Mace Black, Page 392-399 by Wolfenshire ()
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Mace Black, Page 392-399
Raen’s eyes narrowed with anger. “Once is an anomaly, twice is a pattern.”
“Possibly three times,” said Roael. “I’m sorry, Boae, but we have to consider your Shadow Master was not who he said he was.”
“I agree,” replied Boae. “My mind is shrouded with doubt as well.”
“It is my opinion that is not the case,” said Batheba. “I believe it more likely that the Creator observed Boae’s training under the Shadow Master and used it as a model for Sern and Jasai’s abductions.”
“If that is so, then he is coming for Boae, Roael, or Koael next,” observed Moeth.
“I think it most likely he will come for Koael,” Moeth interjected.
“That does make sense,” added Raen. “Take the younger ones first, they are more likely to be compliant than Boae or Roael.”
“I will lead the assault against this man to recover our people,” said Boae.
“You may find that difficult,” said Batheba. “I am aware from reading in the Elemental’s Library the technology the Creators had available to them at the end of the Twenty-ninth Dynasty when they became extinct. This Creator possess technology that did not exist then.”
“I am confident with our Temple skills we will overcome his technology,” replied Boae. “We will secure Koael here in the cabin and put Gaevin, Tarabeth, and Maseth to guard him.”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Koael, knocking on the table to get everyone’s attention. “Brother, I think you’ve got your warriors tail tied too tight. Seriously, this guy had three and a half billion years and nearly endless resources to advance Creator technology. You are not going to beat him in a fight. I’m going to go talk to him.”
“You will do no such thing, I forbid it,” said Roael.
“Really? You forbid it? Brother, grab some reality,” said Koael. “You know that Temple Ravens act autonomously. Not even a High Priestess can give us a binding order, only the Goddess can do that. I’m going to go talk to him, and you can’t stop me.”
“Go ahead and try to walk out that door, little brother, see what happens,” threatened Roael.
“I love you too, brother,” replied Koael, “but by Temple law I am permitted to take any action that safeguards the future of the Temple.”
“Roael, he’s right,” said Moeth. “If we attack a Creator, none of us will live, and that threatens this farm, and Robert and Bobby. Whom I might remind you are the primary contracts. They are the key to the Eagle, and the future of Darai.”
Robert, Bobby, and Marae were sitting on the couch listening. Robert stood. “Hey, do we get a say in any of this?”
“NO,” the entire group at the table said in unison. Robert held his hands up in surrender and sat back down.
“Look, I’m going,” said Koael. “If Batheba or Kabath are willing, they can take me to the World Bridge. After that, I’ll just follow Sern’s tracks and find this Creator guy.”
Kabath, who was pretending to be asleep next to the door spoke. “I’ll take him.”
“You lost Sern and Saeber to begin with, not to mention the four hatchlings and cubs I had to go find at the lake last week,” said Batheba.
“The hatchlings and cubs were not my fault,” said Kabath. “Those little scamps gave me the slip to go off and explore, and anyway, I know where the Creator lives.”
“You know where he lives? And you never told us?” growled Batheba.
Kabath stood and stretched. “Haven’t you ever wondered where all those delicious technological wonders the Traders have come from? I have. I tracked one of the Traders once and found the Creators ranch,” explained Kabath.
Moeth laughed. “You stole from a Creator?”
“I didn’t make it that far,” said Kabath. “I got to his ranch, he caught me, and poof, he threw me on that Crystal World he banished all the monsters. I was there for six months before I found a way to escape, it was a very unpleasant experience.”
“And you would risk that punishment again for Koael?” asked Moeth.
“Of course not, I wouldn’t even risk it for Batheba,” the old tiger said dryly. “I would do it for my grandcubs, and Sern. I like that boy, he has potential. I want to know for sure he is not being manipulated or held against his will.”
“You would know about manipulation, you’re an expert,” said Batheba.
“Exactly the reason it should be me to take Koael,” replied Kabath.
Batheba turned his head away in disgust. “I hate it when he makes sense,” growled Batheba. “He’s right, Kabath is uniquely qualified to determine if Sern is truly there of his own free will.”
“Can we trust him?” asked Raen.
Batheba sighed. “Of course we can’t trust him, but I’ve never seen my father betray someone he has said he likes, but if he calls you, friend, beware. You always have to listen to him carefully.”
“Hold on,” said Raen. “He came up to me before this meeting and said that of everyone here, I’m the most honorable and someone he would call friend.”
“You might want to check if you’re missing anything,” advised Batheba.
Raen patted himself down. “Hey! Where’s my money purse!” Raen glared at Kabath. Kabath grinned and shrugged. “This isn’t over, tiger,” said Raen. “That money was to pay for the antibiotics for that little Brand boy who has the infected cut on his leg.”
Roael turned to Raen. “What? Kabath gave me the antibiotics this morning, he said you paid for it already,” said Roael. “I gave the boy the medicine right after breakfast.”
Moeth laughed. “Well played, old tiger. Can we just make him a Temple Raven already and be done with it?”
“This isn’t funny,” said Raen.
“It’s hilarious,” said Moeth. “He stole the antibiotics, gave them to Roael, then stole the money from Raen, and came in here to take a nap with his new gold. Now if that isn’t a Master Temple Raven, I don’t know what is.”
“Yeah, well I saw you talking with him earlier,” said Raen. “Maybe you should check to see if you’re missing something.”
“Seriously, Raen? Like someone could lift something from me,” said Moeth, casually patting her sides. “Hey, where’s my talon dagger? Kabath, give it back right now!”
Kabath shrugged. “I can’t. I gave it to Lilian.”
“Why in the name of the Goddess would you give Lilian a talon dagger?” demanded Moeth.
“She needed a sharper knife to cut the leather for the cubs’ new training saddles,” replied Kabath.
“We haven’t bought any leather yet for the saddles,” said Moeth.
It was Batheba’s turn to laugh. “I would guess we have, with the money Raen was going to buy the antibiotics.”
Moeth shook her head in frustration. “Where is the profit for him in that?”
Batheba sighed. “I told you, my father is a master of manipulation. The cubs and their partner hatchlings will know the saddles came from Kabath, and remember, we have yet to decide whether to allow Kabath to stay. If we try to make him leave now, we will have a major rebellion of all the cubs and hatchlings. He has very neatly stolen the hearts of our young.”
Kabath executed an eloquent bow. “I’ll just be picking out my new cabin now,” said Kabath. “I like that one next to the gold creek. Koael, let me know when you’re ready to leave.”
Everyone glared at Kabath as he sauntered out the door.
“I want my talon dagger back,” shouted Moeth.
“I’ll trade Lilian mine for yours,” said Boae. “I really don’t need mine anymore.”
“I’m going to go pack now,” said Koael.
Summer was well past its mid-point and the forest had that dry dusty scent. This was the season to carefully watch the campfires, it would be so easy to lose everything they had built. Robert had been talking about cutting a firebreak around the ranch, but that project would have to wait for the road to be finished.
Koael and Kabath walked along the finished section of the road and had to stay to the side. A steady stream of wagons were coming and going with the cobblestones needed for the next day’s work. They reached the end of the road, and detoured around the piles of cobblestone. Koael preferred the unfinished road, it was – simpler. He didn’t really like all the changes and buildings going up.
He was a simple boy, much like his twin brother Roael. He liked the farm as it had been when they had first started, with the tall grass, haphazard crops, and rustic feel of it all.
“What are you going to tell Master Aestar?” asked Kabath.
“That I’m a Raven, and nothing more,” said Koael. “I don’t want to be a tiger, or a lizard, or anything else, no offense.”
“None taken, I like when someone knows what they are and accepts it,” said Kabath. “You don’t strike me as the Rider type either, or a Handler. You haven’t asked to ride on my back.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t mind riding, but walking is nice,” said Koael. “And anyway, I didn’t want to ask because, well, you’re kind of old and I didn’t want to burden you. Just take it slow and easy, I’m in no hurry.”
Kabath didn’t turn his head, but did look at Koael from the corner of his eye. “That’s very clever, trying to play on my pride. Sern was better at it.”
Koael chuckled. “Yeah, he is. He always gets me to clean my boots when I don’t want to. I don’t know how he does it.”
“He has a weak spot though,” said Kabath. “I noticed he fell all over himself when Saeber…” Kabath broke off in mid-sentence and sniffed the air. “Stay close, and get up a tree if this goes to a fight.”
Koael laid a hand on his dagger. “What is it?”
“Wolf, a big one, female I think,” whispered Kabath.
Koael and Kabath slowed to a cautious walk. Kabath sniffed at the air again. “Get ready, here she comes.”
The wolf calmly walked out onto the path. Koael was amazed how big she was. The wolf turned and faced them, then sat down. Kabath lowered to a crouch, ready to leap, and growled a warning. The wolf didn’t move, but just sat there staring at them curiously.
“Hold on,” whispered Koael. “Something isn’t right.” Koael stepped ahead of Kabath and watched the massive wolf for a moment. The wolf still made no aggressive move. Koael turned his head back to Kabath. “How many animal species did the Creators help to sentience?”
Kabath’s eyes never left the wolf as he whispered. “Just the tigers, and maybe dolphins. I have one brief genetic memory of a Creator in the ocean with a dolphin.”
“Stay here,” Koael motion with a hand. He walked towards the wolf until he was only a few steps away from the massive beast. “Hello, my name is Koael.”
“I am Taril,” said the wolf.
“Okay, I thought you didn’t seem like a normal wolf. Master Aestar sent you, didn’t he?” asked Koael.
The wolf turned her head to one side and lowered her ears.
“I hope the ears being lowered doesn’t mean you’re mad I figured it out so fast,” said Koael. “But, there’s kind of a theme going on here. Master Aestar somehow arranged for my brother to meet a tiger, and Jasai to meet a reptilian. It only stands to reason he was going to try to play match-maker with me also.”
The wolf lifted her ears back up. “You do not seem pleased to meet me.”
“Hey, I think you’re great,” said Koael. “I don’t want to be your enemy, gosh, you could swallow me in one bite. But I’m just a Raven, that’s all. I don’t want to be anything else. Can we just be friends?”
“I understand, but we will not see each other again,” said Taril. “I cannot stay in this forest with the tigers, and I cannot return to the forest I came from. I will have to search for a new forest now that you have rejected me.”
“Please don’t think of it like that, I really want to be friends,” said Koael. “Hey, I got an idea.” Koael turned around.
“You turn your back to me?” asked Taril.
Koael turned back. “I’m sorry, was that an insult, I didn’t mean it to be.”
“No, it is not an insult, it is a sign of trust and gives truth to your words of friendship,” said Taril. “We would have been good companions.”
“Okay, just hold a second.” Koael smiled and turned back around. “Hey, Gaevin, I know you and Tarabeth and Maseth are following me, come on out.”
“I’m up here,” said Gaevin. Koael looked up. Gaevin was in a tree above him and holding a spear. Tarabeth and Maseth rose from the tall weeds near the road.
“Ah, and there is why I cannot stay,” said Taril. “You have given your friendship, yet I am already surrounded by tigers ready to kill me.”
“They’re not going to kill you,” said Koael. “Come on guys, come on out. Kabath, do something.”
“Come to my side, grandpups,” said Kabath. “This is Koael’s quest, let’s give him a chance to play this out.”
“Yes, Grandfather,” said both adolescent tigers.
Kabath looked up. “You too, my flying grandpup.”
Gaevin swooped down from the tree and landed lightly on Kabath’s back. “I’m your grandpup too?”
“Of course you are,” said Kabath.
“We told you,” said Tarabeth, looking up at Gaevin.
Koael held his hands out. “So, guys, I know Batheba has put Gaevin, Tarabeth and Maseth in charge of protecting the forest, and that we have a wolf problem, but no matter how much you chase them out, they keep coming back. I’ll bet Taril can tell us why.”
“I can,” said Taril. “The Beta’s may run from a tiger’s roar, but not an Alpha. They only withdraw and wait. Eventually you will be alone and an Alpha will take you.”
“We’re never alone,” said Gaevin.
Taril stood and came closer. “Eventually you will get sick and crawl off to the bushes alone to eat grass and empty your stomach, as you should, as is normal.”
“I was sick two days ago and nothing got me,” argued Gaevin.
“And do you remember hearing a wolf yelp?” asked Taril.
“Umm…yeah, I did, but I shouted for Maseth and he didn’t find anything,” said Gaevin.
“I know,” said Taril.
“You were there?” asked Kabath.
“I was,” said Taril. “I have been waiting weeks for Koael to come out to the forest so I could meet him. If I allowed a wolf to harm anyone, he would never have trusted me.”
“Then I owe you a debt for protecting my grandpup,” said Kabath. “Tarabeth, Maseth, Gaevin, do you understand what it means?”
“Yes, Grandfather,” said Maseth. “We are honor bound as Greater Sherata to repay the debt.”
Gaevin slid down from Kabath’s back and walked straight up to Taril and hugged her. “I guess I owe you my life. You can stay in the forest if you want, I’ll tell everyone to leave you alone.”
“I can help you get rid of the other wolves,” said Taril. “It wouldn’t be proper for them to be in my territory.”
“How many more of your kind our there?” asked Kabath.
“I am the only of my kind,” said Taril.
“What happened to them?” asked Gaevin.
“There never were any,” said Taril.
“I don’t understand,” said Gaevin.
“I do,” said Kabath. “Master Aestar only recently gave her the genetic alterations to become sentient, and from my own genetic memories I know it takes about two years for the procedure to work, and then perhaps another two or three years to teach language.”
“But we haven’t been here that long, how did Master Aestar know to start preparing a companion for me?”
Kabath looked the wolf in the eyes. “I’m not angry for the lie,” said Kabath. “Goodness knows I lie enough for ten tigers, but you’ve been caught. It’s time for the truth.”
“What lie? What are you talking about?” asked Koael.
“This was a con, and a very clever one,” explained Kabath.
“Oh, I love it when Grandfather does this, he’s the best,” said Maseth.
“Hush boy,” said Kabath.
“Okay, seriously, what’s going on?” asked Koael.
Kabath shook his head, sighed, and sat down. “Out of this big entire forest, she just happened to be in the right place and at the right time to save Gaevin. No, it was not a fortunate accident. She’s probably been following Gaevin for weeks, protecting him and learning about him. She wasn’t sent here for Koael. She was sent here for Gaevin. Master Aestar probably started planning this shortly after Gaevin was hatched. But, things changed and he saw an opportunity. Master Aestar knew Koael would reject her, so she was to offer herself to him first, and then Gaevin would feel sorry for her and take her in.”
“Is that true?” asked Gaevin.
“Yes, it’s true,” said Taril.
“I told you Grandfather was the best at this kind of stuff,” said Maseth.
“I’ll leave, I don’t want to cause trouble,” said Taril.
Gaevin threw his arms around the wolf’s neck. “No, I don’t care if it was a trick. It’s not your fault. Everyone else is getting best friends, I want one too.”
“Can you shift to Darai form?” asked Kabath.
Taril nodded. There was a blur, and Gaevin found himself with his arms around a Darai girl.
“Wow, that is so awesome,” said Gaevin.
“And there is the proof of the con,” said Kabath. “She is Gaevin’s age and far too young for Koael.”
Gaevin looked at his wrist. “I don’t have a tattoo, shouldn’t I have one of a wolf?”
“Not yet,” said Kabath. “Keep the lie as it is. If Batheba and Roael knew Master Aestar was attempting to manipulate their precious little winged Sherata, their heads would explode.”
Gaevin giggled and mimicked Kabath. “Precious little winged Sherata.”
“I’m in, Grandfather,” said Tarabeth.
“Me too,” said Maseth.
“Okay, just take it slow and let Batheba and Roael get used to Taril,” said Kabath. “Then in a few weeks, I’m sure Master Aestar has something up his sleeve to get my stuck in the mud son to accept the situation when Gaevin shows up with a wolf tattoo. Are you okay with this, Koael?”
Koael gave Kabath a wry grin. “Seriously? I’m a Raven, I don’t care if we’re pulling a con. I just want to be sure Sern and Jasai aren’t being forced, and I want to explain to Master Aestar that I don’t want to be anything but a normal regular Raven and help my brother with the ranch.”
Kabath jerked his head back at his saddle. “Okay, it’s settled. Koael, jump up on my back. I want to put some miles between me and the ranch. You kids still have to get this con past Moeth, she’ll be the suspicious one, and if you screw it up, I don’t want to be anywhere close to the ranch when Batheba and Roael unleash her on me.”