"I've perched with my raven above the area. I have Narr on the Ground. And I'm about to join him. Lord Klau should be just below us. But nothing. Only tracks and slashes of ripped of tree back and downed pines. What ever tore the forest apart here was connected some how."
-Personal Note: Marshal Verner-
Avisland: Northern Boarder, Outside the Norther Border Post.
The Arbiter adjusted the controls on the caravan. The mechanical wagons had just emptied their supplies and were entering the mountains. But the guards of the Corvus Castrum were eager to send the Arbiter’s Tribe back on it’s way.
Family would normally visit and talk but the friendly faces were absent and the cold shoulders of the Arbiter tribe were front and center.
Being Arbiters they were allowed the privilege of Raben’s cooperation with nomadic movements and politics. But recent squabbles had left them feisty.
They took their supplies, spoke to their roost bodyguards and sent them away again. Some of Raben seemed to really appreciate intervention, but others might have seen that as meddling.
Blue feathers reflected the sunlight as the Arbiters entered the Norther Border's last mountain pass after a morning's hike up into the barren rocky hills outside the pine tree forests.
“Hey, Roostmen! Where are you going?” The convoy chief shouted. “Mazan, signal a halt!”
He was a bald headed gentleman but he had a well-trimmed beard. His blue feathers were short but well-oiled and groomed.
The Roostmen bodyguards didn’t even acknowledge him.
“Caravan, halt!” Maazan ordered. The twenty eight wagons ceased their rolling and the metal breaks activated. The drivers locked their wheels extra tight for the mountain pass was never to be trusted.
“Why did our guards leave? Did they go scouting ahead? Something turn up? Are we safe here?” Many voices asked of him.
“They know their laws far better than any other tribe. To abandon a caravan in unstable territory is forbidden.” They quoted the Roost’s laws. "Why would they do this?"
“What was that?” A woman shouted from the center of the line.
We look out of our window from our metal vehicle.
“Call the Roostmen! They're Fiends! Fiends down there! They’re coming up.” She begins to panic as many in the crowd turned to screaming and rushing their carts.
White skinned figures lurched up the rock face from the fog of the low cloud line. The altitude leaves us blind to the numbers.
“Get the Cataphract armor! Run! Where are the Roostmen? What’s that? Whoever’s there help us!” The clan along the mountain pass shouts to a flicker in the trees above the ridge overlooking the mountain range. I rush up the ledge towards the tree lines. I need to hide, maybe find a watch post.
The figures scaling the cliff below us get closer. Pale white creatures with inconsistent numbers of limbs, heads, and teeth. At least fifteen are nearly up the side of the incline and were nearing my clan. Their slobbered tongues hang out. Some had fur, others had feathers, but all of them were out for blood with a mouth full of incisors.
“Somebody help us!
I was clear of the clan when I made a run for it. I closed my ears after the first shriek behind me. I couldn’t bring myself to hear them. My teacher, my tribe brothers and sister. Teeth, claws and rusting metal greeted them.
Savage mutants from the wastes around Avisland.
I almost heard my name called out in confusion by my tribe.
But I ran on.
The Roostmen and the Scouts kept a post at the tops of the mountain passes around here. I could get help I hurried.
The grey and black stone beneath me slid away and pulled a metaphorical rug out from under me. The rough volcanic rocks at the summit tore into my knees and my palms. I could barely feel it though the fanatic adrenaline dedicating my actions to my escape. I lifted myself back up and pressed forward. When I reached the top of the mountain, dry gravel formed a mound with a metallic hatch flipped to its side. It’s wide open. The underground post was just left lazily.
I reached the bottom of the post into the bunker from its ladder. What greeted me was a sight.
There was a Rabenite skewered to the wall by a metal spike just below my feet at the base of the ladder. Two more dead on the ground in a corner and one more laying face up with his chest heaving slowly with a head piece on. A girl dead in his arms. He’s waving a weapon at me. A short pipe strapped to a firing chamber. A Raben Revolver.
“Who are you?” I shout at him. I reached for the knife out of the coat pocket of the dead Rabenite.
He looked over to me and dropped his weapon. His black hair and red eyes don’t give me anything to go off. He was alive, and presumably, he killed several of the people in this room at least within the last half hour. His nose wasn’t long and his chin wasn’t proud. In fact, he was a ghost of a man. He'd bled out or at least stained his uniform with another's blood.
“Rankivol, Rankivol Raben. You, you’re… an Abriter?” He muttered. His knee had wire through him. A hodgepodge of self stitching in a few areas, a field attempt at first aid.
“Alanza wanted to save your tribe.” He choked for a moment. “But they slit her throat.” He almost whimpered. “Why? They were our friends, our family!” His shout echoed out. “Alanza!”
He holds the woman in his arms dearly and in the grip of despair.
“The fiends hit my caravan. Can you signal someone you can trust?”
A portion of the man grew cold. His attention to his tribe's lost flickered out for a moment. “Listen Arbiter, they’ll be alright if they weren’t killed. If they ran they can make it quite far. Fiends never chase once they get new territory. The play safe. Just don’t go back to the convoy.” Rankivol tried to reassure me.
“You saw the attack? Never mind. I don’t care about that right now. You didn't seem surprised by that news. I’m worried about the welcoming committee about to kill my Tribe on sight. Are more of your kind waiting to kill my tribe?” I asked.
“No, I just handled them. They hit us before they could peruse your people. If your people find Kaiser’s castle, The Festung, just on the edge of Roost territory, they’ll be safe.” He pushed himself against the wall to straighten up. “Most of them will find it in three hours at a walk. But it’s getting dark soon.”
I took a few glances around the room. On one wall there were lines of bladed gloves, two long barreled Jezail rifles, two thinner shooting devices, a cabinet, and a desk. Another wall has a dead bird in a cage and a Rabenite pinned to it. Just to my left I noticed chains.
“I see you have chains. I can get you out of here on a sled.” I point out to him.
“You’d be better off just running while you can. If this was a single incident then we’d be fine but I feel this was organized. I’m not the only Rabenite who’s had to kill a few of his own today. And you do not have to trust me for anything, I’m equally as suspicious as each of the traitors I killed. You see my friend there?” Rankivol gestured to the girl dead beside him. The one he held so preciously before leaving her in her blood. “She thought they were reinforcements, just ready for their shift. I didn’t think twice either. So don’t think for a moment that anyone you see from here on out is your friend or ally!”
“I’ll take that as a: sure Mazan, I’d be in your debt for such a desperate rescue.”
“Who do you think you are?” Rankivol stopped himself. “Oh, I forgot. You’re an Arbiter. I’m sorry. Just get us out of here if that’s your plan. Only one of us needs to reach safety. And it better be you if the moment arrives." Rankivol managed to slow the bleeding on his leg after messing around with a needle and thread one more time.
“I’ll be back. Either that or I’m dead.” I grabbed the Rabenite’s chain and scurried up the ladder. I was tempted to grab one of their claws, but knowing Raben I’d break my fingers. My hand wasn’t the same on a biological level.
One of our carts was knocked off course and it had plowed into the side of the mountain just to my right. It was my lucky day. The cart had a metal sealed device holding a container sealed shut inside. It was an excessive amount of covering and I had my suspicion.
The glass was broken and one wall was caved in. Unfortunate in more ways than one, but I could still make use of this. Tribe Bedded lost the technology to build these things. They could make a few parts but they’d need time to work up a new schematic or to replace a new one without reverse engineering an old one. And time is too precious to them. Schematics can take a generation to arrange.
I place my thumb on a scanner to the box built into the wagon. I hear a click and a beep. Tears well up. This kind of lock only opens to authority. If it opened for me it means every superior in my clan is dead, except for our Magistrates, they’re the older elders back at our territory. They never left the nest’s town halls. The other Tribes just called them, Blue Jays. They were old, blue and they squawked at you when you pass them too fast.
The box opened.
One armored collar, attached to a breast plate, welded and connected to artificial joints around a frame for limbs, supplemented by a metal skirt, with a motorized power source. It was a suit of cataphract armor. Named after war horse lore. Virtually irreplaceable to Nest Reacher. It was another Bedded relic after all. Something old, a vizier model. Only my blue and black jumpsuit underneath my robes stays on. It’d get too rough inside with too much clothing.
I clicked a few straps and the metal folded and shut me in. Power at one-hundred percent. The walls closed on me. The helmet turned on and the entire suit powers up. Not an inch of me was exposed as metal gears whirled and a few circuits sparked to life underneath the metal armor.
"Oh…" This was the Female Model. So the male model was still with the clan, there could still be one member of seniority left.
My master had this one modified. A spear was sitting beside me and I reach for it as I rose. It fit to a magnet on my back. Weapons check. Oh dear. Never used half of these weapons before. I have a…spear, okay, wrist launcher, what’s that? Oh, fires exploding shells, smoke shells, fire shells, blinding shells, and metal darts. They must be like the darts that the Rabenite fired at the others. And static field.
Finally I spotted a two notices with the Arbiter symbol of two cowls around a few gears with the Raben symbol. Three crescent moons coming out of a black mark like claws on a bird of prey.
What did my lady do to this model? I ask myself inside. I’ve never scene a suit of armor this modified or this weaponized. It's an affront to treaties and protocol on too many levels.
A loud beep alerted. Motion sensor! It beeped twice and I twisted around.
In a clamor, the suit collided with a rock on the ground crushing it to dust as limbs grabbed my suit and threw me down. Teeth and jaws raked at me.
A white skinned fiend was pounding at me. I screamed at it. Less from fear but from anger. I swung a powered fist at my attacker. Knocking it back before jabbing with my spear. Red blood poured out of its chest as it gurgled out a hiss. I Jabbed three more times until the creature fumbled backwards dead.
It’s pale white skin had areas of pink where the skin was thin and the flesh below was thick. It’s eyes were black and virtually without any white to them.
The machine moved it’s legs as I directed them with basic sensors inside the armor. What parts I can move were extremely sensitive, so while my movements were awkward, it would adjust itself to me in time.
I saw no fiends around me or the burning caravans further down the pass. My motion sensors saw nothing either. I used the large hands on my Cataphract to tear off a door from our carts, I broke out the glass in a single motion of my hands. One side of the door was laced with straps and buckles to fasten down in case of danger.
They didn’t do the living any good, perhaps I can redeem one with a Rabenite leaning towards death.
I attached the chain on to the empty window frame of the door and drag it behind me back up the gravel hill.
I stopped my cataphract dead. Not a step forward. I won’t move my foot.
Like all Arbiters we were impartial in our dealings. We did so out of our feathering more so than our doctrine. We didn't recognize people as living, loving, and hating beings, but like an equation, or a scale. My foot nearly stepped on one of my own clan. I nearly threw up in the suit. A few gags and some retching kept my stomach’s contents in me.
He helped me straighten out after I left home for Arbit. I wasn’t always a rule follower. Poor guy. I’m walking in Cataphract armor that I’m not authorized to use. And all my elders for this convoy are gone, save one.
There will be a time for burial. But I must move now.
I reached some height on my way towards the summit again. A slobbering grunt and slurping jaws alerted me.
I aimed my visor at the disturbance to ready myself.
The face of a snake eyes me from across the chasm and passes of the higher trails. A peacock green and blue snake twisted out caverns. This snake-like creature was man sized and even looked big enough to take me on in the armor. A mane of feathers surrounded it's head as it’s tongue flicked the air. A hand sprouting from its body helped his neck stretch up to take in it’s surroundings. The a second hand, helped pull it up, then a third.
Some sort of long tailed three armed lizard?
Fiends weren't the only mutant on the boarder and if I waited too long, I would definitely meet the others.
I braced the ladder to descend the hatch again. The suit gripped the rail, obviously built to hold ridiculous weights. Rankivol had a knife and is thrusting into the body of the traitors.
He was painting a bloody message in the bunker as I arrived. Rankivol was unhinged.