Emerald Feather

Two

The appearance of the jewelled eagle had seriously questioned Keena’s thoughts on the existence of magic, though it would take a lot to convince her that there was any buried inside her, waiting to be noticed. Not only that, but it was supposedly strong and dangerous enough to make her family fear her and drive her from their territory. She found it hard to believe.

It seemed to her that her family was the root of it all. If she could find them again and see them using their own magic, she figured that would make her believe. If not, well, she would just go on living life with the added bonus of an eagle on her side.

She named the emerald-eyed eagle Aaka for no particular reason, it just sounded like it suited the bird of prey. Aaka seemed to agree with the name, a glint in his deep green eyes.

Keena knew the bird had something to do with the cloaked figure, most likely trying to convince her of her magic. She was yet to decide whether the figure was friend or foe. The words she had said suggested she was on her side, but her tone had hinted that she had been deceiving her. Keena didn’t know whether to believe the enigmatic figure or not, which led to her indecision as to the presence of any magic in her. She just hoped her family still lived in the same area.

She flew effortlessly through the forest, Aaka soaring above her. By sunset the pair had reached the river, where the two stood silent, frozen, peering intently into the clear waters. Aaka perched on an overhanging branch, Keena bare foot and shin deep in the shallows, Blue Serpent held ready in her right hand. She made no movement but for her scanning eyes, searching the shimmering golden liquid that reflected the setting sun.

A flash of silver and she struck, thrusting Blue Serpent vertically into the water and swinging it back up, fish attached, all in the blink of an eye. She flung the fish back onto the bank, where Aaka dropped deftly onto its flapping body, causing it to fall still. The bird had made no movement; he hadn’t dug his claws into any vital organs, the fish just fell dead the second he landed on it. Ordinarily Keena wouldn’t have given the action a second thought, but the flicker of green between the eagle’s eyes made her wonder.

Returning Blue Serpent to its sheath, Keena stepped out of the water and began rapidly rubbing sticks against dry leaves and more sticks before finally creating a flame. Living on her own for so many years she had developed the skill of fire making and thought nothing of it, it was just another method of survival. She threw a few more substantial branches on the growing fire, sending bright red-orange sparks into the evening.

She lay down on the sand of the riverbank with her hands behind her head and eyes raised to the stars appearing in the darkening sky. She sighed as she listened to the crackling of the fire behind her and watched the flames play on the rising smoke.

Aaka was far from normal, but he wasn’t necessarily magically inclined. His talent for killing fish could easily just be coincidence. Maybe he did punch some vital organ with one of his steel-like claws, without her noticing. He could be a tamed eagle, trained to stay with whomever he was told to stay with. There was probably some logical explanation to the three green jewels on his face as well, but Keena was yet to discover such an explanation.

She was in denial, she knew it. But it just seemed too unrealistic for an eagle, master of the skies, to possess magic, let alone herself. She needed to see if her family could use it, she had to, just to clarify things for her.

She sat up and began digging in the sand next to the coals of the fire. She laid the fish in the sand and spread a layer of sand over it before pushing the hot coals over it with a solid stick, then stoked the fire up again. She spotted the moon through the trees on the opposite bank and figured that the fish would be cooked by the time it had risen above them.

She lay back in the sand with Aaka nestled beside her. There was no need to worry about any predators or scavengers smelling the cooking fish; the fire would scare them away. She fiddled with the end of her tail and stared up at the billions of stars in the dark velvet sky. She thought back to the figure, and tried to place the voice with someone she had heard before, but failed. That time was the first she had heard the silky smooth voice.

“Do I really have magic?” she asked the stars, then sighed when she got no response. Did she really want to have magic? Her magic was so strong that her family had feared it enough to hide it from her. If she did find it, would she be able to control it? What made it so dangerous? There were so many questions she wanted to ask, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear any answers. She would really only know she had magic when she could perform it, but she could only perform it when she believed. It was a vicious cycle.

Glancing at the moon, Keena sat up and used another stick to move the coals off her fish, then to dig it out of the sand and ashes. She breathed in the smells and smiled. She gave it a minute to cool down, then took it from the sand and laid it on a large leaf where she slit the skin with Blue Serpent's tip. A cloud of steam rose from inside the fish, filtering through her nostrils. Using her fingers, she scooped the delicate white flesh into her mouth. Perfect. For the time, her magic was forgotten.

When she had finished half the fish, she left the rest of it for Aaka, licking her fingers and savouring the taste. She glanced up at the stars again, then swung herself up into a large tree and lay stomach down on a branch, her legs and arms dangling down on either side to sleep.

As the sun’s first light washed over her face, Keena scrunched her eyes and groaned at the crick in her neck. She swung her legs forward and straightened her back, stretching her arms high up and rolling her neck around to ease the stiffness.

She froze. Something was wrong. Her right hand flew to her waist to confirm what she had feared. Blue Serpent was gone again. Keena growled deep in her throat, her green eyes scanning the foliage for any sign of her sword. The coals from the fire and the remains of the fish had been scattered. Aaka was surveying the scene with calculating green eyes from the branch above her.

She dropped silently from the tree to view the forest from a different angle. A line of footprints led from up the river to the tree and back again, footprints not unlike her own. Another cat person had taken Blue Serpent from her. She cursed under her breath and kicked the sand with her foot. How could she not have noticed that Blue Serpent had been stolen, right from its sheath? She was about ready to blame everything on magic now; it seemed to be a good scapegoat.

Not wasting another second, she flew up the river, hoping the robber hadn’t been past too long ago; the footprints were only far enough apart for the owner of the feet to have been walking, she could still catch up. When the beach ended, the footprints led back into the forest. Keena closed her eyes and sniffed the breeze before carrying on more carefully through the trees, pausing every now and then when she thought she had lost the scent.

The ‘trail’ led roughly in line with the river, and Keena felt she was getting disturbingly close to her family’s home. As she moved carefully through the trees, she thought she saw a glint of blue-silver in the leaf litter ahead of her. A few steps closer and she recognised the steel easily as Blue Serpent.

There had to be more to it than that. It was a trap, she knew it. With a signal from her hand she sent Aaka up into the trees to scout the area out, keeping herself well hidden in the dense foliage.

Aaka lit on her right shoulder and signalled with a sharp beak that someone was in wait behind the large tree a few meters from Blue Serpent. Keena nodded and thought for a moment, then, again using hand signals, told Aaka what to do. The bird obediently sprung off her arm and flapped up around the tree.

Keena crouched ready behind her own tree, then threw herself silently forward towards Blue Serpent. Right on cue, she saw the eagle dive down, claws first at whoever was behind the tree, accompanied by a screech that made the blood run cold. In a flash, Keena whipped Blue Serpent off the ground and swung around the tree, the tip of her sword between the eyes of her eldest sister.

Laira froze, her bright blue eyes flashed from the sword tip to the deathly green eyes of her sister. The fear was plain on her face, but she tried to hide it.

“Nice to see you again, sister dear,” she hissed, but still aware of Blue Serpent.

“Up,” Keena ordered, keeping her sword steady with both hands.

Laira slowly rose, moving her hand to her own sword at her belt.

“Don’t even think about it.” Keena’s eyes were narrowed. “Why’d you take Blue Serpent?”

Laira shrugged, regaining her cool composure. “Nice sword, felt like taking it.” Her left hand was inching towards her sword hilt again.

With a flick of her wrists, Keena hooked Blue Serpent’s tip in the golden ornaments on her sister’s sword hilt and flung it into the air, deftly catching it in her left hand. She crossed the two swords at her sister’s neck, all before Laira had registered anything.

“I see you’ve been practicing,” the older girl said coolly.

“I see you haven’t,” the younger countered, “If we were in each other’s positions right now, I’d still have the upper hand.”

“Seven Monsoons since you left and that’s all you have to say to me.”

Keena kept herself steady. “Do you really think that’s such a good thing to say to someone carrying your sword?”

Laira smirked, and her lips mouthed the words ‘green eyes’.

Keena lowered the two swords slightly, but didn’t completely relax. She wanted her sister to know they were still there.

“I know you don’t hate me,” Keena said unexpectedly, her green eyes steady. “You fear me,” she whispered. She caught a glimpse of something in her sister’s sapphire eyes, but whatever it was, it was soon covered up.

“What makes you say that?” The slightest hint of nervousness was present in her otherwise confident voice.

Keena lifted Blue Serpent to her cheek and tapped the leaf-shaped green jewel under her right eye. The look returned to Laira’s eyes, coupled with one of recognition. Keena tossed her sister’s sword back to her, snickering slightly when Laira fumbled with it. She wondered how often Laira had to use her sword.

Keena lowered herself to the position that showed she was ready to duel. She spun Blue Serpent’s hilt around in her hands.

“Try and be a challenge,” she teased.

Three