Mace Black, Page 349-353 by Wolfenshire ()
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Mace Black, Page 349-353
Saeber and I are okay. I hope you didn’t worry about us too much. There were snakes all over the bridge when we tried to leave. Kabath fought the snakes all by himself so that nobody would come through the bridge and get hurt. Then he found a way across the desert, found us water, food, and a place to cool off, then fought a monster, then found a trader to take us to a special doctor to fix my leg. I can walk again, it’s awesome. Kabath is a hero. I’ve decided to stay here with the special doctor. He is going to teach me medicine. I’ll write letters to let you know how I’m doing.
Saeber and Sern
Roael finished reading the letter and held it out over the center of the table. Moeth, Raen, Koael, Boae, and Jasai stood around the table, waiting. Roael grinned and opened his hand. The letter dropped to the table – and a flurry of activity exploded around the table. There was a momentary melee as all the Ravens grabbed for the cup of pencils and scratch paper.
“Base eight I think,” shouted Jasai, furiously scribbling on her scratch paper.
“No, it’s prime numbers on a rotating wheel,” shouted Boae.
“I think I see three layers with familiarity keys,” shouted Moeth. “No, make that a fourth layer.”
“I’ve almost got the first layer,” shouted Koael.
Batheba, startled, twisted his head back and forth at the chaos. He was fairly certain the Ravens had lost their minds. “Excuse me, what is going on? Shouldn’t we be discussing the letter?”
Roael didn’t look up from his scratch paper, but did reply. “We’re Ravens,” said Roael. “Oh, I had forgot how fun this was.”
“I got layer one,” shouted Jasai. “Boae, you’re holding the first familiarity key, you got to be fair and give it to us.”
“Darn it,” said Boae. “Okay, fine, the familiarity key I hold for Sern is the third previous prime from the number of letters in the fifth word.”
“I’m at layer one,” said Koael.
“Me too,” said Roael.
“No fair, I’m a Hawk, I can’t do equations as fast as you guys,” said Raen, laughing.
“Live with it, my Hawk brother,” said Boae.
Batheba growled. “Will someone please tell me what is going on?”
“Ravens learn to cipher almost before we walk,” said Roael. “Ciphering is a Raven National Sport, the same as Sparrow Ball is to Sparrow Province, or Chess is to Falcon Province. We haven’t had a good cipher since we got here.”
“I got layer two,” shouted Moeth. “Koael has the key.”
“Dangit, no fair, you’re a third year,” said Koael.
“Come on,” said Moeth. “You have to give up the key.”
“Whatever, the key I hold for Sern is my bike lock combination, 12-23-8,” said Koael.
Jasai laughed. “That’s random.”
“Ha, take that, I’m at layer two,” said Raen.
Moeth drew a circle on her paper. “I’m at the end of Layer three, I’ve got the first wheel.”
Batheba shook his head. “Are you saying there is a secret message in the letter?”
“Of course, Sern would never send us a message in the open,” said Jasai. “And it’s a really good cipher too, he must have spent hours putting this together.”
Moeth put her pencil down. “I’m stuck, layer four is a floating key, but it doesn’t say who he gave it to.”
Jasai stepped back from the table. “I agree, it’s a floating key – two words I think,”
Boae and Koael stepped back from the table next and looked at Raen still writing. “Come on, slow poke,” said Boae.
Raen made a rude gesture at Boae and kept writing out his equations, trying to catch up.
“We can’t decipher this without the last key,” said Jasai.
“Now what?” asked Koael.
Raen straightened up from the table and tossed his pencil down. He stretched, yawned, and then walked over to the incubator where Gaevin was sitting. The surgery had gone well and the egg would survive, but the Tarlock said there might be further complications. Master Nasik was out with the Cormons helping them build a new Tarlock Chapter House on the farm. Raen bent down and asked Gaevin something, but Gaevin shook his head and shrugged.
“Raen Hawk, you cheater,” said Moeth. “I can see your scratch paper, you haven’t solved who has the fourth key, why are you talking with Gaevin?”
Raen looked back at Moeth and grinned. “There’s more than one way to solve a cipher,” said Raen. “Sern would never give the floating key to someone that isn’t his blood, and if none of you have the floating key, there’s only one other person here that is Sern’s blood.”
“Hold on,” said Batheba. “Gaevin isn’t Sern’s blood.”
Moeth turned her head to Batheba. “Yes, he is. Adoption on Darai is very serious. Gaevin is legally Sern’s nephew just as if he were hatched into the family, and he will be held to the same blood standards as anyone else in the family. Gaevin, did Sern give you a secret number or word?”
“Not that I know of,” said Gaevin.
“Then who has the last key?” asked Moeth.
“We’ll have to split up and interview everyone in the camp,” said Jasai.
Batheba sat down and growled. “This is ridiculous. You Ravens could make pouring water out of a bucket complicated. If Gaevin doesn’t have this key, and Sern would only give it to blood, then he must have put it inside something Gaevin owns.”
Moeth gave Batheba a nod. “Well done, now you’re getting into the game.”
“This is not a game,” growled Batheba. “We have a missing cub.”
“You’re right,” said Boae. “This isn’t just a game, it’s the Great Game.”
Batheba clenched his jaws together and mumbled something about all Ravens being insane.
“Okay, so let’s think this through,” said Raen. “Where was Sern standing before he left that night.”
“I think he was standing next to the door,” replied Jasai.
Everyone looked at the door. Hanging on the back of the door was Gaevin’s coat, right where it had been since he hung it there after the door was installed in the cabin several weeks earlier. A mad rush for the door ensued, with Raen getting there first. The others arrived a split second later and everyone started going through the pockets.
“I’ve got it,” shouted Koael, pulling a piece of paper from one of the pockets. Koael looked at the paper. His eyes widened and lips tightened into a grim smile. “Oh no.”
“What is it?” asked Jasai.
Koael held the slip of paper up. “The floating key is the words ‘sludge brain’.”
Moeth’s eyes narrowed dangerously at Koael. “I’ll bet you think that is hilarious,” said Moeth.
“Let it go, love,” said Raen. “He already apologized for calling you that.”
Jasai rushed back to the table to finish the key. The others, not to be outdone, hurried to their places as well. Jasai could see that Moeth finished first but said nothing and let Jasai have the credit for cracking the cipher. “I got it,” said Jasai. “Just a second and I’ll have the message deciphered.”
Raen didn’t bother trying to finish the cipher. He hadn’t even finished the third layer yet. There was no way a Hawk was going to out-cipher a Raven. “Well, read the message,” he said.
“Almost…almost…,” Jasai stopped and her jaw dropped open. “Holy Goddess…”
“Go ahead and read it,” said Moeth.
“No, this is too…oh my gosh.” Jasai shook her head. “I’m not going to read this, it might be wrong. Everyone go back to layer one and redo your decryption. I want to confirm everyone’s rotating wheel before I read this.”
Moeth nodded. “Okay, let’s begin confirmation protocol.”
The group, Raen included, redid their entire decryption. Raen was last to finish, with some help from Boae. They placed their scratch papers next to each other and Jasai confirmed they were all the same.
“I confirm all decryption wheels are the same,” said Jasai, and then stepped aside.
Moeth checked the papers next. “I confirm, all wheels are the same.”
Boae checked next. “I confirm, all decryption wheels are the same.”
“Okay, we’ve met the three-confirmation protocol,” said Raen. “Read the message.”
Jasai held the message up and read out loud:
“I am safe…staying of own free will…Creators are gone…Aestar is last…he is teaching us…do not come for us.”
Jasai looked up from the paper. “That’s it,” she said.
Moeth let out a breath. “Holy Goddess, he’s being taught by a Creator?”
“To what purpose?” asked Raen.
Batheba stood and came over to the table. He sniffed at the letter. “I suppose if I were the last of my species, I would want to pass on all I know to an heir so that all the knowledge of my people wouldn’t be lost forever.”
“The Creator civilization spans nearly five billion years,” said Moeth. “That’s a lot to learn, he could be there for thousands of years and still barely scratch the surface.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” said Raen. “Think about the time difference between outside on the Paths of the Dead and here in the Crystal Worlds. The Creators are Masters of Time and Space. I would imagine the Jon Blacks and their abilities with time are infantile compared to the Creators.”
“I agree,” said Batheba. “The Creators would have had to have a method of teaching their own cubs without requiring them to sit in a classroom for countless eons.”
“Are we in agreement?” asked Moeth. “Sern is there of his own free will and we will not interfere.”
“We are not in agreement,” said Jasai. “I’m going to go look for him.”
Batheba shook his head. “If a Creator does not want Sern found, you will not find him.”
“I don’t care, I have to go,” said Jasai, lifting her hand to the Clip pouch she wore around her neck. Sern’s mane clipping was in that pouch. Moeth saw her hand caressing the Clip pouch and knew what Jasai was thinking. Jasai had read between the lines of the letter. Sern was no longer her mate, he was breaking the Clipping.
“Jasai,” said Moeth softly.
Jasai pulled the Clip pouch from beneath her shirt and lifted it over her head. She stared at the pouch and walked across the room and stood in front of the fireplace. “I’m not stupid,” said Jasai. “Sern isn’t coming back, and Roael is never going back to Darai. Boae is probably going back, but he’s too old for me now, and dear Koael, you’ll never leave your twin, Roael.” Jasai tossed the Clip pouch into the fire. “I’m disbanding the Jasai Alliance, it’s over.”
She turned and stared at the others, almost as if challenging them to argue. None of them did, they knew she was telling the truth. The Jasai Alliance had been over since the original Bobby died.
“I can go with you,” offered Koael.
“No, I’m going alone,” said Jasai. “I know I won’t find Sern, but I do have to find the Land of the Shadows and bring the Raven Law back. It’s better than sitting here and feeling sorry for myself. You guys taught me how to survive, I’ll be okay. I’m leaving now.”
Jasai went to each of her three Raven boys and hugged them before walking out the door.