. Within seconds, the red glow vanished completely. Meanwhile the cloud itself started to shred, pulling apart like an old shawl whose threads had finally given way to time.

The cloud disappeared, its light extinguished forever. But more than just a spot of light had been lost from this faraway edge of the spirit realm. Much more than that had been destroyed.

That luminous cloud was, in fact, part of the great veil woven ages before by Sammelvar and Escholia, the leaders of the spirit realm. The veil’s sacred purpose, to separate the mortal and spirit realms, had taken on great importance in the aftermath of the War of Horrors. In that conflict, the warrior spirit Narkazan had brutally attacked the Earth—the necessary first step to conquering all the mortal worlds in the universe. His invasion caused terrible damage to the Earth and its peoples—as well as the immortals who had fought to protect them.

Finally, thanks to the heroic sacrifices of countless beings in both realms, Narkazan was defeated. But his hunger for power continued—and grew stronger with his lust for revenge. For not even a dreadful loss in battle—or a headlong plunge into the Maelstrom from which no one before him had ever escaped—was enough to stop him.

Until now, the only thing that prevented Narkazan from mounting another full-scale attack on the Earth was the veil. Woven from strands of the most powerful magic in the spirit realm, it was designed to shield mortals from another invasion of a large spirit army. And it had done so successfully for many ages.

Yet the veil’s makers overlooked a different kind of threat. The barrier wasn’t equipped to stop lone individuals, spirits who thought nothing of breaking the law that forbade travel between the realms. Whether they sought the company of someone special in the lands below, or simply craved some tasty food found only on Earth, they discovered holes or made new ones as they passed through, weakening the veil.

Despite Sammelvar’s pleas, individual spirits—including his son, Promi—continued to pierce the veil. Finally, the veil grew so weak that only the thinnest strands of remaining magic held it together. Sammelvar had grown so worried about its condition (and so eager to prove the point to Promi) that he illuminated the veil with mist fire, lighting up whatever was left with a reddish glow.

All it took to destroy the veil completely was one last touch from a single being. When Omarya did that, the remaining veil collapsed completely. All the deep magic that had once bound it together dissolved, scattering in all directions.

That was how, in the farthest reaches of the realm, the most powerful barrier ever created was utterly destroyed. Not by an army of warriors . . . but by the lightest brush of a gentle wing.