A force had come barreling down from the sky when Dawn was away.
Her claws curled the wilted twig of the oak tree. What was once a sturdy home had wilted to a husk—burning, black, and crumbling like dry dirt. Any bird would make her home here, but Dawn had claimed the oak as her own. The twig disintegrated between her spiked talons. She poked at the remains with her beak, dusting its silvery sheen with black soot. No matter how much she prodded, no matter how badly she wished, the oak was burnt.
Dawn craned her long, autumn neck back at the misty sky. Had a jagged piece of sky touched down and struck the oak dead? She’d seen it happen before, a boom and a flash, and suddenly a tree was ash. Dawn considered herself fortunate that she was never caught in such a dangerous storm. The winds were too rough; it tore at her feathers.
She stretched out her wings in defiance of the sky and screeched into the clouds. Her home was gone. Her tree. Her nest.
She would cry, but the tears burned her eyes, and she didn’t want to be blinded. She wanted to see the destruction around her, let it brand her through and through – so it would never happen again. But the longer Dawn stared at the mess, the more the wind blew, and the more bits and pieces of her oak drifted away. She screeched, shrilly and mournfully, and she took to the sky.
Up in the clouds, the remains of the storm left bits of moisture clinging to the feathers of her head. She knew herself to be a bright, red-orange streak through dark grey sky. A gash. An unsightly scarlet. A single ember.
Dawn pounded her wings, the rush of ascent coursing through her like an unstoppable current. Pitted against the resistance of wind and gravity, she pushed against it all, snapping at the heavens for its insolence. Her shredded cries seared through gloomy silence. She was not as strong as she once was. Dawn was old and tired. She’d made this laborious, torturous ascent many times. Too many to count.
On her wings, she carried fiery purpose, vengeance for her tree. The night sky could never be pierced – not for long. It always repaired itself, stitching up the scars left by Dawn to once again reign undisputed.
Well. Not this time.
Dawn unleashed a flurry of dives and slashes, her old body crackling with sparked flame. The sky split in two, yawning open to reveal her adversary.
He was a feathery, blue-tinged thunderbolt, shooting down from the clouds, his beak slit open in a perpetual snarl. He did not want to leave his perch. His oak. Dawn could see it through the clouds, its branches clawing outward, ready to be singed.
Dawn rose, her body a little red streak of fire, her wings beautiful and frail. The hawk-like creature dove straight for her, cawing like the desperate attacker he was.
They collided in a show of sparks and shards of color, burnt black feathers stained red, orange-leaf feathers doused in black. Together, they plummeted, gouging each other with beaks upraised. Their talons tore at underbellies, eyes, the soft, vulnerable padding of their necks. They tossed and turned in the air, bits and pieces of light and dark scattering over the earth below.
Dawn shuddered a breath and let it loose, a call to end all doubt. She clutched her claws around her adversary’s big, thick neck. With a shriek, she tore back toward the earth below, the vengeance in her heart pumping heat through her body. Long and lean, tail feathers trailing far behind, Dawn dragged her adversary to the ruins of her tree and smashed him into the dying embers.
He fell, buried in ash, his agonized caw echoing far into the sky. But Dawn was already up. Up, up, up, high into her adversary’s domain, punching a bird-sized hole through the clouds and shrieking her bitter triumph.
Dawn spiraled into her adversary’s twisted tree roots, sparks and flame and fire pealing through the night. She broke herself against the oak, crashing, thumping, shrieking, sparking. She raised her wings, every feather exploding into a crash of color and heat.
Red, orange, and gold reverberated throughout the skies, painting the earth below in illuminating light. Blinding light.
Dawn peered at the tree burning around her. Dusk’s cries of agony from below reached her in echoes. She lay triumphant, watching her own majestic wingspan crumble into ash to rain down on the earth below. By the time her body reached, it would be nothing more than dew.
Dawn closed her eyes, breathing one last sigh into the world. Another battle. Another morning.
And it was day again.