The Raben Inheritance
Folter divided my squad with half of his squad, he sent us out after the Arbiter Caravan in the East and West. They are easy to track but Arbiters are to be given executive orders to rally their full number at the habitation area in the center of Avisland. Raben is only allowed into the city in squads of two. And Roost men must remove all armor before being allowed in. Basically its a neutral area. Avisland's knights need to address the threat of a danger from within. And Folter is rallying whoever he can."
-Personal Note: Marshal Verner-
Avisland: The Corvus Castrum, The Fate Clan Vault.
Armina paced in front of me. Her armor was stationed behind her but row upon row of weapons stood at attention. All of them were arrayed behind her. Helmets, blades, darts, spears, lances, pikes, gloves, armored plates, swords, chains, and bows.
It was a proper medieval collection.
Above us, hung long metallic barrels with wooden handles behind them; Jezails. And within a wide wardrobe, relics the secrets of the world before our own. Deadly armaments and defenses the world had never scene. Forgotten weapons and armors deemed too dangerous and reserved only for elite units.
“Hello again, Verloren Schwester Raben," Armina Greeted.
"I'm here for my first mission." I replied.
"Good, I show you some basics. Most squad we operate in are a team of four, but you will be a team of three that will link up with anyone you find. It is common knowledge that faster teams are smaller teams." She stopped.
Trish walked into the room as well.
"Hello Trish, is you squad ready?"
"Yes My lady."
"Good, Trish will be commander for the mission You are scout the northern border and connect with any Raben forces or The arbiter caravan that has yet to leave the pass. Add the ranks you find to your force, then divide your force into proper squads to cover more ground once enough have been found. Am I clear?” Armina asked Trish.
"Yes My Lady."
"Verloren repeat my orders." Armina commanded.
I repeated her orders quickly, “Meet up with other squads and incorporate their ranks into ours along the norther border. Find the Arbiter Caravan. Yes... My Lady.”
“Excellent, we have received zero signals or messages from our outlying patrols, you are to make contact and report back. I will be ready to receive your situation when you make contact with our forces in the field. Now please, take your equipment and prepare, you leave in ten minutes.” She took four steps backwards into her armored suit. The Cataphract closed around her and proceed to march away.
“I’m Trish, in case you forgot, I’m from the scout tribe with your squad mate here. Welcome aboard New bird. I’ll get you geared up this time but next time is all you.” Her black hair was wavy today. She took a band and tied my hair back. She fit a helmet piece to the back of my head to hold my hair and attached a plating piece along my visor. The helmet was complete. Hair was folded in carefully, eyes had good peripherals, and it wasn't stuffy.
“First missions are always strange.” Trish comforted me on the tension.
“So what would knock out the signals of an entire force on the mountains, some storm maybe?” I asked. Fall brought strange weather conditions from the wastes outside Nest Reacher.
Her face was not as narrow as Verza’s but a bit older. “It’s not a storm, but that would knock out communications, so good thinking. But our communiations went dead all at once. The Warden at the communications told us Bedded might need to send out egineers to the posts to fix up some of the lines.”
“So could it be a problem at the castle?” I continued.
“No, Corvus Castrum issues are a bit more obvious, Warden doesn’t claim to have these problems but the scouts do. And we can hear from every operative except the one's in the Norther border.”
She took a metal cylinder and fastened it to my shoulder and a second to my hip. Then handed me a spear. It collapses down to three feet, but at full length, it stood closer to nine. The end was razor and a deadly point. Of course, a chain and many wire spools fit into a back pack for me as well.
“I have you set up with thirty shots, poison dart cartridges, right there on your hip, and smoke on the shoulder. You’re on support, just throw smoke at us to keep anything unpleasant out there confused if you get a little red light on your visor. We’ll teach you some ropes if we can. While's we're out there”
“Okay, what’s next?”
“You have a spear, which is good for defense. Something charges, you stop it. Collapse it to move, but when you fight extend it to brace. Or use the pressure of the extension to lunch the spear head. Don’t do that unless you need to get the something stuck to your spear off… or shoot something, you never know.”
Three large packs were being loaded by a third squad mate. Rations and supplies, fire starting kits, hammocks, and feather oiling and cleaning lotions.
“Now I have a bunch of wire and chains for you, but I also have a combat knife to give you. These things are almost the sharpest weapons we have. Be very careful. Our spear heads use them for tips. The technology to make these was rare for the longest time, these knives are relics. They become heirlooms. Yours is old. Check the name.”
I look over the blade outside of its guard. "L.A.N.Z.E"
“Don’t take this the wrong way but we ran your blood through a system here. You’re Raben stock!” Trish’s enthusiasm was appreciated but worthless. I didn't know what that meant.
“What does that mean?” I asked as Trish laughs.
“You had a few relatives in Raben. That’s his name there. Our belongings are an inheritance for our next descendant to arrive in our Tribe. Which side of the family?” I’m more confused than enlightened for a brief second. It clears up quick. I shake my head lightly.
“I think it’s my grandfather if I have to guess. My grandmother is a famous Roostwoman. But my folks hardly knew him he passed away a long tie ago."
The third masked squad mate piped in. “Ah, fame. None of that for Raben. Only within the Tribe… save your questions for later. We should have some time in a moment outside.” He’s taller than me. His voice was melancholy, a bit tired.
“Name’s Volker, scout sniper.”
“Sniper?” He got even scarier when he talked.
He lifted one of the metal and wood stock Jezails off the ceiling rack. His back had a quiver of twenty metal rods, I still didn't know what the device did. Then across his chest are three revolvers. Tri-barreled hand weapons.
“Oh, thanks Volker, hey! Little bird?” Trish callrf me. I fixated on his mask before I turned to face Trish. Just my new reflection again. Jet feathers, night hair, and cherry eyes. He’s the same as me under that mask.
“Sorry, just confused.”
“You’ll need a revo and you’re lucky. Bedded got eight new models for us. We can do some training out in the field but in the meantime your hand will not touch the little peg here. Other than that, these things do not go off without that peg. Or the stopper we put in it. Or the rods we removed from it. You follow the rules, the weapon is not harmless but not dangerous to you.” Trish gave me an ear full.
“Tell her this on the go. We need to leave in two minutes. If we want to stretch out first, which I do.” Volker cut her off.
“Fine, someone's upset, rules and such later, gear now. Come on.”
She pried two shin guards off a rack and I buckled them on me. Next was an equipment harness to go outside of a vest. Shoulder pads, knee pads, and a mess of web-like black plates were strapped on. I needed some help with the last part. It needed to be tied on from behind. It felts lighter than I thought too. The best part was, none of these things broke when I tried to put them on. It was more durable than my every day stuff. I was slightly squeezed by the gear, but not too tight. The gear was slim, and nothing seems like it could be ruining the suit’s form.
I felt like a knife. Black, slick, smooth and sharp. A glistening weapon but also beautiful to the eye. Like the last thing someone would ever see. I clicked a switch on my gloves as Volker and Verza did ahead of me. Four blades flexed out of my gloves. Each to a knuckle, then all four were long and proper blades. I flexed the gloves quickly like Verza did and sparks flared out like shooting stars on a dark night.
“One minute early, perfect. We can stretch out. New bird! How flexible are you?” Volker asked in the same tone he’s used since my arrival; an unimpressed an impatient attitude.
“Never mind, just run through a few stretches with Trish.”
My legs stiffened when I reach my toes and I placed a leg behind me and another in front of me. Calves were stretched, then my feet were against a wall for a few moments. Finally, I lunged a bit. Trish had me lean against the wall and work my Achilles tendon.
“Alright Volker, okay new bird, get ready.” Trish hyped up our exit from the Corvus Castrum. We jogged out of the armory and into the main hall. With a jog accelerating into a dash, the lights above us blurred away into a single beam as the floor and ceiling drifted into in separable shapes converging on a single light. The metallic wall at the end of the tunnel had opened for us as the outside day exploded in front of me. The marble floor was gone. After we ran through a hatch that opened as we ran. Now a rough and brick floor gave our feet traction which turned into dirt and pine needles as we embraced the woodland surrounding the rear of the castle.
The decrepit ruins were in disarray and ramparts were crumbling under a nonexistent siege.
The sun was supposed to be restrained under my visor but it felt as bright as it had always been. Were my eyes already that sensitive to it? Were my eyes so sensitive that a filter maded the light seem average. The Corvus Castrum was tailored to Raben but was it more of a sanctuary? How dull must it have been inside and I wouldn’t have ever known.
“Run everyone, we need to be in the northern boarder today!” Trish shouted.
Volker made a striding advance and Trish pumped her arms. I felt the rush in my heart. A drum dribbling out a marching beat. My eyes widened like a balloon getting inflated and my lungs expanded and shrunk at lightning speed.
The rush arrived with a delay. We moved with more speed than even the bird Keepers I raised for the roost Tribe in my youth.
And at the base of the mountains, emerald grass whipped with the wind as hair stirred within water, ebbing and flowing to fluid. Volker vanished into the grass but a window opened in my mask’s corner. A noise cracks from within my helmet.
“Congratulations new bird. You’re on time for day one on the job.” His voice manifested. “Ahead are some warm ups. Move from the ground to the trees and then the platforms. Try not to hurt yourself already.”
And to his word, a path through the grass led to trees.
“Thank you, Volker.” I sighed after. “How does this turn on and off?” His hint at casual talk died in almost ten words.
I made a glance to see Trish’s helmet bobbing in the grass sea. Then she lept into the sky and dug her claws into the bark of the tree line we approached. With a scurry, she darted through the branches above me, arrow like and nimble within the canopy.
“Your turn Loren. If you don’t like the nick-name, I can just call you Verloren or New bird.” A second tab opens on my helmet, just below Volker’s.
My Raben stride was from the mutated muscles. I had never reached the speed I moved at just now. My feet left the ground in pure adrenaline. I spun in an accidental flip.
“Trish!” I shout,” my claw caught a thick limb. “Okay, now I’m stuck.” My arm was embedded in the side of a tree from the blades.
“Just wrench it free.” Trish calmly advised me. "But keep a grip on something."
I fiddled with my four main fingers and dislodge the blades out of the wood. Volker didn’t slow down for us so Trish and I had to catch up at double speed through the path in the tree tops.
I sailed through the trees like a boat through water. Moving with each branch and trunk like a wave. Ever since the dawn of our civilization here in Avisland, the pine trees mutated, now they can grow new trees from long branches arching out till they reach unsettled soil. They find good dirt and grow a new tree and leave a perfect bridge in-between. The next tree grows up through the years, lifting the first branch to a level height after a generation.
These were perfect paths in the trees. Canopy highways, since most of the paths for the tree’s tip in two direction for a premium path.
We ran for an hour. Before we reached the end of a hill that stretched into our mountain range’s early slopes. Trish has been explaining the landscape around the Corvus Castrum and what we’d be arriving in soon. Forest to mountain. That meant the trees would vanish and we'd have to maneuver through rock.
Volker who led our trio halted at the top of a tree and opens his pack. Volker’s mask activated his window in my corner. “Trish, set up Loren with her revo. I’m setting up our close-range communications. We’ll see if the issue was range.”
“Good thinking. Okay…” Trish placed her claws on a tree. She traced three rings each closer on the inside with the blade of her fingers. “Target practice. Step one, open the holster, two, never put your finger on that peg unless you want something dead. And you will want something dead someday, there are monsters on our borders. Three: check your safety, and never aim the end piece at any part of yourself, should go without saying but it’s happened. Then open this hatch here and feed in your darts. If it doesn’t fire right, or you feel something is wrong, try fixing it from the back not the front.” She opened my revolver and slid in three metal darts. These were among the deadliest weapons of the old world. Darts as big as a finger fired at speeds fast enough to mimic a lightning bolt.
“Now you click off your lock, then close your hatch and press that pin to fire at the tree, you got to point it, and line it up. Aiming is important and the target is close so it should be easy."
First lesson in the field, I’m not doing so bad so far. “Closed the hatch… check. Aiming, safety… off” I replied. As I ready my sidearm.
Volker sat at our right tinkering with a device and tying a large metal plate into a cone then tying the cone to the tip of a tree.
“Breath carefully. Focus and line up your end with your target and keep it level… then squeeze.” A blast escaped the weapon and the dart screams loose. I released a thunderous noise. The target in the tree explodes in shreds of wood with a metal projectile stake embedded in. The bark and the inner tree surrounding a few centimeters from the center were missing. As the tree’s dust cleared my accuracy was revealed.
Volker spoke from above us, “Nice work Verloren.”
Trish looked up to him, “how’s our communications working?”
“They’re silent. It’s not broken, there just isn’t a single device trying to talk. No one’s picking it up. There should be at least four in the mountain passes here.” Volker packed up the metal dish and the battery to place in his pack. He picked up his long Jezail again. “Time to move out. Stay armed.”
“Should we tell Armina?” I asked.
“Tell her what? She knows we can’t establish communication. We’ll head back when we can see our operatives.” Said Volker. His mask wasn’t even facing me. It was just looking over the mountains. “Or at least until we can tell her something she doesn’t already know.”
“Alright. We’ll link up to the post at the peaks.” Trish ordered.
“Okay, here we go again.” I said to lift the mood. “So how many posts do we have, any secret bases?”
“A few. What was it Volker? Eight posts to the north, six posts to the south if I’m not mistaken?” Trish tapped a switch on her helmet. “The east range has two since it’s virtually impassable. Massive peaks, no roads, no trails."
“Yes Trish. Does anybody else see smoke?” Volker didn't stop to inspect his observation, he purely pointed it out and continued his dash through the pines.
“Yeah, Volker sir. Should we… check it out?” I asked. A dash of formality might have been too much. But it’s probably best for the first time.
“Yes, Miss Schwester, the smoke is the same direction we’re heading. But we’ll arrive at the peaks in a few hours. From there we can investigate this whole matter in detail from some height. Also, you don’t want to fall when we start going up the mountain sides. And the title ‘sir’ is reserved for Marshals. ‘My Lord’ or ‘Lady’, is for Nacht Knights. We're equals."
Trish broke up his corrections. "Now I’m going to need silence. But open your masks, keep your senses aware. Hearing and smelling are as good as eye sight, just focus please.”
Pine was a strong scent. My mask opened up and that’s the first blast of sensation I’ve had in a while. You never get used to pine, It’s really distracting. The whole forest going up the mountain side was consistently pine, until the clay and the dry rock.
I wanted to talk so badly, just too many questions. But I’m hit with a new smell. It’s rank. “Volker? You catch this? Trish?”
“Oh smart girl.” Trish cheered. Not like Volker, Volker harbored a condescending vibe while Trist was genuinely impressed. “Yup, that’s a fiend alright. A Roost patrol was due yesterday, they get caught up Volker?"
"No Keeper tracks." Vulker adds.
Trish continued, "Roost keeps fiends off the borders, nothing on this border is feeling right today.” Trish stopped her dash.
Volker stopped too, with me in-between almost colliding into Trish. We were half way up the peaks and there wasn’t even a single snow cap on the horizon. Fall had been dry but the winter won’t take long to send coastal fogs and drifting moisture to the peaks, along with mountains of snow to put on top of the existing mountains.
Sharp rock was on my left and right and not the same kind as the way up. The trail to the summit was mostly a rough cobble with some jagged stone. This was pitted and rough. Without boots these rocks would have chewed through any ordinary shoe.
“See that New bird?” Volker asked. “It’s an old road from before the fall.” He turned to Trist, “When paving an area was simpler and not as dangerous.” Volker talked into his helmet.
Trish Gave an order at a moment's notice. “Squad, spread out, taken in your surroundings and observe the area, take note of any feature, no matter how small. The surrounding area is critically important.”
Trish lept high to peer from the last tree before it went down hill with rocks. She hang from the top sifting through the forests around the peak. Volker just sat poised. He’s an odd one, but not like anything I’ve seen yet. It’s like this has all happened before to him.
I caught it this time. Two things. Bedded always has to surface our roads, Roostman tend to make them dirty with their keepers.
“Trish, Volker! That’s it! There can’t have been a patrol, no tracks, no mud, no… Keeper droppings. It’s clean. But why the smell of Fiends then? Why would they be here if Roost Patrols the roads. Fiends are in the valley!”
“Loren… that’s a rough call. Roost just decided to let these roads go? Unguarded…in fiend territory?” She hung from the upper branches to move her presence down to her squad but kept comfortable. “Oh…Hell. What is Roost playing at?” Her tone intensified.
“Exactly. The claim is absurd Verloren, but it’s the only conclusion we can go off right now. We have to get the peak post now, then we’ll investigate the smoke. And Raben doesn’t use signal fires. We’re covert, not overt. It’s across the hill there and up the rock face. Directly after the mountain post.” Volker kicked off from his perch.
“Volker?” I glimpsed another sight, more disturbing and odd and the others. "There are claw marks on these trees. These are fresh lacerations on the limbs. It couldn’t have been any sooner than today or yesterday. I grew trees and animals would tear them up but thats metal into the bark. Animals aren't that clean."
“Raben claw marks?” He asked. He doesn’t even look at them. He’d seen them immediately when we stopped, didn’t he?
“Must have been the last group.” Trish said.
“Trish. We do not have the luxury of assuming this was an organized patrol. We can smell fiends, we have seen nothing from our tribe so far, and there is evidence of unauthorized Raben movements. The patrols out here stay in the peaks or on posts. But we have no contact so either they’re in disrepair, which they’re not, or our communications have been sabotaged. That’s happened before you know. We do deal with raiders too.” Volker looked to his claw for a second. Then back to the horizon.
We’re silent. Volker was a cold shoulder but he seemed to be growing his respect for me. I give him that, but he still stared at the peaks dotting the approach of light clouds.
Volker turned and spoke up. “It means we need to find a Raben soon or risk getting caught off guard.
Trish gave another order. "This isn’t right. I want weapons ready from here on out. Verloren… Keep armed but if you get startled, use your knife, your claws, or smoke. I better not see that Revo until you know you can hit the enemy with it and not your tribe.”
“Sure… Trish.” I placed the Revo into my holster. I freed the knife L.A.N.Z.E. Twenty-five centimeters of polished and refined metal. I’d worked with meat knives and flaying knives for food but a combat knife was slicker and nastier. The blade looked less suited for carving meat but more for sliding under a rib or protruding though a victim’s back.
Volker and Trish took the lead. We wove into our last tree line. Volker signaled us to stop.
At a whisper, “Draw claws. Three fiends, two in the open and the last is off."
Trish organized the plan, "I'll close into melee with my sword, Volker handle the Jezail and pluck the scalp off the last one. Verloren, I need close support. I want you just above me in the branches. If something sees us, open a smoke bomb. if something goes for you. You are to use your claws and knife to kill it. That means eyes, throat and chest are your targets. Am I clear?”
“Crystal.” I got a feel for my knife and pulled two smoke devices from my shoulder pack.
“If you have to open one up, hold your breath. The stuff reeks.” Trish warned quietly.
A case opened on her back and she freed a long blade. If I hadn’t handled metal tools before I’d have though of it as a beast’s tooth of some sorts, like a fang of a mutant snake.
Like a deathly nightmare, my lessons of our bloody past come forward. It’s a sword with a honed edge. The metal flowed straight and solid as she handled the grip and the weight. A perfect killing tool in it’s design and purpose.
“Verloren has some sword envy. It’s a Krieg Messer, war sword. Not a machete, not a cleaver, or a farming sickle. This thing is a title weapon. You can be issued one when you get promoted if you want. You’re about to see how it works.” She said as she gives the blade a flick. She lept down and crept along the ground toward her foe. She gracefully took four strides and bound into the sky.
“Volker, is she going to fight them?” I asked. Knowing my fear was confirmed. She was already advancing on them as Vulker set up his Jezail.
“Quiet new bird, I need to focus.” He mounted his weapon and adjusts his arms. "Follow Trish."
A few birds below the mountainside startled at the echo. A metal rod was sent from the weapon down towards Volker’s target. A pale white and naked creature was beating on a wagon with carnage hanging from its face. Its own jaw sagged like a corpse’s until a black staff opens a hole through it. Making the comparison a reality.
Trish abused the shock of the remaining two fiends. Her blade spun back and shot forward in an overhead arch like a oversized mousetrap. Splitting a fiend from above. One arm and it's head were separated from the other. A spray erupted from the fiend but momentum sent it into the dusty gravel at her right. The putrid stink only increased. Each stroke of the blade paints a self-portrait; a master at her work. The third fiend snarls and shrieks out. It’s sagging jaw was lined with incisors. Each of its arms creaked with its tendons barely hanging together. It’s eyes were black and sunken in. But for all its fragile rouses, it snapped at Trish with muscle and a cunning in it’s eye. The hind legs braced and propelled it into a frenzied charge.
A thrust impaled the fiend and a twist of her hips sent the foul sharp edge out of the creature.
“I might be sick.” I warned Volker.
“You’re kidding me?” He replied.
“What are you talking about? This smell is horrible.”
“Oh, sorry, I thought it would take more than a bit of blood to get a former Robin queasy. You have Nest Reacher’s butchers and farms so I though a bit of blood would be normal. You're doctors too. You open people up, rearrange their organs then sow them back.” He opened a filter. "Oh Hell, thats bad. Poor thing, turn on your filter. Why didn't we tell you about that?"
Volker called out to Trish. “Trish set up a fiend for target practice for Verloren.” Volker said to me without a glance. Trish keeled and cleaned her blade with a canister of water from her back.
“Oh… Right away, just give me a moment.” Trish muttered in her position.
“What’s she doing?” I ask.
“Praying, she does that…” Volker answered.
Trish bowed low and places her hands in her lap and spoke out to the air. She was wearing a face of humility and had removed her mask. Her night hair flowed in the mountain air rushing from the currents. She places her blade back into its bindings. She sealed it shut and stood up for her task.
Trish took a few steps towards a fallen fiend. She griped it and yanked it upright. She leaned it down and braced it up with a branch on the ground. Her talon dug into it and planted it before the monster heaved it’s corpse upon the support.
“Okay Verloren, here’s the plan. You have three shots to down the thing with each of your Revos. That means you have three shots per weapon. If you have one weapon and I guess you could try to throw your knife for four if you have to. Take aim and keep your hand off that pin until you want that metal stake out. Click that switch to unlock your weapon then I want to see that thing on the ground in your three shots.”
“Do I have to do this now? I can’t just shoot a target? I saw a High Guardsman fire a weapon like these once, he just put holes on targets. We don’t just have something like that?”
“No, a Rabeness like yourself is to be trained to shoot vitals. Take aim…” I move my weapon up to comply. Almost a muscle memory I can’t recall learning. “Fire.”
My arm had never been so still in my entire life. I had froze it perfectly. My feathers of my enter body extended out, a massive cool breeze flooded my senses.
My arm jerked backwards and I was sore at once. But it passed quickly. Just the shock at first but it faded. After that was pride.
“Good shot…I hope that’s not beginners luck.” Volker smiled under his mask. He had to be smiling, the surprise can’t have escaped his face if he even had one under his helmet. There was no way he didn’t. Trish had moved well out of the way before I fired.
I had placed my cylinder shot straight into the stick.
"Alright, We need to move again." Trish gave another command as Volker packed up his arsenal.