A/N: Writing this story killed my fingers and brain, for obvious reasons. The LEAST you can do is toss me a review for the month of grueling work I put into this.

Before you ask, "Is he trying to undo all the horror of Happy Birthday?" I have this to say: The sickness of Happy Birthday was too powerful to be erased by this story. I feel that this is WORSE than HB, which hopefully, my readers will realize once they reach the end.

I strained my apparently disgusting mind to the limit to come with all the gore in this fic, and I expect most of you to be DEEPLY disturbed.

If you feel like you must include some of your reactions to this fic in your review, I urge you to do so.

I have nothing left to say, except...

Enjoy the grimdark fic!


Once Jewel was in range, she swung her club. The male rushed in front of his mate and absorbed the blow with his beak. He was sent spinning away to the left, his ebony beak bearing a large crack where Jewel had struck it.

The impact had stunned him more than it had hurt him, and he hurriedly turned around to confront Jewel. Before he could dodge her second charge, she lowered her club and plowed into his chest with hers. She ferried him backwards until smashing him into the wall.

His skull smacked the wood with reasonable force, and his eyes began darting all around as his consciousness faded away.

"You… I will kill…" he muttered, and then he went out like a light.

"Florencio!" the female screamed. "You heartless freak! You'll pay for that!" she added harshly.

She was afraid to endanger her eggs by going on the offensive, but her indignation at seeing her mate attacked so ruthlessly overpowered her reluctance. She barreled for Jewel, leaping up in the air as Jewel whirled around. She clawed Jewel's exposed side while fluttering her wings in the evil female's face.

"Arrgh! You… idiot! Get away… from me!" Jewel ordered in a strained voice.

Nathalia lowered her wings and rapidly dove forwards, biting down hard on the edge of Jewel's wing.

"Ahhh! You are… so dead!" Jewel hollered.

Fighting through the fire shooting up her wing, she jerked her foot upwards, driving the stone into Nathalia's chest. It knocked the breath out of her, and she was forced to release and inhale. Her beak stripped away a few feathers as it slipped off, and she spat them out before greedily sucking in air.

Seizing her chance, Jewel ran up to Nathalia, catching a glimpse of fear-tainted rage in her ruby irises.

She threw her mace up and gave the female an uppercut, striking her at the base of the beak. As Nathalia lurched backwards, Jewel repeated the vicious maneuver. In the wake of the hit, Nathalia tripped and fell flat on her back.

Nathalia struggled to get up, dazed by the numbing ache resonating from the lower half of her beak. A sizable hole marred its surface, through which part of her tongue could be seen.

"Unh…" she moaned. "You're the devil…"

Jewel scurried over and plastered her tool against Nathalia's neck using her right foot. She pressed down mightily, crushing the latter's windpipe.

"Urgh… let me… I can't… ach…"

The female writhed feebly, as her muscles were too starved of oxygen to comply with her brain's frantic signals.

"Look at you, pointing out the obvious!" Jewel said scathingly.

"You're so weak!" She pressed slightly harder.

"And you're going to die!" She mashed the stick down even harder.

Jewel felt the female's wings slap pitifully against her sides, and then they fell to the ground. Jewel watched as her victim's eyes rolled backwards, their white surfaces staring at her blankly.

Her eyelids concealed them seconds later, and a proud Jewel slowly withdrew her malign tool.

"That's better," she said darkly. "Just sleep, you pathetic brat. If only you could watch as I slaughter your mate."

Jewel then glanced at her wounded wing, which was slowly dripping blood from the gash Nathalia left.

Damn it! I'll make her feel a thousand times worse, once I decide it's time for her to perish.

Without any further hesitation, Jewel bent her neck and started to gently lick the patch of bare skin. She winced as her tongue raked the cut, drawing out some of her rancid blood. Just as she had done in the aviary, she lapped up the crimson fluid like water, enjoying its sour, iron-flavored tang.

Mmm… not bad! However, I have to be careful that I don't drink myself to death! If I can seal this tear with my spit, it should heal faster…

She caressed her warm, damp flesh smoothly, soaking up all the blood that dribbled out. After half a minute of sucking the laceration, she no longer detected the sharp flavor of her blood. As globules of clear saliva plopped to the floor, she drew back and swabbed her beak clean.

There! Now the killing can begin! Oh ho ho, I should make it as bloody as my first killing spree!

She stowed her outstretched wing against her side and looked from the female to the male.

He will be the first to have his soul cast out of his body! she decreed silently. Let's see, how should I torture him? It needs to be slow and steady, so that he stays alive long enough to wake up. Ah ha! That's it!

Abandoning her weapon, she hopped over to his slumped form and stood next to his unfurled left wing. She bent over and studied his pointy primaries intently, and almost innocently.

Almost.

Hmmm… they look very healthy. Too healthy. I'm afraid they'll have to go.

Grasping his outermost primary firmly in her talons, she gave it a stern yank. She only succeeded in causing his body to pivot in her direction, and she grumbled quietly.

Shit! How can I get this to work? Let's see if this does the job...

Now that he was laying on the floor, she planted her right foot on the bones in his wing.

Alright, here goes!

She began pulling on the feather with her left foot while resisting with her right, praying evilly that she wouldn't lose her grip. After a few seconds, she felt the feather come lose slightly, but it wasn't enough. She tried pulling again, but the plume wouldn't yield.

A displeased, frustrated Jewel bent down and pinched the feather's central shaft in her beak, seizing as close to its root as possible.

This better work! she thought with malign optimism. I don't want to be here all night!

Positioning her left foot behind her for stability, she re-adjusted her right and began tugging with constant force. She twisted her head to increase the force on the plume, bending the feather severely. She chuckled with glee as it started to tremble.

She then gave it a solid yank, and it relinquished its hold on its owner. She retracted her head and released the feather nonchalantly, then peered down at the spot where it had once resided.

To her grim delight, she spied tiny drops of scarlet plopping to the floor after collecting in the surrounding feathers. His wing now looked less than complete, for his bones extended over an inch past the spot where his longest primary used to be attached.

"Hah! I did it!" she exclaimed with crazed excitement. "Now I can strip his wings naked, tuft by tuft, without having to worry about being attacked. Oh, I can't wait to see the look in his eyes when he wakes up!"

Realizing that him bleeding out was a major concern if she planned to wrench all of his feathers loose, she implemented her tried-and-true method of healing. She scoured the concealed exit point with her saliva-drenched snake over and over, patching it in under thirty seconds.

After wiping her beak clean, she moved onto the next pinion and worked on ripping it free.

Abiding by her newly-established routine, she spent no more than a minute on a quill, plucking each one violently then repairing the invisible hole in his skin. She steadily traversed from the outer edge of his wing to base, removing each primary in turn.

By the time they had all been plucked, her feet were bathing in a sizable pond of his blood, accumulated throughout her vile procedure. She then opted to strip out the secondaries, which were half as short and twice as stubborn.

Her energy was being used up at a moderate rate as she fought to remove them, her neck muscles growing increasingly fatigued as she toiled. By the time half of his secondaries were uprooted, she consigned herself to a momentary retreat and rested her aching neck.

She spuriously willed her muscles to recover faster so that she could resume her dastardly exploits. Her mental rants merited little effect, making her recuperation painfully slow, literally.

Ugh… come on… come on! I hate feeling like this. I killed those other four macaws so simply, so quickly, and now it's taking forever. Torture may be sweet, but it sure gives you hell...

Her victims showed no signs of regaining conscious while she lounged around, tapping her claws endlessly on the damp floor – made that way by the effusion of Florencio's blood into the wood.

She idly splashed the fluid around, not caring that it speckled her coat and patterned the nearby wall.

After a solid five minutes of anxious, irritated waiting, she could move her neck without feeling any residual discomfort. As she strode over to Florencio, she couldn't help but smile wickedly as she laid eyes upon his scrawny, half-bare wing.

His arm bones were so thin and frail without feathers to give them substance, it made her laugh.

It resembled a fresh twig bearing a small amount of budding leaves, and she knew he was wholly incapable of flight. Not that it mattered, she told herself, because he would never even get the chance to flee the hollow.

She leaned over to reach for the next secondary in line when an opportune development stopped her cold.

"Unh… what is…"

At last, he awakes. Now the true fun is about to begin! she mused sinisterly.

The macaw's eyes opened drearily, and he barely had time to focus on his soon-to-be killer before the pain assaulted him like a wrecking ball.

"Ohhh… my wing! What did you… argh… do to MY WING! I can't… TAKE IT!"

She was unprepared for such a voluminous shout, one that caused her to flinch back, her ears ringing. His body curled in on itself as he shivered and quaked like a wind-up toy.

He fixed his eyes on his ruined, tattered wing, and the chilling ache seemed to double in severity.

"No… this can't… be happening! This is… a nightmare! Please… this can't be real…"

Jewel approached him and seized his throat with her right foot, whipping his head to the right so that he was facing her.

"Oh, it's real alright! Trust me, no nightmare is strong enough to hold me. This is torture at its finest!"

Florencio affected an agonized frown and groaned, "You… bastard! Do you know… what you've done… is unforgivable?"

She let loose a disdainful snort. "You think this is bad? You haven't seen a damn thing yet."

He bent his neck this way and that to try and break free, but to no avail.

"Let… me go… you bitch…"

The sound of that vulgar word struck a sensitive chord in her mentality, one that she could not tolerate. Her anger flaring, she released his head and walked over to his sickeningly-abused flying appendage.

"Call me that again. I fucking dare you!"

He gulped down an anguished breath and muttered, "Bitch."

In one swift movement, she fastened her claws around his wing and raised it into the air, then pounded it against the floor. The resulting explosion of mind-numbing agony caused him to yell at the top of his lungs.

"AHHHH! OKAY… NO MORE!"

Tears began to flow from eyes, mixing with the gooey lake of blood he lay in.

She snarled at him and said, "Never insult me, or I'll snap your wing next time. Now, if you don't mind, I need to screw up your other one!"

He summoned up all the courage and will he could, rising to his feet like a drunken zombie. Jewel then delivered a shove to his stomach, and he fell backwards disgracefully. He stopped his wing from smacking against the floor, if only barely. He glanced at it and noticed a fresh stream of blood running from the end.

"Oh great, you made me reopen the wounds! Now I'll have to torture you faster, before you bleed out."

As the words sunk into his muddled brain, his head lolled in the other direction. He spied his beautiful mate sprawled out a few feet away, utterly still and silent. As a result of his blurred vision, he was unable to tell if she was breathing.

"Nathalia…" he choked.

After bouncing over to his right side, Jewel replied, "Your precious Nathalia isn't dead… yet. She's next on the list, after I finish you off. It wouldn't be smart to leave her alive, now would it?"

"Please… don't… she's pregnant…"

"Really?" she replied sarcastically. "I know that, asshole. In fact, you just gave me an idea! I'll get much more satisfaction out of the eggs than she ever could."

She thrust her beak against his and pierced his soul with her venomous stare.

"But before I get to work on her, you have to die."

Being that he was sensible enough to talk, Jewel decided to impair his senses as much as possible by knocking his skull into the floor a few times. Once he was delirious and babbling incoherently, she began maiming his right wing with renewed vigor.

She skipped the healing process entirely, since she wanted him to suffer and endure the feeling of his life-blood leeching from his body. A distorted gurgle surfaced from his throat every time a feather came loose, a hoarse yell that was music to her ears.

He managed to squeak "stop" several times during the ritual, but that only goaded her into continuing that much more. He grunted like clockwork every time another pinion was extracted.

Knowing that simple fact, Jewel was ever eager to hear him croak one more time, and so the cycle continued for well over fifteen minutes.

After about three quarters of his primaries were gone, he had ceased to even respond, staring blankly at the ceiling and shuddering each time the next was dutifully disengaged.

By the time his remaining primaries were gone, she knew he was on the brink of death. As she gazed at his wimpy wings, a malevolent bout of laughter robbed her breath away. When she finally brought her twisted emotions under control, she waded into the surreal amount of crimson fluid he was soaking in and began dousing him with his own blood.

She splashed it upon him using her wings, then soaked her feather tips in it and dripped it all over him. She drowned his eyes in it and funneled it into his beak, even going so far as to bathe her own sleek body in it. She stopped her abhorrent play when his breathing became labored, deciding to end his puny life once and for all.

She skipped over to her two-sided weapon and snatched it up, then returned to him and stood on his matted tail.

"Tsk tsk tsk... it's a shame you couldn't have stayed any longer. Oh well! I can't devote all my attention to you, can I? That would be unfair to your mate."

Using her beak and wings, she hoisted him onto his feet, where he sat like a puppet with its strings cut. His absurd wings hung at his sides, raw and inflamed. His head hung low, his gaze no doubt drilling into the surface beneath his feet.

As Jewel twirled her weapon in front of her, Florencio raised his head just high enough to lock eyes with her. He wheezed and panted, though it was too late for any amount of oxygen to do him any good. His heart, strained well beyond its limits as it tried to pump scant amounts of blood throughout his otherwise empty system, was slowing down by the second.

"Why? What did I ever…"

She coolly stooped twirling her tool, pointing the scalpel blade directly at his throat.

"Because I'm one fucked up chick, that's why. You're the fifth macaw I've killed, and it was still such a pleasurable experience! You pleased me, so be grateful. You and your life are worth little else."

He blinked languidly and said softly, "You're… a demon…"

"Thanks! But you know, I'm that, and so much more. Too bad I don't have time to sit here and listen to you describe me."

She took two sprightly hops in his direction, placing her well within wing reach of him.

"See you later, loser."

She threw her foot up, and the blade went with it.

It tunneled into the flesh right below his beak, digging through his throat and colliding with his neck bone, coming to a sudden stop. With another resolute push from Jewel, it scraped past the offending bone and erupted from the back of his neck. There was little sound to be heard or little blood to be seen, though the blade was spottily clad in red.

She released her weapon entirely and stepped back one pace, admiring the disgusting work of art before her. The stony end hung there like a poor man's pendant, as featureless as Florencio's dead gaze.

Gravity took over, and the macaw fell forwards. He never twitched or spoke again.

Jewel gave a sharp sigh of release and daintily walked over to his tepid corpse. She grabbed the stone and reclaimed the blade forcefully, leaving a large gash in his throat.

One down, two to go. Ahhh, I am really getting used to this! I have one dark, sick future ahead of me, and I can't wait to live it…

She trounced over to the female and looked upon her much like a collector judges a new piece of sculpture. She was merely a toy for Jewel, something to fool around with and then discard without a second thought.

She knew she had Nathalia's life in her claws, and she would steal it away with as much brutality as she could.

I have to get those eggs out of her, one way or another. But first, I need to immobilize her, just like I did with her too-brave mate! She needs to wake up, though.

In order to maximize her victim's suffering, Jewel ruefully slapped her in the face. Nathalia's consciousness was slow to manifest, taking ten minutes to revitalize its owner. When the Hyacinth female peeled her eyes open, she spied her captor standing on her left wing.

"Oh look, sleepy head is up! You ready to suffer, just like your mate did? Let me tell you, he lasted a wonderfully long time, and hopefully you will too."

When Nathalia tilted her head over and saw Florencio's mutilated corpse, something inside her snapped. She battled back her dizziness and leapt to her feet, clashing with her aggressor moments later.

"I'm going to… KILL YOU!" the Hyacinth yelled.

She clawed at Jewel's stomach and then tackled her to the ground, pinning her down advantageously. Using all of her strength, she wrestled to prevent Jewel from attacking her with the deadly tool in her talons.

"Why do you keep… fighting me? You will not… survive!"

"We'll see about… that!" Nathalia replied defiantly.

She began pecking Jewel all over her face, though the former's thrashing made most of her blows ineffective. Amidst Jewel's infernal rage was fear, fear that the female would get the upper hand and injure her gravely.

The concept of failure had never entered her mind until now, and she was growing very afraid of death.

I won't let her win! I've gone too far to turn back... and the only option is to… continue! I will not die!

Shielding her cut-adorned face with her wings, she twisted her feet, breaking Nathalia's grip on her tool. The female lost her balance and fell on Jewel's chest, biting away at her wings. Jewel pointed the scalpel straight up and jabbed wildly, relishing the piercing scream that followed.

Her talons grew warm as liquid trickled over them, and Jewel threw the attacker off. Her tool went with Nathalia, and only when Jewel staggered to her feet did she see why: The scalpel was protruding out of her lower back, in front of the base of her tail.

Its entry point was her cloaca, which was partially blocked by the stone. It looked as if Nathalia was bleeding internally, from the way blood was seeping around the shaft of Jewel's weapon and painting the pebble.

Jewel wobbled over to her assailant and wrenched her weapon free, ripping Nathalia open a few inches past her cloaca.

"ARGH! What did you… do to me? Unh… it HURTS!"

The stinging Jewel felt radiating from the web of cuts on her face made her vision hazy, and she blinked furiously to clear away the tears.

Her chest heaving, she replied, "You've got… courage, bitch. It will make me… feel so good… to watch your courage run out…"

Nathalia rose to her feet, but the searing heat in between her legs zapped her energy in seconds. She collapsed onto her chest, almost hyperventilating to try and assuage the pain.

She had done all she could to preserve her life and the lives of her unborn children, but she knew it was all over. Her mate was already gone, and there was no point in her trying to out-fight the monster named Jewel.

They were both tired and weak, but she was the one bleeding out.

Jewel hobbled over and raised her mace in the air, and Nathalia braced herself, thinking she was going to have her skull bashed in. The loud crack to the left of her, followed by the crippling tsunami of agony in her wing convinced her otherwise.

"AHHH! You broke my WING!"

Her head swam deeply, and she nearly felt herself go under.

Only Jewel's cutting voice kept her suspended above the abyss of unconsciousness: "Damn right… I did! Now you won't be going anywhere! I'd like to see you… try to hurt me now."

She attempted to stand, but she needed both of her wings to push off with. Her left wing buckled instantly, folding awkwardly halfway along its length and drowning her mind in a second excruciating wave.

"Please… just… kill me!" she begged.

Jewel chuckled in a guttural tone and replied, "I was going to anyway, so that was a stupid thing to say."

Nathalia swiped pitifully at Jewel with her right wing, only to have it grabbed and glued to the floor.

Jewel dropped her sinister tool and declared, "If I screwed one wing up, I have to do the other."

Jewel gripped Nathalia's wing in her beak like a vise and slowly started to bend it upwards. Jewel's body weight, applied to the wing by her feet, was enough to counteract the upward force she was exerting.

Nathalia could feel her bones begin to ache more and more, but the female did not stop. The pain in her body doubled as her wing was bent into an unnatural curve, and then her thin bones could take no more.

With a fast crunching noise, the bones shattered, and Jewel recoiled.

She tripped over Nathalia's neck and hit the floor hard, feeling humiliated as she jumped back up. Pride and elation took over when she saw Nathalia's freshly-broken wing.

She succeeded in splintering the bone, causing the ends to pierce her skin and jut out like ivory spines. Tiny amounts of blood spilled from the tears in her skin.

"What are you… waiting for? Do it… already! Slit my throat… or smash my skull…" she ordered in rapid pants.

"Who are you to tell me what to do? I have a different method of execution in mind, so shut the hell up."

Jewel constricted her throat and lifted her a few inches off of the floor, then flipped her onto her back. When both of her fractured wings met the floor, she screamed until her voice went hoarse, and then her vision faded to black. She felt like she was flying away, but then a bolt of pain brought her back into her body, as ironic as it was.

Standing between her legs was her killer, pressing a silver and ruby blade lightly against her swollen belly.

"What are you… doing?"

Jewel increased the pressure and replied, "Borrowing your eggs. You'll be getting one back though, so don't worry! But you won't enjoy what I have in mind."

"No…" Nathalia countered in dumbfounded desperation.

"Yes…" Jewel said with jittery emphasis.

Jewel massaged Nathalia's belly with the blade, searching for the exact spot where the eggs were. Upon finding it, she moved the scalpel to the left of the twin bulges.

"Why did you… ahhh!"

All of a sudden, Jewel pushed the blade through her skin, burying it up to the handle. She then hauled the blade towards her on the diagonal, slicing through Nathalia's thin flesh with gruesome ease.

As the pregnant female bucked in response, Jewel withdrew the knife and stabbed it into a spot to the tight of the eggs. She then slashed another diagonal in the opposite direction, causing Nathalia to groan and squirm.

When Jewel removed her warm knife, Nathalia's belly was already sodden with her blood.

The lacerations crisscrossed in an all-too-familiar shape, and Jewel hungrily said, "X marks the spot, bitch!"

The infernal Spix's Macaw set her tool down and grasped one loose flap of skin on one side of the "X."

She peeled it back with a calculated jerk, then did the same with the remaining side. Fresh blood spattered Jewel's upper body, but since her coat was already caked with Florencio's from earlier, she didn't even flinch.

After licking some off of her beak, she swooned with hellish joy as she saw Nathalia's guts before her, nicely piled like a cannibal's dinner. Most importantly, the familiar bulge in Nathalia's bowels that held her eggs was just visible near the upper edge of the horrendous hole.

Hell yes! I wonder how they taste. Well, there's no better time to find out.

Nathalia would have passed out had Jewel not clenched her blade and ran it under her intestines. She raised the scalpel slowly, unwinding and lifting the stringy pink tube out of Nathalia inch by inch.

When significant lengths of her bowels were suspended above Nathalia's convulsing form, Jewel smiled and slashed them in two, dropping her weapon afterwards. The dominant female reached deep into the horrid mess of guts and encircled the intestines above the eggs' resting place.

With a gracefully heinous motion, she retracted her foot, driving the eggs along inexorably.

The first oval emerged from the severed end of Nathalia's intestines, and Jewel picked it up carefully. It deformed in her grasp, since its outer reinforcing shell had not yet been laid down. A pale yellow liquid churned within, and when Jewel squinted, she could make out a dark blob.

"N-no… p-please… I c-can't let y-you…" Nathalia murmured, her voice a gurgle as she fought to breathe.

"From the looks of it, you're minutes away from death. Sorry, but I gotta wrap things up. All the energy it took to take you and your mate down has left me thirsty, more than anything else. This egg should work nicely…"

While a stricken, half-dead Nathalia watched, Jewel tossed the flimsy egg into her beak, then chomped down with a satisfying squish. Jewel blinked as she chewed, mildly put off by the alien taste of the yolk as it flooded her oral cavity.

Nonetheless, its flavor and consistency changed for the better as her saliva fused with the yolk, and she heartily swallowed several times.

"Wow, what a rush! I've never eaten something so odd, but it wasn't that bad. Thanks for your donation, Nathalia! It's rude to not share, so…"

Letting her unfinished sentence drift away, Jewel purged Nathalia of her second egg and crammed it into the latter's beak. Since Nathalia was unresponsive and was only managing to breathe, Jewel manually moved her beak in a chewing motion. Some of it emerged from the hole in Nathalia's beak, clumping her neck feathers together.

When the gooey sludge was properly mixed, the shameless Spix massaged the Hyacinth's throat and got the liquid to slide down. She began gagging on the congealed slime, and Jewel realized she was going to suffocate.

Jewel cocked her head in false pity and chided, "I guess it's time for you to go. I had fun tonight, Nathalia, so thanks! Time to send you packing."

She squeezed Nathalia's throat as tightly as she could, watching the whites of her eyes fade to a pale blue hue. The female's grinding heaves quieted after fifteen seconds, vanishing completely after fifteen more.

Unlike in Florencio's case, her eyelids sealed off her eyes as she died.

Jewel sighed once more and stepped away, alternating her gaze between the male's corpse and the female's.

"Yeah, today was a good day. I've taken care of… six macaws by now. Not bad for a newbie and her handy instrument of death."

Jewel's bloodshot gaze eventually shot to the hollow's exit, greeted by a rolling sea of darkness indicative of night. The egg had moistened her parched throat, but had not yet injected her system with energy.

As her rage, desire, and pleasure subsided, a dull ache swooped in to replace them. Her entire face was sore, and only now could she truly register the aftermath of her facial mistreatment.

Curse that rogue female! She may be dead, but these cuts and bruises won't heal just because of that. I'll have to be more careful next time. I guess I've learned that birds can mess you up when their lives are put in danger…

She was definitely not keen on leaving the hollow and choosing another to sleep in, even though she would be resting in the company of corpses. That fact was of little consequence, and so she chose to make this formerly-reserved home hers for the night.

She trotted over to Florencio's corpse and dragged him over to the far side of the hollow by the scruff. As she crouched down on her stomach and used his back as a comfy pillow, she stole a lingering glance at the female.

I'll have to stick a pink orchid in her guts before I ditch this place tomorrow. There's no way I would forget, anyhow. Shouldn't be too hard to find an orchid vine nearby.

As exhaustion gradually usurped her brain, Jewel felt her sensory inputs dwindle, most notably the constant throbbing in her face. Yawning widely, she nuzzled into the male's cool back and allowed her eyelids to flutter shut.

She wandered like a lost soul in a valley of darkness, a surreal land filled with shifting shadows and creatures composed of inky smoke themselves. By the powers of her deranged, forever-scarred brain, she was gifted with a two-sided stick not unlike the one she possessed in the real world.

Even in her made-up realm did she insist on maiming any being she happened to come across, be they bird or otherwise. Every time she dispatched a victim in her enticing nightmare, her slumbering form shivered, and grinned.

That next morning, she felt as if she had been reborn during the night. She stretched her wings and preened to work out the faint tightness in her muscles. She felt rejuvenated and healthy, but what truly brought a smile to her face was the crime scene around her.

This is all my doing, she thought amicably. I think I'll have to track down another family today and have some fun! Hmmm… chicks should be a nice change of pace. So weak and helpless… they'll be perfect!

As her gaze lingered on the dissected female, she recalled the mental note she had created last night. She skipped from the hollow and searched the nearby area for any respectable orchids.

There were so many vines gripping the trees in the area, the variety was endless.

She plucked the largest pink bloom she could find and carried it back to the stolen hollow. Neatly she eased it in between the female's cold organs, her smile turning as sharp as a needle. Once the deed was done, she snatched up her special tool and strode to the lip.

The sun had been up for two hours at most, giving her the opportunity to spend the day searching to her heart's vile delight.

Should I look for Scarlet Macaw chicks or Military Macaw chicks? Blue and Gold Macaw chicks or Red and Green Macaw chicks? Hmmm… I might as well go after the first set of babies I can find…

With her choice made, she lifted off into the virgin sunlight and plotted a course for the east. She made a quick pit-stop to stash yet another pink orchid in her head feathers, and then resumed her journey.

She was a vessel of untold evil on the hunt, and woe to the unsuspecting chicks who happened to snag her attention…


In the first week of her spree, a total of nine birds of different species succumbed to her thirst for death – not counting the murder of her family and the two Hyacinth Macaws.

The same day of the Hyacinth fiasco, a snoozing motmot couple was hastily awoken, only to have their tongues gouged out, their tails cut off, and their necks broken.

Later that evening, after Jewel had given in to a nap, she came upon the home a Military Macaw and its three chicks. Jewel sawed off the single father's feet after a terrible fight – one in which she received a deep slash on her back, one that was sure to leave a scar.

She beat him to a bloody pulp, immobilizing him, and then went after his children. He watched in horror as she decapitated them and poured their blood into her beak as if they were living fluid containers. She blinded him and ended his life by jamming the scalpel so far into his mouth that it pierced the back of his neck.

After a one day break, she stalked a pair of hummingbirds to their cramped hollow during the afternoon hours. Their pointy beaks were too thin to do any damage, and so she took care of them swiftly.

Jewel turned cannibal and ate the male while he was still alive, the female subdued by one of her feet and forced to watch. The male's feathery body was tough to swallow, but a decent chewing made it bearable.

Jewel impaled the female's tiny midsection with the scalpel and planted her tool upright on the wall. The evil macaw watched for twenty minutes straight as the hummingbird bled out. When she finally lost her life, Jewel flung the body aside and snoozed until the next day.

After a two day break – a time in which she thought of ways to more creatively kill her victims and reflected on her new life – she challenged herself to hunt down her biggest prey to date: a semi-mature Harpy Eagle.

After spending one day determining when the eagle rested and foraged, Jewel stalked the female to her aerie and attacked. She stabbed the large bird over and over, eventually weakening it to the point where she could torture it.

However, the eagle's talons sliced her all over and temporarily blinded her in her left eye. Jewel summoned up enough of her waning resolve to hack the eagle's chest into ribbons and finally slit her throat.

Bloodied, aching, and exhausted – though the wounds on her pride were equally bad – she fell into a deep, recuperative sleep. It was two days before she awoke after her brush with death, and she only wished she could return to sleep's numb embrace.

For the next six days she struggled to heal, the harpy's flesh her only source of sustenance.

The enjoyment she would have derived from eating it was repressed by the seriousness of her fragile, agonized state. She willed herself not to get sick or die, despite the little good she thought it would do.

The sunny, rain-free, and occasionally windy weather seemed to be in her favor, but to her, the injuries dotting her body still couldn't heal fast enough.

The array of cuts slowly sealed up in the four days after her death-like slumber, but her eye ate up two more days after that in order to function. When she first blinked it open, it was cloudy and dry, and she was unable to fly down from the elevated aerie.

When the fogginess on that side of her vision lifted thirty-six hours later, she deemed herself fit to fly. She distanced herself from the smelly nest and sought out the nearest available hollow. She was too low-spirited to try and kill any birds that day, and she knew that she had some changes to make.

Flopping down in a long-deserted living space in a cannonball tree, she set about reorganizing her priorities.

She vowed never to prey on any bird larger than a macaw, for the heaps of pleasure derived from taking down such large animals was simply not worth the risk. She also swore that she would find a fit male macaw and forcibly make him impregnate her.

Her solo operation had been going remarkably well, but the eagle incident convinced her that she needed backup, that she needed an accomplice to fight with her and defend her. Raising her chick – if she had more than one, she would wait until they hatched, and then cull the weak ones – would tie her down for a month or so, but the benefits were highly worth it.

On top of that, loneliness had hovered in her mind for some time, and a child was the perfect remedy. It would perhaps be easier to steal a chick from some other family, but her desire for sex would not allow for such a mundane capture.

It did not matter what species of male she found and raped. So long as she could create a healthy chick – one that she could train and control – she didn't care.

Just before sunset on that defining day, she built herself a fine nest. She slept fitfully that night, eager to experience what the future would provide for her. With her mind at ease, her body restored, and her trusty weapon under her belly, she was ready. Oh so ready.

Two sunrises after her revelation, she resumed her ill-intentioned forays into the jungle. She spied a few males here and there, but none suited her fancy. It wasn't until she came across a solitary Blue and Gold Macaw did her opinions change.

As she had done so many times before, she stalked him covertly. After a few hours of observing him and judging his features, she knew she had found her prize. He headed home in the early afternoon and fell asleep.

Jewel chose to do the same in a tree a short flight away. If she was going to make her unannounced visit unforgettable, she needed to store her energy up.

When the sun was due to be usurped by the stars, she exited her slumber and went after him, ravenous with desire. Her boisterous entrance into his home efficiently startled him, and Jewel's siege began.

She pushed herself to the limit to render him powerless, her anger only increasing as he opened a few of her old lacerations. Pinning him down, she partially sheared the skin off his right wing, going down to the bone in a few paces.

His fate sealed and his body wracked with pain, she set upon him in the cruelest of manners.

She sexually abused him at a tender speed, hell-bent on prolonging the stimulation. His brain was not programmed to resist the flood of endorphins, despite the steady influx of distress his wing created as she thrust against him. He sobbed and sobbed as his excitement reached its peak, and then his brain ordered his body to lose control.

He could feel his seed abandoning him as his cries of tortured ecstasy climbed out of his beak.

When the erotic feelings faded, his blood-starved and overheated body gave out. He became a prisoner to unconsciousness, silently pleading for the crazed female to leave him be.

He would never wake up to see if she had.

Jewel raped the silent male once more, yet her second orgasm pushed her past the limit of endurance. Her pulse racing and her mind dizzy with ecstasy, she knew she could not go another round. She punctured the male's skull with the scalpel and left it entombed in his forehead, allowing herself to slip into a greedy nap thereafter.

By the time she emerged, darkness had claimed the jungle and the city alike. She wanted to flee to her own home, but navigation was far too difficult in such dim conditions.

Coercing herself into a half-sleep, she waited out the night, ever conscious of the male's fertile seed inside of her.

As soon as dawn broke, Jewel charted her way back to her comfy abode and settled into her new-and-improved nest. It was now time for her to play the waiting game and see if her uncouth union had been a success.

She confined herself there for sunrise after sunrise, her initial waning as she pondered the possibility that her body had rejected his seed. On the fifth day of her brooding seclusion, something smooth shifted inside her belly.

With unreal joy, she realized she was carrying one lone egg.

To ensure that it developed properly, she spent many hours that day gathering a stockpile of fresh fruit. She topped off her plentiful pile with a covering of leaves to defend it from the moisture-robbing Rio heat.

She counted off the days one by one, the egg growing, hardening, and descending all the while. She ate often and well, putting as much nutrition into her body as she could without making herself sick.

The end stage of her pregnancy was uncomfortable, and she was dying to lay it just so that she could spread her wings for a while. A nasty storm inundated the area twelve days after she first felt it.

On the thirteenth day, while the rain was still clogging the sky in torrents, she laid her egg.

Sturdy and as white as a summer cloud, she loved it beyond measure. For all her unbridled violence and her blacklist of sins, she vowed to care for it to the best of her ability. The storm surrendered its dominion two days after the arrival of her egg, and Jewel bundled it up with leaves before going out for her first flight in a long while.

Due to her devotion to the egg, she returned to it after frolicking about for just over an hour, having used that time to restock her dwindling stash of fruit. With a sufficient food supply sitting within talon-reach and a way to protect her egg in case she felt like taking a break, she set up an incubation routine that balanced her needs and the needs of her child.

Going out no more than two hours each day, she tended to it with determined fervor. The fruit served to keep her healthy and fit, but her laziness meant that she would most likely gain a pound or two of weight.

Cooing sweet nothings to the oval under her belly, she felt her anxiety building with each coming and going of the sun. Just over three weeks after her romp with the male, a hybrid macaw chick came into the world.

As far as the ecstatic and grimly enthusiastic Jewel could tell, the naked pink blob was a female. When her feather coat finally grew and fluffed out, Jewel's suspicions were confirmed.

A female it was, her mixed parentage evident in the tint of her plumage.

Her entire body was a rich navy blue, while her wings were solely painted a lush gold hue. Her amber eyes glowed in good health and often did Jewel find herself lost in them.

Jewel could hardly comprehend the fact that she was a mother, but the innocent evidence was sitting between her feet. Jewel had so much planned for her daughter – Adriana, she rapidly decided to call her – and all that was left was nourish her daughter until she was mature enough to learn.

And then, Jewel told herself, she would teach her daughter that the strong were meant to rule the weak.

She would drill into her the belief the lives of their inferiors were of little value, things meant to be taken from them so that the strong could survive. She would instruct her daughter to hate all life save for her own and her mother's, instruct her how to use her anger to overpower others, and ultimately instruct her that everyone was prey.

The first word tiny Adriana spoke was "Mommy," and that was the sign for Jewel to begin her sinister role as lesson-giver.

At first, Jewel was frustrated due to her inability to tell if Adriana could even understand what she was saying. The phrase "I love you" came next, and while endearing to Jewel, it was not exactly what she wanted to hear.

Jewel repeated over and over her beliefs about life and how glorious her lifestyle was, hardly the things any sane mother would even dream of.

Naturally, as Adriana grew, she spewed out as many questions about her situation as she did about Jewel's morals.

"Where is Daddy?" she would ask incessantly. "Why can't we go see him?" or "Is he not living anymore?"

Jewel calmly told her she would answer those questions later, but Adriana's youthful curiosity never abated. It got to the point where Jewel almost hated her daughter. Several times she stopped herself from striking the tiny female, for fear that she would injure her beyond repair or alter her personality to one that loathed violence.

To control her wild emotions, Jewel causally told her she would be "right back" and left the hollow to simmer down. Every instance she returned as a calm mother, Adriana was either completely silent, or asleep.

It was the worst case of "tough love" Jewel could impose upon her daughter, but she knew it was for the best.

It was only a matter of time before Adriana would realize that her mother's intentions were selfish. In her defense, Jewel hoped that her pitiless lessons would twist her daughter into someone who was selfish as well.

A month and a half into Jewel's spree – when Adriana was around four weeks old – the decently-sized chick seemed to finally gain some insight into what "hate" and "anger" and "weakness" were. Her understanding of the outside world was dim in comparison, since Jewel had rarely allowed her to leave the hollow – whether it was by her side or not.

Now that Adriana was decently exposed to the foundations of Jewel's horrid existence, the elder macaw switched tactics.

Jewel resolutely covered many interesting and angelic topics about the world and how it worked. They spent many long hours touring the jungle and carefully studying the fauna and flora. Adriana especially enjoyed the exciting exploration of Rio itself, seeing how organized and playful the city-dwellers were.

Either way, the maturing Adriana soaked up all the information showed and taught to her like a sponge.

Over the next month, her mind grew as fast as her body – which exhibited a cute version of Jewel's eye-catching beauty. In their travels, they noted that the jungle was lacking somewhat in bird life. Jewel attributed it to the fact that word was starting to spread about her crimes, and that the survivors were being driven off.

There was still a reasonable amount of such life left, however, and she was in no rush. She was more concerned that she would soon be drawing unwanted attention to herself and her daughter.

She and Adriana traveled more carefully as a result, but the frequency of such travels wasn't reduced.

When Adriana was eight weeks old, Jewel deemed her ready to see firsthand what it was like to see a life being stolen. Jewel targeted a speedy hummingbird that she had spied sucking on the flowers on a bush behind her home.

She ordered her daughter to snatch the hummingbird and bring it to her. Adriana complied and snuck out to a branch suspended above the berry clump that the hummingbird was eating from.

Adriana performed a rapid dive, but the tiny creature's zippy movements caused her to miss.

Acting like she had fallen, she pretended to limp around on her left foot. The concerned hummingbird buzzed in front of her and asked if she was okay. She paused for a brief second and then shot her uninjured left foot out, seizing him around his skinny throat.

His efforts to break free were futile, and she silenced his pleas for help by choking him as she flew back up to her mother. Her mother's huge smile empowered her, and she transferred the panicked bird to Jewel.

Easing her claw into his cloaca, she pinned him to the floor belly up. His shrill cries for help were quickly silenced as Jewel gave him a dizzying peck on his skull. She then used her sturdy beak to simply crush his teardrop-sized legs and cleanly snip one of his wings off.

Jewel withdrew her claw and threw the bird at the wall.

He tried vainly to crawl from the hollow using his one good wing, but the chuckling Adriana took charge and sent him hurtling at the back wall once more. The male's delicate back broke on impact.

Jewel praised her daughter's participation and then brought her scalpel down on the dying male. She sliced him clean in half and waited the few seconds it took for him to perish.

Adriana was slightly disturbed by the sight of his dissected body, but the longer she stared, the more intrigued she grew. As she studied its thin guts, she remarked that watching him trying to crawl away was the most fun part of the entire ordeal.

Jewel was very impressed by her immunity to violence and the fact that she saw the murder as "fun." Then and there, Jewel came to the conclusion that Adriana was ready to dispatch a bird on her own.

Upon hearing her mother's decision, Adriana donned a sinister smile and accepted the offer.

Jewel planned to train her for two more weeks to show her a slew of improvised techniques, and then it would be Adriana's turn. In that two week period, Adriana learned how to pluck a wing, disembowel, scalp, and cut out a heart – four avian creatures died to procure upon Adriana that knowledge.

Being as those procedures ate up one week, Jewel spent the remaining week taking lives on her own. Adriana remained at home, selecting which species she wanted to maim and admiring her mother's weapon.

Her ninth week of life soon turned into her tenth, and on one overcast, gloomy day, Adriana's first major life goal was fulfilled.

While she and her mother were searching for an afternoon meal of star fruit, a spot of color down below caught their eyes. Upon closer inspection, they saw it was a male Hyacinth Macaw bathing under a skimpy waterfall.

Adriana told her mother that that macaw's life was the one she wanted to claim.

Heeding her choice, they watched in silent humor as he cleaned and preened, silently urging him to finish and fly back home. After ten minutes of tense observation, he finished his maintenance session and left the waterfall. Adriana and Jewel tracked him as silently as the nonexistent wind.

From a mid-level branch merely one tree away, they watched as he yawned and hopped into his nest for a midday siesta. Five seconds later, Jewel's daughter struck while brandishing her mother's weapon.

The lightly dozing male didn't even know what hit him as Adriana dealt him a blow to the side of his skull that sent him into a somersault. Blinded in his right eye, nearly all of the attacks he directed at Adriana were dodged.

Jewel stood near the entrance with her wings crossed, a bemused spectator to the brawl she was sure her daughter was going to win.

Adriana only received a few light scratches and bruises before subduing the male via a flurry of mace hits all over his body – the male being slightly less than twice her size.

Jewel's request was for her daughter to "surprise her."

Brushing aside her mother's standard slaying methods, Adriana did just that. Further dissuading the male from retaliating by selectively slashing the sides of his neck, she then flipped him over onto his stomach and went to work.

She made a deep horizontal slash at the base of his neck and another at the base of his tail. She then connected those two cuts by drawing a vertical laceration on either side of his spine. The rectangular strip of flesh peeled away with ease, exposing the sobbing, convulsing male's stark white backbone.

Her mother watched with an astounded expression as Adriana hacked away at the spaces between the vertebrae with the scalpel. It was repetitive and tiring due to the toughness of the discs, but she severed his spine at the base of his neck and tail.

His bloodied and flexible spine came loose with a few sharp tugs, which Adriana then tossed at her mother's feet in a dramatic manner. Jewel nearly fainted before running over to her daughter and lifting her off the floor in a powerful hug.

While the male gasped for air and moaned his final words, Jewel kissed her daughter repeatedly and congratulated her for topping all expectations. To celebrate Adriana's ingenious and disgusting show, Jewel used the spine as a paintbrush.

She dipped it into the large lake of blood around the dead male and coated the walls with a drooling red sheen.

Jewel then went out and brought back a small feast of fruit for her and her daughter to share. It was then that Adriana tasted blood for the first time, discovering that a mango doused in to warm liquid amplified its flavor and lent it a tangy aftertaste.

Adriana relaxed her overworked system and dined happily with Jewel, chatting and laughing about the victory. When the fruit pile was consumed, the macaws turned in early for a restful sleep, though the lingering excitement stalled the onset of their unconsciousness. Their full bellies and saturated brains kept them asleep until the next morning.

The thick sheet of dreary gray clouds still resisted the sun, and the air was colder than the previous day. Huddling on the lip of the hollow for warmth after a light breakfast, mother and daughter began to plan out their sadistic future.

As far as they knew, there was no one brave enough – or foolish enough – to confront them and try to put them down. A few flocks of fleeing birds passed from time to time, but they did not give chase.

It seemed that many families were evacuating for safety concerns, and if anything, the macaws were proud to know that they were the reason.

They could fly as far as they wanted, the females professed out loud, but they would always be found, and hunted.

Ironically, Jewel knew their future was bright and was sure to last practically a lifetime. She would be able to accomplish so much more with her partner in crime, Adriana, and she could not be happier.

Even when Jewel herself grew old and gray, she was sure that she would have passed on her knowledge to a few more of her own children, so that they could continue spreading terror wherever they went. She was compelled to convince Adriana to raise a few evil spawn of her own, but that would have to wait until she was a few years older.

With Adriana's "graduation" from the school of violence completed, she was ready to take on the world, and spill as much of its blood as she could.

And Jewel would be right there beside her.


Life had suddenly become many orders of magnitude tougher for Sean the Scarlet Macaw, and this day was no different.

He rarely left his home – one he shared with his sister, Hailey – save to eat, bathe, or use the restroom. She hardly left either, and he took it upon himself to provide for her most of the time. When he did leave, he exercised the utmost caution, so much so that it was like a self-inflicted paranoia.

He knew they were out there, prowling for their next victim or victims, and he left nothing to chance. He scraped by from one dread-filled day to the next, not knowing if he would survive to see the following sunrise.

If he chanced upon them, he knew his life would end after a period of ungodly suffering, plain and simple.

He had willfully forgotten their former names – Jewel and her daughter Adriana – labeling them the "demon" and her "spawn" respectively. "The Pink Orchid Killer" was another name the mother had acquired, courtesy of the ever-dwindling populace in the area.

Sean had noticed this trend early on, shortly after two macaw couples were found slain in the most gruesome of ways. Fear spread like a plague, and small flocks of blood-related and mated birds of all species slipped away each day.

Those very first murders had occurred three months ago. Now, it was a tall order to find any avian creature in the area.

His mother and father visited not a month before to tell him that they were lying extremely low as well. They had temporarily relocated to a more distant hollow to further reduce the possibility of discovery. He had not seen them since, but instinct assured him that they were doing fine.

Sean adopted their example and opted to stay and hide as well, and his sister sided with him fully.

He hoped that the sinister pair of macaws would eventually realize that there was no one left to maim, and depart for some other patch of jungle. After all, there were so many hollows in the sanctuary that it would be impossible for the twisted duo to check them all.

Knowing what would happen elsewhere when the demon and her spawn flew away made him sick, but there was not a thing he could do.

He was a normally open and optimistic macaw, and the recent chain of events had turned him into a stubborn coward. His constant watchfulness and high-strung attitude made every day a strain on his mind, but he struggled on.

That particular day went off without trouble, as did so many others, but he was still exhausted.

Stepping out just after sunset to snatch a quick dinner for him and his sister, he returned home and ate with her. After the papaya had been consumed, he bid her goodnight and watched her settle into her nest. She drifted off to sleep within a few minutes.

Walking over to his enlarged nest, he peered inside to make sure that his weapon was still there. It was. The good-sized stone was nothing compared to the fiendish staff the demon used, but he had a fair shot at stopping her should she somehow find his home.

All he had to do was knock her and her daughter out, and then he would find some way to swiftly put an end to them. If he failed, well, he didn't care to think of that outcome.

He climbed sullenly into his circular bed and cast one last glance out of his hollow, drinking in the deep orange hues of the plants outside that were stained by the aging sun's rays. Tucking his head under his wing – and adjusting himself so that the stone wasn't pricking his stomach – he closed his eyes, lulling himself to sleep by the sound of his own slow breathing.

As night fell and the air became cool under the moon's chilled stare, Sean retreated into his dreams and shoved away his concerns.

In his subconscious he knew that that sense of peace would not last forever. His peace was only internal, as the outside world was a dangerous place, and so he relished every second of it. He felt nothing but innocent happiness as he slept, and some of that residual elation remained after he awoke the next morning.

He stirred and opened his eyes, bringing his senses to full alertness in a matter of seconds. He looked around fervently for Hailey, and cracked a wide smile when he saw her preening quietly in her nest.

"Good morning, sis," he said while yawning.

She paused in her work and looked his way affectionately.

"Good morning, bro."

"How are you feeling?" he asked sincerely.

"Just fine, Sean. You?"

"The same. That rest helped me get rid of my exhaustion from yesterday."

"That's good," she replied, then set about nibbling her left wing feathers.

He took to preening his own plumage for a minute or so, until her pleasant voice distracted him: "I'm gonna go out and take a bath, alright?"

A spark of anxiety welled up inside him, and he felt a small frown form on his face.

"But the pond is a good five minute flight from here! That's way too long for you to be out in the open. I don't think you should go. I really don't."

"But I need to. My feathers are a mess. When was the last time you cleaned up?"

"I… can't remember, honestly."

"You see?" she replied emphatically, hopping from her nest and striding over to him.

"We both need a bath. And it doesn't have to be a long one. We can be there and back in fifteen minutes tops."

"Given the situation of this jungle, sacrifices will have to be made, sister. I'm not going, and that is that. If you want to, then I can't stop you, sadly."

"But if you come along, you can keep watch while I clean up, and then we can switch."

He eased her backwards with his wings and clambered out of his nest.

Looking her dead in the eyes, he said sternly, "No. The demon may be out early looking for birds that are doing what we plan to do, and I won't take that chance."

She flashed him a hard glare of understanding and slight irritation.

"Fine. I doubt she's awake, so I'll take that chance."

Despite her resilient tone, she gave him a tender hug.

"I love you, Sean. I'll be back shortly, so don't worry. Nothing will happen to me."

"Oh, I'll be worrying all right. I can't help it."

He donned a half smile and added, "I love you too. Just please, please be careful. If you see or hear anything suspicious, come home right away."

"You got it, Sean. Bye."

"Bye, sis. I'll try and gather some food for us to eat."

"I'll be looking forward to that," she said merrily, then began ambling to the rim of the hollow.

He trailed her and watched her fly away, flying low to the ground at a gentle speed. When at last she disappeared, he sat there for a short while, surveying the trees for any signs of life.

There were no squawks, chirps, or whistles to be heard, and once again he realized he was truly alone. He didn't even spy any glimpses of the evil pair of macaws, and so he deemed it safe to go out and forage.

Hustling over to a young banana tree across the river in front of his home, he plucked one and set it down into the hollow, then went out for a second. Moving like a tricolor ghost, he made very little sound as he fluttered from tree to tree, doing his best to be as inconspicuous as possible.

He couldn't help but feel proud of himself as he peeled the skin off of a banana and took a bite out of the narrow end. The mushy yellow fruit was deliciously soft and sweet, and he closed his eyes in wonder as he chewed.

Being careful to control his appetite, he chewed thoroughly and swallowed before slicing off another chunk with his beak. He focused his thoughts on his sister while he ate in the corner, his eyes darting to the opening at least five times per bite-and-chew cycle.

When he was halfway done with the curved fruit, he heard a faint flutter of wings from somewhere outside. Thinking it was his sister racing hurriedly for the tree, he ditched the banana and slowly made his way to the oval entrance.

Did she see the demon? Is she coming back to warn me? Or is it just a random bird flying by?

His head now swimming with questions, he stopped a few inches from the rim and stuck only his head out.

"Hailey?" he called with moderate volume.

"Is that you? Where are you?"

A loud burst of wing flaps heralded the answer, and he drew away to make room for his sister. His muscles tensed up as he awaited her arrival, a myriad of questions yearning to spew from his beak.

Moments later, a large bird flew into the hollow and landed roughly, trailed by another half its size. One was a light blue, the other dark blue with golden wings.

All too soon, Sean realized who he was looking at, and he nearly fainted from the shock: the demon and her daughter had found him.

He staggered back, and the only word to slip from his beak was: "No..."

They both pierced him with triumphant stares reeking with deadly intentions.

"Why hello there, neighbor! You sure seem surprised to see us. We should be the ones who are surprised, you know. There's not many of you left around here."

Sean felt dread-laden tears well up in his eyes, and he began to tremble uncontrollably. The larger female stepped to within a few inches of his nest, not paying an ounce of attention to the stone that lay in it.

"What's the matter, big boy? Aren't you going to greet us?"

Oh God, no, please no! This can't be happening. I must be dreaming. Please let this be a dream!

His mind was screaming at him to do something, and his best bet was to grab his rock and start swinging. The demon's daughter was the one holding the evil staff, and so he figured his odds for escape were improved, if only slightly.

I don't want to die! I have to get out of here! I have to find Hailey. Please let this work!

The female huffed and darkened her expression into one of contempt.

"Well, this Scarlet Macaw has forgotten his manners. Oh well, I think I just forgot mine too. Adriana, give me my tool."

The instant she turned away to accept the two-sided weapon, he sprung for the stone and jerked it out of his nest. With one more hop, he lunged at the smaller female and knocked her down before the transfer was complete.

"You won't get me today!" he yelled, and then slammed it down between her eyes.

They rolled back as she blacked out and went limp from the powerful strike. His way now clear, he dropped the stone and spread his wings for flight.

He would never get the chance.

"You'll pay for that!" the female screeched.

Sean felt a white-hot spurt of pain issue from the base of his right wing, and then from the side of his chest. Something cold and sharp had burrowed into him, slicing tissue and scraping bone as it went.

"ARRGGH!" he cried involuntarily, collapsing on top of the young macaw's body and pouring forth tears. He felt a third systemic jolt of pain as the other female yanked him away from the entrance by his tail feathers.

She sprinted around him and began fretting over her daughter, slapping her with her wings in an attempt to wake her.

Sean, meanwhile, lay there in excruciating pain, eventually discovering the reason for his crippling agony: a large portion of the staff's length – as well as the mace on its end – stuck out above the spot where his wing met his body.

Over a half inch of the polished silver blade protruded just under his shoulder, vermillion steadily dripping off of its tip. The rest was hidden underneath his blood-dampened feathers, though he could feel, rather than see, his life fluid spreading through his scarlet plumage.

She stabbed the knife into my shoulder... so that I couldn't fly away… he thought with infinite dismay and sadness.

Indeed, he tried in vain to lift his wing, as it would not respond. The nerves and muscles had been cut and shredded, rendering it completely useless.

I'm stuck here now… and I'm going to die…

He fought to get to his feet, but his strength was seeping out of him as fast as his blood. The demon gave up on trying to rouse her daughter after thirty seconds, letting out a leaden sigh of remorse and rage.

She whirled to face him and let out the most guttural snarl he had ever heard.

"You fucked up… big time! Do you know how pissed I am? Do you know how much I am going to make you suffer and scream for doing that to her?"

"Unh… please... just let me go. I don't want… to die! I want to live!"

Mustering up all the courage he could, he opened his beak wide and yelled as loud as he could, "HAILEY! I NEED HELP!"

The female squawked again in fury and ran towards him, vanishing beyond his field of view. He felt the air rush from his chest as she jumped on his back, shaking his wing and causing another stream of mind-scorching pain to flood his body. He wheezed desperately, his throat made hoarse from the volume of his shout.

"Ahhh! My shoulder! I can't breathe! GET OFF!" he pleaded.

"Shut the hell UP! Do you honestly think that I would let you go, after what you did to her? You're the stupidest bird I've ever met!"

His vision was steadily darkening due to his lack of oxygen, coupled with the fact that his head was swimming terribly. She thrust her head down next to his and peered at his right eye with her left.

"Oh no, I'm not going to let you pass out. This should help!"

Moments before Sean slipped away, she climbed off of him and grabbed the stone with her left foot. Giving it a rapid twist and jerk, she ruined his tissue even more and removed the blade.

Ironically, the pain that ensued kick-started his brain and returned his consciousness to him. As he sucked in a huge amount of air, only to release it via a rattling shout, she licked the blade clean with her tongue.

She then knelt next to him and slashed the scalpel across his cheek, opening up a thin slit that began to earnestly leak blood. He whimpered and shivered pathetically, his tears swirling with the pool of blood forming under his gruesome shoulder joint.

"You think that was bad? I'm just getting started. No one lays a talon on my daughter. EVER!"

In one cruel motion, she raised the blade and aimed carefully before plunging it into his wound. A spray of droplets coated her upper body, while the rest landed at her feet and on the wall.

He arched his back as if having a seizure, a choked gurgle erupting from his throat.

"Did that hurt, bitch? Good! I'm sure you can tell that your wing is all fucked up. I don't think you need it anymore."

She forced the blade to the left in an arc, grunting with the effort. She was halfway through when her blade met bone, and so she searched the jagged wound for the joint. Upon finding it, she sawed away at it like it was a log.

The space in between the bones was tiny, but she managed to dig deep and cut out most of the cartilage. Impaling his skin to the left of the bone, she finished the arc. Withdrawing her knife, she scrubbed the blade clean and set it down nonchalantly.

"I can't… you… please…" he moaned, his breathing deep and labored. The tears had stopped spilling from his eyes, a salty crust in their wake.

"Shut up already! When will you learn to do what I tell you? Maybe this will help."

She fastened her left foot around his wing bone, gripping it extra tight and applying a lustful smile on her face. She gave it a few good tugs, and the weakened joint eventually yielded.

His entire wing separated from his body, causing her to stumble back a few paces. After recovering, she chuckled grimly and walked in front of him, dragging it along nonchalantly.

She waved it in the air ostentatiously and remarked, "I think you lost something important. What will you do now? How will you ever get it back?"

After her poisonously taunting voice faded away, she tossed his wing to her right and planted herself in front of him. Seizing his skull with her right foot, she lifted it off of the ground and peered viciously into his hazy eyes.

"Too bad you didn't keep your mouth shut. I probably wouldn't have found you. But look at you now. A stupid, one-winged, weak little bastard! I wasn't expecting to get any action this morning. Oh, how quickly things change!"

"Urgh… just… just…"

"Just what? Spit it out!" she seethed.

"K-kill me a-already…"

"Hey, now that's a thought. Sure. How would you like to die?"

His only response was a string of shaky coughs and splutters.

Realizing it was a sign he was drawing closer and closer to death, she pounded his head into the floor and went over to her weapon of choice. Rooting herself over his tail, she flipped him over – a simple maneuver due to the loss of his wing.

Faint trickles of blood oozed from the gaping hole in his side and onto the bare floor, indicating he was nearly drained of blood. He stared blankly upwards, his head lolling side to side every few seconds.

His breath had accelerated within a short span of time, and he was now hyperventilating.

"The show's almost over, buddy. At least you get to stick around until the very end. It sure sucks to be you, and it sure is awesome to be me! So long, bitch!"

She twirled the blade until it lay on the horizontal, and then thrust it into Sean.

Literally.

All four inches of its shiny chrome surface entombed itself in his bowels, cutting the tissue with ease. Jewel's clenched foot butted up against his cloaca, having run him through with the scalpel as far as she could go.

Sean let out a stifled grunt, and his eyes inevitably began to draw closed.

"I bet that feels great!" she ejaculated.

When he did not respond, she added, "Oh pity. Well, say hello to death for me!"

Re-strengthening her grip on the blade, she pulled it up and pushed it forward simultaneously. It cut through his skin and insides with silken speed, and she did not stop slicing him open until she struck his wishbone, at the base of his neck.

Out came the blade, and the gutted male gave one last shiver. His head rolled to one side, and he fell utterly still.

Dropping her tool, Jewel exclaimed "Aaaand he's outta here! Woohoo, yeah! Damn, this morning was a sweet one."

She whiled away a few seconds licking her knife clean for the third and final time – as it was covered in blood and Sean's other bodily fluids.

Once that task was finished, she peeled him open from cloaca to throat and remembered her traditional gift to her victims.

Passing by her unconscious daughter, she blazed around the area in search of a special flower. Upon finding it, she gracefully removed it from its parent vine and rushed back to the crime scene. Easing it into the spot above his frozen heart, she smiled, sighed, and trotted over to her child.

Her expression grew into a mix of pride and remorse as she gazed down at the macaw whom she had brought into the world. There was a large bruise spreading over her temple, a few scarlet trails framing her beak and eyes.

"Oh Adriana, I'm so sorry he did that to you. When you wake up, I'll tell you what I did to that slimy bastard. I got revenge on him for you…"

Jewel scanned around for a few seconds, ultimately deciding it was best to stay in the hollow until her daughter came to.

She relocated the Scarlet Macaw's body to the left of the hole, and then carried her daughter over to the far wall. She helped herself to the rest of what used to be his banana – its bland taste made more palatable by being dipped in his blood – then drifted rapidly into a content sleep.

Before she could dream one of her naughty dreams, the sound of talons on wood forced her out of her slumber. One second later, a female bird cried bloody murder at the top of her lungs.

Recoiling from the intense sonic assault, Jewel saw a second Scarlet Macaw turn and flee as fast as a bullet.

No one had ever met Jewel and lived to tell about it, and so the demonic macaw seized her tool and blasted off into the cool morning in pursuit. The female's striking feather color was a tremendous bane in the primarily green forest, and Jewel knew she would not lose sight of her.

"I'll chase you until you drop! And then I'll rip you into pieces!" she cried.

And so it was that Jewel engaged in a pursuit, fiercely lusting for her next kill and charged with confidence…


Sean burst awake, his body shivering and his beak clacking. He had just suffered one of the most dreadful nightmares ever, and he was scared beyond his wits.

A distorted ring of oval moonlight bathed the entrance to his home, giving his eyes enough light to see by. He felt his entire body with his wings in a terrible hurry. Once he was done, he whipped his head over to his right.

So relieved was he to know that he and his sister were fine, he wilted in his nest and tried to calm his quaking body.

He vividly recalled his sister flying off for a bath, his breakfast, and then the arrival of the demon and her daughter themselves. The rest was so haunting his mind ceased to function, and his memory went blank.

In spite of that he, knew he had died in that nightmare, and died cruelly. This was hardly the first vision he had seen that involved the hellish macaws, but this was by far the worst.

The sound of his staccato beak-clicking resounded ominously, and it was enough to rouse his sister. His eyes fixed on the well-lit floor over a foot away, and he heard a loud rustling off to one side.

Talon clicks ensued as Hailey came up on his right side.

"Sean? What's wrong? It's not cold in here, so why are you shaking?"

With a massive effort, he rose to his feet and faced her.

"Hailey… I had a nightmare about them. One morning, you left to take a bath, I had a nice breakfast, and then they came. After that… they… I… oh God, I can't say it."

Hailey was pushed backwards as he threw himself at her, nuzzling his head into her shoulder and sobbing profusely.

"Oh gosh, I'm so sorry! It's okay, brother, I'm here. Get it out of your system…"

His warm tears soaked her plumage, but she didn't care one iota. Using the wing that was currently being irrigated, she massaged his back in a reserved rhythm.

As his lachrymose affair dwindled in intensity, she cooed, "There there, Sean, everything's fine. We're completely safe, I promise."

Never before had Hailey witnessed such a washed-out and traumatized version of her brother, and it instilled a certain fear and sense of concern in her soul.

Gone was the notion that true men don't cry, as the evidence to counter that notion was right in front of her. True men were supposed to cry, and if anything, that's what Sean was at the moment.

At long last, Sean quieted and pulled away a few inches, staring deep into Hailey's faintly-illuminated eyes like one does at one of the seven world wonders.

"Please… don't ask me… what happened. Please don't…"

"I won't, brother. My beak is sealed."

He sniffled curtly and looked around briefly before facing her again.

"Are you sure… we're safe? What if what I saw… was a peek… at the future? What would happen… if I changed it?"

His disgruntled questions were tough, ones she could not answer directly.

"For the moment, we're safe, Sean. It's past midnight, and no one is awake. Well, no one except us."

She let out a clipped chuckle, hoping it would boost her brother's mood by any amount. Thankfully, it did.

He sniffled and squeaked, "Yeah."

She rested her wingtips upon his shoulders and said, "I don't know if what you saw was the future, but… I don't believe in that kind of stuff. And since we don't know if it's the future, we don't know what could happen if we changed it. I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all, but that's the best way I can put it."

She inhaled and added, "Look, I'm just as scared as you are, but we've survived here undetected for three months. They may be close to leaving, or they may not. Either way, we'll stay here until we know they are gone for sure. We'll make it through this, brother. I know we will. We'll see Mom and Dad again. We'll be a family again."

A leaden silence persisted in the wake of her uplifting words, and Sean squeezed her close in a touching hug.

He then whispered, "I love you, Hailey, more than you'll ever know. And you know what, I think you're right. My heart is telling me that everything you said is true."

He broke loose and stared at her with glistening eyes full of physical tears and emotional hope. He remained silent, however, waiting for her to reply.

"I love you too, Sean. We'll keep fighting, one day at a time, and we'll see this through. Everything has an end, Sean. Everything. Whether it's now or later, they'll get what's coming to them. But more importantly, we need to take care of ourselves. That's all we can do, and trust me, it's enough."

"I understand, Hailey. I sincerely do. Thanks for being here with me, and being here for me. I owe you so much…"

"No no no, you owe me nothing. I'm your sister, and I'll stick with you always. And you're welcome, Sean."

With that, he turned away resolutely and stood in the moonbeams pouring into the hollow. His tricolor feathers took on pale hues due to the unnatural light, but still rippled and glowed in good health.

Gosh, he sure is handsome, she noted to herself. Once this is all over, I can see him finding a deserving mate and raising a family. He'll get there one day. I might even decide to copy him…

Hailey observed him innocently for a few minutes before retreating back to her nest. Feeling extremely satisfied by their conversation, she snuggled her head under her wing to prepare for sleep's embrace.

It was then that his mature voice flowed into her ears, preventing her from doing so: "Hailey, I'm sorry for disturbing you, but I need to tell you something."

"It's alright. What's up?"

"I've been thinking about what you said, and I know now what I have to do."

Curious and a bit worried, she asked, "And what is that, Sean?"

"I'm going to stop them," was his simple response.

Dumbfounded, she replied, "Stop them? But… why? And how?"

He whirled around, his face a shade of crimson in the moonlight. There was a tiny flame of fiery resolve in his eyes, accompanied by something else just as deadly: anger.

"You already know the why, Hailey. As for the how, I haven't figured that out yet. But I will in time. My nightmare was the last straw, and I just can't put up with what they're doing to others, and of course, me. Starting tomorrow, I will begin the process of sorting out how I will track them down, and ultimately, kill them."

So shocked by the out-of-the-blue statement and the harsh conviction in his tone, her reply was fragmented: "But Sean… that's crazy! If you mess up… you're… done for! And to think that you're doing it completely alone! No, I won't let you! We'll have to wait this out! We'll-"

"Of course it's crazy. But I won't be doing it alone, or at least I pray I won't have to. There are still a few stubborn birds living here that must share my idea of vigilante justice. If I can find them and persuade them to help me get rid of them, well, you know the rest. All they need is a leader of sorts, someone that they sympathize with and can trust. I am determined to be that leader. But you're making me think too far ahead. One day at a time, sister, just like you taught me."

She knew then that she couldn't stop him, and it left her speechless.

His stubbornness was never prominent, but recently, it had become one of the more obvious traits of his nature. It all began when he told his family he would not abandon his home, despite the fact that a shameless killer was roaming around the neighborhood.

She was stubborn as well, but had been since birth, and she never really showed it unless forced to. Now was one of those times. Nonetheless, she knew it was a battle she could not win.

He would do whatever he felt like he needed to do, no matter how much she protested, and one of them would eventually yield. Due to her inability to speak, she realized she was the one who had to throw in the proverbial towel.

Besides, she craved her rest, and arguing in the thick of night – especially this night – was something she wanted to avoid.

"Why do we have to be so similar, Sean? You're stubborn, I'm stubborn, and we get nowhere." She let out a disdainful snort before continuing, "If you want to go out and raise a little army to kill those evil macaws, then go ahead. But you better pay attention to what I'm about to say. If you manage to round up those birds and organize a mission, then that's all well and good. But pulling it off is a different matter entirely. I love you, and if you take off with them one day, and one of them comes back to tell me that you're… gone… I'll never forgive myself. But obviously you're hell-bent on getting rid of them, so what choice do I have except to let you do that?"

Sean nodded twice in succession, clearing his throat.

"I'm sorry to put you through this, but I'm done fighting passively. I want to fight actively, and if it means risking my life and quite possibly the lives of others, then so be it. I'll have to live with whatever I do wrong, and be proud of whatever I did right. Or, if I really screw up, not live at all. Whatever happens, I'll know that I did my absolute best. Now, I think it's time we get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be busier than usual."

He waltzed over to his nest and plunked himself down in it, tossing the rock out and laying his head on the moss-coated rim.

He issued a truncated "Good night, sis," and closed his eyes.

"Good night, bro," she replied desolately, unsure if he had heard her or not.

Her mind and body had been worn out by that point, and the sleep she had been trying so hard to get came on fast. They both began to snore lightly – his minutely louder than hers – signaling that they were both fully lost in their dreams.

The atmosphere in the hollow upon their awakening the next morning was tentative, and very few words were spoken, aside from causal greetings. They had said all that needed to be said the night before, and everything else they conveyed to one another with their eyes.

In order to mend the tension between the two, Hailey went out for a short spell and hauled back two bananas for breakfast. With that gracious and inherently risky action, Hailey took the first step towards placating her brooding and self-involved brother.

Unlike in his tragic dream, they neither saw nor heard any signs of the demonic macaws.

In spite of this, another unsettling development arose: there was nothing to do except converse. After breakfast, they realized that the day would no doubt be very long if they neglected interaction.

By noon, they came around and were talking to each other as normal siblings did.

Since hardly anything else concerning their situation could be considered normal, their idle chat was a wonderful break from their new reality. Inside of Sean's tireless brain ran a million thoughts, questions, possibilities, and details, all focused on one thing: how on Earth he was going to accomplish his ultimate goal of ridding the world of the demon and her spawn.

He was mentally split in two, having to keep track of his sister's conversations while silently pondering the mess he was sure he was getting himself into. Each day after his announcement he spent thinking, forecasting, planning, and thinking some more.

He kept everything limited to the short term, however, going off of his sister's trademark "one day at a time" mantra.

His first step was to scout out the sanctuary discreetly for any residents and tell them about his deranged mission. If they refused, he would then ask if they knew of any others he could speak to. One week after his heated discussion with Hailey, he began his search for the willing citizens he was certain he would find.

Leaving the hollow as often as he dared that day – as well as flying as far away from his hollow as he dared – he kept his eyes wide open for any benevolent birds.

Macaws would be the best to recruit, he reasoned, due to their social nature, their intelligence, and above all, their size.

The first trait would prove useful helping him get in touch with others, the second would make it easier to formulate a strategy, and the last would benefit him much later on, in case things ever got physical.

The first day he tree-hopped, he saw no one, though his optimism was not quelled. In fact, it hardened his drive to go farther and look harder the next day. Day two was uneventful as well, but on day three, he achieved his preliminary goal.

During his morning escapade in the southern portion of the sanctuary, he came across a male Military Macaw bathing submissively in a pond conveniently located near the trunk of his home.

The macaw – or as Sean came to know him, Liberio – wanted no part of his endeavor.

In place of the let-down, he informed Sean that he knew a Hyacinth Macaw named Caleb. Once knew, he clarified, because Caleb had been killed in his own home by the evil macaws two weeks prior.

He went on to say that Caleb had a girlfriend, Naomi, who was still alive, and that she may be a good first candidate to talk to. It was she who had found her boyfriend's mutilated body and reported it to him.

Sean thanked him, offered condolences for the loss of his friend, and finally asked for the directions to Caleb's lover's hollow.

Two macaws flying in the same direction would prove to be twice as conspicuous, Sean estimated, and maybe more. The female's home lay a fair distance to the northeast, Liberio told him, in the jungle behind the sanctuary's main building.

Heaping yet more thanks and heartfelt regards on the depressed male, Sean took his leave. Moving like a feathered ninja, Sean journeyed to the hollow in question, incredibly sure that the female would be there, confined as a result of her need to grieve.

His mood morphed into one of anxiety as he passed the ivory stone of the sanctuary's headquarters, then veered to the right and penetrated another swath of jungle. He found the hollow not two minutes after.

He tried to prepare for whatever reactions and emotions she would undergo, but it was all too overwhelming. He alighted on a protruding branch of the cannonball tree, sucked in a deep breath, and entered the hollow as coolly as he thought possible.

Then and there, he was sure of two things: One, he would get his chance to speak with Naomi, as she stood directly opposite the entrance, her cerulean back to him, and two: She was still mourning her monumental loss, for she was perched in front of a ring of stones encircling a small pile of cobalt feathers.

A lump formed in his throat, and he hastily gulped it down in order to speak.

"Hello, Naomi," he greeted in a cordial tone.

She gave a small start and turned around slowly, just the slightest hint of curiosity evident in her gloomy expression.

"Who are you? How do you know my name?"

"My name is Sean, and a macaw named Liberio helped me find you."

She nodded in acknowledgement at the mentioning of the name.

"I see. Yeah, I know him. He was one of Caleb's… best buddies…"

Tears began to pool in her eyes, but she staunchly held them back.

"What… why are you here? Did you… know him too?"

He hadn't meant to cause her such distress, but he figured it was inevitable.

"Not until recently, no. Liberio was the first one to tell me about him, and what happened to him. I am truly sorry, Naomi, and that's part of the reason-"

She burst into a sobbing fit, effectively cutting him off. She hid her face behind her wings and showed her back to him once more.

Oh darn it, look what I've done… he thought sadly.

"Naomi, maybe it's better that I come back… later. It's my fault for making you cry. I shouldn't have mentioned him."

She sniffled and lowered her wings.

"It wouldn't have mattered, Sean. I've been on the verge of crying… ever since I found him… and made this sucky altar. It's not your fault."

He took two steps in her direction, only to stop when she turned around, holding some of the feathers in her left foot.

"It nearly ruined me… but I buried him. His feathers… are all I have left. I wanted to find them… so that they could kill me too… but Liberio saved me… from myself. And so, here I am… a lonely female who loved… and lost. It's so hard to live… knowing that he's gone. I don't know how I do it…"

"I haven't lost any loved ones, but from what I can tell, you're a mighty tough female. And maybe it's good that you're still alive. I have some things you might want to hear, but I can always come back some other time."

She weakly shook her head, sending a few drops of liquid this way and that.

"No, please stay. You've come all this way, and there's no point in leaving now. What did you want to tell me?"

He walked away from the entrance and settled down in the right side of the hollow, the altar behind her. He waited until she had replaced the feathers and nestled down in front of him before speaking.

"Well, last night, I had a nightmare of unreal proportions. I've had a few bad dreams every now and then since the killings started, but none were as bad as that one. My sister, who lives with me, consoled me and told me some very interesting things in the process. This is what I have come up with, after a ton of thinking…"

Sean proceeded to tell her what he decided to do over the coming months, using the rudimentary timeline he had created.

He would round up all the willing natives he could find, conjure up a means to somehow imprison the devilish macaws as safely as possible, and then dispose of them for good. He stressed the fact that he was dead serious, and that his goal would be riddled with risks that could cost them their lives.

He told her that the reward was not worth their lives for one simple reason: If they failed, then no one else might ever learn of their ideals, and the macaws' cycle of terror would continue in another sector of the jungle. However, if they succeeded, then she would get her revenge on her boyfriend's killer, and countless generations of birds would be spared from their limitless thirst for death.

In spite of all the mission entailed, he implored her that they at least try.

He told her that she and any other who joined would have to trust him completely, and that he would have to be their leader.

At the very end, he informed her that she had the option to refuse. If she did, he would leave, never to speak with her about the matter again, should their paths ever cross in the future.

Sean knew he was simply a lowly straggler carrying a brainless mission in her eyes, and he did expect her to refuse his offer. Astounded and gratified was he when she didn't.

"Sean, if it means that much to you, and if there's the chance that we can get back at Caleb's murderers, then I'll do it," was her exact response.

Happily dumbfounded that such a torn-up and gentle female would agree to such a proposition, he instinctively cocked his head and narrowed his eyes.

"Are… are you sure? It wouldn't be fair for you to say yes now, and then want to back out later, you know. You'll have to stick with me until the very end, whether we live or die."

"I know, Sean. And you have my word that I'll follow you on this dangerous quest. If we finish what we started, then without a doubt I'll be happy. Vengeance is a necessary evil in this case, and I'll be glad to get some on Caleb's behalf. On the other hand, if I don't make it, then maybe I'll get to be with Caleb in the next life."

"Now now, don't go talking like that. If we think positively, we'll perform better when things get serious. And if anything does go horribly wrong, the blame belongs on my shoulders alone. If I die too, then He is free to judge me."

"Think positively, Sean," she said humorously.

"Heh, you're right. Well, it seems that you're the first member of my crew, so welcome aboard. I'm so glad you're helping me, Naomi. I was always worried this would turn out to be a one-bird operation."

"Think nothing of it, Sean. I'm helping you for some good reasons and some bad ones, but they're all justified."

"I agree, Naomi. I think we're just about done here, so I'm going to head out and go check on my sister. You're welcome to come and meet her."

"I think I'll pass, Sean. Maybe some other time."

"That's fine, Naomi. There's no rush. This is goodbye then, for now."

Sean made his way to the exit, but paused upon reaching the rim.

"Oh, before I go, do you know any others who would be willing to join our cause? I have a feeling us two won't be enough to get things done."

She lowered her gaze to the floor, deep in thought. When she lifted it and met his gaze, she said, "There is one macaw I might be able to convince. I'll talk to her as soon as possible."

"Sounds good. I'll be sure to stop by in a few days and hear your report, if you could call it that. Bye, Naomi, and stay safe."

"Bye, Sean," she said sweetly, waving to him as he left the hollow.

He nodded to her mid-flight after looking back and seeing her waving, and then he slipped into the foliage across the way.

It's only the third day, and I've already got a decent start. God willing, we might be able to pull this off. Hailey has to hear about this! Speaking of her, I wonder how she's doing? I better hurry up and get home.

Sean's mind was blooming with emotion as he quietly and skillfully flew home, the odd sensation that some higher power was working in his favor tickling him internally.

When he touched down in his hollow, he saw Hailey munching away on a plump mango on the floor, her beak dripping with its juices. His entry snagged her attention, and she looked up at him.

"Oh, you're back! I figured you'd be gone longer," she said in between chews. "Here, have a mango," she said after swallowing, holding a fresh one out to him with her left foot.

"Thanks, sis," he replied gleefully, taking it from her grasp.

"So, how'd your little search go? Did you find anyone?"

Flashing a wide smile, he replied, "Oh, I found someone alright."

"Well? What did they say?" she asked, leaning closer to him.

He gulped down a small chunk of mango, licked his beak, and replied, "She said yes. But that's only part of the story. Let me tell you the rest…"

Sean explained his emotion-filled conversation with Naomi, leaving Hailey stunned and proud of her brother by the end.

"That's… wonderful, bro! You're not off to a bad start at all, are you?"

"Nope! I think things will speed up like a stone rolling down a hill, and I'll have enough recruits in no time at all. Man, that will be the day…"

"I'm looking forward to it as much as you are. I wish you good luck, Sean. Optimism is key."

"Right. Oh, and dealing with things one day at a time is important."

"That too," she said, giggling cutely.

Sean smiled and strode to the edge of his home, looking around quickly.

Turning to his sister, he asked, "Do you mind if I go and take a short bath?"

Hailey put on an expression of puzzlement.

"I thought you didn't care how you smelled or how straight your feathers are. What's with this sudden change of heart?"

Grinning, he replied, "Maybe since I'm going to be interacting with my neighbors more often, I need to be respectably clean. They won't take me seriously if I'm all scraggly and dirty."

She crossed her wings brusquely and said, "Uh huh. You're just trying to impress your lady friends. We've grown up together, Sean. I can see right through you."

Sean rolled his eyes and spread his wings.

"This has nothing to with me trying to come on to any females, Hailey. Now, if you don't mind, I'm leaving to go tidy myself up. I won't be gone long."

"Stay safe, big guy."

"Always," he announced, and drifted out of sight.

Sean guided himself to Liberio's pond – the Military Macaw was not home when he arrived – and hurriedly washed himself from head to tail. He preened himself in a frenzied manner as a way to fortify his feathers, jetting back to his sister as soon as he was satisfied.

His smugness had definitely increased in Hailey's eyes, though it was more humorous than annoying. They sat side by side and watched the day grow old, each as confident as the other that the Spix's Macaws would one day be put down for good.


As per Sean's instructions, Naomi summed up the courage to contact her friend two days after her meeting with the Scarlet Macaw. The secretive Military Macaw known as Maya listened to Naomi's tale without moving or speaking.

When Naomi was finished spouting the information, Maya contemplated her decision for several chilling minutes. Not one for small talk and beating around the bush, Maya sided with her dear friend.

The risk was irrelevant in her eyes, and so long as it benefitted the other birds in the community, she was all for it.

Naomi's intentions of talking Maya out of it fell flat, for she knew the soft-spoken Military Macaw would not change her mind. After Naomi hugged her and thanked her on Sean's behalf, she asked the Military Macaw to try and recruit two or three more macaws.

Maya promised she would do so that very same day, but only if Naomi tagged along.

The Hyacinth Macaw knew Sean would be doubly thrilled when she told him she had acquired two willing citizens instead of one. The closely-bonded females set out within the hour, in the wake of a decent lunch.

Maya knew of one male and one female macaw that were worth speaking with, but the two individuals were not easy to track down. Ofelia and Tomas – a Military Macaw and a Blue-Winged Macaw, respectively – were not at home when Maya and Naomi checked.

Maya escorted her friend to Tomas's abode and told her to wait for his return. If he was not back by sunset, she was free to leave, and the macaws would meet the next day and try again. Maya hustled back to Ofelia's home and hunkered down as well.

Sure enough, at two different times, both parties returned home to find visitors awaiting their arrival.

After cordial greetings – and an introduction in Naomi's case – the information-loaded females reiterated Sean's message. Tomas reasoned along the same lines as Maya and joined Sean's posse, but was very uneasy about the risks nonetheless.

On the other end, Ofelia declined.

Her loyalty to her childhood friend was ironclad, but even she wasn't up to sticking by Maya's side and facing the dangers the latter spoke of. However, she confessed that her father's friends, a Blue and Gold Macaw couple, had a mature son who was introverted, but was secretly very fond of the ideas of others.

Naomi thanked her new accomplice on Sean's behalf as she had done before, suggesting they should stay put and wait for Maya to give them her report. They did not have to wait long, as Maya flew over as soon as she absorbed Ofelia's directions to Zack's hollow.

Naomi's disappointment was quickly remedied as Maya told her of her conversation.

The Military Macaw was eager to meet with who was possibly the fifth and final member they required. Maya and Tomas shook feet with each other and chatted very briefly about how they had been the past few months.

The killings and the gradual disappearance of the feathered wildlife were the main topics, but the fate of Naomi's boyfriend was not mentioned.

Once the two friends were done talking the trio of birds set off, Maya in the lead. The fading light of the Rio sunset complicated navigation, but they reached Zack's home in the north sector of the jungle roughly half an hour after the sun hid beneath the horizon.

Waking up the slumbering macaw was a tall order, and it was Tomas who obliged.

The male was nearly startled out of his feathers as a result, but quickly reined in his emotions. His hesitance to speak was obvious.

Once he was jointly informed of Sean's master plan, however, he came out of his shell enough to respond, and respond well. The whole scope of Sean's plan made him very curious, and he determined that the risks were worth the reward of dealing with the Spix's cruel empire.

His parents had been among the first to relocate, and so afraid was he of discovery that he had failed to go after them. He wanted so desperately to reunite with them and check up on them, but he was too cowardly to do so, until now. His measly confidence was bolstered by the other macaws' dedication to end the two Spix's lives, and his belief in "safety in numbers" further goaded him to join them.

At last, he made himself a part of their ranks. The trio of allies gave him their thanks and assured him that he would be enfolded in his parents' wings in the near future.

Out of respect, they bid him lighthearted goodbyes and streaked away from his home.

Mid-flight, they all agreed to unite a convenient location, collect Zack, and then approach Sean as a single group. Goodbyes and goodnights were exchanged, and the ragtag band split up and headed home under the light of the young crescent moon.


Needless to say, Sean fainted on the spot when the multicolored band of macaws filed into his hollow one cool afternoon.

When his sister had revived him by slapping his face with her wings, the seasoned Naomi briefly recalled the events of the past few days. At the end of her speech, a very enthusiastic Sean could not thank them enough for their participation.

He invited them to spend the rest of the day with him and Hailey, so that he could dig a little deeper into their personalities and hear their past hardships. And so they did, all four of them.

A jovial feast of berries and fruit kept their stomachs churning and their beaks moving, even into the post-sunset hours. Their speech was moderately loud, but they knew that the Spix's Macaws wouldn't dare attack them, even if they happened to hear.

They were carefree, uplifted, and proud, Sean most of all.

When the moon surfaced and perched among the stars, Sean's accomplices wished him well and set off for their nests after promising that they would all see him again three days hence.

While they were away, Sean devoted nearly all of his time to thinking about what there next steps were going to be. Hailey advised that it was best for him to wait and think collectively with his band of friends. Sean didn't even know where to begin, truthfully, and so his sister's words made heaps of sense.

Disgruntled, he pushed the thoughts away and embraced simplicity.

It was the last vacation he would have the opportunity of relishing for some time, and he wrung every ounce of joy he could out of it. He also morphed into a lazy male who sat around, ate, and slept, but Hailey approved of his actions.

When Sean's posse did return, they came bearing some initial courses of action that they thought he would like to hear. And so it was, hidden from the blazing eye of the setting sun, preliminary plans were laid out and discussed by the melting pot of macaws.

Ideas were tossed out and added, changes were made or unmade, and a rudimentary timeline was created.

Deep into the night, the delegation fractured after having made slight progress, so that its members could recoup their vitality.

A droopy-eyed Sean whispered "Good night, Hailey," to his slumbering sister and plopped into his nest. The melancholy choruses of dreamland echoed in his brain, sapping his consciousness in a matter of seconds.

While he crossed the bridge linking the planes of reality and make-believe, he was sure of a few things and unsure of many things. Despite his blinding insecurities about the future, he came to the conclusion that he had an impressive start.

Whether his penultimate goal would be achieved was not for him or his sister or his friends to know. Be that as it may, with his dear Hailey supporting him in the shadows and his friends battling with him on the front lines, he felt that he had one hell of a shot.

Only Father Time would tell if his shot hit, or missed.


For the quintet of birds stationed at the base of a young banana tree, moods were somber, yet dedicated. They worked in the brilliant light borne from a pile of burning branches and leaves, the stars crying upon them with their silvery twinkles. The full moon hid behind the drifting clouds high above, intermittently casting mercurial beams of radiance over the land.

They cooperatively knotted and weaved a two-foot wide net of tough vines, a crafty construct with a dark purpose.

The inner reinforcing ring was one foot wide, joining the six spokes of the hexagonal web. Zack worked alongside Maya, laying down and fastening the two foot wide outer ring. While he tied in another section of the stringy rope, Maya trailed behind him, knotting the previous strand and testing it for strength.

Meanwhile, Naomi and Tomas installed a spiral of sorts to reduce the size of the gaps in the web. It originated at the meeting point of the spokes and traveled outwards in a hypnotic manner.

Sean tossed a few more branches onto the makeshift fire – which sat in a small depression in the earth – and walked over to survey his companions' progress.

"How's it going, everyone?" he asked flatly.

"Maya and I are nearly done, Sean," the Blue and Gold Macaw replied.

He set the remaining length of his vine into place and hopped away from the net to make room for her. She fumbled with the final knot a few times before pulling it tight, completing the outer border and putting an end to her task.

She smiled weakly and said, "There you go, Sean. Once they finish up, I suggest we test it for resilience. If the demon and her child get loose, we may not get a second chance to put them down. Many more innocent creatures will die, and it will be our faults entirely."

Sean nodded, the visible half of his face bearing a harshly troubled frown. He turned around and laid eyes upon the last two macaws, who were nearing the edge of the stringy snare.

The fire crackled and popped as they toiled, denting, but not destroying, the silence that pervaded the air around the group.

Two minutes later, the spiral came to an end. The two macaws skipped over to the others, eying their trap with an air of accomplishment despite the situation.

"See how many of you it takes to lift it, and then I want you to drop it on me. If it's heavy enough and prevents me from wriggling out, then we can bundle it up and meet with our executioners."

"You got it," Tomas said.

He and Naomi positioned themselves on opposite sides of the hexagonal snare and grabbed an outer knot in one of their feet. They began flapping vigorously, securing their chosen knots in both feet as they went airborne.

Try as they might, however, they succeeded in only raising the two sides of the snare to just over Sean's height. They struggled for a few more seconds and then touched back down, breathing heavily.

"It's got a bit of heft to it," Naomi announced.

"Maya, Zack, give them a wing. I pray you four will be able to carry it."

Sean watched with prying eyes as they settled themselves at two other points, placing a foot each upon a knot in a noble pose.

"Alright, flap, everyone," Sean commanded.

Their four pairs of wings beat in a random pattern, and Sean sighed softly as the net left the ground at a slow pace. The center sagged as it rose, as did the areas between the panting macaws. Sean craned his head back as they hauled it upwards, pleased by their ability.

It stopped rising at about two feet above his head, and then began to sink as the macaws burned off their energy keeping it aloft. He trotted underneath the six-pointed star and called, "Drop it, guys."

It contorted oddly as they released it, folding and warping as gravity claimed it. Sean felt an increase in the pressure on his legs as it blanketed him, and he deemed it satisfactory. As his partners drifted back down, he thrust his head through the nearest hole. He squirmed out until his neck was free, and then he found himself pleasantly stuck.

He trudged forward, but the net slowed him to a crawl. His body was too plump to fit, and he smiled as he realized he had chosen the wrong hole.

"Well, well, look who we caught!" Tomas said teasingly.

"Did we do a good enough job?" Maya asked in a sterner tone.

"I think so. If we hurl this upon the demon and her child while they're flying, they'll be even more tangled than I am. In short, there will be little chance of escape. It is too early to say for sure, but something inside me is telling me that we'll pull this off. Now, could you please free me?"

"Sure," Zack said halfheartedly.

They worked together to carefully peel the net off of him, so as not to compromise its integrity.

As soon as he was able to walk unhindered, he faced his partners and said, "Bundle it up as compactly as you can, so that your flight will be easier. Give me a minute, so I can smother our fire."

While they carried out his orders, he scraped the dirt created by their previous digging onto the fire, reducing its intensity. Afterwards, he rolled sizable stones into the pit, gathered for the same purpose. When the fire was snuffed out and the pit a bed of embers, he joined his band of friends.

"I don't think we have to worry about waking up to a jungle that's on fire. Now, before we begin the next phase, is there anything you need to get off your chests?"

He studied each of their solid gazes, and they said not a word as he did so.

"Okay, since none of you have any concerns, let me tell you this. Focus your minds and harden your spirits, because we will bear witness to suffering and death in the very near future. We banded together in order to avenge the massacre of our neighbors and our loved ones. We…"

Sean paused as Naomi shifted uneasily, releasing a sigh laden with sorrow and defeat. Her own dear boyfriend had fallen prey to the demon over four weeks prior, and the memories of him she had retained were still saddening to recount.

"We banded together to bring the demon and her filthy spawn to justice, and God willing, we shall do so this very night. We may not be the ones to tear the life from their bodies, but that does not matter. All of the senseless death and fear they have brought upon this sanctuary will come to an end, and their victims, including Caleb, will be avenged. Others may think of us as heroes, but we are simply a team of ordinary macaws aiming to restore peace to our stricken home. Come, my friends, let us seek out our adversaries and cast them to the scorching depths of Hell."

He strode up to Naomi and perked her head up with his wing. He swaddled her in a brief hug and then lifted off, aiming for the west. The remaining macaws briefly consoled Naomi before grasping the pancaked net in their claws.

Reigning in their emotions and clearing their heads of any and all cluttering thoughts, they set off after their leader.

Sean powered on towards their rendezvous point, his nerves frayed as to whether his assassins would actually live up to their word. Never in his life had he conferred with snakes, and so he was as blind to their nature and conduct as a rock.

A week before, he and the others went on a two day search, until they found a suitable quarry, which happened to be a pair of mated Bushmasters. After mustering up all the courage they could – while simultaneously quelling the untold fear that constricted them – they had approached the scaly creatures.

Thinking some sort of attack was being mounted against them, the reptiles greeted them with hostility. Sean and Zack were pinned down by the muscular ropes, the Bushmasters' fangs poised for treacherous stabs. The others pleaded desperately for the snakes to release their brethren and hear them out.

They did so, if only seconds before delivering insidious bites.

They listened to the macaws while keeping them locked in a duo of ceaseless glares, unnerving them with their flicking tongues. Before long, the snakes confessed having heard rumors of the killings committed by the female Spix's Macaw and her illegitimate daughter, but they hardly thought the tales were true.

Naomi spoke rapidly of how she had found her handsome Caleb that fateful day, his blood smeared all over the walls of his home and his spine ripped out of his back.

Needless to say, their curiosity was piqued at the mention of such brutality. Sean spoke up and asked if they were inclined to serve as his hired killers. As of late, they said, bird life was scarce due to reasons unknown.

Hearing Sean's explanation and believing it to be the reason for the reduced prey count, they agreed, for the prospect of rich food after two months of meager nutrition was very attractive. On top of that, there would be no eggs between them if the female's body was not packed full of flesh.

Sean strongly claimed he could lead them to the sadistic macaws, which they would kill and then consume.

They were impressed by his will, being that he was but a lowly bird who dared to meddle with snakes. Be that as it may, they were not fond of being led into a bargain with a prey item. It was unheard of, and a certainly humiliating endeavor for the would-be predators to agree to. However, they were forced to disregard being repaid, even if his bargain turned sour.

If he failed, the tyranny wrought by the demon would continue indefinitely, and the jungle would be drained of fitting prey after not too long. He professed he would leave the jungle with his friends and family, and warned that they should do the same. The demon may even find him before he could evacuate, and the end result would be the same as if the Bushmasters had killed him themselves.

What was the point of finding some way to make him pay with his life, when there would eventually be no other birds around to nourish them after he was gone? If his mission was forfeited, then the entire jungle was forfeited.

Only by relocating to a new and distant patch of jungle would they, be they reptile or bird, continue to survive. Thus, the pact was enacted, an outlandish pact at that.

He would do his absolute best to make sure the twisted and evil macaws met their end. Only the eternal firestorms of Hell could make the duo of Spix's Macaws atone for their shameless butchering, their insatiable drive to kill and maim whoever they pleased.

The thought of them escaping from their clutches and removing all chances for a peaceful existence gnawed at his soul like a spectral hound. His sixth sense told him that the Bushmasters, while cunning and deadly, would not forsake his one-sided bargain.

Deep down, he knew he had convinced the Bushmasters that too much was riding on his scarlet shoulders for either him, or his partners, to screw up. Ever since that deciding conversation, he felt so confident that he and his feathered allies would see their common goal come to fruition.

I will not fail… we will not fail… was the chant he repeated as he streaked towards the Bushmasters' lair.

The lack of light made navigating difficult, and so he relied on his instincts and memory to guide him, rather than his sight. After skidding to a halt on the leaf-carpeted ground, he peered into the mouth of the shadowy tunnel they had burrowed under a massive boulder.

The net-hoisters fluttered down behind him, in need of a replenishing rest after carrying the snare for such a long distance.

"Sage? Kendra?" he said softly. "It's me, Sean."

A muted scraping sound was heard, and then the two reptiles oozed partway out of the cave.

"Greetingsss, feathered friend. Have you located our meal?" the male asked in his unique tone.

"The last I checked, which was a few hours ago, she was asleep in what must be her favored resting spot. Her daughter was with her. That banana tree lies to the…"

He scanned around and paused, checking his memory.

"It lies to the northeast of here, about a ten minute flight away. My friends and I already have the trap made, as you can see."

He stepped aside so that they had room to slither closer.

"Hmmm… interesssting. I would very much like to ssseee it in action," Kendra quipped darkly. "If you're ready, we should leave at once. There's no way of knowing if she's woken up, but I assume she hasn't."

The snakes flicked their tongues out simultaneously and allowed them to touch for a split second.

"Yesss, I agree. If they are not there, I will be very disssapointed," Kendra said.

"Very disssappointed," Sage repeated.

"Then it's settled."

He turned to the macaws and said, "I'll take point, while you guys fly behind and make sure that our assassins don't get lost. Once we're there, find some trees to set up in."

"Who'sss going to draw the demon out?" Sage asked from a point behind him.

He faced the voice and said, "I am."

There was a pause, and the sounds of the night infiltrated for a short time.

"You are no ordinary food item, Sssean," Kendra hissed proudly. "You place yourssself at great risssk," she added.

"I know. But I wouldn't want it any other way. I won't send any of my young friends to their deaths. If I succeed, then so be it. If not, then at least they'll have a chance to escape. But I am reasonably sure that our operation will go as planned, and they will be yours for the taking."

"Yesss, oursss to consssume…" Sage said with a delighted shudder.

"Well then, let's go. Does everyone know what they're supposed to do?"

The snakes' barely visible heads nodded, mobile shadows in the night. Sean faced his team and saw them nod as well. Without another word, he rose into the cool air, hearing the forceful wing beats of his brethren not far behind.

God, please watch over me and protect me, so that I may do the world a momentous honor in your name. Give me the ability to cleanse our jungle of Satan's embodiments, so that birds everywhere may return and replenish our starving home…

Aside from checking on his friends, Sean remained mute the entire flight, navigating by his instincts and by the stars – when he could see them. His heart beat strong and his wings pumped tirelessly, but a tiny sliver of his conscience was warning him that he was flying towards his grave.

He silenced the negative voice and pushed on.

With every foot he traveled, his emotions rose in intensity, a rainbow mix of feelings that conflicted with one another.

On one hand, his confidence and sense of duty empowered him. On the other, a claw of dread and terror yearned to squeeze his soul. He was afraid of dying, but he was far more terrified when he thought of the birds who would die if they broke free.

He possessed only one shot, and he was ready to take it, for better or worse. When at long last the foliage stirred his past memories, he slowed down to the pace of a slug and raked the plants ahead of him. Not seeing the tree, he dipped down. Then, he saw it, standing on one side of a loose grove of other banana trees.

Perfect. There should be enough space between the trunks to drop the net without it getting caught on any branches.

Landing on the nearest bough he could find, he rotated around and spied his flock drawing steadily closer. They spaced themselves out on another branch of the same tree and draped the folded net over it.

"Where should we hide, Sean? Which direction are you going to lure them in?" Maya asked.

Facing the bent abode of the demon, he stared in between the trunks surrounding it, mulling over the safest path of attack.

"Ummm… over there, on the east side. Conceal yourselves with the leaves, and stretch the net out between you."

He pointed with his right wing for emphasis.

"When I say 'Die,' drop the trap, no sooner and no later. If you have to catch me too, go ahead. They must not discover our intentions until it is too late for them to retaliate."

"And what if we miss?" Tomas queried hesitantly.

"Run like hell, and don't look back," was his concise answer.

After going to their ambush spot, they waited edgily for the snakes to arrive, with Zack being the one who flew off to locate and guide them. After five tense minutes, Zack returned on foot, the snakes trailing him. They slithered to a stop at the base of the tree, and he instructed that they merely wait for the trap to be sprung.

When their foes were subdued, he would summon them.

As an added measure of restraint, Sean attempted to gather four lengthy ropes of vine that would be used to bind the wings and legs of their foes. He was halfway done when a sharp whisper caught his attention. He made his way over to Zack and crept into the branches between him and Maya, his heart pounding with worry.

"What is it, Zack?"

The Blue and Gold macaw leaned out and looked at the macaws' home, and then faced Sean.

"The demon stirred while you were gone. I think her daughter had a nightmare."

I know exactly the reason why, Sean thought. But it is not real enough to be fitting punishment for one who murders for the enjoyment.

"Then you were smart in alerting me. We can't wait any longer. I'll have to make do with these two vines."

He tossed them off of the branch, in the direction of the demons' home.

Raising his voice just enough for Tomas and Naomi to hear, he said, "You all know the signal. It's now or never. We'll pull this off, alright?"

"Alright," the two closest macaws replied.

From the nearby tree, two other voices intoned, "We sure will."

"Be ready," Sean warned sternly, and then he left the branch.

He drifted inexorably to the hollow entrance, nearly giving in to his conscience and turning back. Redoubling his mettle, he slunk even closer. When he perched just inside the hollow, he was able to finally study the demon and her daughter.

The mother was adorned with many cuts and scars, wounds that he knew her victims had delivered to her in their final moments. The daughter was pristine by comparison, and only half as large.

His heart clenched in silent remorse and pity. She looked so at ease, so innocent, so youthful, but he could not spare her.

She had been trained to kill without reason by her mother, valuing the stealing of others' lives rather than life itself. It was now ingrained in her nature that slaughter was permissible, on the grounds of the sheer pleasure it ignited in her. She chose to stay loyal to her mother, remain a partner in crime, and she was doomed.

Breathing deeply to steady his trembling muscles, he yelled, "Wake up, you demons!"

He spread his wings in preparation as the mature female bolted upright. It took but a few seconds for her to lock eyes with him, and his stomach twisted as her face took on an expression of dizzy rage.

"What the hell? You dare wake me up? You just asked for a death wish!"

The daughter roused as well, her emotion matching that of her mother's.

The elder demon snatched a fearsome looking tool from her nest, and he bolted.

"Get back here, you fool! No one lives long enough to see me twice!"

Please let this work, Lord. Please! he screamed mentally.

Veering sharply to the right, he caught sight of the semi-concealed net suspended ahead of him. He remained silent until the very last moment. In a split second maneuver, he shot his head up and spied the center of the net directly above him.

"Die!" he yelled, and dove down like a feathered missile.

He felt the edge of the net graze his tail feathers, but he had avoided entanglement.

As soon as he landed –albeit with some discomfort – he heard a panicked shout split the air: "What the hell is this? What have you done to us?"

He coughed and picked himself up, chasing away the pain in his sore foot.

When he turned around, a tragically optimistic scene presented itself to him: Both macaws were fully imprisoned in the trap, which had seemingly rolled up as they fell, tightening around their bodies. One of the older macaw's wings was sticking through a gap, yet it could hardly move as she struggled and wriggled.

The younger female to her right issued muted squawks of anguished protest, since a strand of vine had caught in between the halves of her beak. Her wings were compressed against her body, and she could not unfurl them.

The mother's deadly tool – which had acquired a traumatizing body count thus far – lay near the edge of the snare, out of reach. Both macaws were helpless, powerless, and a vicious smile formed on Sean's face. As his companions gathered around the entwined net, he hopped to within a foot of his victims.

"You… bastard! Let me go so I can tear your fucking heart out!"

Her cutting voice frightened him, but his burgeoning sense of accomplishment trumped all fear.

"Shut up, demon. Neither you nor your spawn will feel the warmth of the coming sunrise. You belong to us now, and very soon, justice will be delivered."

The notion of their undoing only maddened her even further, and she began jerking her body like a bull.

"RELEASE ME AND MY DAUGHTER! WE WILL SHOW YOU WHAT TRUE JUSTICE IS!"

His eardrums rang due to the volume of her shouts, but he recovered quickly.

"Zack, Naomi, get one of the vines over there and shove it in her beak. Tomas, Maya, you'll have to hold her down."

At this, she screamed and tried to snip the strands with her beak. However, the vines were fresh and somewhat thick, and her dull beak could not cut into them. Her random jerks resumed and lasted for a minute, but then died down as exhaustion claimed her.

As Naomi and Zack ambled over with the vine slung between them, he thought, Even the evilest of beings have their physical limits.

"You are all… making a big fucking mistake! Who are you… to punish me?"

As the four macaws moved closer, he replied, "You may see it that way, because all you desire is to murder and commit unthinkable acts of violence. And no, the only being who can punish you is God himself. And trust me, you will face his divine wrath soon enough. Hell will be glad to have you."

He faced the quartet of macaws and said, "Do it. Silence her. There is no point in her wasting her breath."

Tomas and Naomi forced her neck down with their feet while Zack and Maya inched the taut vine towards her beak. She seized the opportunity to attack and lashed out at the nearest macaw, who happened to be Zack.

She bit down with all her might on his wing, and a dull crunch was heard.

"Owww!" he grunted, jerking away.

An intermittent stream of scarlet globules dripped from a spot on the narrow part of his wing. He inspected his drooped flying appendage and squawked, "She cracked my wing bone! Damn, it hurts!"

"We'll get that taken care of later. Can you still fly?"

"I… think so, but it might be better if I don't. I probably couldn't handle the pain, and I don't want to injure it even more."

Sean nodded and motioned for the others to resume their postponed maneuver. The demon's head was squished against the ground, and the vine threaded firmly into her mouth. It was looped around her neck once, and then wrapped around her wings three times. A trio of knots secured the binding chain.

Sean moved around the perimeter of the snare so that he could observe both evil beings. After the others took their places on either side of him, he cleared his throat gruffly.

He soaked up the defeated expressions of both females, but any remorse he endured was crumbled to dust. The younger macaw's sagging face especially caused his soul to ache, and he would at least put her out of her misery.

"You two have committed a string of murders so vile that words are not enough. You have torn entire families apart by killing hatchlings and adults alike, all for your own personal gain. Tonight, your reign of terror will come to an end. True, we have captured you, but we will not stoop to your level by executing you. No, there are other creatures that will profit more, in a sense, by doing just that. All I have to do is say their names, and they will appear."

As he let his profound words dance in the air, he watched as the younger female contorted her neck and pushed the vine from her beak.

"Please… what was I to do? I had to obey her, or else she would kill me! I had no choice but to-"

"No!" Zack yelled, cutting her off.

"I am sure there were many times when you had a chance to flee, yet you didn't. You chose to live with your mother and carry out her insane wishes. You were manipulated by her into thinking that life is merely a thing to be stolen, a possession. You started down the path of utmost evil, and only when your body is cold will your sins be repaid. You spread death throughout the jungle, and now death has come back to haunt you."

"I know, but I… I-"

"Shut up! You are finished, and that's all there is to it!" Maya shouted.

"If Sean wasn't here, I'd gladly pull your spine from your body, just like you did to Caleb!" Naomi seethed.

The female blinked and did not speak another word, glaring dully at them. Only now, when she was faced with certain death, did she feel the tiniest bit remorseful of her actions. But her remorse was overshadowed by the fact that never again would she wallow in the blood of her victims, and never again would she feast on their flesh.

Sean turned and faced the angered female.

"Though Caleb will never come back to life, Naomi, at least his killer will cease to exist. That is the sole reason we are here, to enact vengeance."

"I know," she muttered. "Just… get on with it."

"Of course," he said eagerly.

He whirled back around and looked past the immobilized duo.

"Sage, Kendra, it's time."

Out of the darkness, two forms emerged.

With alien synchronicity, they circled around either side of the snare and coiled up in front of Sean and his gang. They drew back a few steps to give the bulky serpents more room.

"A mossst interesssting conversssation we heard, friend," Kendra began.

"Yesss, indeed," her mate said.

"But now, I am ready to tassste… tainted flesssh. I am ready to tassste… you."

Sage lowered his head and moved it to within inches of the immature female's skull. He tickled her forehead with his tongue, bearing his fangs reflexively.

"Go away! You're… scaring me."

"Good," Sage retorted.

The snake drew back and licked his mate's snout with his wiry tongue.

"I guesss I'll take the other macaw, Sssage."

The male then asked, "Which one would you have usss kill firssst?"

Sean looked from the daughter to the mother, and back again.

"Sage, you'll have the honor of executing the little one. That way, her disgusting mother will see and feel what it's like to have her kin murdered in plain sight, just as she has done to so many of our neighbors. The child should suffer as well, for as long as possible."

"Nhh! Nhh! Lth hv gth! Plth!"

The mother's garbled ramblings were unintelligible, and so they were ignored. She tried to wriggle closer, but the net hindered her movement.

She gave up as Sage hissed, "Very well, Sssean. You have no idea how long I have waited for a chance like thisss."

All eyes were on the reptile as he oozed over to the trembling youngster. He uncoiled and raised his head high in the air, piercing the child with a frenzied stare. He threw his mouth open, revealing a pink cave bearing two translucent stalactites.

"Please… don't do this! I don't want to die! I haven't even-"

Her cry was snipped short as he arced downwards like lightning. He clamped his sodden mouth over her midsection, burying his fangs into the right side of her belly.

"Ahhh! It burns! This can't… be happening to me!"

Sage felt her body arch as the pain fried her senses, and he pressed his syringes even deeper into her. He stayed clamped there for ten grueling seconds, squirting two thin streams of venom into her body cavity. When his glands lost half their capacity, he withdrew rather rapidly.

His prey screamed her lungs out as his fangs slid from the puncture wounds, enlarging them. The female rolled awkwardly onto her left side, panting heavily. Two rivulets of blood flowed freely from her gut wounds, winding their way through her feathers and pooling at her feet.

Dazed, she lurched weakly in her mother's direction. She had only jerked three times when her talons curled and her back arched once again. The venom sloshed around inside her, corroding her organs and dissolving her blood vessels. Her breathing began to accelerate, as did her sharp grunts.

"Unh… no… please no… no! NO!"

As her back curved inwards, her delirious gaze was directed to her mother's crumpled form.

"Mom, you promised… you promised you would… protect me. You swore… no one would ever… hurt me. And now… I'm dying…"

She did not respond, absolutely paralyzed by her daughter's crushing words. As she watched her writhe and moan, something hidden in the deepest recesses of her soul shattered.

Amidst the roiling fury and helplessness that consumed her, there was a third emotion: sadness.

She, the bird who would sooner split someone's skull open and dine on their brain than look at them, actually felt sad.

She and her hybrid daughter had always been on the giving end of violence, dealing it out whenever they saw fit and reveling in the outcome. Now her daughter was on the receiving end, and the internal trauma was infinitely more powerful than anything she could handle.

She felt her soul wither and die, melting away into nothingness, just like what was happening to her offspring. For the first time since her transformation all those distant weeks ago, she was given a brutal taste of all the malice she had tended. The female demon formerly known as Jewel whimpered, and then began to cry.

"Aw look, the filthy macaw is crying," Zack said mockingly. "Karma sure is a bitch."

"I thought you… loved me. Why? Why did you… let them…"

Her stark tone faded, only to be replaced by strident wheezes. Her gaze shot to the macaws, lingering there before going blank. Her breathing grew labored.

"Urgh… I can't… ack… help…"

As portions of the venom melded with her bloodstream, it was channeled to her air sacs, where it hungrily ate away at her tissue. Her ragged wheezes grated upon their ears, but they only looked on with flat expressions.

The snakes smiled, with Sage's being the larger of the two.

"I don't… want to… I can't…"

She then began to retch, her system clamoring for oxygen, yet unable to absorb it. As she spluttered and coughed, blood gurgled in her throat, polka-dotting the leaf litter in front of her.

After five retches, she ceased to speak. After ten retches, she ceased to move.

Her pupils shrank down to tiny dots, and she gave one last feeble cough. Her head now lay in a foamy pond of crimson fluid, all of it her own. A few soggy leaves lay on its surface, turning to a dark brown hue as they absorbed the blood.

She was no more, as Sean and his gang had intended from the start.

Sage moved in to swallow her warm corpse, but Sean interjected.

"No, wait. Let her be, so that the demon can stare at her body while she, too, dies."

He retreated with a benign, "Sssuit yourssself."

Sean sighed and waved at the demon with his wing.

"Your turn, Kendra," he said pointedly.

Kendra slithered up to her and skipped the pleasantries, nailing the macaw square in the back, between her wings. She released a tortured scream that was little more than a droning rumble.

As she felt hot liquid drenching her spine, she knew her life was over.

All she had worked for, all the countless hours she had spent nurturing her daughter and teaching other creatures to fear her, was all for nothing. Her empire came crashing down like a hollowed-out mountain, and her tear flow morphed into a torrent of salty despair.

It took the center stage execution of her flesh and blood child to make her realize the grim truth. Her body was practically on fire, but how could that compare to the shriveling, gut-wrenching pangs of rage and dread that robbed her breath away?

It could not, and so she suffered immeasurable agony, as Sean had willed her to.

The female reptile slid her fangs out, and the macaw sensed that her guts were turning to slime. She went hoarse as she convulsed, grinding her beak halves together and flailing her feet. Her vision took on a red pall of color, and the world seemed to distort and ripple wherever her frantic gaze darted.

All too soon, her chest muscles grew tight, then explosively released in one yearning contraction. She was slowly suffocating as her air sacs were being digested, and none of the air she vacuumed up had anywhere to go.

"Mhm… ngh.. cth.. bth…"

She gnawed pitifully on the obstructing vine in her beak while her tongue groped wildly. Thirty unbearable seconds passed, and she found herself begging for death. She would accept whatever happened afterwards, so long as her torture would stop.

With every cough, more and more of her lifeblood drowned her airway and spewed from her beak in spurts. Her vision, now a sea of abstract shapes and strange colors, gradually lost its brightness. It turned a sickly shade of gray, and then darkened even more to an impenetrable blackness.

She could feel her languidly pulsing heart growing more and more still. As the last threads of her consciousness slipped away, it gave out.

She rapidly plummeted into a sleep so bottomless that she would never resurface.

At Sean's request, Kendra used her specialized tongue to try and detect any signs of life in the demon's body.

After gracing the macaw's throat a few times, she declared, "Ssshe isss dead."

"Good. Both of you may feast to your heart's content now," he said.

"Thank you, friend," Sage said cheerfully.

They watched with resolute spirits as the Bushmasters seized their respective food stores and hauled them away from the net. Sage began to swallow the child immediately, but Kendra needed assistance in undoing the verdant ropes on her quarry.

Sean took the liberty of loosening the knots and stripping the vines away from the demon's scarred corpse. Kendra gulped down the feathery organism earnestly, nearly managing to suck her down as fast as her mate did with his own prey.

When the elder demon's tail vanished into Kendra's throat, a rapture of joy and release brimmed inside the macaws' bodies. They sighed and congratulated each other, and the snakes joined in the relatively calm celebration.

At times, the moon beamed at them through rifts in the clouds. When Sean glimpsed their faces, he saw many variations of the same glorious feeling known as victory.

They had collectively accomplished the goal they had envisioned, and they couldn't be happier. The two most hated and feared creatures any of them had ever heard about had been vanquished. Death was the cure, the antidote that cleansed the rain-forest of their poisonous dominion, and Sean and his team were the ones who had administered it.

The fact that they did not directly kill the vile macaws was irrelevant.

The deed was done, the sanctuary was liberated, and the healing process could begin. When the moon came across a large break in the cloud cover, Sean bathed himself in the lucid glow and addressed his friends.

"I have to sincerely thank all of you for your efforts. You volunteered willingly to help me track them down and eliminate them, because you believed in life and believed in chasing away the threats they posed to our existence. Had we not banded together, who knows how long their massacre would have continued. Sure, others may have come up with the same ideals and attempted to imitate us, but the future may very well have been different. True, many lives had already been lost by the time this day came to pass, but no more will fall victim to their predation."

He cast an uplifting gaze at Naomi, and she smiled.

"Our reason for uniting has been fulfilled, but our companionship, I feel, has matured. I value you all as my second family, and should you choose to sever those bonds, I will not stop you. But, before you make that choice, there is one last matter we need to attend to as a group. Tomorrow, after our minds have relaxed and our bodies rejuvenated, we need to spread the word about our achievement. If possible, we should also visit the families who lost loved ones and offer them our condolences. Once we remind them that the deaths of their kin have been avenged, they can move on and repair their broken lives. I pray that the news will be carried even beyond this sanctuary, so that the displaced families will be motivated to return and restore this place to its former glory. Once that is taken care of, you are free to go your separate ways. I will welcome any of you with open wings into my home, should you choose to maintain our friendship. We have proved that great trials can be overcome through unity, and that ordinary creatures are most likely to perform extraordinary deeds. From the depths of my heart, I thank you all for your devotion and companionship."

Sean's speech was met with overwhelming gratitude, and the other macaws opted to express said gratitude through physical contact.

After receiving a string of hugs from each of them, the snakes bestowed their own thanks. They patted him on the head with their tails, thanking him in turn for hopefully bringing back enough prey to ensure their survival. After giving them a few final words, the snakes talked briefly with Sean's posse, and then departed.

The Scarlet Macaw spied the lumps in their bodies as they retreated into the undergrowth, and his uncertainties about the future went with them.

Eventually, all five macaws had piled into a cannonball tree a short flight away from the banana grove. They each dozed in a separate spot, allowing their warmth to circulate and keep the hollow comfortable.

Outside, a few feet away from their resting place, a small fire burned in a shallow pit.

In it lay the bloodstained net, along with the malicious weapon belonging to its deceased owner. Those were the last relics of her tyranny, objects that held incredible significance to the nearby macaws. Soon, they would be nothing but ashes, returning their essence to the land from whence they came.

All the echoes of the past locked within them, be they holy or unholy, would perish in the flames, and the world would be set free.

When they awoke the next morning, they were reminded of their resounding deed as they exited the tree. A pile of cold ashes sat in the pit, along with the silver blade that gleamed in the young light.

Piling on the dirt they removed to make the pit, the mound of gray dust was buried, and then the dirt stamped down. Lastly, they concealed it with leaf litter.

No one would ever know that that spot was a symbolic grave, save for the five macaws, and that was the way it should be. They milled about the grave for a few moments of time, sloughing off all their troubled thoughts, and then they departed to begin their courier mission.

On into the sunlight they flew, which appeared to be shining brighter than ever. Their own spirits shone with equal luminosity, acknowledging that a new, golden era had dawned.


My body, once whole, exploded into a thousand separate pieces. My blackened, withered spirit did the same, and only then did I realize I was dead. I was everywhere at once, and yet I could not sense anything at all.

The fragments of my body and soul alike were drifting and spinning throughout a boundless, dark space, devoid of sensory stimulation. A collective thought stream passed through my splintered slivers, begging the question: "Will I roam like this… forever?"

That final word sent a harsh pang of dread and loss throughout the scattered remnants of my corpse.

I tried to collect myself, to reconstruct my body and reclaim my spirit, but I failed, over and over again. With the wildfires of frustration and desire cooking every single chunk of my body, I released a mental shout that cursed my prison, deafening to me, but unheard by no one else.

The fires raged for a length of time I could not count, and then, a different sort of heat erupted all around me. I was blind to its appearance, but what I felt allowed me to somehow describe it with eerie precision. I sensed four faraway shapes exploding out of the darkness, balls of white-hot light and golden flames.

They sprouted luminous wings and tails, and then begun a silent, majestic dance.

Their intense – yet strangely harmless – shine filled the world as they spiraled together. In the wake of their union lay a vortex of glimmering light, one which sucked away the blackness at an alarming rate. All of a sudden, I felt an irresistible pull from the center of the vortex, and one by one, my individual chunks were sucked in as well.

Everything went blank as I slipped through the tornado, and then the worst feeling I could ever imagine consumed me. The negative fires of emotion in me were, ironically, snuffed out as the brilliant golden fire drowned me. I felt like I was a comet falling towards the sun, my broken body growing ever-hotter, my temperature surpassing all possible limits.

I began to melt and turn to liquid as I fell and fell, wondering how such agony was possible, given my situation. For an eternity, it seemed, I remained that way, barely noting how I felt like I was becoming whole once more. As I pleaded for the assault to stop, it slowly left me, second by agonizing second.

Then, as if I had slammed into an unbreakable wall of diamond, I stopped falling, and lay utterly still.

Something soft ticked my underside every so often, swaying in what felt like a light breeze. Rich, earthy scents found their way into me, tinted with a coolness I could not place. I could feel my chest rising and sinking beneath me, feel the pulse of blood in my ears.

I could now think clearer than ever before, and the first thought that surfaced was, "Am I… alive? But how?"

At long last, I opened my eyes, and a tilted world greeted me. Realizing my position, I chuckled and hesitantly lifted my head off of the ground.

A sea of green grass rolled in all directions, all the way to the horizon. To the left of the hill I was perched on top of, a short walk from its base, a healthy tree full of red fruits grew. An endless pattern of hills lay all around, some taller than others and crested with similar trees as the first.

A far distance ahead of me, nestled in a large patch of earth between to widely-spaced hills, was a large pond ringed by wildflowers. I felt as vibrant as those flowers themselves, as pure and innocent as an angel.

What the? Is this… Heaven? Did I end up here by mistake?

Rising to my feet, stretched my neck and breathed in a lungful of the tender air. The soothing wave that filled my lungs was almost too good to be true, but I was sure this was Heaven.

Hmmm, this sure is a nice place. I wonder if my daughter is around. Oh well, I'm sure I'll find her eventually.

The only thing that troubled me was that my memory was blank. I could not recall anything before the time I found myself in a million useless pieces. I squinted my eyes, but my long-term memory was completely gone.

Not wanting to spoil my supremely good mood, I stopped trying and opened my eyes. My stomach rumbling quietly, I set my sights on the tree to my left and began walking down the side of the hill.

It took a few seconds before I remembered I had wings. Giving a short laugh, I took to the warm skies and flapped towards my target.

That was when the voices started.

As I flew, they whispered inside my head nonstop, leaving little room for my own happy thoughts: You will… short-lived… punished… unforgivable… doomed…

The words echoed in a symphony of voices, some deep, some mellow, stirring the faintest of memories. It was though I had known those voices in some distant time, and had since forgotten who they had come from. The words pricked and poked my mind, and I refused to believe them. I pushed them away as much as I could, and then lighted down on a low branch of the tree.

A few inches above my head sat a red fruit, one that I recognized as an apple. Its soft skin tempted me, and I could hardly wait to taste the crunchy flesh inside of it. Licking my beak eagerly, I performed a small hop and hugged it with my wings. The stem broke loose, and I almost tripped off the branch when I fell back down.

I was just about to bite into it when a flicker of motion caught my eye.

I turned to my left to see a bright green snake come slithering onto my branch from the one above.

"Hello," I greeted, unsure if the snake would be able to respond.

It paused and lifted its head, and I felt quite silly for thinking it could talk.

"My name isss Luce, but don't mind me. Go ahead, eat," it replied seconds later, causing me to jump.

Yes, eat, murmured the voice in my head, which I ignored.

"My name's Jewel," I said happily.

"It's not poisoned, is it Luce?" I asked jokingly.

The snake narrowed its eyes.

"Maybe, maybe not. Eat, and you'll find out, sssooner or later…"

"Oookay," I replied, puzzled by his drawn out words.

While he watched with a tense gaze, I bit away at the apple. Every moist chunk I chewed was so tangy and crisp, it was hard to enjoy one bite before I dove in for the next. After all of three minutes, only the seed-stuffed core remained.

I tossed the core away and burped twice, my stomach pleasantly full.

"Yesss," the snake hissed unnervingly. "Sssooner or later…"

There is no turning back. It is calling, and you will go to it…

Between Luce's words on one end, and the mental whispers on the other, I was feeling very confused.

"Uh, bye, Luce," I said.

"Goodbye, Jewel."

After I took off, I heard his voice add, "We will meet again…"

It faded away into the breeze, which had kicked up noticeably as I left the tree behind.

Now what does that mean? Oh well, maybe I shouldn't even worry about it.

As I surveyed the sun-bathed landscape, the pond sparkled down below, blinding me for a few seconds.

Hmmm, a bath sounds nice right now. Maybe it will help me get rid of those stubborn whispers.

I went into a shallow descent and landed nimbly next to a trio of yellow flowers. They rocked back and forth in the brisk wind, bending away from me then coming back to slap my chest innocently. I grabbed the stem of one and sniffed it, the powerful aromas tickling my throat.

I stepped lightly past it and neared the pond, catching the reflection of the noontime sun rippling in the clear blue water. I also saw the reflection of a small cluster of stark white creatures –birds, to be exact – playing and wheeling about, disappearing completely when they flew under one of the puffy clouds.

Those piles of white fluff scurried across the sky from north to south, passing directly overhead. When I looked up, the birds sank into a cloud and never reappeared.

Another dim flash of memory erupted in my brain, but again I could not wholly understand the rapid spark of knowledge. It left me soon after, and I hopped forwards into the pond.

The face I saw when I stared at the rippling water was not my own, and it scared me out of my wits.

In place of my sapphire eyes were two dark pits of pure black, unseeing and evil. Even worse, there were no feathers on my face, the underlying, raw muscles exposed for the world to see. And finally, waterfalls of scarlet streamed from my empty sockets, as if I was crying not tears, but blood.

I tripped over myself and fell backwards in my hurried escape, smashing the flowers underneath my back. I shivered there for a few minutes, failing to shake the gruesome image from my mind's eye.

No no no, that wasn't real. It couldn't be! I must have been… seeing things. Oh dear, that was terrible… I thought with a shudder.

Then, I heard his tone in my head, clear and foreboding: The time has come. Your time of judgment has passed, and your sentence is due to be served, forever.

That foul word rang in my mind like a deafening bell, rattling my skeleton as I picked myself up. The shaking did not stop, and it took a few seconds before I saw the reason why: the earth was vibrating and groaning as it did an in earthquake.

I grew panicked and leapt into the air, thankful that I was out of reach of the heaving ground.

The very hills that had reached up towards the sun minutes ago were now splitting and crumbling, large clods of dark brown earth spilling from their interiors. The trees that sprouted from their crests were uprooted and went tumbling down the sides. Countless apples broke loose and began bouncing this way and that, moving like a swarm of mindless red balls.

As the wild tremor continued, the moderate wind from before roared even faster, and I struggled madly to stay aloft. I was tossed to the left, then to the right, and then blown backwards. I could feel my brain knocking around inside my skull, leaving me feeling dizzy and my vision hazy.

The clouds above had been stretched into long noodles, hopelessly trapped in the gale's sheer force. Debris filled the air as apples and branches of all sizes were picked up and sent flying, and I was soon playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.

My thoughts drifted briefly to Luce, the only other creature I had talked with. Searching quickly, I felt a stab of fear as I saw the nearly-bare tree he had occupied now rolling off into the distance.

My aching wings were starting to give out, and a sudden violent gust sent me spinning head over tail. There was danger whether I landed on the still-shivering ground or stayed in the air. Left with no options, I gave myself up to the shrieking wind, feeling some of my feathers being torn loose as I spun.

I closed my eyes out of fear, not seeing the airborne branch heading straight for me.

I was unable to fold my wings due to the pull of the wind, a fact that would prove to be my undoing. The branch struck a glancing blow to my left wing, but it was enough to cripple me with a tsunami of pain.

As my wing burned and pulsed with agony, I blacked out.

Ironically, all was calm as my consciousness shut down, blinding me to whatever happened thereafter. I was lost in the maze of my own dormant mind after the hit, for how long I could not say. I came to the conclusion that I had not died, but I hardly felt relieved.

Something horribly wrong had happened in that gorgeous realm, and I had been the cause.

Before I could contemplate long on that frightening occurrence, their combined murmurs brought me out of my slumber. Bit by bit, they lifted me out of my sleep and into the waking world. But before I opened my eyes – flooded with a sense of clammy déjà vu – the stench I inhaled set off a negative reaction in me.

I threw my eyes open, my lungs and air sacs burning and rejecting the air I breathed. As I was on my back, I rolled over and hopped to my feet. A spear of cold fire jabbed at my left side, and I gritted my beak.

I shot my gaze to the mess that was my left wing, a small whimper escaping my beak. Most of the feathers along the leading edge were gone, swollen skin left in their place. Splinters large and small were stuck in the flesh like tiny nails, surrounded by dried blood. Its uniform shape convinced me it was not broken, but it sure felt like it was.

I dared not try to pick out the splinters, stomaching the throb and turning my attention elsewhere. Wherever I was, it was nothing like the happy place I had been in.

The contrast was so sharp, I was stunned from the shock. The sky was clogged with angry red and orange sheets of cloud edged with black. There was no sun or moon or stars to be seen, only those randomly sliding blankets of tinted smoke above.

As I lowered my gaze, the reason for their unnatural coloring became clear: Scattered volcanoes vomited scalding lava into the sky, along with towering fingers of the blackest smoke I had ever seen.

Every so often, glowing chunks of rock would shoot out of the volcanoes' mouths, rolling speedily down the sides of the formations that had created them. They lost their color as they cooled and stopped tumbling, fading to a reflective black sheen.

The blood of the earth also ran down many of the volcanoes' slopes, but posed no immediate harm to me.

Dropping my gaze even lower, I noticed the land was dry, dusty, and bare. Not a flower or tree bloomed from the parched dirt. There were, however, plenty of the jagged, glassy stones to be had. The air smelled horrible, making my breathing difficult and my eyes water.

And boy, was it hot.

A dry wind swept across the land every so often, stealing my tears and making room for another batch. I slowed my breathing and timed it in between the gusts to ease the discomfort. As much as I wanted to deny it, this place was real, realer than any dream or nightmare.

If the other place was Heaven, could this be… Hell? Is there such a thing for birds? Does it have something to do with the voices? They kept mentioning stuff about my judgment and punishment. Could this be…

As they had many times before, my thoughts led me to a conclusion that defied explanation. This one happened to be the strongest, and I stumbled back in response. I unknowingly stepped on a stone, which cut my foot and caused me to trip.

The sting was over shortly after my back met the ground, my ruined wing sending out jolts of pain as it struck the dirt. My extreme discomfort was gone a few seconds later, but my mental protests did not leave me.

Is whatever they have been whispering to me true? Where do I go? What do I do? I can't fly, and now my foot is going to take forever to heal! If this is Hell… what will happen to me? Oh please, won't someone give me some answers? Come back, you voices. I know you can hear me!

Groaning, I used my unhurt wing to push myself up into a standing position.

I set my right foot down and stepped in a small pool of blood. I winced and pulled it close to my body, bending down to look at it. My middle toe was dripping blood like a leaky faucet, hiding the deep cut I knew was there.I figured that the blood would cause the dirt to cling to the cut, which would probably irritate it severely.

My wing was a sorry excuse for one, and my foot was no better, though for different reasons. Since I could not fly, I had to walk, but where? What was my purpose for being here? How would I escape? Did my life amount to nothing anymore? And what did those voices mean?

It was so ironic, considering that I was dead.

But then, how could I smell, and breathe, and feel? The total lack of sense drove me mad and swallowed me in desperation at the same time. My long-term memory was still blank.

Feeling more sickened with emotion than I thought possible, I spun around and began walking in a straight line to nowhere. Every step was torture, every breath a struggle. My left wingtip dragged the ground pitifully, stirring up thin clouds of dust that were blown in front of me, just so that I would inhale them and cough. Whether it was because of how small and worthless I felt or because of the blistering wind, I began to cry.

I limped on in that one direction, heedless of everything but the pain wracking my body and the storm of emotions in my soul.

A volcano came up on my right after ten minutes of limping, thick streams of lava drooling out of its mouth. They crawled down its sides and were drawing close to me, assaulting me with their unreal heat. I steered away from them as fast as I could, though they were feet away from catching me for most of the time. I swung around in a wide circle and continued my pointless journey.

At last, when another mountain of fire and smoke loomed large on my left, I could go no further. I stopped walking altogether and slumped to the ground, still crying my eyes out. I was nothing but a pitiful sack of feather and bone, my spirits defeated and echoing my sorrow.

I spied worms of scarlet inching down the nearby volcano, which was about fifty feet away. The air above them shimmered from the heat, rising like clear fog and fading into the sooty sky. There was nothing in the way to stop them, save for my trembling body. They would eventually reach me and embrace me, melting me down into nothingness.

I did not care anymore, and I was hoping that I would die, as crazy as it sounded. Maybe then would my misery end. Maybe then would I cease to exist in any way, shape, or form.

I would trade my life, full of suffering and despair, for no life at all.

I stole one last look at the advancing liquid of doom and turned my head away, resting my left cheek on the ground. Bracing myself for the unthinkable agony I would eventually feel as the lava ran over me, I closed my eyes and awaited the kiss of death. My furious crying settled down into a semi-forced sobbing, the heat from the fresh lava steadily rising and baking my left side.

It came within twenty feet, it seemed, and I shut my eyes even harder.

Fifteen feet. My instincts screamed at me to run, a biological cry bent on self-preservation. I willed it to stop, barely moving a muscle.

Ten feet.

Five feet. The waves of heat were near unbearable now, but still I lay there, awaiting my final destruction.

What came next blew my mind: "You, rise, so that you may hear of your sentence."

That all-too-familiar tone crept into my ears, louder even than the pounding of my pulse. Then, beyond any will of my own, I was pulled to my feet, after which my eyelids were stretched back. I was powerless to resist, standing there like a zombie.

Perched in front of me were the four birds I had seen in the darkness and then in the grassy world. They no longer shone with that blinding light, but their appearance was equally impossible.

They seemed to be composed of ivory flames which twisted and waved randomly, unaffected by the wind. Small wisps detached from the upper edges of the flames and climbed into the air, rising a few feet before going out. Every inch of their bodies was crafted with divine perfection, such that I could tell their genders and note their physical differences.

Two young males sat behind the lead figure and off to the right, while a young female pressed against his right wing. The head male was twice as large and much more mature, rising a full inch taller than I.

It was as if I knew them somehow, even though they were so awe-inspiringly beautiful it was beyond reason.

I had yearned to die, but their arrival had caused me to forget all about the lava. To their left, I saw those red banners running straight until they drew near the birds. As if they were surrounded by a ghostly barrier, the lava turned at right angles to them and flowed away, its heat now undetectable.

I blinked twice, too stupefied to speak. I had been seconds away from death, and the birds' untimely intervention had prevented it. Sparks of anger zapped my soul, and I tried to throw myself into the fluid.

I could not move. My muscles would not respond, another unwanted effect of their presence.

My eyes were locked with those of the leader, his stare penetrating right through me. With holy calmness, he spoke.

"Jewel, or should I say, 'demon,' this is only the start of your suffering. But first, I hear you have many questions, and we will answer them."

"What?" was my strained reply.

"We have stayed by your side ever since the night you slaughtered us, as spirits do, watching as you murdered every bird you came across. We could not stop you, no, but such is the way of things. In a sense, their deaths did not matter, for ours alone were enough to condemn you to eternal punishment."

He hopped in my direction, halving the distance between our bodies.

"You ask if our words are true, and they are the truest ones you will ever hear," he said imposingly.

The first male to his right stepped closer and continued, "You may go wherever you wish, but you will never escape your fate."

The male behind him added, "You may do whatever you wish, but your punishment will never fail to be inflicted."

The sole female said in an angelic tone, "Pain and suffering equal to that which you inflicted in your former life will be enacted upon you, in endless and ever-changing ways."

Finally, the large male concluded, "Your daughter, Adriana, will also share your torment. It was you that corrupted her, and it was she who accepted it. Vengeance for the souls you both stripped from the mortal world will be dealt to her first, and then you in turn. That is how He has willed it, and that is how it shall be."

As the chain of responses soaked into my brain, my soul squirmed in rage and defiance and despair and sadness. Who were these unknown birds to restrain me? Who were these birds to speak to me like parents do to their unruly child? Who were these birds to say I would be punished here, along with my daughter?

Their mention of her, and what would happen to her, pushed me over the edge.

Though my soul was practically drunk on the desire to steer my body, the invisible clamps around me blocked that desire fully. The dominant male hopped even closer, his ghostly beak passing into mine.

"We, your former family, will be watching you and your spawn die, over and over, until the end of time. We will be spectators to a necessary evil, one that you brought upon yourself and your daughter alike. The others who perished will not, for they are living in His realm, under His flawless protection. This lifeless wasteland was created for you and your spawn by Him, a vast prison in which you will pay for your unforgivable crimes."

It was all too much to even think about, too much to believe. But I had no choice. The meaning in their words was as plain as the words themselves, and I could not contain the explosion of negativity inside me.

"Let me GO! Let me find MY DAUGHTER! You're all LIARS! You can't HURT ME!"

The lead male leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "Is that what you think?"

All of a sudden, an outside force barreled into my chest and sent me flying through the air.

I cried out in pain as I landed a good distance away, my sore wing and aching foot grinding along the filthy ground. I rolled several times and then came to a stop, my breathing rapid and shallow. I picked my head up and saw the four birds near the volcano that had nearly killed me. Then, they rushed at me like ivory ghosts, blurs of motion that I could not follow.

In the blink of an eye, they were crowded around me, smug frowns on their stark faces.

"It is time for vengeance, on our behalf, and on the behalf of those you killed. We will be watching, demon. Always watching..."

They doubled in size as they burst into silent flame, and then they were gone without a trace.

Weary, delusional, and gripped with fear, I lurched to my feet and searched all around for my child.

That was when I saw her.

Far away, a blue speck so small I couldn't even make out her features. A volcano sat in front of her, though less active than the rest. She appeared to be looking at something in front of her, I guessed.

My body and soul alike yearned to hold her and speak to her, to end our prolonged separation. It did not matter that she was physically and mentally dead as I was. At least we could be together in Hell.

The ivory birds' words looping in my head, I hobbled as fast as I could in her direction. For her sake, I limped on through the trauma of each footstep, each breath. When I could see her better, I called out in a hoarse yell, hoping she would hear me. Her back was turned towards me, and she was oblivious to my rasping screams.

I walked even closer and could now see her with great detail, and she was peering into a deep crack at the foot of the volcano. My voice cracked and fell silent when I was roughly twenty feet away.

I have to… get to her! I have to… protect her! I won't let her… die again!

My footsteps came to a halt as a rumble deep beneath my feet traveled into my body. My daughter seemed to notice the shaking too, and began to retreat from the crack after nearly falling into it.

In a forced whisper I hollered, "Adr-Adriana!"

She spun around and met my gaze, her amber irises heavy with fear and wonder.

"Mom! It's you! What's going on?"

"I do-don't know! Come here!" I whispered.

The shaking underfoot came to a halt, and Adriana had not taken two steps before something rose out of the crack. A four-legged beast with jagged brown rock for skin slammed two massive paws on the edge of the crack and heaved itself out.

It was three times my size.

Tubes of enclosed lava ran down its legs and sides like visible blood vessels. Adriana wheeled around to face him, and the beast brought a massive paw down on her tail.

Pinned, her feet useless, she practically ran in place.

"Mom, HELP! Distract it or something! I can't get away!"

In my current condition, there was no way I could challenge such a powerful creature. Even had I been perfectly healthy, it wouldn't have mattered.

"Adriana… I… I can't..."

"You HAVE to! I'm… your DAUGHTER! Don't you love me?"

I did love her. I loved her beyond measure, but I had no more strength in me to prove that I did. Like a coward, I stood there and watched, a macaw made of living stone.

The beast eyed me with two ovals of pure lava, and then eyed my daughter. He tilted his head back and let out a roar of sound and flame. A wave of heat whooshed past me, and then he threw his head down, mouth wide open.

He bit down on her back and lifted her in the air. Her deafening scream tore at my ears, and I felt tears dribbling down my salt-crusted cheeks. He shot a triumphant gaze at me, my limp, bleeding daughter in his jaws, and shook his head like a dog.

There was a muffled tearing sound, and Adriana came sailing towards me. She landed with a sickening splat a few feet away, speckling me lightly with her warm blood. She skidded to within five feet of me, her body bent over at an unnatural angle, her eyes as wide as an owl's.

She never got up.

Down the middle of her back was a huge gash through which her organs could be seen, and nothing else.

"Adriana… no. No! NO!"

Her spine was gone, pulled clean out of her, and she was dead.

I fell to the ground and saw a white length of bone in the beast's stony jaws. Choking on my own tears and undergoing dry heaves, I began to tremble uncontrollably. The beast spit her spine out nonchalantly and lumbered in my direction, the ground shaking with every step it took.

I could feel his hot breath as he approached, and eventually, he was standing over me. A heavy exhale flattened my feathers and made my temperature soar. I let out a moan, and the beast answered by grabbing my wings with his paws.

He slammed his hindquarters on the ground and held me in front of him. My damaged wing was numb at this point, and I felt nothing. My head fell over like a limp doll's, as I had given up.

Thanks to my child, I learned that death was possible, even in Hell. I wanted to die too, and I prayed nonstop that the beast would carry out my wish.

It blew my head back with another insufferable roar, and I couldn't help but stare into its gaping mouth. Something deep inside twitched, perhaps its stony tongue or the source of its flaming breath.

I was proven wrong on both accounts when it shot out and clamped onto my neck.

It felt like a vice with needles for teeth had stabbed into me, but no sound would come out of my parched throat. It seemed that my ability to detect pain had never faltered, and I simply couldn't take anymore. I gave a last shudder of internal agony, and then the mouth ripped away from me. The last thing I saw before blacking out was a long tube of flesh hanging from the second mouth, dripping with scarlet like a bloody hose.

My eyelids slid over my eyes, and as I stared into the blackness, I felt my heart stop. I had gotten my wish, and I had died… once and for all.

I anticipated floating away, but such was not the case.

I felt as heavy as lead, and then I started falling and falling. I came to a dead stop moments later, and a familiar jolt of sensation jarred my body: pain.

I squinted my eyes, and then opened them.

What the hell? I'm still in the same place I was before! But I… died, and now I'm alive again! What the hell is going on?

My mind was now thoroughly panicked and angered, and I forced myself to my feet. I looked myself over, and the source of my pain was revealed to me. The leading edge of my left wing was riddled with bloody splinters, the bare flesh swollen and inflamed.

My wing is exactly like it was before that stony beast killed Adriana… and then me. Oh no… those birds were right! They brought me back to life… so that I would end up getting killed… again! I have to get out of here! But I can't leave without Adriana!

The dizzying storm emotions and conclusions threatened to paralyze me, but I steeled my will and began hobbling forwards. My foot ached with every step, yet another sign that I had been resurrected.

I frantically scanned the land to my left, but I didn't see her. Nor did I see her to my right. When I looked ahead, a telltale ball of blue feathers edged with gold caught my attention. There she was, at the foot of a volcano not forty feet away.

In a loud yell, I called, "Adriana! Come here! We have to get out of here!"

To my elation, she spun around and began to jog towards me.

"Mom, what's going on? That thing killed me, and then I came back here!"

I futilely tried to run faster, but by stinging foot could not take the pressure.

"I think something very bad is going to happen. We need to escape together."

As if to answer my words, the ground began to tremble.

I skidded to a stop to maintain my balance, and so did Adriana. Behind her, the volcano shuddered and groaned. Then, it erupted. Huge bubbles and fountains of lava soared out of the crater, as did splinters and chunks of red hot glass. The scalding fluid flowed down the sides in rivers, drops of lava raining all over.

Adriana whirled around and observed the chaos for a few brief seconds, frozen with fear, The shaking ground made it harder to dodge the deadly rain of fire and debris, and I retreated backwards at a slow pace. The stones hit the ground with audible thuds and left small gouges in the dry earth. I knew a hit from one of those would be deadly.

"Adriana, run this way! You're too close! You're going to get hit!" I ordered.

I knew it was useless for her to try and fly, since gusty downdrafts blasted the ground every so often and sending out clouds of dust.

She complied and spun around, breaking into a random walk in my direction. She barely made any progress due to the unsteady turf, and the glassy shrapnel was falling terribly close to her. I halted my retreat to survey the sky and try to guide her out of the paths of the plummeting chunks.

"Adriana, move to the left! Now!"

She stumbled to the left, narrowly avoiding being crushed by a rock equal to her in size.

"Now run forwards!"

She did so, but with her frightened gaze focused on me, she didn't see the red-hot stone in front of her. She tripped over it and did a somersault, coming to a stop on her stomach.

"My foot! It's burned! I can't get up!"

"You have to! Please, GET UP!"

As she used her wings to try and push herself up, I took a harsh blow to my right side.

I collapsed from the agony and looked to my right. A steaming chunk of black glass was bouncing away from me and my severed right wing. Blood streamed from the burned, bloody stump, complete with jagged splinters of bone. The pain was so overwhelming, I nearly passed out.

I raised my head to look up at my daughter, who had just risen to her feet.

"Adr-Adriana… help me…" I moaned, barely loud enough for her to hear.

She found me and hopped in my direction once, twice. And then she was struck. The flat boulder went right through her and shattered into a cloud of shards.

Moments later, the daughter I loved so much gave a small shudder, then split into two unequal halves, which flopped to the earth.

The edges of her dissected corpse emitted thin tendrils of smoke that blew away in mere moments. From where I was, I could see her spine and her bloodied entrails hanging out. The final burst of agony and fear she suffered was written all over one half of her face, and so saddening and sickening was that look that I burst into tears.

It happened again… and now I see that those birds… were telling the truth. They are making me watch her die… and then they are going to make me die…

On a whim, I laid my head down on the ground, and the eye that was looking upwards spied a blur of movement. A jagged chunk of glowing glass riddled with spiny projections was hurtling straight for me. It disappeared as a dark cloud in my line of sight drifted above it.

It slammed into me moments later.

I felt my lower half get torn away from me, my insides now open to the dry wind.

That's it. I'm dead… again. What did I ever do… to deserve… this…

I let out a final dying moan, and my world went black for the second time in a row.

That leaden sensation secured me in its unbreakable grasp, but the falling sensation did not follow. No, something else entirely followed: a feminine voice laced with concern and happiness. "Mom, it's you! Are you okay? Please tell me you're okay!"

Adriana, is that… oh my God… it is! But that must mean… oh no…

Something fuzzy and warm brushed across my face and roused me from my slumber. When I creaked open my eyes, my beautiful Adriana was perched in front of me.

"Oh thank goodness! Mom, is it ever going to end? Am I going to die… again? I'm so scared…"

I hauled myself to my feet – tortured by the pain in my wing and foot – and pulled her into my chest.

"Adriana… they're the ones doing it. Those white birds… their punishing me and you… for something I'm not even sure we did…"

"I haven't seen anybody here… but you. Who are you talking about? What did we not do?"

"Never mind. Forget about them. I can't sit here and let them kill us again. We have to leave! Now that I have you close, we can run! Come on!"

I released her, stole a glance into her glistening eyes, and began to jog away from her. Her light footsteps followed, and she came up on my left side.

"Oh my gosh! Mom, your wing! It's-"

"Don't worry about my wing! Just don't stop running!"

There were no stony beats or falling rocks that I could see, and I knew there was a slim chance that we could escape. But where would we go? Where could we hide? Those birds said there was no way out, but I refused to believe them.

I can't let them take her away from me! I can't bear to see her suffer and perish right in front of my eyes anymore!

"Mom, where are we going?"

I turned to look at her while we ran, a frown on my face.

"I-I don't know, daughter. But there has to be somewhere safe we can hide, like an empty volcano or… or a cave!"

She nodded and faced ahead, matching my lagging pace. She weaseled herself under my tattered flying appendage and supported me, boosting my speed. We quickly scooted past a volcano to our left, entering a large swath of open ground.

A drawn-out cracking sound filled the air, and a fissure glowing with orange light tore across our path.

We changed course and skirted around one side, catching a glimpse of the boiling lava that filled the crack's interior. Another seam opened up in front of us, followed by one to our left, and a third to our right. It was getting harder and harder to move, as if the cracks were trying to trap us or cause us to fall to our fiery deaths.

At one point, we hopped over two rifts that barred our way, easily clearing the first and barely clearing the second. The effort it took to jump with my bleeding foot, coupled with the waves of heat shooting out of the gaps, was draining my strength away.

After dodging three more splits, I could go no further.

"Adriana… we need to stop. I'm so tired…"

"But Mom, look over there! There's a hole in the side of the volcano, and no lava's coming out. It must be dormant!"

Indeed, when I stared in the direction her wing was pointing, I could see she was telling the truth. I looked her in the eyes as sternly as I could but my weariness softened my stare.

"I can't… I can't make it. I'm sorry, Adriana… but…"

"No! You can't just give up! If you give up, we're dead."

My head sunk, and I replied, "We're already… dead. It's hopeless. We can't beat them…"

A seam opened up behind us, smothering us with even more blazing heat. Oddly, there was a sizzling sound, like flesh was being cooked. As the seconds painfully ran by, a shiny object emerged from the tear in the dirt.

It resembled the tiny head of some animal. Over time, four more similar shapes poked their heads up and scanned the area. Their gazes instantly shot to me and Adriana, and they proceeded to drag themselves out. Their slanted eyes were as fiery as the lava that was dripping harmlessly from their bodies.

Snakes… they're snakes! Snakes made out of that sharp glass! No...

My panicked thoughts slipped from my beak as the now three foot long creatures coiled themselves up around us, blocking our escape completely. Like we had any chance of escaping even before they showed up.

"Mom, what do we do? Those things… those snakes… they came out of the lava!"

"Nothing… except be killed… again…"

Knowing my time was inevitably at an end, I faced the closest snake and moaned, "What are you waiting for? Get it over with! There's no way I can stop you…"

I presumed the snake understood, because he lunged. But he didn't lunge at me.

He sprang at Adriana and clenched his jaws on her right wing.

"Ow! Get… off of me! Mom, help!"

Another snake followed suit as she hopped around, the snake refusing to release her. When the second glass monster had bitten her left wing, they simultaneously wiggled their needle-like tails into the ground nearly a foot. Their bodies were now stretched tight, and Adriana could no longer move her body.

Knowing there was not a thing I could do to help her in my exhausted, doomed state, I cast her a pitiful look of immense regret.

Suddenly, I felt two lashes of pain on the sides of my body, and my vocal cords gave out from the stress of my groan. The snakes had pinned me down as well, making sure I was face to face with my daughter.

At this, the fifth snake eyed her as he circled her trembling body, and then went for her nape. He bit down so hard on the back of her skull, blood spewed out in tiny jets as her back arched.

"YAHHH! Mom… it HURTS!"

No sooner had she finished yelling did it drag its spear of a tail around and stab it into the area between her outstretched wings. Another piercing scream echoed from her beak. If it weren't for the restraining animals, she would have collapsed.

The snake then wrapped itself around her neck.

No… it's going to choke her… oh please no…

My assumption was dismissed when it tightened its coils and slowly twisted her head around. Her head rotated to the left, and I could see her muscles shaking as she tried to fight back. It kept on going, and when it was facing almost 180 degrees away, she let loose an unending series of pleas.

"Mom… my neck… it's KILLING ME! Get it off! It's trying to… break my-"

The snake gave a shudder and constricted its coils in one quick burst. Her head spun past 180 degrees, and her reply was sheared off instantly.

Her neck bent unnaturally, and the snake on her back released its grip. She gave a few harsh coughs, blood dribbling from her beak, and then she fell silent. The snakes on her wings backed off as well and retreated back to their boiling birthplace. Adriana fell flat on her chest.

My beautiful daughter ceased to move, an odd lump stationed midway down her neck.

NO! Adriana! My Adriana… she's dead… it's all coming true…

Now that I was mute, I could only speak my thoughts mentally. I was all alone, and now that she was dead, I knew that I was next to be killed, murdered for reasons that I still could not come up with.

The snake who had snapped her neck slithered over to me and circled around.

Good… pop my neck too. A quick death… is all that I ask for… oh please… what is the point of life...

I closed my eyes to await the glass demon's bite, but such a bite never came. What the snake did to me was so vile, it was unthinkable. A stinging pain consumed my lower body as the snake forced its way inside me through my cloaca.

It wriggled up my intestines like a solid worm, expanding the tissue past its limit. I could feel my bowels ripping apart as the too large snake surged into me, and my back arched from the unendurable agony. My blood lubricated his upward passage, and that impossibly-painful burning reached my chest.

And then it stopped.

I felt like I had been raped by a bare tree branch, and needless to say, I welcomed the sense of unconsciousness that was fast approaching. The only thing that kept me trapped in the waking world was the horrid shifting of my lungs, and then the explosion of pain underneath my skin.

There was a sick ripping sound, and then a blood-smeared head grew out of my chest like a vine.

The snake turned to look at me, and I felt my body go numb as I saw my still-thudding heart in its mouth. It spat my most vital organ on the ground and pulled the rest of its length from my insides. As soon as its tail had left the hole in my chest, the last two snakes tying me down slithered away.

I fell to my knees, feeling so empty, so used, so washed out. I felt like a zombie. My heart slowed the longer I stared at it, until it stopped beating all at once. My breaths came in rapid gasps, but with no pulse to spread the oxygen, they did nothing.

As I lay on my knees, feeling my consciousness drip away and my brain began to die, my long-term memory pounded itself into my head.

I remembered killing bird after bird with my two-ended weapon after prowling the jungles around Rio. I saw myself breaking their necks, cutting them open, raping them, plucking them, and finally, murdering them. My daughter was beside me and helping me kill them, but then she disappeared.

I realized I was going back in time.

At the very end of my vision, I saw myself dispatching four birds in a small, well-lit room. They were all various shades of blue. They pleaded for me to spare them, and the large male swore he was going to kill me.

I ignored him and drank one male's blood, bashed a female's skull in, and set another male on fire. Then, I disemboweled the large male and removed his heart, eating it like a midday snack.

The rush of knowledge and understanding upon my oxygen-starved body was more than I could take. I slumped to the ground, my breaths even faster and shorter in duration.

So many birds… I slaughtered. Ate their eggs and drank their blood. And those blue macaws… they were my family. The white birds… it was them. They came back to punish me… and here I am. They were telling the truth… all along…

I now knew why I ended up here, why I was being tortured over and over: I was the evilest macaw to ever have lived, and I was guilty of too many sins to even count.

Everything slipped into place as I entered my death throes, my eyes sliding shut at a terribly-slow pace. When half of my eyesight was gone, four flaming macaws floated down to me.

My former family was back.

The large male, the one who used to be my mate, gave a judgmental nod and grinned viciously. In my aching head, his dim voice said: And now the truth has been shown to you. Now you see why you have been condemned to suffer here for eternity, and why your daughter shares your fate. You will experience torture everlasting, demon, or dare I say, Jewel. Your third execution has been carried out, yet an infinite number remain to be inflicted. This is merely the beginning.

The birds' faces went smug, and their stares never left me. I was so overwhelmed with the certainty of my and my daughter's fate, I forced my eyes shut and held my breath. I actually stayed conscious enough to feel my muscles turn to ice and my brain wink out.

My soul grew light as a cloud and tried to drift away. All too soon, it began to feel heavier and heavier, as if it was sinking back into my body. Just as the ivory macaws had predicted, I was being revived.

That voice, his voice, hummed in my ears as my stone-like body returned to normal and my eyes fluttered open: "Why hello, Jewel. Welcome back to your endless nightmare."

The male I knew as Blu stood in front of me, smirking, my three former children clustered at his sides. I glanced to my left and saw Adriana lying on the ground, confused, but unhurt.

An irresistible force clamped down on my head and made it face forwards. I grew angry and depressed at the same time, since these angelic spirits were the reason for my recurring executions.

"Why won't you leave me alone? How is one bird supposed to keep enduring what you're putting me through?"

Ignoring my biting question, my son, Renato, posed a query of his own: "Isn't it odd how you just won't stay dead, Jewel?"

"I wonder why that is?" Matthias put in.

"Isn't it just so terrible how everything you did in your first life is coming around and biting you in the tail feathers?" Carmen concluded.

It was clear they were mocking me and turning my doomed situation into a joke. What made it worse is that they were the ones responsible.

"Look, you've broken my spirit, okay? Can you just stop? I'm sorry, okay! I'm so sorry!"

Blu walked over to me and exhaled, ivory flames emerging in a puff and heating up my face.

"'I'm sorry' doesn't cut it, Jewel. Didn't my children and I already tell you that you'll never escape this place? You killed us in cold blood, remember?"

For this, I had no response.

Adriana did, apparently: "Mom, you… killed them? You killed… your first family? But… but… I thought…"

"Of course she killed us, stupid female!" Blu retorted.

He cast her a glance that could melt her skin, and then skewered me with that same deadly stare.

"I think we've done enough talking. It's high time we kick-start round four of our little game."

He spun his head around ad asked, "What do you say, children?"

"Go ahead, Dad," they replied simultaneously.

"The vote is unanimous, then. I love the way that sounds."

Blu's eyes met mine moments later.

"Good thing we get to sit here and watch you and her squirm and die, Jewel. Are you ready?"

"Blu… I'm-"

"Do not call me by that name!"

The angry male waved his wings in a series of mystical strokes, a silent signal with a dark purpose.

"Are you ready, Jewel?" he asked a second time, his voice an emphatic squawk.

"No…"

"You know what? Too bad! Let's get this show on the road."


A/N: This is THE END of the HB series. If you can manage, I ask you to review and include all the details you wish.

I may not be back for some time, as I will be spending my time writing for FiMfiction in the near future.

I urge the new writers to continue adding their lovely works to this site and continue battling the trolls who are out to destroy the community.

I will be watching for those fantastic stories, even though I may not be publishing my own too often.

This is goodbye, but only for now. I will always be here, watching, reading, and enjoying the stories my fellow authors put up.

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