A gentle breeze carries across the spring meadow spreading colourful petals, loudly rustling the leaves, and ruffling the beautiful feathers before me even as the bird’s body lay still.
Small stains of crimson contrast to the azure feathers and in rapture I reach out, running my fingers along them and painting my own pale white skin the same. I cannot see the wounds, but the blood and stillness tell that it cannot be healed, even by mother’s gentle touch.
Tenderly, I lift the small bird’s lifeless body. Its wings can no longer flap, no longer can it soar the skies. Now, it is bound to the earth as the rest of us.
Why is it not moving?
Why can it not be healed?
Why do I so desperately wish for this bird to fly, as I know it once did?
Why do the tears fall down my cheeks?
“It has ended, as all things must do,” mother whispers to me, showing none of the upset that burns in my own chest.
Her elegant, black hair is tucked neatly behind her long, pointed ears flowing down her back over her green robes. I reach out to her, wanting to feel her warmth, but she stops me with a hand on the shoulder as I cradle the little blue bird to my chest.
“Why?” I whisper.
“It was injured, it stopped moving. It stopped living,” mother whispers to me, touching at the bloody neck of the little blue bird. “But this is not the end. Its soul has returned to the cycle of reincarnation. It will once again be born, live, and so too, it will once again die.”
Mother has spoken of reincarnation before, of the soul that travels beyond the flesh, but I have begun to doubt her words. Every night she speaks of wonderous things and yet every morning I only awake to the reality surrounding me. Monsters, heroes, gods, and reincarnation all seem so very far away, so very far unreal from this warm meadow.
Gently, I tug out a wing of the little, blue bird; still beautiful, still whole. Surely if she could once more move, then life would come back also. Surely, she could remember how to live.
I feel for the æther flowing through me, mother has taught me of magics, I’ve seen her using them to summon the elements and heal injuries, as well as other wondrous things I’ve yet to understand. Yet none of that brings life from death.
Frustrated. Helpless to achieve what I so badly want. I reach deep into the swirling ætherial flow, the formless magic, and I ask for the impossible. Surely, if I wish hard enough, if I give enough of this mysterious power, I can bring motion back to this little body.
The unformed energy responds to my request, concentrating into my fingers and flowing from there into the terribly light body in my hands. Azure feathers glow ever so softly, yet she does not move.
I press my fingers into her soft flesh, forcing the flowing energies ever deeper. I feel dizzy and tired. Sweat forms cold on my brow. The mystical power that I channel through my body feels as if it’s slipping from my fingers, but I unrelentingly press more into the little blue bird’s body.
Uselessly, it flows from my fingertips, passing through the little body without any purpose. As I cry out in my heart to any who might help me, a warm presence fills the æther I channel, guiding my hand.
The faintest of twitches takes the blue bird in my hands. This is how I have to direct the flow, this will make her live again.
Focusing hard as my vision dulls, my veins burn, and my limbs become distant to sensation, I feel for that response from the bird, flooding all the æther I can channel into it.
Twitches turn to convulsions and in a few moments, the little blue bird stands again.
Stumbling with uncertain motions, it moves as a living thing might.
I gaze into the blue bird’s little black eye and see myself reflected through it. Æther flows between us, binding us, and I see at once the little blue bird standing upon my hand and the towering girl that is me as I rest upon her hand.
“Sylph,” I whisper the name that I give to her, a name borrowed from the wind, and she gives a cute little chirp.
This is how she should respond, right?
This motion is enough, right?
I chase the worry from my mind, embracing instead the new sensations that flow through me.
Sylph looks up at me expectantly, and together we spread our blue wings, turning to the azure sky. My hand raised so that we may soar.
She drifts from my hand, bloodied feathers gliding upon a soft cushion of air for a moment, a familiar sensation yet so very alien and frightening. The moment hasn’t the chance to pass before flames of red and yellow engulf us.
I scream, surrounded by inferno as flesh and feather fade into ash.
Mother pulls me back from Sylph. Strangely I feel no pain, no warmth from the fire, no suffering; even as we become ash. The flames never touched my own skin.
“Syr,” mother holds me tight, calling out to me, “Syr, calm down. It’s okay now.”
“Why…?” I ask her, “Why?”
“Do you understand what you did?” She asks me, holding me at arm’s length as she speaks firmly, continuing as I shake my head, “What you did was wrong, my daughter. You must never do that again. Okay? It is an aberration of nature. You must never do that again. Do you understand me?”
I nod, pulling myself into her warm arms. “I won’t,” I promise her, in the face of her conviction, too frightened to ask further why it is so wrong. I gently let sleep take me as my body grows numb.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
For what felt the longest time, I’d lived to that promise. I’d behaved myself, at least as well as any child does, but life is never simple. Everything changes with time, the rains always come again, the brightest days always turn to night, and all happiness ends in grief.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
On a day like any before it, as every after was meant to be. Sunlight shines through thin clouds as I rest in the meadow by the forest. Surrounded by the sounds of birds and bugs, and of trees rustling in the wind, I’ve fallen into a light rest only to awaken as that lullaby fades, interrupted by the sounds of steel against steel, of screaming men and women, of roaring flames and shattering frost.
Even though I’m a child, I know of battle and war, but I’ve always thought of it as a myth. Like the monsters crawling in the night, and the gods peering down from above.
Standing, I watch as myth comes thundering down onto my home, setting it alight.
My mother is nowhere to be seen, and father’s cries come from the place of steel and fire.
What do I do?
Do I run to find mother?
Do I hide?
Clueless and confused, I hide by the trees of the forest and watch.
People with swords are clashing with the people of my village. Everyone is screaming as they hurt each other. Everyone but the ones that lay still upon the ground…
I watch the flames grow, but still, mother doesn’t come.
I watch as the elders scream, but still, mother doesn’t come.
A gust of powerful wind catches the smoke from the town, blowing it my way, covering me; blinding me. It’s hot, I can’t breathe, it hurts. I can’t close my stinging eyes for fear of the shadows moving nearer to me, yet I can’t do anything even as they come closer.
Tightly gripping at a tree, unable to turn away, I choke and cough on the smoke. The shifting form erupts from the darkness but I have no idea as to who or what it is.
I cannot move; I cannot speak.
In a rush, far faster than I can keep up with, I am torn from the tree and lifted into warm and comforting arms. My mother’s warm embrace. It has been long since she’s last held me like this, but I’ve no chance to say anything.
Her racing feet are sure in their step as she charges through the smoke.
She does not stop. She does not look back.
“Where’s Father?” I manage to cry out from my dry throat between coughing fits.
“Sshhh!” Mother insists, her face filled with such terror that I’ve never before seen. Pulling me in closer to her chest, I hide my face from the dark forest enveloping us. Mother has always told me never to stray this deep, but now she is the one bringing me here.
In that moment, I know that we aren’t ever going back.
“There you are!” The voice carries like a whisper in the wind and startles mother enough that she loses her focus, tripping into the leaf litter. I slip from her arms and slide through the muck.
When next I look, a man is standing over mother, his long sword raised high. Mother’s gaze meets his, not flinching, not even as he sneers down at her.
In that moment I realize, I practically see the scene floating before me.
He is going to kill mother, he’s going to strike her through.
Then, he is going to kill me.
No. This can’t be real. This won’t be real.
I scramble about in the leaf litter, there must be something. Something hard, or something sharp. Anything at all. Finally, my fingers wrap around a long white bone, curved and pointed at one end, even I wouldn’t mistake it as sharp, but it’s what I have.
“Mother!” I cry out, charging at the violent man.
“Run away!” I hear her cries, but I refuse, leaping at the man who turns to me with a look of surprise.
I point the bone at his chest, but before I can get even close, something sharp hits my side.
My head is all fuzzy.
As I look down at my body, I can’t make sense of what I see. My side is split open, blood and bone is all I can see. It doesn’t even feel like my body anymore.
Am I dying?
A wave of frost washes over me, and a wave of heat after. I turn my eyes over to the source.
Mother is fighting the man, her ice battling the man’s flames.
“Give it up already!” The man cries out throwing another burst of flames. Mother glances at me for a moment, her eyes shining, her lips are moving but I don’t hear a word.
She charges into the angry flames, a flicker of frost that disturbs the orange-red fire.
The man, smirks as he thrusts his blade through the fire, but in the pause that follows, the flames turn direction back towards him. As he screams in pain, a spray of frost freezes his face, followed by another blast of flames summoned by mother’s hands. I can hear a cracking, then a shattering as the man falls apart.
Mother’s figure stumbles from the last vestiges of flame, a flickering frost quieting their last dance. She holds the sword in her two hands, the blade sunk through her bleeding chest and out her back.
She stands unsteady on her own feet and struggles to turn toward me.
“Syr…” Blood dribbles from the corner of her lips as she stumbles closer. She kneels, then falls by my side. “Syr… Why didn’t you run…?”
She places a hand on the wound in my side, her eyes closing and her lips working in prayer, the warmth of her æther flows through me.
“Mother.” I reach out for her bloody chest, but the blade struck through her has taken my place.
The warmth filling me fades, mother’s eyes remain closed as her lips work for words that I can’t hear. My side doesn’t hurt anymore, her healing filling me up.
“Mother. Heal yourself,” I say touching the sword stuck inside her.
Her lips still whisper words I can’t quite hear as her eyes drift gently open, looking past me to somewhere in the distance, somewhere I can’t follow her.
“Mother.” Her hand slips from my side, the warmth of her æther in me fades, and finally, a wispy sigh slips from her bloodied lips.
“Mother.” I gently rock her, but she doesn’t wake.
“Mom. You have to heal.” I tell her more firmly. She has to heal quickly. Right now. Or… Or…
“Mom!” Not a twitch.
“Mom!” Panicking, I reach inside myself. “I’ll heal you instead. I’ll do it. Just… don’t die!”
My hands firmly grip onto her and I push my magic into her, I can feel no resistance, no natural flow, her own æther is frozen in place. I never properly learned to heal, I don’t know how, but I have to.
I channel my energy into her, urging everything in me to flood out and into her.
“Please don’t die,” I whisper.
My mind is dizzy, my heart twisting with anxiety and pain. I at last feel something that clicks inside of me. I feel like I’m finally doing something, so I channel my magic until it burns, pushing the last of my energy into mother.
She twitches, her face that was still comes back to life, but I can feel myself losing grasp over my own magic. My æther veins burn and collapse, but I have to hold on.
My power courses through her and her body starts to move again. I look into her eyes, seeing myself reflected through them.
“It’ll be alright.” I can hear the whisper as her hand reaches out and holds onto mine. My æther veins burn so badly, collapsing one by one.
“Syr. I love you. I’ll always love you.” Her hand is cold, as it holds my own.
“It’ll all be alright.” I know the lie that’s spoken through her lips, as the last trickle of magic burns away. Her hand is first to crumble as my æther ceases to flow. Her skin turns pale white, and cracks deepen through her flesh, flaking away layer upon layer until nothing is left.
“Mom… I’m sorry…” I whisper as her face crumbles away, her lips move but no sound comes out. As the last wisps are carried away the world slips into darkness.