Owls

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Fight

She couldn’t say when it had happened, but the act of waking up told Tiana that she must have fallen asleep. The feel of ashen leaves against the side of her face also told her that she had also fallen over at some point. She quickly sat up, the events of the previous night flooding back to her filling her with panic over Phan. She looked around and saw Phan sitting a little way away in front of a pile of sticks. The bandage was still tightly wrapped around his wing but he seemed okay.

‘You know, if you’re going for mysterious and angsty the white fluffy wings kind of detract.’ Tiana called over. Phan looked up at Tiana who was now making her way towards him.

‘I’m not sure whether I should be taking advice from a girl who carries around a big stick.’ He shot back, throwing Tiana’s discarded staff at her.

‘I’m going to name it specs.’ She said with a grin. ‘Short for spectacles. During that fight it helped me to see.’

‘Yeah what happened with that? I don’t remember much after being slammed into the ground.’

‘The light helped me see the bear for what it was, there was a rabbit trapped in the black. I free’d it and the shadows died.’

‘So now we’ve got overly ambitious rabbits to worry about?’

‘No, the rabbit was being held captive. I think the black just needed a host.’

‘Oh cool, shadows that possess people, this couldn’t have just been a normal forest could it.’

‘This coming from the boy with wings on his.’ Tiana smirked ‘Speaking of which, how is it?’

‘Doctor says I probably shouldn’t fly for a while, but they tend to heal pretty quick. Other than that i’m fine.’ A moment passed between the pair before Phan reached over and cupped Tiana’s hand. ‘Thank you.’

‘Don’t mention it.’

Tiana rose to her feet, grasping Specs, and reached out a hand to help Phan up.

‘Come on KFC, near death is no excuse for slowing.’

‘Starting to wish I had died now.’ Phan jabbed as he took the hand and got to his feet. ‘Which way then?’ Tiana grasped Specs tight and close her eyes, concentrating on envisioning the light to appear and guide the way. She stood like this for a moment before the light within her chest illuminated itself and gave them their heading.

‘This way.’ Tiana said with a smug smirk on her face as she began walking.

‘You’re basically a swiss army knife at this point.’ Phan joked before following suit.

--------

He’d lost count of how long he’d been running but he knew that it was for way longer than any human should have been able to. Varian tried desperately to work out what had happened, how was this happening? It was hard to think of anything, whatever it was that had control of him was pumping his head with anger and hatred, ensuring that he stay focused but every now and then The effects would lessen and Varian would get a snippet of something peaceful. There was an image of a house, a kiss goodbye, a path along a river. Then nothing before this. This existence of rage and power. Varian thought against himself with every fiber of his being, trying to slow himself or to change direction or do anything to exert some kind of willpower over his own body. And then he felt the now all too familiar wave of aggression coursing through him and once again he was nothing more than a prisoner of his own body.

--------

‘Where are we do you reckon?’ Tiana asked, out of the blue.

Phan glanced at her and then to the sky. He licked his finger and hung it in the air, checking the wind. Then he bent down grabbed a sample of ashen dirt which he raised to his nose and give a short sharp sniff before standing back up again. Tiana watched him, admittedly impressed by his apparent tracking abilities.

‘No idea.’ Phan said.

Tiana was very quickly no longer impressed and made a mental note to get him back for that at some point.

‘I thought birds had an innate sense of direction.’

‘I’m not a homing pigeon Ti.’

‘Well then what’s the point of you’ Tiana joked, turning her head to the side in order to hide the smile that had formed upon hearing Phan give her a nickname.

‘I thought you were the only compass we’d need anyway, isn’t specs showing you the way?’

‘Oh I know we’re headed in the right direction, I just meant that, well, I didn’t think the forest was this big.’

Phan looked around him ‘Yeah I guess you’re right, but I don’t think this is a normal forest. I’m not sure the rules apply here.’

The quick thudding of footsteps interrupted their contemplation as the pair turned to see a shadowy figure hurtling towards them. The figure barrelled into Tiana, sending her crashing to the ground and sending specs shooting off into the undergrowth. Tiana tried to scramble to her feet but the newcomer got to her first and delivered a swift blow to her side, winding her and knocking her back down. Phan raced into action running at whoever their assailant was and pushing it off of Tiana before delivering his own blow. Phan tried to connect another punch to the shadow but it simply dodged, seemingly with very little effort. The shadow responded by delivering an uppercut directly to Phan’s chin, briefly stunning him . Tiana crawled, clutching at her aching side and struggling to regain her breath, towards where she had seen the staff fall, but felt an impossibly strong hand gripping her ankle. It happened too fast for Tiana to quite work out what was going on but she felt her body flying through the air before colliding rather heavily with a the thick trunk of a tree. The shadow then returned its attention to Phan who had recovered and looked ready to destroy something.

-------

Varian couldn’t believe his own eyes, stood in front of him was a teenage boy with wings. The boy was throwing a punch but to Varian it looked like it was happening in slow motion, his body acted on autopilot, easily dodging the blow and returning with one of its own. Varian didn’t know what this fight was about or even who these people were but he knew one thing. He didn’t want to be a part of this. Varian concentrated his full efforts on holding his punches back or stopping his kicks, he tried with every fibre of his being to stop himself from doing the awful things that he was but it was to no avail. He accepted that his body, was no longer his. Whatever was controlling him, was devoting its energies now to the fight which allowed the mental block currently in place on varian to slip. Memories of his life flooded back to him and suddenly he remembered everything. He was Varian, husband to Wanda, they wanted to adopt a child. They’d met at pride. He’d kissed her goodbye this morning. He’d promised he would come home. His heart broke at that thought, suddenly not sure that he would be able to keep that promise despite the fact that he’d have ripped the sky in two to be able to.

-------

Tiana looked over her shoulder, Phan was trading blows with the shadow, his damaged wing robbing him of his main advantage but she was still impressed with the speed with which they were both moving. It looked less like a fight than a dance, she saw now that fighting wasn’t chaos, it was a series of questions followed by answers and the loser was whoever answered wrong first. Tiana snapped out of her reverie, seizing the opportunity to scramble towards Specs, she scrambled through the undergrowth where the staff had been thrown trying to find it. Brambles and thorns ripped at her skin, leaving notes in blood, but she did not slow, she had to find the staff before the shadow killed Phan. She pushed a branch out of the way and felt her fingers collide with something more solid, she pushed her hand into the weeds and grabbed what she knew was the staff. Tiana rose to her feet and turned once again to the fight still ongoing behind her, concentrating with all her might she held the staff tightly and silently begged any god that would listen to make the lights appear. Someone must have been listening because once again she felt the world shift into focus and she knew that it had succeeded. Opening her eyes she was afforded her first look at their assailant. It was a woman who appeared to be in her mid thirties. She was wearing running gear and had a pained look on her face that suggested that she no more a willing participant than the rabbit had been. Tiana watched as Phan went to block a punch that never came. There’s the wrong answer Tinan thought as the shadow instead spun a kick into the centre of his chest, sending the winged boy crashing to the floor. The shadow dove onto the floor to finish Phanuel but he reacted quickly, rolling to the side and leaping to his feet.

‘Phan!’ Tiana shouted running to behind where the shadow had now returned to its feet, Phan knew what to do and managed to land a punch in the unprepared creatures chest, sending her flying in Tiana’s direction, Tiana swung Specs through the mass of shadows, hitting the host cleanly and dislodging the unfortunate soul. As before the dark mass dissipated leaving the now unconscious woman laying sprawled on the forest floor. Tiana looked up at Phan, they were both breathless but smiled at each other.

‘You okay?’ Phan asked, his voice filled with concern.

‘I’m okay I think, just a bit bruised, how about you?’

‘Yeah i’m okay, could really do with no more shadow creatures for a while though.’

‘I feel that.’

The pair came closer and stood over their new companion, both looking down at her wondering what to do next. Now that she was free of the shadows and lying motionless they could both see her more clearly. The mystery woman had short blonde hair and a slim athletic body but what intrigued Tiana the most was the dark lines that wove their way across her body.

‘We should bind her,’ Phan said, decisively ‘we don’t know what she’ll do when she wakes up.’ He set off to the closest tree and started ripping vines from the bark and intertwining them into a makeshift rope. He then walked back and secured her hands before tossing Tiana the other rope and telling her to secure the feet. Once they had done that, they both collapsed, Exhausted from the fight.

‘What do you think the marks are?’ Phan asked.

‘I dunno, could be tattoos, could be from the shadows. Guess we’ll just have to wait until she wakes up.’

‘You think she’ll still want to kill us?’

‘She’s wearing running clothes, I don’t think she was a willing host.’

‘Well observed miss holmes’ Phan joked.

‘Then again, she’s spent at least thirty seconds In your company so it is likely she’ll still be a bit murdery.’

‘Very funny Ti.’

‘Hey if I could work out the best way to cook those chicken wings, i’d have killed you by now.’

Phan simply shoved Tiana over in response to her jibe.

------

The first thing Varian noticed when he woke up was that he was not alone. He kept his eyes closed and just listened to the voices for a second. From what he could make out there were two voices, one male and one female. Varian come to the conclusion these must have been the people he’d been fighting. The second thing Varian notice was that his arms and legs were bound together. ‘Great’ he thought ‘finally get myself free and then these guys tie me up.’ Varian, considered his options and decided that his best option was to simply sit up and be honest. He opened his eyes, The pair were sat down a few steps away from where he was currently laying. They both looked like they’d had a rough week. Varian went to open his mouth but suddenly froze upon seeing the great big wings protruding from the boy.

‘Hey lady It’s rude to stare.’ Phan called over, noticing Varian’s new state of consciousness.

‘I’m a man actually.’ Varian retorted, awkwardly pushing himself to his feet. Phan looked taken aback and flapped his mouth a few times as if lost for words. Varian took pity and followed up his response with ‘Trans.’ Phan nodded in understanding.

Tiana crawled closer to her captive ‘My name’s Tiana, bird boy over there is Phanuel. Who are you?’ Tiana asked, trying to keep her voice friendly but dominant.

‘My name is Varian. Please, I just wanna go home.’ Varians voice caught in his throat a little at the mention of home. He couldn’t help but think of his poor wife at home worried sick about him.

‘I want that too but you tried to hurt us and we need to know that you won’t do it again.’

‘I won’t, I don’t know why I even did in the first place.’

‘I have a hunch, could you tell me what the fight was like? For you?’

‘It was like I was watching it from a distance, I was trying to stop myself but I couldn’t. It was like my body was being driven by something else.’

Tiana scooched closer and put her hands over Varians and making direct eye contact, ‘I believe you.’ Tiana then began untying the bonds. Phanuel protested at this ‘You’re just going to trust him?’

‘Yes. I am.’ Tiana said so matter of factly that Phan felt like a small child being sent to bed. Tiana then turned back to Varian who had started working at his ankle bindings. ‘Varian, there’s something else I need to ask you, I want you to keep calm okay?’ A look of fear crept over Varians face, suddenly he was scared of whatever was about to come from Tiana’s mouth. Tiana held up a compact mirror and asked Varian ‘These markings, are they natural for you?’ Varian snatched the mirror from Tiana, suddenly seeing the lines that now danced across his skin. Thick veins of black and purple scoured his body, he pulled his skin tight and held the mirror closer to get a better view, noting that the veins seemed to almost pulsate. Tiana and Phan watched the examination with fascination before Tiana interrupted the silence ‘I’m going to assume, by your reaction that those aren’t tattoos.’

Varian started shouting, clearly freaked out by his sudden body modifications ‘what the hell are these?’ he screamed, not really expecting an answer ‘How has this happened?’

Tiana approached the situation cautiously, knowing that that what she was about to say would sound insane but that she needed to say it anyway ‘You were possessed, by an evil shadow that made you find and attack us, I can’t say for sure but I think these marks are the lingering effect of that.’

Varian’s face snapped to Tiana ‘Are you saying i’m going to be stuck like this forever? What will I tell Wanda?’ Varians voice cracked at the mention of his wife’s name and he covered his face with his hands as if in shame. Tiana moved closer and placed a comforting hand on varians hunched shoulders. ‘I don’t know much more than you, but me and Phan are going to find the that did this to you and were going to stop it. Maybe once we’ve done that the marks will disappear.’ Varian did not react at first but after a couple of moments passed he sat up again, jaw clenching and a look of determination settled on his face. ‘If you’re going after whatever did this to me then i’m coming with you.’

Upon hearing this decision, Phan jumped to his feet and approached the two, he squared his shoulders and allowed his beautiful white wings to bolster his height ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but why should we take you with us, first impressions count and yours wasn’t great.’

Varian then rose to his feet standing in front of Phan, and though he wasn’t as physically imposing, he still managed to make his presence felt. ‘Be as rude as you want, I wasn’t asking your permission.’

Tiana watched as the two stared into each other’s eyes, she’d known enough men in her life to understand that this had become a matter of dominance. Whoever looked away first, lost. Tiana had had enough of boys measuring themselves to see who was bigger and decided that this time, she would take the power. She grasped her staff and swung it low, connecting just behind Phan’s knees and following through to Varians. The desired effect was achieved and with one fell swoop Tiana had sent both men crashing to the floor. The confused pair looked up at Tiana, mouths gaping like goldfish.

‘Now that you two have stopped behaving like children, perhaps we can settle this maturely.’ She turned to Varian ‘You can come with us but you should know that it will likely be dangerous and we will not risk our lives for yours. There are bigger things at stake here.’ Varian simply nodded and so Tiana turned towards Phan ‘Varian will be coming with us any issues with that can be placed in a ziploc bag which you can then shove firmly up your -’

‘Okay, okay I get it.’ Phan interrupted. Tiana took note of the birdman’s seeming aversion to curse words and then continued her speech ‘now that we have that settled, the two of you can get to your feet and we can focus on saving the world.’ She then extended both her hands to the fallen boys which they readily accepted and rose back to their feet.

With the gang now back to their feet and the hierarchy firmly established, Tiana led the way deeper into the forest. Varian followed her closely and Phan hung back sheepishly. They walked for several hours, no one daring to speak, an uneasy tension hung over the group. The only sound to be heard was the wind whistling through the hollow trees of the undead forest. Some time had passed before the peace was finally broken when the group stumbled into a clearing that surrounded a cliff face. Tiana looked over the rocky surface and her eyes were drawn to what appeared to be a cave opening. She immediately recognised it. ‘This is it, this is where the treaty happened.’ She explained to the boys. They stood staring at the opening for several moments working up the courage to do what they knew they had to. With a final puff of her chest, Tiana stepped forward and into the cave.

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