One such group is the Guild of the Feathers. Most of them are survivors of curses that turned into birds, so who better to help you than someone who has been there already and survived?
Flocked updates Sundays and is divided into volumes:
Ch1-60 - Vol1: "The Guild of the Feathers" Missing Princesses, Legendary Birds, and a possibly Immortal Sorcerer are all jobs the Guild is hired to contend with, but the greater challenge may be facing their own troubled pasts.
Ch61-current - Vol2: "Chain of Wings" - The guild members are more determined than ever to learn about curses to deal with the lingering remnants of their own. But a witch, who trades in curses, would rather study them first hand. Show Less
A Dog Plan
From the cabin, across the remainder of the field, lay the beach. A boardwalk crossed it until it extended out in a little pier. A couple of silhouettes stood on it, fishing. From here she could hear laughter.
Across the grass, the dog came running. It hopped up next to her, sat on its hind legs, and could not contain his joy at seeing her, neither through his eyes, nor through his rapidly wagging tail.
“Hello,” she said to him. She ran a hand over his head, stretching the fur gently so that the dog closed his eyes in smile. “I have an important question for you. Do you want to go on a quest that will help me?”
The dog barked once, but in his language that was a full sentence with many meanings and thoughts.
“Thank you. Now then, here is what I want you to do.” She kneeled down as much as her mostly healed leg would permit, and explained her mission. As she spoke, she slipped a looped piece of string around his neck. She adjusted the fit, snug but not tight, and knotted the ends together. From the string dangled three small pieces of paper, covered in script. “Do you understand?”
The dog barked once, paused, then barked again, followed by a short whimper.
“Yes, I thought of that. A note does make sense, but only if you know who is going to read it. For all I know the one who attacked us will be there. Now go, hurry. And make sure you are seen. Thank you.”
She hugged the dog and then patted him gently on the rear to send him off. He went streaking up the meadow towards the forest.
“I hope this works. But if it doesn’t… I’ll just have to walk up there tomorrow myself,” she cast a glance over her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Princess.”
Friday walked through the marketplace of the Adytum, marveling at all the wonderful things he saw. No, this was not his home, the place he had been seeking since he had been taken from it. But it was the place he had been looking for in parallel to that. A fine alternative.
“Please, give the King my thanks for allowing me the freedom of his home,” he said to the peahen-spirit escorting him.
“I believe it is Oleg you must thank. He convinced the King during their deliberations.”
“Indeed? Well… I do not know what to say to that!” he laughed. He wiped away a tear. He hated being locked up again. It had been a very nice suite, but it was still a prison, a cage, no better than the one swinging over the merchant’s shop.
“You came here seeking refuge, did you not?”
He shook his head, nodded, then shook it again. “I came here because I heard it existed and felt drawn to it. If my journey ended here I would be happy. But I cannot say that I was also not here looking for a way back home.”
“I understand,” she said. “While this is my home, and the home of all my kind, for many this is a place to call home only for a time, or because the home they seek is out of reach. Will you be petitioning the King to stay? I would be glad to help you.”
“Thank you. Is there… a price?”
She laughed. “Only your good company, and maybe a tale or two. I hear you are good at them.”
“I have been told that I am,” he said. It was not a lie, he simply wasn’t sure he believed the people who told him. “I… aiii!”
Friday shrieked and leapt onto a nearby table, scattering fruit that pulsed like stars onto the ground.
“Juma, Juma! What is it?” Akuti shouted over the growing alarm of the crowd.
“Keep it away from me!” he said, pointing. Across the market by line of his finger, a dog was grabbing a string of sausages from a table and throwing them over his neck. He then rushed over to the rolling army of fruit and picked two up in his mouth carefully. He sat on his haunch and looked up at Friday, wagging his tail.
“What is a dog doing in here?” Akuti shouted authoritatively. Juma heard the clank of guard’s armor. “Capture it!”
“You aren’t going to kill it, are you?” Juma said, curling up slowly on the table.
“No,” she huffed, turning to him with raised eyebrow. “We do not kill here. Only the King has that power. We will capture, we will find out where it came from, and then we will take it home.”
The dog gave a playful growl, tag wagging, and leapt at Juma. He cried out and fell over, toppling the table with him. Akuti, the male centaur and snake tailed woman shopkeepers rushed to help him up and gather the food, only to look up and see the dog running away. Akuti shouted more orders, but they became quickly lost in the chaos of the market.
The quick steps of the guards were hard to keep up with. Oleg had to struggle to match them without running with his average lengthened legs compared to theirs. Beside him, Cyril huffed too, so he didn’t feel as bad about himself.
Their urgency was nothing compared to the discomfort Oleg felt upon seeing the King’s back standing before the threshold. Even through the peacock cloak, Oleg could tell the man was quite tense. He had the sudden fear they were being called to answer, not called to advise.
“You sent for us, Fai Arjun?” Cyril said, feigning confidence.
“Yes, I did. Was there a dog on your ship?”
Oleg and Cyril exchanged looks. “A dog? No, Fai Arjun,” Oleg answered for them.
The King turned to them, surprising them with no anger, merely worry. “A dog managed to enter through this threshold today. It came into the market, it stole food, it fled back through. Even though the usual protections are up.”
“How?” Oleg said, mostly in a whisper.
“You will accompany me to find out.”
As soon as the King spoke, the threshold opened for him. A guard proceeded him, but only by half a second. The guards who had escorted the guildmates made it clear with their presence that they were to follow. They hurried through.
On the other side, the King looked around. “I have not been on this side in a while… the trace of spells is faint, but definitely something magical passed this way.”
“I will turn to my duck form to scout,” Oleg said quickly. He transformed before the King could respond.
Oleg! You’re back! Taree’s voice came, in the subtle way she had taught him was directed for his ears only. He was hoping she would be there.
“No. You stay with me. No flying off. You are still technically my prisoners,” the King said.
A dog ran into the Adee-tum a little while ago and ran out with food! It went to the house of a fisherman near the beach!
Oleg transformed back, not wanting to risk answering until he had more practice at that private form of bird speak.
“My apologies, King Arjun,” Oleg said with a bow. He cast a quick side glance to Cyril although he rolled his eyes towards the treelines. Cyril nodded.
“Fai Arjun,” Cyril stepped in. “Perhaps then Oleg can cast a… spell… to try and locate the dog?”
The King surveyed Oleg, who gulped. Cyril had just suggested that his magic might be more effective than a Fai’s. Did he not realize how much of an insult that could be? Or it could be taken as a challenge. Arjun, based on his story, did not seem like a typical Fai, but old traditions… old rules of respect… ran deep.
“Yes, I was impressed by your magic during the battle the other day. Let us see what else you can do.”
Oleg breathed with relief. He took the lead of the group, aware of a guard closely following. What he needed was a spell that would look like he was casting a locator when it was really guiding him to where Taree had directed him.
He knelt, drew a circle, and surrounded it with a few runes. “By Sirius, come to me,” he said lowly. Wind formed and into the circle, in the air beneath his palm, several strands of hair gathered together. Oleg pinched them into a clump, tugged out one of the white hairs from his head and used that hair to bind the others together. This he held to his mouth and spoke “Return yourself. Guide us” before blowing on them, thus allowing him to control the movement of the hair as it drew itself back to the dog.
“Interesting,” Arjun said, with pleasure in his voice. Oleg smiled.
“I shall lead the way?” Oleg asked. The King nodded, Cyril smiled appreciatively, and Oleg set them off on their trek.
The tide, slowly rising, nearly licked Safiya's toes. If she didn't move soon, it would soon soak her feet. Only dimly was she aware of this as she watched the much more distant waves out on the sea.
A dog barked, jarring her mind to alertness. It worked, it said. They're following, came the next bark.
She stood and brushed the sand from her skirt and legs.
“This is it,” she said, breathing deep. “After so long of dreaming about this, it finally feels like I am getting close. I can’t tell if I am more scared or excited.” She laughed. “No, this is not. But it might be a flight of instinct.”
“There you are, boy!” The fisherman called out from the peer near where Safiya sat. Beside him, Belinha paused mid baiting a hook. “Where have you been?”
“I sent him on a quest,” Safiya said as the dog ran up to her. He barked his message again. “I know, thank you, my friend.” She rubbed his head until his leg shook.
“You – what?” Vasilis said.
“Safiya!” Belinha said.
“I had to do something, Princess.” Safiya locked eyes with her unplanned companion. She had genuinely grown to like the lady, and felt guilty she was shattering the protective spell the girl had been crafting for herself all week.
“Princess?” Vasilis turned to his fishing apprentice.
“Look! There they are!”
A group crested the ridge. Safiya could see Oleg in the lead, and Cyril and a powerful presence following. The Peacock King himself? she wondered. Their pace increased, so she would find out soon enough, she reasoned.
Boots stomped along a corridor running up to the banquet hall. Cyril paused in his eating to listen. There were at least five sets of feet, if he was listening right.
The steps stopped, the door opened, and two guards ushered three men in.
“Belinha!” King Joao called out as he stepped in.
“Joao!” Belinha pushed up from the table, where she sat between Safiya and the fisherman, and walked swiftly to her brother and king and embraced him.
“Sister?” the second man said, stepping in behind the others. Friday followed, and walked towards Safiya.
“Mateus!” Belinha squeaked in shock. She released her elder brother and through her arms and weight around her second brother. Cyril could hear tears in her yelp of joy. “You are here!”
“Yes, sister, I was being held by the King to ensure I was no threat. Now that he has seen you, he has released me.”
Cyril raised an eyebrow at the fae lord, but dropped it before the monarch saw.
“My Domain is under constant threat. My council and I found it to be the most effective way to ensure he was not one.”
Belinha looked over her shoulder, her grip on Mateus slackening. “You would do that just to protect your realm?”
He nodded. Cyril did not agree with the tactic, but something about Arjun's eyes resonated with him. He had seen plenty of great rulers in his travels, including his own father and Oleg's, and he could see the hurt Arjun's eyes displayed. The choice weighed heavy on him. Unlike Joao, who had made a decision that put lives on the line to protect just himself, and to continue the negotiations he wanted to make for his sister. Arjun weighed the concerns of all of his people.
“Perhaps for now we might just sit to eat the feast Fai Arjun had prepared for us,” Oleg said, stepping in. “There are many stories we need to share, and around the table might be the best place for that.”
Cyril smiled. That was the Oleg he knew. It was nice to see him.
The others drifted towards the table and took their seats as they all tucked in. Mateus, after a few minutes, led with his story first. By the end of the banquet, after Juma, Oleg, and eventually Safiya told their portions, the stories wove together into a rich tapestry of how they all came to be in this place.
The tension in the air eased. Cyril even caught glances being exchanged between Belinha and Arjun. Towards the end of the meal, the door opened and a guard slipped in. Cyril felt tension return, as he walked across the room to whisper in the ear of one of the Councilors.
She, Chetna he thought, whispered back just loud enough that Cyril could hear, “Yes, send her in then. This cannot wait.”
Cyril swallowed and looked at Safiya, but she did not notice. He swung his eyes to Oleg, who was in conversation with the other two peahens.
The door reopened and a new set of steps clicked across the floor. Cyril braced himself.
“Kanika,” the seated spirit said, rising to her feet. Then her body launched forward. She bounded up, pushing off the table with one powerful kick of a foot.
She lunged through the air, a table knife in her hand, aimed towards her cousin.