Mace Black, Page 429-438 by Wolfenshire ()
Members remain the original copyright holder in all their materials here at Renderosity. Use of any of their material inconsistent with the terms and conditions set forth is prohibited and is considered an infringement of the copyrights of the respective holders unless specially stated otherwise.
Mace Black, Page 429-438
Roael stared into the fire. “No word from Koael yet.”
Boae’s talon tipped fingers tapped on the arm rest of the chair. “None from Batheba either.”
“Raen is up at the quarry with Moeth,” added Roael. “I think he’s cutting his losses and getting away from us. His contract was to protect Robert and Bobby, not us.”
“I spoke with the Cormons before they left this afternoon,” said Boae. “They told me they didn’t sign on for a war, and that’s where we’re headed.”
Roael nodded. “They told me they would return if we can stabilize the situation.”
“It’s going to be a short war, the Sherata vastly outnumber us,” said Boae.
“I agree, we should have attacked Aestar when we were at full strength,” said Roael. “He’s picked us apart; it’s just the two of us left.”
“Tensions are high between the hatchlings and the cubs,” said Boae.
Roael pushed himself up from the chair. “If Koael had just…” Roael was interrupted as the cabin door opened and Koael, a white feathered raven sitting on his shoulder, slipped inside and was followed by Sern, a white tiger, Jasai, and a reptilian boy with a broad smile, and for some reason the reptilian boy was only wearing swimming trunks and had floaties on his arms.
Sern pushed past Koael and held the worn book out to Roael. “We need to talk right now.”
Koael ran across the Shade Bridge and out onto a busy dirt road with horses and wagons and people veering around other arriving Shade Bridges. The dirt road went down the center of what appeared to be an old western town. He glanced back at the bridge he’d just come across, it disappeared only to be replaced by another arriving Shade Bridge. The traveler stepped through the portal of the new bridge, stopped, and inspected his arms and legs. The man looked visibly relieved and hurried off the bridge.
The white feathered raven on his shoulder cawed.
“I agree, it didn’t feel like a normal Bridge crossing.” Koael stroked the bird to calm her.
Koael watched other arrivals; all the travelers were repeating the same pat down followed by relieved expressions. He was about to turn back when something came through the portal on one of the Shade Bridges. The something might have been a person, a few seconds ago, it wasn’t now. The horribly disfigured and unfortunate traveler rocked back and forth for a moment before silently toppling over. Two men dressed in black suits and carrying a long box hurried to the bridge. They scooped the remains up and dropped it into the box and closed the lid.
“I guess that guy didn’t win the Shade Lottery.” He didn’t need to see any more and turned away. He hurried off the road to a wooden walkway along the storefronts of the town. Crates and barrels were piled haphazardly here and there along the walkway, and even in the street.
A store with hats in the window, a very dirty window, caught Koael’s interest. Hats were always a good thing to have, especially for a Raven on a sunny day. He noticed several of the hats had holes that he was fairly certain were bullet holes in them – he decided to pass on the hats. The next store was more interesting at first glance, it was full of hand weapons; knives, daggers, swords, maces, spears, and such. Hand weapons are a Raven’s specialty and Koael couldn’t resist the temptation. He pushed the door open and went inside
Koael stopped at a display of daggers and picked one of them up. The weapon was complete garbage and wouldn’t cut a piece of string. A short man with a disgusting smile came over to him with a wag of his finger.
“Careful now, little guy, that’s very sharp,” said the man. “Are you looking for a nice little pocket-knife, you need to make sure your Pa says it’s okay.”
“Cwaw, bad man,” declared the white feathered raven.
Koael drew his own dagger and cut the junk dagger in half. The man lost his disgusting smile and frowned.
“You’re paying for that,” he said.
“Not likely,” replied Koael, giving the raven a little scratch for being clever. “Is there anything in this store that isn’t crap?
The man glared at Koael. “Who do you think you are?”
“I am the shadow in the night to fear,” said Koael. “Now show me something interesting or I’m leaving.”
The shopkeeper raised a brow. “That’s cute, kid, but you can’t be more than four feet tall, so save the tough act.”
Koael sighed and placed a hand on the man’s arm. Koael nodded, satisfied. The man’s mind was weak and susceptible to Darai telepathy - Not all species were, and usually required physical contact. Koael searched through the man’s memories for something he feared, and found it. The man’s eyes widened as Koael’s appearance changed to a demon from the lowest depths of hell. The man staggered back with a gurgled cry.
“What are you?” the man stammered.
“Nothing more than the darkness of your fevered mind,” said Koael. “Now, do you have any decent weapons in this pathetic excuse for an armory?”
The man put his hand behind his back. “Stop there,” warned Koael. “I know you have a gun in your waistband and if you draw it, I’ll take your arm. Seriously, guns are so lame and unreliable.”
“Joth, you might want to heed his warning,” said a new voice.
Koael rose up on his toes to see where the voice had come from. There was a Darai woman sitting in a chair behind the counter knitting a sweater. Koael waved at her. “Hi there, you’re the first Darai I’ve seen outside the ranch since I got here.”
“If I’m not mistaken, your name is Koael Raven,” said the woman. “Does your bird have a name?”
“She doesn’t have a name yet. How did you know mine?” asked Koael.
The woman set her knitting aside and stood. “Unlike this idiot, I read the daily Wanted Posters. So, how is it someone with a higher danger rating than even the Eroden only managed an attempted murder?”
“I wasn’t really trying,” said Koael.
The woman grinned pleasantly. “Or, more likely you’re riding the coat tails of fully grown and trained adults of your kind.”
Koael grinned back. “Yeah, that too. I made a mistake and trusted a friend.”
“An unfortunate mistake,” said the woman. “I’ll make you a deal. I think you’ll be needing a steady supply of blades in your line of work. Make this shop the only place you purchase weapons from, and I’ll make sure you only have the finest merchandise.”
“Sounds fair, let’s see what you got,” agreed Koael.
“Cwaw, keep the money,” added the raven.
“Your raven is adorable. This way.” The woman walked to a door leading to the backroom. “Joth, you stay out here and watch the shop, I’ll take care of our new star client.”
The backroom contained rows of shelves with wrapped packages stacked neatly on the shelves, presumably waiting for customers to pick up their orders. Chests and boxes filled with junk weapons lined the walls, and one wall was filled with firearms hanging from hooks. Koael stopped and looked at one of the weapons – a Darai Needle Rifle.
“You don’t want that one,” said the woman. “It has a bent barrel; I’ll sell it to some fool that doesn’t know the difference between a Needle Rifle and a Sliver Gun.”
The raven fluttered her wings and jumped from Koael’s shoulder to a shelf she must have seen something interesting and wanted to check out.
The woman tapped on an access panel and a door swung open. “This way,” she gestured inside.
Koael walked past the woman and into the room. He tipped his head to the side – he knew what this room was, he had certainly spent enough time in one during his first year at the Temple, this was a Temple armory. He heard the door shut and the lock click, then felt his cloak being pulled aside. His heart jumped into his throat as he realized his horrible mistake; never go into a room first.
He let his body flow outward from the punch as he had been taught to reduce the damage. Pain exploded in his kidney as the punch landed. He reached for his dagger and twisted to the side, but too late. The blows rained down on him in a merciless fury. He tried to activate his Night Tattoos, but the continuing pain from the onslaught prevented him from concentrating. He tried dodging, blocking, and even managed one lucky return punch, which only infuriated his attacker and the blows doubled. He felt warmth flowing from his mouth, his nose…and then it got worse.
The woman allowed him a brief moment to draw his dagger, then batted it away as easily as taking a lollipop from a toddler. She slashed him on his arms as he tried to block, then across the face. She finished by wrapping his own Battle Cloak around his neck until he was purple and his feet kicked helplessly. Spots formed in front of his eyes and his lungs screamed for the air she was denying him.
In that moment right before death and darkness, she dropped him on the ground. Koael took in great gulps of air. Every part of his body hurt. He looked up at the woman.
“Is the arrogance gone?” she asked.
Koael lowered his head, but not his eyes – to take his eyes from her would have brought more punishment. “Yes, Priestess… my raven, she’ll be scared out there alone.”
“Were you going to cross the Outlaw Bridge and go to Shade Mountain?” she calmly asked.
“No, Priestess, I knew better. I was going to try to bribe the guy at the Bridge to send me to the world Jasai is on.”
The Priestess nodded. “And if he would not have taken your bribe?”
“I wouldn’t have gone, I’ve been taught better than let myself be led by the nose. I would have found a place to go into a Raven hide-down and think of a new plan.”
“Had you gone, I would have followed you and killed you for it.”
Koael’s mind was numb, it was as if no time had passed and he was back at the Temple on that first day he had reported to the armory for duty. “Yes, Priestess, I would have deserved it.”
The Priestess pulled a stool up and sat down. “Now, listen very carefully,” she said, her voice low and soft. “Aestar has paid me to complete your Temple training, but that does not mean I work for him, nor does it mean you work for him, though he might think you do.”
“I’m a Temple Raven, I don’t answer to anyone except the Goddess,” Koael said defiantly.
“And what of the Night Goddess, you bear her mark,” said the Priestess.
“She’s not a real Goddess, is she,” said Koael.
“You are one confused boy.” The Priestess shook her head and waved a hand. “We’ll get you straightened out. You answer to yourself only, not me, not the Raven Goddess, not the Night Goddess, not your brothers, or Jasai, and certainly not Aestar. Though, there are consequences to disobeying any of them, especially me, I’m your most immediate threat. Disobey me, and you will be punished.”
Koael nodded. “I understand.”
“Good, now, I don’t want you going to Shade Mountain, not yet. We do not train where Aestar tells us to train, we do not study what Aestar tells us to study. We are not his puppets. Now give me your dagger.” The woman stood and went to a shelf and retrieved another dagger.
“No, you’ll punish me,” said Koael. “I was told when they gave it to me to never surrender it.”
“That wasn’t a test,” said the Priestess. “I died uptime from you about two thousand years. The dagger you carry isn’t used anymore, transfer it to your boot and keep it as a backup.” The Priestess handed Koael a new dagger. “We use this one now.”
Koael took the dagger. “Oh wow, this is a real Talon dagger, like Raen and Moeth have.” Koael held the Talon dagger up and said, “Li’ nisuth te roltani Koael.”
The Priestess raised a brow. “Did you just…”
“Yes, Sern put it in one of his letters, just in case so we know how to do it,” said Koael.
“We lost that phrase long ago, ensure you inscribe it somewhere in the Temple when you return so we don’t…” The Priestess’ eyes glazed over for a moment, then cleared. “That was the oddest sensation. We just altered time. A moment ago that phrase was lost, but now I have a memory that the phrase is inscribed on the central pillar of the Temple.”
“You’re welcome,” said Koael with a mischievous grin.
“Don’t be flip,” said the Priestess. “I’m going to tell you what to do next, pay attention.”
“Yes, Priestess. Can we let my raven in now?”
The Priestess opened the door and a very angry raven flew to Koael. The bird pecked at him a few times to make sure he was okay, then turned to the Priestess and cawed a scolding for locking her outside.
Zil lay sprawled on the top shelf above Jasai. His tail draped down and rested against her neck – Zil was reading a picture book about a monkey and a man in a yellow hat.
“I need memory cube…”
Zil handed down the memory cube before she finished saying which one she needed. She glanced up at him, slightly annoyed, and gave him ‘the look’, which Zil ignored. That was the reason he had his tail against her neck, he was listening to her protein strings and handing down the correct memory cube almost before she could even think the one she needed next.
She wasn’t studying any secret ground shaking ancient technology, that wouldn’t come for a few years. She was currently studying plain old ordinary chemistry right this moment, which was fun enough, but nothing to write home about. She checked the time. She still had another twenty minutes of chemistry, then her next class was literature. At first Mr. Grath would come and remind her it was time for her next class, until she realized Mr. Grath wasn’t a person at all, but the most advanced A.I. she had ever seen.
After she found out Mr. Grath was an A.I., it had only taken her a few hours to figure out how to turn him off. The next priority had been to turn Master Aestar off. He was a real person, but she could shut down all the camera’s and listening devices that let him spy on her, and she did. She left the ability for Sern to send her email turned on. They had made up, sort of, at least the best anyone could through email. She could have used video conferencing, but that would just have given Master Aestar another route to spy on her, and she didn’t need any coaching to do her school work independently.
A chime rang on her computer and she switched screens to the email client. A message was coming in from Sern, and it was encoded. She had set up a very sophisticated encryption program to encode their messages, but they rarely needed to do it. Most email was just stuff like ‘how are you doing today’ or ‘what grade did you get on that last test’.
She waited for the message to finish decoding, then opened it and read the contents.
Jasai, Koael is missing. He crossed the Outlaw Bridge but never showed up at Shade Mountain. Master Aestar is seriously mad. We think he might have bribed the Bridge Keeper to send him somewhere else. We know he can’t come to me, and your world is beyond a World Bridge’s range, that’s why you had to take the train, and he can’t go back to the ranch, poor guy. I wish I could help him, I used to be each of your protectors, but now I’m stuck here. Sern.
Jasai sat back in her chair and thought for a moment. Something wasn’t right. Why would Sern encode this message, there wasn’t anything in it that needed kept from Master Aestar. There had always been the possibility Koael wouldn’t go straight to Shade Mountain, but instead rebel and go into hiding.
So, what was Sern doing? Jasai read the email again, looking for a secret message, but no, there wasn’t any encoded secret messages. They were out of familiarity keys anyway, and unless they could meet in person, there wouldn’t be any new keys. They’d run the course on secret messages.
Unless the absence of a secret message was the secret message. She had enjoyed the First Year classes on encryption techniques. She remembered the Priestess saying that in the event of long term captivity, after running out of encryption keys you could send a message in the open if the person receiving knew the captive Raven intimately.
She read the message again, and smacked her forehead. Sern would never whine, and when did Sern use bad grammar. She smiled at the line, “I used to be each of your protectors.” Jasai had to put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing – be each…beach. Sern thought Koael was headed to the Crystal World with the beach that Boae had met the Shadow Master. She had to admit, Sern was probably right. Boae’s world had water, food, shelter, seclusion – it was a perfect Raven hide-down position.
“Come on Zil, we’re…” she looked up. Zil wasn’t on the shelf. She twisted in her chair and found Zil standing behind her wearing swim trunks and sporting a pair of floaties on his arms.
“I’m ready,” said Zil with a broad smile.
Koael was stretched out in front of the hut and surprisingly, enjoying the sun. He didn’t even need to wear his sunglasses. There was something different about this sun, it seemed to lack whatever made a person squint. And not the obvious conclusion which would be brightness, but something else fundamentally different. It would certainly lend validation to the conspiracy nuts on Darai that claimed they hadn’t evolved on Darai, but instead had been brought to Darai by space aliens. Maybe it was the ultra-violet radiation? Maybe they were from a planet with a sun that had less U.V. radiation.
Several months from now when he mentioned the odd phenomenon to Moeth, he was profoundly shocked to his core to discover the Darai weren’t from Darai, but instead from Daiami where the sun was gentler and the Darai didn’t suffer from the many ill effects of a sun they hadn’t evolved under.
He had checked out the hut, but couldn’t stay inside there. It was too creepy. Because of the time dilation effect of being in a Crystal World, Boae had grown up here. There were many visible signs of his boyhood here. Inside the hut were discarded toys lovingly packed away in chests when he had outgrown them, and clothes that would have no longer fit Boae. The creepiest part was the drawings. There were stacks of drawings. The obvious earlier ones were childish, but the later drawings were amazing works of art. Koael had had no idea Boae was such a talented artist.
The white feathered raven was enjoying herself. She was flying up and down the beach exerting her dominance over the seagulls of what she probably imagined to be her new territory. The seagulls had ganged up on her at one point. She had been true to her raven base nature and lured them into the trees where she had maneuverability against them. Most of the seagulls had fled after that, but Koael was fairly certain a few less seagulls had exited the trees then entered.
Koael heard a sound and sat up. He could see a train coming down the beach with tracks forming in front of it. The raven was flying next to the train and cawing angrily at it. The train came to a stop with a great deal of clanging and puffing of white smoke from the engine. The raven flew to him and landed on his shoulder and cawing her obvious displeasure.
“I know,” he said, stroking the bird to calm it. “A train doesn’t belong on the beach, but you have to admit, that is the coolest spaceship ever.”
Koael stood and walked towards the train, expecting Jasai to come out, but instead, a reptilian boy wearing swim trunks and floaties ran out the door and jumped down to the sand. The boy looked left and right, obviously confused about something.
“Where’s the ocean?” asked the tan-scaled reptilian.
For lack of anything better to say, Koael sort of pointed and said, “Umm…it’s on the other side of the train.”
The reptilian smiled broadly, “Oh, okay,” and shot off around the train, kicking up sand as he ran.
Jasai came out next and walked to the stairs. “Did someone call for a ride?” Then she saw the raven on Koael’s shoulder and flew down the stairs and across the sand. “Oh my gosh, is this your raven, oh my gosh, she’s so beautiful.” Jasai ran to Koael and lifted her hand. “Can I pet her, she’s gorgeous.”
The raven turned her head to the side to let Jasai stroke her neck. The raven cawed softly to Jasai’s gentle touch and made cooing sounds.
“Yes, I know, she’s very nice,” Koael told the bird.
“Oh, can you understand her?” asked Jasai.
Koael shook his head. “Naw, I just make up conversations, it gives me someone to talk to. So, are you going to get in trouble for coming?”
“Sern and I agree, if you really don’t want to be part of this, we’ll help you explain to Aestar that you want out, he won’t force you,” said Jasai.
“Really, and these trumped up charges against me?”
“That was an accident gotten out of control, Aestar can use his influence to get the charges dismissed.”
“You’ve been lied to, Jasai.”
“Koael, you’re not the kind to go in for conspiracies,” said Jasai. “All Aestar is doing is giving our species a hand up. We’re ready for his technology and he’s giving us access to all of it.”
Koael reached into his coat and pulled out an ancient and worn book. “I have proof. This is a journal I write ten years from now while I was in hiding at Shade Mountain. After I was murdered, Nezo bought this book off the Black Market and slipped it into the Restricted Section at the Temple. It sat there for two thousand years until a Priestess discovered it.”
Jasai swallowed hard. “What’s it say?”
“The truth, we need to get to the ranch and talk with Roael and Boae. Is there any way we can pick up Sern on the way?”
“I think I can arrange it, let’s go,” said Jasai.
“Umm…your friend is out playing in the ocean, shouldn’t you go get him?” asked Koael.
“Unless I miss my guess, he’s already onboard,” said Jasai.
Koael looked up at the train. Zil was waving at them from the window.
Sern sat atop Saeber on the side of the road and waited. He was giving up everything to do this, and he was mad, but Koael had never pushed the panic button before, and Jasai was smart enough to know if such a drastic measure was needed.
“Damit, I liked my lessons, I liked being here.”
“Do you want to go back, Master Aestar doesn’t know yet we left?” asked Saeber.
“No, but this proof they have better be good, Master Aestar is never going to trust me again.”
Sern heard the train before he saw it, and no doubt Master Aestar would hear it also. “Be ready,” shouted Sern. “Jasai isn’t going to slow down.”
The train approached with tracks appearing before it where there were none, and Zil on the steps shouting for them to come. “Get out of the way,” shouted Sern.
Saeber took off at a run and leaped as she came abreast of the steps. Zil scrambled out of the way and Saeber landed on the platform. Zil shooed them inside the main car. “Hurry, get inside and hold on,” shouted Zil.
The platform was too small for Saeber to turn around on and had to back into the open door of the main car. Zil had no more than got the door shut when gravity disappeared. Saeber and the white feathered raven were not happy with the weightless environment. The raven cawed her displeasure loudly and Saeber voiced her own roar to match. Then as quickly, gravity returned and Saeber landed lightly on her feet. Jasai rushed in through the door from the engine.
“Okay, that was our longest jump, the other jumps will be too short to feel the lack of gravity between event horizons,” said Jasai.
“How long to get to the ranch?” asked Sern.
“About twenty minutes,” replied Jasai.
Sern put his hands on his hips. “I want to see this proof, I just threw away my career, so this better be good.”
Koael handed Sern the worn book. “I write this book in ten years. It will be found in the Restricted Section of the Temple Library two thousand years from now.”
“Yay, more temporal tampering,” said Sern taking the book and plopping himself down in one of the big comfy chairs. He opened the book and started reading.
Koael led the group through the woods and towards the cabins. They had left the train on the other side of gold creek in a depression that should keep it hidden. He reached the door to Roael’s cabin and pushed it open. Roael and Boae were in the cabin alone. Sern pushed past Koael.
Sern held the worn book out to Roael. “We need to talk right now.”