A/N: Well, here's my submission for CJFang's Ensemble Contest!

I don't know what else to say, except that I really had fun writing this. My imagination just blasted off, and I wish the same would occur concerning BNW...

Anyways, I'll keep this author's note short, so that you can get to the good stuff.

I hope my readers and fellow contestants enjoy, and like CJFANG said, you must review!

Chapter 1: Just An Ordinary Day

Birds are normally accustomed to living in trees, which gives them an advantage against ground predators and more importantly, a sense of privacy.

One particular bird, however, chose to break the mold and adopt a living space that nearly every avian creature would label "alien" and "unpleasant."

That bird is a Spix's Macaw by the name of Piano, the seventeen year old son of Blu and Jewel, the incredibly rare residents of the Blu Bird Sanctuary.

Along the northern edge of the expansive sanctuary's encircling border net lies a waterfall – which is only active during periods of heavy rainfall, a common weather feature in the bay-side metropolis.

Tucked away behind that intermittently-pouring waterfall is a respectable cave lined with leaves and branches. The stony floor, walls, and ceiling are all decorated with jungle foliage, making the tunnel-like space appear to be a strange extension of the rain-forest itself.

It penetrates a fair distance into the ridge, but is easily and quickly traversed by foot. It is this transformed cavern that Piano has called home ever since he matured and became independent.

It is serenely quiet during the times when the waterfall is not flowing, a perfect representation of Piano's reserved nature. When heavenly rains feed the falls, a leaf curtain absorbs most of the roaring and prevents it from reaching the cave's recessed rooms.

The main pathway is curved like an "s," and near the solid wall of rock that serves as the terminus, it branches off into many small galleries and dead-end corridors. Piano has only used some of the subsidiary rooms for his personal needs, while the others remain vacant, yet still padded with leaf litter.

He enlisted the help of his five siblings to refurbish the formerly drab, pebble-strewn, and noisy cave shortly after claiming it for his own at the age of four. In a few short weeks, the tunnel was swept clean of rocks, cleansed of vermin and reptiles both living and dead, and then every surface cushioned with the endless supply of plant matter from the nearby jungle.

Carpeting the floor was simple enough, but adorning the walls and ceiling proved to be a much bigger challenge.

To combat the destructive effects of gravity while still maintaining the aesthetic Piano had demanded, several ingenious methods were devised. Copious lengths of tough vine were used to lash together large leaves into carefully sized mats, which would dutifully serve the purpose of covering the walls and ceiling.

The wall mats, due to their weight and vine-strengthened rigidity, rested snugly against the rocky, curved sides of the tunnel. The mats destined for the ceiling were held up by branches harvested from fallen trees.

The placement of the support columns was trial-and-error, and more than once did the boughs give way, crashing down to the floor along with the loose sections of artificial ceiling.

Nonetheless, the proper placement of the boughs was eventually achieved, obstructing the passageways and rooms as little as possible while keeping the leaf mats wedged against the ceiling. The gaps in the leaves were meticulously arranged so that the multitude of air channels in the ceiling remained unblocked, allowing for constant circulation of fresh air.

To mop up the sound from the thundering cataract, a small feat of engineering was devised and constructed. A large oval mat that matched the shape of the cave mouth wonderfully was woven together and set aside.

Two massive branches were placed on either side of the mouth and jammed in between the roof and floor until they were immovable. The heavy mat was then tied firmly to a third thick branch as wide as the tunnel itself and mounted into the forked upper ends of the side branches.

Long vines were then threaded together to form two thin-but-resilient cables, and each end was coiled around the crossbar next to the fork. The cables were allowed to rest on the ground and dangle out of the mouth, reaching halfway down to the lagoon below.

A pair of counterweight boulders were caged by yet more vines and tied to the crossbar, giving the mechanism fully autonomous functioning capability.

A thick basket of leaves was knotted onto each vine, thus completing the mechanism.

Piano thanked his siblings until they nearly grew deaf and urged them to return during a rainstorm and see the mechanism in action. As if on cue, an afternoon typhoon swamped the sanctuary the very next day, and Piano's siblings rushed over to watch the show.

Just as planned, the baskets filled with rainwater and pulled on the cables, unwinding them at their sources. The crossbar rotated slowly-but-surely in its stand, as waxy leaves in the forked support sticks eased the friction. The mat – which, while retracted, pointed away from the cave mouth – swung down and sealed off the passageway with as much efficiency as an actual wall.

The sound was muffled greatly while still letting in enough light to live by. When the rains passed a few hours later, the water in the buckets drained out at a slow pace, allowing the counterweight stones tied to the crossbar to sink down to the floor and retract the curtain.

Much cheering, hugging, and back-slapping ensued, shared equally among the siblings. The work had been repetitive and exhausting, but the end result pleased Piano to no end, and he could finally call the unorthodox venue home.

He invited his parents to spend the day there and appreciate the awe and simplicity of his home. The elder macaws could barely contain the joy and pride ignited within them upon hearing of the remodel, and so they wholeheartedly agreed.

They whiled away the day exploring and asking questions, and as the cloak of night fell, the eight-strong family of macaws concluded the event with a luscious dinner of choice fruit. Their bodies weary and their minds overwhelmed, the eight Spix's Macaws spent the night in the cave, not feeling the slightest bit out-of-place.

The next morning, they bid cheery goodbyes and departed, leaving Piano to enjoy the tranquil, reflective silence he had craved from the start.

Over13 years later, his residence still maintains its earthy decorations and functionality, though the mats are replaced every six months due to rotting.

The cave was a physical manifestation of Piano's nature in every way possible, relaxing during the good times in his life, and conversely, uplifting when his life would turn sour. Very few beings knew of its location outside his family and friends, granting it a measure of safety as well as reclusion.

Though unorthodox it was, Piano cherished it, and it was a place he would inhabit until his last days on Earth.

There I was, gliding above the bay at a modest altitude, watching the surfers and swimmers churn the water underneath the midday sun.

I left the turquoise ring behind and skimmed a few feet above Sugarloaf mountain, cresting the mountain and diving back down the other side like a rocket. The wind raced through my feathers and flooded my face as I continued my exhilarating plummet, fully aware of the speed which the blurred canopy below rose up to meet me.

At the last possible second, I leveled out my flight, my tail feathers clipping the leaves as I skimmed by. Streaking above the thin lane of sand at the base of the mountain, I flew towards the horizon, the open ocean rolling gently beneath me.

Feeling a rush of power, I closed my eyes and dove straight for the vast ocean. I plunged into the balmy water and opened my eyes, mesmerized by the altered world all around me.

I did not drown, my breathing operating as it did above water, and my wings remained dry and supple.

Smirking at the discovery of my new found abilities, I stroked through the ocean like a feathered fish.

I disturbed several schools of real fish as I swam, tossing up clouds of grit from the ocean floor as I did so. I then raced a group of dolphins, traveling even further away from the shallow end of the ocean.

I outpaced the dolphins and came to a sharp drop-off as they swam away. A vast void of darkness lay at my feet, cold and unforgiving. I had no idea what kind of sinister creatures resided down there, but my curiosity trumped my skepticism, so I tilted downwards and plunged headfirst into the great unknown.

As my depth increased and increased, I found it harder and harder to see. The crushing pressure I expected to feel never squeezed my body, perhaps due to the faint glowing aura that shrouded me. Fifteen minutes into my dive, feeble shafts of azure sunlight were the only sources of light I could detect.

I paused to get a last glimpse of the illuminating beams, cleared my head, and then resumed my dive. Five minutes later, I was completely and utterly blind, drifting about in a cold abyss.

I waited and waited for my eyesight to be augmented by the magical aura, but the effect I desired avoided me. I began to regret leading myself to this shadowed realm, but I soon realized escape was impossible.

I swam this way and that, but I could not divine any sense of direction. For all I knew, I could truly be heading for the surface, only to have confusion halt my progress and steer me in another direction.

Seized with panic at the thought that I would never see the upper world and all its attractions again, my movements grew more and more frantic. All of a sudden, my body began to grow exhausted as the aura's glow faded perceptibly, dimmer than before.

I slowed to a stop and hovered in place as the insane pressure slowly compressed my skeleton. There was no way I would make it out before I was turned into a jelly-like lump, and the desperation in my soul morphed into sadness just as suffocating as the water all around me.

Even though my feathers were no longer waterproof, I was still able to breathe, prolonging my suffering.

As I consigned myself to the grisliest of fates, a small orb of light blinked on just a few feet in front of me. It rocked languidly from left to right, approaching me and casting sallow white streams of photons over my face.

Thinking it to be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, I battled the increasing pressure and forced my wing away from my body. The instant my wingtip touched the orb, a blinding flash caused me to reflexively slam my eyelids shut.

My wing muscles yielded to the pressure and slid back to my side as I felt my pulse slowing.

When I creaked my eyes open, a terrifying creature with huge rows of teeth and featureless eyes stared into my soul. I let out a scream of terror as the shining fish lunged and pierced me in multiple areas with its fangs. My blood squirted into the water in jets, rosy wisps in the pale light from the fish's bioluminescent skin.

As unimaginable pain fried my system, my leaking blood became a swirl of green, brown, and blue color that swamped my vision. Moments later, all the pain went away as the turbulent hues settled and assumed practical shapes.

I felt a heavenly softness beneath me, and as my eyes shot open again, I realized that all I had experienced was an illusion of the mind. I peeled my head off of the floor and sat up rapidly, glancing around at the walls of my sleeping cave just to confirm that no other deep-sea monsters were around.

My breathing was erratic at first, but the familiar surroundings eased my panicked state.

I don't know whether to deem that a dream or a nightmare! The ending sure was traumatic, but it was exciting at first. Feasted on by an angler fish after a frolic in the open skies. The mind sure is a complex place...

I regained control of my breathing and let loose a huge yawn, unfolding my wings and stretching them to the max. The feeling of my cramped muscles being unwound flooded me with a warm sensation akin to an internal candle being lit.

I flapped them a few times to chase away any stubborn knots of tension and then stowed them away against my sides, watching the leaves on the wall shift and shudder in the wake of the eddies.

A gust of fresh, spicy air from a natural ventilation channel in the rock behind me rushed in, heightening my senses and tingling my lungs. I could tell by the rich scents that a glorious morning awaited me, another day to revel in the wondrous journey by the name of life.

Giving my head a brief shake, I trotted heavily out of the chamber and along the connecting corridor. As I stepped into the serpentine main passage, my feathers were buffeted by a tempting breeze from the cave mouth.

Over time, the river above my home had leaked into the porous rock and scoured out channels. The leaks proved irritating for a few months, but as the river changed course, the leaks dried up.

In their wake were passages that allowed for a continuous, pulsing exchange of airflow between my subterranean lair and the world outside.

The cave seemed to breath in a reserved rhythm, as if I dwelled in the throat of a stony beast.

I felt compelled to exit immediately and bask in the sunshine, but a clamoring emptiness within me stopped me short. I peered down at my belly – my navy feathers an exact replica of my father's – and heard a muted gurgle. In addition to my needy insides, I saw that my plumage was flecked with dirt and unkempt.

Oh man, I need to take a bath! It's been a full week since I last cleaned up! I can't fly around looking like I do, unless I want to embarrass myself. But before I take care of that, I'll need to eat some breakfast...

Organizing my short-term priorities in my head, I walked past the exit path and over to the left side of the cave. I pushed the leaf curtain aside and entered another nicely-sized chamber, frowning as I studied the glaringly-empty floor.

Darn it, I'm out of food! I'll need to restock, and soon. I'll probably have to go ask Forte for some help with that. I might as well knock off my bath before heading over to his hollow...

I ruefully turned away from the food-storage area and entered the winding passage, the waves of earthy air beckoning to me. I exited the path and strolled to the lip of the cave, drinking in the verdant sea of foliage ahead of me that was all too often obscured by the waterfall.

A deep breath drew in the hearty aromas of the sun-kissed undergrowth, titillating my system once again and pleasantly pricking my spirit.

Today is a perfect day for getting things done! I need to pay a visit to Mom and Dad later, and perhaps I should check up on Cantabile too. There is one other thing I must be forgetting... oh, I need to bring Semplice over and help me perfect my newest song...

My sheltered abode was beneficial for a number of reasons, one of the prime ones being that, after a heavy rain, the lagoon below provided me with a clean pool to bathe in.

I spiraled down and alighted on the bank of the lagoon farthest from my home, studying my reflection on the glass-like surface. My face was agreeably clean, but as I had seen earlier, the rest of me wasn't.

I dipped my right foot into the water, perturbing the pool as I tested the temperature. Finding it lusciously warm, I waded in until the lower edges of my wings grew wet, and then stopped.

I scanned the area quickly, sighing with great relief that no avian creatures were in the vicinity. The chance that a passing bird would see me was incredibly slim, only occurring once or twice a year, if that.

When it did happen, however, I felt very awkward and embarrassed. Anger was a part of my emotions as well, but I was not keen on expressing it, as that is not how I am wired.

A few times, more inconsiderate birds would perch stealthily on the nearby trees and watch me as I carried out my entire session. Only after I was done would they reveal their presence, often with mocking words and harsh giggles.

Inside I would be boiling, but on the outside I would be blushing invisibly and frowning.

The anxiety usually lingered after the offenders' departure, and would only be cured by me dropping by Allegro's home and providing him the identity of the peeping creatures. After that exchange, the visits from the peepers stopped altogether.

Being able to trust in my brother's mob-oriented lifestyle paid off, and I still call upon him to this day when his connections prove useful.

Pushing away my wandering thoughts, I let the silky fluid seep down to my skin. I lowered myself even deeper into the mini-lake, feeling the fluid rise all the way into my chest.

"Ahhh," I exhaled audibly. "This is my reward for being pleasantly distracted by a busy week..."

I unfurled my wings and lowered them into the water, feeling their weight increase as the seconds ticked by. I then lifted them up and flapped them vigorously, sending sprays of droplets all over and creating brief rainbows. I repeated this cycle four times before inspecting them, finding them free of debris.

I dipped my chest into the water and used my damp primaries to scrub it clean, investing two minutes in the maneuver. Once my chest feathers were polished and clean, I flipped onto my back with a decent splash.

I let my plumage soak for a good five minutes, squirming about every so often to help dislodge any flecks of debris. The warm lagoon was like a pillow of liquid softness, one that I could lay in for hours on end.

Brushing away the temptation, I hopped back to my feet and craned my head around. I could see via my reflection that my back was glittering and pristine, and so I focused on tending to my tail.

Reaching around, I used my beak to preen the six individual feathers, working from right to left. Small bits of dirt drifted away across the pond as I preened, a sure sign of my progress.

Satisfied with the straightness of my tail, I then preened my wings, my back, and finally my chest. Three minutes later, my neck began to ache, and so I wrapped up my long-awaited bath.

I waded out of the pond and gave my coat on last brisk shake, grinning widely in accomplishment at my refined reflection. I had turned myself from an unappealing bird to a shining male macaw, one that would keep the populace from turning away in disgust, and maybe even impress some of the females I happen to fly by.

I was never much of a ladies' bird, and even if they have advanced on me romantically, I can't say that I've noticed. The fact that my sisters are the only other female macaws of my species doesn't help either.

Even though they bear the most resemblance to me out of all the macaw strains, I don't see myself ending up bonded to any female Hyacinth Macaws in the near future.

My Dad has told me that "love at first sight" is a real possibility, as that occurrence is what ultimately brought me and my siblings into the world. I find it hard to believe, since I am now seventeen years old, and not once have I been captivated by a macaw of the opposite gender.

I suppose predestined love could come my way one day, but for now, I'm not counting on it.

I focused my mind on my next task and prepared to lift into flight when a rolling whimper caught my attention. It originated from somewhere behind me, and at first I thought it had came from my cave.

No, it's too bright and too pure to come from there.

Dismissing my first conclusion, the answer clicked in my brain as the resounding call broke a short spell of silence: It must be coming from the top of the cliff! It sounds like an injured, frightened female animal. I better go investigate...

I spread my wings and launched myself up to the top of the small cliff, orienting myself in the direction of the call as soon as my ears picked it up. I followed the muddy riverbed for a few feet before veering off to the left, startled into landing by the proximity of the whimper.

I eased past a fern frond and came upon a small patch of leaf-covered ground, devoid of shrubs and trees. Moments later, as a rustling sound blended in with a broken moan, a colorful-yet-strange bird entered the area from the right.

What the? Oh no, she's hurt badly!

The female-sounding creature was limping across my field of view, oblivious to my presence. Seized with an urge to help the stricken bird, I dashed over to her. A slew of injuries revealed themselves to me, sending me into a confused panic.

Her right wing was dragging the ground, its leading edge covered with lacerations and dried blood. Nearly half the feathers on that same wing were either ripped in half or completely missing. Her mellow green back was a mixture of bruises and cuts, purple spots interspersed with deep red scars.

The end of one of her two comparatively healthy tail feathers bore a tuft, while the other did not.

Oh dear, this is worse than I thought! She needs to be treated right away! I doubt she'll be able to tell me who or what did this to her...

She let out another pained moan as I barred her way with my body. I noticed her left eye was swollen shut, accompanied by a scar that ran down the same side of her black face. Her peach-tinted chest was lightly bruised and seemed to have fared the best.

She looked up at me with a pitiful expression and whispered, "Help me... the pain..."

A small spark passed between our gazes, one that I felt every time I caught a female's eyes. I had never discerned its meaning or its significance, and just as I had always done, I dismissed it without a second thought.

Oh dear, what do I do? I can't treat her by myself! I need someone's help...

I lifted my gaze to the canopy, but there no other winged creatures I could see. The situation was hopeless at the moment, making my panic rise even more.

Even though I had said nothing, the female shuddered and croaked, "It came... from the sky. Attacked my family... my brother and sister... they fought it. I got away... but my parents... my siblings... I don't know..."

The female blinked solemnly with her one good eye, shivered again, and passed out. As she toppled face first into the leaf litter, a small half-back, half-blue plume shot out from under her left wing and danced about in the air.

It spun in tight circles and settled on her appalling back, a sliver of beauty amidst a swath of horror.

The bird rose and fell in a moderately-steady rhythm, meaning that she was thankfully still breathing. I nudged her twice, but her lack of response confirmed that she was most likely unconscious from shock.

I concluded that the dual-colored feather was the one her tail was missing, and there must have been a reason why she had it tucked away under her wing.

I carefully removed the oval filament from her back and slipped it into the feathers on my left shoulder using my foot. That was the most logical place I could think of to stash it, as it would be subjected to as little movement and wind resistance as possible.

I hovered above the silent female and clutched her in my talons, taking extra care not to scratch or jostle her.

I glanced around to get my bearings and thought determinedly, I'll have to carry her to a safer place. There's no other option! The only location I can think of is the sanctuary. With Tulio and Fernando's combined brilliance, they should be able to treat her and make sure she doesn't end up dying. It seems like this once-ordinary day is turning out to be anything but...

Putting my mental agenda aside for the moment, I hustled over to the workplace of Tulio and Fernando as fast as I dared.

My sister's plague of bouts of feather loss meant that she attended the lab at least once or twice a month, and I was often there to accompany her. That being said, I knew the exact location of the ivory building and could find it without any problems.

The bare stone walls of the facility spring up into view after three minutes of flying, and I knew that I had boosted my cargo's chances of survival greatly.

I flew over the main entrance arch and passed the octagonal fountain in the small courtyard, easing myself into the main building through one of the angled windows.

A few of Tulio's employees milled about the noisy rehabilitation room full of half-healed, active birds, and I sat the victimized female down on the first counter I saw. I gave a few loud caws, startling some of the nearby employees, who immediately rushed over to me.

They mumbled to one another as they looked her over, but were hesitant to take hold of her.

A young man retracted his hands and yelled, "This is a special case! Someone go and get Tulio!"

I heard pounding footsteps as a female hurried out of the room, her lab coat flapping behind her. None too soon, I heard a door open and then slam shut. The puzzled mumbling continued as Tulio parted the crowd and approached me, adjusting his glasses quickly.

"Meu Deus, it's a Blue-crowned Motmot, and it's hurt badly! Piano, you are a smart bird for bringing it here. I'll have to examine it as soon as possible!"

He gently scooped up the bird and carried it over to a nearby steel table, calling out, "Everyone else, get back to work. Fernando, I need you over here now! Where is Fernando?"

A door on the opposite side of the lab flew open as a fully grown Fernando plowed in and rushed to Tulio's side.

I flew over to the central table that held all the tools and equipment the ornithologists used, hopping closer to the Brazilian duo examining the motmot.

"Tulio, I can't tell if this one's male or female. We'll have to find that out later on. Anyways, there is something wrong with its right wing. Not only is it missing feathers, it's dislocated. Her eye is swollen shut, and it probably has something to do with that scar," said Fernando in his semi-deep voice.

"Carefully snap it back into place, and then we'll treat those lacerations. We'll have to check on the eye later. It may or may not be able to be saved."

While Tulio scurried off to the other side of the table to gather the necessary supplies, Fernando grasped the limp with with his fingers. He gave a small push, and I heard a soft click. He tested the wing by stretching it out and flapping it, and I saw him grin in minute satisfaction.

Tulio arrived moments later and began preparing the antiseptic and bandages. "The wing's back in place, Tulio. It's not broken, and as far as I can tell, nothing else is either. This bird is just badly cut up and bruised."

"As soon as we get it stabilized, we'll have to perform exploratory surgery and check for internal damage."


I don't know how long I stood there in silent remorse, watching them slave away to try and save the motmot's life, but it was at least an hour.

They doused her wing with antiseptic, wiped the wounds clean, and then bandaged it entirely with white cloth. They disinfected and padded her back as well, wrapping her body with more white material.

They focused on her face last, and the look in their eyes when they peeled open her eyelid caused my heart to sink even lower.

They applied a small gauze eye-patch and cleaned the scar, giving her one last check over before sighing with short-lived relief.

Tulio chucked his bloody, sticky rubber gloves in the trash and washed his hands before sauntering over to me, his face rife with anxiety.

"I have to thank you, Piano, for rushing it over here. You are its guardian angel. It may not have survived today without your help. It's too early to formulate a prognosis, but I'd say that motmot has a fighting chance at recovering. We'll have to take it to the operating room now, so you'll have to wait until we're done..."

Tulio gave me a few light scratches under then chin before joining Fernando, who had the female cradled in his gloved hands. Together, they ambled over to the far end of the room and vanished into the operating room through a linking door.

I'm her guardian angel, and that means I'll be praying for her. Now that she's in Tulio and Fernando's hands, I know she'll make it through...

I so desperately wanted to observe the humans as they operated on her, but even I lacked the stomach for gore of that level. The effect of all I had seen and done, combined with my still-gnawing hunger, left me feeling dejected and tired.

As soon as the chance presented itself, I flew out of the lab and weaseled into the cube-shaped enclosure via the cracked-open door. The noise level in this artificial jungle was at a minimum, though the stale scents of food and waste lingered annoyingly.

"Hey buddy, you new here? What's wrong with you? You don't look sick."

I traced the questioning male voice back to a frail-looking Blue-and-Gold Macaw perched idly on a high branch.

I touched down on a neighboring bough and replied, "No. And you're right, I'm not sick. I rescued a bird from the jungle a short time ago. She's in the operating room right now, and I'm waiting for her to come out. If you don't mind, I'm going to take a siesta."

"Oh, wow. That's quite the adventure. I hope she comes out alright. There's plenty of hollows for you to sleep in. Trust me, I won't bother you. I'm too busy dealing with digestive problems."

"Alright. Thanks."

I leapt off the branch and glided to the nearest tree I could find, settling down in a hollow that appeared unused. There was a nest towards the rear, but I had never slept in one, and I wasn't going to start now.

I crouched down next to the left wall and rested my head on my back. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the two-tone feather still stuck to my wing. Just as the female motmot was attached to it, I was growing attached to her, not romantically but spiritually.

Tulio had called me a guardian angel, and that was a name I felt perfectly comfortable with. I was not a sociable male, but going out of my way to help a doomed citizen made me feel like I had accomplished something noble.

However long and hard the road to recovery may be, I know she'll make it. I may have played a part in her rescue, but only she has the power to heal herself...

I drifted off into a half-proud, half-anxious sleep, my dreams much more controlled than the one I had that morning. My restorative nap was short-lived, however, leaving me torn between appreciating the disruption and detesting it.

I ramped up my senses, and after a brief stretch, walked to the edge of the hollow. Tulio stood at the base of the tree, an upbeat smile on his face. He motioned for me to follow with a quick wave of his hand, and I did so.

We exited the artificial chamber and traveled in the direction of the lab, turning right into a room just across the hall. Evenly spaced cages lay on the continuous counter that bordered the mostly silent room, many of them empty.

The few that weren't contained critically ill and injured birds, tiny monitoring systems bearing hoses and tubes sitting just outside their cages.

Tulio led me over to one at the rear of the room and leaned against the counter, gesturing for me to look inside.

I peeked past the array of bars and saw the motmot belly up on a plush blue sheet. An IV of sorts was taped to one side of her chest, which rose and feel in a graceful rhythm.

I nearly melted from the wave of relief that flooded my system, turning to Tulio and releasing a high-pitched squawk.

"We discovered that it is a female, and yes, she's doing great. Her internal organs were free of damage, and there was no internal bleeding to deal with. Her cuts and bruises should heal within the week, though it will take longer for her feathers to grow back. She'll be flightless until they do, and so she'll have to stay here.

The eye is what has me troubled the most. The cornea has a scratch on it, and only time will tell if her body can reverse the damage. All in all, her condition is expected to improve over the next month or so.

I have to thank you sincerely for your efforts, Piano. You're the one who rescued her from certain death, and I am very proud of you. You can come visit her whenever you want, and to be honest, I'd like to see you two interact."

He flashed me a wide smile and patted me on the head lightly. "If you want to leave, you can. There's really nothing else for me to tell you. Oh, and what's with that feather on your shoulder? It looks like the racket her tail is missing."

I cawed deeply and plucked the racket from my wing, holding it in front of the cage pointedly. I stepped aside as Tulio popped the door open, then walked around the door and placed the feather next to her bandaged body.

I think that belongs to you... I thought warmly.

I stepped away from the slumbering motmot and watched as Tulio closed the cage door.

Peering through the bars one last time, I said silently, I'll come by and check on you in a few days. Rest easy and let your body repair itself. Maybe then, you can tell me explicitly who mistreated you to such an extent...

I whirled back to Tulio and pointed my wing at the door, cawing squeakily.

"You want to head out? Okay then, let's go..."

Tulio and I exited the nursery-like space and parted ways in the hall. I bid him a farewell squawk and watched him hop into the lab before I turned away. I glided across the rehab room and squeezed past a sunlight-bathed window, my heart flipping in my chest as the aura of the jungle hit me dead-on.

My revel was spoiled by a rather loud groan from my belly, and the distressing void known as hunger opened up inside me.

Forte will have to wait until this evening. I have to go inform Mom and Dad of the deed I have done! I hope they have some food there for me to eat.

I paused my thoughts and stared straight up into the sky, momentarily blinded by the overhead sun.

It's about two hours past noon. I hope Mom and Dad decided to have a late lunch. What a fool I was to think that my agenda wouldn't be interrupted! Oh well, life throws you curve balls sometimes, and you just have to deal with them any way you can. This one has probably impacted my life for the better, so I shouldn't be complaining...

I mentally charted out a course to my parents' home, and soon I realized that the female motmot would always remain rooted in the back of my mind. I prevented her from fully clouding my thoughts, but it wasn't like I wanted to ignore her.

I was actually glad that she had planted herself in my mentality, but being that her life was in her own hands – and to a lesser extent, Tulio and Fernando's – I could do nothing to help her now. The origins of her accident were unclear, and she hadn't even told me her name.

The future holds the answers to my questions, but for now, I need to focus on the present.

I restrained the motmot's image in a dark corner of my mind and increased my flight speed, certain that my course would lead me to my parents. In less than two minutes I was there, streaking across the clearing and composing myself before fluttering into the hollow.

An odd string of words floated into my ears, reminiscent of my father's mellow tone, inciting a pang of curiosity in me.

I fluttered down into the hollow and picked up another, much more pleasurable chain of noises: "Lower, Jewel... ohhh, right there. That feels... so good..."

My eyes involuntarily popped from their sockets as I drank in the highly embarrassing scene in front of me.

My Dad lay sprawled out in the nest, his wings and head drooping over the edges, his eyes sealed shut and a smile on his face. My Mom stood behind him with his tail pinned underneath, her feet just outside the ring of twigs and her head buried in his lower back feathers.

Oh God, curiosity just murdered the macaw. Wy do I have to be so inquisitive all the time?

I shielded my eyes with my wings hurriedly, then whirled around completely backwards with my head hanging low.

Even with my lightning reactions, it was already too late. The intimate sight had already been etched onto my brain and would take days to fade away.

My jerky movements must have caught my parents' attention – more specifically, my mother's – because I heard a muffled "Piano!" followed by a sharp "Ouch! Jewel, you bit me!"

Much shuffling and grumbling filtered past my wings and tickled my eardrums, and I still did not lower my wings.

"Piano, I uh... didn't expect you to drop by!" my mother said sheepishly. "Your father and I were alone... and we sorta wanted to... pass the time..."

Hesitantly, I rotated around and dropped my shield, spying my mother and father standing next to the nest, the latter rubbing his lower back.

"Did I make you bleed, Blu?"

"I don't think so, but you gave me a good nip on the rump! It was practically a mood-kill..."

"I'm sorry... I should have left and came back later. I heard something weird in here, and I grew curious. It's my fault for barging in..."

It felt so wrong to have intruded while my parents were being intimate, and I hung my head in shame.

"If you want to continue, I'll leave and take care of some other errands..."

"It's okay son, you can stay. It's not your fault that you were born with that sort of nature. Really, we don't want you to leave."

I perked my head up and met my mother's charming gaze, and I nodded weakly in agreement.

"Is there something you need, or did you just want to spend time with us?" my Dad said smoothly, no longer rubbing his rump.

"Well, I don't really need anything, except for some food, since I haven't eaten at all. I'll tell you why. This morning..."

I proceeded to quickly fill my parents in on my discovery and transport of the female motmot, thereby explaining the reason why my stomach had remained empty. Their moods united into one as shock took over, shifting to pride during the middle of my recollection before finally ending up as deep concern for my well-being.

My parents were understandably enthralled by my tale, but being as they had eaten lunch in the rain-forest, they had no food to provide.

My father graciously went out and hauled back a papaya just for me. Needless to say, I set upon the fruit with rancor, consuming it within ten minutes. After my stomach bulged from the hasty input of chunky nutrition, I relaxed to ease my digestion and checked off this meeting on my mental agenda.

My Mom and Dad were now peacefully huddled in their nest, watching humorously as I licked the last remnants of papaya innards from my beak.

After I waxed my beak clean, I cleared my throat and asked, "Do you know where Semplice is? I have an unfinished song that needs refining and critiquing, and she's the perfect girl for the job. It would also help if Cantabile could test the lyrics, so I'll need to find her as well."

My father smiled and replied, "A new song, huh? Well, Semplice dropped by to have breakfast with us, and so did Forte. If I remember correctly, she said she was feeling a bit under the weather and was planning on staying home afterwards. As for Cantabile, she was taking a walk around the jungle with that lumbering shag-pile, Dominick. Neither of us know where she is by now."

"Blu, I know you don't like him, but at least be thankful that he keeps our daughter safe. He's as much as a bodyguard to her as he is a friend."

She fixed my Dad with a serious stare, and he just mumbled something about Luiz and drool.

"Hmmm, thanks. I'll go try and find Cantabile, and then I'll see if Semplice wants to help too. If it's okay with you, can I return during sunset and have dinner here?"

My Mom and Dad both chuckled at the supposedly humorous statement.

"Of course you can, son!" my Mom replied with mock harshness. "Heck, you don't even need to ask, but it would be better if you did, so that we can gather the proper fruit."

"What would you like to eat tonight, son?"

"Let's see..." I muttered while staring at the floor. "How about another papaya?"

"A wise choice, considering how much you love them!" my Dad answered playfully. "Now that that's taken care of, you can run along and go find your sisters. Thanks for staying with us, Piano. And as for your break-in, we forgive you. No hard feelings, right?"

I met my Dad's gaze and replied, "You're welcome, and like you said, no hard feelings."

"I love you, son," my Dad chimed.

"And so do I," my Mom added faithfully.

I willingly skipped over to the nest and smashed them together in a group hug.

"I love you too, Mom and Dad."

"Don't let us tie you down anymore. Enjoy the beautiful sunshine while it lasts, and we'll be waiting for you at sunset."

"Sure thing, Mom. Bye!"

"Bye son! Stay safe!" my superiors chanted in unison as I fled the hollow.

It's been a few hours since breakfast, so Cantabile might be done with her scouting mission. My best bet is to see if she's at home. If she's not, I've got a tiring search ahead of me. She loves my music so much, it would be hurtful to leave her out. As for Semplice, she'd jump at the chance to... well... blatantly point out all the metaphorical holes in my music. There's nothing more exciting and irritating that hearing her describe my songs with colorful, mostly negative adjectives...

Cantabile's twin-trunked papaya tree home lay mere feet from the southeast edge of the border net. A well-hidden tear where the net met the ground permitted Dominick to freely travel back forth between the city and the sanctuary – during the rare times when he was not within paw-reach of his avian companion.

The story behind their bonding was rather magical, as my sister found the young Golden Retriever wandering Rio's slums as a stray when she was barely six. She sang sweetly to the dog using that soul-caressing voice of hers that could, by some mysterious power, turn even the heads of the tone-deaf.

From that day forward, the puppy she named Dominick trailed her wherever she went, walking when she did, and running when she flew. However, her flight was weak due to her wing feathers being stunted by her plague, and so she most preferred riding around on his back.

It was a startling companionship, but as Dominick matured, their interspecies bond was justified several times over.

Many times had Dominick deflected the blade of untimely death away from her, just as frequently putting his own life on the line in the process.

Whether it was using his keen sense of smell to weed out a hidden snake before it could ambush her, or chasing off a deadly Harpy Eagle looking for an easy meal, Dominick protected her as a knight would protect his lord.

It could be perceived as a marriage of sorts: they openly loved each other – in the innocent sense, of course – and even more so when her debilitating disease made her feathers fall off her body in piles.

He remained by her in sickness and in health, whether she was gorgeous or appalling, and she was closer to him in many ways than with her own siblings were.

It was hard to believe that they could understand each other, but whatever frequency their linked minds ran on seemed to disregard that notion completely.

Dominick was a relatively quiet dog, but I knew his restrained yaps would help me locate him. After seeing them together for nine years, it was safe to say that if I found the Golden Retriever, I found my sister.

I plowed through the balmy air in a beeline to the southeast, listening intently for the airy yaps that Dominick spewed out, most often when Cantabile cawed to him. My heart swelled within my chest when three such soft calls plucked my eardrums after four minutes of ceaseless flapping.

I lowered my altitude drastically and ducked under a low-hanging cannonball branch as the sound grew louder and more punctuated.

Sure enough, as the border net swam into view on my right, I spied a silky golden animal reclined on the ground, my fully-feathered goddess of a sister staring down at him from her hollow.

I went into a hover and watched as she cooed to him gently, to which he responded with a series of forceful barks. I flinched back from the volume of the noise, but she quickly shushed him.

I opened my beak and chirped, "Dominick, look up here! Your brother Piano's here!"

The dog perked up his ears and whirled around, barking softly and wagging his tail furiously.

"Piano, I've missed you so much! I think you need to give me a hug."

I jetted towards her spacious hollow and landed gently beside her, swaddling her in a controlled embrace. Sadly, my weak hug dislodged a few of her neck feathers, causing me to pull back regretfully.

Cantabile whisked them away with her underdeveloped wings and chided, "Don't worry about them. I only lost a few. So, what do you need, brother?"

I held her enticing-yet-weak gaze and replied dully, "Well, I'm writing a special song meant for you and Dominick, but it's not finished yet. I was wondering if you could sing the lyrics I have so far to test their effectiveness, and maybe help me come up with enough to wrap up the song."

She blinked a few times and replied, "Oh Piano, you shouldn't have! I could just squish you to death right now! How could I say no? We can leave now, if you want. Where are your music sheets?"

"Great! They're at my house. Is it okay if we pick up Semplice on the way, though?"

"Sure. I heard it from Forte that she's feeling unwell. I think my voice should be able to make her healthy again."

She stared darkly out of the hollow and added, "If only I could heal myself. It's so unfair..."

I came up on her left side and commented, "Maybe, one day, you'll be able to maintain a permanent set of feathers. Who knows? There's one thing that your sickness can't strip from you, and that's your courage. I know this sounds vain, but you've put up with repeatedly losing the very essence of your beauty for five years now. I'd be hard pressed to find someone with a spirit as tempered as yours."

She lifted her substandard wing and wiped a beady tear from her eye in the wake of my words.

"You know what... you're right. Too often I forget what I am capable of. I'm so glad I have a brother like you to help me remember..."

"Anytime, sis. How about we get going?"

"Right away, Piano. Would you mind riding on Dominick's back?"

"Not at all," I said cheerfully before motioning for her to exit first.

She drifted down and called out to the dog, who rose up on all fours just in time for her to land on his back. I touched down onto his wavy fur shortly after, claiming a spot a few inches behind her.

He touched his nose to Cantabile's beak and then did the same to me, his standard greeting to all who rode on him.

Cantabile leaned closer to his right ear and whispered, " Take us to sister Semplice, Dom. Do you know where she lives?"

He nodded resolutely and looked around for a few seconds, calling up his memory of Semplice's abode. He turned roughly to the east and began trotting at a bouncy pace.

I kept my beak shut throughout the entire journey, cooking up possible lyrics to my song while my sister gazed around at the passing flowers and shrubs.

Dominick would change course every few minutes, but not by more than a few degrees to the left or right. It was as if he knew the layout and landmarks of the jungle nearly as well as I, and I concluded that this dog was much more intelligent than the average house-pet.

His olfactory ability probably assisted him more than anything, and I couldn't help but feel a tad envious.

After a mildly drawn-out sightseeing trip, Dominick led us up to the base of a towering cannonball tree and sat down on his haunches.

"Good boy, Dominick. Good boy..." Cantabile cooed while gently patting his scruffy neck.

"You and Dom wait here. I'll ask if she wants to come," I said flatly.

"Okay, Piano."

I pulled my talons out of his shaggy coat and lofted up to the mid-level hollow, coming upon a dejected copy of my normally exuberant younger sister.

"Heya, Piano. How are you doing? Better than me, I bet."

"I'm doing just fine, Semplice. I need your help."

"With what? Can't you see I'm not in the mood? My stomach's been hurting all morning, and I think the food I ate at Mom and Dad's made it worse."

I ignored her irritable tone and replied, "I would like for you to cast your judgment on a song I wrote for Cantabile and Dominick. I brought Cantabile along, actually, and her voice might just be able to make you feel better. You know how it goes..."

"Yeah, I've seen it in action. I'm kind of jealous of her for it, but whatever, what can I do? I guess I could come with you two. You know full well how I hate silence, and silence is what I've been dealing with ever since I left Mom and Dad's this morning. I'd take her voice over that any day."

"Good point, sister. We're riding on Dominick's back, so you won't have to wear yourself out by flying."

She jumped to her feet and stated with emphasis, "Now that's what I call a favor. Thanks a bunch, bro."

She ambled past and nudged me with her wing before dropping out of her hollow.

Every time she gets sick, her attitude only grows more direct. It's so ironic. You'd expect her to want to ignore everyone and bottle her negativity up...

I shrugged unemotionally and joined my sisters on Dominick's back, who had already exchanged greetings by the time I landed behind Semplice.

"Take us to Piano's house, Dom," Cantabile ordered sweetly.

The dog cocked his head this way and that before jogging up to speed, his nose pointing towards the north.

I decided to briefly explain the interesting turn my morning took to both my sisters. The air around us became charged with emotion as my tale went on and finally concluded, mostly because Semplice bombarded me with as many questions as she could think of.

Poor Cantabile couldn't sneak a word in edgewise, giving up after the third time Semplice cut her off.

To be honest, I was starting to become as irritated as Semplice herself. Dominick couldn't carry us to my cave and sheets of music fast enough, it being the only way her unfriendliness could be cured: via Cantabile's honey-rich notes.

After answering all the questions I could, I kindly asked her to close her beak, claiming that she was obviously healthy enough to talk up a storm. She huffed at me and did what I asked, her eyes narrowed like a serpent's for the rest of the trip.

I found it difficult to sort out the rest of the first verse, my mental efforts halted as I spied the yawning ocher maw of my home glaring down at us.

Semplice and I drifted up to the lip of the cave while Cantabile dealt with Dominick, releasing his inner puppy by saying, "It's playtime for you, Dom! Don't go too far, though..."

She joined us moments later, her face beaming as we all heard the sounds of splashing water and soft, staccato barks.

We wound our way down the tunnel with me in the lead and Cantabile on my right, a terse Semplice bringing up the rear. I led my siblings out of the passageway and off to the left, veering into the chamber ahead of the one I slept in.

There was no leaf curtain blocking the entry, as this chamber only held my finished and unfinished song sheets. I ambled around the perimeter, checking each stack of papers for my target song. Only the front sheet of the stack to the right of the entryway was written on, scribbled with only two lines of lyrics.

I grabbed the stack and hopped back over to my sisters on one foot, being careful to not crinkle the pages. After laying them at Cantabile's feet, I then went back and searched for my pencil, which happened to be hiding under the pile of sheets at the rear of the chamber.

I skipped over to my sister and laid the pencil down while Semplice squeezed in and claimed a spot next to me.

"Go ahead, study the lyrics I have so far and tell me if they seem fitting."

She clasped the front page with her right foot and lifted it up, her eyes skimming across the page resolutely. She then lowered it and flashed me a telling smile.

"I like them so far. Let's see what grumpy has to say..."

She turned and passed the page to Semplice, who took it from her with more speed than necessary.

After a tense pause, she held it out towards Cantabile and said, "They sound good to me. I'll just sit here and let you two write the rest of the lyrics, and I'll check them as you go along."

"I'd like to have most of the lines rhyme, since that would help the song flow better. Do you have any ideas for the next line?"

"Hmmm, this line says 'and brought it back to me.' The last word of the next one should rhyme with 'me.' How about, uh, 'my face lit up with glee?' "

She placed the sheet on the ground and turned it around so that I could read it. I picked up the pencil and wrote out her suggestion, but compared to the first two lines, it sounded cheesy.

" 'My face lit up with glee?' Come on, Cantabile, think of something more mature. I don't think Piano's trying to make a song for chicks."

"Semplice is right, sister. We'll have to think deeper."

I flipped the pencil over and rubbed away the errant line, as well as the slivers of rubber that came off the eraser.

I looked up at Cantabile and said cheerfully, "Try again, sister."

A she stared into my eyes, I saw a twinkle erupt in hers.

"How about 'and that's what made me see?"

I jotted down the words and recited the entire verse aloud in a rather flat voice: "You cut me down a tree, and brought it back to me, and that's what made me see..."

Semplice then said, "Much better, you two! I don't think the last line should rhyme with the other three."

"Since you're going to be the singer, it would be wise to imagine it from your point of view."

"Right. So if I'm the 'me,' the first verse is implying that I'm realizing something. If we want the last line to not rhyme, we could say, 'where I was... going wrong!' "

I scribbled down the string of words and studied the first verse.

A bubble of satisfaction welled within me as I said proudly, "I think the first verse is complete. Why don't you give it a shot, Cantabile? Sing it in that dazzling voice of yours."

"Alright, Piano. Here I go..."

She cleared her throat and sucked in a deep breath, closing her eyes as the sound started to flow from her beak: "You cut me down a tree, and brought it back to me, and that's what made me see where I was going wrong..."

The atmosphere in the room seemed to brighten as she sang, as if she injected a dash of heaven into the air using the power of her voice. I was fully enthralled by her, unable to look away even after the shimmering notes dwindled into silence.

When the spell was finally broken, all I could mutter was, "Wow... that was gorgeous..."

"You really think so?" Cantabile asked cutely.

"Even I think it was amazing, sister," Semplice replied happily. "In fact, my stomach isn't aching so much anymore. I urge you two to finish the song as fast as possible. I can't wait to hear it!"

I put a small check next to the first block of text and wrote "Verse One" above it.

Semplice moved in closer as I stated, "Now, I think the theme of the next verse should be humorous, but only slightly. Cantabile, you're up again."

"Let's see... we could try..."

We progressed through the piece line by line, listening to intermittent tests by Cantabile as well as regular evaluations by Semplice.

Our ideas were often tossed out three or four times, as per Semplice's critical judgment, before we got the words to stick and make sense. The verses proved more of a challenge than did the chorus, since we only had to create the latter chunk of vocals once.

It was a trying task designing my song practically from scratch, and I had a feeling the daylight was being sucked away as we collaborated. A hot fire of anxiety burned within my bones, and I could tell by the tightness of my sisters' faces that they were anxious as well.

As we fleshed out the verses, we simply added in the completed chorus where necessary. All three of us sighed with immense relief and joy as I penciled in the last line of the ending chorus.

The title we collectively accepted was "Swallowed In The Sea," though the mention of that large body of water sent shivers through the hydrophobic Semplice.

It was now time to listen to the piece in its entirety, and so I faced Cantabile and declared, "Sing away, sister!"

For the second time in a row, she inhaled in preparation and seduced us with her hauntingly beautiful tone: "You cut me down a tree and brought it back to me, and that's what made me see where I was going wrong. You put me on a shelf and kept me for yourself. I can only blame myself, you could only blame me..."

She inhaled rapidly before moving onto the next section without wavering: "And I could write a song a hundred miles long. Well that's where I belong, and you belong with me. And I could write it down or spread it all around, get lost and then get found, or swallowed in the sea..."

She paused and flashed Semplice a stern smile before drawing in a third breath and continuing: "You put me on a line and hung me out to dry, and darling that's when I decided to go see you. You cut me down to size and opened up my eyes, made me realize what I could not see..."

She raised the volume of her voice and added: "And I could write a book, the one they'll say that shook the world, and then it took, it took it back from me. And I could write it down or spread it all around, get lost and then get found, and you'll come back to me, not swallowed in the sea..."

By now, she had exhausted her supply of oxygen, and so she inhaled desperately before belting out the next swath of lyrics: "Oooh... and I could write a song a hundred miles long. Well, that's where I belong, and you belong with me. The streets you're walking on, a thousand houses long. Well, that's where I belong, and you belong with me..."

She boosted her volume once again as the song came to a close, stealthily inhaling a huge breath: "Oh, what good is it to live with nothing left to give? Forget but not forgive, not loving all you see? Oh, the streets you're walking on, a thousand houses long. Well, that's where I belong, and you belong with me, not swallowed in the sea. You belong with me, not swallowed in the sea. Yeah, you belong with me, not swallowed in the sea..."

The heavenly feeling from before had been amplified to something a hundred times stronger, and my muscles were paralyzed with unending joy.

When my speech ability was restored after a glamorous silence, I proclaimed, "Cantabile, you just might entrance the entire rain forest with that symphony of elegance..."

"Sister, this may be one of the few times you'll hear me say I'm speechless. That was magnificent!"

All of a sudden, Semplice rubbed her belly with her wing, her eyes opening wide.

"My stomachache is gone! I feel like an entirely new bird! Thank you so much..."

Cantabile grew very coy and chided, "Well, if you guys say so! And Semplice, you're welcome."

She lifted her wings and placed them on my shoulders, tears pooling in her eyes.

"Piano, I have to thank you for this gift. It really touches my heart, and I'll be glad to sing it whenever you want me to. It was a pleasure writing it with you, brother..."

"You're sincerely welcome, sister. In fact, what better day to debut this amazing piece than tomorrow?"

"That sounds wonderful! I'll have to borrow the sheets and memorize the song, then."

She lowered her wings as Semplice piped, "I'll be sure to give Allegro a heads-up later on and ask his mob buddies to spread the word. Expect a big audience come tomorrow! When and where do you want to perform?"

"Let's see... oh, I know! Mom and Dad's place, at around three or four o'clock. I can just imagine their reactions when the see the whole clearing full of birds! Let's hope they don't find out about the location from some of their neighbors."

Semplice nodded in agreement and saluted briskly with her right wing.

"Being as that's out of the way, what are your plans for the rest of the day, Piano?" Cantabile asked lightly.

"My food store is empty, so I am probably going to ask Forte to help me restock. After that, I'll probably take a nap until sunset, since I am going to go have dinner with Mom and Dad. Are either of you keen on having dinner with them too?"

"Sorry, Piano, but I won't be going. I wasn't planning on doing much today, and on top of that, I have to rest my throat for tomorrow. I'll be heading home in a few minutes and napping the rest of the day."

"It's okay, I understand."

I cocked my head to the right as Semplice stated, "You can count me out. Now that my upset stomach is cured, I've decided to go round up some friends and kick it at the beach. I'll go and visit Allegro before night rolls around, so don't you worry, Cantabile."

"Everything's settled then. I suppose it's time we parted ways. I really owe you both for helping me out."

Cantabile merely winked at me while Semplice said, "Nah, don't sweat it, bro. When Cantabile performs, it'll definitely make up for all the trouble that went into creating it."

I nonchalantly chucked my abused pencil towards the rear of the chamber and precisely folded the two sheets of paper into a small square. I handed my shrunken song sheets to Cantabile, who stored them snugly beneath her right wing.

I marched out of the cave with my sisters in tow, feeling rejuvenated and drowned in satisfaction. Upon reaching the cave mouth, we were swamped by a slanted wall of rays from the moderately low-hanging sun.

I searched all around the lagoon and the outlying jungle, but Dominick was nowhere in sight. Cantabile let out a melodious three note whistle, which was graciously amplified by the cave's topography.

After a hopeful wait, a furry golden shape came bounding out of the jungle. He laid down on all fours a few feet from the lagoon, his tongue lolling out of his mouth.

"Today was a lovely day for me, and I have you two to thank for that. I love you so much..."

Cantabile pulled me into a one-winged hug and then did the same with Semplice, shedding a few more plumes in the process.

"I love you," I replied truthfully.

"So do I, sis," Semplice added cheerily.

"I guess I'll be off. Oh, and Piano, make sure Mom and Dad know about my mini-concert tomorrow, except for the location."

"No problem, Cantabile. I hope you make it home safe, and I wish you sweet dreams."

She flicked me one last nod before pulling the square out with her foot. She clutched it securely in her claws and drifted down to the Golden Retriever, who then received his orders and loped off on a southeasterly course.

"This is goodbye for now, Piano. I'll catch you on the flip-side. Have a good time with Mom and Dad, alright?"

"For sure, sis. Now get out of here and go have some fun!"

She teasingly snorted and jetted off, consumed by the verdant undergrowth in seconds.

Just two more errands to take care of, and a nap in between. I just hope Forte is at home and not defending the peace, the unconventional bully that he is...

I spread my wings and took flight, angling towards the northwest and locking my speed in at a decent pace. Forte's abode was hands down the closest to mine, as he feels the need to guard me like Dominick guards my sister.

I possess the brains while he packs the brawn, and we play up each others strengths as often as we can.

At other times, we mock the skills the other is deficient in: he calls me weak-muscled and tiny boned, while I remind him that he is lacking in the intelligence department.

We are polar opposites in nearly every respect, but he's bonded to me on a level that none of my fellow siblings are, or even my parents, quite frankly.

His home was stationed less than two-hundred feet away, on top of the very cliff that I lived under. It took me less than a minutes to arrive, despite my slower-than-average pace.

Bracing myself for the aptly physical greeting that was to come, I touched down on the lower level of his two-story home and held my breath.

"Piano! I had a feeling you were going to come see me today! How've you been?"

Forte winded me with a tackle, preventing me from inhaling due to his encircling wings.

"Good... but I've been better... can't breathe..."

He rapidly broke his hold and hopped back, saying, "Sorry, Piano, I'm just glad to see you!"

"No, it's alright. I'm your... favorite brother.. it's bound to happen..." I said between gasps.

"Has anybody messed with you today? Give me the name and species, and I'll go set 'em straight!"

I extended my wing weakly in his direction and replied, "No. You get the day off..."

"Awww man, I was ready to rough someone up! Oh well, I'll get my chance soon enough. If I see Legato flyin' around..."

When my breathing stabilized, I refolded my wing and asked, "Can you help me gather some food? My holding chamber is empty, and I need to restock."

Forte puffed himself up and replied, "Say no more, Piano. I'll give ya all the help ya need!"

Forte barged past me and practically dragged me out of the hollow backwards. Righting myself before I splatted on the ground was a tall order, but I somehow pulled it off.

"We can patrol the area around your cave and scoop up all the best fruits!" he squawked from a few feet ahead.

"No argument here..." I replied edgily.

"Great! I'll wait for you there..."

With that, he doubled his speed and left me in the metaphorical dust.

"Gah," I groaned. I'd love him more if he wasn't so impatient, I concluded silently.

Forte was darting in and out of the foliage framing my home when I caught up to him, taking no heed of my arrival.

"Hey, Forte, come here!"

He was hovering not a foot away from me moments later, his wings beating faster than necessary.

"What do you want me to pick, Piano?"

"Some star fruit, passion fruit, a couple mangoes, and the biggest papaya you can find."

"Sweet! I'll get right on it. "

"I'm going to help too, because at the end of this chore lies a well-deserved nap..."

Forte and I rummaged through the trees nonstop, plucking my chosen fruit items two at a time and dropping them off in my so-called "pantry." The task was repetitive, but was completed swiftly, Forte and I having found all the food items I had asked for.

He and I then briefly inspected the large pile of fruit topped with an enticing papaya, seeing not one fruit had borne any bruises or gashes during transport.

"Thanks for the help, Forte. It really means a lot to me."

"Heh, no problem, Piano! All you gotta do is ask. I'm gonna take off now and go get myself somethin' to snack on. After that, I don't know, but I won't be at home!"

"I'm going to have dinner with our parents at sunset. Are you going to show up too?"

He gave a small frown and replied, "Nope. I spent nearly all day yesterday with them. I'm takin' a... break... Piano! Spider! Ahhh!"

Forte was racing out of the cave before I could respond, and as I watched him scurry into the main pathway, something small and dainty caught my eye.

A spider no bigger than an inch wide was dangling in front of me, and I traced his silken support line all the way up to an air channel in the roof.

What an innocent little creature! I mused happily. It's a shame a tough guy like my brother is terrified of you.

I studied the brownish-black spider as he lowered himself slowly to the floor, swaying to and fro in the intermittent breeze. After realizing that this secluded cave was no place for a minuscule predator like him, I extended my wing and allowed the spider to climb onto my pointy primaries.

"I'm taking you back outside, little arachnid. There's plenty of food for me in here, but not for you..."

I marched all the way to the lip of the cave, the spider busily exploring the frizzy landscape that was my wing while I walked.

After reaching the edge of the cavern, I coerced the spider onto the space between my wings and flew languidly up to the top of the cliff. I then steered him back onto my right wing and held my primaries against a berry bush until he skittered off.

When I pulled my wing back, he lifted his first pair of legs in the air and waved them around, as if saying, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," I replied softly as he scurried deeper into the bush.

With that, I dropped back down to my cave and led myself to my "bedroom." I moved the curtain aside and stepped inside, turning around to face the pseudo-blocked entrance and plopping down onto my stomach.

I have seen and experienced so much today, it's unreal! This nap should restore me enough to dine with my parents, and then I can fly back here and truly fall asleep...

Drowsiness began to creep into my muscles and brain with every passing minute, dragging my eyelids lower and lower simultaneously. That jelly-like feeling proved to me how exhausted I was, now that I had relaxed and let it rear its ugly head.

I bid the waking world a concise goodbye as my head slumped to the floor, unconsciousness blacking out my vision.

My trance-like state was occupied by a rather simple dream in which I wandered aimlessly in a dark realm that resembled outer space. I visited a few colorful nebulae, watched in awe as a black hole passed me by, and even toured a solar system not unlike my own.

My somnolent escapade ended shortly after I flew tens of thousands of light-years straight up and drank in the stunning view of the entire galaxy I was previously inhabiting.

The mental dream-scape disintegrated mutely and snapped back to the familiar globe of my bedroom. I aroused my reluctant senses via a thorough preening session before embarking my final outing for the day.

I felt spry and energetic, but my stomach rumbled often during my flight, reminding me of my need for nutrition.

A painful glance to the west revealed that one-fourth of the scalding red sun was obscured by the horizon.

By the time I came upon my parents' sentinel-like abode, my wings were aching and my stomach louder than ever.

A one-two punch of visual surprises hit me as I awkwardly landed in the roomy hollow: my eldest sister Legato was chatting it up with my father, while my boisterous younger brother Allegro was reclined in a hipster-like pose across from her.

Judging by the size of the food pile stashed in front of the nest, I assumed that my siblings had arrived here before I, and my parents had been forced to gather more fruit than they had originally planned.

"Hello, son. We're glad you could make it, though we knew you would," my Dad greeted merrily.

"Well hello, Piano! I haven't seen you in quite a while. How's your day-to-day life been this week?"

"Pretty good, Legato. What about yours?"

"Exciting, as usual. Some unruly Hyacinth Macaw decided it was cute to stroke my tail-feathers wile I was serving drinks yesterday evening. Let's just say that he won't be able to even see what he'll touch next for a few days..."

My Dad frowned while my Mom simply shook her head in disapproval.

Legato always seemed to harbor an unpleasant tale every time she visited, and it was common knowledge that her club-centered lifestyle was to blame.

Mom and Dad sure didn't enjoy the way she exposed herself in such an abuse-prone setting, but she was wholly independent, and they could not bend her lifestyle to suit them.

"Hey, kid," my brother said in that twangy accent of his. "You ain't seen any marmosets around, have you? They're due for a beat-down, but lately, me and my boys can't seem to find any of 'em. Sneaky rats. I'd wring their necks as soon as I got my claws on 'em..."

"Allegro, watch your mouth, or you won't be eating with the rest of us tonight!" My Mom said scathingly.

"Sorry, Allegro. I don't usually pay attention to any marmosets."

He nodded sourly and turned towards Mom and Dad, his usually smug facade now a mask of unhappiness.

"Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad."

Allegro's cunning brashness and physical strength belied his size and had enabled him to maintain a gang of loyal followers. At heart, however, he was much more composed and caring, and the one thing that could crack his mafia-like facade was his parents.

He loved them dearly and would do anything for them, even if it meant he would suffer bodily harm.

They openly showed more opposition to his way of life than they did Legato's and were in no way proud of his cult, but nonetheless, they loved him unflinchingly.

"It's okay, son, but no more menacing talk in here," my Dad warned.

"I'd say it's time we got down to business. Who's hungry?" my Mom asked enticingly.

"I know I am! I've got my eye on that mango..."

"I don't think so, Legato. That mango is mine!" my brother countered while dashing over to the pile.

I stayed well back as Legato strutted up to him and attempted to wrench the tangerine fruit from his grasp before he could bite it. Naturally, the mango tore apart as they pulled, giving them each a sizable chunk.

"Hey, hey, easy! No more fighting! I will not stand by and watch this family dinner turn into a family brawl," my Dad said sternly.

Legato and Allegro eyed each other harshly and moved to opposite sides of the hollow, chewing their fruit snappily.

I hopped over to the pile and began digging for a passion fruit, only to have my Mom hold one up to me.

"Looking for one of these?" I took the spherical purple ball from her and replied, "Uh yeah, thanks."

"You're welcome, Piano," she replied while smiling.

She claimed a star fruit for herself while my Dad pulled an impressive papaya closer to him, inciting a small avalanche of fruit.

"Blu, there's no way you can eat all that..."

He smirked and replied, "I know, Jewel. I'm just making sure I get some before Piano devours it all..."

I rolled my eyes at him, and he just smiled cheekily.

I crouched down at the foot of the sugary hill of food and ate in content silence, the air in the hollow warm and full of tangy-sweet odors.

There was little conversation to be had while we ate, but I didn't mind. I preferred quiet spaces like Cantabile, and the luxury of dining with my family made me feel even more comfortable with the lack of noise.

I began to long for the days when I was a young chick, where my whole existence was centered in this very hollow with my parents, Forte, and Legato.

It was just me, them, and our parents, all thriving happily in this enclosed little universe.

Those were the good old days when our parents fed us, read to us, interacted with us, and tucked us into our beds.

But, as it is throughout the entire Universe, time waits for no being. As the years went by, we matured, and our cravings for independence seized our mentalities.

Legato was the first to fly off at three years of age, and a full year passed before Forte and I mimicked her. I plainly remember her teary goodbye, and my parents were also unable to stifle the fluid leaking from their eyes.

I realized how saddening it was when me and my brother decided to branch out and see the world.

However, there are always two sides to an important event: negative and positive. The negativity thrived only during the short term, and while harsh, its effects always waned to make room for long term positivity.

It was that mentality I utilized to get through those first few lonely days, sleeping wherever I could while in the search for a permanent shelter. Upon finding the splendid cave, my regrets were washed away, and I knew the next chapter of my life had begun.

No matter the distance between us, my parents would always be waiting for me in that cannonball tree they called home with open wings. I could visit them and feel their everlasting love for me whenever I wanted and needed, and that irrefutable knowledge has kept me going for thirteen solid years.

Our close-quarters meal came to a pleasing end after the sun had relinquished control to the evening sky. Legato and Allegro chose to remain with my parents and ignite more conversations, but I professed that I would rather head home and rest.

Before I departed, however, I informed the other four macaws about Cantabile's makeshift concert. I asked Allegro to alert the jungle via his avian mob connections, to which he agreed without a fuss.

Semplice would no doubt be thrown for a loop when she found out that Allegro already knew his task, but she would brush it off in good faith.

I whispered the location to only my siblings, since I dearly wanted to see the looks on my parents' faces when their home was hemmed in by a jittery crowd of birds come tomorrow afternoon.

I tossed heartfelt farewells to them, augmented by four hugs, and then left for my home.

The mauve sky twinkled sparsely with stars, but the moon had not surfaced above the horizon yet. A general coolness had settled over the city, a calming chill that aimed to pacify the once-upbeat current of life.

My cave was rather dark due to the absence of the mercurial orb, but I could traverse it without worry. I had nothing to fear as I slunk down the shadowy pathways and crawled into my nursery.

The near-total lack of light brought on the folds of sleep within two minutes, and so I laid down on my chest and fell into a deep slumber.

Another day was soon to pass – albeit more tumultuous than most – and my dreams showed no hints of becoming nightmares.

I could picture the motmot slumbering in her cage just as I was, and I sent up a powerful prayer to speed her healing. My subconscious made a note to remind me to visit her tomorrow, and she returned into hiding as another dream took over.

Her traumatic experience was still a mystery to me, but I hoped that it wouldn't remain as such for too much longer. There was simply so much to discover about her, and even though we had been together for a scant few hours, I felt that our interactions were just beginning.