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Written by IllaRouge

Christmas break, a time to unwind for students, to return home and recharge amidst bouts of learning and socializing. For Oaklynne, this meant boarding an international flight from New Hampshire back to Austria. The years she’d spent in America meant that, no matter which direction she flew, she felt a longing for home both from where she left and where she landed.

But Austria would never be far from her heart.

She sat in business class, thankful that her mother’s success meant she could travel. Her height made it impossible to sit in economy. Even still, she filled the seat and then some. When she arrived, a rental car waited for her, again, a larger model to accommodate her height. She checked the address her mother had sent. Jetlag be damned, she wanted to begin relaxing as soon as possible.

Her mother had chosen a ski resort just outside of Innsbruck. Oaklynne normally felt strange about indulging, but her fall semester had been spent in such strange circumstances, she welcomed the chance to shut her brain off to everything.

The drive to the resort was pleasant. Oaklynne kept her usual music off, rather revealing in the mountainous terrain she called home. She watched as the city fell away and the terrain rose to meet the sky. Alone in the car, all eyes were off of her, for once.

The resort north of the city had recently received a good coating of snow. Picturesque was the word for it. Rolling up to the valet, she stepped out to be greeted to the sound of...nothing. There would otherwise be a hum of activity, children talking and laughing, conversations peppered throughout the snow. But in the early morning, everything just seemed peaceful. She shouldered her bags and went to look for Franziska.

Once she checked in and left her bags, she got word from the front desk that her mother was in the lobby restaurant. Hotel guests were beginning to stir, but there weren’t too many people in the restaurant. Franziska spotted her first, and she waved her daughter over. She rose to hug Oaklynne, whose arms practically engulfed the petite woman.

“[My daughter,]” she said in German, “[it’s nice to see you again.]”

Oaklynne nodded. Franziska had chosen a booth to make the nightjar’s life easier. They sat.

“[I would say I am surprised to see you so early, but you have never been much for sleep.]” Franziska ordered coffee; Oaklynne, coffee and a large glass of water. “[I see Miss Thorne is keeping to her word. I’d say I see my daughter in advertisements more often than I see her in person.]”

It was true. Oaklynne’s agent found every opportunity to put the nightjar in the spotlight. Where regulations meant that college players couldn’t provide endorsements, there were no such rules that barred becoming a media personality. Susan Thorne set up a steady regimen of photoshoots, sponsored news articles, and many campaigns that helped highlight the Pinion State basketball team, but Oaklynne in particular. This meant there was a flood of images depicting Oaklynne in various situations.

Most of what made its way to the internet centered around the nightjar’s playing, whether in games or practice. The practice photographs showed a stalwart bird, towering over her more outgoing and boisterous teammates. But in games, they meshed. Though Oaklynne was the high scorer, she didn’t operate with risky shots. Much of her playing revolved around working with her team rather than privileging her own risky moves. That said, picture after picture depicted shot, after shot, after shot, after shot, all sinking, all adding to her growing stat pool.

For more promotional images, creativity was the name of the game. She spent some of her free time with artists and photographers that sold her as a larger-than-life figure. With her melanistic traits, it wasn’t hard to see her as imposing and dangerous. For the most part, she didn’t mind that, as she’d had those looks her entire life. While the campaign was early, there were still attempts to sell her most striking feature: exaggerated posters of her towering over cities that Pinion State had rivalries with; references to classic international monster flicks; putting her next to large objects or famous tall people. Thorne had been careful not to pit her with existing FBA members, not wanting to game the system by gaining endorsements. But their goal was obvious.

Year over year, Pinion State improved in the FCAA rankings, and this was in no small part because of how Oaklynne conducted herself on the court. Her first year hadn’t proven fruitful. Initially, the team relied on her height, but her shooting skills lacked. She spent the following seasons focusing on skill work rather than resting on said height, to the point that she made All FCAA, despite their loss.

She felt the momentum, and she found herself hungry to truly pursue this as a career. Thorne had been good to help foster this side of her she needed to embrace if she was to be in the public eye. She wanted that success.

Nevertheless, she wore the expression of an apologetic daughter, and her mother noticed.

“[Don’t feel bad. I’ve kept plenty busy myself.]” Once they had their breakfast drinks, they ordered, Oaklynne focusing on protein more than anything else. Franziska smiled. “[You’re still going to train, even on vacation?]”

Oaklynne nodded.

“[Good. You really are serious about going as far as you can.]”

Her mother’s encouragement never felt condescending, never felt as though her matron had a plan for her daughter’s future. She enjoyed the freedom. Anyone in Franziska’s social circle assumed that Oaklynne would one day take up the publishing mantle, maybe even publish herself, despite her imposing size. But the nightjar only ever enjoyed sports, and even with the light teasing that came from others observing this disparity, it only gave Franziska the chance to talk about her daughter’s father.

“[Do you feel confident about your school for the tournament?]”

Oaklynne thought about Minerva and Kendra, as well as the other members of their team. They’d grown steadily over the years, and their on-court rapport propelled them farther than sports analysists initially conceived. She recognized how their skills amplified her own, and vice versa. Even with her superstar aspirations, she couldn’t ignore their place on the team. She nodded to her mother.

This made Franziska smile. “[Good. There’s a saying by Isaac Newton. ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’]” She sipped her coffee. “[So, if you expect to stand on anyone’s shoulders, they better be strong.]”

They finished their meal over the course of the next half-an-hour. Franziska excused herself to meet with some potential clients. So much for not working on vacation, they silently joked to one another.

Oaklynne kept to her word and headed straight to the hotel gym. No expense was spared on the machines and what was available. A Dachshund woman greeted Oaklynne. The nightjar nodded to her, picked up a towel and water bottle, and headed for the treadmills. In her wake, a few other staff members crowded around the first woman, and the chattering began. Oaklynne paid it no mind; it was almost impossible not to be recognized in her position. Necessary as she found it to her career track, she begrudged its chaffing nature.

She spent a while jogging before heading for the weight machines. She did her best to find what machines would accommodate her stature. Free weights tended to be her friend, which also gave some eye candy for her admirers near the door. Then she heard a camera shutter sound effect.

The nightjar turned slowly toward the sound. An arctic fox man, one of the workers that had arrived after her, grinned sheepishly. His ears lowered as Oaklynne put down the weights. Realizing his error, he attempted to apologize. She stepped in front of him, blocking out the light above her. His ears flattened. She gently took the phone from him. She opened his gallery, selected the photo, and erased it. She then turned off his phone and handed it back.

The Dachshund woman from earlier padded up to them. “[Please, Miss Oberndorfer, accept free use of the private studios for the duration of your stay.]” The woman didn’t sound panicky, but she certainly appeared concerned. The private workout studios were something of a luxury even in this luxury hotel. Oaklynne’s piercing eyes focused her, and she nodded. The woman handed her a key. As Oaklynne turned to leave, the two began arguing.

They stopped only once they heard her put the key in the door. She opened it and leaned down to get inside. They expected her to slam the door, but she let it swing closed and locked.

The amenities inside were nothing short of top end, with every weight she could possibly need, machines that could accommodate almost any size, fancy electrolyte water in a personal fridge, and a television. But more importantly, quiet, privacy, a chance to let down her feathers, so to speak. She sat down on a bench near the wall of weights, and she picked up a larger one, as she’d already warmed up.

As she set into her workout regimen, her mind wandered. The support for her career push wasn’t lost on her; her privilege felt profound, and despite her scowling façade, she was thankful. The public persona wasn’t far from the truth, but the exaggerations were a new stress. The posters, the public appearances, things like short EweTube films and animations. Suddenly, she was looking at herself from the outside, nothing she’d taken much stock in before, not in the same way.

Just like the man that had just taken a picture of her, she felt observed, a spectacle. Her experience with herself from other’s perspective was filtered through exceptionalism. She didn’t have friends, though she felt content with that. But in this private space, she felt as sectioned off as before when she was being photographed. She felt apart.

After a few sets, she put down the weights. She pulled her phone out of her bag and looked up some connections she hadn’t used in a while.

Already, her mind felt clear.

Oaklynne walked through a quiet area in the outskirts of the city. It wasn’t an area one would consider upscale. She’d received an address via text from a local acquaintance. It was harder to find venues that she needed in new areas to her, like New Hampshire. But in Innsbruck? This was her home.

She could hear the music before she even saw the building. It was an old building, parenthetical shuttered businesses on nearby streets. This one looked like it had been a restaurant once, possibly a pizza place. The steel gates on the front were speckled with flits of paper and tape. Only a single poster advertising a local play remained.

A glass door overlayed a heavier steel door. Oaklynne opened the glass door and knocked. A Rottweiler yanked the steel door open. He stared forward, but he realized he needed to crane his head up to look Oaklynne in the face.

The nightjar, adorned in lace and leather, glared down at him. She wore a black dress with heavy red accents. She had straps on her arms, asymmetric with one another. Her dress terminated with frills, and there was only the slightest gap of feathers between the dress and her high leather boots. The boots had minimal adornment compared to the dress. The lower part of the boot were solid, more akin to working boots than a higher fashion choice, but the sole black coloring tied the look together.

This was where Oaklynne craved to go when the sun went down.

Whether by judging her look or stature, the Rottweiler nodded and stepped aside. Oaklynne ducked and headed inside, and she was immediately washed over with a heavy guitar riff. She looked over the venue, and it was packed with the local metal scene. She stepped up to the table collecting the cover charge. She slipped a finger into one of her gloves, the tips missing to show off her talons, and pulled out some money stashed inside. She dropped it on the table and continued in.

The pulsing sound washed out her anxieties. In the planning meetings for her career, this wasn’t put on the table as inspiration. She told no one about this, and it made the whole experience feel individual, special to her. This was her chosen place.

Neither musician nor dancer, Oaklynne took her place at the back. A band on the makeshift stage blasted some heavy riffs, possibly some variation on Swedish metal; she liked it when the lyrics were almost indistinguishable. A nutria woman growled out in tune with the music. With no intention of appearing intimidating, Oaklynne leaned against the wall and crossed her arms, and there she’d remain for an hour as the band played their set.

She didn’t think about basketball, or skiing, or working out, or Pinion State, or anything. The sound, the darkness, even the fabric of her custom outfit, it hugged her in a unique way, different from the exhaustion of training, or the oppressive lights in a photography studio. She felt at home, and she could keep to herself in a comfortable way.

When the bands changed out, she used the opportunity for a different reprieve. She looked for what would otherwise be the fire exit if the building they were in was still a business. She pressed the push bar, and cold air rushed in. She was surprised to see a few folks crowded around in the alleyway. A few of them filed in passed her, apparently having been locked out. Once they were inside, Oaklynne shoved a brick with her boot against the door to serve as a makeshift door jam, just enough of a crack to get back in.

Next to the door was a plastic table. Someone had left a bottle of something there to pass around, but the more notable item was a generic grocery store cake with a plastic shell on it. The few furs that remained outside occasionally popped it open to take a square. There were other food items that folks brought, snacks and the like, something of a juxtaposition to the scene inside.

A small parakeet with beak piercings sidled up beside her. “[Got any cigarettes?]” Oaklynne shook her head. She sighed, and a cloud of steam surrounded her. The other woman laughed. “[That’s fine.]”

The sharp, cold air contrasted well with the swelter inside. A more traditional peace to the one Oaklynne found inside.

“[Haven’t I seen you around before?]” Great, someone that recognized her. “[Yeah, I know this style. You haven’t been to one of these in a while, huh?]” This caught Oaklynne’s attention. She only cast a glance, but it seemed that this woman knew her from the local goth and metal scene rather than her more visible work. “[Yeah, yeah, nice. Welcome back, sister.]”

They stood in silence for a while. The sound of the next band tuning up seeped through the crack in the door.

The parakeet found someone to give her a smoke. “[You make this yourself?]” She tugged on the hemline of Oaklynne’s dress. She nodded. “[That’s awesome. I need some custom shit if you ever want some work.]” This was new for her, being asked to make something. She usually carried a sewing kit when she traveled. She shrugged, which was enough for the other woman. “[You can tell the regulars from the tourists from their clothes, and you seem like the real thing.]”

Another group walked up the alley. They had plastic case full of faschingskrapfen, fried doughnuts with jelly inside. They set the case down on the table, and they walked in through the door. It seemed that this was the side cover charge, Oaklynne figured, another way to get entrance. The parakeet woman picked up two, and she held one up to Oaklynne. The nightjar raised an eyebrow.

“[You don’t smoke, so you might as well eat.]”

She huffed what otherwise might be a chuckle. She took the sweet and held it carefully between her claws. She didn’t want to get anything on her gloves. She bit into it, again careful not to get jelly on her clothes. It was good, yet another contrast for the night, somehow fitting for the experience.

They finished their food in more silence. “[Want to hang with me tonight?]” She hadn’t planned on being in company with anyone else, but this woman was starting to grow on her. Still scowling, she nodded one more time. “[Let’s go.]” She opened the door for Oaklynne. As the door swung shut, “[So, what’s your name, girl?]”

The band started playing.

Featured Characters

Oaklynne Oberndorfer The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition. The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition. The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition. The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition.

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