Mercian cringed as the fire drew closer. The smell of singed feathers filtered through his nares and filled his lungs. His thoughts raced as the inevitability of death became clear. Mercian did the only thing he could: he mustered all of his strength and clamped his beak down on the man’s finger. The man grunted and pulled his hand back from the fire, startled by the attack. Mercian exhaled, thankful for the reprieve from the scorching flames. “Think you’re smart, do ya?” The man grabbed a fork from the table. Mercian struggled in the man’s grip, unable to move. The man held the fork in one fist and eyed Mercian in his other. He’ll have to open his hand to get to me. Just as the thought ran through Mercian’s mind it happened. The man’s grip loosened, giving Mercian the opening he needed. Mercian moved fast, fluttering his wings and pecking at the man’s fingers before the man could pierce his flesh with the fork. Barthelow Mooreshire, you’ll not win that easily! Mercian kept fighting as the memories of Ariana filled his mind and soul, giving him a boost of adrenaline. He broke free from the man’s grip and flew around the room, looking for some way of escape. The man shook his fist in the air and flung the fork at Mercian, missing him by a narrow margin. “I’ll kill you yet!” A cold rush of arctic air filled the room. The door of the house stood wide, blown open by a large gust of wind. Mercian flew through the door like a loosed arrow. He looked back and saw the man was giving him chase. I’ve got to get the soul of Barthelow Mooreshire back! As Mercian looked around, a plan formulated in his head. As much as he didn’t want to, he forced himself to fly back toward the man. Mercian made quick circles around the man’s head trying to confuse him. The man swatted at him and twirled around in the snow. The plan’s working! Mercian flew in such a way that it led the man toward the corner of the house and a large woodpile. It was time to put the last part of his plan into action. He flew at the man’s face, aiming for the man’s right eye. He opened his beak as he closed in. The man’s hands flailed in the air, narrowly missing him. Mercian’s beak met a warm, but firm, object and he bit down. He pulled back, bringing part of the man’s eye with him. The man screamed and swatted at his own face. Mercian flew into the air, satisfied with what he’d done. The man stood by the corner of the house, holding his eye as the blood dripped into the snow. It worked! Now, Mercian had to get the man to trip over the firewood lying near the house. He took off in full flight toward the man. The man retreated from Mercian’s advance and tripped over a large log. The man fell backward and his head hit another log with a thud. The man’s neck twisted into a ghastly position as his body settled on the ground and he stopped moving. Fresh blood smeared the edge of the log and the snow around the man’s head turned crimson. Mercian dropped the piece of eye from his beak. Not even on a cold day, Barthelow. Mercian settled on the bloody log and waited for the soul of Barthelow to come out of the corpse. His heart raced in his chest and the anticipation of the moment twisted his stomach in knots. In the distance he heard wings flapping. He turned on the log and watched as a small dot of black raced toward him, growing in size as it approached. “Mercian,” the bird cawed. Mercian recognized the voice, “Ivan? What are you doing all the way out here?” Ivan flapped his wings as he settled himself down on the dead man’s chest. “You can’t carry two souls, my friend.” “Two?” Mercian knew what Ivan meant the moment the word came from his mouth. “Right. Barthelow and whoever this man was.” Ivan winked at him, “Exactly.” The soul of Barthelow Mooreshire came screeching out of the man like a banshee. Mercian took a deep breath and captured the soul back in his lungs. The familiar burning of his lungs filled him with joy. He flew to a branch in a tree and rested. A sense of relief spread through him. I can’t believe I actually recaptured Barthelow Mooreshire’s soul. Mercian watched as Ivan breathed in the second soul as it poured out of the dead man’s mouth. With the task completed, Ivan flew up next to him. “Be careful with that soul, my friend. You still have a long journey ahead. He will try and escape again, given the opportunity.” Mercian swallowed hard, “Over my dead body. I will make no more stops until I’ve delivered his soul to the gates of hell.” Ivan winked at him, “Solid plan, my friend. I must get this soul to its destination as well.” Ivan took to the sky again, “Be safe Mercian, and Godspeed!” “Same to you, Ivan!” Moments later Ivan was out of sight. Now to get this wretched soul to his final destination. With fire in his lungs and love in his heart, he took to the sky. By the end of the week Ariana would know of his love for her. Mercian soared higher, through the clouds and then above them. The warmth of the sun was no match for the arctic air, but the thought of his intentions regarding Ariana was more than enough to keep him warm. He would never let anything stand between them again. To hell, and then to you, my love!