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The Fig Tree
Anxiety twists his gizzard as the wall of pure red looms ahead of him, staring down the sea of blue and green with piercing pale eyes. Faced now with fear like none else, Riku’s mind is drawn to the past as he prepares to tear down the scarlet barrier barring their path. Memories flicker through his mind, some long and full of detail, others short and vague. The past was as wonderful as a fresh fruit’s flesh. But was it really?
The moon has cycled many times since the days of calm, and the word freedom has taken on a new meaning. After sunrises of planning and hoping and praying to Pure Life itself, now the enemy is upon them. Riku looks into retrospect, seeking any memory of the sweet days before the division, but the only ones that come to his mind are the memory of the day his problems began and those of the sorrowful days that follow...
Bright sunlight trickled through the green vines that hung like leafy spiderwebs between the great boughs of the trees. Those trees spread their branches so wide that their leaves covered the rainforest undergrowth like a giant mushroom. Glittering beads of the previous night’s downpour glistened upon leaves, branches and all other objects dampened by the rain.
The air was surprisingly cool for this climate, but the thick air acted like a shield, preventing the bone-dry coldness with a touch of humidity. Even so, the breath of the creature’s exhale misted out before him, creating a translucent cloud pierced through with sunlight. This dawn was his favorite memory and his heart always ached when he thought of the sunlight upon his dear home tree.
His feathers were of such a shade of blue that one might think he had been torn straight out of the sky on a bright, clear day. He ruffled them gently, the air alight with glinting dewdrops as they were flung from his brilliant plumage. Fluffing them up now, he paused for a moment to absorb the sun’s warm rays before spreading his wings and lifting into the air.
Now his glorious underside was visible, a golden yellow not unlike the sun, and glowing with its reflected radiance. Winging through the rainforest with admirable speed, the Blue and Gold Macaw now had the opportunity to reflect back upon himself.
His name was Riku, a very common name among his kind, the reason being that Riku! and Kikiya! were two of their common calls. Riku had a strong heart and an open mind. A natural-hatched leader, many other Blue-and-Golds followed him willingly and loyally. He had a low tolerance for violence of any kind, and was respected as the peace-keeper of the rainforest.
Riku had landed upon a branch of his favorite fig tree. The fruits were plump and ripe and just right for the picking. He took up one of the succulent berries in his talons and promptly inserted it into his beak.
All at once, two dark shadows fell over Riku. Trapped in their penumbra, Riku had nowhere to flee as the huge Scarlet Macaws wheeled in the air and landed on the same branch as he. Large and intimidating, they had seemingly towered over Riku, filling the air around him with their presence. Their call was harsh and frightening as it struck the ears of the now trembling bird.
“You cannot eat here anymore, Zulie!” the first Scarlet squawked. Riku was startled by the rude name the Scarlet had used for his kind. It was short for azul, the color of their feathers, but most often used in a disrespectful way.
“Zulies are forbidden from this tree!” added the second Scarlet, who had appeared to be struggling from a late molt. His ruby feathers had large patches of bare skin showing through, and it was quite embarrassing to look at.
Riku looked at the two back and forth before answering in his own melodic call.
“For eight years I have fed here, and now you say I cannot? Speak your reasoning, Scarlets. Why tell me so?”
Patchy-Feathers fixed Riku with a menacing gaze. Riku had shrunk back, feathers slimming in timidness.
“We Scarlets have the power to decide who feeds from the figs and who feeds from the clay. We have decided that too many Zulies have been eating our figs, so your kind are hereby banned from the trees of this bearing. Blue is an awful and hideous color, unbefitting of the great Macaw race. You cannot mar our pride and beauty by feeding and living alongside us. However, we do permit you to eat from the clay quarries if you are so inclined.”
“But there is an abundance of figs!” cried out another Blue who had flown up behind Riku while the Scarlets had been speaking. This was one of Riku’s flock and a Kikiya, a female.
The malevolent eyes of the two Scarlets now lifted to meet those of the now frightened female.
“There will be no protest of our ruling,” said Patchy-Feathers.
“Take her,” said the other Scarlet calmly.
Faster than the tongue of a chameleon, they were on her, holding her feet and wings with their talons. As Kikiya struggled, Patchy-Feathers cast one final glare down at Riku, who stood frozen in shock.
“Never return here again, or you shall follow the fate of this female.” With that the two Scarlets took to the sky, the struggling Kikiya crying out and writhing in their talons.
This was not the last time Riku would witness such a horrendous act. He tried to drive the awful images from his mind but there they stuck, glued to his eyelids. The memories, brief and precise, were branded to his brain.
By the time the heavy heat of the summer rain season was draped over the rainforest like a damp leaf, Riku was one of the only unscathed Blues left. Many of them had been taken by the Scarlets and forced into slavery or into performing heinous acts.
Slavery had before been unheard of in the rainforest, for all birds knew only one thing: how to be free. But now these long-forgotten words had risen to the surface as the Scarlets had stolen that freedom, therefore taking away their once inalienable right.
By this point, the macaw was so stressed and frightened by the intensity of the situation that he had less time to concentrate on memory, and these now came in patches and snatches of only important events. For example, Riku remembered with utmost hatred, the day that the Scarlets had risen to power, declaring that the color red was the only true color of Macaw kind. Some Blues had escaped the Scarlets’ tearing talons but still bore the hideous scars and deformities those talons had caused. They now fled to the Valley of the Vines, the only place protected by the Scarlets because their wings were too wide to fit through the narrow gaps between thorny vines and trees.
There the free Blues had banded together, although their numbers were dwindling every day. They wanted to fight back, to form a rebellion, but they could not without a proper leader. The eldest and wisest of the free Blues was named Karok, and he called upon Riku to lead the rebellion to battle.
Honored beyond belief, Riku accepted the position with great pride. He organized the hundred or so Blues into a more formal rebellion, which they named the Skywings. They were a legion of free birds, united to fight back and end the evil of those they now referred to as the Bloodbacks.
The battles had raged on for many a long, cold moon. Under Riku, the Skywings had freed many slaves, but unfortunately for every slave rescued two or three Blues were killed in the process. The forest was stained with the blood of both species, and jaguars prowled the forest floor to feast on the flesh of the fallen. Fear, hunger and pain were the only things Riku had felt for those many moons.
On the twelfth moon since the formation of the Skywings, the entire army had banded together. Led by Riku, they had taken up a war call, a cackling shriek that made the fur of even a jaguar stand on end. Hope was in the air and Riku felt more alive than he had for days. He had flown up to the Leader’s Branch to speak to all of them, and though his speech had been brief it was as energizing and inspiring as the thought of a fresh mango, another fruit the Scarlets had barred from the Blues’ eager beaks.
“Tonight, we fight the Bloodbacks!” Riku rallied the rebels. “We will show the Scarlets that the sky is the limit, and that we are their worst nightmare!” A raucous cheering went up from the crowd of a hundred and twenty four Blue and Golds. A flag of generously donated old molts was raised, blue and gold woven feathers flapping like a wing in the sunset.
Riku felt a sense of pride and security. As he led the Skywings into the night air, he knew why he was here. Tonight they would fight, and tomorrow they would win!
They flew the whole night long, stopping to rest every ten thousand wingbeats. Their first target was the fig tree. They had to reclaim what was theirs.
They slew the two oblivious Bloodback guards and filled the tree with blue and gold. Feasting on the sweet fruit for the first time in over a year, Riku felt full in the gizzard, a sensation he was becoming quite unaccustomed to after eating clay and nuts for many moon cycles. Once finished, the Skywings took flight again and hurtled towards their designated battlefield.
The rebellion had fought valiantly through the shock flocks sent out by the Scarlets. They killed many Bloodbacks, and many of the Blues were slain as well. They tore down the lines of defensive thorns protecting the inner ranks of the Scarlets.
Plowing down a clear path ahead of them, Riku had felt a surge of hope. Victory was near; Riku could feel it. For which side, he did not know, but he did know that he would put every last drop of strength to bring the Scarlets to their knees.
The thought of the wind rushing through his feathers and whistling in his ears only brought him closer to his goal. Red feathers on the forest floor marked his path. This battle would be as memorable as the day that had brought it on...
As the flashback draws to a close, Riku is pulled reluctantly back to the present. Fear registers in his mind as he sizes up the impressive forces of his enemy. The past is as sweet as honey in Riku’s mind. Mentally reliving it had given him a sense of hope, and the strength to carry on. But now the present is upon us, Riku thinks.
Now, at the peak of the battle, Riku faces the great wall of Scarlets blocking their path to victory. They taunt him with their bluffing calls and squawks.
“We will turn the whole world red!” one Bloodback shrieks.
“Your kind will feed the jaguars for a hundred moons!” cries another.
Protest rings through the trees as the Blues voice their rebuttals. Riku silences his flock; it is his time to speak.
“Give it up!” Riku sings. “You need us, just as we need you. Not as slaves, but as friends, as allies. You will destroy the delicate balance of life in this forest if we are taken out of this ecosystem! We are the Blue and Golds! Our colors are on your wings!”
The Scarlets laugh their awful squawks and hold out their wings. Blood, not their own, has been rubbed into the once glorious blue and gold feathers. They are stained completely red. Riku looks on in horror, and his heart drops like a stone. As he looks down the line, he sees that some have even plucked out their colorful flight feathers. How can they fly? Riku thinks. But now is not the time to be weakened by hateful and stupid acts. Now is the time to restore color to the forest.
Riku cries out, returning to his speech. “Our color is an essential one, as common as the sky and as lethal as a tidal wave! It is not possible for one to wipe out a color entirely! We are as needed as the blue water you must drink from to survive!”
Patchy-Feathers, who had ascended to become the Scarlet’s leader, now laughs at this feeble attempt to negotiate.
“Then we shall turn the rivers red!” he squawks, and they leap from the branch in a Scarlet whirlwind. Riku braces for impact and lifts his wings to greet them.
The bright sunlight trickles through the green vines that have been torn from the trees and mangled, no longer the beauteous web they had once been. The world is bathed in the soft glow of morning light, stronger than ever now that the caps of the mushroom-like trees have been slashed through by the Scarlet’s slaves. The rain had not appeared for days, and the air was cold but dry and filled with despair.
Flashes of red and blue and spatters of blood are all Riku sees as a heavy blow to the back of the head sends him tumbling. Knowing his fate, he cannot fight the sadness in his mind as he falls. The war is lost, he thinks. The Scarlets are too powerful to be destroyed.
Riku’s talons open to reveal the fig in his grasp, small and brown and wrinkled. This is the last thing he sees before the ground rises up to meet him and the world is engulfed in a black waterfall stained with red.