When the forest was young it was peaceful. All of the creatures lived in harmony and even though the predators hunted and killed their prey, there was happiness. Because there was a balance and an order to the world. Everything had a place and everything was in its place. The owls watched over the forest ensuring that the peace was held. The owls controlled the old magic, a timeless force that flowed through the very trees themselves. The world spun on in this way, completely content for centuries, until the darkness came from the lands below. A cancerous blackness that infected all that it could. The wisest and most powerful of the owls, the great white Ha’uul, went to confront the darkness, demanding it abide by the laws of the forest or return to the world it had come from. The darkness merely scoffed at the command and continued to infect and spread, bending the creatures of the forest to its will, and so the owls were forced to go to war. The battle waged on throughout the forest for days, the darkness was slowed and confined to one section of the forest. Both sides understood that neither side were strong enough to win and so once again Ha’uul went to confront the darkness. They spoke for hours and eventually a truce was reached. The darkness would remain in its section of the forest and would be free to do as it pleases and the owls would never stray into its domain. The truce was uneasy but it stood. The owls influence over the forest dwindled as the realm of men came into being, eventually Ha’uul disappeared becoming nothing more than a story half remembered in the moments between dreaming and waking. And just as the power of the owls was forgotten, so too was the darkness that came from below.
Tiana went about her life like it was constantly christmas eve. Every corner she turned at school, she expected to see Phan and to be whisked away like the girls in her books, but days passed and nothing happened. If it weren’t for the feather necklace she could almost believe the whole thing had been a dream. The nights were getting longer and much colder but she spent more and more time on her roof, searching the sky for any sign of the mysterious boy who who lived with the owls. She never saw anything, but the faint hooting of some far off bird gave her hope. One night, after finally giving up waiting, she climbed back into her bedroom and slid beneath the covers. Tiana fell asleep staring at her open window, gazing into the night sky as her eyes closed and she drifted off.
Her dreams were filled, as they often were, with cowgirls and spacemen and adventure. Someone was walking a plank while she fought off a terrible dragon. And then everything disappeared, and Tiana became very uncomfortably aware that she was dreaming but couldn’t wake up. The landscape shifted into a dark endless abyss, she looked down to see that she was now standing on the still waters of a lake. A blinding light shot from the depths and exploded into the sky illuminating the dreamspace, once the blaze had dissipated and Tiana’s eyes could adjust she realised that the shape was that of a large owl. The white owl hung in the air, almost filling the sky, not necessarily with its body but simply by virtue of its presence. Every inch of space seemed to be permeated with the very idea of it. Tiana called up to it, attempting to work out what was going on, but the moment the words left her mouth the water gave way and she was plunged to the bottom of the lake. She panicked as she struggled to breathe before realising that she was breathing, and to her surprise the water was warm. Tiana had no idea what was happening but she was beginning to think that it wasn’t of an evil nature. The owl above dived into the water and began swimming into its depths. Tiana followed suit, trying to catch up but the owl was much faster and the lake was much deeper than she had anticipated so before long the great white owl was gone and Tiana found herself alone in the blackness of the lake. She looked all around trying to work out which way was up and what to do next, she looked to her left and then to her right, when out of nowhere an inky black fist, almost indiscernible against the dark of the lake, raced towards her and grabbed her by the throat. She could hear an impossibly low yet unsettlingly gentle voice echoing all around her ‘The time of the owls is over, you are foolish to put your faith in something as fragile as humans Ha’uul. See how they break.’ with the final word Tiana saw a great shadowy face with a monstrous mouth heading towards her, she tried to break free of its grasp but the beast’s grip was too strong. She closed her eyes and waited for the pain to come when without warning two glowing bright white wings exploded from her back, illuminating the darkness. She heard the monster screech before it disappeared and then she was simply floating. The wings folded around her, cocooning her in soft white feathers, she felt safe again. And with that she drifted off to sleep.
Tiana awoke with a start, noticing straight away that her bed was soaking wet and covered in loose white feathers. ‘This might be difficult to explain’ she thought to herself as she jumped out of the bed. It was still dark outside and the autumn wind forced its way uninvited through the open window. Tiana, clothed in now soaking sleeping shorts and a tank top, was beginning to regret her choice of sleepwear. She walked towards the window in order to close it when to her surprise, Phan appeared, causing her to jump.
‘You need to come, the owls, they keep saying your name.’
‘Can I get changed first Phan? And do you think you could knock first maybe, I could have been doing anything in here.’
‘There’s no time, we have to hurry.’ Phan said grabbing Tiana’s hand and trying to pull her out the open window. Tiana pulled her hand away
‘Listen here bird boy, I just got drenched by a dream demon and woke up covered in what I think might be the remnants of my own wings. Its is late, I have school in the morning, And you have arrived uninvited in my bedroom. I will come with you and see what the owls want, but first I will be putting on more adventure appropriate clothes and if that doesn’t fit into your busy schedule then next time I suggest you buy a phone and give me a ten minutes heads up. Stay outside, i’ll be out in a moment.’ Tiana then slammed shut her window, closing Phanuel out, and aggressively pulled shut the curtains. ‘I think I just scolded an angel.’ Tiana thought to herself as she walked to her wardrobe.
Five minutes later Tiana opened the window, she had changed into a pair of black skinny jeans which was paired with a white vneck tshirt and a gold leather biker jacket that complimented her dark brown skin flawlessly.
‘Thank you for your patience, we can go now.’ She said allowing him take hold of her and to be swept off into the night.
Having flown like this before, Tiana took the opportunity to really observe Phan. The wings were powerful but she knew from the feather around her neck, they were also incredibly delicate. She could see the muscles in them flexing and contracting in rhythm with each beat of his wings. Up close she also took in for the first time just how simply massive they were.
‘I wonder if he has to clean them’, she wondered as she felt Phan begin to descend. They touched down in the center of the clearing, an eerie silence hung in the air. Tiana looked around the ring of trees taking stock of the hundreds of owls all sitting silently. Staring.
‘What are they doing.’
‘What to say, this is what I was telling you. They don’t talk like us. They kind of have to focus themselves to form simple sentences and to do that they have to decide what to say.’
‘So i’m watching a colony of sentient owls vote on which word to choose from their people dictionary?’
The silence continued for five minutes until the owls all swooped at once onto the same great big oak tree that stood at one end of the meadow. Phanuel grabbed Tiana’s hand and pulled her towards the tree. The pair looked up at the owls, who were all looking back with their cold black eyes.
‘That’s very unnerving.’ Tiana whispered.
‘You get used to it.’ Phan whispered back, ‘ssh, they’re about to speak.’ Phan pointed to the center of the cluster where all the owls had now turned their gaze. There, perched amongst the foliage, was the largest of the owls and the only one still looking at Tiana, The owl didn’t physically say anything but a voice filled Talia’s head.
‘Dream. Awake. Go. Lake.’ As soon as the voice had started it had gone, the owls began hooting again and then almost in unison, they flew off into the forest. With the exception of the large one who simply retreated back into the foliage.
‘What does that mean!’ Phan shouted, his voice dripping with frustration. Tiana turned to him.
‘Phan, I had a dream before you came tonight, except it wasn’t a dream, I brought some of it back with me, I think it has something to do with whatever has the owls scared.’
‘What happened in the dream?’
‘There was this giant glowing owl and then I was swimming and then this shadow attacked me. Maybe that’s the dream the owls were talking about.’
‘What about the lake?’
‘Well that’s gotta be the forest lake surely.’
‘I was hoping you wouldn’t say that.’
‘Hey what’s wrong with the lake?’ Tiana asked wrapping her arms around his neck.
‘Last time I was there I died.’
‘Whilst I understand your aversion to it, i’m still going to ask you to suck it up buttercup and fly me there. And don’t worry bird boy, I’ll protect you.’
‘I feel safe already.’ Phanuel sniped before beating his powerful wings and wrenching the pair from the clutches of gravity.
‘Put us down amongst the trees, we should walk to the lake, whatever’s happening we should probably not draw too much attention to ourselves.’ Tiana said to Phan.
‘I mean good plan but who made you boss?’
‘I think you did when you abducted me from my roof and begged me to save you.’
Phan slowed his wing beats and lowered the pair to the ground, narrowly dodging branches as they went and eventually reaching the mossy ground of the forest floor. A white light emanated through the undergrowth from the direction of the forest. The pair looked at each other and nodded, stepping out into the clearing that held the lake.
The waters were still and the wind had died down. It felt as if life had been banished from this moment, and that they were trespassing on something bigger than themselves. On the other side of the clearing, Ha’uul hung in the air like the sun. He was as tall as the trees and emanating a pure warmth. Like in her dream, Tiana could feel his presence even from this distance. Time seemed to stand still and the air was pregnant with whatever was about to happen. The atmosphere was quickly ruined as something knew entered the clearing far off to the right of Phan and Tiana, something dark. Tiana quickly recognised it as the monster from her nightmare, a dark huddled mass of shadows. The pair looked on at the spectacle, uneasy about what was going to happen next.
‘Barra, the treaty is broken.’
‘The treaty is forgotten fool.’
‘Not by the owls.’
‘The owls are weak, you know it as well as I do, that’s why you have chosen the humans as your champions. The age of owls will end, and I shall rise.’
‘You will learn our true power before the end.’
‘As you will learn mine.’ With that the darkness rose up, effortlessly matching the great white owls height and stature. A cacophony of shrieks and shrills filled the air as what seemed like the entire colony of owls swarmed into the clearing, filling the air with a flurry of grey, white and brown feathers. The owls began circling in the air with increasing speed, causing the waters of the lake below to be sucked into the vortex created by their speed. The darkness lunged forward into the maelstrom swiping large swathes of owls out of the air, but this did little to reduce the sheer number of birds. The darkness and the flock entered into a battle that almost looked like dancing, with the magically floating lake water now forming an almost perfect sphere in the centre. At last the great white owl Ha’uul raised his massive wings and with one swoop descended on the chaos. His glowing white body entered the sphere of water which began to glow, one by one the owls spiralled into the water themselves, the darkness looked on, clearly puzzled. Once the last the of the owls had entered the sphere, the glow crescendoed into a burning white light and then, with an almighty crack, it exploded. Tiana and Phanuel turned away, shielding themselves from the chaos and when they looked back, the crater was empty. There was no sign of the owls, the darkness or even the lake water.
‘Look!’ Tiana cried, gesturing to the now empty lake bed.
Protruding from the center of the crater was a large pole like object, the pair ran towards it Tiana arriving first. On closer inspection she could see that it was a wooden staff, too square to simply be a stick, and it had intrinsic rune like carvings all down one side. As Tiana leaned forward to get a better look, the runes started glowing a pale blue.
‘We probably shouldn’t touch that.’ Phan said, pulling Tiana away.
‘First of all feather brain.’ Tiana sniped while snatching back her hand, ‘ If you try and pull me or push me or drag me anywhere, one more time without asking me first, i’m gonna draw smiley faces on your feathers while you sleep, and secondly…’ Tiana grabbed the staff without even breaking eye contact with Phan, ‘...I know you have wings but I didn’t realise you were a chicken.’
The pale blue light of the runes slowly started to move up the staff towards where Tiana’s hand now rested, it collected there before shooting up her arm and encasing her entirely. Before Tiana’s eyes she could see visions, though she wasn’t entirely sure what she was seeing at first The light somehow wordlessly explained to her that she was seeing the war that had come before. She watched as the owls fought the darkness, she witnessed the pain and destruction and last she saw the making of the treaty. The light then began to retract inwards before finally coming to rest in a small sphere inside Tiana’s chest.
‘Oh cool, now you’re a nightlight.’ Phan joked with a smug look on his face. Tiana hit Phan lightly with the staff, the light slowly began to fade until it was no longer visible.
‘I know what we’re looking for, Ha’uul made a deal, it happened in a cave, we need to find the cave.’
‘I don’t know but it’s important.’ Tiana said already wrapping her arms around Phans neck, ‘Maybe we should get you a saddle.’
Phan ignored the last comment and simply replied ‘Do you know where the cave is?’
‘No, but you said there was a section of the forest the owls wouldn’t let you go, lets start there.’ Phan simply nodded with a suddenly determined look on his face and the pair were airborne.