I open my dreary eyes to the two sides of a wooden basket. Wait, what am I doing in a basket? I'm clearly in bird form, but who put me here? And when did I turn into a bird?
I turn my head to the left and spot Julia out my right eye. I squawk, and she turns around, squatting down so she can see me on eye level. "You're finally awake, silly," she says, petting my wings. "It's already been forty-five minutes. Ralph's going to be here soon."
"What am I doing in a basket?" I squawk-speak to her. I really haven't used this form nearly as much as my angel form, so I still sound nowhere near human in my squawks. I think it also might just be part of the way the beak is made. It can't pronounce the sounds the same.
"Do you not remember anything, Phe-phe?"
Phe-phe...how long has it been since I've heard her say my nickname like that? She has such a soft and beautiful voice. Just hearing her say those two syllables are enough to make me content forever.
"Phoenix?" she coos. "What are you doing?"
I freeze. Am I not allowed to nuzzle her hand? I stare up at her sheepishly.
She sighs. "We need to talk."
The four most dreaded words. And right after she had said my nickname.
"I've been thinking about it this whole time you've been asleep. Since the demon king is dead, there should be no need to live with you. I can just stay here since we've already defeated the threat."
"What?" I caw. "He's not dead. It's prophesied only the Tattered Trio can defeat him." I look at her critically. She seems surprised. "You didn't think James was the Demon King, did you?"
She says nothing. I continue, "There's no way in Shadows he'd have been the demon king."
"There's no way," I interrupt her.
"He told me he was the demon king."
Hmmm. He must have really had James under his spell. You see, the Demon King (who also recruited almost all of the Protectors by poisoning their minds), is more powerful than anyone in the Supernatural World. That's why it's going to take that Tattered Trio (which is meant to be the three most tattered supernaturals that have been so exposed to evil that they have overcome it and have become so tattered that no one can possibly defeat them. It's more of a metaphor than anything. I don't know who came up with it.)
The Demon King must have used James and manipulated him. His power is certainly getting stronger. James used to be a good soul, you see. Raven and I tried to recruit him. He actually fought alongside us for awhile. Then he started doing his own thing, becoming too confident in his ability to destroy demons. One day he encountered the Demon King and he's been affected ever since. Raven has been insisting that she could cure him of it somehow, but I've tried to be more cautious. At the least it seems Julia has rid him of the Demon King's influence. That's a major step towards winning this long battle against evil. Still, I wonder if she'll ever be ready to take him on.
"Julia, you need to take me out of this stupid basket so I can transform and we can go defeat the Demon King," he squawks at me.
"Why do you keep insisting he's alive? I defeated him," I tell him. Isn't the problem over, the threat gone?
"No. That wasn't the Demon King. James is a Protector, like us, but his heart was poisoned by the Demon King's darkness, and he was manipulated," he explains impatiently.
"So James was just acting under the Demon King's spell?" I ask. That sort of would make sense. He did seem like he came out of a trance before he went running off just now.
"Yes. Now lift me out of here already."
I ignore his request. "What am I going to tell my parents?"
"Just make them forget. Soon you'll be gone anyway. You turn 16 tomorrow and then we can leave legally by Supernatural Law."
"Leave?" I scream. "I'm not leaving!"
"Supernatural City is a really nice place. There's plenty of room. We can buy a nice house and live a good life. Plus, we can stay at my house during the day if you prefer."
"What do you mean Supernatural City? I'm not leaving Ralph and my family. What would they think? What would I tell them?"
"It's not that hard. All you have to do is make them forget you ever existed. You did it with me before, right?"
Wait, he knew? Tears well up in my eyes. "I don't want to leave them. I don't want to make anyone forget anything. How could you even suggest that?"
"Come on, it's not that bad."
"What do you mean it's not that bad? They're my family. I get that you wouldn't understand because you never had any family, but it's not like that for me. I love them. I don't want to leave them. I want them to be happy. They have a right to know!"
Phoenix looks down at the basket, a glint of wistfulness in his eyes. "You've always had lots of people you were close to besides me. All I ever had was you and Raven." He looks up, a tear threatening to wet the feathers under his bird eyes. "But you clearly don't love me back anymore. It's pointless to keep pursuing you. We can just be allies from now on until we defeat the Demon King. Then you can go back to your normal life and forget I ever existed."
So Phoenix has been alone this entire time in his life? All he's had is Raven. My heart aches for him. Some part of me pities him enough to whisper, "No."
"No what?" he asks.
There's got to be some way to keep him in my life and not have to go live with him or leave my family. I stare deep into his amber, phoenix eyes and it hits me. "You're a bird," I say matter-of-factly. "Just live here with me as my pet. Then my parents shouldn't have much problem with it. And we can still go to the Shadowrealm from here, right?"
"A pet?" I ask Julia.
I've always hated this bird form, but maybe it could work. Besides, it is still technically living with her. And she didn't shoot me down, which is a plus.
"Yeah," she says, looking at me hopefully.
"I think it could work," I tell her, attempting to form my beak into a smile. "I've mastered going to the Shadowrealm on my own, so I could take us both there from here."
She beams at me and suddenly kisses my little forehead. If I could capture that moment and play it on repeat for the rest of my life, I would be the happiest bird alive. No joke.
The front door opens and Julia rushes out of the room, which I now assume is her bedroom. Hmm, I might as well look around.
I leap out of the basket, flapping my wings every which way to try and fly properly. Ugh. Now I'm starting to wish I'd used this form more. Then I wouldn't be like a baby learning how to walk.
I crash onto the ground, landing on my side. At least I haven't broken any bones. Yet. I pick myself up off the ground and stare at the light-blue-colored walls, the simple but cozy furniture, the bed. The bed!
I climb up onto it and snuggle into the blankets. There's no pain a warm, soft bed can't fix. I curl up into a ball and almost fall asleep, but looming voices keep me awake and make me jolt up in an instant. I was supposed to be in my basket.
"He's in here. Do you think Mom and Dad will let me keep him?"
I scurry back over to my basket, leaping on the white chair to get up to the table's surface where the basket sits.
Just as I plop into the basket, the door swings open and a young, blonde-haired, and hazel-eyed boy steps in, resembling his sister who comes in after him. "I don't know." His eyes rest on me, scrutinizing me. I feel like the animals at the zoo, except, wait, I pretty much am one. Wonderful. "I've never seen this kind of bird before. What is it?"
Julia pronounces a long "Um," and then decides to say, "I don't know. I just found him on the side of the street."
Ralph shrugs his shoulders as though he's accepted her answer. "He's really pretty. I think you can convince them assuming he doesn't make too much of a mess."
Julia stares at me questioningly and I give a slight nod. Of course I won't make a mess. I can be human, too, you know, I tell her. Yeah, yeah, yeah, she didn't know that she created a telepathic link between us when she got rid of my demon side. Now she knows.
What!? she screams telepathically. How are you reading my mind?
You made the link between us. You didn't have to implant me with part of yourself to get rid of my demon half. But you did.
She frowns at me and huffs. Ralph looks back and forth from me to her curiously. "Why are you staring at the bird? Ooh, are you talking to it somehow?"
Julia looks away. "Of course not. It's just it's such a beautiful bird, that's all." She laughs nervously. "Couldn't take my eyes away." Wow, if I had known I would get these kind of compliments from Julia, I would have tried this sooner.
"He is handsome, isn't he?" Ralph comments, reaching out to stroke my feathers. I flinch away but then remember I'm a bird and that it's not uncommon for kids to stroke bird's feathers. Especially if that bird is a pet. I just have to hope that he stays plenty away from me. If I were to command him anything, he would have to bend to my will. He's Julia's younger brother, an innocent. And something about this whole thing gives me a bad feeling, like it will come back to bite me.