CHAPTER 1

THE DAY EVERYTHING CHANGED


The Bright Circle rose into the sky to signal the start of a new day. In just a short while, the kids would get to see the world around them for the very first time, and soon after …

Cerusa's mind had been haunted by … those thoughts … as she struggled to get any sleep during the night. Just what was Rantyl thinking when he said he was going to head out to some unknown place so soon after their hatchlings were born? What could have driven him to seek out this place in such a hurry while the rest of the herd were seeking out the Great Valley? Who knew where this place was? Was it closer than the valley was? What if no such place existed and it would be all for nothing? What if it would all be such an unnecessary waste? What if …

The blue Flyer had to refrain from thinking of all the "what ifs" if she was to have any hope her beloved mate knew just what he was doing. It was an incredibly dangerous world for a Flyer, and yet this tree they had so recently settled in was not much better. Every night she woke up fearing Sharptooth Flyers would try to dive in and scoop up their eggs, but now those fears had increased ten-fold with five newborn children in the nest. Even with three grownups looking after them, she wondered if they were truly safe out here in this Bright Circle-forsaken place. Surely, Rantyl must have had their children in mind when he came up with his plan.

A yawn interrupted her train of thought for just a moment, and she noticed her beloved Rantyl sitting up and stretching his wings out. She glanced uneasily at him as he stood up and approached her with his ever-so-happy morning smile she loved seeing from him.

"Good morning, my dear," he said in a soft whisper so as not to wake up the children.

Cerusa didn't respond the way she normally would. She knew this day was one she was not looking forward to, and she wished it could wait just a little while longer.

Rantyl's smile faded as he noticed her droopy beak, and he placed a gentle hand on it, rubbing it tenderly.

"I know what you're thinking, my sweet," he spoke solemnly, "I know you don't want me to do this, but it's for the good of the family, … for our children."

"You promised me you would never leave me alone in this world," said Cerusa bitterly.

"Like I said, Cerusa. I could never leave you alone. Never forever," reassured Rantyl.

"Can't this whole thing wait, Rantyl? Can't the children get to know their father? You know they could wait until they come of age and learn to fly."

"We can't take any chances in this dangerous place, Cerusa. You know that," said Rantyl.

"The world our children need is a world with a father to grow up with," insisted Cerusa.

"And it will be," replied Rantyl, holding her by the shoulders, "I promise you, once I find this place, everything will be perfect … just like you want it. You and I both know what's right for our little ones."

A single tear escaped from Cerusa's eye as she tried in vain to make another counterargument. It seemed that nothing would prevent her mate from taking this daring quest just to give their children a perfect, safe world where they could live peacefully. Why couldn't it wait? Why did it have to be now? What would happen to the children if he failed? They would have let down their kids. They would have blown all the chances they had of a family future, … and quite possibly their only chance at parenthood. The other Flyers of their herd would surely consider them the worst parents imaginable.

As the two embraced each other, Cerusa cast a glance at their five new hatchlings, and she saw Donnie and Pearlwing opening their eyes and yawning cutely. It was such an adorable sight to watch newborn babies wake up to the start of a new day. It was a sight that just about choked her up.

"Aww. Look at the little ones, my dear," she sniffled.

Rantyl turned to see the kids for himself, and he, too, was choked up by the heartwarming sight of the awakening hatchlings.

"Aww. Why, look at you, younglings," he spoke playfully, "Good morning, our sweet ones."

Donnie and Pearlwing's yawning managed to awaken Terra and Skybeak, and soon Pterano stirred a little before sluggishly getting himself up to his feet, groaning a little as he stretched himself.

"Good morning," he said.

"Good morning, Pterano," replied Cerusa, letting out a humorous chuckle, "You're just in time to see the new ones start their day."

Pterano gazed down at the excited children, only to find that Petrie was still fast asleep.

"Hmm, I think I may have woken up early for one of them," he commented.

Cerusa and Rantyl noticed their youngest son still sleeping seemingly comfortably. They could tell from the grin on his beak that he was perfectly content the way he was. However, they also noticed a tiny wet spot on the leaves he was sleeping on, and they knew just what that meant.

"Looks like he wet the nest in his sleep," sighed Cerusa.

"That'll happen from time to time. All babies do that," replied Rantyl.

Cerusa shrugged as she found herself having to agree with her mate. She knew that one of the many challenges of parenthood would be having to deal with their children wetting the nest and having to dispose of wet leaves and twigs and replacing them with new ones.

"I'll wake him up, dear," she insisted, and she wiggled her fingers against Petrie's side in a playful manner.

The little Flyer let out a chuckle and began to giggle while trying to stay asleep.

"Time to get up, little Petrie," chuckled Cerusa, trying her best not to laugh at her son's reaction to the tickling.

Petrie laughed and laughed until he couldn't stay asleep any longer, and he rolled onto his back and opened his eyes. Once he saw his mother kneeling right in front of him, he immediately stopped laughing and let out a nervous gulp.

"There, there, Petrie. It's just me. Don't be afraid, dear," Cerusa reassured her son.

Petrie's beak shook much like one's mouth would with clattering teeth, and he cautiously sat up and started to calm down. By now, he had begun warming up to his mother, but he still seemed to have a hard time getting acquainted with the rest of the family.

"Hmm," pondered Cerusa, "Petrie seems to be quite a nervous one. He's nothing like the rest of them."

"It's a bit … strange," said Rantyl, scratching his head, "The others seem ready to see the world right away."

"Do you suppose it could be something?" suggested Pterano.

"Why would I know? It's too early to even think about it," answered Cerusa.

"I suppose we'd better get rid of that leaf he was sleeping on and find some new ones," said Rantyl.

"Right," agreed Cerusa, "I'll dispose of this one."

She carefully picked up the soaked leaf, making Petrie flinch a little, and she soared her way down to the forest ground below. There weren't too many ground star plants around since it wasn't quite the brightest area of the forest. Add to that, desperate land dwellers were constantly picking off the few plants they could find as they passed by every now and then.

Cerusa soon managed to find one single plant on the ground. She looked around to make sure nobody else was in her surroundings. There was no sign of life anywhere. Assured that the coast was clear and that no one would catch her in the act, she pulled several leaves off the plant with her talons and flew back up towards her nest before anyone could notice her.

She let out a sigh of relief as she landed on the branch her nest was on, and she set the dry leaves on the spot Petrie had slept.

"Good as new," she said.

"Well, kids, would you like to go for a ride with Daddy?" Rantyl playfully asked the hatchlings.

Although the babies had no idea what he was saying, they smiled and cheered as if they knew what was coming. All three adults chuckled at the hilarious reaction.

"I think they do," commented Rantyl humorously.

Cerusa had to stop herself from tearing up as she remembered that her mate was due to start his trip later that very day. She began to wonder if this was the only time the kids would get to know their father … for at least a long time.

"Climb aboard," said Rantyl, bending down to the nest, and one-by-one the four excited children climbed onto their father's back with two each getting a grip on his arms, "Alright, kids. Hang on tight!"

Carefully, the male walked to the end of the branch and flapped his wings up and down several times before he made his leap and began to soar through the sky. The kids were cheering loudly with joy and excitement at the thrill of their first trip in the air.

"I think those children will have exciting lives ahead," commented Pterano as he watched them.

"Hmm, … I wonder how Petrie would like it?" his sister pondered, glancing at her youngest child sitting in the middle of the nest.

"Give it a try, sister," whispered Pterano.

Cerusa nodded and steadily approached her son.

"Petrie?"

Upon hearing the name, the boy glanced up at his mother nervously but with a shaky grin. For Cerusa, this meant one good sign …

"Well, he knows his name now," she chuckled, "That's a smart little one."

"Indeed," her brother agreed, smiling at his nephew.

"Petrie," Cerusa spoke gently, "Would you like to ride on my back and find some breakfast with me?"

Petrie, being just a day old, couldn't understand what she was saying, but he managed to respond … by frowning as if he wasn't sure he wanted to try it.

"I promise I'll be careful, my little one," his mother assured him, "No harm will come to you as long as I'm around, … I promise."

She opened out her hand and set it in front of him, and her son cautiously accepted the gesture. This allowed her to set him on her back, and she wrapped his arms around her neck.

"Hold on tight now, okay?" she spoke soothingly, "You don't want to fall off."

Petrie gulped as his mother took a few slow steps, and before long she made a run for it and jumped out of the nest with her son whimpering as he clung tightly to her neck. She spread her wings out and began flapping them to stop their fall, and she slowly made her way deep into the dry forest. All the while, Petrie quietly moaned and whimpered, shutting his eyes and refusing to open them. It became clear to Cerusa that he was not enjoying this in the slightest. She sighed in dismay as she pondered her options: either take him back to the nest where he felt he was safe or keep him aboard so he could get to know their small world around them. It was crucial that their children learned of what was around them in case danger should ever come. They would have to know where to hide from stalking predators or if there was ever a terrible sky fire storm.

"It's okay, Petrie," she tried reassuring him, "Everything's fine."

It was no use. Petrie kept quivering and shivering as he clung tightly to his mother's neck. He wanted this flight to be over.

Cerusa sighed sadly and made a split-second decision she was sure would be regrettable …

She turned around and made her way back up to their nest, and she gently touched back down and pulled Petrie off her neck and into her arms. Her heart ached at the sight of his quivering beak, fearful tears streaming down his cheeks. A choked sigh escaped from her beak as she nuzzled him gently.

"There, there, Petrie. I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice nearly broken.

"Is he alright?"

Cerusa nearly jumped, seeming to have forgotten for just a moment that her brother was still there.

"He didn't take it very well, I'm afraid," said Cerusa despondently.

Pterano was shocked. Was Petrie really that afraid of just about … everything? This was something beyond what he had seen in a newborn hatchling. Many children were ready to face the world the moment they were born, but Petrie seemed to be a completely different case.

"I have a feeling …" he started before he noticed Rantyl returning to the nest with the other children, several tree stars in his talons.

"Alright, kids. Breakfast is all yours!" he announced, and he dropped the tree stars into the nest before touching down.

The kids slid down his back and gathered around the tree stars to enjoy their first ever meal. Cerusa and Pterano smiled at the joyous sight, but once Rantyl noticed how shaky Petrie appeared to be, his good mood died down almost immediately.

"Is Petrie okay?" he asked worryingly.

"I tried to take him for a ride, but he freaked out so I brought him back before we could go searching for food," Cerusa explained solemnly.

Rantyl sighed sadly and cautiously approached his frightened son.

"Aww, Petrie. Are you alright?" he asked gently.

The only response he got was a frown forming on his shaking beak with wet, shiny eyes. It broke Rantyl's heart to see the little one like this.

Cerusa opened her beak, but before she could say a word, her mate picked up one of the tree stars he had collected and held it out in front of Petrie.

"Are you hungry, little one?" he said, trying to sound playful in an effort to brighten Petrie's mood, "I have food. It's delicious. I think you might like it."

Petrie just stared at it like he didn't know what to make of it. He couldn't tell whether it was food or some sort of green menace out to get him.

Seeing how hesitant he was, Cerusa slowly opened Petrie's beak, and Rantyl tore off a piece of the tree star and carefully brought it up to his mouth. Once they were sure it was in, Cerusa got him to close his beak again, and Petrie realized he had something in his mouth. It didn't take him long to realize just what it was, and he didn't know what to do.

Soon, though, his tongue felt rather ticklish from having the food gently brushing against it, and he let out a few giggles. His parents brightened at this. It seemed to give him a strange sense of enjoyment, but they knew they had done their job in getting him interested in their preferred green food.

"He likes it," chuckled Rantyl.

"He certainly does," agreed Cerusa.

"Aww, that's a good boy!" giggled Rantyl.

Petrie laughed for a good couple of seconds before he began to sense the taste of the tree star. It was a taste that seemed to soothe him. It was so delicious that he calmed down and sighed contently.

"Aww," said Cerusa, kissing her son's head, "Looks like green food will be the trick whenever we have to calm him down."

"I still wonder … why he seems so afraid compared to the rest of them," said Rantyl cluelessly.

"I'm not sure," replied Cerusa, "It's difficult to say."

"Maybe we should give him some time, and perhaps he'll be able to brave the world around him," suggested Rantyl.

Cerusa gave her mate an unsure look, but she wasn't willing to push this conversation any further, so she nodded without a word.

Once she saw the uncertain expression on Rantyl's beak, Cerusa was immediately reminded of … that dreadful moment that was sure to come …

"I know, dear," said Rantyl, seemingly able to read her thoughts, "Like I said, I must do this for the sake of our kids."

"Didn't you say you were going to leave at the break of dawn?" asked Pterano.

"Well, I couldn't leave without saying goodbye to the little ones, now could I?" responded Rantyl, looking fondly at the hatchlings eating their food.

Cerusa frowned deeply as she set Petrie back down. Hearing … that word … seemed to trigger negative thoughts in her mind. Just the idea of Rantyl saying goodbye for who knew how long was just unbearable. She could only imagine herself longing for him to come back … or another Flyer bringing news of his demise. As much as she didn't want to think about it, it was clear that this was a dangerous gamble he was taking just to ensure a better family future.

Donnie, Terra, Skybeak and Pearlwing all gathered around their father, smiling and appearing to be excited about something. Perhaps they were anticipating another ride on his back. It seemed that those four had had such a wonderful time, unlike their younger brother.

"Now, now, kids," chuckled Rantyl, "Settle down a little. Daddy has to go. I'll be back soon, okay?"

He gently hugged all his children, and he even gave Petrie a very gentle hug.

"You be a brave boy, Petrie … for me," he said, "I love you, little buddy."

To their surprise, Petrie didn't flinch as his father gave him a tender kiss on the crown of his head.

"I think he's starting to warm up to things around here."

This brought a smile to Cerusa's face before her mate placed his hands on her shoulders. The couple looked longingly at each other's eyes, Cerusa's shining as new tears formed and waited to come down.

"I promise, dear, … I'll be back soon," said Rantyl, "Soon we'll have a happy future together. Soon our family will be in the safest place imaginable. Soon our children will have a lovely childhood."

"What if …," Cerusa began, but Rantyl kissed her tenderly before she was able to finish.

"Try not to think about that, darling," he whispered, "Think about our little ones. Spend time with them. Five children will surely keep it out of your mind."

Cerusa couldn't think of a counterargument. He had made up his mind, and that was that. He was either going to bring them a happy future or let them all down. Nothing was going to stop him. He was extra-determined to succeed in this near-impossible goal.

"Remember, … I will never leave you alone in this world."

"Please … be careful, dear," Cerusa whispered weakly.

"I will," answered Rantyl, and they hugged each other tightly, one of them wondering if this would be the last time they would get to do this … in a long time … or ever.

They kissed each other's beaks and slowly pulled away, Cerusa in tears by the time they made eye contact again.

"I love you, Cerusa," said Rantyl.

"I love you, too, Rantyl," Cerusa replied in a broken voice.

Rantyl stepped away from his mate and approached Pterano, who was trying his best to maintain his composure after watching the emotional parting.

"Pterano, … I want you to take special care of our children for as long as I'm gone," said Rantyl, "Help my dearly beloved be the best mother she can be."

Pterano heaved out a big sigh as his chest nearly collapsed. Having such big responsibility that could last for who knew how long felt like a heavy burden weighing down on his shoulders. He loved the children just as much as their parents did, but could he keep them safe? Could he ensure they would be happy until their father returned … if he ever did? He, like his sister, didn't want to think about the possibility of Rantyl never coming back. He was determined to give the children high spirits and give them the impression that everything was going to be alright.

"Promise me," Rantyl added after a long silence had gone by, and Pterano nearly flinched as he realized he had been caught overthinking about the possibilities.

Shaken, he spoke in a meek voice …

"I swear … on my life … no harm will come to your children. I promise to be as much a fatherly figure I can be until your return."

"Thank you," said Rantyl, letting out a sigh of relief, "It means a lot to me. I know you'll do well."

Pterano gulped doubtfully, but he was not about to bring Rantyl's spirits down, so he said nothing.

Rantyl stepped out of the nest and walked down a branch that stretched out towards the western horizon. Cerusa frantically followed him while Pterano huddled the children to keep them from leaving the safety of the nest.

The male seemed to notice his mate wanting to make one final attempt at persuading him to stay, as he turned around and gently held her by the shoulders, looking into her wet, pleading eyes.

"This is not goodbye, my dear," he said kindly, "It's just the beginning of the next step in life."

Cerusa found no words to say as her mate kissed her one last time.

"Keep an eye on the horizon," he finished with a smile … before he turned his back on her and jumped off the branch, flapping his wings to stay aloft and get into a higher position in the sky. His beloved mate could only watch and brush her eyes as he disappeared into the early morning horizon. She kept her eyes locked on him as he gradually turned into merely a small dot in the sky until he had completely vanished.

With Rantyl gone, Cerusa reluctantly turned away and rejoined her brother and children in the nest, her heart sunk as she prayed for his safe return. She eyed the five children and saw confused looks on their faces. Her heart melted. It was like they knew something didn't seem right. Why would their father just … leave like that?

"It's alright, children," she spoke in a gentle voice, "Your father will be back soon."

She was barely able to contain herself as all five hatchlings gathered around her with … curious or pleading … eyes.

Cerusa sighed and sat down, and she scooped all five of them onto her lap and cuddled each of them. If there was one thing she knew would put a smile on her face as long as her mate was gone, it was her beloved children. His blood lived in them just as much as hers did, and she would do her best to give them the care and love they needed. It was the one piece of him that was still around … for now.

"I love you, little ones," she whispered, trying to sound happy for them, "You're all so beautiful, aren't you?"

The baby Flyers smiled and snuggled into her, even Petrie. Their mother smiled and brushed the last few tears from her eyes. Despite the absence of their father, it felt so happy to watch her kids giving lots of love to her. Suddenly, she knew just what she had to do to make the moment even happier …

She began to playfully wiggle her fingers and tickle each of them, and laughs escaped all five little beaks. She laughed along with them and kissed each of them from time to time. The last time she felt this happy was the day she and Rantyl became mates, and she knew this was an important moment, as it meant she was well on her way to becoming a much-loved mother. If Rantyl wanted to come back to see everyone happy, she would see to that and give the children as much happiness as she could give until they would not have to live in this Bright Circle-forsaken forest any longer …


Hours had passed since Rantyl made his departure. In that short space of time that had passed, Cerusa had been almost completely restless, slipping further into a period of endless yearning, praying for her mate's safe return. She would try to spend as much time with her children as she could, but it wasn't enough for it to escape her mind. She kept asking herself why it had to be now. It just wasn't fair that he didn't have the patience to wait until the children came of flying age. Maybe she could have convinced him to wait and they would all travel to the supposed Great Valley together just as all the families were waiting to do once their kids were able to fly. Rantyl just had to be making a foolish mistake. There was no way some "other place" could be out there. He was wasting time with this mission. It was just all wrong …

A sudden gentle pull on the tip of her wing just about startled her, and she frantically turned around to see if her brother was trying to get her attention, only to find him asleep with … four … children …

"Wait! There are supposed to be five …" she thought …

She looked down, … and she spotted Petrie … looking up at her with an expression appearing to be worrying as if he could tell just how she was feeling despite being a newborn.

"Petrie, … why aren't you asleep?" asked Cerusa, but of course, Petrie couldn't answer.

A heavy sigh escaped from Cerusa's beak as she gently picked up her son and cuddled him.

"Aw, little Petrie," she sighed.

The boy let out a tiny moan as if to let out his feelings of despair … about …

Cerusa's heart fell at this, and she hugged her son tightly. How was someone who was just one day old able to understand another's feelings? There just had to be something about Petrie that made him … different from the rest. First, he had displayed signs of anxiety that none of his siblings had, and now here he was picking up the sense that his mother was upset about something. Perhaps, Rantyl was right in saying that this little one had quite a lot of potential …

Rantyl …

Just the mere thought of him nearly drove Cerusa to tears. Somehow and someway, this remarkable little child seemed to remind her of the one she loved so much, … and yet Petrie appeared to have little resemblance to his father. He had the same shade of brown as Rantyl, but still he seemed to more closely resemble his mother in other areas. The silver lining was that he at least had Rantyl's blood within him. Him and his siblings were like tiny pieces of him that she would get to keep. Once she remembered that, she thought of how she hoped she would get to keep them around for as long as possible. Yes, kids would grow up … eventually, … if they made it that far. There was no guarantee that any hatchling would make it to adulthood with predators stalking around. No wonder everyone wanted to seek out the Great Valley after hearing of its supposed legend. They all wanted more than ever to ensure their children would grow up in a peaceful world …

… just as Rantyl wanted …

It didn't seem to matter just how much Cerusa tried to think of anything else. Everything led back to him. Rantyl sure seemed to be a dedicated father if he wanted nothing but the best for his beloved children, and it almost seemed as if her son could see that in her thoughts, even if he was too young to understand … just about anything.

"Oh, Petrie. I know, dear," she sniffled, trying to keep her composure as she nuzzled her child, "I miss your Daddy, too."

She gave him a gentle kiss on the head and nuzzled him with her beak to give him lots of love.

"Daddy will be back soon, Petrie," she whispered, "Please don't worry, my sweet little one."

Petrie felt soothed by his mother's lulling voice, and he settled down as he heard the calm sound of her breathing. Before long, he yawned and closed his eyes, falling asleep before his mother even realized it.

It didn't take long for Cerusa to realize her son had fallen asleep, and she smiled and kissed the little Flyer lovingly.

"Goodnight, Petrie," she whispered, "I love you, little one."

Feeling a lot calmer than she had a moment ago, Cerusa lied down and held her youngest son tenderly in her wings, finally finding reason to settle down to sleep. Knowing she had children to look after was the one and only thing that could stop her from losing her composure nearly every hour of the day, … or worse, … her sanity. Her children were her new purpose in life. She knew now that motherhood was set to be her top priority for many Cold Times to come, … but was she ready to take up such a heavy task? Could she raise all five of her babies to become well-respected, high-functioning members of Flyer society? Could one even become a herd leader one day if her efforts paid off in the end? So much was at stake, and she knew she would have to spend probably the rest of her life making sure all the stakes of parenthood would play in her favor.

With exhaustion finally consuming her, Cerusa fell into a deep sleep with Petrie snuggling comfortably in her hold. She prayed that Rantyl would succeed in his mission and that not all would be in vain …


It was the morning after Rantyl had taken off on his mission. The skies seemed much grayer today than they had been the previous day when Petrie last saw his father. He remained confused as to why he … wasn't there. Shouldn't both a Mommy and a Daddy be around? Sure, Uncle Pterano was much like a "Daddy" to Petrie, but it just wasn't the same.

Even after two days of "braving" those around him, he still didn't have the courage to fly on anyone's back. His siblings, on the other hand, loved having rides on their uncle's back whenever he offered them. Soaring through the skies still felt very uncomfortable to Petrie. Something about not being on the ground seemed to frighten him. This caused concern for Cerusa and Pterano. They took it as a sign that Petrie could later become afraid to … learn how to …

No! It was impossible! Why would a Flyer be afraid to fly!? For their kind, such a thought was devastating. If any Flyer was afraid to do what they were known for, the long-term consequences would be disastrous for everyone. If Petrie never learned how to fly, it could potentially disgrace the entire family. Being able to fly was an important factor in social standing within a Flyer herd. Those who were unable to fly would face severe social rejection, or worse, even be left to die out in the open as disgraceful wastes of space.

No. Cerusa would not let such a tragic fate like that befall her youngest child if it ever came to be that way. She loved all her children, and she would make sure they all grew up to become high-functioning individuals. She was determined to help Petrie grow up to become the bravest of their family. Once her children came of age and the time came, she knew she would have to take Petrie's future flying lectures very seriously lest he fail miserably and become a disgraced outcast. Rantyl would surely not want that to happen …

Petrie was slowly eating his breakfast, enjoying the taste of the tree stars his mother had picked out for him and his siblings. Although many Flyers preferred to eat fish, Cerusa's family was one of the few who actually liked green food and fruits like sweet bubbles. As far as Cerusa was concerned, this habit went as far back as at least her grandparents' generation.

"Cerusa?"

The little Flyer noticed a shadow looming over the corner of the nest, and he looked up and squirmed at the sight of two other Flyers he had never seen before. Just what were they doing here if they were no part of his family?

Petrie immediately stood up, abandoned what was left of his tree star and ran into a small pile of grass to hide himself from these … "menacing strangers." He covered his head with his wings and whimpered silently.

"Is he okay?"

"I don't think he's ready for strangers just yet," said the second voice whom Petrie recognized as his mother's.

From the calm tone of her voice, Petrie sensed that his mother was perfectly alright being around these "unknown creatures." He peeked his eyes through a tiny hole in the grass pile, keeping himself out of everyone's sight.

"We have some news for you," said one of the strangers, a male who was green in color, "I suppose, perhaps, that …"

He gestured to the other children, and Cerusa turned to her brother.

"Pterano, … take the kids … somewhere for a little while."

"Yes, sister," Pterano replied, and he motioned to the four hatchlings gathered around them, "Come along, children."

Donnie, Terra, Skybeak and Pearlwing all followed their uncle out of the nest and climbed onto his back before he leaped off one of the branches and soared away. Petrie was worried about what would happen now that his mother was left all alone with two complete strangers whom he didn't know. He only hoped they wouldn't do anything … bad … to her.

"What is this news about?" asked Cerusa, somehow unaware of her son still hiding in the grass and eavesdropping on her.

"Word came from one of our messengers," answered the green stranger, and he turned to his associate, a purple female, who hesitantly spoke up …

"Well, … last night, before the Bright Circle was down, … your mate, Rantyl … was … unsuspectedly attacked … by a Sailback Sharptooth."

Cerusa gasped, and Petrie flinched at this, wondering why she was behaving like this despite nothing happening around them.

"What happened!? Is he okay!? Please tell me he wasn't seriously harmed!" she shouted, unknowingly frightening her little boy.

Neither of the strangers spoke and looked … sadly … at her.

"He put up a good fight, … but unfortunately … once several others finally arrived to help him, … it was too late."

Petrie watched as his mother's beak grew wide open, and her eyes went wide as if she was surprised.

"Cerusa, … we're so sorry … Rantyl has left for the Great Beyond."

After a tense moment of silence, Cerusa let out an agonizing scream and collapsed to her knees, wailing like a lost hatchling.

Petrie gasped and covered his beak with his wings as he watched his mother's sudden outburst. He cringed deeply as tears began to fall from his own eyes. Why was she behaving like this? What could cause someone like her to cry like that? He didn't know her to be like this. He had gotten used to her being such a gentle, loving figure, and yet suddenly she was behaving completely different in a way that scared him tremendously. Something just had to be wrong.

Gulping with fear, the little baby emerged from his hiding spot and slowly approached his crying mother. He didn't even make eye contact with the strangers. He wanted nothing more than to … give his mother a sense that he was here to help her feel better, his still young and developing mind completely oblivious to what had really just transpired …

"Cerusa, … we're so sorry … Rantyl has left for the Great Beyond."

Her heart just about stopped. She felt ready to have a heart attack right then and there. This could not be true. She had to be in a night terror that with others telling her lies to destroy her morale. There was no way in the Great Beyond that Rantyl was dead! He was a formidable Flyer. No Sharptooth could have possibly dragged him out of the sky just like that. This all had to be a lie!

Cerusa eyed each of the two deputies and saw those tearful expressions that ultimately consumed her mind into confirming that they were telling nothing but the truth …

… the truth …

… the truth that Rantyl was gone. Her mate whom had wanted nothing but the best for their children, the one she loved so much and whom loved her dearly in return, her one and only true love and the only one she could count on, … was gone. Gone forever. Her worst fears had come true. His devotion to the happiest family life possible had ultimately become his downfall. His much-determined mission to achieve a secure future for his family out of the love he had for her and their children … had been in vain. All he wanted was for the family to have a happy, peaceful place, but he would never get to see that happen. He would never see another day with his beloved mate or the beautiful children. The poor children would spend their entire lives with no father … and only her to care for and love them …

Cerusa could no longer contain her emotions, and she screamed loudly and fell to her knees in utter despair. Streams of tears poured from her eyes like waterfalls. She had descended into a living nightmare; a world without Rantyl, a world without love, a world with five children left wondering just what would become of them without their father being around to guide them through life. She felt she was entering a completely different world from the one she had been in up until that fateful morning when he left the nest for the final time, never to be seen again …

She looked up at the gray puffy-filled skies and lost all control of herself.

"Oh, Bright Circle!" she yelled in grief, "Oh, Bright Circle, why could you do this to me!? Why him!? Why Rantyl!? WHY!?"

Seeing no signs of the Bright Circle's light trying to break through the sky puffies, she couldn't stand to look at the heartless skies any longer. She turned away and suddenly saw Petrie standing right below her, and when she shook her head, brushed her eyes and got a good look at him, her heart sank deeply …

Petrie was just staring worryingly with wet, shiny eyes, tears streaming down his face. It was like he sensed something was wrong with her but didn't know what to do to make her feel better. It was a sight that crushed his mother's spirit, knowing he had no idea why she was truly feeling this way.

Suddenly, … she realized …

"Oh, Bright Circle!" she gasped loudly, making her son flinch, "What am I gonna tell my brother? What am I gonna tell my kids? When am I gonna tell my kids?"

Surely, at some point her children would be bound to find out that their father would be "missing" their whole lives, and they would grow up asking endless questions about what happened to him and why he was not there when he should have been.

It was at that moment that Cerusa suddenly realized that parenthood had just become a lot more difficult for her than it should have been. What would become of her family now? What awaited her children's futures? Could they survive with just her and her brother around to care for them? Would they be able to understand … once the time was right?

"Oh, Petrie," she sniffled, gently picking up her frightened son and hugging him lovingly, "I'm so sorry, my little one."

Eventually, Petrie tearfully looked up at her with an expression that was so innocently asking her, "What's wrong, Mama?" Cerusa frowned and nuzzled him. The least she could do was give love to her precious child even in a moment of such heavy grief and sorrow that she would more than likely never recover from. She could already feel the impact it was about to leave on her for the rest of her life and potentially affect her ability to care for her young.

"We're very sorry to bring you this news, Cerusa," said one of the deputies, "We'll pray for the best for your family."

Cerusa didn't reply, keeping her eyes on her precious little boy. She didn't even notice the deputies leaving until the silence became just a bit overwhelming. All she could think about now … was how this horrible, unneeded tragedy would change her hatchlings' childhoods for the worse …