Chapter 2: The First Wave

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Chapter 2

The inhabitants of the camp were all gathered below the surface in a vast chamber dug out by all of the burrowing animals. On a natural raised stage sat the old panther, his black fur slowly fading to silver. The birds were perched either on the ground, or on the roots that grew naturally through the chamber. There was a murmur of unease, a young pup wailing, his mother trying to quiet him with soft but shaky nudges of her muzzle and licks of her tongue.
‘Sol, please step forth.’ The old panther spoke, his voice was deep and gravelly with age. His eyes were pale blue, the left one milky white, and the scar that ran from his ear to his left eye told the story of how he became half blind. The magpie had regained some of his composure, and stepped forward slowly. The panther had him repeat the story for himself and those that did not hear. There was a great unsettling feeling in the den, animals muttered and shifted on their talons and paws. The wolf pup wailed even louder, and his mother picked him up tenderly and trotted from the den, the pup’s cries fading away.
‘This is most grave news.’ The panther rumbled, he turned his muzzle to the  peregrine falcon perching on one of the roots suspended from the roof of the den.
‘Ciel, is your squad prepared for battle?’ he asked. The peregrine nodded solemnly,
‘I had hoped we would never need to do battle.’ He murmured. Ciel was the leader of the small army of fighting birds, like Icar and Suna.
‘I think we all hoped.’ The panther nodded slowly. He turned back to address the entire room. As he opened his jaws, a badger trotted to the front, beside Sol,
‘We don’t have to fight, they haven’t found us for years!’ he exclaimed, ‘there have been no scouts flying anywhere near this island, nor have they swum, the only way they would know it was us is if someone swam, of flew to them and told them!’
‘Flying would be the quickest way.’ Another badger piped up.
‘So you think one of us birds went to the Society and handed over the location?!’ A barn owl hissed, his feathers rising to make him look twice his normal size, the other birds also puffed their feathers out in anger, pinning their eyes on the couple of badgers, the den seemed to get smaller. Icar felt his own feathers rising in anger, but forced them flat, he couldn’t lose himself to anger. He swiveled his head around to look down at the badger.
‘And whom do you think could have done it?’ he asked, unable to stop the slight snarl that entered his voice.

‘Sol was the one who came back, he looked like he’d flown a long way, he could easily have done it, he’s away days at a time!’ the badger replied loudly, jabbing a long claw at the magpie, whose feathers were bristling as well.
‘It’s because I’m a spy!’ Sol hissed, ‘It’s my job to be away days at a time, gathering information about the Society’s actions!’
‘A spy!’ the badger shouted, stuffing his face into Sol’s, forcing the bird backwards, ‘You say a spy, and that’s very well, but we can’t be sure what team it is you’re spying for!’
‘You think I would spy for those pieces of scum?!’ Sol shrieked furiously, his eyes blazing, he only just managed to restrain himself from raking his talons across the old badger’s nose.
‘Enough.’ The panther’s gravelly voice was quiet, but it reverberated through the den and the animals fell silent, the birds feathers were smoothed.
‘Ciel, prepare your squad for battle, the rest of you, bring the young, old and injured here, and guard them.’ The meeting was concluded, the animals filed out, the birds flew out through the holes in the roof, Icar searched for his brother.

‘Iver,’ Icar caught up to his brother, who was trying to pick a bone weapon that would properly fit his talons.
‘I’m helping you, Icar,’ Iver said, ‘so don’t try to stop me.’
‘You are not going to help,’ Icar replied sternly, drawing himself up to full height, the tawny brown feathers on his head rising slightly. ‘You would only be a liability, you do not know how to fly with us, it takes years of training.’
‘I can do it!’ Iver stuck his beak in his brother’s face, Icar glared at him, not budging.
‘You cannot, Iver,’ Icar said, ‘Mother and father would not want you to be killed because of your own stupidity.’
‘I need to help in some way!’ Iver said furiously, his own feathers bristling, ‘I can’t just hide while our friends are slaughtered!’
‘Then guard the ones that cannot help even themselves.’ Icar said, before taking off, his wings stirring a small whirlwind of dust, and ruffling his brother’s feathers. A red tailed hawk was ushering the youngest birds into the meeting den, he was a teacher of tracking and navigating, his knowledge was vast, and he knew exactly what sort of threat the society posed better than anyone, for he had brushed with them before, and had not come away unscarred, the chunk missing from his beak showed that. He quickly ushered the young birds into the den, using his wings to brush along any stragglers. Once he had finished his task, he flew silently to the nearest watch post, a tall, lightening-struck tree, its bark stark white. There were several other birds already there. Pyx landed and barely folded his wings neatly before he froze, his eyes fixed on the horizon, where a great black mass was slowly moving, one would almost think it was a storm cloud.
‘I can hear the wing beats.’ The barn owl that had spoken up in the meeting den whispered from a perch above Pyx. ‘Most of them are vultures, and other birds of prey,’ he tilted his head this way and that, the crooked ear slits and ability to contract his facial disks made Barn owls like him the best listeners around. ‘They’re carrying something, many things, their wing beats are labored, that’s how I can tell.’ He answered Pyx’s question, ‘I just can’t hear what.’
Pyx dropped from the tree, flinging his wings out and soaring away, catching the tunnel thermal into the camp, where progress had been made, the small army of battle-fit birds had assembled, their claws covered in bone reinforcements. The peregrine falcon, Ciel, was at the head, he let out a high pitched keening sound and the birds lifted into the air as one, and flew to the skies, the sound of their wing beats deafening. They soared out in a reverse arrow formation through the air, towards the black cloud of Society birds, drawing ever closer. Icar glanced to his right and left, at his wingtips were Suna and his father, Kai. The wind was whistling through his ear slits, pressing his feathers flush against his body as he moved with the rest of the small army. His wing beats were in time with the larger birds, the smaller birds flapped their wings five times for every two of the larger birds. Icar’s heart was thudding in his chest louder and louder as they flew closer and closer to the rumbling black mass of Society birds.
Suna glanced at his best friend to his right, they exchanged comforting glances. This was the first time they’d gone into battle together. In fact it was the first time most of these birds had ever fought for real. They were terrified, but they were willing to fight to maintain their freedom. The two groups were so close together, they could clearly see one another’s feathers. Ciel could also see what the hulking mass of birds were carrying in their talons.
‘Snakes!’ he shrieked, ‘Don’t let them get above you!’

The two forces collided in an explosion of feathers and blood. The sound was deafening, Icar brought his reinforced talons up to plunge them into the bald throat of a massive vulture, the bird let out a gurgling shriek and plummeted into the frothing waves below, the snake in his talons going with it. Icar wheeled lightening quick, pumping his wings hard to gain height, a few vultures and large eagles, their feathers streaked with the colours of the Society sped around in ever shrinking circles, their quarry hissing in delight as they were dropped onto the backs of other birds. The fangs of the snakes dripped with venom as they plunged the hollow curved needles into every inch of the birds’ bodies. Many were dead from the venom before they even hit the water. Icar folded back his wings and plummeted downwards, through the cloud of writhing bodies. He threw out his talons and severed the right wing of a vulture in one stroke, the hot blood spraying his feathers. He threw out his wings, braking his fall, and swiftly dodged a rattlesnake that was flung at him from a harpy eagle hovering above. Icar only just managed to bring up his talons in defense before the harpy eagle rocketed into him, they locked talons, the momentum from the massive harpy taking them both down towards the ocean. Icar tried frantically to dislodge his talons from those of the harpy, who was throwing vicious pecks at him as they descended. Suddenly Icar slowed, the weight of the larger bird was gone, he righted himself quickly, and looked down in time to see the Harpy hit the water. Kai flapped his wings hard, keeping himself above the tossing waves, Icar could feel the spray on his feathers. Kai opened his beak to speak when a blur of feathers slammed into him, taking them both into the ocean below. Icar let out a despairing screech, his eyes widened, as the ocean seemed to explode upwards, the bird that had killed his father was back in the air! Icar saw it clearly now, it was a massive albatross, its feathers were stained black and green. Icar shrieked with fury and sank into a dive, he plummeted towards the albatross, the bird was huge, but that meant it flew slowly when gaining height. As Icar neared it, the albatross span in midair, dodging Icar’s diving swoop. Icar pumped his wings to gain height before the albatross could catch him, the huge bird was giving chase, Icar felt a sting in his chest, he glanced down, fearing that he had been set upon by a snake. His chest dripped blood, but there was no snake attached. He craned his head back at the albatross, its talons were elongated grotesquely, the webbing shredded to make his claws more effective killing tools. They were soaked with Icar’s blood. The sea eagle forced himself upwards, almost panting with the effort, the albatross only needed to beat his wings once or twice to gain height, and he was soon right on Icar’s tail feathers.
Icar weaved and rolled around the warring birds, several plunging down past him, spinning in tight circles, their talons locked together. The free birds were far outnumbered and the albatross was less than a meter behind Icar. He span suddenly, in midair, and let himself drop below the albatross, who couldn’t react fast enough, Icar raked his talons all the way from the albatross’s chin to the base of his tail, the bird crumpled in mid air and Icar had to react quickly to avoid being hit with the full weight of the bird as it plunged past him and into the ocean below. Ciel suddenly streaked past him, his breast feathers streaked with blood.
‘Retreat!’ he screamed. Icar glanced up at the warring birds, the ones who heard the call quickly fell away from their opponents, stooping into a dive to get out of the combat zone, and joining the squad leader, a few were snagged by their tail feathers and wings, and quickly and silently dispatched by the Society birds' cruel talons. Icar could not help them, he was losing blood, and his wing beats were growing sluggish. He fanned out his tail feathers to catch as much of a lift as possible. He felt the air stir as Suna fell in beside him, the Northern Hawk Owl didn’t seem to be injured at all, probably due to his small size, he could weave and dodge much quicker than the larger birds.
‘Are you alright?’ Suna asked, Icar’s mind seemed to be working as slow as his wings, for it took him a few minutes to process what the owl had said.
‘I think so.’ Icar said, a numbness stole over him, and he stumbled in his flight, partly from injury, but mostly because he had just truly realised that, with a quick surveying glance at the birds around him, that his father was truly gone.
‘You’re bleeding,’ Suna replied, and in a softer tone, he added, ‘I saw what happened to Kai, I’m sorry.’
Icar grimly gazed at the surface of the ocean as he flew steadily over it, imagining his father’s body sinking ever lower into the pitch-blackness of the sea.
‘I avenged his death.’ Icar replied, his voice quiet, ‘But it doesn't feel like it.’
Icar glanced over his shoulder and his wings almost froze in shock. It was as if the fight had never happened, for there was a mass of birds flooding the sky, even bigger than the last one, and they were rapidly approaching from the horizon.

The End

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