By Malcolm Sadler
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He was on his own at last. Finally leaving behind guilt, anger, and other raw emotions that seemed to plague him, Destiny seemed able to cope with planning for the future. Being rather tall and regal for his species, he was never what you would expect from a bird. Sure, he had long brown feathers and a beautiful round head, but what matters is the stuff on the inside!
Yes, it is safe to say that Destiny finally seemed ready to face the world. After all, he had had his share of trials. Taking care of a family is a rather lofty responsibility. He always had to pick up after somebody…they never seemed to have the will power to even shake the mud off their talons when they came home to the nest. His world had become one of pure routine: hunting the food, feeding the children, and warning away predators. There were no other animals in the neighborhood that wanted to mess with a 15-pound eagle. But, occasionally, one would try.
Destiny was the youngest of four eaglets himself. He grew up in a good nurturing home with loving parents. They always seemed interested in looking out for his best interest. However, they were protective. Destiny became sheltered from the rest of the outside world when he was growing up, and never really understood the true complexity and social interaction that awaited him in adulthood. His older brothers and sisters would constantly pick at his feathers and call him “the spoiled one”. It has been said that when someone continues to say something, it becomes belief. I suppose that Destiny had come to choose not to explore his world around him, but to hide from that world inside his safe nest.
Sometimes, his friends from school would attempt to get Destiny to fly to the top of Ayers Rock with them. This was considered the best place in all the land to view potential prey. Destiny was afraid to try new things and never quite knew how to respond to these invitations. Usually, he shrugged it off and said that he had something else to do at home. Usually, his feelings were just the opposite: he wanted to soar high in the air and show everybody what he could do.
I guess you might say that Destiny’s world could be compared to a bubble (a sphere). In order to form a shape such as a square, energy must be expended to form it. Even forming a triangle is difficult. However, the sphere is the most comfortable and relaxed shape of all: always pulling inward on itself. A bubble can bend and flex yet takes great effort to break.
Whenever the circus would be in town, Destiny would watch the magicians blow great plastic bubbles and then “push” an object inside. Most of the time, without a breech, the object would stay inside the bubble and could never come out; nor could anything get in. This is how Destiny came to view his world: isolated, self-contained.
Many of Destiny’s peers always knew he was different. They considered him a “loner”. Since he always chose to be by himself, some thought that he must be gay! Destiny laughed at such a notion. “I love a good spread of tail feathers just like any other male eagle,” said Destiny. Over his short life, Destiny had come in contact with several female eagles. None of these birds were “right”. He didn’t quite know if he believed in a “chosen one”. He made the decision that he would rather keep looking than to preen some fat chick’s white knob for the rest of his life!
But, not all of Destiny’s qualities were viewed as atypical. He was well sought after for his knowledge on mice and small mammals. Having keen eyesight and a sharp sense of smell, it was said that Destiny could catch whiff of a pesky rat 4 miles away! Why… one time, while soaring over Route 43, he spotted a rare find: a gray, fat packrat trying to scurry inside of a hole near a highway. When the packrat saw Destiny swooping down fast, he pulled his head out of that hole (he couldn’t fit anyway) and started to run across the road…. and under a moving semi-trailer! Destiny tucked his wings in and darted underneath the moving truck. He came out the other side with his prize in his beak! He was even surprised at his own agility. He wished his friends could see what he had accomplished.
Then he remembered… he didn’t have many friends.
So, Destiny’s world was one of ignorant bliss. This was partly by choice and partly by design. He seemed vulnerable yet determined; timid yet brazen. Every chance he got, he would show some leg and shake his tail at a passing female. Yet, they were always either too focused to notice or else too stupid to care.
Yet, one day, Destiny met someone he had never met before. This bird was different than any of the others. She had bright yellow legs and a big fluffy brown breast! She didn’t walk but strolled. She had the nerve to shrug off the biggest, handsomest males in the neighborhood when they were just getting to the “good part” of their mating dances. This was unheard of in the eagle kingdom: you never passed up a good head bowing or a certain body shake from the dominant male. “What kind of chick is she?” he wondered.
So, he went up to her and started to speak. He was very nervous. He didn’t usually go up to strange bird women… especially one with such flowing breast feathers. “Excuse me, ma’am”, said Destiny nervously. The female bird gave Destiny a wink and then flew off. A wink? Was that good or bad? He didn’t know. So, he took to the air and decided to follow.
He was followed close behind by his competition: the strong males. They wanted her more than he did. Destiny flew harder and faster trying to keep up with the cute chick. Boy, was she fast! All of a sudden, she took a nosedive! For a split second, he didn’t know what had happened to her. “There she is”, exclaimed Destiny. He darted in her direction. The others males halted their pursuit. They had become distracted by a whole flock of females heading their way.
After a while, Destiny and the female landed on a low branch of a tree. He had no idea what would happen next. The chick turned to Destiny and said, “My name is Trust”.
“Trust? What kind of a name for a bird is that?” Destiny scoffed.
She said, “That’s not my real name, but it will do. I’m an undercover eagle officer. I work for the Bureau of Talons”.
“What do you want from me?” said Destiny. After all, he had never messed with anyone before. He was sometimes reluctant to leave his nest!
“I’m on a very important mission, Destiny. I’m looking for the Mask of Kenral”.
“For what???” questioned Destiny. He didn’t know who this chick thought she was, but he was getting the hint that he had come up and talked to the wrong bird!
“Let me explain,” said Trust. “Actually, I’ve been watching you for some time. Your peers say that you’re a loner…choose to be by yourself. The eagle we’re looking for was said to display similar characteristics. But, when I saw you swoop under that moving truck after the packrat, I knew that you couldn’t be the eagle I’m after. THAT eagle does not eat live prey but is a scavenger…eating the blood out of the dead like a vulture.”
“You SAW that?” said Destiny.
“Yes… so, I decided to keep monitoring you to see what I could learn about you. Destiny, you’re the perfect eagle to help us with our mission”.
“US?” asked Destiny.
“Yes…there is one other bird undercover. He’s a falcon. They usually have a better flight range than eagles but require more water. I don’t like having him as a partner because he’s so different. But, my “boss” [the jerk] wanted us to work together because we represent a wide range of abilities. That is why I am seeking you out: you’re a local who is well liked and respected. You can greatly advance our search for the Mask because you have insights that I couldn’t possibly have”.
“Hold on, hold on… time out!” yelled Destiny. “I don’t want any part of you nor your plan. It took all the strength that I could muster in my gizzard just to walk up to you and speak. You’re a very attractive bird, but I’m just a simple guy who minds his own business! So, if you please, I will just be on my way now!”
“NO – YOU CAN’T GO!!!” squalled Trust. She started to become agitated with Destiny. “Please help me…I can’t crack this case without someone who is the same species. He sucks as a partner and I can never reach him because he’s always gone. Please help me”.
Destiny looked into her eyes. What beautiful blue eyes she had!
“Oh… all right. Just as long as it doesn’t involve attacking anything with four legs,” replied Destiny reluctantly.
So, they left the branch and flew toward the Forbidden Mountains. “We can’t go there!” chirped Destiny. “Only golden eagles are allowed to fly around that mountain”.
“I know,” said Trust. “It’s a golden eagle we’re looking for. His name is Conflict. He has the answers we’re looking for.”
His heart sank.
“Say, what is the Mask of Kenral anyway?” asked Destiny.
Trust replied, “It’s a mask that can be worn only one time a year by an eagle. When the moon is high in the sky, the one wearing the mask can turn into any animal they wish. But, there’s a price. When the third hour of wearing the mask strikes, the eagle wearing the mask will forever become the animal that they have currently transformed into. When that happens, the mask falls off and it takes another year for it to reshape itself into the form of an eagle’s beak for the next year”.
“INCREDIBLE” said Destiny. At that moment, they spot a flock of golden eagles that are landing in a clearing.
Trust tells Destiny that she sees Conflict down among the group. “Follow me” says Trust.
“Why should I trust you?”
“Because it’s your destiny!"
Both Destiny and Trust flew closer to the crowd of golden eagles that had congregated in the clearing. They landed on the roof of a nearby structure. They were far enough away that they could not be detected; yet they could hear a lot of what was being said.
There were seven golden eagles in various positions in the grassy clearing. Since this was a high altitude spot, there was some room to maneuver but not much. Five of the eagles were watching the other two speaking… or, were they arguing? “…The one who found it… not going to let you steal it away from me so easily” said one of the eagles. “ …It’s irrelevant who has it now…I’m the one who will get to keep it!” said the other eagle. As Trust listened carefully, she recognized one of the voices. “Destiny…I know that voice. It’s Conflict”.
“Are you sure”?
“Yes. About a week ago, near Popotii Flats, I got really close to him while he was flying in formation with others. His voice is very distinctive: raspy and coarse. I’d know that voice anywhere.”
Just then, they witnessed one of the most intense battles ever seen between two golden eagles. Talons and beaks were slicing and biting. The fight started to attract other golden eagles that just happened to be in the area. These eagles began to land and congregate around the fighting birds. They were eager to determine the loser. Trust noticed that one of these newcomers had a different colored top crest than the others. It was yellow. Another thing about this eagle: it was carrying some kind of package in its beak.
“I’m hungry. I could use a really fat, juicy field mouse right about now. How about a bag of popcorn? This IS the best part of the movie!” said Destiny.
“Is this really the time and place for such a thing? Can we please focus on the task at hand?” smirked Trust.
The fight between Conflict and the other golden eagle intensified. Conflict suffered from a deep gash to his upper left eye from a fast-flying talon. However, the other bird’s leg was badly bruised and started to swell up.
After a few more moments, it was all over. Conflict had prevailed. It was an awful sight to watch him tear out the main artery of his foe’s neck. There was blood everywhere. Nevertheless, a great roar could be heard (and felt) from Conflict’s triumphant throat as he stood over his new prey. At about this time, Conflict stepped away and all of the other golden eagles swarmed over the dead carcass. They were picking and tearing away every muscle from every other muscle.
Trust and Destiny watched as Conflict walked over to his comrade… the yellow-crested eagle. There was too much noise from the group to hear what these two were saying to each other. However, “yellow knot” handed over the package to his friend. Just then, they immediately flew off.
“We have to pursue them. Come on!” yelled Trust.
As they took off from the roof, they didn’t know that one of the eagles that had received his fill of fresh meat saw them escape. He was loyal to Conflict and couldn’t wait to tell him whom he saw.
The two flew for what seemed like hours until they finally arrived at a place where even Destiny didn’t know existed. It was a large, gray mountain with very steep sides and a pointed top. It looked like a scene from an old movie. They saw the two birds up ahead fly into a rather large cave in one side of the big mountain. They cautiously landed at the entrance to peer into the cave. They knew better than to go in right away.
“What do we do now?” asked Destiny.
“Well” said Trust. “Once an eagle is wearing the Mask of Kenral, the only way it can be removed is if that eagle is on his back. Then, it can be torn away. However, the three-hour time limit starts when that eagle has put on the mask. We will have to watch our time very carefully”.
As they entered the cave, they found that it was well lit and contrasted remarkably from the drab outside appearance of the mountain. They knelt down behind some medium-sized rocks because they saw Conflict and yellow knot up ahead. There was also a third bird there but they didn’t know him.
“The time has come, my friends. As I wear the great Mask of Kenral, I will forever be changed…transformed… into that which I have always sought after”.
Just then, they heard swooping behind them. Two large golden eagles had grabbed them from behind and had picked them completely off the ground! They were being carried toward the front of the cave where the other birds were waiting for them. It was a trap!
As they landed with a *thump*, they started to get away when…
“Don’t even try to fly away” bellowed Conflict. “My eagle friends will hunt you down like rabbits and kill you!”
“Buuuutt, butttt, butttt… how did you know that we were here?” asked Destiny timidly.
“Because at least I have friends that I can count on, Destiny” said Conflict.
“How do you know my name?” asked Destiny.
“I know a great many things about you. I guess you would say that I have friends in high places” said Conflict as he directed his beak up toward the ceiling.
Just then, another bird came out down from the ceiling and landed in front of them. It was clearly not an eagle, but rather… a falcon.
“Apathy!” yelled Trust. She knew exactly who this bird was… he was her partner.
“How could you betray me? How could you set me up?”
“I’m not the one who betrayed you, my sweet and beautiful Trust!” smirked Apathy. “This eagle here saw you at the clearing and flew here to tell Conflict that you were coming. However, I was ambushed by Conflict some time ago and was told to co-operate or else I would be turned into mince meat”.
“Co-operate how?” asked Trust.
“By telling him everything he wanted to know. I told him that you and I work for the Bureau of Talons and that we’re on a secret mission to track down the Mask of Kenral. I figured out on my own that Destiny here was not the one we were looking for because he just seemed too stupid. Besides…when Conflict offered me a chance to wear the mask for myself, I could not turn it down!”
“NOOOOOO!!!” screamed Destiny. He started to pounce on Apathy but was quickly prevented by one of the large eagles standing there.
“There is no where to run, Destiny. No one will be able to help you now” said Conflict.
At that moment, the moon was just right. Conflict bent down and put on the Mask…
It was as if his entire face was on fire!! His head was waving wildly back and forth. Was he in pain? No – the mask was analyzing every contour of its new wearer’s beak. After a short time, the pain passed and all could see that Conflict was beginning to transform into another being.
As his body volume grew and his color changed, there was something definitely sinister amiss. Green scales were replacing his feathers and his beak was being shaped into a large nose. His majestic wings were morphing into membrane-like arms with sharp claws at the end. He was becoming a fire-breathing dragon!
“I can’t believe it,” cried Destiny. “Why did I have to get out of bed this morning? Why??”
When the transformation was complete, a precursor to a sneeze could be heard coming from the powerful dragon. A firebolt shot out of his nostrils and toward the direction where the other birds were located. Apathy, Destiny, and Trust quickly shot up from the ground like they were sitting on springs! The firebolt had nearly missed burning their tail feathers by just inches.
Before anyone could even breathe, Conflict chased down Apathy and caught him in his large and domineering claws. “Now, my fuzzy falcon…let me show you the true meaning of the word ‘apathy’ by giving you the ride of your life!” Apathy was flung out of Conflict’s mighty hand and was thrust against the wall of the cave. He was hurt very badly and could not move. Destiny and Trust could only fly over him and watch the scene unfold from underneath them.
After darting a few more firebolts, Trust reminded Destiny about how to get the mask off. “And just how do you get a 200-pound dragon on his back?” asked Destiny.
“Let’s hope that Conflict turns into an frog or something,” said Trust pessimistically.
Just around that time, Conflict did morph into something else… a hummingbird. You would think that he would be easy to catch, but hummingbirds are very fast birds. Before either one of them knew it, Conflict was quickly flying toward the entrance of the cave and out into the world. Yellow knot was following Conflict close behind.
“Destiny…we have to stop him” barked Trust.
“Well, isn’t it just too bad that I can’t morph into a big flower myself!” said Destiny sarcastically.
In a moment, the new animal and his companion were gone. Destiny and Trust stopped their pursuit. They knew that there was no way to catch up with a hummingbird.
As they flew back into the cave, they didn’t see any sign of the other two golden eagles that were in there before. They must have flown off. They decided to go back and help Apathy.
Apathy was a young bird and was quite in remarkable shape for a falcon. “Why did you betray us?” asked Trust when they arrived at Apathy’s position.
“It seemed the most logical thing to do at the time,” remarked Apathy. “I wanted to believe in him. He said that he could help me find the true path by giving me a chance to wear the Mask. Somehow, I knew that he wouldn’t give me that chance. Are you going to file charges against me when we get back to the Bureau?” asked Apathy.
“Wait a minute,” said Destiny. “Perhaps this bird can help us. Apathy – do you have any idea what Conflict is going to do or where he was going to go?”
“Not really. He said something about conquering some rock. I don’t know”
“Some rock?? You mean Ayers Rock? Is that it?” said Destiny eagerly.
“Yes – I believe that’s it”.
“Trust – Ayers Rock represents the best hunting place in all the land. Everyone who is anyone wants to be the king of that rock,” said Destiny.
“Then we don’t have a minute to loose,” said Trust as she leaped up from the ground. “We have to stop Conflict before he takes over that rock and rules it forever!”
As they turned to leave, they felt sorry for Apathy. “We can’t just leave him here” said Trust.
“Go” Apathy said. “I’ll wait here until you return. I’m strong”.
So, Trust and Destiny left the cave and began the long journey toward Ayers Rock. The flight itself took two hours. They had to hurry.
As they left the cave, there was a strong headwind against them. This flight wasn’t going to be easy. Besides…they had followed Conflict and yellow knot part of the way, so they had to backtrack to the clearing just to get their bearings. Both of them were used to long flights, but not this long.
Two-and-a-half hours later, when they finally approached familiar territory, Destiny took a long look toward the direction of Ayers Rock. There was something odd about it. What seemed like little flies was circling all over the top. As they flew closer, he realized what it was.
“Look! All those eagles are circling the rock! I wonder why?” asked Destiny.
“I don’t know,” replied Trust, “but we’re going to have to find out. Besides, we have very little time left. We must complete this mission!”
As they entered the flight path of the other eagles around the rock, both of them were already exhausted from their strenuous journey. But, they couldn’t land. One look down would reveal why.
It was a leopard. Whenever an eagle tried to take perch, the leopard would immediately run with all its might and leap headstrong onto the eagle’s back. Some eagles managed to get away. Others were not so fortunate. A mighty crosswind didn’t help matters much either. Many of the eagles, so eager to land on top just to search for food, would dive toward the leopard and attack him. This offense rarely proved advantageous because the animal was so big and swift.
Both Destiny and Trust knew that they had to get Conflict on his back and steal away the Mask of Kenral from him. But how?
A short distance down from the mountaintop was the only branch that could support two eagle’s weight. This branch was being constantly swarmed by the other bald eagles that wanted a chance to rest. No other eagle needed to rest more than Trust and Destiny. Trust dove down toward the branch and wrestled other eagles out of the way in order to perch. Destiny soon followed and sat next to her a few moments. This gave them a chance to devise a strategy.
What a refreshing few moments it was!
“We know that we can’t easily get a 120 pound leopard on his back, right?” asked Trust.
“Yeah, yeah” confirmed Destiny.
“Well, I’m open to suggestions”
“Can we knock him down?”
“With our bodies? Are you crazy? That’s like running into a Mack truck!”
“Well, I don’t hear you making any suggestions!” barked Destiny.
The other eagles flying around them were getting very restless. They wanted that perch very badly. They just needed a few more minutes to think…
But, Destiny already knew what he was going to have to do.
“I know what I have to do,” said Destiny sternly.
Trust turned and awaited what Destiny had to say.
“It’s the old semi trick. Remember? That packrat didn’t have a chance because I didn’t give him one. If I swoop underneath Conflict’s belly at just the right speed, he will become distracted and try to grab me in midair. At that exact moment, you have to be ready to hit him on his side with all of your might. That will knock him down…perhaps long enough for one of us to grab the mask from his beak and rob him of his power!”
“Destiny – that’s dangerous! Besides, how do we know it will work? That plan is not foolproof! We have to consider all of our options.”
“There are no other options! We’re out of time anyway. We have to at least try”.
Trust agreed reluctantly, but added a final thought.
“If we’re going to do this, then it should be me who is going to do the diving. Your body is stronger and tougher than mine and will be able to withstand the impact. Perhaps you can get up fast enough to grab the mask while I try to swing around and do the same”.
Destiny agreed to the new plan. It was dangerous, but this had become much more than a mission – this was a life and death struggle for supremacy.
As they flew upward, each eagle got into respective position. At the signal, they would execute their plan.
The signal was given. Trust dove hard toward the multi-colored mass of fur that was the enemy. Destiny was coming in from the other direction. However, what Trust saw out of the corner of her eye was a blurry mass of feathers. Yellow knot had locked in on Destiny and was going toward him. Instead of flying under the leopard, Trust instead pulled up hard and crashed flat into the kinetic body of yellow knot!! The impact did more than just take Trust’s breath…it took her consciousness. She plummeted past the top of the mountain and was heading straight toward the valley below.
Destiny saw the collision and quickly adjusted his heading. He was now on an intercept course toward his falling partner. “You’re not going to die,” he echoed determinedly in his mind. He caught Trust in his beak and talons and slowly lifted her up toward the top. He found a ledge near the summit that could hold only one bird. He left Trust there.
Now he was the community’s only hope. The plan had failed…he wasn’t strong enough to do it. For some reason, his mind immediately replayed the events of his life in reverse… escaping the fire of the dragon…seeing his first fight in the clearing…meeting the beautiful Trust… the wink…the name-calling. A whole wild torrent of emotion was building inside of him…the responsibility of home life…nobody cares about him…being so alone…the guilt…the anguish.
He had become boiling mad! His eyes were like swords and his talons were like hot pokers from a coal furnace. He took off toward the leopard in a wild rage. He was determined to get that mask off… flipped cat or not!
He made a low approach over the small, flat summit. Yellow knot had been stunned from the previous impact and was lying toward one side of the mountain…reeling. He didn’t care: he wanted Conflict for himself. He may as well been a lion or a tiger.
Conflict saw the fierce-looking eagle approach and therefore started his attack run toward our hero. As the two came together, Conflict leaped up into the air. At that exact moment, Destiny’s momentum was just enough to flip the great cat over onto his belly while his back legs swept forward under him. In a stroke of pure luck, Destiny viscously grabbed the mask and tore it off of Conflict’s face!
A bright flash could be seen out of the corner of Destiny’s right eye. An eagle form had re-appeared. Flipping endlessly, the villain could not stop going. After a few moments, his body finally came to rest. It didn’t move. There was not even life. Apparently, the impact with the rock had broken Conflict’s neck. He was dead.
The mask lay next to Destiny. Our hero was in bad shape. Very bruised. There were internal injuries. There was no way to survive. If only she were her… if I could just tell her that how much she meant to me…how much I loved her. This may be the last time that he would get to say it.
He looked up slowly. There she was…battered, worn…and covered with dirt!
“You’re a dirty bird!” he muttered. “Where’s Conflict?”
“He’s dead. The impact must have killed him somehow”.
“Give me the mask,” said Destiny.
“There’s no time,” replied Trust. “What purpose would it serve? You would be just as dead no matter what animal you are. Besides, I want to remember you as an eagle and not as…”
“Give me the mask… QUICKLY!” said Destiny more strongly.
Reluctantly, Trust did what was asked of her. As Destiny started to put on the mask, he looked into her deep lovely eyes and said:
“I love you”
Trust backed away. As he placed the mask on his beak, almost immediately the bird burst into flames. Trust was astonished at the sight as she further backed away from the spontaneous heat source.
Destiny was right…there was time to spare. A new life form was coming out from the fire. It was a new beginning…
As the Phoenix rose high and majestically into the evening sky, the newly shaped mask could be seen falling back to earth.
As it hit near Trust, she began to cry. He was alive and would live forever! He may have been a loner, but he was special.
“I love you too,” she said as she held the mask up where she could see the impression that was made.
It was smiling.