Razi glanced between his new wife and the wedding gift from some of her more distant relatives. She was just as surprised as he was when the brightly painted sculpture came to life right there in their bedroom. It hadn’t even been heavy enough to hide a live bird. He had carried it up to their room where it matched the oriental theme that his wife had been going for.
“What did you say that it was again?” He murmured, moving slowly so that he could sit up. So far, the bird was staying close to the far wall but he wasn’t sure if it was going to attack. Cynthia moved to sit up with him but he put a hand on her shoulder to keep her from alarming the bird.
“A fenghuang; it’s basically a phoenix and considered to be the female counterpart to the Chinese Dragon,” Her tone spoke volumes of how much of that she had believed in before this point. Cynthia had set aside many of the aspects of her Chinese heritage when she moved to the United States as a child. Razi had done the same with his own African roots but it would have been nice to know a bit more. “Raz, I don’t think it can fly.”
Her observation made him look closer at the bird. It hadn’t moved further than a couple feet away from where the statue had stood before doubling back and moving along the wall. The light from their lamps didn’t quite reach that side of the room but each time the bird switched direction, the light glinted off of something around its foot.
Remembering the stories of his own superstitious family, he knew that to keep something as powerful as this leashed. Beings of great power did not appreciate being trapped and though he had never paid any heed to the stories before, the warnings came back to him with startling clarity.
Trapping such a creature would only bring them good luck so long as they kept it trapped. But at the same time, it was not they who had captured the creature and placed whatever spell that kept the Fenghuang in its bronze form during the day. If it escaped, it would be woe onto both of them and then the relatives that had sent them the gift.
Looking over to his wife, he wasn’t surprised to see the flurry of emotions in her dark eyes. She always did have a soft heart for animals and mythical or not, the bird looked miserable. When her hand touched his shoulder, he knew what she wanted without her having to do more than give him that puppy eyed look that made him cave and buy her a kitten.
“If we free it, it shouldn’t attack.” Though it was a statement, Cynthia did not sound as sure as he would have hoped. Still, he slipped from their bed and slowly started in the direction of the brightly colored bird.
It noticed immediately that he was getting closer and puffed its feathers in response to the threat. Ignoring that would have been easier if there wasn’t a small plume of smoke rising from the Fenghuang’s beak. Basically a phoenix… Cynthia’s description reminded him that the talons were the least of his worries.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Razi attempted to coax it, stopping in his tracks to kneel down. It was undoubtedly the most beautiful animal he’d ever seen. Each feather seemed to shimmer in a different color but none so brightly as the two tail feathers that trailed behind it. It wasn’t all that surprising that someone would want to keep the bird but he didn’t understand why Cynthia’s family would send it to them all the way from China.
“He’s going to take that leash off and then you can go.” Both his and the Fenghuang’s gaze left one another and moved to Cynthia. She was using her most soothing voice, the same one she used with his young nephews when they fell down. Though he would have preferred that she stay in the bed, he didn’t say anything when she slipped out and moved over to one of the windows closest to the creature.
The night breeze that came through only barely moved the brightly colored feathers but the bird went as far as the jeweled chain would allow it to get closer to freedom. Razi took the opportunity to move in for the chain. His sudden movement alarmed the bird but he bowed his head to avoid the swipe of powerful wings.
“Razi, careful!” If she was warning him to be more careful, he was being as careful as he possibly could. But if she was warning him to be gentler with the bird, he was having a hard time of doing that. The bird kept struggling and the warning smoke only increased.
“Calm down,” his sentence trailed off into the language of his childhood. It was rough from years of misuse and taking a back seat to English but it seemed to have the desired effect. The Fenghuang was still attempting to get away but there was a new light in its eyes. Since it wasn’t aiming to hit him with its wings anymore, he figured that it was curiosity more than trust.
Her, he reminded himself, Cynthia had said it was a female entity.
His fingers closed around the chain and he slowly followed it down to the platform. Keeping as far from the bird as possible was one of his main goals. He had no intention of being torn up or burned. As it was, the smoke had yet stop rising from her beak and each time that she let out a cry of protest, flames sparked in the air.
Unfortunately, the end of the chain had been welded into the bronze and was covered with Chinese symbols. Razi would bet anything it was to keep the Fenghuang from using fire to free herself.
“Cynthia,” he glanced in her direction before motioning to the bird with his other. She’d been trying to soothe the bird but so far nothing had worked. “Maybe try talking to it in Chinese?” It had seemed to like his native tongue, maybe it would better understand that they weren’t trying to hurt it if Cynthia went for the language that it was used to.
Without any more encouragement needed, Cynthia switched from English to Chinese. It wasn’t quite as flawless as her families’ after so many years of speaking English but it sounded much smoother than his broken African dialect.
It got the creatures attention alright. Almost immediately the bird was watching Cynthia closely, practically ignoring him while he slowly inched his hands up the chain. There was a clasp around the Fenghuang’s foot but it was well within the reach of talons, beak, and flames.
All was going well until his fingers brushed against the clasp. The distraction that Cynthia was providing didn’t prevent the bird from realizing how close he was. Sharp talons curled around his arm, not piercing the skin, but were far too tight for him to pull away.
A powerful beat of wings smacked into his shoulder and he hissed out in pain. Mythical phoenix or not, this bird was strong and panicked like any animal. Ducking his head to avoid getting hit there, he reached up with his other hand to grab at the clasp again. The struggling from the Fenghuang made it more difficult and he couldn’t lift his head to actually see what he was doing. Cynthia’s attempts to calm the bird were broken now and again to voice her worry for him.
When he finally managed to undo the clasp, the grip on his arm released and a bath of heat washed over him. For a few moments, he thought that he was going to die bathed in flames but the heat never burned. In fact, all of his pain faded away. Looking up, he came face to face with the Fenghuang.
She had become even more magnificent with her freedom. The bright colors of her feathers had intensified and seemed to glow on their own. Gold eyes danced like the flames he’d expected to take his life but held no more panic and were devoid of any ill will.
Both he and Cynthia had been struck silent by the sheer beauty of the creature. Razi couldn’t even begin to imagine why her relatives would capture such a creature and keep it trapped. Pure caution kept him from rising from the floor but he did flinch when the bird nudged her head against his.
Cynthia moved to come to his side but he held up a hand to stop her. While the bird was being far nicer, he still didn’t want to alarm her with any sudden movements. The colorful head cocked to one side and nudged him again before the Fenghuang pulled back totally.
He watched the magnificent bird as she walked over to Cynthia. His wife got the same treatment; the bird rubbed her head under Cynthia’s fingers and allowed a short moment of petting before jumping up onto the open window.
One last look and a musical trill was the last things the Fenghuang graced them with before taking to the sky. With it gone, Razi found it safe to stand up again and watch the creature disappear into the night.
“Didn’t their card say that the statue was supposed to bless our wedding?” With the tension gone, he couldn’t help but throw a teasing jab at Cynthia. It was her relatives that had sent them the bird.
“Since we aren’t dead, I would say that our wedding was blessed,” Cynthia laughed, wrapping her arms around his middle to watch the night sky. Even after the bird was long gone, neither of them could really believe what had just happened. A poke into his side had him looking down at his wife curiously. Her impish grin was not he expected after dealing with a mythical fire breathing bird. “The family was so kind as to put the poor girl on a jewel encrusted chain; we could always sell it.”
Next Creature: Horned Serpent