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I could feel the fire in my eyes, my anger as sharp as the branches scraping my bare arms and legs as I flew through the Forest of Kala. I landed, panting slightly, on a charred branch, my wings folding . The deeper into Kala I flew, I noticed, the darker and more war-torn my surroundings became. My eyes close for a moment, stretching my conscious out as far as I could reach. My vision became blurry; I was too anxious to see properly. My hand automatically closed around the stone I wore at my neck.

It was simple thing, really, a cold grey in color, decorated only by a few black, wavy lines. It was a talisman meant to protect me in battles. I doubt it still contains any of the magic it was initially charged with, if it was even ever charged. But it doesn’t matter. Anela gave it to me, therefore, it will never leave my sight.

With the smooth stone in my hand, I instantly calmed down, almost as if she were here with me. My face hardened. That monster took her. Why else would I be this close to the lair of the Harpyiae, if not to get her back? I shivered, stomach churning, my mind picturing what malign things that animal could have already done to her.

I forced my mind back to the task at hand. My thumb ran over the surface of the stone, and my breathing steadied. There it was, the mouth of the cave. Only a measly fifteen leagues southwest of my branch. My wings flared and I was off again.

It had been nearly forty-eight hours since my ‘Nela had been taken. I tried to stop it, but I had been taken off guard, and that monster, the Harpyiae, got away, my poor ‘Nela screaming in its talons. I would never forget what that creature looked like; its body like an eagle, the visage of a rotting hag, and putrid, rubicund skin.

It would regret provoking the wrath of Kamalia.

At long last, I reached the mouth of the cave. Torn feathers and bones littered the ground, and a foul odor emitted from somewhere within. I prayed it wasn’t Anela’s corpse, prayed I wasn’t too late. Wings tucked to my side, I slipped into the cave.

Thunderous snores echoed on the stone walls. The beast lay asleep on a bed of bones. And there, up on the wall, hanging by her arms, was my dear ‘Nela, purple bruises and red gashes visible on her dark skin even at a distance, her raven, tightly curled hair filthy and matted. Her eyes told me she was weak, but she was alive.

A shrill war cry erupted from my throat, startling the Harpyiae awake. I took a flying leap, landing on its back. The fire inside me exploded through my hands, burning feather and skin alike as I strangled it. The monster shrieked and threw its back against the wall, trying to unseat me, but I clung to it, grunting at the hard impact.

It rolled, eventually twisting me to its chest. It took flight, slashing its talons at me. I let go, sliding down, my hands charring its front. It wasn’t expecting that, and a talon left a small cut on my cheek as I fell. It took the brunt of the attack, and the battle ended with the talon meant to kill me slitting the beast’s throat.

Gurgling, it fell, hard, to the ground. My own wings carried me softly down, and I stood there, breathing heavily, as I watched it die. The light left its eyes and I let out a relieved sigh.

Then I was in the air, my hands melting the chains holding my Anela to the wall. Her weak arms clung to me as I lowered us both to ground. She mumbled something, over and over, but I couldn’t quite make it out. I pulled away slightly, so that she was speaking into my shoulder.

“Be mine,” she begged. I sighed.

“‘Nela, we can’t,” I whispered, “The people were angry with my becoming a guard, think of what would happen if-”

“I care not what my people think!” she cut me off, “I care only for what my heart tells me, and it tells me that I care more for you than I ever could a male suitor. Begone their slurs! Darn their anger! If they can trust their queen with their wellbeing, they can trust her to know her own heart.” She place a hand on my chest, atop the very necklace she gave me, “I’ll take no other consort than you, my dear Kamalia.”

I cried as I hugged her. She cried as I helped her out of the cave. In the forest, I left her climb atop my back, and nestled between my wings would be where she made the journey home. I carried us both to our kingdom, a guard and her queen. Queen and her consort.

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