A Tale by Michael DeAngelo
Chapter Four: Bixby and the Bird
Cold rain pelted the ground, leaving the grass slick. The unsteady terrain meant no difference to the man skulking through the trees though. He took his time, studying his surroundings, listening to the wind that hummed through the valley.
A flash of lightning exploded overhead, and Bixby wondered if it was a natural phenomenon, or if it was produced by the majestic creature that he pursued over the past several days. A screech filled the air, and he grinned, knowing that his task was soon to be completed.
Bixby had seen the creature aloft in the air, had been in awe of its massive wingspan, and even a little intimidated by its massive talons—the idea of being torn to ribbons by its claws seeming like as unappealing a death as he could think of. But he had never seen it in the light of day, or at any proximity where he could truly appreciate it in all its glory.
He reached into the pocket of his britches and retrieved the old piece of parchment.
Bixby didn’t travel with any sort of bag, or belongings other than what he wore on his back—a sleeveless red cloak that sat upon a yellow tunic, and a pair of grey britches accounted for his most of his garb. There was always the chance that he’d end up parting with whatever extra equipment he brought along, and he preferred to keep his things nice and tidy with that in mind. In all honesty, he was surprised that he’d managed to keep hold of the parchment for as long as he had.
As he unfurled the notice, he looked at the artist’s rendition of the creature. The thunderbird illustrated upon the page appeared powerful and menacing, as though it had made conscious measures to cause havoc in that part of the northern Grand Falmere. More likely, he thought, the hunters it had attacked entered too close to its roost, They hadn’t quite earned the bolt of lightning that struck them—and were lucky to survive it—but neither did the thunderbird deserve the mark of death that the lodge had placed upon it, or so Bixby thought.
Still, if people were frightened of the thing, it was only a matter of time before someone found their way to it. One way or another, if Bixby didn’t involve himself, someone or something was going to die. There was one other option that he knew of: he could drive the majestic avian away. There were other cliffs to roost upon, and the mage knew that the thunderbird would have a better chance of survival if it left the northern reaches of the great forest.
Another ribbon of lightning streaked across the darkened sky then. Bixby could only give thanks that the lightning didn’t strike the ground nearby. The clouds above were natural, the moon shrouded behind an impenetrable veil. In those moments, the lightning served to help Bixby locate his bounty. His slow approach served him well, for all he needed was a single golden feather to prove he had ensured the beast would cause no further harm to the hunters.
As the rain came down, Bixby stepped out of the dense copse of trees, and looked upon the nearest cliff face. Water poured down the side of it, and he knew that the ascent would be dangerous. But he had more than a few tricks up his sleeves after so many years of demonstrating his magical acuity. As another shriek from the thunderbird rang out above, the mad wizard held his hand against the cliffside.
Though it was cold, Bixby summoned an even frostier magic to bind his hands to the stone. Ice formed around his fingers, locking them into place upon the jagged rise. When he kicked into the cliff face, he summoned icy steppingstones as well, falling upon them to rest his weary arms after he had climbed dozens of feet into the air.
His hair was soaked then, and water cast into his eyes. It was enough to have him struggle to see how much farther he had to scramble. There may have been a better way to get to the top, but the man couldn’t dismiss the rush he felt by the danger. Where most arcanists might have formed an icy staircase to climb to the top, there was something enriching about the more primal experience. The sensation of his heart beating rapidly in his chest, his heavy, quiet breaths steadying him—it was all a sign that he couldn’t take any shortcuts to his destiny.
As he crested the top of the cliff, he could see the massive avian considerably closer than he had in previous encounters. The thunderbird’s back was to him, and it didn’t see him, but every now and then it flapped its wings, buffeting the air and sending a loud noise reverberating through the air that Bixby had earlier thought was the deep resonation of thunder.
Another bolt of lightning roared across the sky, and the intruding arcanist could see that it coincided with the mighty bird’s upraised wings. It shifted again, squawking into the night, and he was surprised that anybody would have had a hard time finding its roost with all the racket it made throughout all hours of the night.
Swinging his feet over the ledge, Bixby crawled until he arrived on solid, safe ground. The thunderbird’s roost was not so far away then, and the courageous wizard could see the branches that had been used to fashion its nest.
When it crooned into the sky once more, the man making his approach hesitated. He could see the oval shape just beside the monstrous bird, and he realized that the creature had reason to be so ornery. If it had something to protect, it would certainly keep any dangers away from the cliffs.
Coercing it to leave might have been a little trickier than he had initially hoped, Bixby thought.
As the thought pulsed in his mind, the thunderbird took flight, flapping its mighty wings enough to have the thick and sturdy branches in the nest rumbling. It flew high into the air, disappearing into the clouds, another cry leaving its beak.
Bixby was afforded an even better look at the nest then, and of the single egg within it. Cracked open as it was, it didn’t appear that the thunderbird was hatching the egg anymore. But as Bixby drew closer to it, he understood that it was not caring for any offspring either. Something had happened to the egg or the chick, he supposed, and he realized that all of the screeches he heard were likely ones of distress.
Still, she couldn’t stay. Her grief was likely to cause even greater destruction.
Bixby held out his hand then. He could only hope that his plan for her would spare her life, and that she would find a new home.
A flame seemed to flicker in the air just in front of his hand, and he focused on it for several moments. Then, a beam of light emerged from the air behind the flame, almost as though it were tearing through the flesh of his palm. As the beam converged on the summoned fire, it turned into a blazing ray that landed upon the wooden nest.
The scent of the fire carried on the wind at once, and Bixby squared his jaw at the sight of the eggshell succumbing to the tremendous heat. He knew that there was some comfort that the thunderbird likely felt in returning to its nest, looking for its offspring though it would never be present.
Another screech permeated the air, that one emerging with a different tone. Gone was the frantic cry of a mother’s mourning. Instead, it was one punctuated with rage.
The thunderbird emerged from the clouds, carrying strands of mist upon the edges of its wings as though it dove down toward the earth with the full might of the heavens upon its back.
Bixby saw her at once and knew that there was no turning back. She had seen all that she had worked to create wrought to ashes, and the man who lit the spark still stood beside the pyre. With a loud shriek piercing through the rumble of thunder, the mammoth bird lifted her wings.
The arcanist knew what that meant.
Diving out of the way before he even heard the crackle of lightning, Bixby avoided a deadly blast of energy as it struck the ground where he had been standing. The power of that lightning bolt was tremendous, and he knew that it was reinforced by her fury. The cliff that he had climbed to arrive there crumbled under the force of the thunderbird’s magic call.
With the blaze roaring behind him, Bixby knew that there was nowhere safe to run to. That didn’t matter, however. He anticipated such a thing in provoking a mighty thunderbird. Besides, it was just as likely that in trying to escape, the creature would hunt him down.
No, standing atop the cliff beside its burning roost was precisely where Bixby meant to be.
The thunderbird screeched again and flapped its wings to stay aloft. But it didn’t summon up another bolt of lightning as quickly as Bixby had thought it would if it could produce the energy on its own. It was more likely, he surmised then, that the creature had to wait to let some sort of atmospheric material accumulate before it could harness the power.
Bixby had no such limitations.
Even as the thunderbird flapped its wings harder and faster, buffeting him and trying to send him tumbling from the cliff, he clung on. The arcanist reached into the aether, summoning a trio of small violet orbs that danced around his open hand, which he aimed toward the monstrous bird. At once, he sent out the trio of magic missiles, each finding their mark in the sky. One by one they popped against the creature’s body, zapping it as it hovered where it was, in defiance of the man below. Small, uncontrollable convulsions had its body tensing, but it remained aloft, only sinking a foot or two in the air before a mighty beat of its wings brought it back to a more comfortable height.
Bixby’s projectiles were no match for the thunderbird’s lightning, but they hurt just enough to incense the creature further. It brought its wings back—not up, the wizard below noticed—and dove forward.
It was just as he had hoped.
With its talons leading, the thunderbird was sure to dice Bixby to ribbons if it could reach him. He stood where he was though, just as defiant as the beast had been. His muscles tensed, and he prepared to move at the opportune moment. The bird moved on quicker than he expected, despite its size, but Bixby had many years of experience by then. He was familiar with the need to adjust the timing of his spells and knew that instantaneous alterations were a necessity in dealing with the legendary beasts of Tellest.
One of those shifts was needed then, as the thunderbird swooped in.
And Bixby was eager to oblige.
An explosion detonated at the wizard’s feet, sending him flying into the air. The burst of flame and flying rocks caught the thunderbird off guard, and it fluttered just a moment, trying to make sense of the new danger unfolding. It lost sight of the arcanist, who was high above it then. Bixby completed his arc and began falling back toward the ground.
But he had managed his spell with impeccable timing, and gusts of otherworldly wind that he summoned from one direction or the other kept his intended trajectory intact.
He landed upon the mighty creature without fail, his heft catching the thunderbird off its guard. Together, both careened toward the valley below, with Bixby clutching onto a handful of feathers upon the bird’s back.
The legendary beast refused to crash into the ground below. With a mighty flapping of its wings, it rose, further into the air then. Before long, Bixby could see the low clouds closer than ever, though they were still hundreds if not thousands of feet away. Still, he was farther than ever from the ground as well, and he couldn’t ignore the trepidations that shook his heart in his chest.
Bixby let a smile stretch his lips, excited by the prospect of being one of the very few people who had ever flown into the air with such power beneath him. There were other ways to touch the sky, he knew, but perhaps none were so incredible as riding on the back of a mighty thunderbird, even if it was under duress.
After everything that happened to the gigantic bird, he couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for it. There was a very real possibility that the thunderbird would leave and never come back.
Before it did though, Bixby remembered the task at hand. He needed something to show for his merits, after all. With all his might, he clutched a golden feather in hand, and ripped it from the thunderbird’s back.
An incensed screech rang out as he tucked the feather into his belt.
Preoccupied as he was, he didn’t notice at first as the static in the atmosphere began to accumulate again. By the time he looked up, and noticed the bird’s wings rise, he realized it was too late to do anything except brace himself.
The bolt of lightning broke into several ribbons of electricity, striking the thunderbird at multiple parts upon its back—including the fellow who tried to ride it like a stallion.
Bixby’s body convulsed then, far greater than the pitiful missiles that he had shot at the creature caused. His jaw clenched and he growled through the pain, but he lost hold of his exotic, wild mount. As the thunderbird rose into the air once more, Bixby could no longer maintain his position upon its back.
Despite all his preparation, he knew there were still sure to be some uncertainties. Still, he didn’t expect the creature to strike itself with lightning.
He rolled from the giant bird, the wind rushing against his face and summoning tears to his eyes before it dragged them away. Bixby watched as the ground seemed to race up toward him. The arcanist struggled against the refusal of his limbs, trying to bring his arm to bear. If he could just move a little quicker, he could survive the latest fall.
He couldn’t unclench his fingers, the bolt of lightning leaving his hand gnarled and charred, he realized. There shouldn’t have even been a chance for him to have survived the electric blast, let alone to chance surviving a deadly fall from such a height.
Knowing that there was little he could do to fight against gravity, he closed his eyes, letting the last moments of his life fill him with what peace he could find.
Bixby Alladocious barreled toward the ground, and he readied himself for death.