Mace Black, Page 417-421 by Wolfenshire ()
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Mace Black, Page 417-421
The white feathered raven on his shoulder fluttered her wings and pecked at the side of his head. “Hey, that hurts, stop it.” Koael lifted a hand and stroked the bird to calm it. “I know, we’re going to get lost if we keep going. We’ll stop here and make a fire for the night, maybe a couple fires.”
Koael looked out at the trees. He was fairly certain there were things moving between the trees he couldn’t see. He would need firewood to keep the fire going through the night, and lots of it. He wouldn’t want to leave the campfire and search for wood in the forest during the night. He stepped to the side of the path and looked down. It would be too easy to lose the path if he left it, he would only collect wood within reach of the path.
He walked along the edge of the path picking up wood and carrying it back to a growing pile where he would build his camp. He was a good distance from his pile of firewood when the last of the light was gone from the sky. He turned around to hurry back to his camp, nothing looked familiar. He looked down, the path wasn’t under his feet.
“Dangit, I lost the path.”
Panic rose as Koael looked left and right for the path. The white feathered raven cawed once and spreading its wings, jumped off Koael’s shoulder. The bird flew to a log and landed, cawed, then took to flight again. It circle around, cawing, then again flew in its original direction.
“I hope you’re right,” said Koael, running after the bird.
The bird landed on the log again and cawed. Koael caught up with the bird – the path was on the other side of the log. He hadn’t wandered far from the path, but in the dense vegetation he hadn’t been able to see it.
“Thanks, bird,” said Koael. “That was a close one, I owe you. I guess that white feather is lucky.”
Koael held an arm out to the raven and it climbed up to Koael’s shoulder. Koael hurried to his pile of firewood and kneeling, built a campfire. He used his dagger to shave some kindling and pushed it under the wood. The white feathered raven hopped down and watched as Koael used his flint and steel to ignite the kindling. The sparks caught and he blew gently on the wood shavings until the flames caught.
He built two more fires until he was sitting in the center of a triangle of campfires. “There we go, bird, now we have protection all around. We’ll be okay.”
Koael opened his pack and pulled out one of his ration packs. There was a bag of jerky he had made back at the ranch. He pulled some of the jerky apart and offered it to the bird – the raven gobbled down the offered meal greedily. A twig snapped and Koael’s head shot up. He could see Sherata tigers coming towards him. Koael rose to one knee and drew his dagger. All but one of the tigers stopped before the path, the last tiger stepped onto the path and stopped just on the other side of the campfire. The tiger was very old, older than Kabath, with grey fur covering its muzzle.
The old tiger stared at Koael for a long moment before speaking. “You are accused of the attempted murder of five Sherata, how do you plead?”
Koael tipped his head to the side. “I don’t plead anything,” said Koael. “Only a Raven court can bring charges against me.”
“If you do not enter a plea, a plea of ‘Not Guilty’ will be entered for you and we will proceed from there,” said old tiger.
A new voice spoke from the trees. “The defendant invokes a plea of ‘self-defense’.” Koael turned his head. A large muscular man strode out from the shadows. The man looked a lot like a Darai, but he was far too large, he was larger even than Roael and Boae.
The tiger turned to the man. “You said you would not interfere with us so long as we remained in the Sherata jungle.”
The man walked past the old tiger and stepped over the campfire. He knelt and looked Koael in the eye. The white feathered raven on Koael’s shoulder ruffled its feathers and cawed. “Cwaw, bad man.”
Koael realized who the man was and grinned. “I like this bird.”
Master Aestar’s eyes flicked to the bird. “You should, I spent a considerable amount of time choosing her for you.”
Koael’s face clouded. “Is she…”
“No, not yet,” said Master Aestar. “For now, she is just a common ordinary raven, just as is your desire.”
“I want nothing from you, leave me alone, and leave my bird alone,” said Koael.
Master Aestar smiled. “I will not offer you the gentle hand as I have for Jasai, Gaevin, and your brother, you would only rebel at that. So, here is my offer. You will work for me and I will afford you the opportunity to complete your Temple training and be the ordinary raven you desire – an assassin.”
Koael shook his head. “I told you, I don’t want anything you’re offering.”
Master Aestar ignored Koael and continued. “If you decline my offer, nothing you say to these Sherata will stay your death. Your skills may be good enough to trick a few foolish tigers, but they have brought a battalion of Sherata waiting just beyond the trees. They will find you guilty and descend on you and nothing your skills or the abilities the Night Elemental gave you will stop them from disemboweling you and feeding your entrails to the waiting Sloughta spiders in the trees.”
Koael glanced out at the trees, remembering the spider web he saw. “Work for you, or death, is that it?”
Master Aestar nodded. “What is your answer?”
Koael frowned. “I’m thinking.”
“I need your answer,” insisted Master Aestar.
“You said my bird is just a normal raven for now. Does that mean she could be sentient, like the wolf-girl?” asked Koael, lifting his hand to the bird and stroking her wings.
“The animal must receive the gene therapy during the fetal stage, it won’t work once the creature has been born.”
“But…then she can’t ever be sentient,” said Koael.
“I gave her the gene therapy before she was hatched.”
“Then she is sentient?”
“No, she is an ordinary common raven,” explained Master Aestar. “However, if you teach her, work with her, there is a possibility she could achieve self-awareness. She will become what you make her, but leave her as she is, and she will always be just a common raven.”
Koael turned his wrist over and looked at the tattoo of the moon. “But Sern got a tiger tattoo, and Jasai got a gecko tattoo, why don’t I have one of a raven?”
“Is that what you need to make the decision to work for me?” Master Aestar placed a finger on Koael’s wrist. The moon tattoo shifted until the image of a raven took shape.
Koael willed himself to remain calm while the raven tattoo took shape. The con-hook had been difficult, Master Aestar was very intelligent. Koael had taken it slow and gently set the hook, but whatever the man’s agenda was, it had over-ridden his common sense – one should never pay a Raven before getting the contract signed, and Koael hadn’t agreed to anything yet. Koael concentrated on the raven tattoo and it burst into dark flames. The world blurred, and there was a moment of vertigo.
Koael didn’t hesitate. He spread his wings and with two powerful beats of his new wings, lifted into the air and shot away from the startled Master Aestar. Unlike Sern that had stumbled to walk as a new tiger, or Jasai that couldn’t balance herself with her new tail, Koael was already an avian. The instinct to fly had been embedded into the Darai millions of years ago, and though the modern Daraian had lost their wings to evolution, that instinct remained.
The white feathered raven’s instincts were good also, the moment her perch on Koael’s shoulder had disappeared, she had taken to wing. Koael saw her flying next to him as they escaped the tigers, and more importantly, Master Aestar.
Koael didn’t slow until he left the jungle behind him. He let himself rest by gliding on the wind. He didn’t feel tired. Normally using the night tattoos were exhausting. He thought about it for a moment as the wind soared through his feathers. Sern and Jasai couldn’t hold their alternate forms for more than a few minutes, but maybe that was because those forms were so much larger, or maybe it was because a raven was already Koael’s primordial form and required no effort to maintain. Yes, that had to be it, he hadn’t changed species, he had only reverted to any earlier stage of evolution. But…a modern raven was an advanced form of the bird. If he had reverted to an earlier stage…then…Koael twisted his head to the side. His wings seemed abnormally larger than a raven, and there were talon claws at the end of his wings. He needed to land and look at himself.
They were flying across a mountain range at the moment. This would be good, if Master Aestar was trying to chase them, he would have to use Crystal Bridges, and a Crystal Bridge wouldn’t be able to form on the side of a mountain. He went into a dive and looked for a ledge he could land on. The white feathered raven followed. He found a ledge large enough and pulled out of the dive. He landed on the ledge, and the white feathered raven landed next to him.
Koael lifted his leg and looked at the lethal talon claws. “Those are not raven legs.” The white feathered raven cawed its agreement. “What are these talon claws at the end of my wings, I could hold prey in my…hands? Claws? Talons? And my wings, they’re black, but those are not raven wings…oh my gosh…you’ve got to be kidding! I’m a friggin dinosaur.” Koael turned his head to the white feathered raven. “Seriously, I’m a dinosaur. I used to love going on the yearly school trip to the museum and seeing the fossils of these things. I’m an archaeopteryx – the first bird, or to be even more accurate, the first raven. Hey bird, I bet you didn’t know the first birds were ravens.”
The white feathered raven cawed its amazement at that trivia fact.
“Okay, so why did I turn in to an archaeopteryx? Did Aestar trick me? No, I saw the expression on his face. No wonder he was so surprised and we got away. He didn’t expect me to turn into a dinosaur. Oh wait, I get it. When Darai people think about when they were actually a bird, this is the bird we were, but then there was a missing link and the archaeopteryx went one direction and the Darai another direction, hence, the modern raven and the modern Darai. I wonder if I can change to a modern raven?”
Koael concentrated on the raven tattoo and shifted. And instantly felt the weight of exhaustion pushing down on him. He shifted back and the exhaustion faded.
“Oh, okay, yeah. I was never actually from the Corvus Corax species, so that takes energy to maintain, but I was an archaeopteryx once, so that doesn’t take energy to hold. I can stay like this forever, but that’s okay, this bird was a beast. I don’t think there are any modern predators that would want to take this thing on, it lived in a time when it had to hunt other dinosaurs. So, what do you think, bird?”
The white feathered raven cawed its doubt, but hopped over and pressed its head against Koael.
“Aww, aren’t you the sweetest. You’re telling me you trust me no matter what form I’m in. So, what am I going to do with you? Aestar said you had the genetic modifications but it’s going to be up to me to try to teach you how to become self-aware. How in the heck do I do that? Do I put little alphabet magnets up on the refrigerator and start sounding out letters, or maybe buy you some story books and read to you? I really need to talk with Sern or Jasai, but there’s no way I could get across the World Bridge now, even if Kabath would open it for me, Aestar would just catch me if I went to that world.”
Koael shifted back to Darai form and reached into a pocket for the dried jerky. He popped a piece in his mouth, then handed the raven a piece. She grabbed the jerky and hopped off to the corner of the ledge to munch on her treasure.
“Do I even have the right to make you sentient? I mean, right now you’re just a normal happy raven with lots of raven friends, but if I teach you to talk and stuff, you’ll be alone and maybe not happy anymore. Well, you won’t be alone, you got me, I’m your friend, and I’ll always be your friend. I like you, bird, you’re a good conversationalist.”
The white feathered raven, having finished its treat, cawed. Koael was fairly certain the bird was saying something like, ‘why thank you very much, I do so try to stay abreast of relevant current affairs’.
“You’re welcome. See, we get along perfectly. I wish more people were like you, bird. Hmm, I probably shouldn’t call you, bird. You need a name. I guess it’s up to me to name you. I’ll think on it, it needs to be a special name.”
The raven hopped back over to Koael and settled next to him. She cawed once, probably something to the effect of, ‘thank you, kind Sir, I would greatly appreciate a special name.’
“Hey, I just remembered. Jasai’s letter was more detailed then Sern’s. She said the train jumped through a gate portal to get to the world she’s on. She’s not on Aestar’s world. I’m not sure the difference between a World Bridge and a Gate Portal, but I’d bet the Gate Portal was the Creator’s latest invention before they became extinct and can probably go a lot further. But, did the train take her further away, or closer? Could I hop through a bunch of Crystal Bridges to get to her? I need to look at a Crystal map and decide what we’re doing next.”
Koael, still in Darai form, shoved himself off the ledge and fell at least two hundred feet before shifting to the archaeopteryx form and swooping down to the ground. The white feathered raven cawed her disapproval at the unorthodox descent, probably saying something like, ‘that is not the proper way to get down from a mountain, are you trying to give me a heart attack?’
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