A Word to Readers

Dear Readers,
I am going away for some time and I will come back sometime in the middle of JANUARY. When I do, I will notify you.

I posted again on The Light.

Hi, I will post every Saturday from now on, but there might be a few exceptions. If so, I will notify you. The new post I have posted today will be continued every week on the same post. Notice that I have put the date on the top left hand corner. I will do so every week so that you know where you have left off.

At the same time, I would like to thank all of you faithful readers for encouraging me. Your encouragement has motivated me to publish a book. In fact, Dawn is going to be my first book. The prologue I posted on this blog is a rough draft of the book's prologue. I'll keep you posted on my progress, but I cannot reveal the details --Book Progress: Chapter 14

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Light

     The icy wind outside the hollow tree howled, tearing through the thin branches. Nothing could be heard in the eerie silence except the thundering sound of the pouring rain. The forest, soaked to the bone, lay swathed in darkness. The only source of light was that of the flickering lantern within the hollowed-out tree. Inside, it was illuminated by the glow of the weak light, and the shadows of the two birds huddled inside flitted around the curved walls of the simple dwelling. The older one, hunched over a gnarly old branch that served as a cane, revealed the round stone cupped in his claws. Brilliant light the colors of the rainbow flashed, casting its luminous  radiance on the room and the two birds in it. The hollow danced with vivid hues. And at the center of it all, was the stone. Peridot skipped through the air; lavender hid in the deep blue and gold folds of the other bird's robe; cadmium yellow dove in and out of the birds' white feathers as cobalt blue and turquoise moved across the walls in a strange jig; crimson and goldenrod played hide and seek, while amethyst falls and cocoa brown and midnight black chose to sulk in the darkest of  corners. The younger bird with the blue robe stretched his black eyes wide in astonishment as all the colors joined together to form a few phrases of odd symbols.
     "The Prophecy," the blue-robed bird, a dove, murmured.
     "Yes, Tribe Leader," the older one croaked.
     "So this is the Stone?" the Tribe Leader gestured at the round relic that emitted the colors.
     "The very one,"
     The Tribe Leader twisted his white head to scan the figures on the ancient wood. Swiftly, his eyes darted across the few lines and translated:
     White and Black will meet in battle,
     And Red will be spilled aplenty.
     But perhaps there is hope,
     Only if there is Light. 
     He turned to the old dove for an explanation, his eyes questioning. What does this prophecy mean? But the old dove only shook his head helplessly and replied," Only time will reveal the answer..."
     "Does it mean that there will be a battle soon? With the eagles? Or the blue jays? Healer, please tell me." the Tribe Leader pressed on, scouring his mind for the birds that often raided or got into fights with them. Recently, there had been quite a handful of skirmishes with the blue jays, most of them caused by the lack of food in their shared forest.
     But the old bird did not respond, just waving his starboard wing to dismiss him. The Tribe Leader bit back another plea and sighed, his eyes troubled. He then straightened himself and pushed back his qualms, regaining his dignified mien. He would deal with it later with the Council, a group of wise doves that made decisions for the tribe.He picked up his lantern and dipped his head in farewell. The Healer blinked in reply and engrossed himself in a leather-bound book, lighting a lamp beside him. The Tribe Leader hopped to the edge of the hollow and straightened his robe. With a deep breath, he pumped his wings in a power stroke and shot out of the dwelling into the dark, moonless night, taking flight under the guidance of his lantern.
     The old Healer looked back once more as the lean dove took flight, his robe billowing around him. His eyes filled with foreboding, he watched as the silhouette became a mere white dot on a black background. A moment later, the Tribe Leader had disappeared altogether. The Healer reached for the Stone and placed it back in the imperceptible cubby in the back, where he hid it from prying eyes. The old bird tapped his book with a worn-out claw and heaved a sigh. His heart painfully yearned for him to know the truth, but he could not. The old bird knew it in his heart. But if only he really knew...
                                                                    Chapter 1
     "Sure! Whoever gets back to the copse first with three holly berries, a bug, and a maple leaf wins!" Ivy flapped her wings in a tight spiral dive, a white and yellow flash against the green of the forest.
     "Ha! You'll never win." Her friend, Phoenix, dashed off in a different direction, hollering over her back.
     Ivy smiled; Phoenix might have been faster than her last time, but today she wouldn't stand a chance. Nearing the holly bush she had spotted from the copse, she braked her wings to slow down as she came in for landing. She extended her claws and alighted on a branch heavy with ripe berries gracefully. With ease, Ivy stretched forward for a nearby clump of berries and pecked off three of them, careful to not let the precious berries be squashed. Holding them delicately in her golden beak, she handled them gingerly, and then dropped them into the brown knapsack tied to her claws by a lace. She took flight again, pumping her wings, and headed for a maple tree she knew nearby.
     Ivy ducked between two branches and twirled in midair, weaving through the dense forest as quick as the wind. Tall firs and fresh-smelling pines flashed past her as honeysuckle flowers bloomed in the early sunlight. Dewdrops sparkled on colorful flower petals and Ivy dipped down to lick the invigorating drops off. To her port side, left, grass tipped with frost swayed in the breeze and stalks of mint gave off a fresh scent. It wafted up to her nostrils and she inhaled deeply, capturing the moment. The mint was trenchant and pungent, so even she could perceive the scent with her limited sense of smell. All birds have an impuissant sense of smell, as in the airy canopy, odors of any kind disseminate quickly in the wind. Ivy shifted her tail feathers and rudder and skimmed to the starboard, where the maple tree waited in the speckled shadows.
     The maple tree seemed arcane, with its many, many branches and boughs spreading toward the sky. In fact, the old tree looked like it was holding up the sky itself. Shadows long and tall, stretched over the full length of the tree while its gnarly roots reached out almost beseechingly, as if obsecrating for something. A centipede sinuated on the fragrant pine needles nearby as a mouse twitched and collapsed, looking like it was genuflecting for a moment. She spiraled around the tree twice, almost forgetting about the race. I wonder how old it takes for a tree to grow this big. Probably hundreds of years, she speculated. And then she reminded herself of the race and flew down in an elegant arch. The wood was soft and mossy as Ivy landed on it, barely even shaking. She muttered a little apology for taking a leaf and plucked off a drying leaf the color of the forest floor during rainy days. It crunched in Ivy's beak and she dropped it in her bag gently, afraid it was so brittle that it would break into a million tiny bits and pieces that would scatter in the warm breeze. Pushing off, she whisked into the sky again, this time gliding above the tops of the trees, a pale speck on a wide expanse of blue. Remembering the centipede she had seen on her way, Ivy descended once more to the loamy forest ground and snatched up the bug, stuffing it in the knapsack. She was done! All she needed to do now was dash to the beech copse first and she would be the champion.
     Winging her way to the end of the race, the sweet flowers and grass blurred into insignificance as Ivy focused on her destination. She sliced through the headwind as she neared the copse. Almost there. She had to win this time. All the other doves always teased her for the pale yellow tips of her feathers and the bright streak of gold on her tail. She couldn't let them have another reason to leave her out. Last time it had been skidding into a pile of red berries. Ivy still remembered quite well the humiliation of a crowd staring at her with red smeared all over her. She knew that Sky, a popular, snotty dove, had set it up for her. She was always the one leading the doves. Everyone had been laughing, satirizing her, all except her friend Phoenix. Phoenix was the only friend she had, the only real friend. But she had too much to worry about. Phoenix was a Lesser Dove. The doves of the Tribe were split into two groups, Lesser Doves and Celestial Doves. Ivy could not ask her poor friend for help, she would only be mocked by the Celestial Doves. Although Ivy was a Celestial Dove, born to Blaze, the Tribe Leader, and Pearl, her mother, but she was always mocked by the other young doves. They would do it behind her parents' backs and Ivy could do nothing, since telling on them would only get Sugar, Ivy's sister, in trouble. Sugar was also part of the group, but Ivy could not bear to get her little sister in trouble. So she was always picked on, the odd one with the yellow feathers.
     So Ivy could not fail now.
     She sped on, her wings a blur, determined. The copse grew nearer and nearer, until she could see the veins of the leaves clearly, darker lines etched on the light green. At the edge of her vision, Ivy spotted Sky behind her. She couldn't believe it! She was actually winning. Sky had always been the champion of these races, cheating all the time. Once, she had pecked at the lace of Ivy's knapsack, snapping it, and another time she managed to set up a trap with her friends and the boulder almost pulverized Ivy. Pushing harder, Ivy put on a spurt of speed. Unfortunately, Sky did too, and drew up beside Ivy. She flapped her wings harder, wanting to win, needing to win. Ivy could taste blood in her mouth as she slowly gained ahead on Sky. She was a couple wing-beats ahead of her now and could almost taste the victory. The copse was so close, so close. The end of the race. Victory, sweet as berries, awaited her. Ivy flew as if she had the wind on her side, like never before. Her thudded rapidly against her chest as she waited, waited for her claws to sink into the branch of the tree and the feeling of exhilaration, of beating Sky. She was almost there, almost there. So close. The forest around her was a messy haze of colors, all that remained clear was the copse, five wing-beats away. She would make it! Ivy almost chirped with happiness; that would show Sky! Happiness flooded through her, and her eyes gleamed at the prospect of being the champion. Eyes trained on a branch ahead of her, Ivy prepared to square in.
     But Sky would not lose so easily.
     In her bliss, Ivy did not notice a flash of black behind her, and when it came, she was still confused. Lacerating, sharp pain lashed through her, piercing and vengeful. Ivy stopped in midflight, perplexed. Time seemed to slow down as the pull of gravity claimed her. Razor-sharp claws had dug into her back, although not deep, and as Ivy plummeted, Sky shot off to the copse and let out a cry of victory. The red, crimson blood seeped into Ivy's feathers, tinging them, red on white. And as she tumbled, she had a glimpse of the beautiful sky through a gap in the branches of the trees above. Peaceful, fluffy clouds drifted around lazily as the sun shone on brightly, a glowing disk of flame up in the sky. But something was wrong. The sky was a pale blue, but in Ivy's vision, it was shot through with splotches of black and dark red, the color of blood. The red spread, until the whole world was engulfed in crimson-red blood, until it was blood.
     But the sky remained light blue and peaceful.
     Ivy blinked open her eyes to bright light filtering through a circular opening, blinking again as her eyes adjusted to the brilliant rays of light. Confusion clouding her gaze, she glanced around the room, propping herself up with her wings. Then she winced; her shoulders still stung from her injury, although it was just a few scratches. She vaguely remembered about almost winning a race and all of a sudden plummeting from the sky like a sodden clump of feathers, but it all seemed like a long, long time ago, a lifetime ago. But there was something else. Ivy narrowed her eyes as she groped for the memories that seemed to be slipping out of her grasp every time she got near. Then she spotted it again in her mind's eye, darting through the darkest recesses in her mind. Reaching out, Ivy shot out a claw and caught hold of the naughty memory as it attempted to evade her. And then-
    -she was in the memory. Ivy was flying, cutting though the headwind like a knife. Trees flashed past her, spiky pines, tall firs, and gnarly, old oaks. Dewdrops twinkled in the sunlight like the gorgeous jewels hidden underground in caves of incandescent glow worms as tendrils of ivy crawled up the trunk of a fir. She felt a rush of delight and ecstasy. She was winning, and the yellow-and-white-feathered dove could almost taste the victory in her beak. But then there was a flicker of a dark shadow behind her.
     The pure white dove was hard upon her tail, feathers whistling and face hardened in a mask of anger. Clamping her beak together, Ivy shot off with another spurt of speed, but her rival was never far behind. Abruptly, and as sudden as she was plunged into the memory, the world changed. She was no longer in her own body and could see the yellow-streaked feathers of a dove with eyes fixed on a copse ahead of her and the gleam of wild light in the other dove's eyes. But she wasn't part of any of them. She did not share their exhilaration or, in fact, any of their feelings. She was Ivy, but at that moment, she wasn't. She observed the second dove, the white one, slow in flight. Watch carefully, a voice suddenly boomed in her head. Something was about to happen. She knew it in her heart. Something very, very important. And then, and then...
     The world smudged in a mess of colors, of green, yellow, black, and white, but the silhouettes of the doves below had blurred into insignificance. She was unable to differentiate which was which. That part in Ivy's memory was hazy, as if sap had been spilled all over it. She wasn't sure what had ensued; however hard she tried to remember it, it failed to clear. But Ivy knew that she had blacked out, unknown to what had happened, a soft wave rising up to engulf her. But where was she now? Ivy cocked her head to one side and took in her surroundings. She was in a hollowed out tree with a domed ceiling above her and light sieving through the entrance. Nearby there was a table to the side, with all sorts of bits and bobs, and below it were wooden bowls filled with bright berries and different types leaves and herbs. Old and dusty leather-bound books sat upon an arenaceous shelf, long forgotten. At the back of the room, she spotted piles of crumbling, fragile scrolls curled up in honeycomb-like cubbies, and there was something else. Every time Ivy looked away, she could make out a faint glow of light coming from the wall. But as she turned her head and stared straight at it, the oddest thing happened. The glow simply disappearedWhat?!  That isn't possible, Ivy thought. It must just be my imagination, she finally concluded. Maybe I'm feverish and hallucinating. That can't possibly happen. Just a simple trick of the eye.
     "I see that you have awakened," an old dove hobbled into the hollow, his kind eyes twinkling with kindness.
     "Healer!" Ivy exclaimed, eyes wide with astonishment. The Healer barely ever left his simple dwelling, yet every bird of the Tribe had heard of him. The Tribe Leader always consulted the wise dove for advice before he made any major moves, such as passing new rules or other important matters concerning the whole entity of the Tribe. Her father had often talked about his visits to the Healer.
     “I have tended to your wounds and they should be fine soon, but no flying too fast or taking part in any races for a couple weeks. We need to make sure those scratches heal properly first.” the Healer stumbled on unsteady claws to his study, settling down as a tiny sigh escaped his beak.
     “Thank you, Healer, for helping me.” Ivy dipped her head formally. "Could I go now?"
     “I'd prefer for you to stay for another day or two. But you may go now, if you really want to. You’ve just woken up from being unconscious for three days. And also, tell Sky and her friends that this time it's too much. Winning isn't everything. They will not get away from trouble this time.”
     Ivy hesitated, not knowing what to say, and then got up, experimentally flapping her wings. I never knew that any other bird actually paid attention to what Sky did! She always acts so perfect around the older birds. Ivy was distracted from her thoughts by a twinge of pain. Her wings were still a bit sore in the back and a few of her primary feathers' shafts had broke and become unkempt, but would be fine with a few days’ rest and the feathers would mend. She tipped her white and pale yellow head to one side to carefully examine her primary feathers. They played an essential role in flying, but would hopefully grow back. Ivy might have some trouble maneuvering while she was flying for some time. It was all right. Running her golden beak through the tips of her wings to straighten them, she preened her feathers and once again she wished that she had plummels like owls, who could gracefully glide through the air on silent wings. She would probably make as much a racket as wind through the reeds on the pebbly riverbeds by her home! She recalled pestering her mother about why she didn't have plummels, soft feathers that fringed the edges of wings and prevented noisy flight. Her mother had said that if all the species and creatures in the world had the same traits, then there would be no such thing as doves, or even birds. They would have lost every single thing that had differentiated them from the others, that had made them doves. Ivy almost smiled at the faint memory. Shaking her head to dislodge the memory, she spread her wings and turned, the sun glinting on her feathers and tinging them yellow-gold. Thanking the Healer one last time, she fluttered to the edge of the hollow to lift off in flight.
     Turning her head to face the sun high in the sky, Ivy tilted her wings and veered starboard. The forest below her was swathed in rays of sunlight, bathing in the sun's embrace. The River of Light wound through it like a snake, vanishing for a few wing beats and then reappearing, flowing out of the shadows. The ribbon of water glittered in the warm sunlight, and the individual drops of water briefly became liquid gems emitting all the colors imaginable. And then ahead, by the rushing river, a grassy glade filled with golden flowers that twinkled in the sunlight and delicate butterflies fluttering about rose out of the gleaming light. The serene, lush clearing was also surrounded by a circle of thick bamboo and cedars. The fact that the two grew side-by-side was a complete mystery, and one shrouded with thick mist that no dove had been able to penetrate. It was the home of the Tribe, the heart of dove territory.Off where the sun set, there lay the bluejays' land, filled with lush trees and bushes heavy with berries, but somehow arguments had arisen and the two often fought over the shortage of food in their forest. And to the north, icy winds blew across the vast empire of the crows, who were said to have hearts as cold and dark as their plumage. All birds stayed away from the crows, since they were recently so anxious to prove that their empire was stronger than ever, even after a series of vicious internal battles. But Ivy did not pay attention to the other territories and birds, all that mattered to her was the Tribe of doves and the little clearing she was nearing. There her parent's would be waiting for her return, with warm caresses and loving wings. And the reeds by the river would rustle softly, welcoming her back, and Phoenix would be waiting for her. Her friend would be anxious to know how she was faring, but yet...
     Ivy did not feel like returning, not at that moment.
     She needed time to reflect on what had happened and to simply think. About the memory. Ivy had not been unable to shake it off, and it clung to her like a burr on the pelts of the forest creatures. There had been a voice, booming in her head, telling her to observe the scene that had been about to unfold, but that part of the memory had blurred, faded, so that she could not even decipher it. Scouring her mind again, Ivy attempted to snatch at the quickly-disappearing reminiscence, only to fail yet again. She closed her eyes for a moment and tried again. Memories, past thoughts, flickered in her mind like minnows in the creek. She grasped for one, a black minnow among the swarms of pure white fishes. Ivy closed her claws around it-
     -, only to be disappointed as it's slimy, slippery body slithered out of her grip to be lost in the swirling fog. She sighed, frustrated and defeated. Every time she tried to capture the memory, it had escaped her at the very last moment. Every time she tried, she was awarded with nothing but a wave of vexation. Irritation surged through Ivy she burst through the canopy, following the path of the winding river. But then she remembered what her father, Blaze, had once said to her when she could not recall something important: memories, your past, are just like pages of a book. This is not a normal paper book, it is filled with moving pictures and long-forgotten thoughts. It is a very thick volume, for it encompasses our whole entire life in its pages. And this book has no end, no conclusion to the story. Imagine it as one of the leather-bound books in the Library of Wonders, but without an index or table of contents, nothing at all to find a specific portion but the page numbers. All you need to do is remember the page number. That's the key, and you'll find what you seek.
     The page number...what could Blaze mean by that? Ivy swooped below the outlying branch of a pine and dodged a moth flitting around. And some memories just faded. They couldn't be brought back, could they?
Chapter 2
     Ivy plunged into a steep dive, veering toward the sparkling river and dipping her port wing tip in the cool, invigorating water, sending up a drizzle of glittering droplets. For a moment, the beautiful droplets were mesmerizing, hanging in the air like a curtain of pure water. But then the drapes shattered into a thousand pieces and the illusion dissolved, the individual drops each a miniature world with clouds scuttling across the blue sky and the sun shining high up until they hit the surface of the river, returning to their origin. Page number... page number, Ivy murmured to herself, deep in thought, as she approached the Sacred Grounds, a special place in the Tribe territory where only those privileged were allowed to enter. What can the page number be? A page number marks the page in a book... But how does that relate to memories? The yellow-tipped wings dipped in flight and her claws skimmed the fresh river water, throwing up a shining spray of drops. Up ahead, a slippery rock jutted out of the water and the current swirled and curled in whirlpools, the current churning the water to a foamy froth. Ivy tilted her yellow-gold beak upwards and soared over the rock, her downy belly brushing against its flat top. Page number of a memory. Page numbers are in chronological order, Ivy pondered as the wind buffeted her head. Page numbers, timelines, days...
    The dove then slowed down so abruptly that she was almost at a halt in mid-flight, practically hovering in thin air. The day! Was that what Blaze had meant? She blinked her eyes shut and called upon the events of the day before she ended up in the infirmary. What had happened? She knew that the scratches that still throbbed on her back had been somehow caused by Sky. But was that really what the ominous voice had tried to warn her about? Sky always played pranks and tricks on Ivy. Why was it so significant about this time? And then the slender dove realized that she'd most likely crash head-long into a tree trunk if she continued flying with her eyes closed and snapped them open immediately. She shot up and into the lush canopy of trees as she searched for an appropriate place to brood. Passing a clump of inviting purple berries begging to be tasted, her perfectly-shaped head cocked at an angle and she opened her beak to gulp down one. A blast of flavors burst into her mouth, tasting of forest springs and sweet and slightly sour. Still licking her beak, Ivy spotted a topmost bough in a pine connected to the wide trunk with bits of dark brown bark peeling off. A perfect place to think. Trimming her wings for the part of the bough that branched off from the main tree, she glided down gracefully on the pine and dug her extended claws into the loamy, pungent wood. The dove settled down there until she was comfortable, shifting her position at least a dozen times, and neatly folded her wings at her sides. She then closed her eyes and focused on the day of the race...
     Ivy could see a book, its pages yellowed and brittle in the beginning, but crisp and white later on. It was leather-bound and thick, about the width of a mistletoe leaf. What is this? The pages seemed to pulse with light and odd, dried up leaves and molted feathers were scattered around sporadically on the pages. The light hardened on the book, becoming a coat of pale yellow. And without warning, the pages in the book began to flip by itself, and the awestruck dove stood in wonder as it slowed to a halt on the pages 136 and 137. She gazed at the text and pictures on that page, trying to make sense of them, when she discovered that the images and text could move. The word race darted in and out as berry and tree and Shade flowed off the page in a swirl of neon yellow. The view in the picture swung starboard, and then port, the colors a messy haze. And then Ivy made sense of it: a dove. Weaving between the trees. Flying as fast as it could, its wings a blur against the greenery. Another. Behind the first dove, with a dark look in its amber eyes. The second dove began to catch up, hard upon the other, but the first refused to succumb to defeat. At first, it seemed like both were equally quick, equals in everything, the same fluttering wings and slender heads that they seemed to be one, yet were two. But then the first pulled ahead, squared its wings for a copse. Its destination. 
     And then there was a flash of dark gray! Ivy turned and observed that the second dove's eyes were suddenly pure black, dark as midnight, and gray light began to seep from the two malicious slits that were its eyes. The light flowed in an ornate pattern, twisting and twirling like ribbons in the air. The symbol * repeated itself over and over again on the gray ribbons, a dark textile. Then, the black laces reached out like talons to grasp the dove ahead, and-
     -became black, serrated claws! A ghostly glow covered the razor-sharp claws as a light cloud massed behind the dove as lightning flashed, streaks of... red on the green background. It was the color of blood. As Ivy watched, riveted and horrified, an obscure fog rolled in, shrouding everything in an impeccable shield! She stood bolt upright, panting and her chest rising up and down. A suspicion nagged her, and she turned over the possibility over and over in her mind. Could it be? With a sudden impulse, she flipped the book over to the cover with a trembling claw. It was plain except for one word, a name,: Ivy.


I've made some very minor changes to the portion I wrote before on 2-4-12, so if you don't understand the story, perhaps you should reread.
     Shocked, the slender dove dropped the dusty, leather-bound book and watched, beak wide open, as it tumbled over and over into the void of darkness. An odd symbol, a spiral with three slashes through it, glinted on the front. Waves of shadows lapped hungrily at it, and every time the word ‘Ivy’ shimmered on the cover, it seemed to be darker and darker, until the entire volume was lost in the eerie gloom, tossing and turning in the currents.
     Ivy snapped open her leaf-green eyes, trembling with her discovery. What had she just seen? She attempted to make sense of what she had observed, the ribbon of symbols, the claws sinking into the first dove, her, and thick fog shrouding everything… But it was all too bizarre! The yellow-tinged dove shook her head slightly to clear it. It must have all been a dream, nothing more, but could Ivy ignore it? The images had been so real, so convincing, that she found it hard to not heed it. And how had she been able to call upon that book of memories? She had never done it before, let alone known of its existence. Why would it appear now? Perplexed, the daughter of the Tribe Leader gripped the branch she had alighted upon more tightly, her claws scoring gouges in the rough bark. She bit her tongue in exasperation and frustration, eyes clouded in confusion, and she heaved a faint sigh. So what was she to do? The answer came crashing back almost immediately: just remain silent and keep an eye on Sky. The white-feathered dove might try something else when she realized that Ivy was unharmed. Well, mostly, she thought, wincing at a twinge of pain from her shoulders.
     Suddenly, the dove whipped around, whole body tense and wings lifted slightly. She listened intently, holly-green eyes flashing as she peered into the dense undergrowth populated by many insects. Under the chorus of chirping crickets, there was a faint rustle of leaves and a whisper of a silent bird in flight. Wind whistled as it passed under flapping wings, cushioning in the sockets specially created for soaring. Feathers brushed against tall stalks of wild grass; the whooshing of the bird as it veered toward the rushing of the river. A head poked out of the foliage, followed by a pair of pure white wings and a slender body. Amber eyes blazed with fire, shadows flitting across. A dove. But not just any dove, Ivy realized. Sky.
     Ivy stood rigid with astonishment as Sky glanced around warily. What was she doing here?  The cautious dove glided softly into the clearing and went on, heading toward the Sacred Grounds and the Fountain of Harmony, a tranquil natural spring providing water for a pool of pond lilies and weeping willows. Eyes darting around, she passed the two stone frogs that marked the entranceway into forbidden territory. Ivy almost called out to prevent her from getting into big trouble. But then, what would Sky want to keep secret from the others? She was clandestinely slipping into the sweet beds of flowers. Against her better judgment, Ivy took off, swinging in low and hurtling between the guardians of the Fountain of Harmony. Every feather of her body tingling with guilt, screaming at her that she wasn’t supposed to be there, her instincts screeched at her to turn back before she was found creeping around the Sacred Grounds. But she had to know what Sky was up to. She simply had to know.
     The pure dove was only a few wing beats ahead of her now, and she trailed silently after her, quick to duck when the other dove suspiciously glanced around to make sure no one was tailing her. Ivy followed closely, not making a sound and careful not to brush against a free strand of spiderweb or a frond of bracken. Sky seemed to be nearing her destination, slowing to a halt. The trees opened up in front of her to form a narrow clearing. Water cascaded from a waterfall, the glittering droplets shooting through the air like gleaming stars and the din drowning out the cries of a hunting falcon above. A curtain of mist hung in the air, the rays of sunlight reflecting off it a ribbon of rainbow, velvety soft. Willows lined the clearing and their drooping branches murmured quietly in the breeze and pods of a green hue dotted the ground at their feet. Crumbling stone columns with overgrown ivy stood tall in the center of the glade, circling a fountain of pure silver water. The smooth water glistened in the sun, giving the appearance that it was made out of thin glass. Each mini waterfall of the spring was a whole different world of mystical creatures. Ivy spotted a majestic phoenix with feathers of pure flame spreading its sublime wings in the watery blue sky of one and a butterfly adorned with jewels in another. She finally understood why it was sometimes called the Origin of Imagination. Creativity arose from the beautiful waters. A stream flowed from the Fountain of Harmony and fed a vast pool of lilies reflecting the blue sky. An ancient, red gazebo stood in its heart, peacocks of gorgeous plumage carved into the pillars.
     Ivy couldn’t suppress a gasp of wonder. It was so peaceful, yet teeming with creatures of all sizes. Too late, she realized what she had done. But there as nothing she could do now. Sky whirled around, alerted. Her gaze lingered in her direction and Ivy stiffened, afraid she had been discovered. Then, there was a flutter of wings from above and a black bird alighted on a stone column. Distracted, the other dove turned and bowed her head in submission. Ivy let out a sigh of relief, wings relaxing. And then the bird slowly twisted around so that she could see its dark feathers of midnight and cloak of gray. A hood covered its head so that she could not identify who it was, but Ivy knew that it was no ordinary bird. There was an air, an aura, of significance around it, in the way the bird tilted its head upward and the fix of its smoldering amber eyes.
     It was a crow.
Note: To be continued next Saturday, March 3rd, at around 7pm PST.
      What is a crow doing here? Ivy gaped at the dark figure in gray. More importantly, why is Sky meeting him? The yellow-streaked dove shook her head in horror, speechless by the turn of events. Her mind was whirling with a million thoughts and questions, but she forced herself to calm down. She would stay still and listen to their secret meeting, but only to see if Sky were really betraying her Tribe. She wouldn't do that, would she?  A little inner voice queried.
     Ivy found that she could not answer that inquiry. 
     The crow fixed his intense gaze on the pure dove, his eyes traveling over her, as if examining Sky as a specimen under a microscope.
     Sizing her up, he said quietly, "Greetings, Sky of the Dove Tribe."
     The dove dipped her head in reply, "Yes, Master."
     Master? Sky has a master?
     "So. How is it?" 
     Ivy narrowed her emerald green eyes. Perhaps Sky is working for the crows after all. And who is this crow?
     Sky seemed to be expecting the question and responded promptly, "Soon, soon. Progress has been made."
     The crow gave an impatient twitch of his tail feathers, but when he spoke, his voice showed no sign of emotion. "We cannot wait forever. Give me the Stone by the full moon and do away with the Other One. I will be waiting for news of your success..." Without waiting for acknowledgement that she had heard him, he took off,  his velvet black feathers and his robe spilling out behind him. But instead of heading up, he dove down and toward the crumbling gazebo. 
     Why is he flying to the gazebo? Is he looking for something? A tornado of queries bombarded her . Plus, what was that stone he was talking of and the other one. Ivy peered closer at the enemy bird, absorbing every single moment. She had not decided what she would do with the information, though, but it might come useful later on.
     Oddly enough, the crow made a strange motion with his starboard wing, slashing it in the air as he trimmed his broad wings for the center of the little building.  His first claw and third claw touched with a spark of white and he flicked something into the air, but she was not close enough to see what it was.
     Staring at him as if the crow had sprouted another head, Ivy watched as his amber eyes looked directly at a peacock on the center pillar. Its head was cocked at an angle and was perpetually frozen, carved into the stone, mid-preening. A beautiful plumage billowed out behind it, every single feather intricately and elaborately detailed. And a single jewel gleamed in the fluffy plume of the magnificent bird.What is the crow doing? There isn't anything in the gazebo! The bewildered dove thought. Then, all of a sudden, there was abruptly a brilliant flash of gray light and Ivy squeezed her eyes shut tightly as the blinding glare scorched her eyelids. For a few terrifying moments, she was surrounded by darkness, unable to see, but then the bright coruscation was gone. By the time she had opened them again, the crow had vanished, and so had Sky.
     Slinking through the dry brush, Ivy crept around warily and forced herself not to think of what had just occurred. That was not the most important, most significant, thing right now; she had to concentrate on sneaking out of the Sacred Grounds, and on nothing else. Everything could wait until later, but if she were to be caught here... The light dove shuddered, slightly disturbing the undergrowth. If I were to be found out, I would probably be banished and disowned, shunned, pronounced 'outcast' and left to wander the Outskirts, land that lay beyond the Dove Tribe and other bird kingdoms. Land inhabited by bandits and forgotten ones. For even though she was the daughter of the Tribe Leader, it was serious trouble to enter the grounds without permission; though no one knew exactly why.
     Winding back toward the two guardian statues upon pedestals forever watching over the gateway, Ivy's path wound and twisted until she could no longer make out which direction was port or starboard. Tall redwood trees rose up around her, surrounding her, shielding her, imprisoning her. Their branches intertwined to form a pattern of crisscrossing boughs across the quickly darkening sky. Twilight could not be far off, and the slender dove did not want to be cooped up in this foreign portion of the forest. She did not even know if she had left the Sacred Grounds. On the way there, she had tailed Sky, and the white dove had led her there. She had no idea how to get back, not even a clue. 
     A tiny thought badgered her mind as she winged through the silver trees, but she ignored it, pushed it to the back to the edge of her mind, unable to bear it any longer. It was not until night fell that Ivy admitted defeat, succumbing to ceaseless despair. Long shadows stretched on and on in the gloom and darkness seemed to wreathe around her, soft and feathery. Like a crow's plumage. Darkness had fallen on her like a vulture, reeking of hopelessness and lugubriosity. The dark, menacing wings had enfolded her in its dusky embrace. It had not been until then that the full force of the thought struck her.
     Ivy was lost.
     Beating back the terror that bound her, she spun around and dashed off, breaking some of her feathers in her panicked, reckless haze. She tore through the endless darkness as she desperately searched and searched to no avail for the way she had come. I'll never get home! Oh, what will I do? she wailed. Up above, the luminescent moon rose into the dense blue sky, a sphere of pale light. Beams streamed through the canopy and shone onto the loamy forest floor. The tips of her wings outlined in silver, Ivy frantically wove among the trees looming ahead of her. She swung her head around as a great horned owl hooted in the distance, its voice low and seeming to foretell doom. Exhaustion seeped at her energy and the light dove finally slowed in flight, wings laden with weariness. Perhaps a little break wouldn't hurt... Softly she fluttered down to perch on a thin branch and collapsed against the cool bark. Her head churned with a mix of emotions and thoughts. The yellow-tipped dove blinked. Her eyelids were heavy, and it was becoming hard to force them open again. Struggling awake, she pried her eyes open as they drooped. But the soft wings of sleep once more enveloped her and this time, she no longer had the strength or will to resist. Unknowingly, Ivy drifted off into a deep slumber, her dreams undisturbed by the worries pelting her before. 
     There was a slight crackle from behind and a dark figure, silhouetted in silver, emerged from the foliage. His black eyes, oceans of nothingness, gleamed with interest and a smile curled his beak. The silk cloak of deep purple that draped from his shoulders glistened, the ruby adorning it flashing. He gripped the gray birch tighter as he narrowed his eyes, malice glittering in their depths, and tugged the ring of pure silver on his claw. Five words were engraved in the metal, in a swirling, curving script: Behold the Lord of Shadows. Silently, he watched the dove with the yellow streak on her tail, observing every breath, every rise and fall of her chest.
     All was going well, just as he had so meticulously planned, for night was his realm...

                                                                          Chapter 3
      Wandering helplessly through the strange woods, Ivy winged her way in and out of the dense trees, wings laden with misery. The dove skimmed past silver birches and looming pines green with needles. Her emerald eyes were bright with worry, for she still did not know where she was. She had never seen the thick tendrils of thorns slithering up the trunks of victims nor the crystal clear river snaking its way through the tall stalks of wild grass. It sure wasn't the River of Light; fish of gold swam strongly in the swift current. And then suddenly, with a splash, one of the fish leaped out of the water in a glittering arch of silver droplets to soar into the sky on white wings! Ivy froze for a heartbeat, startled. Definitely not the river she knew of. Flying fish were not normal at all. Blue and black flowers Ivy could not name bobbed up and down in the slight breeze, a sea of rippling waves, as poppies drifted, parachutes of vivid color.
      Yet again, the question flashed into her mind: Where was she?
      All of a sudden, out of the serene greenery, a beautiful, lilting voice flowed through the peaceful air.  The clear song streamed and wove in between the thick trees, leaving a trail of mystical music, of harmony and mystery. Ribbons of light twirled and flitted across the forest to the voice, butterflies of rainbows. The lulling song rose and fell in the various pitches, weaving a web of beauty and notes. The chimes joined in and perfectly accompanied the voice of the singer, while the scales rang out clearly from the strings of a harp. The hint of chimes and the musical harp compelled Ivy onward, the melody an intricate, elaborate design.
      As if in a trance, the white and pale yellow dove switched direction and veered port, her left wing brushing the deep green foliage. Eyes fixed on the clearing ahead, she followed the gorgeous voice of blooming flowers. Ivy dove down under an outlying bough of a silver birch and spiraled into the sky, through the canopy, with wings spread wide, glancing down to catch a glimpse of a tranquil glade beside a pool of lillies. A mossy rock rose in the center of the awe-struck crowd of birds, and a stunning, pure white tern with sparkling blue eyes perched, the lilting voice emerging from her open beak.
     Plunging down in a tight spiral dive, Ivy alighted on a branch, digging her yellow claws in. She cocked her head to listen to the dazzling song. The tern was wearing a fluffy white shawl pinned with a sapphire, which streamed out behind her as she took flight. She rose into the air gracefully, singing full-out and circling the clearing above. Her audience caught their breath as the white tern somersaulted in midair and did not even falter in her song. And that was when Ivy figured out that there were no chimes or harps. The beautiful pure white bird was the harp and chime. Her voice rang out clearly, a hint of both musical instruments in it. But the birds around Ivy did not seem to mind, as if they were used to it. Frowning, she turned her slender head to one side, puzzled. How was that possible?
     The dove with the leaf-green eyes was watching so closely, mesmerized by the music, that she did not notice a young crow's eyes fixed on her and did not notice him shove a parchment scroll in his pack and flutter a little closer, pushing through the gathering crowd of thrushes and terns and blackbirds.
     A shadow flitted behind Ivy, and she whirled around, heart thumping hard against her white chest. Was some bird behind her? But she was met with nothing. Not even a feather. The branches of the trees swayed in the breeze; the woods silent except for the occasional rustle of feathers or the disturbance of leaves. The slight wind whistled through the silver birches and sighed by the pine trees. Once or twice, a mouse clutching a nut would scurry out into the open, then flee straight back into the cover of its burrow. But there was nothing else. She must have imagined the shadow of a bird, but for a moment, she had really thought that she had seen one. Turning back, the dove ran her beak through her primaries, perplexed. Who could it be and why would they want to sneak up onto me? Ivy pondered. What do they want with me? She shook her head to clear it. It most likely was nothing, just the shadow of a squirrel. She dismissed her queries instantly, pushing them to the back of her mind, but a little inner voice, perhaps instinct, spoke differently. Get out of here before it's too late, it bothered her.
     Blinking to clear her thoughts, Ivy turned her gaze on the white tern once more, and jumped, startled. The bird's blue questioning gaze was boring into her and the singer stumbled in her song as her eyes widened. After a brief pause, she whirled away and continued, but glanced in the dove's direction once more, as if confused. Again and again, the white bird's gaze flicked to Ivy, but she instantly diverted her eyes when the dove found her staring. What's wrong? 
     Maybe she should leave. Yes, perhaps I should. Ivy thought to herself. She would fly off after the tern finished her song, she concluded. Suddenly, there was a crunch of leaves and dry bark behind her. The yellow-streaked dove froze, and whipped around, wings tense if she needed to flee. But once again, nothing stirred in the peaceful woods. Was her imagination playing tricks on her? Putting down her guard, Ivy found herself glancing around warily, holly-green eyes darting around. She shifted her position when she was certain that all was quiet, and relaxed.
    A cold touch on her back. Black wings grasped her beak, smothering her. Pulling her backwards into the waiting shadows.
     Twin amber eyes stared down at her from the green foliage as a bird hissed into her ear, "You don't belong here!" 
    "What are you doing here, in Shadya?" the voice reiterated, louder and clearer.
    Shocked, Ivy stumbled and managed to stammer, "Sha-Shadya?" The name was new to the slender dove's ears.
    "Yes," the bird muttered, as if he were talking to a newborn, "Shadya. What are you even doing here? If the guards catch you, you'll be in big trouble."
    "So this place is called Shadya?" Ivy glanced around. It was more of a statement than a question. "But I-"
     "You're not supposed to be here." the bird, which was no older she, stated loudly, interrupting her.
     "Well, how was I supposed to know? I don't even know what Shadey-shaa-whatever is!" she burst out hotly.
     "You don't know what-" the voice began, then broke off at the sound of leaves rustling. "Sshhhh. I'm going to get us out of here before I explain." he whispered as he spun her around.
     Whirling around, Ivy's emerald eyes widened in bewilderment as she took in the bird. Her abductor was wearing a dark green coat that trailed down to his claws. A brown cloth backpack was draped over his black shoulders, crammed with long, narrow tubes of cracked parchment. His midnight plumage glistened in the afternoon sunlight, a bluish-gray ocean. A pair of amber eyes flashed as he lifted a feather and pressed it to his black beak, motioning for silence, and Ivy noticed that there was a spiral with three curved lines slashed through it on his port wing. But that wasn't what had shocked her.
     It was the fact that she was staring at a young crow around her age.
     She gasped, "You're a crow!"
     He glanced back at her urgently and beaked, "Be quiet or they'll hear us."
     Ivy nodded back, her mind swirling with thoughts and questions. What is Shadya? Who is this crow? What does he want with me? Her heart jumped as the foliage waved wildly, the fronds swaying. A heartbeat later, a burly crow emerged, his feathers a black splotch against the bright green. His head swiveled around as he surveyed the nearby trees with narrowed eyes. His curled claws wrapped around the hilt of the broad sword he was carrying. Flying a little closer, the crow guard eyed his surroundings suspiciously, slowly nearing the tree Ivy was hiding on.
     The trembling dove saw her companion bite his tongue and mutter something under his breath as the crow was joined by five others, all armed heavily. Ivy guessed what he was thinking: One perhaps we can take on, but not six. She added to herself, as long as we keep hidden here and they don't come closer, we'll be fine. Hopefully... Rigid and tense, Ivy pressed herself against the soft bark of the pine, squeezing her eyes shut. Beside her, the crow in the green cloak took in a sharp intake of breath, his ocher eyes fixed on the oncoming guards. As the lead crow's gaze swept over to the tree they were hiding on, the light dove held her breath with her heart thundering against her chest, drowning out all sounds.
    The captain motioning, the patrol of six crows headed forward toward Ivy.
    Something moved beside the yellow-streaked dove. She half turned to see the young crow rummaging through his cloth backpack and pulling out a leaf of silver. Scrawling on it with a stylus, he passed it to Ivy and murmured, "Take this. You might need it." Then, he immediately went back to scour the contents. The confused dove examined it closely. Some type of ancient glyphs were scratched onto one side and again, that odd symbol of the spiral with three lines slashing through it on the other. It was nothing unique, just a leaf meticulously carved out of silver. How would it help Ivy?
     Meanwhile, the crows winged their way nearer and nearer to the hiding birds. With the flick of the wing, they separated and slunk through the undergrowth, mere shadows in a forest of black. One of them had spotted Ivy and her crow companion, who was still frenziedly searching through his bag. Cold dread began to settle in her mind, mingling with puzzlement, as he finally held some dusty item up to the light, saying "There!". The dove whipped around to see what he had found.
     A compass.
     Really? Ivy's hopes plummeted. I thought he would be looking for something that would actually help us. Now all we've got is a useless silver leaf and a compass. The crow did not even know which way was north or south! How could he ever succeed in escaping from royal guards? The dove sighed miserably. Perhaps it was really her destiny to die here.
     "Ivy!" How did the crow know her name?! "Put your wing on this. Quick!" The crow guards had reached the tree and unsheathed their weapons, pointing them at the two huddling birds. "Now!" Scrabbling over, the yellow-streaked dove placed her starboard wing on the cold metal as their enemies screeched, "Don't let him evade us once more!"
    Frantically, the crow yelled, "Kai!" With a shriek, Ivy was pulled down into a whirling tunnel of tugging, howling winds and dancing shadows. Half-consciously, she was aware of her crow companion next to her, plunging down and down and down. Wind and lightning clashed, each fighting for dominance. Spinning and spinning, the dove was no longer cognizant about which direction was which. Where is the sky? Where is the earth? Is this the end? 
     As swift as the tunnel of darkness had appeared, it vanished, leaving her and the crow sprawled on the pebbles of the riverbed. Forcing herself to get up, Ivy flopped onto the branch of a cypress and collapsed. The black crow followed, looking not at all sick, and landed beside her.
     Before the slender dove opened her beak to speak, he said, "I suppose you want to know what just happened."
     Ivy nodded, unable to utter a word.
     "Well, that was just the Tunnel of Cowards. It's an escape route that we can use if we have to flee quickly and leave no trace. The compass was merely a gateway to it. The tunnel is attached to some items, and those objects can lead us to it. That's the most simple way I can put it. If you want an thorough discussion about it, we can talk later. Don't worry, the guards cannot follow us in. And, it's just what you would call magic."
     "Magic?" Ivy managed to splutter. She shook her head in wonder. "Then could you tell me what is Shadya?"
    "Sure," he responded, "it's simply the northern part of Misca, the empire of crows."
    "Misca?" Ivy repeated, even more perplexed.
    "Um... that's just the other border. You, for example, live in Munca. This is Misca."
    "It's kind of hard to explain, but this is like the half of the world that is of magic and spirits. We're a little more advanced. Yours is, well... less advanced, let's just say. There is a Boundary that separates both of our worlds."
    "But-" Ivy broke off. "Okay, but how come I don't know of this and no bird else knows where I live?"
    "Birds cannot just easily cross the Boundary after the Great Battle. In fact, I have never heard of even one that was from Munca..." the crow replied, gazing intently at her.
    Ivy shivered, "Wh-why are you staring at me?"
    "Because you did."
     "I did?" Ivy questioned, shock flashing through her like lightning. "What do you mean?"
     "Well, you're the first bird from Munca that has ever crossed the Boundary, or that's what I think." was the response.
    "Okay." the dove breathed a sigh of relief. "I didn't actually cross into Misca, right? That's just what you think. So I've just managed to get-"
     "No, no, no. You did. You're in Misca right now, and you're not supposed to. I just haven't heard of any other bird from Munca that has slipped into our world." the young crow explained.
     "Wait. Are you sure? This isn't some sort of mistake?"
     "So, I am in Misca." Ivy asked one last time.
     "Yes," he clarified.
     "Then how do I get back home?" the slender dove began to panic. "Can I even return?"
     "Uh... I actually don't know. You should be able to, but it'll be hard. Very."
     "What am I supposed to do?!" Ivy wailed.
     "Ivy," the crow began, only to be cut off by the distressed dove.
     "How do you even know my name?" she queried warily. "How do I even know that I can trust you?"
     "Well," he shifted his feet, clearly reluctant to tell her. "It's in the Book of Ages and Memories. I'm a scribe. And I've seen the book before, in the Grand Library of the capital of Shadya. That's where I work. Or, at least, where I used to work."
     "Why would it be in this book?" Ivy said slowly, as if planning every word, her green eyes narrowed.
     "I-I don't know, but you have to trust me. Besides, it's a very ancient book that is filled with poems and riddles. And, and scenes. It is very hard to explain. It has flashes of things to come and things in the past, and is never ending. It is not really a book either, more like a series of many volumes. Each volume is leather-bound and objects, memories and pictures, all flow on the yellowed pages. The front has a very distinct symbol. A spiral with three slashes through it, and..." But Ivy wasn't listening anymore.
      Because she had seen it.
      That symbol... How come she had not noticed before? It was the odd glyph on the cover of the leather-bound book she had accessed through her imagination. There had been one word on it: Ivy. Her name. But how was that possible? And then Ivy recalled something, a word that had darted around on that yellowed page like a slippery fish. She had been puzzled then, because it had been capitalized. But she understood now. It was a  name.
     "Okay, but there's one last thing I want to ask you." the crow tensed as the yellow-streaked dove spoke. "What is your name?"
     He relaxed, "Shade."
     The name pulled her back through time...
      Ivy could see a book, its pages yellowed and brittle in the beginning, but crisp and white later on. It was leather-bound and thick, about the width of a mistletoe leaf. What is this? The pages seemed to pulse with light and odd, dried up leaves and molted feathers were scattered around sporadically on the pages. The light hardened on the book, becoming a coat of pale yellow. And without warning, the pages in the book began to flip by itself, and the awestruck dove stood in wonder as it slowed to a halt on the pages 136 and 137. She gazed at the text and pictures on that page, trying to make sense of them, when she discovered that the images and text could move. The word race darted in and out as berry and tree and Shade flowed off the page in a swirl of neon yellow.
     It had been in the book.
     Before this update, Ivy had accidentally slipped into the magical world called Misca when she became lost after eavesdropping on Sky’s, another dove’s, secret meeting with a crow. She meets a young crow scribe who is determined to help her, and has a narrow escape from six heavily armed crow guards. When safe, she learns that she is in Shadya, the empire of crows in the north, and that she had crossed the Boundary from Munca, what the young crow calls her world. The most puzzling thing is that this scribe knows Ivy’s name before she introduced herself. A few more of the questions buzzing in her head are answered by the unknown rescuer. Then, the dove asks him his name, and he replies, saying that it is Shade.  Ivy has a sudden flashback to the time she called upon the leather-bound book in her mind. She now knows that it is the Book of Ages and Memories, which, according to Shade, consists of many volumes of ancient text and scenes. It ends when she remembers that she had seen that name, Shade, on the yellowed pages.

    Ivy took in a sharp intake of breath, stifling her gasp. How can that be?! the bewildered dove thought. And it had been my father, Blaze, who had told me of this Book of Ages and Memories. How did he learn of it? As she shook her head in shock, the crow, Shade, stopped mid-speech.
     He spoke her name, and when she didn't respond, waved a black wing in her face, "Hello?"
     "Huh?" Ivy stared blankly at him.
    "I said, are you okay?" Shade repeated. "You seem... distracted."
    "I suppose I'm just tired." Ivy shrugged. She still didn't entirely trust the young crow. He could be on the other side, with the rest of his kind.
    "We could find somewhere to sleep and eat if you want," he suggested, then added, "and it's fine if you don't trust me yet. You can't just trust any bird around here. There's always something behind those kind eyes or warm voices. They all have a purpose, a reason."
     "Then what's yours?" Ivy stared bravely into his startled amber eyes. "Doesn't that include you?"
     "What?" surprise lit the face of the crow scribe, "me?"
     "Yes," the yellow-and-white feathered dove steadily replied, "What is your reason of helping me?"
     "Well, uh... I'm meant to." his answer gave nothing away.
     Ivy narrowed her holly-green eyes. "Meant to."
    "Yeah," Shade responded evasively. "You see, Shadya is kind of in trouble right now." The young crow looked uncertain as he spoke, as if he wasn't confident that he should be telling an outsider this information, while the dove waited patiently. He sighed and whispered, "We're in a sort of rebellion. A secret rebellion. He, the Lord, is defying the Light itself. He has allied himself with the Dark Nights, and you won't know of them." the crow quickly said before Ivy could open her beak to ask, and continued, "They're very powerful ancient sorcerers, and some say that they are the minions of death itself. He wishes to obliterate all birds except crows and plunge the world into eternal darkness, to reign as the Emperor. And it's not just our world, it's yours as well. We are in need of help."
    "But why would he do that?" Ivy was horrified. "What grudge has he got with all the other birds in the world?"
     "No. Those who surrender and bow down before him won't be eradicated."
     "Okay, okay, but that doesn't make any difference!" Ivy blurted.
     "Fine, but I'm not sure about your question. Some say that he believes that we crows were the very first birds, and other birds evolved from us. We ruled as superiors in a vast empire that stretched from one pole to the other. The other birds were our slaves, servants forced into labor. It is kind of like Celestial Doves and Lesser Doves, but more extreme. Shekil, the god of dark, created us all, and light was all an accident. When light won dark, the god was banished to the depths of night. The Lord wants to fulfill his god's desire, to rule eternally, and restore the glory of the crows." Shade grimly spoke, his eyes dark.
     “You still haven’t answered my question, Shade. Why are you helping me? How did you know that I didn't belong here, in Misca, but in Munca?” Ivy stared expectantly at him.
     He hesitated, then spoke, “There’s a passage in the Book of Ages and Memories. It tells of the forthcoming:
Her plumage of sunlight,
So dazzling bright.
Feathers of alabaster,
Speckling her wings.

He of the shadows, Of the moon.
Coaxing her onward,
To a land of needs,
To rise ever higher.

The sun. It shines on,
But there will come a time
When it may fail…
And when the Dark Age falls,
Light will be needed.

So find her, my friend,
She who swallowed the sun.
For her bravery will be tested,
Her will stretched to its limits,
For Light will be needed
In the Darkest of Ages…”
     “What?!” Ivy blurted. "You think that's me?"
    “On ancient maps in the book's yellowed pages, the sun symbolized Munca and the moon Misca. Do you understand now? And yes, I do think so. I have this inexplicable feeling."
    Ivy was silent for very long, and when she questioned her crow companion, her voice was dangerously quiet, "Shade, do you know me? Or how else are you certain?"
    "I-um... kind of." the crow shifted uncomfortably. "Actually no. Or do I? I don't know!"
    "How can you not be sure?!"
    "Well, I've just got this feeling, okay? Like, like I know you. You seem so familiar; I just don't know why. And-and I had dreams before, too, in which I was looking down at a young crow and a young dove streaked with yellow, perched upon a branch. In others, they were watching a crystal ball of light in awe, and in another they were smudged with soot and slinking along a dimly-lit corridor. They're, like, scenes I have never seen before. I don't know how!"
    "Dreams of me?" Ivy murmured, disconcerted.
    "I dunno, just dreams. You get it now?"
    "N-not really, but darkness is in the horizon, isn't it?" she queried suddenly.
    He nodded, calming down, "And when it comes, we need to be prepared.”
    "So it's coming?" she whispered. "This inevitable battle?"
    "Yes. It's coming, for it was all meant to be."
The wind seemed to echo his words, whistling through the trees. It was all meant to be… It was all meant to be...
     And then a crack! disrupted the deafening silence, shattering it like shards of a broken mirror.
Chapter 4 
     I am really sorry for not posting last week. I was out during Spring Break, so couldn't update the story.
     Whipping around, the startled dove caught a glimpse of a slender shadow stretched across the smooth round pebbles of the riverbank and a slight rustle of leaves betraying the fact that a bird had been hiding in the brush a moment before. Heartbeat quickening, Ivy glanced around warily, while Shade muttered, "Impossible! The crow guards couldn't have caught up with us that fast!"
     "Who's there?" the dove's voice quavered. "Hello? Anyone around?"
     On the opposite bank, the lush foliage parted and a graceful white tern stepped out of the undergrowth, her luminescent blue gaze flicking from Shade to her. The cape pinned with a sapphire flowed out behind her as the wind swept past as its owner, the tern whose elegant voice attracted an audience of various birds, tilted her head to one side. After what seemed like a lifetime, the singer's questioning stare rested on the light-framed dove. She ran her eyes over Ivy and then turned to Shade.
    "Shade, who is this?" The white tern apparently knew her crow companion.
    "Oh, uh... this is Ivy. I found her..." As Shade explained, Ivy surveyed the clearing around her, searching for signs of the owner of the shadow she had seen cast across the ground. All was silent once more except for the soft rushing of the river, which was slowly sliding past her into unknown forest. Dense undergrowth and unfamiliar flowers of the hue blue lay in the darkness. Berries of bright red, tantalizingly near, urged her onward. But stinging nettles grew alongside them, taunting those who came near. And the tall silver trees were utterly quiet as the icy wind stirred the needles strewn on the loamy forest floor. Looking up, Ivy noticed that the sun had began to sink below the horizon, throwing long shadows across the riverbank. She shuffled closer to her two other companions. 
     The white tern had listened attentively for the whole time, only speaking when Shade finished, "She doesn't belong here, does she?"
    "No. And, and-" Shade hesitated, then spoke in a low voice. "-I think she's the One."
    "The One?" the singer immediately burst out, excitement and shock flaring in the sapphire depths of her eyes.
    The dove narrowed her green eyes. Sky had said something similar in her meeting with the crow: the Other One. What could that mean? "Excuse me, but could you please tell me who this is?" Ivy cut in before another long explanation ensued.
    Shade smiled, "Oh yeah. She's my sister, Silver."
    "Your sister?" It was Ivy's turn to be shocked.
    "Yes," the crow looked as if he had had this conversation very often, "we look quite different, I know, but our parents were of two kinds of birds. My mother was a white tern, you see."
    "It's okay. I'm used to it. Every bird never seems to believe that we're brother and sister. There's always that stretch of silence as they process it."
    "How did you know that I didn't belong here?" Ivy looked at Silver.
    "Well, it was quite easy." the tern replied. "There aren't any of your species here."
    "Doves," Shade put in.
    Silver nodded her thanks, "Yes, that's right. Doves."
    "Okay, but what's all this about the One?" Ivy queried, addressing both of them.
    "Well... I guess we'd better show you." Shade exchanged a swift glance with Silver, leaving Ivy to wonder what was ahead.
    Feathers fluttered to the floor as the slender bird kneeled before the black throne. A blazing fire dominated the chamber, smoke drifting up in a spiral of gray, tongues of flame the color of purple. Columns of solid stone rose to the ceiling of the dome, crows of obsidian perching upon each pillar, adorned with ruby eyes and golden beaks. A single shaft of light shone down from above onto the silhouette of another bird, his midnight plumage and dark eyes of black flashing in the dim gloom.
    "So you have come."
    The crouching figure dipped its head. "I have come with the most excellent of news, the location of the Light."  It leaned forward and whispered, "And of the Sight and, best of all, I have the Stone."
    Brilliant light burst into the black chamber as the bird slid the lid off an ornate wooden box. A harmony of hues flew out of the glass on the top of the dome, a pillar of rainbow light. And then, it was all dark once more. Inside the rectangular box, a stone etched with carvings lay.
    "What of the keepers?"
    "Burned to ashes." a sly smile played at the beak  of the bowing bird.
    "Excellent work, Sky." the crow paused as he peered into the fire, his reflection distorted in the dancing flames. "It is time..."  
    Above, the moon shone on coldly, and for a moment, a wisp of cloud drifted across the white disk, foretelling doom and destruction.
     "This way," Shade motioned, warily weaving through the dense trees.
     Glancing around uneasily, Ivy followed. Shade had given them all a make-over. Her white feathers wouldn't do, he had said. So, her companion had pulled out black charcoal from his cloth bag and mixed it with water from the river and other liquids unknown to the speckled dove. Then, the crow handed the creamy concoction to her when he had finished, smearing the slick mixture on her bright feathers. Grabbing a cloak, Shade draped it over her shoulders, keeping her face in shadow. The costume was complete with a black lace necklace with an amber gem as the pendent. When the crow was done, Ivy could hardly recognize the bird reflected in the smooth surface of the river in front of her. Looking back at her calmly, was a young, slender dove with glistening black feathers of a midnight hue. A smooth cloak flowed out behind her and a single gem gleamed. Amazed, she stared at her reflection in bewilderment.
     But then, Shade's voice brought her back into the present, snapping her out of her thoughts, "Ivy!"
     The slender dove whirled around, "What?"
     "We're here." he gazed at her expectantly.
     They had halted at the edge of a wide space bordered by trees in full leaf. Auburn and gold petals covered the land like a thin blanket of gold thread, shimmering brightly in the dark light, each a miniature drop of sun. Four natural fountains spouted out crystal-clear water that leaped and twirled in the thin air, graceful ribbons of liquid, circling the main attraction. In the center of the clearing, was the diamond statue of a bird perched atop a pillar of marble. Intricate gossamer threads swirled around it in an odd dance and the bird's eyes were two emeralds of brilliant leaf-green. It had been meticulously carved, with surprising accuracy, each of the feathers elaborately detailed. The bird was caught in take-off, its wings perfectly positioned and head tilted upward. Clutched in one claw, was a long sword adorned with a golden droplet. On the pillar, rows of symbols had been etched in the stone. Silently, Ivy read the inscription:
Her plumage of sunlight,
So dazzling bright.
Feathers of alabaster,
Speckling her wings.
Out of the shadows,
She rose to glory.
 Her unfailing courage,
Her unending bravery.
She who cast light to the world.
She who is 
The bridge between the sun and moon,
The One chosen by time itself.

 For Light will once again be needed,
as history is retold. 
     Gazing at the figure's serene gaze, Ivy recognized it with a sickening jolt. In the distance, a bird squawked in alarm and took flight as night fell.
     "For Light will once again be needed, as history is retold," Silver murmured, the last two lines of the inscription echoing eerily, as if foretelling doom and terror. As if on queue, the sky began to darken to a pitch black, as hundreds upon thousands of crows set out, the thunder of the forthcoming storm. 
     "What's that?" Ivy cried out, staring at the ranks upon ranks of crows taking flight, covering the sky, black against black.
     "The army! They have assembled!" Shade's voice was panicked. "We need to get back now."
     "Here!" Silver screeched, whirling around and glancing back the way they had come. "We must warn them!"
     "Who?" Ivy urgently queried.
     "Their first target: the ravens. They live just south of here." The amber-eyed crow explained swiftly, then added, "Hurry! We need to be quick!" With that, he shot off into the dark forest, narrowly missing the silver birches gleaming in the darkness. "Come on!" he hissed over his shoulder.
     Spreading her black wings in flight, Ivy flapped once in a take-off and dashed after Shade. Silver followed closely behind her, her gaze blazing with determination, yet unfazed. The tern drew up beside her as they sped through the trees, swift as the running rivers. "Can't we use the Tunnel of Cowards?" Ivy questioned breathlessly.
     "I'm afraid not," Silver's voice was now calm, "The tunnel can only be used once in the cycle of the moon, and Shade just used it today to escape from the guard crows. Remember, it is attached to certain objects, and his compass still needs to cool down. I do not have a gateway with me."
     Ivy didn't answer. Her wings were beginning to ache as they flew at full speed, and her wounds from her encounter with Sky had only just healed. Her heart thundered against her chest, drowning out all the sounds around her, even that of her ragged breathing, and the rank scent of fear filled the air as they neared the home of the ravens, following the river's winding path, back the way they had come and deeper into the dense woods. The cold headwind tore at her black feathers, insistent, nagging, pushing her backward. Flapping her wings harder, Ivy sliced through the current of air, leaving the shreds in her wake. They had to reach the ravens in time. We must.
     And then, a single shriek rose up into the dark night, followed by a sickening thud and the beating sound of a thousand birds descending.
     They had been too late. 
     The crows had come.