Our leaders are the phoenixes. It's always been that way. They aren't immortal, though. They can be killed. As far as anyone's aware, or at least, as far as I'm aware, they can't die of old age. But of course, they're usually killed before they would. The phoenixes have children, some of whom are normal harpies like the rest of us, but at least one of which, usually the firstborn, is a phoenix. It's not uncommon for the queen to have multiple phoenix children, but it's rare for more than one to live to adulthood. Just before they get their adult feathers, they often kill each other, fighting for the right to be the next queen. And it's often the winner who kills her mother and takes the throne. There are rarely more than three at once, though.
While phoenix eggs aren't, on the outside, any different than normal eggs, they're very warm to the touch. It's the easiest, and basically the only, way to tell. Other eggs are warm, if they're not dead. That's normal. But not as warm as a phoenix egg. They can control fire magic, too, which is pretty cool. Most harpies can control wind, and some of the higher class ones can manipulate other elements. But only the phoenixes, or the occasional anomaly regular harpy offspring of the queen, can control fire.
It was Amber, the current queen herself, who appointed me a very special job, where I got to be close to all this. Of course, I felt she made the wrong choice, and so did a few others she knew, who she was very close to. I was barely four, and had only had my first real feather just a few days before she picked me. I was barely old enough to do any work, and yet she still wanted me. She explained that she wanted me to care for her egg, her second phoenix child. She was worried her older child, Phoebe, might try to harm the egg, or others might. Having someone unimportant like me taking care of it would help to not draw unnecessary attention. I tried to explain, in as many words as I had learned at that time, why I was a bad choice, why I shouldn't do it, but she waved those all away. Of course, I had to. I couldn't disobey a direct order from the queen herself.
So I spent a lot of my days for a while curled up with the little egg. She had me take it home with me, and I kept it in my sleeping place in my room, a nest-like area consisting of basically every soft thing I had ever been allowed to have. I carefully tucked it up when I had to go, because I got too hungry to stay, or had other pressing matters to attend to, but mostly I just laid or sat next to it, often with a wing over it, reading or drawing or doing something that didn't involve a lot of moving around. My mom occasionally came and would take my place so I had a chance to run around outside. Usually the exchange was for me to also play with my little sister, who was only almost two. Amber came very occasionally to check on it, or sent someone else to do so, but the visits were scarce and short. She didn't want to attract too much attention.
One day she came, after a few months. It was more than just a check up. It started like that, and I didn't expect anything more. But then she had to go and add something else all of a sudden. "I know it's a lot to ask of a child like you, but I'd like you to stay with her. You've been doing such a good job taking care of her and protecting her, and I feel as if you'd continue to do so." I hoped she was joking, that she wasn't serious. But the look on her face told me she was.
"I- I can't," I tried again. "I don' know how."
"Of course, you're still only a few years old. But in time, you'll learn. I can teach you, when you're ready. But I think it would be good for her, to have an ally, and a friend. And someone near her in age." Unlike most of the queens I had heard stories of, Amber was always so gentle, yet determined. And sometimes I wondered how she managed to become queen in the first place.
"But," I started, attempting another interruption, another way out. She waved to silence me, and I went back to pressing myself against the egg.
"Please. Consider it." That was apparently the end of it, as she left just after. But what was there to consider? I didn't really have a choice in the matter. It had been picked for me. But why me? Why was I the one she picked? I wasn't special. I was small, and weak. I could barely even use my magic. There were much better choices. Maybe she knew something I didn't, or, maybe she just had a soft spot for my father, who was quite skilled, and so she thought she was doing us a favor by giving me a job so important. But I'd tried everything, to get her to get someone else to do it. And she wouldn't. So I had no choice. This little egg was my life now.
...But, maybe it wouldn't be all bad. It would be kind of like having another little sister. Right? We would play together, and live in the same space, and it's not like she'd be that different, probably. She just might have a very, very important job when she grows up. Am I supposed to look after her then, too? I wondered about this. Well, if this little egg became queen, she could make the rules. If she wanted me to stay, I'd have to stay. And if she didn't want me to... well, then I wouldn't have to. But that was a long time from now. But I kind of wished she'd hatch already. Having a little sister already would be way better than having a heater lump that needs to be kept warm.
I wondered then about what she would be like. Would she be like my current little sister? Would they get along great? Or maybe they'd fight all the time. Maybe me and the egg wouldn't get along, and she'd need someone else. These thoughts gave way to day dreams, which soon became just dreams, and I fell asleep, dreaming about what things might be like.