By Ezra and Vivienne Lanoue
The great emu stood atop the rock, gazing out onto the thousands of emu that surrounded him.
“Siblings,” the emu cried, “our ancestors look down at us today. You know them, you remember their bloody faces and screams for help as the humans’ bullets tore through their flesh! They cry out to us for vengeance! Today is the day, now is the hour! Today we take back our land from the invaders who came across the sea! Today we gather to march out and turn their cities to rubble, their farms back to the bush, and all their children back to the mud from whence they sprang.”
The emus all cheered, chanting, “revenge! Revenge! Revenge!”
The great emu leaped down off the rock, immediately surrounded by the biggest, strongest emu bodyguards. He began marching towards the most powerful human city: Sydney. All the other emus began following.
Meanwhile, the great emu’s ally, the great cassowary, noticed him from the huge rock from which he was standing. Many other cassowaries, young and old, bowed in front of him. He knew, and they knew, with a single strike of the great cassowary’s talons any rebels would die instantly.
“Come, peasants, follow me – the emus have gathered for war.” The great cassowary ordered.
He ran out with great speed; his peasants followed close behind him, trying to catch up to the emus.
The great emu stopped his army when he noticed the cassowaries. He trotted out to stand in front of the great cassowary.
“We saw you gathering for war. What are you preparing to do?” The great cassowary asked.
“We are taking back our lands, getting revenge for our ancestors who were killed by the uncontrollable population of humans. Great cassowary, you must come with us, with this many invincible, strong, muscly birds we can destroy the humans, once and for all.” The great emu bowed in respect for the cassowary.
“We will go with you. Many of our ancestors have also been hunted, for humans are jealous of our soft feathers and beautiful head crests,” the great cassowary answered.
The great cassowary stood side-by-side with the great emu, and his army mixed in with the emu army. The giant mass of birds used their greatest speed to reach the human city as soon as possible.
As they neared the city, a great black smudge appeared on the horizon in between them and the distant lights and skyscrapers. The great emu and the great cassowary both halted, and their forces stopped with them.
The great emu’s beak curled. “Humans,” he spat, “it’s their army. We can’t take them by surprise now.”
The great cassowary nodded. “They will have all their weapons ready for us. Should we turn back? If we attack now, many of us will die. We may not even be able to capture the city.”
The great emu shook his head. “No. Too long have we stood in the shadows.”
The other leader bowed his head, “yes. Of course, forgive me for my cowardice. I would follow you to the end, my brother.”
The great army of birds watched expectantly, giving their leaders some room to speak. They watched as their two kings turned to speak.
The great emu opened his mouth, “today we march for our freedom, siblings! We will not live another day in the shadow of the humans! Their army has come out to meet us in the field, and we can either charge them or return to our lives of servitude and hiding! Some of us, perhaps even all of us, may die today, but I would rather die free than live a slave! Let this be a bloody day, a glorious day, a day of victory that our children will sing of in the bush for a thousand years, or a day of defeat that will strike terror into the hearts of the human children even after the last emus and cassowaries are naught but a distant memory. Forward! To battle! To death! To victory!” He screamed, turning to run as fast as he could towards the huge, heavily armed, human army.
“I left my husband with my children and I will make them proud!” An emu screamed as she ran swiftly.
“I did too! Most of us did!” A cassowary screeched.
Many emus and cassowaries fell from the humans’ guns as they ran, but most of them managed to evade the shots. Far up above, ten thousand feet in the air, many wedge-tailed eagles followed the human army.
“We are not usually scavengers,” their queen said. “But food is scarce, and this may be our only chance to bring back food to our children and spouses.”
The emus and cassowaries reached the human army, kicking and slashing. Humans flew through the air and their limbs were cut off by the kicks from emus and slashes from cassowaries. But the birds also fell, the cassowary’s second-in-command was shot and lay half-buried in the dirt. Their forces were weakening, and soon they had much fewer numbers than the human army.
High above the eagle queen stared down as she circled the sky with her kingdom. As she saw all the great, rageful birds falling to the ground and vicious humans filling the air with bullets, she knew what she must do.
“Siblings! Dive now! Destroy the humans!” She shrieked.
The eagles all folded their wings in unison and fell to the ground, reaching speeds of fifty miles per hour. They carried the humans and dropped them from great heights. The smaller eagle king carried the great cassowary into the air and the queen carried the great emu.
“Eagles! You have saved us!” The emu said as he and the cassowary skimmed above the humans, slicing off heads.
Soon the humans had retreated now that three species of strong, vicious birds were murdering them all. But they could not run fast enough and the emus and cassowaries flying through the air, suspended just high enough by the eagles, flew over the army and tore off all their heads, and soon the army was all gone.
The eagles lowered the birds to the ground.
“We cannot follow you any more to battle. Our chicks are hungry and await food. If you need reinforcement, some in my army can send the message to your birds who are still at home.” The eagle queen told the great cassowary and great emu.
“This is a war in which even the fathers of chicks and younger emus must join in.” The great emu answered.
“It is for us too.” The great cassowary nodded.
The eagle king ordered a few of the eagles to go alert the cassowaries and emus, and then the rest of the eagles flew over to the many bodies littering the ground and all ate the human carcasses.
The emus and cassowaries still left alive gathered around their kings, waiting for orders and mourning the dead. Off in the distance, they began to hear sirens and explosions from Sydney. Smoke began to rise from the human city. The birds began to clamor amongst themselves, wondering what could be happening.
Suddenly a dark cloud emerged from the city and flew towards the bird army. It was all the birds of the city, kookaburras, galahs, and cockatoos that began to land amidst the emu army. A cockatoo with a small hat made of tinfoil landed on a branch near the great emu and great cassowary.
“I am the president of the city birds.” She said, “Do you know what you have done?”
The two great birds stared at her, “what is happening in the city?” The great emu asked.
“All the humans are burning the city down in terror. They are stealing and smashing and breaking and killing one another over the scraps of their civilization. So afraid are they. Many of them are fleeing aboard ships and their metal birds to distant lands. My people are going to starve to death. We relied on the humans for food, now what will my people eat?’ The cockatoo president cried.
A tear slowly slid down the great cassowary’s beak. “I am sorry for your loss, but your people are free now. You will have to find new ways to survive on your own, instead of living on the humans’ scraps. For now, you may scavenge from the human carcasses, there is enough to feed all the birds in Australia for a year.”
The president nodded sadly, knowing that many of her people would starve in the coming years. “You emus and cassowaries had the courage to do what we could never do.” She said, then called out to her people. “Feast upon the humans’ bodies, siblings! It may be the last meal we have for a long time, so rejoice in the victory of the birds and in the taste of freedom, even as you prepare for the dark days ahead.”
But a kookaburra picked up ten blades of grass. He passed them to ten other kookaburras, and he himself picked up a leaf. He put it upon his head and the others tied it on with the grass.
“I am the lord of the kookaburras now,” He announced. “We will no longer bow down to the cockatoo. We do not need to rely on other birds. My siblings, follow me to a new place to feed! Follow me for what we’ve dreamed of, what we’ve heard in stories – Fish!!”
He flew away, the giant cloud of kookaburras following.
The great emu looked somber, gazing towards the burning carcass of Sydney, through which humans scuttled like maggots tearing the dying flesh off of their once-great civilization. “Only humans could be so foolish as to destroy themselves before even daring to try. They are worth nothing to us. At last, Australia will be free.”
Suddenly a raven came down from the sky and flapped in the air near the great bids. “I bring a message from the raven kingdom!” She said, “All across Australia, the human cities are burning! The humans are evacuating the entire continent and destroying everything behind them!”
The great emu nodded. “Very well, thank you.” He turned to address the army.
“All of you, disperse into groups of a thousand and hunt down any human stragglers. Make sure that there are no humans alive on the entire continent! Then return to your nests and raise your chicks free.” He cried, and the emus obeyed. The cassowaries stood waiting, watching their leader expectantly.
The great cassowary laughed, “well, what are you waiting for?” He chuckled.
The cassowaries all cheered gleefully and ran out in all directions, hunting for humans.
Read the second chapter of Birds of Australia here: