Tierce was roused from an otherwise pleasant sleep by the sound of nagging. Someone, somewhere -possibly far away- wanted him to do something. Something that didn't include being cozy.
Still not entirely awake but with a natural instinct to avoid work, he burrowed deeper into the covers, vaguely hoping whoever was bugging him would go away.
No such luck.
"Come on," said his older brother, Darwin. "Wake up. It's your day to take care of the birds."
Darwin tugged at the blankets. Tierce instinctively pulled the covers around himself into a defensive cocoon. Darwin tried to pull the pillows away. Teirce let them go and curled up into a little ball. When it became clear that his brother wasn't going to go without a fight, Darwin closed his eyes and counted backwards from ten.
Nine. . . eight. . . seven. . .
His left hand began to feel very cold.
Five. . . four. . .His breath came out in a fog.
Two. . .one.
He opened his eyes to find a ball of water hovering just above his palm. It morphed and spun in a way reminiscent of the 'lava' found in lava lamps. He held out his hand and the blob floated over to the bed. It hovered over where his brother's head would be.
Tierce muttered something incoherent and Darwin allowed the water blob to fall.
Tierce spluttered into the waking world.
"Your turn for the birds," Darwin said again. Once he was sure his brother wasn't going to just fall back asleep, he went out into the hall. Tierce watched him sullenly before pulling off all the covers.
Jerk wet my bed, he thought.
* * * * * *
The outdoor aviary was huge. It was composed to three smaller, hexagonal and very-nearly tower-like structures connected by one large room in the middle. The roof was high – at least another story up- and the chattering of birds filled the air. He smiled. He actually liked dealing with the birds, really. He just wished he could've done it later.
Humming softly to himself, Tierce undid the latch and went to go get the seed. He filled up two large buckets with food, than went into the first tower.
Common birds looked at him from the plants and trees specially growing inside the enclosure. Pigeons and doves peeked at him from behind the smaller, urban trees as chickens clucked and swarmed around his feet. Crows called him, probably saying something terribly insulting in bird. Little finches and sparrows tweeted from their bird-boxes. The food dishes were attached all around the cage's chicken wire walls, all at varying heights. It took him a better part of twenty minutes to climb and fill them all, all while balancing the buckets precariously on the rickety, portable ladder.
That finished, he went to the next tower.
He stepped through the door and was instantly struck by the heat. Despite only having the same wire as the other tower, this one was much more humid. Tropical plants filled the structure. Huge, brilliantly colored flowers were in bloom, giant trees towered higher than should have been possible without coming anywhere near the ceiling. and colorful parrots and birds of paradise watched him as he started filling up their dishes. Like the other tower, the dishes were attached to the wire, some of them quite high up.
He was just filling up a dish near a particularly brave macaw when trouble started. Tierce grinned nervously at the bird, who was eyeing him with interest.
"Don't mind me," he said. "I just work here."
He honestly thought the macaw would try and crawl onto his shoulder when, suddenly, the room went silent. All chattering, tweeting, cawing and chirping stopped, leaving nothing but dead silence. As one, all the birds in the room fluttered into the air and headed for their specially tailored boxes and houses. The macaw flew off, slapping him with its massive wings. Tierce fell off the ladder and onto some uncomfortable prickly plants below. The half-empty buckets landed beside him, their seed raining down.
"The hell? What's gotten into-" he stopped. The distinct smell of smoke began to fill the air.
"Oh, son of a-"
He tore out of the tropical aviary and back into the main room, where the air, despite being the normal temperature, was likewise full of smoke. He looked up at the third tower. Through the chicken wire barrier, he could see thick, gray smoke rising and clogging the air.
Using words his brother didn't know he knew, Tierce filled a bucket of water from the tap and threw open the third door. This room, too, was exotic, albeit in a different way. All around him, strange and beautiful flowers were withering. A small bush beside him was aflame. He tossed the water on it, putting it out. To his left, a patch of blue bells was beginning to spark. He splashed that, too.
Something darted out of the trees and headed straight for his face. It landed against his cheek, then crawled into his hair. Tierce didn't dare stop long enough to extract it. Instead, he went on, putting out what fires he could. As he went, more and more of the tower's inhabitants clung to him, hiding in his pockets, his hair, one found its way into his shirt and watched from the safety of his collar. He didn't stop them. They were terrified. If anything, their faith in him bolstered his confidence.
Finally, he found the source of the flames.
Deep in the aviary, he came across a pile of still smoldering ash. Tentatively, he tore off a stick from a nearby bush and prodded it. Nothing happened.
He looked up. Above him, a bird composed entirely of flame perched on one of the branches looked down on him curiously.
He gave a sigh of relief.
"Dammit, Torch. You weren't supposed to change until next week. You could'a set the whole place on fire."
The bird shivered, its flames moving in a way reminiscent of feather-ruffling.
"Yeah, well, just so long as you're under control, now."
The bird blinked once, then flew elegantly off into the higher levels of the aviary. Tierce made his own way back to the exit. He stopped just before the door.
"Okay, guys, come on. Everything's okay now, you can let go."
Slowly, as though they weren't sure they believes him, his hanger's on let go and began spreading back into the aviary. He smiled as the various pixies, sprites and small faeries floated off. Something tickled the back of his ear. Gently, he plucked the small fairy out of his hair and set it into the patch of blue bells. It immediately flew back and attatched itself to his shirt.
"Fine," he said, after it flew back into his hair on the third try. "Just don't cause any trouble." He went out into the second aviary to finish filling dishes.
There was work to be done.
* * * * * *
Darwin was at the kitchen table, reading the paper and drinking coffee when he came back in.
"Uh, You've got a little friend, there," he said, pointing to the fairy on Tierce's shoulder. Tierce shrugged.
"You really need to get Torch his own cage."
Darwin nodded. "I'll look in to it."