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Birdsdays

In the altosphere, ayrlands are too small to support the construction of shipyards, factories, or fortresses. Thus, in order to thrive in the loftwinds, Sayr'Rahans depend on archaves for transportation, hunting, and defense. The presence and cooperation of the great birds, however, cannot be taken for granted. They require decades of dedication to raise and train, and without a regular supply of lumenous food during their development, they can never achieve the size and strength required to bear the weight of a rider.   The demanding process of raising archaves necessitates participation from every member of society. It takes a village to produce a suitable flock, and the effort is so elaborate that most clans only have the resources to focus on a small number of species at once. The varying diets, migratory patterns, and behaviors of a clan's chosen birds define the culture that develops around each of their particular symbiotic arrangements.  

The Ritual of Quickening

  Birdbonding begins at the moment of one's own birth. The day a loftwinder child takes their first breath, the storkwife who delivers the baby sends a dove to the nearest monastery, alerting the priests to prepare for the Ritual of Quickening. Once the storkwife returns with a flask of the afterbirth, the sages fertilize the egg that will one day become the child's own bonded archave.   For over a decade, the egg will reside within the halls of a monastery, where the monks shall use a secret blend of alchemical concoctions to keep the egg's shell perpetually soft, and the chickling inside well-nourished with lumenous nutrients. This allows the egg to continue growing in size, establishing a robust baseline skeleton for the bird that will eventually hatch from the vessel.   Throughout childhood, as the gahl reaches various important milestones, the family will bring the kid into the temple to visit their bondbird. Gifts for the birds are often encouraged, as are tithes to the monastery. Notably, the Sayr'Rahans do not celebrate birthdays for the child until the day the bird is born.  

The Day of Facing

  Once the softened egg can grow no more, the monks will allow for the shell the harden, and for nature to continue taking its course. Still in the early stages of their education, the bonded child waits anxiously for the announcement that the creature inside has awakened. If the child is fortunate, they will not be too far into puberty when the day of hatching finally arrives, for late bloomers often face embarrassment and ridicule.   Eventually though, they get the news! The whole family, and as many friends as can be mustered, rush gleefully to the monastery for the Ritual of Facing. Omens are spoken, the child's wisdom is tested, the position of the stars are marked, remembered, and inscribed into history, and the date which shall mark the pair's joint birthday (or 'Birdsday') is recognized.  

Taking Flight

  For the next six years after imprinting, the child enters into service at the monastery, and contact with their family is limited to a single day per year - the Birdsday of course. The education they receive at the monastery varies across subcultures, but often includes as much religious and physical training as academic.   Riding an archave is no easy feat, and those who neglect their meditations and exercises may find themselves fainting in midair due to the thinness of the oxygen in the altosphere, and the sheer forces of motion that they will be expected to endure. Each monastery comes up with their own tests, but regardless of the details, a Sayr'Rahan must demonstrate suitable proficiency with their bird before they are considered to have fully come of age.   Those who fail will suffer great social consequences throughout their entire lives, although the monastery will never turn away an older learner who wishes to make up for past mistakes. There are always tasks that can be found to help them earn their keep at the temple, and it is not unusual for the monastery to keep a surplus of orphaned birds whose owners have perished, in order to facilitate adoptions.  

A Warbird's Weight

There is one wrinkle to the process which gives rise to a certain degree of social stratification among loftwinders - that being the difference between ordinary riding birds and true warbirds.   Lumenous nutrients lose their potency as they travel up the food chain. Thus, predominately carnivorous archaves require far more resources to raise, and exponentially more time to grow and rear. What this means is that children whose bondbirds belong to the raptor families will never actually ride their own bondbird.   Rather, the bird born alongside them will serve as a combat companion, learning with the gahl the ways of war and hunt. Only once the gahl is so old as to be themselves useless in a fight will the archave finally reach the size required to become a mount. So it is that the only way to possess an archave worthy of being ridden into battle, while one is spry enough to make it worth the bother, is to be gifted such a bird by another person at a young age.   The nature of this ritual by which a warbird is bestowed also varies from clan to clan. Among noble families the grown raptor is inherited directly from the parent. Under the rule of authoritarian warlords or theocrats, all the warbirds belong to a single sovereign who may select the strongest warriors or the most zealous devotees for the privilege.   Other clans sort it out through duels, marriage contracts, games of chance, or courtly intrigue. Some may even defer the choice to the bird itself, allowing the creature free rein to choose the one worthy of the saddle. Either way, these prized birds represent power and status in the skies where ayrships cannot ever hope to hold dominance.

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