<Location: The Starfall Mountains, 2100 hours>
Halcyon Adhil stared up at the nighttime sky and marveled at the sheer explosion of color pouring down from the heavens. He could see the gamma ray bursts from supernovas, the fiery ultraviolet from a young main sequence, the smoldering infrared from an ancient red giant in the final stages of its existence. He was looking into the past as he looked up at the heavens, a silent witness to events that had transpired eons ago.
Hal blinked his orange reptilian eyes and squinted as a fierce gust of wind pelted his body with stinging glittering flecks of snow and rock. His tail turned away from the wind, coiling up tightly to conserve body heat. Among the DreamKeepers of Anduruna he certainly had not met any that looked much like him, a body with origins as ancient as the heavens themselves. Halcyon was a feathered reptile; a raptor. Neither dinosaur nor bird, he found himself on the terminus between two eras of evolution. His dark green scaly skin was almost entirely covered by jet black plumage, much like a raven. It was only in certain areas, small patches around his eyes, the raptor talons of his feet, and his tail, where his reptilian nature was obvious. Of course, the fact that he had a mouth of razor sharp teeth instead of a beak was hard to miss, feathered as it was. All dreamkeepers were unique in appearance, but he had yet to meet any with great physical similarities to himself.
What many people had a difficult time getting used to was his tail. The chimera-like appendage had a snake head at the end, with a quartet of blood red eyes. He looked down at it, tightly coiled into a compact bundle on the stone platform, eyes shut against the wind. Slow awareness of just how cold it was outside on the Starfall mountains caused him to pull the collar of his jacket more tightly about his neck. His tail operated semi-independently from his own conscious will, but was not intelligent or sentient in its own right. It was a sometimes useful, often annoying, broadcaster of his emotional state and subconscious thought. It had no name, as it was just another part of himself: Hal. He would no sooner start naming each hand or foot, they were all just parts of his body.
His tail looked up and blinked as a wedge of yellow light poured onto the platform from the now-open door behind him. "HAL!" The voice was loud, accusatory, and female. In an instant, the faint halo above his head disappeared as he returned his eyes to the normal visible spectrum, but it was too late to conceal what he had been doing. He turned, looking over his shoulder at the angry violet and gray fox behind him. As she started marching towards him, his tail recoiled from her defensively, head lowered. "You were using your power again, weren't you!" Her words were partially swept away by the stinging wind, but they resonated with the clarity of truth.
Hal raised his hands in a gesture of half surrender. "Relax, Miri. The mountains aren't going to turn me over to the troopers. We're the only living beings within a dozen miles of here." His voice was deep but raspy, and sadly a poor defense against the fury of his research assistant.
"That's not the point!" She jabbed a finger into his chest and looked up at him defiantly. "If you keep pushing your luck, one of these days someone -will- see you, and then you'll find yourself in far more trouble than you can handle! The observatory isn't your own personal playground. You're lucky I don't turn you in myself!" Miri was clearly upset, but Hal knew that she was only acting this way out of concern for his safety. Powers violations were not tolerated, even more benign powers such as his own.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Sorry." The apology was one he had issued many times before. Miri was one of the few people who knew that he had discovered his power to see other ranges of the EM spectrum, and mercifully, she had been a good enough friend to keep it to herself through the years. The wind pelted the two of them with another stinging gust, and Hal's tail hissed in dissatisfaction. "Come on." Miri grabbed his arm and started to lead him away from the edge of the railing towards the door into the observatory. "If you stay out here too much longer you'll turn into an ice cube."
She led Hal back into the small remote observatory, which was considerably warmer and far less windy than the snow covered mountains outside. The room was a large hemispherical chamber with a very expensive looking telescope in the center, mounted on a platform which could be precisely rotated and controlled via data scroll to observe practically any celestial object. This was Hal's sanctuary, at least for a couple days at a time, when he left his job as an assistant lecturer at the university behind in order to do astronomical research in the remote peaks of the Starfall mountains. It was one of the few places he could feel safe using his power to see the world with different eyes.
A large fire in the fireplace off to one side helped breathe some life into the mostly open room, and there was a pot with some sort of stew bubbling happily over the flame. His tail tasted the air frequently, angling closer to the fire. "What's cooking? It smells good." He reached for a chair at one of the work tables covered with scattered pages of his own handwritten notes.
"I don't know why you always ask." Miri sighed, walking over to the pot and stirring the contents with a long handled spoon. "It's always the same thing. Bander meat and vegetable stew." The steam from the simmering cauldron quickly fogged up her glasses, which she removed to wipe clean with the cloth of her lab coat.
Miri, like Hal, was a fellow astronomer and assistant teacher at the university, pursuing a doctorate underneath their mutual mentor, Doctor Kincaid. They had known each other for years, and had constantly competed against one another as they rose through the ranks of academia. She was smart, ambitious, and highly attractive by most opinions. The rumor mill often whispered about all the time they spent 'doing research' together out in the mountains, but so far, that's all they *had* been doing. Research. They had settled into an often rivalrous but close friendship over the years, and things had never progressed anywhere further than that. "I'm hoping one of these days you'll surprise me." Hal answered, pulling the chair out from the table. "Perhaps you'll finally snap, murder one of your annoying students, and cook him into a delicious meal for me."
Miri chuckled, flicking her tail as she placed her eyeglasses back on her face. "You shouldn't joke about- oh Hal!" The warning was a split second too late. As he started to sit down in his seat, Hal was suddenly jolted with an electric shock, sending himself and the chair clattering to the ground. Miri's pet, a spark ryuu-neko named Tesla, had been napping in Hal's chair until the raptor tried to sit on him. The skittish yellow thing darted away in a flash after the self defense release of electrical energy, leaping up into Miri's lab coat, fur standing on end in surprise.
"Ugh... damn it Tesla, why can't you pick a safer place to sleep?" Hal's tail snapped at the ryuu-neko in agitation as he pulled himself back up onto his feet, righting the fallen chair and much more carefully slipping into his seat. The yellow critter shied away, clinging onto Miri and looking to her for protection as she folded him into her arms gently. "Maybe you should look where you're sitting next time. Poor Tesla." She smoothed the statically charged fur of her pet, which was staring worriedly at Hal's agitated snake-tail.
"I don't think that critter ever liked me." Hal grumbled, reaching out with feathered arms to scoop up the notepaper littering the table and congregate it into a single neat stack.
"It's your tail. You know it bothers him." She gave Tesla a small kiss on the back of the head and placed him back on the floor, where he quickly scampered off to places unseen. Miri turned back to the stew and began to ladle the contents into a pair of bowls. She walked over to the table and sat down opposite Hal, sliding his dinner across to him with a wry smile.
"Hey, you know I can't do anything about that." Hal's tail rested on the edge of his bowl of soup, tasting the steam billowing out from it. "Anyways, the weather is really starting to get nasty out there. I think we should head back to Calypsa tomorrow morning first thing before a snowdrift blocks off the main pass back to the city. As charming as the present company is, we don't have the supplies to last us more than a few days should we get stuck up here in the mountains."
"Yeah, you're right..." Miri sounded disappointed as she swallowed a mouthful of the piping hot stew, her ears lowering. "I was just hoping to get some more observation data while the moon was full. I don't want to wait another lunar cycle. At least I managed to gather some good rock and mineral samples for the geology lab earlier today."
Hal listened silently as he ate his stew. Though the taste was very familiar, the heat and warmth it gave him was more delicious than the flavor of the ingredients themselves. Despite the warm plumage covering his scales, Hal had always despised the cold. Unfortunately he had been forced to get used to it, since there was no better place to observe the stars than from the tops of the Starfall mountains, save perhaps the top of the Sabbaton tower; but there were no telescopes up there, just some overly ornate library. "I think that the geology department should send some of their own..." Hal trailed off suddenly, his tail suddenly upright and alert, head swiveling around and tongue tasting the air as if looking for something.
"What?" Miri gave Hal a concerned look, but soon it became clear that something wasn't right. "Wait... Do you hear that? Sounds almost like an eruption." Her violet and gray fur started to stand on end and her ears swiveled towards the door. Soon the entire room seemed to shake slightly from the tremors as if the whole mountain rage were having a mild earthquake.
Hal grabbed his bowl of soup and downed the rest in a single inelegant gulp, standing as he did so. Better to get the food into his stomach before the earthquake spilled it on the floor. He wiped at the few droplets that escaped his mouth onto his feathers, and ran for the door. As he flung it open and stepped out into the chilled mountain air, the source of the rumbling became apparent.
Up in the sky, a massive fireball was tearing its way through the atmosphere, shedding smaller fireballs as it descended. It was a meteorite, and a rather large one too if they could hear its descent. It was also alarmingly close to their present location. There was hardly any time to speak before it impacted the ground, slamming into a gully not more than two miles away, kicking up a large cloud of sparking dust and pulverized rock. The shockwave shook the entire observatory violently for a split second before the ground once more became still, and the sound of the wind was all that remained.
"A meteor impact this close! Amazing!" Hal was instantly excited, his tail thrashing around eagerly as if trying to get a better view of the impact site. "To think that something that large would land so close to the observatory... this is an incredible opportunity!" It was rare to hear Hal's raspy voice so animated. The development had clearly riled up the normally calm raptor.
He turned to run back into the observatory to grab his expedition gear, but was quickly stopped by Miri, who planted both hands on his shoulders. "Hal, take it easy. We're not going out there at night in this weather. We'd freeze to death for sure."
"But th-" Hal started to protest but was quickly cut off.
"NO." Miri put her foot down, literally, stomping a paw into the ground. "Freezing to death, bad. We can go search for the meteor tomorrow when the sun is out and snag it on the way back to the city. It's not going to be going anywhere."
Hal blinked his orange eyes at his companion, vertical pupils narrowing, wondering if he should protest further, but she was right. Freezing to death for the sake of science was not exactly plan A. "Fine..." His tail kept looking behind him towards the impact site, even as she pulled him inside, nearly shutting the door on it.
He let out a vexed sigh and walked back to the table to grab his bowl and help himself to a second serving of stew. His tail thrashed restlessly as he ladled the soup; Tesla watched it warily from the top of the telescope, having climbed atop the device during all the excitement. The hapless ryuu-neko was far beyond Hal's attention at this point, so he didn't even notice. He was focused on only one thing: Tomorrow he would find that meteor. He only hoped that in a remote place like this, there wouldn't be anyone else showing up to claim it first...
<End Chapter 1>