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David Taylor, 22 Mar '13

The branch beneath Moon Feather shook violently as a tremor spread through the forest. Fearful of being dislodged from his perch, he gripped its coarse wood tighter in his mighty talons and shrieked loudly in surprise. About him, he could see the shadow-dappled trees buckling beneath some unseen force; their trunks groaning with a cacophony of creaking wood and splintering bark.

He froze as the rippled abated, disappearing as abruptly as it arrived, and remained perfectly still as he tried to work out what had just happened. Never in all of his forty winters had he experienced such a thing occurring, nor had he even heard tell of such phenomenon from the few owls among his clan to be older than himself. Desperately trying to remain calm, Moon Feather listened. Not a bough whispered below him and not a beast made a sound. In fact, the usual discordant song of the night had yielded to an encompassing disquiet in the tremor’s wake and he could feel the collective tension of the night folk building in the air; the forest waiting with a baited breath.

The silence made Moon Feather uneasy, even more so than the tremor, and he hooted once to help calm his nerves. Only his brethren were meant to pass unheard. It was their right alone; a goal they spent their lives striving to obtain. So, with great volition, Moon Feather suddenly spread his majestic wings and tipped forward off the branch. He straightened his back as soon as he began to fall and, with one powerful stroke that did little to disturb the quiet, left the tree safely behind him.

Moon Feather rose quickly, turning in tight circles until the sky opened up around him and he knew that he was higher than even the most impressive of trees. The forest rolled in every direction beneath him, seeming to continue forever until it merged into the darkness; beyond his ability to see. But it was not the entire swathe of forest that concerned Moon Feather this night and he searched the trees beneath him for some tell of what had taken place. There was nothing. Nothing to suggest anything unprecedented had happened except for the uncanny silence. If Moon Feather hadn't witnessed the tremor himself, he would have just assumed that men were about and would have flown extra quietly as was his custom.

Hooting again, this time trying to pique the attention of one of his clan, Moon Feather soared above the undulating treetops. The air was warm and light here, filtering through the feathers of his wings easily, and Moon Feather began to relax as the updraft intensified about him; falling into an easy glide. Although none of his kin had responded to his calls, the forest below him was beginning to stir and the agitated chirping of insects heralded the anxious grunts and calls of boars and other night folk. The wolves too, seemed to have recovered themselves, and began to beseech their moon god for answers with longing howls and throaty, dissonant barks.

Clicking his beak in satisfaction, Moon Feather angled his wings downwards and began to descend towards the nearest lake. Water united the night folk like nothing else besides the fear of Man and Moon Feather was sure that anyone who had answers would be found there. He hooted again as he neared the lake, announcing his presence, and settled himself on the most exposed branch he could find. Knowing that there would be many watchful eyes, he landed as deftly as he could and began to preen his tail as if nothing had happened.

Several minutes passed and, having nearly finished his work, Moon Feather was becoming increasingly impatient; finding that it was rapidly becoming more difficult to maintain his composed demeanour. Eventually though, he heard a quiet cough behind him and turned to see a mouse. A mouse! Never would such a creature dare speak to him on a normal night and even if one should, Moon Feather doubted he would have deigned to respond. But this was not a normal night and he waited for the creature to speak.

“O great owl of the night folk,” it eventually said in a high, timid voice. “I humbly beg an audience in presence with your exalted self and ask if you've learnt what stirred our forest so?”

“You may attend,” Moon Feather replied after a long pause, pleased with the mouse’s ingratiating beguile. “But alas! I have not answers for you. I was shaken from my ponderings the same as you were your own humble thoughts and can recall no such event in the library of my kin.”

“I see, O great owl,” the mouse squeaked, clearly disappointed. “Then I will disturb you no longer and tell mine own kith that the wisest of us night folk knows not what happened.”

Moon Feather didn't respond to the mouse, turning away as it scurried back down the tree to its companions. It was only then that he noticed the water. It was spinning in a manner that he had never seen before, twisting on itself with ever growing vigour. Even as he watched, the centre of the spinning lake began to descend, forming a steep tunnel through the water. Before long, the tunnel had reached the bottom of the lake and Moon Feather leaned forward on his perch as he examined it. He couldn't believe what his eyes were seeing – rock, dirt and stone! There was ground beneath the water! In all of his winters, he had neither heard of nor suspected such a thing and felt his pulse quicken in anticipation of laying claim to the discovery.

But telling the Grand Owl of the Archives would have to wait and even as he watched, one of the smaller rocks began to glow in the same manner as the moon. Its light was blue, rather than the familiar lunar white, but that was the only difference between the two that Moon Feather could discern. He leaned further forward with wide eyes as he studied it, all thoughts of decorum now gone, and shrieked in surprise as the light suddenly flared from the rock. Even as the rock faded back into a polished black, the water in the lake began to glow on its own accord.

The whole clearing was soon full of the brilliant light and Moon Feather found that he had to squint if he wanted to see, just like flying when the moon had set and the strange day folk ambled about their business. Suddenly, without warning, the water jumped. Jumped! Moon Feather couldn't believe it and sat petrified with awe as he watched the water thunder into the sky as backwards rain. After a few moments, the water had gone and the lake was left as a parched bowl of rock, dirt and stone. The shadows about him, suddenly formed in the glowing water’s absence, looked deeper than they ought to and Moon Feather clicked his beak in frustration as he waited for his eyes to readjust to the night. He realised that the Grand Owl of the Archives was never going to believe this without evidence so, once his vision had returned to its normal perfection, Moon Feather soared out over the dead lake and plucked the strange rock up in his talons. Clicking his beak in excitement, Moon Feather hooted twice and set his course for the Home Tree and the Grand Owl of the Archives.