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Once upon a time, there was a mystical and prosperous land called Atlantica. There, lived a little girl named Arainia. It was a serene day. Arainia and her mother Lilly were working out in the garden. The sun’s golden rays spilled down onto the two ladies and the cheerful greenery. The flowers happily danced in the warm wisps of air. The girl’s mother headed to the back of the barn to feed the birds. She smiled as the chirps of the birds echoed throughout the barn, turning a dirty shack into a superb structure with beautiful harmonic melodies gracing off the walls. It was the most peaceful, perfect day.  Suddenly, the bird seeds abruptly fell from Lilly’s hands. She whipped around, not believing what she had just heard. The noise was awful, as if an entire forest were being uprooted. Her first and only thought was to get back to Arainia before it was too late.

                Lilly sprinted as fast as her legs would allow her. Her thoughts, however, were racing even faster.  She screamed out her daughter’s name until the garden came into sight. Arainia had her emerald green eyes locked on the sky above her. On the horizon, absolutely gigantic figures dominated the land. It was the strangest and the most bone-chilling sight the little girl had ever seen. Arainia was grabbed by her terrified mother, who ran into the log cabin they called home. The frigid air of the basement pierced their skin as the overwhelming smell of rotting wood surrounded them. The basement was the home of darkness and nothing else. “Mom!” Arainia pleaded, “Please tell me what’s going on!” After several moments of silence Lilly opened the basement door. A mysterious golden light flooded the murky room. A river of tears poured from Lilly’s face.”Arainia – it’s them” she said firmly, “You need to listen to me. I’m going to leave and find the rest of our family. You absolutely must stay put.” But just as the door was but an inch from closing against the rotting frame, Arianna’s mother opened it once more and looked Arainia directly in the eyes. “If I do not return, go to the forest. You will be safe there,” spoke Lilly, her face illuminated by the bright light casting down the stairs. “Arainia – always remember - it’s not all about the size of your strength, but rather of the strength of your heart.” And with that, the door was shut and Arainia was enveloped in a black abyss once more.

                Arainia’s memories were crashing into one another – making everything blurry and vague. The image of the figures dominating the sky haunted her thoughts. Suddenly, a violent crash against the land shook the house. Arainia knew what the terrifying figures were. This was no natural disaster, horrific accident, or attack. Arainia shuddered as pieces of wood fell from the ceiling with each violent crash. It was the titans. She flashed back to the time when she was little and read, quite intrigued, about them in Greek mythology. They were destructive monsters that history had said were locked away forever. Arainia knew what she had seen on the horizon, and she knew that Atlantica was never going to be the same.

                Arainia quickly jerked awake after dozing off as she was sure she heard a footstep of one of the Titans. She was relieved to find that it was merely her stomach growling. At times, she thought a mountain was being knocked over. No, it was her heart violently pounding against her chest. She was hungry, anxious, and after several hours, still alone. She prayed to be able to wrap her arms around her mother, father, brothers and sisters just one more time. With a heavy breath she opened the door and slowly walked up the creaking stairs, every step seeming to bring her closer to death. She had only stepped one foot outside before she broke down. The lake by her garden that was usually as smooth as a mirror was now flooded and murky. The sky that was usually stained pink with the afternoon sunset was now an eerie black. Atlantica, which had always been such a stunning city, was now almost destroyed. “The forest.” Her mother’s words flashed back in her head. She had been on the hunting grounds on the outskirts of the forest, but never into the dark, frightening land. Citizens of the city had always been instructed to never, ever enter the forest. The thought of an unknown land with unknown creatures scared Arainia, but she followed the winding pathway as her mother had told her to do. She silently prayed that she would walk into the forest and find her family. Little did she know, deep in the forest, someone or something other than her family was waiting for her.

Arainia stepped into a different world. A world where there was no chaos. A world where fascinating creatures roamed about, all shielded by the thick interlocking braches of the trees above. The forest was a majestic place. A place of peace, but at the moment, it was a place of heartbreak for Arainia. Her family was nowhere in sight. Her heart felt like a stone that had dropped through her stomach. “I wish you were here!” she cried. The mournful girl lay down on the carpet of moss and cried herself to sleep.

                Arainia’s eyes burst open. A stream of flames was circling around her. It wasn’t a dream. The fire’s long, angled strips were reaching out and grabbing her. “STOP!” Arainia screamed. “Whatever you are LEAVE ME ALONE!” Almost instantly the flames vanished and the frigid air of the night returned. Arainia couldn’t return to sleep. She had to figure out what that was. The glittering moon lit the forest pathways. She quietly walked along, looking for the mysterious creature. Before long, just as the sun was breaking through the treetops, her little legs simply couldn’t carry her any longer. She fell into a slumber once more, leaving her vulnerable to whatever was lurking in that forest.

                That night it came again. Arainia woke up to a blazing flame pressing against her face. But this time she could see a silhouette behind the fire, it was some kind of bird. Its pointed beak and sharpened talons make it look like a lethal creature. Arainia’s heart crashed against her chest. “Don’t kill me!” She pleaded. The bird of fire came closer. But instead of attacking her, it released an apple from its talons and gave it to the girl. Arainia was apprehensive at first, but her hunger defeated her and she devoured the apple. The bird stood tall beside her, flames flowing off its back. She realized that the bird’s fire caused her no harm. The bird soared into the night sky to hunt more food for Arainia. From that point on, she viewed the phoenix as her protector. At that time, she didn’t know that her life would change because of the phoenix, nor did she know that the fate of Atlantica would depend on both of them.

                She named the phoenix River Star. The two lived off the forest’s blessings. The forest was now Arainia’s only home and River Star was her only friend. She often traveled to the outskirts of the forest to check on the damage to the city. Nearly two weeks after the arrival of the Titans, more than half the town was completely obliterated. She knew something had to be done, and soon.

                Arainia dreamed of her mother that night. “Remember- it’s not all about the size of your strength, but rather of the strength of your heart.” The words echoed endlessly in her head. She departed early from her dream as the ground below her began to violently shake. She was up on her feet running before she knew it, adrenaline already rushing through her veins. It felt like a massive earthquake. River Star quickly streamed alongside her as trees in the forest began to fall over. But Arainia knew that it wasn’t an earthquake. She whipped around to see the most petrifying scene that had ever occurred on Planet Earth. There were twelve of them. Each one was easily as tall as four skyscrapers, and a swing of their wrist could cause massive devastation. The creatures dominated over the land, demolishing everything in their path, and now they had made it to the forest. Fear flooded inside Arainia, trying to drown her. She let out a blood-curdling scream when she felt something scoop her up and settle her into the treetops. She closed her eyes, as she was sure one of the Titans had a good hold of her. “River Star!” she cried out thankfully as she realized the phoenix was flying her to a safer place. But Arainia knew she couldn’t escape this danger.

                “Arainia.” said a deep and powerful voice. “Now is the time to defeat.” Arainia’s heart stopped. The voice was River Star’s. She locked eyes with River Star. She acknowledged that they had to defeat the titans on their own, and nodded to River Star. Even though she was still in shock that a phoenix spoke to her, and knew they were much outnumbered for this battle, Arainia was ready to fight, and she was willing to die trying.

                Arainia and River Star took to the air, flames flowing behind them. They went straight toward the Titans. River Star’s powers became all-powerful and Arainia had never before been braver. Phoenix and girl were now a team. “Begin the battle,” whispered Arainia. “This is the rise of the shining stars.”

“Well what happened next Mommy?” asked little Lilly. “Well, let me finish dear!” Arainia went back to telling her story. “It took long, grueling hours. Arainia was injured and River Star was exhausted. But they would not give up. It wasn’t about the size of their strength, but it was the strength of their heart that won the battle for them.”  Now, many years later, Arainia’s beautiful 10 year old daughter, Lilly, sat and listened in astonishment to her mother’s story. “Where’s River Star now?” questioned Lilly. A blazing phoenix suddenly appeared in the corner.

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