Caternia, Bird of Paradise
Published 07-07-03

(- indicates a chapter break)
Character List: Caternia [ka-tare-nEa]; The 'bird' Spirit living in the forest, who befriends Marie Cerise [ser-Ise]; The steely-eyed, emotionless friend Marie has who dissappears after school... Kim [kim]; Sarine's friend, also on the fencing team Marie [ma-rE]; A 'nerd' in school with few friends; after getting beaten up, she runs into a forest and finds Caternia Sarine [suh-rEn]; The nice girl who helps Marie out in school- leader of her group of friends

"Cerise! Wait!" Marie called. Cerise turned. Her emotionless face and piercing eyes wasn't anything new to Marie, but anyone else would want to make her change expressions. It was useless. Cerise's face simply refused to move.
"Wanna come with me to the mall?" Marie asked.
"I'm sorry Marie, but I've got fencing." Cerise said. Her strange yellowish pupils unmoving.
"It's okay." Marie was used to it. Cerise was easily the champion of athletics in school, queen of the fencing team. She was needed at every practice to train the less experienced.
Marie headed to the mall alone. It wasn't that she needed anything, or wanted anything, but more that she didn't have anywhere else to go, really. Watching Cerise teach wasn't very rewarding, as Cerise always dissappeared somewhere right after practice, but there were several other issues as well. For the first, she had no friends. Also, if she went home, she wouldn't be any help, as her mother did fine without her; probably better than if she was there. Her mother loved her, but she also had to pick up any job she could get since her father had died. It was better to stay out of the way.
"Hey! You!" Marie gasped. If she didn't have friends, she did have one thing; enemies. But unlike Cerise, she wasn't very flexible, but small- boned and skinny. Many kids liked to bully her when Cerise wasn't around, since Cerise was popular and she was just any other weakling, smart but with nobody to benefit with her intelligence, and they knew she wouldn't fight back.
The one who had called her, a big boy with chestnut-colored hair, kicked her so she wouldn't be able to run away. She fell down, getting into a sitting position and checking her ankle where she'd been kicked. Good, nothing injured. Last time she'd broken it, and it was still fragile.
His cronies, a skinny one with a hat that overshadowed his eyes, and a tall one, with black messy hair, also kicked her. From her position on the ground Marie winced and rolled into a ball, protecting her smarting ankle. If she broke it, her mother would surely go into debt again.
They continued kicking her, then searched for money. Finding one, they beat her up some more. "Hey! You!" Shouted a voice, only vaguely familiar to Marie. They stopped kicking her. Scrunching up against the wall of the stairwell in the multilevel parkinglot where she'd been accosted, she checked herself over and sighed, relieved. Only a few bruises and scrapes; she normally got worse.
There was angry talking and Marie tried to identify the voice. Someone in her class, at least. After a while she heard them leave, leaving only one person. Marie looked up, drying her tears and leaving a grimy mark on her shirt where she'd wiped her face.
Someone with pretty golden hair tied high as was the fashion, put into a braid, was standing askance with her hands on her hips, watching them go. "Anything else against this girl and you're dead, Bradley!" She shouted after them. Her friend, who Marie hadn't noticed, came out from the shadows. "Hah, glad I wasn't needed, eh?" She said, flipping her hair. Marie shrank back. These were obviously higher-class girls than she; she was at the bottom of the school totem pole, and usually the one who got bossed around by the higher classes. The girl turned around.
"Hi, Marie right? I'm Sarine." She said. "We were coming back from fencing practice when I saw them beating you up." She pointed towards the doorway from their school linked to the second floor of the parking garage Marie had come through.
"'I'm Kim. Short for Kimberly- I'm Sarine's younger sister by a year." Her friend winked. "You ok?" She tossed her carrot- red hair again.
"Uh, fine, thanks," Marie said awkwardly.
"Wanna come to the mall? Looks like that's where you're headed anyways, right?" Kim offered kindly.
"Um, that's okay," Marie said timidly. She wanted to be alone.
"Okay, need anything just ask, alright?" Sarine said, acting cheerful. Cerise was right, the poor girl. She thought, she needs friends.
"Okay, see you tomorrow," Marie said quietly.
"Bye!" The sisters called cheerfully.
Marie walked slowly until they were out of sight, then walked briskly to her locker, stuffed her bookbag inside, and took her waterbottle from the top. Cerise, who was her locker partner, hadn't left any notes, so she went ahead down the street outside, almost jogging, desperate not to be noticed in such a bedraggled state.
She burst into the woods, following the path. After a while, she veered sharply from it, taking a long-memorized route into the woods, towards her secret spot. Thick, spiky vines guarded the entrance, but she knew of a way of getting through them by sliding sideways, diagonally into the clearing in the middle. One side was a fence, covered in vines on the other side of which was a golf course, and a willow's branches and thorny shrubs made the other ways impossible. She had found it by accident, and came here whenever she needed to be alone.
Despite the recent friendship she'd started with Kim and Sarine, Marie felt more alone than ever.
She ran into the grove, unaware of anything except the blessed silence hanging around her like a curtain. She hurrie daway, turning to become one with the backside of a rock, facing the sun. "I don't know what's going on," She sniffed- she usually talked to herself when alone in this glade, confident no one would hear her, "This time was somehow worse than usual, despite Kim and Sarine coming to help me. Somehow they came and I feel even sadder..." She said, "Whenever these things come to me, they always seem to go away almost instantly..." She never bothered to use correct grammar when she was alone here.
"Human beings never have anything to fear but themselves," A voice suddenly said, "That is- unless they meet me. I've been watching you. I'm going to counsel you."
Marie looked up, startled and somewhat alarmed that someone had been listening to her.

Sitting in the tree right in front of her was a beutiful young woman, in her early thirties by the look of it, but something told her that this lady wasn't human. Her face had a certain sharpness to it, the wise and hard to read face of a bird. Her hair was shimmering silver, with blue highlights, and she wore a beutiful, unearthly golden headpiece encrusted with round rubies in a pattern that traced her hairline, attached to garlands of jewelly pink flowers covering her ears. Her sharp eyebrows wore a fixed intelligent, connected by pale blue eyeshadow to her eyes, the colorful thing on her pale face. Her eyes were a still, steely black, her nose small and sharp, her face small with tiny, delicate, pink lips. Small bangs peeked in an orderly way from beneath the front of the golden headpiece, the whole effect making her look like one of the Hindi or the Tibetan goddesses. Also odd was the way she sat in the tree as if she belonged there, quite accustomed to the branch, as comfortably as Marie sat in her own favorite couch. The somewhat thin branch sagged little under her weight. Her pale skin glowed a little in the gloom of the shadows of the tree, but Marie was already too surprised to dwell on this.
With a jolt Marie noticed the beutiful wings concealed behind the woman's back. They were sparkling white like her hair, and opalescent blue, but a much paler blue than the sheen of her hair, which had been something near dark indigo, whereas the wings' iridescence were nearer to pale sky blue. She radiated a feel of ancientness Marie could never describe adequately in a thousand words.
"Who are you?!" She asked in alarm.
"I am Caternia," She replied, "The Adamant"
"Adamant?" Marie questioned.
"Yes," Caternia said slowly, "You will find I am very hard to move."
"How have you been listening to me?" Marie asked, still slightly perturbed by the fact.
"You didn't think I was here," Caternia replied patiently in her serene, slow way. "You saw me, if at all [though I don't think you did] as simply a swan-like blue bird." She didn't really extrapolate; Caternia didn't seem to like to speak too much.
"Why?" Marie asked. Caternia didn't reply, just cocked her head slightly at the incomplete question.
"Why do you come to me like this, and offer your help?" Marie clarified.
"I thought to befriend you because I pitied you, from the first time you stumbled upon this place crying. The bowl of rushes," Caternia motioned emotionlessly at the fragrant, soft bowl sometimes Marie had curled up in in her sadness, "Is my nest."
Marie stared and stared.
"You seem to feel better now," Caternia said. "It is late." Her white- blue wings rustled quietlyl, calmly behind her back. Her expression never changed.
"Uh, bye." Marie said, snapping out of the stupor. Sure enough, the sun was lower in the horizon and her watch told her it was somewhat past dinnertime. She grabbed her bag back from her locker, let in by school security, and promptly dashed home.

By the end of the next day, Marie had been beaten up yet again, but this time it was before fencing practice ended, and she fibbed to Sarine and Kim that she was fine, though by the disbelieving looks they gave her they didn't fully accept her excuse of tripping and falling down stairs. Cerise, as usual, was nowhere to be seen. She ran into the grove again, crying brokenly.
"You are sad," Caternia said in her slow, soothing voice. "You must become stronger in the heart, if not in the limb, if you are to survive in this world." She sat in her usual branch, legs crossed beneath her pretty dress, with a top folded like a robe kimono, the split ending where a thin blue belt ran, and a silver strip of fabric went down hanging from the belt, over a darkish blue skirt rather like the top with shiny grey cuffs and a vague, monotoned pattern of cherry blossoms grouped together like snow splattered randomly on it, whereas the blossoms were on their branches, well-spaced on the rather like the kind of thing a Hindi goddess would wear, but more elegant and oriental-looking.
Marie looked up, trying to hold back more tears.
"Don't hold them back; holding them by force will only worsten the pain. Drain it out each time, make your heart stronger- only you know the right path that will lead to happiness." Caternia instructed emotionlessly. Marie broke down again, and this time a light, comforting touch around her shoulders told her Caternia was there. The gentle rustle of her wings somehow comforted Marie. She cried into Caternia's soft wing until she was done, thanked the bird, and left. She could feel Cerise's eyes watching her go.

This continued, until Caternia eventually became far more than a counsellor to Marie, becoming a friend, even a motherly figure. Marie continued to become friends with Sarine and Kim, but strangely, Cerise became somewhat distant, and sometimes she got a slight chill when her best friend touched her.
About a month after she had met Caternia, Marie stopped being bullied altogether, and was held in some respect by the other people in school. Sarine and Kim proved trustworthy, fun friends of the kind she'd always wished to have, and Caternia, upon learning all about them by Marie's almost daily visits, would smile her approval of them. However when Cerise was mentioned, a strange hard look would flash in Caternia's friendly eyes, and her face would harden for a moment, as if reliving a bad memory. Caternia never lied, so confessed that she couldn't explain the chills she got from Cerise's name to Marie. Her unease seemed to increase upon the mention of Cerise's lightning reflexes, reddish silvery eyes, and mysterious dissappearance every day after school. Marie, unperturbed and somewhat jaded to these symptoms, decided one day to catch Cerise after school and take her to see Caternia, to attempt relieve the bird- person's strange misgivings.
"Cerise! Cerise!" Marie called. Her strange friend turned around slowly, as if against her will. She grabbed her eagerly, disregarding Cerise's usual reluctance to follow along. "Come on, I need to show you something!" She cried.
"What is it? How about tomorrow?" Cerise asked.
"No! Come on, I want to show you, I've been waiting for the right time." Marie happily half-dragged Cerise all the way to the forest, down the path, and forced her way through the undergrowth leading to Caternia's nest. Cerise was pulling against her, but Marie didn't look back at her, intent on following the path right. It would be easy to turn aside and get lost- Caternia's nest was quite a ways into the forest, and could only be reached by one route.
"Come on, we don't want to keep her waiting," Marie said, quickening her pace. She was terribly excited.
Cerise's eyes narrowed. 'Keep her waiting', what- this couldn't possibly mean- Cerise's thoughts suddenly came to a halt as she ran into Marie, half aware that they had abruptly stopped.
"Please promise you won't freak or scream or yell or anything," Marie said, turning and whispering.
Cerise nodded numbly, her quick mind turning over and over, her tension building up inside her, born of anxiety.
However, when Marie came into the little circular clearing, Caternia sitting in the tree opened her mouth to greet her, then gave a deadly, icy glare to Cerise, behind her, suddenly looking hostile.
"Why did you lead her here?!" Caternia asked, suddenly sounding hurt and commanding.
"I- I thought you'd want to meet her," Marie replied, "She's Cerise, my best frie-"
Her words died in her throat as Cerise roughly pushed her aside, a strange crafty light in her eyes. "Ah, the bird," She said simply.
The words seemed to incense Caternia. Leaping into a standing position on the branch, she lifted her hands so one was pointing with her index and middle finger straight at Cerise, the other lifted at eye level, her hand beside her eye, as if looking down the shaft of an arrow. The next moment shing particles of light gathered, and a glinting silver-blue bow appeared in Caternia's hands, an arrow of the same material, knocked and standing ready.

Things began happening terribly fast. Cerise made appear a red, lava- like sword, darker and strangely evil-looking, and suddenly her school uniform became a red billowing robe, her feet bare and flying on what looked like fiery wheels. Caternia let fly the arrow, and drew another, flying upwards and pointing behind Cerise with the second arrow as Cerise knocked away the first one and lunged at where she had been. Whereever Cerise's unattached cloak, held in both hands and billowing like wings, touched, plumes of flame would leap up, burn, then fall back down. Caternia's second arrow flew true- piercing Cerise's shoulder, the supposed human let loose a yowling cry, sending the birds taking refuge around Caternia's home flying away.
Before Marie's stunned eyes, Cerise became a huge, tawny, golden cat, flying through the air on plumes of smoke and flame, with raging eyes like Cerise's, a reddish-silvery mane going down its back and behind its legs, and long, fierce ears. Its enourmous golden claws slashed the air, its burning tail becoming a lethal weapon. Long golden sabers bared, it leapt with deadly spead after Caternia.
Caternia's next arrow missed the monster, and thudded into the ground barely a foot from where Marie sat as Cerise had pushed her, and she stared at the miniature cater created by it, filled with glimmering motes of light swirling around the arrow, that eventually dissappered, leaving a small feather.
A chilling screech rent the air, shaking Marie from her revirie.
Above, an arc of blood traced from one of Cerise's long claws to Caternia's arm, which abruptly released the bow, promptly transforming it back into another feather.
The moment seemed frozen, Caternia's blank face and eyes slightly widened in shock, her mouth slightly opened having emitted the chilling birdlike shriek, bent slightly forward in the air and falling from so high. Then she somersaulted in midair, landing gently on the branch. A moment later, there was a flash and she turned into little dots of light like glowing snowflakes, coming back together as a beutiful bird composed only of little motes of light.
With blinding speed Caternia attacked, failed, dove back, attacked again. On her third pass, Cerise anticipated the move and batted her heavily with a paw, leaving arcs of blood where her long claws had penetrated. The bird shivered, shrieked, and fell to the ground, twitching its wings against the ground and feebly trying to stand up, holding her head up as if in threat.
With movements like chain lightning, Cerise turned and charged, slashing lethal claws at Marie. "Cerise?!" Marie cried, holding her hands up in feeble defence.
There was a huge flash, Cerise was thrown back, and transforming back, she fled the clearing. Marie looked as she dissappeared through the opening. She was completely unharmed, and the air around her in a spherical shape was strangely misty where Cerise had hit it.
Marie looked for Caternia and saw she was transformed back, her blood- streaked, bent wings splayed, back clawed cruelly and bleeding. "Caternia!" Marie cried in concern. Caternia croaked weakly in a hoarse chirping voice, her mask-like face subtly showing for the first time anger and some hostility, as well as formidable pain.
"Caternia, I'm so sorry," Marie sobbed, starting to cry. "I didn't know Cerise was like that, she was always such a good friend to me, and I only wanted you to meet her so you wouldn't know she was bad- she isn't really bad Caternia trust me, that isn't the Cerise I knew, I didn't have any idea she would hurt you honest, if I did this never would've happened and now I'm so sorry and I really want to help you just please don't be mad okay? You're my only good friend." She rambled, choking sometimes on her words. She got up from the nest, getting a creepy feeling as she passed through the dimming barrier.
The light that had been in Caternia's eyes suddenly left them. Her eyes were blank, in the way that suggested that with a single look her heart had been shattered into a billion jagged pieces, tearing her inside. "Why?" She croaked, her voice no longer friendly. She tried to move, failed, and stared with torned eyes at Marie, who looked like she regretted she had ever been born.
"You're terribly hurt," Marie said, holding back the majority of her tears with difficulty. "I didn't mean for that to happen," She swiped her eyes with a sleeve and hiccuped, "Cerise was my friend, I wanted you to meet her-"
"Friends do not betray friends to mortal enemies." Caternia said, gasping. Her piercing eyes were only becoming more hostile. "I told you this should remain a secret."
"Look, I don't want you to die," Marie said, tearing up again, "No matter how much you hate me. I'm going to get medical supplies, just don't- don't die."
Caternia didn't answer, just turned her head away and acted as if she didn't care. With a last tearful glance Marie ran out of the glade, terrified that when she came back the beutiful bird would be dead.
Marie ran down the path, hardly looking or caring where she was going, as long as she was taking the quickest route home. She ran into someone, mumbled, "Sorry." immediately got up, and stopped when whoever it was grabbed her arm. She snapped around, aware of how wild she looked but not caring.
"Marie, Marie, calm down!" Said a soothing voice. So familiar...
"I have to go get medicals!" Marie cried, tears rushing to her eyes. "Caternia- she's hurt and I think she's dying!"
"Whoa, whoa, calm down, Marie, tell me who's dying?" Said the voice.
The haze obstructing her vision cleared, and Marie found herself practically face-to-face, to her horror, with Sarine and Kim. Kim had a firm grip on her arm and was carefully trying to find out what was wrong.
"I've got first aid in the car," Sarine said quickly. She jogged quickly to the parking lot, not too far away, talked to her mom a bit, and retrieved a white metal box with a first-aid cross on it from the trunk, thrusting it into Marie's hands. Marie stared fixedly at her feet.
"Who's Caternia Marie?" She asked caringly.
"N-nobody." Marie said. "She's- a bird."She added, using the solution that didn't require truly lying.
"This might be overkill for a bird," Sarine said, "But there should be some smaller things in there too."
"Should we come with?" Kim asked kindly.
"No! I mean, no, thanks, I think I can take care of her myself." Marie said, still refusing to meet their eyes.
"Well, okay. Be careful!" Kim said reluctantly, releasing her hold on Marie's arm. Marie immediately began jogging quickly away.
"Thank you Sarine!" She called back.
"No problem Marie!" Sarine called. "Tell us how Caternia's doing later on, 'kay?"
"Ok!" Marie called. Then she tore down the path to Caternia's nest, after checking to make sure no one was following.
"Caternia!" She cried, coming into the clearing. The bird was as she had left her, though she had made obvious efforts to get to her nest. She lay face down, as usual refusing to look at Marie. Her breathing seemed somewhat more strained than usual and the blood, some of it dried, leaking from the slashes on her back was accumulating alarmingly.
Marie ran over and sat down next to Caternia, opening the box. Caternia still ignored her.
Sarine's medical box seemed ready for anything. It had gauze, bandages, alcohol, q-tips, cotton balls, tongue depressors, about fifty brands and types of disinfectant, a rag, tweezers, band-aids, even a unopened bottle of water. Everything was stacked neatly inside.
"Caternia, hang on, this is gonna hurt a lot." She warned, filling a cotton ball with alcohol. Caternia tensed a little, but still hid her face. Marie bit a lip and carefully wiped the wound. It visibly sizzled and bubbled, but Caternia only reacted with an involuntary shiver of her wings.
Marie cleaned out all the slash marks on her back, using the alcohol formula sparingly. She ran out of cotton balls just as she finished the last cut, and resorted to q-tips. Luckily, she had only suffered pretty minor scratches everywhere else. The rag was now thouroughly soaked with blood and mud where she had gently rubbed the dirt away. She had pretty much cleaned off Caternia's wings, so now she was pretty much fine. After bandaging her back and helping her drag herself to the nest, Marie turned and left.
"How was your day honey?" Her mom asked from the kitchen.
"Good," Marie lied, rushing to the bathroom. She hurriedly washed off whatever blood she could get at on her clothes, then sloshed to her room and changed. In some places the shirt had been stained and her pants showed traces of red splotches, but nothing a little bleach wouldn't take care of.
After dinner Marie went upstairs to the medicine cabinet and pulled out more cottonballs, and, on furthur speculation, some extra gauze and took another bottle of water, placing the items into the medical box Sarine had lent her.
Marie took a shower, brushed her teeth, and promptly fell into her bed. So tired... She thought, almost incoherently. She fell asleep almost instantly after turning off her light.

She stood in a dark place, just her in the middle of a sea of blackness. Sometimes she would see a flash of something from the corner of her eye, but it dissappeared when she looked. Slowly a pinpoint of light appeared in her mind's eye. She stared forward, squinting, and it seemed to come farther into focus.
Shef walked forward and touched the bluish-white feather hesitantly. Suddenly the world around her sprang into being.
She was in a paneled hallway, the wooden halls bearing many carved designs of stunning detail and lifelike character. Suddenly a door opened right by her and Marie instinctively jumped out of the way.
Out from the door burst a bird just like Caternia, except she wore instead a long well-fitting gown of dark blue and her wings were a deep indigo, almost black. Her long blue hair fanned out behind her in her haste. She wore a pretty silver circlet, simple but elegant, set with a stone Marie had never seen before, not even in books. She stepped quickly into the hall before turning and grabbing someone inside the room. "Come! Come!" She prompted in obvious haste.
A child scarcely taller than Marie's waist stumbled out, dragged by the older bird. Marie gasped when the child's face turned towards her mother, towards where Marie was flattening herself against the wall trying to go unnoticed. She knew those features. "Caternia!" She cried involuntarily, before stifling her mouth. Neither bird seemed to hear her. She looked on in confusion. She had certainly yelled loud enough...
"Come child!" Caternia's mother insisted.
"Mama, I don't want to leave," Caternia said. Her voice was higher- she sounded like just a small child.
"We have to Caternia, mama doesn't want to leave either!" Her mother said, starting to sound panicked.
"But mama! Cerise is coming! Caternia saw Cerise!" Caternia wailed.
Her mother's eyes softened. "You can't play with Cerise anymore Caternia." She said sadly.
"NO! Cerise is my best friend!" Caternia shrieked.
"Cerise isn't your friend anymore," Her mother said softly, insistantly. "We have to run away because Cerise's parents are going to kill us."
"NO! I'm not going!" Caternia screamed, fighting to get away. "I need to find Cerise! What if Cerise's parents hurt her?"
"You can't!" Her mother cried insistantly. Suddenly Caternia broke away. "Caternia!" Caternia was beating her little wings as she fled. She lifted from the ground and flew away, running on the air to make her escape faster as Marie had seen her do before.
Her mother gaped. "Caternia! You don't know how to fly yet!" She called desperately. Marie followed at a run.
"I do!" Caternia shouted back. "Cerise taught me!"
"Caternia, you can't!" Caternia didn't hear her. She had already jumped from the balcony rail where she had been standing a moment ago. Her mother instantly followed.
Below, crowds of birds and bird-people battled against the cat- people, in animal and human forms. At the front of the ranks were two particularly large and well-dressed people, with reddish slitted eyes fighting side by side with unnatural skill...
Behind them, out of the way, was a group of younger cats, children. Several guards were stationed around, watching over the kids, and it was towards this group that Caternia was headed.
Marie gasped. Without thinking, she head leapt over the railing like Caternia and her mother had. Suddenly she realized she wasn't falling. She was actually walking on the air as if it were solid ground! She ran over to where Caternia was happily diving towards one particular guard, the children behind the guard cringing.
"Cerise!" Caternia called happily, making towards the guard near the forest's edge. Cerise was full-grown, the same age as she looked in Marie's time. There was no mistaking her face, when it turned towards Caternia, as hostile and unfriendly as it may seem.
Cerise lifted her crossbow, aiming carefully. The arrow's tip was swathed with flame.
Caternia stopped, staring uncomprehendingly at her friend. "Cerise?" She whispered confusedly.
"Don't call me by my name!" Cerise hissed angrily, her bow shaking a little.
"Cerise, why're you pointing that at me?" Caternia asked. "Remember? We were-" She held up a wrist, on which was a simple bracelet of wooden beads, "Best friends, forever."
Cerise's arm jerked and her sleeve slipped back, exposing an identical bracelet. She snorted contemptuously and it burst into flame, falling into the grass as burning ash. "We were never friends, bird!" She spat.
"But- Cerise-" Caternia said, sounding hurt, tears falling from her eyes.
"Don't call me that!" Cerise shrieked angrily. "I'm the princess of the mountain cats! I don't owe you anything, bird!" Caternia looked truly hurt.
"Wh- what's wrong Cerise? We were going to make friends of our people..." Caternia hiccuped.
"I never meant any of that!" Cerise howled. "Die! Princess of the birds, hated nemesis!" The arrow shrieked and exploded in flame as it plunged towards her. Caternia screamed.
"CATERNIA!" Her mother cried, diving through the air. She stood before Caternia and, in a lightning-quick movement, slashed the bow she made appear in her hands, knocking the arrow out of the way. It hissed, becoming covered in sharp ice crystals. It landed threateningly right in front of Cerise.
Before she could react, another arrow plunged from the mists caused by the extinguished flames of the arrow. Caternia's mother plunged from the sky, the arrow piercing her heart.
"MAMA!" Caternia screamed. Marie's vision swam and the scene grew foggy. She realized with a start she was falling.

Marie's eyes snapped open. The dream had seemed so real, she wondered for a moment where she was. Her alarm clock went off right by her head, and she jumped clear over the edge of the bed. Rubbing her arm, which she had fallen on, she roughly turned the annoying machine off.
Marie groaned as her mother also called up the stairs from the kitchen. "Marie, wake up for school! I've got to go to my job, I'll be home in time to make dinner, and I left your lunch on the table!"
"All right!" Marie called back tiredly. Downstairs she heard the front shut and the screen door slam.
Marie sluggishly untangled herself from the sheets and staggered into the bathroom, where she brushed her teeth and her hair and got ready for the school day. She put on clothes, as usual not caring about the style but choosing dark colors. Then she glanced at the clock. Gulping down her breakfast, she snatched her lunch from the table and dashed out, locking the door behind her.
She sprinted into the woods- by her calculations, she would have a good twenty minutes or so to tend to Caternia, if she sprinted to school fast enough.
When she arrived at the clearing she was thouroughly out of breath. Caternia was exactly the way Marie had left her, partially due to the fact that Marie had persistantly made sure she was as comfortable as possible.
"Caternia?" Marie asked tentatively. After a short while she determined that the bird was sleeping and heaved a relieved sigh. She quietly put down the box and started taking the supplies she'd added since yesterday out of it. She set a bottle of water and, after a moment of thought, a clean bandage, nearby and wrote her a note telling her she'd be back after school. Then she went into her lunch and took out an apple and some little stick carrots in a ziplock bag and put them next to the water. Then she took one of the bottles of antiinfectant and bandages of all sizes, some cotton balls, and some q-tips from the box and put them in a pocket in her backpack. That done she quietly stole from the glade and jogged to the school.
She got to school ten minutes early. Sitting on the front steps, she gazed accross the street to where the forest trail started. Early morning walkers were passing casually through it, as usual.

"Yo Marie!" Sarine's voice traveled accross the lawn. Spying the flash of silvery hair to her right she turned and managed a tiny smile. However, it instantly vanished at the sight of someone standing next to Kim.
"Oh, I don't feel like seeing Marie-" Cerise began emotionlessly, starting to turn away.
"Aw, c'mon Cerise!" Kim said playfully, unaware of both's discomfort. She dragged the unwilling Cerise over.
There was an awkward silence as Cerise approached within hearing distance. Marie pointedly took out the medical box and handed it to Sarine with a smile. Sarine smiled back, and Marie suddenly realized how much she looked like Caternia, but friendlier, and of course, missing the wings. Cerise's eyes narrowed. Suddenly she spoke up.
"Caternia deserved what she got." She stated simply.
Marie gave her the deadliest glare she'd ever given anyone in her life. "How could you say that?" She asked, hurt.
"That bird is dangerous," Cerise said, "Long ago, she betrayed me."
"No, I do believe it was the other way around." Marie said, details of the dream coming back to her. It seemed very feasable; all the factors in it made sense, from the bow Caternia used to the wooden bracelet she was sometimes still wearing.
"You healed her?" Cerise said, changing the subject.
"I'm trying." Marie said simply.
"Trying is a good choice of words. There was poison in those cuts." Cerise said, "They won't close. She gave me equally as good," She said, hefting a slashed arm.
Marie's eyes became pools of tears at the mention of the fact that Caternia may never heal and it was all her fault.
"Marie-" Cerise started, trying to get closer to put a hand on her shoulder.
"No!" Marie cried, cringing back and wrapping her arms around herself like a lost child. "I'm not falling into the same trap as Caternia! You used to be friends, remember?!"
"Never friends," Cerise spat.
"Fine!" Marie snapped angrily. She stumbled up and ran for the bathroom just as the bell rang. Cerise stood emotionlessly by and growled, turning back towards her homeroom class.
Sarine and Kim watched her leave, out of their league. They noticed that Marie's bag was sitting partially open on the steps. Sarine looked from Kim to the bag then back at Kim. Kim shrugged, reaching the same unspoken agreement. Sarine picked up the bag and a tube of disinfectant and a roll of bandage rolled out. Sarine paused, then put them back into the bag and zipped it.
They found Marie crying brokenly in the seldom-used bathroom on the first floor right by the doors, as they had expected. She looked up with a tear-stained face as they entered.
"We brought your bag," Sarine said kindly. Marie nodded and attempted a smile but failed miserably.
"Thanks, Sarine..." She said, "I don't know what's gotten into me. Sorry to give you the trouble. You- better go before you're caught out of homeroom."
"No, it's alright." Kim spoke up. Sarine walked over to Marie and took out a tissue. "Carry these around for when I've got allergies," She winked. Marie greatfully accepted it and wiped her eyes before breaking into a fresh bout of tears.
"Look- Marie, is there anything you need to tell us?" She asked.
She's so much like Caternia... Marie held back another bout of tears. "N- no," She said, "Thanks- for the medical box."
"No problem, anytime." Sarine said. Then, somewhat awkwardly, "Well, why don't you take it again- if what Cerise said was, well, if it were true..."
"Probably is, that's probably why Caternia won't talk to me." Marie said, sobbing harder. "I checked, and her bandages were all bloodstained; there was no more scab than yesterday, and yesterday there was none."
"Caternia- this bird, she talks to you?" Sarine asked.
"I'm not crazy." Marie said, giving her a sharp glance, "Caternia was my best friend. She looks like an angel sometimes, she actually looks a lot like you..." Marie's face lit up a little, "She's got these beutiful silvery blue wings too." Then it darkened.
"Did she and Cerise- fight?" Kim prompted softly.
"You see," Marie said, turning her tearstained eyes directly to Kim's, piercing her with her honest stare, "Caternia- she turns into a beutiful sparkling bird, and Cerise-"
"Cerise?" Sarine encouraged.
"Cerise- she's actually a cat. A huge mountain lion- type, her element would be fire." Marie choked. "PLEASE don't tell Cerise I told you that."
"Since you're a friend of Cerise, she wants to use you to get to Caternia?" Kim asked, "Because they hate each other?"
"I don't know about Caternia, but Cerise does." Marie said.
"I didn't think... Cerise was always kinda creepy but I never thought..." Sarine said confusedly.
"You don't think I'm crazy? You believe me?" Marie asked, startled.
"Marie, I know when people lie, even the most professional liars. You would never lie, that's what I liked about you, from the start." Sarine said matter-of-factly.
"Besides, it makes sense." Kim added.
"That too." Sarine agreed.
Marie's eyes filled again, and she launched herself onto Sarine and cried herself out.
"It'll be okay." Sarine said. "Could you take us to see Caternia?"
"I dunno, she might not be happy," Marie said, thinking of the incident with Cerise.
"Alright then, better ask her." Sarine said.
"Well- first class is starting, we better dash to our classes!" Kim announced.
"Good idea." Sarine said. "Feeling better Marie?"
Marie washed her face in the sink and followed them out.
The day washed by in a haze of color and sounds for Marie. She couldn't remember being so inattentive in her life. Luckily, she wasn't called on or picked on during the day.
As soon as the last bell rang Marie dashed to her locker and crammed her bookbag in, stuffing the extra supplies into the box which Sarine had given back to her during lunch.

Marie dashed from the school and towards the bike path. As she rushed down it, it suddenly dawned on her that it was unusually quiet, and the usual chirping of birds was not evident.
CRASH. A tree limb of huge proportions crashed to the ground in front of her. "Ah, the bird-friend." Said a sarcastic, barely recognizable voice.
"Cerise!" Marie cried, turning swiftly around. Cerise landed on the grond on the other side of the path, blocking her escape.
"Cerise! Hang on! Why're you picking on Marie!" Called a familiar voice. Cerise turned around, eyes narrowing.
Sarine and Kim ran past Cerise, standing on either side of Marie. "You guys..." Marie said faintly.
"Hey, if you're taking her down you're taking on us."
"You guys, don't-" Marie stopped dead as, in a plume of flame, Cerise's crossbow was loaded and no longer hanging from her back. Her mouth instantly went dry.
"You've not learned to stop being friendly with the bird tribe," Cerise said, the crafty, ruthless glint back in her eye, "You're going to face the same sticky end I put Caternia's people to long ago..."
"No way!" Sarine and Kim shielded Marie.
"Get out or I'll shoot you both!" Cerise shouted, her voice like rising steam, snakelike, "Marie knows what my arrows are capable of."
Twang, Marie watched, as if in slow motion, as the arrow sped forward. She hurriedly shoved Sarine and Kim out of the way and braced herself. The arrow was close, too close to dodge. This is it, she thought.
"Stop this foolishness!"
A flash of silver-blue. Caternia appeared, swinging her bow in a wide arc. The arrow was reflected off the string, like in the dream. It seemed to multiply several times, as many ice crystals formed like shining daggers surrounding it.
Marie could only stare as, like in the dream, a flaming arrow sped through the mists again as Caternia's reflected arrow missed its target.

Caternia recieved the arrow in her chest, though she somehow remained standing, and her surprised birdlike shriek rent the air. Then, making the firing pose again, another arrow materialized and she shot it and collapsed.
The arrow caught Cerise in the throat. A short catlike yowl escaped her lips before she fell down.
The arrow in Caternia's chest faded and disintegrated into ash. "Marie, I'm sorry..." She gasped out as her life ebbed. She raised a slightly shaking hand and slipped off the wooden bracelet, and taking off an earring, clipped it to a link. Then she tenderly slipped it around Marie's wrist. Her bow became floating particles of light once again, and so did the arrow in Cerise's throat.
"I'm sorry Caternia," Marie said softly.
Caternia looked towards Sarine and Kim. "Keep her well- for me." She whispered. Her eyes slowly closed, her body limp and it appeared almost as if she rested. After a moment she transformed to the bird, then it seemed a frost covered its partially invisible body and it sunk into the ground. Marie barely acknowledged the roaring fire that burst from the ground where Cerise had been, barely heard Sarine and Kim's stunned words of comfort.
Turning, Marie started to walk away, leaving the medical box behind next to the frosty ground. Then she abruptly turned around and carefully placed on the patch of frost her silver ring. It seemed to turn to ice, and it seemed to Marie's eyes that she saw Caternia's smiling face as the patch dissapated, taking the ring with it.
Slowly Marie turned and threw upon the scorched ground where Cerise had fallen the woven friendship bracelet they had both made as a sign of their friendship. Not stopping to see it burst into flame, she choked and ran down the path all the way home, not stopping to look back until she was at her door.
Birds flew silenly above the forest, startled into the sky by the fray. A faint wisp of what looked like fog hung lazily above it, starting to slowly dissolve. Marie looked down at her bracelet. The tear-shaped earring hung loosely, connected to a delicate pink blossom. She smiled through her tears and ran inside.