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Feathers of Fire
She glanced around frantically, trying to find an escape route. Anytime, it would be here anytime. She flew over great stretches of forest, feeling as if her wings were about to pop out of their sockets. Safety! She was almost there, just a few more feet!
She tilted her body down towards the almost-hidden cave like an arrow, flying as fast as she could, which was probably the fastest she had ever gone. Then suddenly, a small prick on her left side. She glanced over her shoulder, and saw a tiny dart, which she quickly pulled out. But she knew it wouldn’t matter, as she already felt a hundred times heavier as her eyesight began to blur and wings slowed and she plummeted towards the ground.
Where am I? Aria opened her eyes. Seeing nothing, she tried to sit up, but felt her arms and legs fastened together to the hard dusty ground. Fear and fury started building within her as Aria tested the ropes restraining her. Giving up, she flopped back to the ground. I have to escape, I have to. Or I’ll never see light again. He CAN’T win. Suddenly, she realized something. Using all her remaining strength, Aria reached her arm around to the spot on her back where it began to form her left wing, and grabbed a small knife that she obtained during her lonely travels in the woods. She hacked at the ropes until they gave, and she flopped to the ground. She sat up, and looked around. To her horror, she saw….an operating table? Aria stood up. This is worse than I thought….I have to get out NOW. She looked around some more…. An exit to the right….Aria could only hope it led to freedom.
Aria ran with inhuman speed in that direction, now sensing the walls near her. She stopped. Aria could hear voices up ahead, already dreading what they would be saying. “So you have it?” “Yes, it’s being held here actually but I don’t know how long.” “Don’t let it escape, I need its blood! If you fail me again, you will know what it means to be in REAL agony.” Aria gasped. She heard footsteps heading her way. Aria unfolded her wings quickly and jumped, flapping as quietly as she could. Hovering near the ceiling, she watched the two men pass by. Aria glimpsed a white coat as she expected, but didn’t recognize the dark hooded figure next to him. Something flashed near one sleeve of his jacket. A knife? Aria didn’t wait to find out. She swooped down to the ground and kept running towards the light ahead. She ran as quietly as she could until she stumbled into the bright sunlight. Finally! Aria breathed in fresh, morning air gratefully, and opened her wings to warm them in the sun. She was in the same area as before. That was easy….almost TOO easy…. Aria leaped from the cliff and started flapping in the direction of the sun. Then BAM!!! She hit an invisible barrier and hovered midair, dazed, shaking her head trying to clear it.
“Hahahaha, you think you escaped? Even you know it couldn’t possibly be THAT easy don’t you? You’re just gonna have to be patient until your table is ready!" Aria’s heart sunk. She wasn’t free. She dropped into the fake forest, and just sat at the base of a tree. There’s nothing I can do, they’ve got me. I may as well just wait for them to get me…. Aria knew there had to be a way out, but it wasn’t long until from a small hole in the ground a dart shot out and pricked Aria’s leg. Her body slumped, and she succumbed to the darkness closing in around her.
Light. Unnatural light. The first thing she saw was the operating lamp above her. Her whole body was restrained to the table. Aria immediately panicked, trying to break the energy bonds holding her. After a few minutes of useless struggle, Aria quieted herself and became still.
“I see you’ve woken little Fyreling. You can call me Derius. Don’t worry, I’m on my way down, and I’ve decided to keep you awake so you can….take in my wonderful work.” Aria’s mind went crazy with fear. Like Derius promised, he came down almost immediately, emerging from a tunnel in the wall. A mask covered his face, so she couldn’t see his features, and he had gloves on his bony hands.
“Ready to begin?” His voice was raspy and menacing. Aria had a feeling it was the dark cloaked man from the hallway. He reached behind her to a table and grabbed a long needle and a sharp knife. Aria went hysterical.
“Please, why can’t you just let me go?” Her voice quivered with fear.
Derius chuckled, and said “Oh, but I NEED your blood, you know that. And I can’t just let you leave, and tell everyone about us! That’s what my sharp friend here is for.” He gestured to the knife in his hand.
“And I was also hoping to get the Fyre Spark, which is, in your heart. Now, as much as I enjoy this chat, I’m on a schedule, so let’s start shall we?” He grabbed her wrist and jabbed the needle into her arm, and the needle began to fill with her blood. Aria shook with fear, and felt like she could black out at any second. Once he finished, Derius put the now filled needle on a table near him, and reached for the knife.
“Now little Fyreling, for the fun part!” He laughed evilly, and moved his arm down into her chest, and her body exploded in pain. In the back of her mind, Aria heard a crash in the back of the room, right before she slipped into unconsciousness.
Aria woke up straight into a nightmare. A great fire ravaged all around her, and smoke filled her nostrils. She was being carried in strong, unknown hands. Aria was terrified. She tried to move, but her body wouldn’t respond to her commands. Instead she tried to pay attention to her surroundings.
Everywhere was fire. It engulfed everything. Aria almost didn’t see anything else until she noticed three figures fighting. One she recognized as the man that had tried to kill her. The other two seemed to be fighting him together. All of a sudden, the man that had tried to take her life disappeared. The person holding Aria turned and started running towards the wall, and somehow broke through. The other two figures she had seen jumped through after him. One removed its hood and turned her way. Aria saw that it was a woman.
She tried to speak. “Who are…?” The woman interrupted her.
“We are your rescuers. We will explain later, but for now you must rest.” She stepped forward and injected Aria with a clear liquid, and Aria fell asleep.
The first thing Aria saw was the face above her. A boy, about her age, looked down onto her. He had a handsome face and dark hair, which almost covered his ice-blue eyes. Aria noticed then that his lips were moving.
“Hey, you’re finally awake! Two days you’ve been knocked out!” Aria pushed herself into a sitting position, wincing at the pain in her chest. She looked at the boy.
“Where am I?” she asked. The dark haired boy smiled.
“Well, first of all, my name’s Stefan. And you are at The Grove.” Stefan stood up. “You have wings too apparently.” Aria gasped. She was supposed to keep that a secret.
“Don’t tell anyone!” she begged. “Please, because it puts me in danger when people know!” Stefan sighed.
“I know its frustrating ‘cuz it’s so fun to use them, and you are never able to freely.” He slipped off his shirt, and unfolded his jet black feathered wings. Laughing at Aria’s shocked expression, he folded his wings and sat down on her bed again. Aria stared at him. She had thought that her gold and brown wings were the only ones in existence.
She blurted out, “How do you have those?” Stefan shifted uncomfortably.
“Same way you did I’m guessing, I was born with them.” Aria suddenly slumped back onto the bed.
“This is way too much to take in. First I’m running for my life through the woods, and then I literally almost get my heart ripped out, now there’s another winged freak like me?” Stefan smiled.
“I know how you feel. Let’s go get some breakfast; we’ll talk about it later.”
Breakfast was delicious. Aria hadn’t eaten in days, and flying took a lot of energy. Five eggs, seven slices of toast, and six glasses of orange juice later, Aria was full.
“Wow, you don’t know how good that felt.”
Stefan laughed. “I’ve been through a lot too, so I have known a lot of what you are going through.” All of a sudden, two people walked in. Aria recognized the woman as one of her rescuers, but didn’t recognize the man. The woman smiled warmly.
“Well, I’m glad to see that you’ve woken up. My name is Mandy.”
The man also smiled. “And my name is Keegan.” He reached out his hand towards Aria’s. Aria shook it cautiously. Sensing the discomfort in Aria’s movement, Stefan put his arm around her.
“Don’t worry, they’re good. Mandy and Keegan are my adopted parents.” Aria gasped. “Your parents?” Hers had been killed before she was born. Keegan looked at her sadly.
“We found Stefan about three years ago, on the run just like you. His parents, we found out, had also been killed as I am guessing yours were. So we took him in and have done all we can to help others like him.” Keegan and Mandy exchanged awkward glances. “So far you have been the only one we could save. But we do know what they want now.”
Aria gulped. “What?” Mandy looked at her.
“They want to create more of you, but they want them to be slaves. That is what they will do with your blood. Of course, you will be stronger than the clones, but it still creates a problem for us, and enslaving is bad no matter what.” Aria thought about this. Suddenly she remembered something.
“Wait, but that guy that tried to cut me open said that he wanted my Fyre Spark. What is that?”
Mandy glanced at Keegan nervously, and then replied, “It’s the thing that caused you to have your powers, and it also keeps you alive. But one taken from a dead Fyreling becomes extremely powerful, and can be used as a weapon, or a source of unlimited energy.” Aria shuddered. Who would ever kill someone just so they could have a weapon or a little energy? But she still was confused.
“But what is a Fyreling?” This time Stefan answered.
“It’s, erm, a part human that has the power to control fire, but also has wings. So in other words, the power of a phoenix.”
The next few weeks were exhausting. Aria was amazed that phoenixes existed, let alone she was part one. Still not ready to believe this bizarre piece of information, she joined in with the rest of her new adopted family’s ‘normal’ activities. As soon as she could move without stabbing pain in her chest, she began practicing with Stefan. Keegan was always gone from the house apparently trying to find more traces of Fyrelings. Mandy took care of the huge house but also tracked the movement of the evil scientists “which Aria learned were called SAW, short for Secret Army of the Watchers” and other related things.
Stefan normally practiced battle moves in case they needed to defend themselves, but with Aria completely new at The Grove, he now taught her simple defensive techniques. Aria still didn’t know how to control her powers, and somewhat wanted to learn how, but Mandy always told her that “it wasn’t necessary at the moment and could endanger all of us.” Aria didn’t know how this could be, but went along with it; maybe Mandy wanted to save it for last.
The first practice was disastrous. Aria knew only the basics of flying. Moving fast sideways to dodge attacks was impossible. Stefan continued dodging everything that she tried to land on him, many times resulting in him swooping back around and knocking her out of the air. With her phoenix blood, however, she never seemed to tire. About 20 tries later, Aria dodged Stefan and attacked him from behind. She did it again after that. Stefan smiled at her encouragingly. “Ok, Aria, I think we can move on to sharp dives.” Aria found flying techniques to be somewhat easier than fighting.
Many weeks went by, and Stefan continued teaching Aria endless moves; defensive strategies, attack forms, and flying techniques. It got increasingly harder but Aria eventually mastered all of them. Stefan seemed pleased with her so far. Then they moved on to the hardest stuff.
“Come on, you need to be faster! One more time.” Aria wiped sweat from her forehead. Her wings just hadn’t been moving as fast today so they decided to review some evasive moves. Stefan swooped back into the air with grace that Aria felt she would never master. She followed him into the sky. Stefan suddenly turned and dove for her, and Aria tried to dodge him, and managed to flap aside at the last moment, and sighed with relief. Then she was knocked from the air and landed hard on the grass. Stefan landed softly beside her and stooped down to help her up.
“You ok? Sorry, I thought you knew I was going to sneak up behind you.” Aria swayed and steadied herself on Stefan’s shoulder.
“Yeah, its fine. That’s the best I’ve done so far though right?” She laughed weakly. “Can we take a break now? I’m falling apart I think.” Stefan shrugged and guided her back to the house.
“You want something to drink?” he asked. Aria nodded gratefully. Why was she so tired today? Hoping that maybe she just hadn’t gotten enough sleep, she plopped down onto a stool at the table. Stefan got a glass filled with ice water and set it on the table next to her.
Looking uncomfortable, Stefan looked at her and asked, “I didn’t hurt you did I?” Aria was surprised he had asked her this. She had had worse falls during practice than this one.
After a few mouthfuls of water, she replied, “No, of course not, I’m fine.” Stefan sat next to her, still looking worried.
Wanting to break the silence and feeling much better after sipping water, she asked him, “Do you want to go back outside and practice a little more?” He looked at the floor.
Then he said quietly, “Only if you are feeling perfectly okay.” Aria stood up.
“I already told you, I’m fine now!” She didn’t mean for her voice to sound so defensive, but Stefan also got up and led the way back to the practice area.
“Okay, now I want you to fly up, as high as you need, and then attack me from the air.” Stefan told Aria. Aria obeyed him, but then as she was coming down to try to attack him, a big wind came out of nowhere and her wings, again weak, wouldn’t support her and she fell into Stefan, who caught her. Now she was shaking. Stefan looked terrified, and held Aria to him. He looked into her eyes, a deep concern in them.
“You look really sick Aria. What is wrong?” Aria shook her head to clear it; now everything was spinning. But she didn’t want Stefan to worry.
“I’m fine. Please, let’s keep practicing!” she insisted. Stefan shook his head.
“You obviously are not feeling well. I will not practice with you until you recover.” Suddenly, he leaned down and kissed her. Aria returned it, surprised, and savored the feel of his lips against hers. It was wonderful. But it was short though, too short. As they broke apart, Stefan began to apologize.
“I’m so sorry, it’s just that…” He didn’t finish his sentence, because suddenly, Aria felt as if the ground lurched beneath her. She collapsed, and screamed, as a deep pain ripped into her heart. Everything swirled, then was blinked out into numb blackness, which Aria had no choice but to surrender to.
Stefan kissed her. He couldn’t help it; he had loved her ever since he had saved her from the clutches of The Watchers, and had dreamed of this moment ever since. And she kissed him back. Suddenly he felt sorry; he should have at least given her a choice.
He muttered, “I’m sorry, it’s just that…” But before he could finish, Aria fell to the ground, and screamed. She writhed in pain before him. Stefan had never felt so helpless. He knelt down beside her and tried to comfort her, but she wasn’t responding. She continued to thrash and scream. And, as quickly as it had started, Aria was still. Completely still. He tried to wake her, shaking her, but she remained unmoving, her eyes closed. Stefan was in a panic. He scooped up her limp body and snapped open his wings. As he soared onto the balcony of the house, he shouted for Mandy. She flung open the sliding glass door and stared at Aria as if he had just brought home a corpse. But he DIDN’T. She couldn’t be… gone. Because if she was then he would be too. Mandy was saying something to him, but he couldn’t hear her. It wasn’t until she said “Stefan, you need to let go. I can save her” that Stefan slowly followed Mandy into a room and laid Aria onto the bed. All he could do was watch her.
“Bring me my tools and a phone. I need to call your father.” Stefan was like a zombie; he walked from the room in a daze, and picked up Mandy’s emergency bag, and the phone. Mandy wrenched the items out of his hands and quickly dialed a number and talked rapidly for a few seconds, then snapped the phone closed and threw it on the bed. Then she started doing things with the bag, but Stefan wasn’t paying attention. His whole body was numb. He had to know something.
“Is she alive?”
Mandy sat still for a second, and then whispered, “Yes.” She meddled with a tool in her hand and looked at Stefan.
“You need to leave. I know you won’t want to be here.” Stefan shook his head, desperate.
“No. I need to stay here. Do whatever you need to do to save her.” Mandy sighed, and looked back at Aria.
“You know I will,” she said softly. “And you are strong for staying, but would be even stronger to leave.” She reached into her bag, and pulled out a scalpel. Mandy was clearly stressed, but also determined. She said firmly, “Go.” Stefan stayed.
Aria woke up “or did she?” to the feeling that her chest was on fire. She tried to scream, but no sound came out. Her eyes opened a little, and she saw nothing but bright light. She had never thought that there would be a moment that death would be wanted; now she begged for it. Aria was trapped there, unable to move, constantly in agonizing pain. Then everything was calm again, and she realized how tired she was and fell asleep.
Her body was so still. He closed his eyes. Mandy continued to work over her, not telling Stefan why she was cutting her open. He could barely watch, unable to look at Aria’s blood glisten in the light.
After what felt like days, Mandy finally spoke with a rough voice, “She should wake up anytime. If she doesn’t, call me back up. I need to talk to your dad.” She left, after throwing a nervous glance over her shoulder at the bed. Stefan quickly stepped forward to Aria’s side. Seconds ticked by, and Aria’s eyes stayed shut. Stefan waited anxiously, desperately hoping he would see those beautiful green eyes again. He thought for a moment, maybe she wouldn’t remember the kiss they shared before she collapsed. They could start over. What if she only kissed him back so she wouldn’t hurt his feelings? He needed to wait until she gave a sign that she liked him back. Suddenly Aria’s eyes fluttered open. It felt like a million angels were singing inside him.
Almost unconsciously, Stefan whispered, “Aria??” She looked at him, a dazed look in her eyes. Her hand twitched towards his. Stefan took it delicately, his eyes locked on hers. The sides of her mouth lifted up slightly. Stefan smiled back with relief.
She could feel her body again, but this time it was not on fire. Aria opened her eyes, and heard a hurried shuffling of feet next to her. Her eyes slid in that direction, and saw Stefan gazing down at her with a worried look. She realized that he was the one person that she wanted to be with most right now. She tried to take his hand, but all she could manage was a tiny movement towards his. He seemed to understand though, and grasped her hand carefully.
Aria smiled at him. “I hate practice,” she rasped, attempting to comfort him.
Stefan stammered, “You’re alive. I was so scared that… that…”
Aria closed her eyes. “So did I, but I wasn’t scared. I just knew that I would miss…” Her voice trailed off. She quickly changed subject when she saw Stefan’s surprised face. Already feeling somewhat stronger, she muttered a little bit louder voice, “What happened?” Stefan looked down uneasily. He spoke in a quiet voice.
“Well, you fell, and I caught you…” He paused awkwardly. “Well, you passed out, except you were thrashing and screaming. It was terrible.” He grimaced. “I brought you to the house, and Mandy cut you open, I don’t know why, and then you woke up.” He glanced at her briefly and again stared blankly at the floor. Aria gasped; she looked at her chest and saw red stitches embedded in a long line vertically across her chest. She sat up shakily. Finding herself steady enough, she slid her legs off the bed and positioned them on the floor. Stefan immediately grabbed her arm. “Why are you trying to get up? Just rest for a little bit!” he pleaded.
Aria shook her head. “I feel fine. I want to talk to Mandy, I want to know why my body got cut open.” Looking wary, Stefan put his arm around her, ready to catch her if she stumbled. Aria rolled her eyes, amazed that he was suddenly so protective. She walked to the door, ignoring the ache in her legs.
Once she reached the kitchen, she spotted Mandy speaking in a hushed voice to Keegan. “…I knew it was coming, I recognized the signs…” her voice trailed off when she saw Aria walk in, supported by Stefan. “Why are you out of bed?!?!” Mandy shouted. “You need to recover!!!”
Aria didn’t say anything at first, when a firm voice beside her said, “She wants to know why you did what you did.” Stefan looked fixedly into Mandy’s eyes. Mandy sighed. “Stefan, remember a few weeks ago when I told you about…” she stopped, a hasty look at Aria, then continued, “…fire? And you felt sick? Well that’s what just happened to Aria, except obviously, it was much worse. When the doctor took her blood, he also injected a tiny tracker into her, but it also causes her heart to break down when she goes through FyreShed. In case she managed to survive him, it would kill her eventually. I prevented that by removing the tracker and giving her heart something to reverse the effects of the tracker.” Aria opened her mouth to talk, but Mandy interrupted her. “Ask Stefan about FyreShed, I have to make some arrangements.” She strode out of the room with Keegan, again whispering to him.
Stefan and Aria walked out of the room in silence. Still supporting Aria, he guided her to her room and sat her on the bed, sitting next to her. They shared an uncomfortable silence.
As he expected, Aria asked him, “So… what is a FyreShed?” She looked at him expectedly. Stefan turned his gaze to the door.
“Um, well, you know how we’re part phoenix or whatever?” She nodded, waiting for him to go on. “So apparently phoenixes are mostly normal birds until they reach around 10 years old, which for them, is their teen years. They then shed their brown feathers at once, catch on fire, and form red, orange, and gold feathers. Obviously we aren’t covered in feathers…” Aria glanced at Stefan’s back, where his wings were folded neatly. He chuckled, and continued. “Well, except for our wings, but we are part human, we don’t shed our wings for some reason. Instead…” Stefan thought about how he would say this, he didn’t want it to sound too freaky. “Some of our blood transforms, and even more becomes part phoenix. This does affect our wings a little I guess. The new phoenix blood allows us to breathe fire. As we breathe fire, our wings flash red, orange and gold. Another way the new phoenix blood helps is if one of us dies or is close to death, it gives one the power to be healed by another Fyreling when one of their tears sinks into the dying one’s skin. It will then be restored to full health.” He noticed Aria’s amazed look, and tentatively asked, “So what do you think?” She laughed brightly.
“That’s awesome! So you can just breathe fire whenever you want?” Stefan was surprised Aria took this so lightly. “Well, no, you have to use it sparingly; you only have a certain amount until you run out. Then it takes about an hour for it to refuel. But there might be more things Mandy and Keegan haven’t discovered about us yet, like more powers I mean.” Aria looked even more delighted at this. He laughed again, and almost picked up her hand until he remembered his promise to himself. I have to let her decide. I don’t want to make any mistakes. Stefan stood up, and turned to Aria. “Are you up for a little flying? Of course, we’ll take it easy, just in case.” Aria smiled.
“Sure. I would love to explore a little too if you wouldn’t mind?” Stefan again almost took her hand, and stopped himself. “I know the perfect place.”
Aria followed Stefan outside, both talking eagerly about the surrounding forest, the phoenix blood, and various other subjects.
Stefan turned to her, and asked, “So, ready to take off?”
Aria loved flying; she answered happily, “Yes, let’s go!” She watched as Stefan wheeled around and leaped into the air, his wings beating the air powerfully before turning again to face Aria, hovering easily in place. Aria sighed. Hoping not to make herself look stupid, she flapped her wings as hard as she could, and unexpectedly, she was almost half as graceful as Stefan was taking off. She wobbled slightly once she was in the air but aligned herself as she joined Stefan in the sky. He smiled back encouragingly at her and turned and soared smoothly towards the tops of the trees in the forest. Aria followed, enjoying the light feeling of flying. For the first time she was doing it just for the fun of it, not to escape enemies that wanted to kill her. They flew like this for a while, occasionally yelling words of exhilaration for the other to hear. After a bit, Aria saw Stefan tuck his wings in close to his body and dive towards a small clearing in the vast carpet of trees. Aria did the same, and thudded heavily to the ground thankfully on her feet. Stefan gestured for Aria to follow as he ambled towards a large group of boulders. Aria looked at them curiously, than saw that there was a gap between two ancient rocks. Stefan knelt down and crawled through. She trailed behind reluctantly, sometimes noticing a sparkle here and there. Thinking it just her imagination, she concentrated on not hitting her head on the low rock ceiling. Stefan paused, glanced behind him to check that Aria was still behind him and turned again down an invisible tunnel, this time completely vanishing from view. Aria scrambled to where she had last seen him. Then she saw a large opening to the right. Stefan was waiting, standing now. Aria ducked under the last of the low rock, and stood up next to Stefan.
“Almost there,” Stefan assured her, and continued down the tunnel. Aria again followed. Suddenly they reached a huge cavern. Aria gasped; everywhere she saw were breathtakingly beautiful jewels sparkling around her. The embedded stones seemed to create their own light. To top it off, a great waterfall flowed from a corner of the cavern like liquid silver, forming a large pool of water at the bottom. A stream snaked itself away from it leading deeper into another pathway.
Stefan grinned. “I found it when I first got to The Grove. I decided to go for a walk, and I stumbled across the cave. Do you like it?”
Aria was aghast; she spluttered, “It’s amazing!” Stefan wandered over to the pool of water and spoke above the splashing of the waterfall.
“Come taste the water,” he exclaimed. Aria stumbled over, still stunned by the beauty of the jewels. Stefan cupped his hands together and allowed the water to trickle into his hands, forming a watery silver spot in his palms. He sipped it carefully, motioning for Aria to try. She slipped her hands into the cool water and scooped some into her mouth. It tasted like nothing she had ever experienced. Immediately a refreshing calm drifted over her. The water was exactly like it looked; silvery smooth in her mouth. Aria closed her eyes, savoring the way it melted in her mouth. Without warning, a hand gripped her arm and pulled her to her feet. Her eyes snapped open. She stared at Stefan questioningly. He was standing stiffly, his eyes hard and focused on the entrance to the cavern. He murmured through the side of his mouth to Aria. “Be quiet, I hear voices.” Aria listened carefully.
Distantly she could make out two male voices apparently at the clearing where they had entered the cave. “…the escaped female landed over here. But I saw two of
them, one had black wings.” The second voice seemed insistent. “Search everywhere. If you find even a trace of them, call in reinforcements.” Cold fear gripped Aria, she stepped closer to Stefan. He looked agitated, but spoke in a strong voice.
“We need to hurry. It’s only a matter of time before they eventually find the entrance. Once we get outside, wait for my signal before we take flight. Stay close.” Aria walked soundlessly after Stefan towards the other tunnel. This time they didn’t have to duck down, but when the exited the cave, there was a jumble of trees and rocks blocking much of the exit. Stefan squeezed between two rocks and crouched behind it. Aria did the same, but scraped her arm on a sharp rock as she slid between the rocks. She wiped her arm on her shirt before Stefan could see. He sat unmoving beside her, and then started climbing the rock behind them. Once they reached the top, Stefan checked that they were still unseen, and rose into the sky. This time Aria’s take-off was perfect, just as silent as Stefan’s. They stayed as low to the tops of the trees as they could without touching them. Then Stefan angled his wings straight up and flew higher and higher, all the while changing direction back towards the house. Her wings straining, Aria copied him. Her brown-gold hair streaked behind her. As they passed over the clearing, she vaguely heard angry shouting. They increased their speed, not sneaking any glances towards the ground.
Of course, Mandy and Keegan wanted to know everything that happened. After telling them about the conversations that they heard and the shouting, Stefan went upstairs to rest. After thinking about it a little, Aria realized that it wasn’t really that much of a surprise. It was starting to become normal that she got attacked every week or two. For Stefan, however, it wasn’t. He had been living at The Grove safely for a long time. While he was calmly gliding over trees or relaxing in bed, Aria was probably being chased down by The Watchers or hiding out in a cold damp cave. So as it was Stefan was very startled at the seemingly random attack. He was better trained in attack and flying than Aria, but Aria had more survival experience.
Over the next week, Aria and Stefan did nothing but practice. Flying was easiest for her, but she was a horrible attacker. Everything she did usually caused more damage on her than on Stefan. Once she mastered everything else Aria focused on offensive stuff. Stefan would never attack her, so she never knew exactly what the move looked like. After a while she usually got it right. Overall, she learned way more then she thought she could in such a small amount of time.
One day as they were practicing fist attacks, Mandy came out to watch them duel. “You guys are coming along wonderfully,” she praised them. “I think you should be allowed to begin fire-breathing.” Aria froze mid-punch and swooped to the ground and stared at Mandy. Stefan looked just as surprised, but eager. Mandy laughed. “Well, it’s very simple. All you have to do is focus your thoughts or anger and let it out! Try it out, I can’t say anything more, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” She promptly turned and strut towards the house.
Stefan looked disappointed. “Well, if it’s really that easy, then…” He looked towards a small tree and blew out with a hiss. The tree remained as green and unburned as it had before. Aria stifled a laugh. Stefan sat down irritably. “This is stupid. How are we supposed to just ‘figure out’ how to breathe fire?” He put his head in his hands. “Ok ‘student’, you try, and DON’T copy my example.” He laughed sarcastically. Aria rolled her eyes and faced a withered tree stump. She thought of every time she had been captured and helpless, the time she was left shivering in the cold so long ago with no fire, the desperation of trying to fly from her attackers. She realized she hated them. Hated The Watchers. Hatred boiled up inside her, and without really meaning to, she hissed with loathing. Fire erupted from her mouth and incinerated the stump. She closed her mouth for a moment in amazement. Then she giggled with glee.
“At least you managed to do it.” Stefan’s voice was envious.
Aria went up to him. “Just think of what The Watchers did to your family. Or that they want to kill you and stuff. That’s what I did. I didn’t even try to breathe fire then, I just got angry, and…” Aria laughed.
Stefan scowled. “Ok fine. I’ll try.” He stomped over to the tree he had failed to torch once and scrunched up his face in concentration. Then, with a great rush of air, he blew out with an angry hiss. All he managed was a few sparks. Aria expected him to give up but Stefan seemed encouraged by the small improvement. He continued blowing and blowing. Aria sighed and lay down in the grass. After a half hour, she heard joyous shouting. “I did it! Take that tree!” Aria sat up. Stefan was jumping in excitement.
“You are so immature,” Aria laughed. “I’m glad you did it though.” Stefan came and lay down beside her in the soft grass. They stared up at the clouds in silence, happy to just rest for a bit.
Weeks later, after a long day of flying, Aria flopped down onto the grass next to Stefan. The sun shone down on her, warming her entire body. It was times like this that she could best think. Then Aria remembered something. “Remember that day when I was feeling all weak and I sucked at practice?” Stefan nodded, strangely awkwardly. Ignoring this, Aria continued. “Did Mandy mention anything about me being delusional?”
Stefan glanced at her, apprehensive. “Why would you say that?” he said nervously.
Aria laughed lightly. “Well, I fell and you caught me. Then you were all like ‘You ok?’ and I said ‘Yeah I’m fine’ and then you said something else and you kissed me.” Suddenly shy, Aria looked back up at the clouds. Nobody said anything for a few minutes. Aria glanced at Stefan awkwardly. Stefan was vaguely staring at the grass.
“Yeah, um… you’re not delusional. And, it did happen. I’m so sorry about that.” He again stared at the ground. Aria cleared her throat nervously. What did she think about this? Was she mad at him for kissing her…or was she glad? Aria’s eyes darted to Stefan. Now he was staring at her, his icy blue eyes questioning. Then she knew. Aria spoke clearly, “Thank you.” As soon as she said it, she realized how stupid she had sounded. But Stefan obviously didn’t care. His eyes lit up, desirous, than he looked away. “I hate myself for not giving you a choice. Ever since I first saw you I knew that I loved you. But I never let you prove that you even cared about me that way. Are you sure…” Aria didn’t let him finish. She leaned up and kissed him and he responded eagerly. Aria’s lips brushed against his, savoring his sweet breath. He stroked Aria’s hair gently and held her to him. They broke apart, Aria gasping for breath. Stefan watched her cautiously as if he had done something wrong.
Aria caught his eyes and smiled. She whispered, “I… I love you too.”
The next day was interesting. It was awkward but amazing at the same time. Aria had known deep inside that she had always loved Stefan; she had just never acknowledged it. She had hardly slept at all, thinking of nothing but him. At the moment she was walking down the hall with Stefan.
Feeling like there was some unfinished business there, she said, “Can we go back to the cave?”
Stefan looked at her, surprised. “Are you sure? What if it’s not safe there now? There could be Watchers surrounding it.”
Aria nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure. I mean, if we do meet them, we’re bound to run into them eventually right?”
Stefan sighed. “Ok, let’s go then.” After telling Mandy that they were going out for a while, they flew to the cave. They landed softly as if there was a bomb ready to go off at any moment. Aria hoped that she wasn’t leading them into a trap. They knelt down into the hole and crawled quickly until they reached the giant cavern. The water was pearly smooth. Aria immediately moved towards it, eager to drink some. She sipped it carefully. Stefan came up from behind her and sat next to her. Aria yawned.
He smiled at her. “This place is relaxing isn’t it?”
Aria nodded vaguely. “Yeah…” She was tired from her sleepless night. She gingerly laid her head in Stefan’s lap. Stefan looked pleased.
Aria laughed. “Sorry, I’m just so tired…”
Stefan smiled. “It’s fine.” Aria closed her eyes thankfully and gradually drifted off to the peaceful touch of Stefan caressing her wings.
Aria opened her eyes. Unwilling to get up just yet, she just lay there blissfully. All she heard was the sound of rushing water. After a while, she sat up slowly. Stefan apparently had gone to sleep too. He smiled in his sleep. Laughing quietly, Aria stood up and stretched. Then she realized how late it was. In the water glistened the reflection of the full moon. The cave was lit up by the moon’s light and the crystals’ mysterious glow. Feeling slightly guilty, she nudged him softly awake. He yawned and his eyes cracked open.
He muttered, “Wassup?”
Aria giggled. “Well, we kinda slept through the whole day and so now its night. We’re gonna be in so much trouble.” Stefan didn’t look worried in the slightest.
“I guess we should go back then,” he said. He followed Aria out the tunnel that they had escaped through the day that The Watchers had chased them through. As they moved across the rocks at the end, Aria felt a tiny prick in the back of her neck. Thinking it was a bug of some sort, she kept climbing. Suddenly her arms and legs gave way. Her eyes were closing against her will. She panicked. She tried to call out to Stefan, but her voice wouldn’t work. No, not again! At least don’t let them get Stefan! As if from far away, she heard him roar with anger, then everything turned black.
When she regained consciousness, she snapped her eyes open. She tried to jump up but was slammed back to the ground by immensely strong hands. Her vision flickered. She saw a hooded figure pick her up as if she were a paper doll and four others in front of her. One was dragging something behind it. Horrified, she realized it was Stefan. He lay limply and didn’t make a sound. Aria struggled with the hands holding her captive to get to him, but they overpowered her and held her arms to her side. Aria’s feet were already bound together.
Aria screamed. “STEFAN!!!!” As soon as she shouted his name, one of the hands hit her face heavily, making her gag. Aria was felt helpless. She whimpered.
“Shut up!!” a gruff man’s voice above her whispered loudly. A couple of the cloaked people ahead of her snickered. Anger boiled inside of her. She raised her head towards the man holding her and breathed out as hard as she could. Fire billowed out of her mouth with a blast.
The man yelled and dropped her. She landed hard on the hard ground and winced. She started crawling towards Stefan desperately. A foot stomped down hard onto her back. Aria cried out in pain. Something was shoved into her mouth that tasted like old dirty clothes and she was scooped back up into the man’s arms. Aria could feel a rope being wrapped tightly around her wrists uncomfortably.
Familiar voices whispered in front of her. “It sure puts up a fight. This needs to end soon; it already knows how to breathe fire.” Another voice chuckled darkly. “Don’t worry, it’ll be dead by the end of tomorrow when we’re done with it.” They continued into the forest. Aria tried to keep her eyes focused on Stefan’s body as they marched deeper and deeper into the black woods. After what felt like days, the cloaked people stopped in a clearing. “Call the chopper,” the lead voice commanded. “Make it quick too.” The other voices mumbled in response. Aria twisted in her bindings. Nothing happened.
She tried to wiggle out of her captor’s grasp, but he simply smacked her and held her even tighter. Aria could already hear the rumble of the helicopter’s blades as it streaked through the night. She stayed still, knowing that there was nothing she could do. The buffeting of the copter’s blades slowed as it landed in the small clearing. She was hoisted into the body of the helicopter after the first cloaked people, one still dragging Stefan. Aria was thrown roughly onto the floor of the aircraft next to him. She reached out her bound arms and shook his shoulder.
Come on, please let him wake up, we need to get out of here! Stefan remained motionless. Tears streaked down her face as she stared at Stefan. His arms were flung uselessly in front of him, his legs splayed out awkwardly. His eyes opened and he looked around. “They got us didn’t they?” he asked tiredly. She nodded and laid her head on his side, staring off into the distance. The helicopter roared to life and lifted them to wherever it was the Watchers wanted to go.
It was all a blur. Aria vaguely felt herself being wrenched off Stefan’s body and carried off. She didn’t even bother to open her eyes, afraid of what she would see. The ropes binding her were cut off and she was again tossed onto the ground. The cloth in her mouth was pulled free, and she heard a gate shut.
Finally she opened her eyes. She was in what looked like a jail cell, except this was bigger and lined with dirty straw. She attempted to get to her feet, but she staggered and fell down. Aria looked around and saw Stefan struggling to get to his feet on the ground a few meters away where he had been thrown. She dragged herself to his side and helped him lay back down. More tears leaked from her eyes.
It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t asked him to bring them to the cave we would be safe at The Grove with Mandy and Keegan. Suddenly she felt the body next to her stir. Aria grasped Stefan’s hand.
“I didn’t see what they did to you, I just saw you after you got knocked out...” Aria’s voice was dry and raspy.
Stefan moaned. He sat up and whispered weakly, “Yeah, it hurt a lot.” He tried to smile.
Aria hugged him and gasped, “We need to get out of here.”
Stefan sighed. “I know, but where are…” he suddenly choked. His chest heaved from the effort of breathing.
Aria clutched his shoulders and shook him. “Stefan, you’re gonna be alright, just breathe!” Aria stared into his eyes frantically. After a few more violent coughs, he gasped for breath. Aria pushed his black hair out of his face. “We’ve been captured by them. I don’t know where we are though.”
Stefan grunted in pain as he pushed himself into a sitting position. “Well we’re gonna have to figure out how to get out aren’t we?” he wheezed.
Aria looked at him, fear building inside her as she whispered, “They said they were going to kill me.”
Stefan clenched his fists. They will NEVER kill Aria. He hugged Aria with the remaining strength he had left. She hugged him back, tears soaking through his tattered shirt. Stefan hated the people that did this to them. To her.
Footsteps echoed, getting louder as they neared their cell. He stood up shakily, pulling Aria carefully to her feet. He faced the cell door, fire burning in his eyes. Aria shivered next to him, but she too looked ready to fight. A man paced back and forth by their cage. Aria let go of Stefan and stared at the man with malice. Stefan watched them both warily.
The man chuckled and came to a stop in front of Aria. “What’s wrong little Fyreling? You don’t like being confined?” He laughed meanly. Aria hissed in disgust but didn’t say anything. Her wings shifted uncomfortably under the back of her shirt. Stefan realized how much his ached. His wings felt as if they were covered in bruises.
“Why have you brought us here?” Stefan growled.
The man looked curiously at Stefan. “Why, you’re the one that we had to knock out aren’t you? I’m guessing you’re the other Fyreling we saw…” he trailed off thoughtfully.
Aria suddenly spoke out pleadingly. “Let him go! You can kill me, you only wanted one right?” Stefan grimaced at her words. The man looked at Aria, horrible hunger in his eyes.
“Yes, well, we only NEED one, but you know, the more the better!” he laughed, eyes still locked on Aria. Stefan looked at Aria worriedly. He didn’t want her to get herself in trouble. Her eyes shone with tears.
“No, no… let him go,” she whispered, almost inaudibly. The man shook his head slowly.
“I’m afraid he’s already seen too much and is a threat to us. But don’t worry, he won’t be wasted. I’m sure we have some use for him,” the man muttered, grinning happily.
Suddenly a voice echoed down the hall. “We’re ready; bring ‘em in!” Stefan rushed to Aria’s side, ready to attack. A door at the far end of the cell opened and about twenty men with ropes rushed in. He felt Aria tense beside him.
The man laughed again, enjoying his little game. “Oh, I wouldn’t fight if I were you. I believe there are others you care about other than your fellow Fyreling.” Stefan froze. He couldn’t mean Mandy and Keegan; they were safe at The Grove. Aria seemed to think the same thing. She gasped and grabbed Stefan’s hand. Was it possible that they knew the location of The Grove? Maybe they had seen them flying that way. Stefan bowed his head as he allowed two men to cut through his shirt and tie his wings tightly together. They then proceeded to bind his arms. A third Watcher did the same to Aria. The men then led them out of the cell down the hallway. Aria’s eyes darted to Stefan’s with fear. Stefan tried to communicate with his eyes that it would be all right, even though he knew that it wouldn’t. For the first time in his life he was trapped and helpless to save the one he loved.
Aria was close to hysterics. She was terrified; for herself, but mostly for Stefan. They were led into a wide circular room. To her horror, she noticed familiar operating tables on one side and a large metal cage on the other.
The Watchers shoved her and Stefan into the cage. The leader of The Watchers that had tried to kill her once before was standing calmly by one of the tables, messing with something before him. Aria felt something nudge her arm, and turned. Stefan gestured shakily towards a smaller cage next to them that she hadn’t noticed. She looked, and gasped.
Sure enough, the man that had been taunting them wasn’t bluffing. Mandy and Keegan lay in a heap on the bottom of the cage, still. Aria realized her face was wet from silent tears, of fear and anger.
Stefan whispered, “They… they aren’t breathing.”
Aria felt more tears run down her face. “I’m so sorry… it’s all my fault, Stefan. You guys shouldn’t have rescued me, none of this would have happened.” Stefan looked like he wanted to argue, but was silenced by the lead Watcher Derius’s voice.
“Hello again little Fyreling. I see you brought a friend too! Well, this will be even more fun!” he laughed, but grinned evilly. “Unfortunately, those two over there tried to break in to stop us a while ago, but we easily dealt with them.” He glanced at Mandy and Keegan briefly before studying Stefan through slitted eyes. He gazed back defiantly. “Hmm, same age as the female who screamed for him to wake… probably bonded then.” He chuckled. “Your ‘name’ is Stefan? Well ‘Stefan’, you can go first.” His voice was full of disgusting excitement. Stefan backed towards the corner Aria was in and stood beside her, unafraid.
Derius shouted in a bored voice, “Remove the boy.” Immediately two Watchers stepped into the cage and grabbed Stefan’s shoulders, shoving him towards the door. Aria cried out, trying to grasp his bound hands.
Stefan smiled weakly at her, and murmured softly to her. “I’ll always love you.” Aria blinked her tear filled eyes, and whispered back, “I love you too.” The Watchers dragged him away. Aria fell to her knees, holding the cage’s bars with her restrained hands. Stefan’s head was down, not looking at Derius as he was lead before him.
“Aww, the love you two share is just touching.” He snickered, and then said to his helpers, “Just tie him down would you?” The Watchers grunted and lifted Stefan onto a table, strapping him down. They cut the binds on his wrists and quickly tied them to the table also. Stefan’s hair fell back, exposing his closed eyes. Derius smiled, delighted. “Good! Now watch closely little Fyreling, you’re next!” Moving deliberately towards another tool-covered table, he chose a newly sharpened knife.
Aria screamed. “Nooooo! Please, take me instead!” Her hands slipped on the bars, drenched in sweat. Stefan’s eyes opened for a second, looking sorrowfully at Aria, before closing again. He shivered slightly.
Derius smirked. “Too late.” He raised his knife and stabbed into the center of Stefan’s chest. Aria sobbed, watching as Stefan shuddered, then became still as he breathed his last, precious breath.
Nothing mattered anymore. Aria sobbed, unable to tear her eyes from Stefan’s body.
In the back of her mind she could hear Derius’s merciless laughter. “Actually, we didn’t need him, I just want to kill all you dirty little Fyrelings! And I will, because you’re the last one.” Aria didn’t care. It was a relief really, as The Watchers took her to another table. She felt that she wouldn’t have been able to survive without him anyway. Her whole body was numb.
The men lifted her easily onto the table laughing meanly. Aria ignored them, wanting it to end quickly. One of them put his head right next to hers. “Ready to join your dead boyfriend?” he taunted.
Almost unexpectedly, fury welled up inside her. The Watchers had just cut her wrist bindings as they prepared to strap her to the table. She howled with rage, whipping around as fire burst angrily from her lips. The Watchers screamed as the flames burned their faces. Aria kicked one of their heads as he tried to tackle her. The Watcher slumped back to the ground. The other one backed into the wall, still flaming. She then wheeled around to face Derius, growling quietly. Derius gazed at her with contempt.
“You can’t kill me. I know you’re not strong enough,” he smirked evilly. “It will never fix what I did to your little friend now, will it?” Aria hesitated. Derius took this to his advantage; he reached inside a pocket and swung a dagger towards Aria’s throat. Aria ducked, then grabbed a serrated blade from the table and thrust it into Derius’s heart. He fell to the ground, convulsing. He tried to speak, but blood gushed from his mouth. Then he was still. Aria gazed down on the body of the enemy she had been trying to evade her entire life.
Aria spun around and stumbled to Stefan. He looked almost peaceful, his eyes still closed, except that a tiny line of crimson trickled down the side of his mouth. Tears slid down her face. She stared at the deep gash in his chest mournfully. Aria laid her head over the terrible wound. Her body trembled from her desperate sobs. He was so cold. The tight ropes were still wrapped around his pale body. She reached around her and grabbed a knife, and then shakily, she cut the ropes strapping him to the table. Aria reached around and sliced the binds on her wings and did the same to Stefan’s. His wings unfolded slowly, then dangled uselessly over the edge of the table. Aria kissed his forehead softly, and a single tear slid down her chin and landed on his cheek. She sat down above his head and stroked his hair, crying.
Suddenly, she heard a tiny intake of breath. Then another. Aria’s heart pounded. She stared at Stefan’s pale face. His eyes opened slightly.
Aria gasped. “Stefan??”
After a long moment, his lips twitched into a weak smile. “I’m dead right?”
Aria laughed in relief. “I hope not. I missed you.”
Stefan groaned. “Ugh, I feel terrible. What happened again?” Aria glanced towards the deep wound in his chest, but it wasn’t there. She stuttered.
“Um, Derius stabbed your heart, and you, um… died,” Aria said in a rush.
Stefan grinned. “One of the advantages of being part phoenix. Remember what Mandy said?” Aria nodded, now understanding. They could heal each other with their tears if they got to them in time. She hadn’t thought about the fact that she and Stefan were part phoenix since they had talked about it weeks ago. It was just too crazy.
“Well that’s… useful.” Aria said. Stefan chuckled, than frowned.
“What happened to Derius?” he asked as he glanced around warily.
Aria looked at him nervously. “I, uh, kinda killed him.”
Stefan gasped. “You killed him?” Aria nodded then looked again at their enemy’s body. Stefan stared at it. Then he laughed. “He deserved it, especially since he…” his voice trailed off. He sat up slowly and looked sadly at Mandy and Keegan’s bodies. “…killed them.” Aria sighed. They had been the only family she and Stefan had. “We need to leave,” Stefan said. “Grab Mandy, I’ll get Keegan. We need to get back to The Grove.”
Aria shook her head. “You just woke up from dying! Don’t you think that maybe you should rest?” Stefan sighed impatiently. “We need to leave or we’ll probably get captured again. Now go get Mandy.” Aria helped him walk to the cage were their foster parents’ bodies lay. They burned the lock off and once they had gently lifted Mandy and Keegan, they flew slowly back towards their home.
Once they both recovered from the shock of the attempt on both their lives and the grief of their foster parents’ deaths, Aria and Stefan thought about their future. They buried Mandy and Keegan behind the house where Aria used to practice with Stefan. Stefan was still very weak from his injuries and from dying and coming back alive. No matter how much Aria begged him, he refused to just stay in bed and rest.
The Grove felt so empty without Mandy’s cheery voice and Keegan sitting at the kitchen table drinking his coffee. Aria hated eating in the kitchen; it reminded her too much of her foster parents. Whenever she happened to see Stefan sitting in one of the kitchen chairs, he was always gazing off into space looking miserable. Aria hated to see him like this. He had lived with Mandy and Keegan for many years. She had only known them for a couple months. Whenever Aria tried to comfort him, he would shrug her off and tell her that he was fine.
On a particularly rainy day, Aria was laying next to Stefan on his bed when he cleared his throat awkwardly. “I really miss them,” he muttered.
Aria smiled sadly. “So do I.” There was a moment of depressing silence.
“They would have been happy that we’re together, don’t you think?” Stefan said nervously. Aria nodded happily.
“Yeah… do you know how much I suffered when you were… dead?” She shivered.
Stefan put his arm around Aria. “Do you know how much I suffered when you almost died that day I kissed you?” There was a little fear in his words.
Aria smiled. “But we both came back. It’s as if it was meant to be…” Stefan looked at Aria curiously.
“I think you’re right,” he murmured. He leaned towards her. Aria wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. Stefan smiled against her lips as he embraced her to his body. A low moan rose from his throat.
Aria whispered silently in his ear. “I love you.” Stefan brushed her hair from her face delicately.
“I love you too,” he murmured. They kissed for what felt like hours. Aria breathed in Stefan’s familiar sweet breath as he wrapped her into his arms. They stopped kissing after a while, breathing heavily. She felt so warm. She grasped Stefan’s hand happily.
Aria stared out the window at the forest, wondering. It had stopped raining. Stefan’s velvety voice sounded perfect right now. “What are you thinking?” he asked.
Aria sat up slowly and stared down at him. “I want to one day go back to the cave. Do you think it will ever be safe enough to go there again?”
Stefan looked out towards the cave. They could just make out one of the rocks jutting out above the trees. “I think soon, we will, because now that The Watchers’ leader is dead, they may have given up hunting us. It might be safe now. But it’s probably best to just wait for a bit.”
Aria nodded, agreeing. Stefan pulled her to her feet. They kissed again, Stefan stroking her wings. Then they walked slowly downstairs. Aria glanced at Stefan inquiringly.
“Wanna fly?” she asked.
Stefan grinned. “As long as you want.”
They ran out the door and leaped gracefully into the sky. Aria giggled. She breathed fire and laughed. Stefan did the same and Aria noticed his wings flash red, orange, and gold. She watched admiringly.
“Your wings changed color,” Stefan said, impressed. He had noticed it when she had blown fire.
Aria smiled. “Pretty cool huh? Yours did too.” Stefan dove down, skimming the tree tops. Aria followed him. She flew next to him, watching his face. Stefan angled himself towards her so that he was directly above her.
He leaned down and whispered into her ear, “This has been the most perfect day of my life.”
Aria laughed. “Mine too.” She reached her hand up and stroked his jet black feathers. He moved to her side chuckling and they both flapped higher into the sky. Stefan glanced at her gold and brown wings as they propelled her powerfully through the air.
Aria smiled widely as she spoke. “I love flying.”
Stefan laughed back, “So do I, I mean, who wouldn’t?” They flew off towards the sun, chasing each other playfully and yelling delightedly. In the corner of her eye, Aria swore she saw a giant, flaming bird swoop up and out of sight.