A series of caves sat one next to the other, carved by millennia of rushing water from the slowly eroding limestone and sandstone wall on the edge of the forest enclave. The waterfall in the center of the caves cascaded into a pool, surrounded by ferns and moss. Within each cave resided a shapeshifter, their eyes aglow in the darkness.
Flash entered the clearing, stopping before the pool. His Archaeopteryx talisman swayed and spun, catching the light from the water and the moon above.
“What brings you to us, Seeker?” a growl from one of the caves.
“I bring news of a Warrior,” Flash replied, his tail twitching nervously.
“An avian Warrior has not been here for a century,” a dissenter spoke, her fluted warble echoing in the clearing and into the surrounding caves.
The water rushed into the pool, its sound breaking the momentary silence.
Flash watched several pairs of eyes open—red, yellow, green, blue. The current Warrior shapeshifters, Guardians of their clan.
One by one the shapeshifters left their dens, approaching Flash. First came the owner of the red eyes, a large avian ensconced in flame colored plumage, bright yellows and reds. Then came the owner of the yellow eyes, a pitch black four-winged, her eyes shining as a fire in the darkness. Next came the owner of the green eyes, a large female avian with tan and green plumage, her stripes as the tiger, her eyes fierce.
Last came the owner of the blue eyes, a very large avian the color of a darkening night sky. His black crest faded into a deep blue. He wore an opalized ammonite talisman, as did his brother and sisters, yet his flashed blue in the darkness. He sat before Flash, preening, listening intently.
“Tell me, Flash, do tell me this avian is strong,” he raised his head in between plucking out feathers.
“She is not as strong physically as you all,” Flash began, “but I have never felt a presence like hers.”
“You are rarely intimidated by an avian,” the four-winged tilted her head to the side, squinting at Flash curiously.
“I know,” Flash swallowed, their stares burning into him. “She can hear me, she has heard my mentor across the sand seas, past the fire-mountains, past the forest enclave. It is impossible for her clan to do this. Yet she has been marked, chosen.”
“Ra and Wadjet have erred before,” the green eyed avian shook her head.
“I do not,” Flash’s voice echoed strongly through the clearing, ringing into the dens.
“What is her name?” the blue eyed avian ceased preening, his attention caught.
“Iara,” Flash grunted.
“Why do you come here to tell us of her? I thought you were her Guardian,” the yellow eyed avian wondered.
“I am a Guardian of Seekers, not Warriors,” Flash sighed, sitting down. “I cannot take her under my wing. She needs a Guardian of her own clan. I am asking one of you to do this.”
The Guardians surrounding Flash were silent, pondering his request.
“She must be put to task,” the blue eyed avian smirked. “She must pass our trials in order to have one of us join her path.”
“She can choose whom she wishes to choose, Scylla,” the green eyed avian nudged him hard. “She must meet us, one by one. Whomever she bonds to will be her mentor.”
“Ixerin, your methods are lax,” Scylla sighed. “Allow her to choose? She is to defend the Seekers, not be trampled by them.”
“Scylla is right,” the red eyed avian nodded. “She needs the discipline and the will to defend. Given Flash’s description I am not sure if she is ready for this fate.”
“No one is ready for their fate, Char,” the four-winged argued. “Destiny holds her to her path, no matter how difficult.”
“Merle, you were always full of talk,” Scylla shot back. “Destiny is decided by her, no one else, no other entity can help her.”
“You are too sure of this,” Merle countered. “Do you distrust the Seekers? They have issued the call.”
“And I am asking,” Flash snarled, his temper flaring, “for one of you to heed it.”
The Guardians ceased arguing. The moonlight filled the clearing, bathing it in a warm white light.
“Bring her to us,” Ixerin commanded, her eyes drinking in the jaguar before her. “Let us decide if she is worthy of this title.”
Flash nodded. He gazed at Guardians hopefully. “She will be great, I have been told through the whispers of time.”
“One is never born great, they earn this path,” Scylla huffed, unimpressed.
“Always the dour pessimist,” Flash growled, rolling his eyes.
“No,” Scylla corrected, “I am a realist, Flash. Difference!”
“Now is not the time to be cheeky, child,” Merle scolded Scylla, her eyes flashing in mild anger.
“Bah, I am no hatchling, I was not born yesterday. Ra and Wadjet keep bringing us Warriors and they keep dying on us,” Scylla confronted Flash.
Flash’s hackles rose at the admission. “It is not my fault--!” he began angrily.
“You say they will be great. I have heard this before. An avian with blue eyes, an avian that is gigantic beyond reason, an avian with the ability to spit flames, all have been lost to time. The Seekers are dying, Flash. No one will be able to protect them when the end is nigh.”
“Yet you sit here!” Char snarled, aghast.
“True, I do,” Scylla lifted his chin, squinting back at Char. “I was the last among you tasked with protecting them. But I see no reason to pass the torch yet. Not now. It is too soon, and she is not ready.”
“Bring her to us, let us decide,” Ixerin repeated, ignoring Scylla’s words.
“We cannot guarantee her survival, we cannot say if this path is hers to take, only she can.” Scylla snapped his jaws in mild irritation. Then, “I agree with the others. Bring her here. Let her show us her worth. Then we will decide.”
“So be it,” Flash growled, narrowing his eyes at Scylla as he walked past, returning to the path that led him back to the darkened forest.