Emerald Feather

Seventeen

He hadn't always had Green Magic. For the first six Monsoons of his life, he'd been a perfectly ordinary bird, but two Monsoons ago, that had changed. He'd at first been edgy, not quite trusting the black-cloaked figure's intentions. After all, the only two cat-people who could talk to him were Miana and Kiko, and this was certainly not Miana or Kiko. Still he'd perched in the tree and listened to what the cloaked figure had to say.

When he learnt it would make hunting much easier, he jumped at the opportunity.

"One catch, you must stay with the cat-girl Keena until she falls pregnant, then return here and tell me. After this time, you are free to choose your journey."

It seemed like a strange proposition, but he easily agreed. So he'd have to stay with a cat-person for a while. If it made hunting as simple as just looking at what he wanted to kill, he was willing to play along.

But it had taken longer for the green jewel to appear in the cat-girl's stomach than he had first anticipated, and he grew attached to her and the man she spent her time with. He didn't appear to fully trust the bird, but that was expected. As far as Aaka knew, he was the only wedge-tailed eagle with any magic at all, let alone the most powerful of all.

When he first spotted the green jewel that she seemed so excited about, he was reluctant to leave and find the figure again, and so stayed on with them, oblivious as to the consequences he would suffer.

Five moons later the pair of them simply disappeared overnight. Aaka didn't think anything of it at first; they were always doing strange things he didn't understand, though he had grown accustomed to such luxuries as having his meat cooked. But they didn't return for days, and he figured something must have happened and so set out to find them.

But his search was soon intercepted when he saw the cloaked figure. Or rather, the cloaked figure spotted him and called him down from the sky.

"Naughty bird," she said simply.

A sudden pain cracked through his skull, centred around the jewel between his eyes. He screeched with the pain, but he couldn't hear his own voice for the feeling of the intense blackness in his head. It overwhelmed him so much he dropped off the branch, unconscious.

When he awoke the pain had gone, but he felt that something else was missing. He stood up, bumping his head on a rock. He was in a small cage made of very strong sticks, weighted down with a rock twice his size and many more times his weight.

He stretched his wings out to their full span, extending them past the realms of the cage. Everything felt fine there. His legs were still there, so was his tail. It was something else. Then he realised what it was. The figure had taken his Green Magic off of him. He still had the jewel above his beak, but it felt dead. It no longer sparkled with the life it once had.

He looked around him through the wooden rods but saw no exit. He pushed hard on the cage's bars without success. Not even his strong beak, designed to rip meat from bones, had any luck with breaking through the bars. Far as he could see he had exhausted all his options.

"This is your punishment for your betrayal." The figure had suddenly appeared behind him, and Aaka screeched his anger at her.

"I don't think you're quite in the right position to complain to me. I asked a simple favour, and in return gave you Green Magic. You disloyalty disappoints me, so I have taken away your magic."

Aaka screeched again, demanding to know why he had been imprisoned.

"You will be released soon. When Keena gives birth, I will release you."

Moons and moons passed, and the closest Aaka ever came to flying was stretching his wings through the cage boundaries. The thought frequently passed through his mind that he never would be released, but he wouldn't let it depress him.

"The time has come," the figure told him finally. Slowly the cage lifted, and Aaka wasted no time in spreading his wings and flapping back up into the sky for the first time in six moons.

But something dragged him down, pulling him back to the ground. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't stay in the air.

"It is not quite that simple," the figure told him.

He thought he was imagining it at first, but there was a black aura surrounding the figure, growing stronger by the second. Aaka stood and watched in fearful curiosity as the black intensified, then began stretching long vine-like fingers out towards him. Again he tried to flap away, but again he was held to the ground.

The vines encroached on him, wrapping painfully around his legs, wings and body, then entwining around his neck. He screeched at the pain, but the worst was yet to come.

The blackness blanketed him and wound its way under his feathers, then began to soak into his skin. He wanted to faint, or even to die, anything to escape the pain, but something was keeping him awake so he could feel the Black Magic running nauseatingly through his veins, flitting at times through his heart and causing him more pain than he thought he could bear.

For what seemed like an eternity he was held down by the magic, pure pain whipping through his body, before it finally migrated to the jewel that was still embedded in his skull, where it lay still but painful between his eyes. Every few seconds a wash of new pain ebbed through his body, making him cringe.

"You will grow used to the lack of your Green Magic," the figure told him calmly, "But I am told you can never grow used to pain." She blinked out of existence, leaving Aaka to wonder what had just happened, flinching whenever the Black Magic in his jewel made itself noticed.

He flapped several times to get above the trees and flew in the general direction of the beach, figuring he could make his way from there. The Black Magic continued to attack him, making his flight uneven. He continually felt as though he was going to drop out of the sky, completely blacked out, but forced himself to stay on course.

He soon grew dizzy, blinking to try and clear his vision, but the blackness he now dreaded crept onto the edge of his vision, and the trees and cloudy sky melted together so he didn't know which way was up. He tried to stay up, but the pain wouldn't let him and he was forced to land in a tree. The journey he thought would take no more than three or four days was looking like it would take much longer.

It seemed that the magic hurt him even more when he tried to hunt. It would have been hard enough for him to revert to his old methods of physically killing his prey with his claws and beak without the magic there, but it attacked him at the vital moment. The second his claws were about to grasp the fleeing creature a new wave of pain hit him, knocking him off course so he lost sight of his potential meal.

Without a meal for so long, he began to grow weaker and more susceptible to the pain of the magic. Before long he knew it would kill him if he didn't make it back to the beach soon. He hoped desperately that Keena and Ninyo would be able to do something for him. Even if all they could do was feed him, he would be happy.

He flew painfully but determinedly towards the beach, giving up on any attempts to find a meal and just focusing on the blue horizon before him.

After another day of exhausted and excruciating flight, he spotted the river to his left and wheeled over to it, successfully making himself dizzy again. But this time he didn't land. He was too close now, and flew on, regardless of the pain and returning blackness over his eyes and mind.

Finally the blackness overtook him. His wings fell limp and he dropped like a feathered stone from the sky.

Eighteen