Kel Mindelan stood at the first cataract of the Amu River, at the great descent where the waters first fell from their path through the foothills into the first cut of the great Red Rapid Canyon, and dreamed of flight.
She had always dreamed of flight, the first of her family to do so, and the rest of her family (two generations in Dinotopia now, her grandfather a merchant who had washed up near Prosperine and promptly set up shop) had been generally supportive.
Except for Conal.
He had treated the whole thing as a joke, and when then-five-year-old Kel had been up playing Rider up on the tower, he'd grabbed the back of her dress and held her over the balcony, laughing at her terror and mockingly informing her that if she screamed, no Skybax would want her.
A passing Camarasaurus had heard her screams and pulled her down. Kel had never been able to stomach heights since.
Her parents were back from their negotiations with the Outer Island and were pushing their youngest, in their inimitable style, to follow her childhood dream and settle in Canyon City. Somehow, the fact of Kel's phobia didn't phase Ilane in the slightest - Kel's mother bustled her out the door, pack and map in hand, and informed her in her typical no-nonsense tone that, whatever her destiny, Kel needed to start at Canyon City.
If only, Ilane had said, cupping Kel's cheek gently, to lay her dreams to rest, and find a new one.
So here Kel was, following the Amu River down from her foothill homestead, standing way back from the canyon edge and wondering how she was going to manage even just walking by the far deeper canyon to come. Already, she felt like the edge was going to sneak up on her.
She sat down, hard, as she looked out across the canyon. There was no way this was going to work, Kel thought, raking back sweat-soaked hair with trembling hands. There was no way she'd be able to trust any Skybax, no matter how wondrous, not to dump her, and worse - there was no way any Skybax could trust her not to panic.
Kel sat there at the start of the canyon for the longest time, thinking and fearing and not daring to hope, and then she rose, the iron practicality of her forefathers stiffening her spine against her dying dreams, and turned resolutely west. The bulk of Dinotopia lay that way, and she was bound to find something out there that she could make a life at.
A rush of wind, a rustle, and a strange rattling caw. Kel wheeled about, startled, and saw a lone Skybax, perched on the edge of the canyon, watching her.
It was riderless.
Her old dream came rushing back, choking her, and she stood and stared.
Kel did the only thing she could think of, and bowed. The Skybax flapped its wings once, almost agitatedly, then subsided. It watched her, silent and solemn as a statue, as she let out a shaky breath, drew up her new resolve, and marched stiffly away from the river.
She forced herself not to look back, but a papery whisper on the wind told her it didn't matter.
The Skybax was shadowing her.