Chapter Three: The Eagle and the Sparrow
I'm going to die.
Tina swallowed and squeezed her eyes shut. She had never been a fan of heights, but something about hanging from a slippery bird's leg while the steady beat of his wings buffeted the air against her made her fear worse. She shifted her feet, trying to balance them against his talons to give herself more support. Her efforts were unsuccessful, however. Instead, she was relying almost entirely on her upper body strength to stop herself from falling. The muscles of her upper arm seared and screamed, but she gritted her teeth and grasped onto Morgan's feathers with all the force she could muster.
Morgan kept them low, barely skimming the rooves of some of the smaller buildings, his wings beating heavily. Tina wondered why he didn't fly higher and faster, as the black four-wheel drives he and Diana had been so concerned about were speeding through the city streets and catching up quickly.
"Why don't you go higher?" Tina said, but she could barely hear herself over the wind. Her stomach swooped as Morgan took a sharp turn into a side-street. Two of the cars followed suit, one crashing head on into a rubbish skip while the other continued to tail Morgan. The sun-roof opened and a man dressed in black poked his head through before standing up so his head and chest were visible. He raised his arms, a ragged scarlet stone clasped in his left hand. Clenching his fist for a moment, a bright orangey-red glow formed around his fingers. He opened his hand and shot a large, blazing fireball towards Morgan.
Gritting her teeth, Tina let go with one hand and lurched forward, grabbing onto the closest part of Morgan's left wing. She pulled it towards herself with as much strength as she could muster. He dropped even lower and crowed as she pulled out a handful of golden-brown feathers, but the fireball shot past where his head had been into the open sky. With only one hand holding Morgan's leg and the bag of stones, Tina lost her balance and slid down to the bottom of his scaly foot, scraping her right calf against one of his talons. The bag of slipped through her fingers and fell, the multicoloured stones scattering in every direction as they plummeted to the ground. Tina managed to grab onto his foot with one hand while warm blood trickled down to her toes. She squeezed her fingers together, sweat dripping down her forehead as she tried to hoist her other arm up. Unfortunately, his scaly leg was very slippery and she lost her grip.
She fell fast, plummeting past the blurred rows of windows. Before she could properly register what was happening, a strong gust of wind blew underneath her, slowing her fall until she landed gently on the sidewalk. Blinking, Tina glanced around and saw a person dressed in an identical black outfit to the one Morgan had been wearing glide down from the roof of the nearest building. They landed directly in front of Tina just as the closest car screeched to a stop beside the fallen stones.
"Diana?" said Tina breathlessly. The person gave a short nod, her dark brown eyes shining beneath her facemask. She turned around and ran towards the man as he shot another fireball in Morgan's direction. A piercing cry cut through the air just as the woman leapt onto the roof as gracefully as a cat. She raised her right leg and kicked the man directly in the chest. He flew backwards with unnatural force, slamming into the wall of the adjacent building. He slid slowly to the ground as another four cars pulled up from both sides. The woman acted quickly, shooting a long stream of fire from her hands that Tina had to dive sideways to avoid, scraping her elbows and biting her tongue when her chin smacked against the pavement. The flames settled onto the ground and created a great circular wall, trapping Tina inside.
Blood pooled in her mouth and she swallowed it down, shuddering at the metallic taste. Tina glanced up at the wall, biting her lip as she tried to figure out what to do next. Beads of sweat pooled on her forehead as the fire raged on around her, her heart racing beneath her chest. A lump formed in her throat and as she slowly picked herself up off the ground and stood up, the wounds on her calf and chest aching. Nervously, Tina reached under her shirt and absentmindedly brushed her fingers over the magical bandages.
What do I do now?
Trapped in the middle of a fight she didn't understand, Tina racked her brains, trying to think of some way out. She knew she could not rely on Morgan and Diana – After all, did either of them really care if she lived or died? Besides, for all she knew the woman who had slowed her fall may not have even really been Diana. And if she was, Tina doubted she was important enough in the grand scheme of things for Diana to care. As for Morgan… He had already saved her once, but she had not seen him for some time. Perhaps he was dead, or had given up on trying to help her.
Swallowing down the lump in her throat, Tina glanced around, searching desperately for something she could use to help her. The fire was thick and powerful, and grey smoke filled the surrounding air. Coughing, Tina untied her purple apron and pulled it over her nose and mouth, her eyes watering. The apron was bulky and uncomfortable but it did its job well. Tina continued to search, her gaze falling on the scattered stones. She knelt down and picked a grey stone up, turning it over in her hand. She shivered, her spine tingling as the cool crystal touched her skin. She watched as it changed from grey to pink, shooting a jolt of energy up her arm.
What do these stones do? Why are Morgan and everyone else prepared to kill for them?
Smiling, her fingers clenched around the stone as another powerful pulse coursed up her arm. She stood up, still staring at the stone, while the sounds of flickering flames and the shouts coming from outside faded away. All she could focus on was the stone and how it made her feel.
"Tina." Someone was calling her name, but it was faint. Tina ignored them and continued to stare at the stone.
She blinked and shook her head as someone's hand waved over hers, their fingers enclosing around the stone. She looked up and saw Morgan standing beside her, thoroughly dishevelled. His right arm hung limply by his side, a large, yellowish-red burn wound on the side of his forearm.
"You came back," she said breathlessly, her eyes widening as she stared at his wound. "I – Are you okay? That looks bad…"
"It's fine," said Morgan dismissively, waving his other hand. "At least – Diana'll fix it later. Now come on. Let's collect the stones."
He took the one she was holding and shoved it into the cloth bag, gathering the rest of the stones.
"I can't fly anymore, so – I'll try some elemental instead," he said through gritted teeth as he placed the final stone in the bag. "Bear with me. I'm not very good at this, but – Diana's magic's been going on for so long it's weakened. It might work."
"What?" asked Tina, but he ignored her and stepped forward. He reached into his pocket and took out his mask, slipping it over his head quickly. Morgan raised his hand and flexed his fingers, sending a slow stream of water through the fire before him. A small hole in the flame wall opened up and grew slowly until it was just wide enough for someone to slip through.
"Jump," said Morgan, glancing at her briefly, his blue eyes slightly narrowed. "And take the stones with you."
Gulping, Tina nodded. She picked up the bag from where it lay at his feet and walked tentatively to the stream. Taking a deep breath, she stepped directly into the water and jumped through the small slit in the flame wall. She fell through to the other side, soaking wet but safe from the burning fire. Morgan followed soon after.
"Let's get out of here," he muttered, glancing at the nearby fighters, who had yet to notice them escaping from the fiery circle. "I can't fly anymore, but – we can run. Diana and the others'll take care of this."
Tina glanced back at the crowd as she and Morgan started to move. Men and women in black were fighting all around them, using knives and swords and a variety of other weapons. Sparks and flashes of magic fuelled the fight, but all of the fighters were wearing similar full-body black outfits. Tina wondered how they could possibly tell each other apart when they all looked so similar. However, there was one person stood out among the rest. They were hovering many feet above the ground, zipping through the air with ease and shooting streams of fire, water, and air at a rapid pace.
"Is – is that her?" said Tina, huffing. Her leg throbbed and she struggled to keep up.
"Yes it is," said Morgan, glancing briefly at the flying person, his lips pursing. "I – Here, I'll help you. We need to move faster."
He held out his left hand, wrapping it around her shoulders. Tina felt herself blush as his fingers brushed against the bare skin of her upper arm, but she hobbled along as best she could with his support. However, before they had even made it ten metres from the fire wall, another person dressed in black rounded on them, a bloodstained knife clutched in their hand.
"Hand them over, Devon," said the person, their voice deep and raspy. "Those stones belong to us now."
Devon… Tina frowned, momentarily distracted. That name sounded familiar, although she couldn't place it off the top of her head.
"Run," Morgan muttered, raising his left hand and conjuring a shiny sickle-shaped sword. Tina gulped and turned around, hobbling as fast as she could. Her leg ached but she kept going, clutching the bag close to her chest. She slowly made her way to the end of the alley and turned onto the main city street.
Will this ever end?
Her eyes watered and she squeezed them shut for a moment, limping along with as much strength as she could muster. She knew neither side really cared about her – surely they would leave her alone if she got as far away as possible. After all, what could they possibly gain from killing her? It wasn't like she had anything they wanted.
Wait – the stones. How could I forget?
Tina swore under her breath as she realised she was still carrying the very thing both sides were desperate to hang onto. Swallowing, Tina hobbled over to the nearest wheelie bin, opening it so the lid banged loudly in the quiet night air. Tina crinkled her nose at the smell, but she raised the bag high, ready to drop it in. She hesitated for a moment as she remembered all that Morgan had done to get them. He had saved her life twice, and done his best to keep her safe even though they barely knew each other.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, taking out one of the stones and staring at it for a moment. Shaking her head, she raised her hand and dropped the bag into the depths of the bin. She lifted the loose stone up, another thrilling pulse travelling down her arm. Tina hesitated for a moment, staring at the purple stone in her hand. Every instinct she had told her to get rid of it, but there was something so intoxicating about the way it felt in her hand.
Tina jumped, slipping the stone into her pocket and whipping around. An older man stood a few feet away, smiling pleasantly at her as though it was normal for him to find teenage girls rummaging through bins after midnight. He was fairly short and skinny, with thin, wrinkly skin and patchy grey hair. His eyebrows were black and bushy and his glittering green eyes shone brightly in the moonlight. He took a step towards her and Tina's heart started to race.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. "It's very late for such a young girl."
"I – I'm fine, thanks," she stammered. "I – I'll be going now."
She turned away quickly and hobbled off, her heart hammering in her ears. Behind her, she heard the man rummaging through the bin.
"You forgot something," he said, and Tina's heart sunk. She kept walking forward, determined to get as far away from him as possible, but he caught up to her easily with only a few short strides. He stepped in front of her and blocked her path, smiling pleasantly and holding up the smelly bag of stones.
"I – Those aren't mine," Tina mumbled. "I – I'm gonna go now –"
"I can't let you go," said the man, giving her a small frown. "I'm sorry, my dear. I know you're not a Devon, but you've helped them. You've hidden the stones from my family and I."
"Why do you want them so bad?" she asked, her heart racing. Maybe if she could stall him long enough, she could come up with some way out. Unfortunately, the man just smiled again, reaching to his belt and unsheathing the long, pointed dagger he had strapped to his hip. He took a step towards her and Tina tried to run, her leg aching and throbbing with every step. He barely had to jog to catch up to her, wrapping his left arm around her waist and pulling her towards him, holding the point of the blade at her throat. Tina wriggled and squirmed but his grip was firm. She reached into her pocket, her fingers enclosing around the stone she had shoved in there. She reached up and wacked her attacker on the side of the head with the small, heavy stone, startling him. His grip loosened and he dropped the knife with a loud clatter, allowing her to wriggle out and continue to run. She glanced back quickly and was dismayed to see the older man was only mildly irritated by her attack. He picked up his knife and started towards her, closing in fast. Tina squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and pushed forwards, the stone buzzing wildly in her hand. She wished more than anything she could fly like Morgan had and escape into the night sky, but she was no mage. She was just an ordinary girl with no special qualities to speak of.
Tina stopped suddenly, her stomach twisting and her chest clenching as the strangest squeezing sensation overcame her. Her throat tightened and she tried to gasp, but no sound came out. She forgot all about her pursuer as her skin pulled in, stretching tautly over her bones. She fell to her knees, still struggling to breathe. Her heart accelerated rapidly and she squeezed her eyes shut, pins shooting through her skin.
A moment later, all the pain stopped and she could breathe again, although her heart still drummed and buzzed inside her chest. She opened her eyes and was shocked at what she saw. Her vision was very sharp and wider than she was used to. For some reason the surrounding buildings had grown in size and were much taller than she remembered. She looked down at her hands and instead saw wings that were a mixture of brown, black and white feathers. Tina tried to gasp, but a loud squawking noise left her mouth. Before she could properly register what had happened a hand wrapped around her leg and lifted her up. She flapped her wings and tried to wriggle away as her attacker struggled to bring her close to his knife. She managed to slip from his grasp and jumped into the air as best she could, beating her wings the way she had seen Morgan do earlier. She had no idea what had happened or why, but she had no time to dwell on it. She was a bird and she would use it to her full advantage. However, flying was much harder than she realised and she dipped and swerved regularly, almost crashing into the wall twice, but she managed to fly over the top of the nearest small building and land safely on the roof. Exhausted, Tina collapsed not the concrete, giving a small cheep of relief. When she had recovered a little she hopped over to the edge and peered down, surprised to see her attacker was no longer there. Tina shivered violently, trying to figure out what to next. The full weight of it hit her all at once – she was a bird. She had somehow transformed just like Morgan had less than an hour earlier. Did that mean she was a mage, too?
The stone, it – it must have helped, somehow. I couldn't be a mage, I – I didn't even know magic existed until tonight.
Still, she thought, that did not help her figure out how to change back. The stone she held had disappeared after her transformation and the rest of them had vanished with her attacker. She stared at her wing, willing it to change into a human hand, but it remained stubbornly feathered.
What do I do? How do I – I can't stay like this forever…
It was faint, at first, but someone was calling her name. Tina stared down at the street and saw one of the people wearing black running along the street. Their right arm had a large, circular burn on the forearm. Tina cheeped, realising who it was.
"Tina, are you here?" said Morgan, barely raising his voice. He glanced around the streets, peering behind the bin where she had tried to hide the stones. Tina jumped down from the roof and started her second haphazard flight, cheeping loudly the entire time. She tried to land neatly beside him but wound up crashing right into the back of his head.
"Ow," he said, feeling where she had hit him and turning around. His eyes widened beneath his mask when he saw the small bird lying on the pavement. "I – Oh no…"
He knelt down and started pulling at her wings, as though checking for broken bones. Tina sprang up and chirped incessantly, trying to speak and tell him who she was but only bird noises would leave her mouth. Satisfied she was not dying, Morgan paid no attention. He stood up and continued down the street, calling her name again. Tina hopped over to him and jumped up and down, pecking his leg hard. Morgan looked down at her, his eyes slightly narrowed. He reached to his belt and drew a short dagger, pointing it at her. Tina squawked.
"You won't fool me, Rex," he said coldly. "I – So you got your hands on the stones? That's nothing compared to what I –"
Tina cheeped loudly, pecking his leg again. She continued to peck and jump and squawk, hoping desperately that he would realise who she was. Morgan stared down at her, his blue eyes crinkling slightly beneath his mask. He opened his mouth to speak and closed it again just as quickly, hesitating before he finally spoke.
"Wait… Is that you, Tina?" he said eventually, his left hand still enclosed over the handle of his dagger. She chirped and jumped up in excitement, flapping her wings.
"Are you stuck?" he asked. She squawked in response. Morgan glanced around the street before turning back to face her, sighing and rubbing the space between his eyes.
"Well – whoever you are, transform back to your human form," he said, still sounding doubtful. "Just – clear your mind and picture yourself just as you were before the change. But if you really are a Rex, then I'll have to…"
His voice trailed off as Tina started to grow in size, her feathers shrinking back into her body. She had done exactly as he'd said, and to her immense relief, it was working. The stone popped out of the tip of her wing as she changed back, clattering onto the ground.
"So it is you," said Morgan, replacing his dagger as she stood up and stretched her arms. "Sorry about that. I couldn't be sure."
"No, it's… It's fine," Tina mumbled. "I just – I'm sorry. There was a man, and he - he took the stones…"
"Yeah, I figured," said Morgan with a sigh, reaching down and picking up the remaining stone from the footpath. "The Rexes suddenly started retreating. Diana and the rest went after them, but… I don't think we've got much of a chance of getting them back. Not now, anyway…"
His voice trailed off as he turned the stone over in his hands. Tina stared at it, sitting down on the edge of the footpath. After all that had happened, she was starting to feel rather dizzy. Her leg was aching and crusted with blood and her body was sore all over.
"I – So…" she began, rubbing her forehead as Morgan sat down beside her, slipping the stone into his pocket and taking off his mask. "Does this mean – I'm not a mage, right? It was the stone that turned me into a bird."
Morgan nodded, yawning and leaning back on his elbows. "Yeah, that's right. Sort of, anyway."
He paused, glancing at her and pursing his lips. "That's what they do. They're shapeshifting stones. I'm a mage, so I can learn any type of magic I want, but – people like you can use them to give you a small burst of magical energy. These ten are the only shapeshifting stones in the world, and – the Rexes have never expressed much interest in them. They've got hundreds of the other types of stones, but – they never wanted the shapeshifting ones. Not until recently."
He sighed, rubbing his forehead. "And – it's my fault. All of this is. Mister Devon isn't going to be very happy with me, that's for sure…"
"I – It's my fault," Tina insisted. "I – I'm sorry, I… I let him take them. I was gonna leave them behind, anyway, but –"
"They were my responsibility, not yours," Morgan interrupted. "I – I'm sorry, Tina. Really, I… I got you involved in all of this. You almost died, and – you should never have been here in the first place."
Tina bit her lip, hesitating. She was carefully considering what to say next when a figure dressed in black fell down from the sky above, landing neatly on their feet a few metres away from where Tina and Morgan sat. The person took off their facemask and shook their head vigorously. Thick, curly, dark brown hair fell all around their shoulders. The woman rolled her eyes at Morgan, stepping towards him with her hands on her hips.
"They got away," she said, frowning. "We chased them for as long as we could, but – who knows if the stone carrier's even with them. Dad's gonna be so mad."
"Yes, I know," said Morgan dryly. "What can I do, though? I can't bring the other nine back. Not right now, anyway."
"Well, if you'd just taken them straight to the vault when you found them like I told you to do, none of this would have happened," she said. "Or better yet, you could have just left them in the vault so start with, rather than taking them out and letting them get stolen. You're an idiot."
Her eyebrows knotted slightly and she folded her arms. She looked away quickly, clearing her throat. "But… I'm glad you're alive. I was worried there for a second."
She nodded towards the burn on his arm. Morgan glanced at it, standing up and giving her a small smile. He reached out and hugged her close. Tina shifted her feet and cleared her throat, but neither of them seemed to notice her presence.
"I'm glad you're okay, Di," said Morgan as he released her, still smiling. "Although – I could use your help."
He gestured towards his wound. Diana rolled her eyes again. "Yes, I forgot how useless you are at healing," she said, grinning. She glanced at Tina for the first time, startling her. "I'll fix your leg, too, while I'm at it. And I'll make sure Morgan did a proper job with those other wounds. I don't trust his healing one bit."
"I – Okay," said Tina quickly, her cheeks turning red. "I – I'm sorry, I – Thanks."
"What's your name again?" asked Diana, tilting her head slightly. "I forget."
"Tina," she said. "I – Thanks for saving me, before. When I was falling."
Diana shrugged. "No problem. Now, let's get out of the streets. My flat's nearby, so – we'll head there, for now."
She strode off down the footpath with purpose. Morgan glanced at Tina, offering her a hand and helping her stand up.
"Are you okay to walk?" he asked.
"Yes, if we can go slowly," she muttered. He nodded and slowed his pace to a hobble that she could keep up with. Tina's entire body ached and her head throbbed, but somehow she did not feel exhausted. The city had come alive that night, and even though she had spent most of it fearing for her life, there was a thrilling side to it she couldn't shake. She glanced at Morgan's pocket, where she knew the stone was hidden. It had only been a taste, but she found herself longing for another magical experience. Still, she knew she had to go home first and see her mother, who was probably worried.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled under her breath, thinking of her mother sitting home alone, wondering what on earth had happened to her daughter.
"What?" said Morgan, frowning as he glanced down at her. "Sorry, I didn't catch that."