Author’s Note: If life gives you a moment to treasure, don’t let it pass you by.
Graymar checked every saddle strap for the fourth time, then did something he’d never done before: he let Samuel look them over. He didn’t have to do much, but he let him do it just the same – ensure that they were secured and stable, and that nothing was loose. It was the least he could do for the human who had been his bonded ride and his closest friend his entire adult life.
When Samuel was finished, Graymar crouched down on all fours to let him climb on. They were certainly old men at this point…Samuel grunted as he stepped into one foot well and lifted himself up, and with considerable awkwardness used the pommel to pull his other leg over. Eiyah, they were already so out of practice! Not that it really mattered now. As long as he could reach the sky with him one more time. They went through the checklist like they always did, but this time they did it slowly. There was no rush, as they weren’t heading anywhere in particular. Samuel adjusted the foot wells, tethered himself up in all the right places, and tapped Graymar just above his left shoulder when he was ready to go.
“You sure you’re okay with a ground lift-off, Gray?” he asked, as they moved closer to the makeshift landing strip that they’d made earlier by tamping down the grass with a few fallen branches. “I mean…”
“It’s not bothering me today,” he said, and he meant it. Retiring from long flights had certainly slowed the pain. It still hurt when he was aware of it, but for now it had receded enough that he could at least fly one last time. He did not know how long they’d have before he ran out of strength and had to land again, but he chose not to dwell on it. He would go for as long as he could, and he would tell Samuel when it was time. “We can go for as long as the both of us can.”
Another pat on his shoulder. He must have picked that up from his pahyoh. Samuel had never done that until he’d seen Diwa providing that physical connection with Kaffi. It felt right; it was reassurance, that he was there for him. “Whenever you’re ready,” Samuel said.
Graymar lifted his forearms slightly and angled himself skyward. “Ready to go,” he said, and unfurled his wings to full span. No twitch in his wing at all. With a wide smile that showed every single one of his fangs, he hummed with pleasure. “Prepare for lift-off.”
Samuel laughed quietly, touching his shoulder one more time. “I’ve always loved watching you do that, Gray,” he said. “You’ve always had the most amazing wingspan.”
“Hmm. Maianni-naahsah, my fiiri.”
“I am prepped and ready.”
Graymar exhaled. This was going to be the last time he’d do this with his bonded ride. This was the Last Flight. He felt his heart surge with…it wasn’t sadness, much to his surprise. It was comfort. Conviction.
With a powerful push from his hind legs, he leapt up into the air. Behind him, he heard Samuel barking out a surprised and joyous laugh in response.
He rode the mountain wind ever upwards. Getting altitude was easy here, thanks to the natural wind flow. He didn’t have to push as hard, which meant that he could glide and adjust with minimal movement and stay up here with Samuel for as long they both could. He reminded himself, more out of amusement than shame, that they were both most likely in trouble back at the estate, having completely forgotten to tell anyone where they were going. He thought he’d seen Anna-Nassi nearby when they’d gone to the light rail station, so she may have witnessed them. But right now that didn’t matter.
None of that mattered.
What mattered was that he was here, up in the air, where he belonged. He was here with his bonded ride and his best friend. This was when he remembered just how similar he and his pahyoh were. They were tintrite with a love of the air, and rides bonded to humans they cared for deeply. Their ways of showing such bonds may have been different in so many ways…but then again, did that truly matter? What really mattered was that the bond was strong and unbroken.
He’d never broken his bond with Samuel.
Kaffi’s voice stirred him out of his reverie, but he was not angry. He sniffed at the air and glanced over his shoulder at Samuel. “We are caught,” he said with a mischievous grin.
“Busted,” Samuel smirked, and glanced over his shoulder. “Kaffi!” he called out, waving in his direction. “We’re fine. No need to worry.”
Kaffi may have been a good distance away and trying to catch up, but he could hear his deep displeasure and annoyance. A grunt and a long, rumbling growl.
“Oh dear, he’s pissed,” Samuel said.
“Ai…” Graymar swallowed his pride and swung in a slow arc to meet up with his pahyoh. He noticed Kaffi was still wearing his saddle, though it was currently empty. “Kaffi,” he said. “Please, we are fine. We apologize for not telling anyone.”
Kaffi snorted loudly and swung into position beside him. “Issthnamii…you gave us a scare, paddir!” he whined. “We couldn’t find you or Samuel and expected the worst!”
“I know, and I am sorry.” He dipped his head low towards his son. “We should have informed you and Diwa.”
Kaffi gave him a dismissing grunt and a midrange hum in response…he was more worried than angry. He’d make amends with him once they got back to the nest. In the meantime, he’d just had an idea that would begin that process, and he was sure Samuel would agree to it. He looked up again and caught his eyes. “Diwa is here?”
“He’s down below,” he said.
“Good,” he said. “Pahyoh, please do me a favor.”
Kaffi tipped his snout at him with uncertainty. “What do you need?”
He gestured down at the ground below with a talon. “Please. Go back and get Diwa and bring him up here.”
“Diwa…” Kaffi shuddered and gasped, and nearly lost his smooth glide. “Eiyah…! Yes, paddir!” He pulled into a sharp turn and dive, much sharper and more dangerous than even he would have tried, but pulled out of it quickly, landing mere yards from his ride.
“What are you up to…?” Samuel said.
“This is my wish for Last Flight,” Graymar said. “To be with my ride, and for him to be with his.”
Diwa watched Kaffi spiral away from Graymar and Samuel and dive back down towards him at such a frightening speed and angle that it scared him. Had they argued? Were they angry at each other now? What was going on up there? But before he could say anything, Kaffi had already landed next to him, much harder than usual, kicking up dirt and dust as he regained his footing and balance.
“Come,” Kaffi said breathlessly, lowering himself to the ground. “Climb on.”
“Please, Dee!” he chirped at him. “They want us up there.”
Diwa nodded quickly and hopped on. He secured himself in record time and they were back up in the air within a few minutes. “What’s going on?” he said.
Kaffi grunted and flapped furiously until they caught a strong wind, and soon they were leveling off. His breathing was labored, and he flapped his wings sparingly until he was calm once more. He didn’t respond right away. Diwa looked to the ten o’clock position and could see Graymar and Samuel, just a bit higher, circling in a holding pattern, waiting for them. Instinctively he placed a hand on Kaffi’s shoulder, right behind his wings.
“Last Flight,” Kaffi said quietly.
Diwa finally understood and hummed in response. Now that he knew Graymar’s fate, everything fell into place and all the anger he’d felt towards his father melted away at once. He could fault them for not telling anyone where they were, and he was sure both Graymar and Samuel felt guilty about it. But he would not fault them for choosing to go somewhere completely open and unencumbered, somewhere they could share this moment together without interruption or distraction, with a clear view of Mount Laimora in the distance at that.
A perfect location for Last Flight.
Kaffi drifted to his father’s side but said nothing. Diwa looked over at his father, who was looking back at him with a sad, tearful smile, and was suddenly struck by the realization that he had never flown in tandem with him. They’d followed behind a few times when they were still training, sure. They’d even flown together once or twice on local errands. They’d had a tender conversation, the four of them in the back office, about what it was to fly and to be bonded.
But they had never flown together purely for the joy of it. Until this moment.
“Pop,” he said, his voice catching in his throat.
“Natutuwa akong narito ka, Diwa,” Samuel said.
Diwa nodded and gave him a smile. “So am I, Pop,” he said.
There were no more words shared between them, and Diwa knew none were needed. They flew in silence over the meadow, then out over the lush forests that lined the start of the mountain range. He took in every single view and held every single detail close in his heart and his soul. He would not forget this moment. He took in the light blue of the afternoon sky. He took in the dark green of the forest and the golden brown of the meadow grass. The shimmering white of the sun reflected off the dark blue waters of the bay. The verdant hues of the mountain range on the peninsula. The industrial grays of the city center. The light purple shadows on Mount Laimora.
The dark grayish green of Kaffi’s scales, the mottled brown and gray of his wings.
The even darker grayish green of Graymar’s scales, the striking deep brown of Graymar’s wings.
And the peaceful smile on Samuel’s face.
He would remember all of this, for years to come.
Graymar and Samuel would take the light rail from Griffin back to the estate, along with Anna-Nassi and Cole. They had arrived while they were airborne, both of them having sensed their whereabouts all the way from the park’s entrance and had watched solemnly and without a word. They knew, they understood. Diwa had asked them to call Dari and Shahney and whoever needed to know that they were heading home.
Kaffi and Diwa decided to stay there in the field for just a little while longer, resting up before they made their own flight back. Diwa voiced his concern about Kaffi having flown so far and so much today, but Kaffi would hear none of it. He was in fine shape, the winds would be with them, and they could take their own time. He refused to take the light rail home; he wanted to be up there in the air, with Diwa.
Kaffi stood behind him, his arms around Diwa’s shoulders. “Dee,” he said.
“I…um.” He let out a slow breath. “I want to thank you, first,” he said eventually, measuring his words. “For being with me today. For doing what we did to find our paddir. And I am touched that my paddir requested we share his Last Flight. And…”
Diwa felt Kaffi shiver.
“…and I’m glad the both of us shared that.”
“Hmm,” he said in response and leaned back into Kaffi’s belly.
Kaffi pulled him close and rested his snout against Diwa’s cheek.
Diwa leaned up against his friend. Humming again. Gave him a kiss, just behind his whiskers.
Nothing more needed to be said.
issthnamii (ees-th’nah-mee) (Tintrite) – exclamation of frustration or impatience
“Natutuwa akong narito ka, Diwa.” (Tagalog) — “I am glad you’re here, Diwa.”