The Desperate March
"A Warden stood at the main hanger after our ravens landed. He barred us entrance to the main halls. Narr told him if he didn't step aside he would be thrown off the tower walls. With a note that the height of the wall might be enough to kill him or maybe just enough for him to survive the experience. This man had orders to not allow us in. Mafic and Felsic were the first to greet us in the hall. They were ambushed outside the Corvus castrum but slipped away. We split up. I would head to the vault with Felsic and Mafic, and Narr would rally anyone who would listen to evacuate the Corvus Castrum, to grab all food and equipment they could carry or load on their ravens."
-Personal Note: Marshal Verner-
Avisland: Outside Robin Territory, North Border Wilderness.
“I can understand a few of your tribe going rogue for a couple of offenses, but whatever this was, they had time to plan and communicate between two militant tribes.”
Rankivol was listening, but not eager to speak after the ordeal.
“They used fiends and Roostmen because they saw us as beneath them.” He mentioned. “This reeks of Schrieklich."
I dragged the half-awake Rabenite behind me. I’m high enough in status to at least have an introductory knowledge of Raben. My lady True had allowed me several meetings. And of course, we were both garbed in Cataphract armor at the time so I had practice, as Arbiter’s leading members always were in meetings. As a potential successor, I’d begun training for emergency maneuvers and self-defense at the time.
The secret police are in charge of regulating the power in Aavisland, not just Nest Reacher. Our community was but one third of the the game’s pieces, the other half lied in the hands of Roost's lawmen and Raben's Knights. We formed an alliance of the north. The south was Talon, Roost, Macaw, and Bramble.
Rankivol took a moment to speak, it was an odd one. "Mazan, did Raben ever hurt anyone you knew until now?"
No tribe could ever openly declare war on another, either militarily, economically, or out of spiritual reasons. But Rankivol's question was odd.
Transgressors would be warned once then Raben or Roost interfered. I’ve only seen two Arbiters meddle with corruption, and it was beside Lady True.
"Well, people I've known? Yes, there were two. First was the usurper Agrim, very prideful, and an insane opinion of himself."
"Did he do something to bring Raben down on himself?"
"He squeezed Tribe Bedded in a vice. Cornered off their jurisdiction to valuable ores near the border, unless they constructed him a high and thick wall along our headquarters with a pair of cataphracts."
"That will do it."
"He wanted to solidify Arbit’s position of power. Lady True informed me a Crow left a Note at his night stand. If he didn’t inform Tribe bedded of an immediate gift of territory and a total withdraw on their ore affairs, then he would pay with his life."
"Its not like Arbiters use or anyways. That was just spiteful of him at that point."
"Agreed. But the next day a Bedded Tribesman was offended yet again as Agrim tightened the proverbial noose. Agrim was not seen again for weeks, they found the body below a cliff side over seeing a headquarters for Arbit. Died sightseeing his new foundations. They say he fell but True tells me his throat was slit and he was shoved off the cliff. Roost barely had a moment to see the body before High Guard took over the investigation, and covered it up."
"And who was the other?" Rankivol asked.
"Next was Jade. I saw Jade myself. Beside Lady True, we were invited by Jade to a personal hearing. She told us of grand plans: our caravans could withhold Robin’s food supplies to the Roost Tribe in exchange for a change of laws. Whatever laws we wanted at that. Lady True was asked for her support and True promised it."
"That treacherous." Rankivol noticed.
"I know when Lady true lies. I’ve just been her student long enough. Jade got too hasty. Jade was warned not to proceed with her plan otherwise an accident would claim her life."
"Oh I know this attack."
"Without the slightest concern she withheld a food shipment to roost. Robin allowed them a two-week surplus should a season fail or an unforeseen event occur. But it would be tight until the next shipment arrived. Jade met with Roost officials within the High Guardsmen’s keeps to negotiate when a black feathered assassin hung from the outside of the sixth floor window. I spotted her but Lady True motioned me subtly to cease any notice. Jade paced in front of the High Guardsmen as she lectured them on their positions.
"Lady true was once a Bramble. She had a good relationship with a few Raben operatives after she found dirt on a few Arbiters. I met her for a questioning once."
"Lady True actually managed to get ahold of Raben. She tipped them off when Jade spilled the plan. But a Rabeness outside loaded a weapon and a massive crack through the glass exploded and a metal dart had hit her head."
"That's a Jezail."
"She attacked in the middle of the day." I finished.
"I was wondering because this was an ordered attack some how. Whoever didn't have the orders was attacked Like my post. I think The Warden Clan is behind this."
The Rabenite felt good enough to keep a limp behind me with a crutch from a solid branch as we walked off the steep paths of the mountain. The woods before us were stable and after an hour Ranivol requested the metal plate to be dragged again. I can’t blame him for trying to take the toll off me. He feels useless that someone else has come to his rescue and he’s too weak to protect himself. I know the feeling too well. But we both know he didn't have the strength to walk much less limp his way to safety. His hobbling was an act of will power.
He could crawl I bet, but he wouldn’t like that. I kept him laying down as we progressed along.
I’m going to need him alive to testify. That is if my tribe still exists. And if the Roost tribe still knows honor. If not, I’ll wager on the notion that Rankivol, an assassin from Raben, owes me a favor. And I’m going to collect it. The heads of the Roost tribe traitors at the least, but if he can, I’d like the heads of the knights that arranged this.
“Let me guess: Raben has never struck out at Arbiters. But everyone probably agreed super peacefully over the last meetings?"
"Not really. There have been raised voices from Roost and Raben. Despite this, it must have felt like a new leaf had turned and everyone had finally seen reason. They agreed to all terms and just left without a word.” I explained the politics.
Rankivol threw his theory at me. “All the terms were fair and no complaints were heard from Raben to the last meetings terms?”
“They didn't show for last meeting. Only a few over the normal number.” Two for two. “Where is your thinking going?”
“Yeah, you bit the bait hard, so hard you actually did not consider the opinion of a tribe that will never know glory. You have to throw that bone to us or we’ll get really fed up really quickly.”
“What are you talking about Rabenite?” I asked back to him. “We don’t take Raben for granted, they need us just as much as we need them.”
“Just the details. That’s all. You see, here at Raben, we’re abducted into service with no small amount of force, only it’s for the best honestly. Then we’re told to stay low, learn stealth, kill, save, and protect. Never does a man or woman walk down the street and notice a man he saved and receive a hero’s welcome.”
“I know what you mean now Rabenite. You hide in the dark so no one will ever understand your sacrifices.”
With my machine marching forwards by itself I have the luxury of conversation. Really armor would make this impossible. The weight would be too much and carrying a wounded Rabenite would be just as difficult. My Cataphract armor just killed two birds with one stone.
“Yeah, but it’s more than that. If I could have ever met a girl I saved after a few weeks. She recognizes me from my face since I wouldn’t need a mask. Then she invites me for some tea I meet her neighbors and talk to some friends. Have a drink with a few of the Robins by the fields. I'd love to settle down by the fields, have some kids.”
“Got a thing for Robins?” I teased.
“Oh stop it. Just pulling a tribe from the air. It’s not like anyone just welcomes in strangers with sword gloves on their hands. Anyways, Raben has a bit of a disconnect.”
“Someone who will never be the same… after what they've seen and had to do?"
"Sorry, Raben can get lonely. The last thing I want to talk about when I get back to my clan is about how well a knife was sharpened or how many necks were slit. And with Raben’s mark in various degrees of crazy, all the passion our tribe shows for each other is lust talking. Real sincerity is rare. And even then, it’s despised.”
“Arbit is just as bad. You want to hear about how some political treaty went down, again and again? Who agreed this time, you wouldn’t believe who disagreed last time. People also don’t even want to start relationships, we say it’s too much work without any pay off. I disagree but I’m also not the most potently effected in my tribe. Lady True is though.”
“Oh that’s dreadful. Look at us, an Arbiter putting and a Raben assassin, that’s rich.” He blushed. His mask was off
“You ever get free time to meet others?” He asked.
“My Vizier Knight is Lady True, I accompany her regularly but I have spare time, just seasons of it. Then seasons of work. But not for much longer if my luck holds out.” We were still not too likely to survive this ordeal yet.
“I know you’re as desperate as I am right now to make it out of here alive. And to be clear, I mean nothing romantic for the moment. Just wondering if we make it out of this do you want to share a meal some night?”
“Not sure yet.” I replied back.
“Okay, this conversation just lept off track. I love it though, I still need to apologize, we could be killed soon, so we should have some information straight.”
He did manage to cross several some major boundaries with these last questions. I don’t dislike it so I guess he had a point.
With time, I’ve been able to see him. Physically, he’s strong. Not like those in tribe Roost, but he’s naturally capable. God’s design had looks in mind. He was pleasing to see. His chin wasn’t too wide or short. His nose was not crooked, but his eyebrows were bold like his hair. His feathers were tar black and the very nature of their texture took away the swish they were supposed to make in the wind. Instead he’s quiet. And despite the chatter, he only talks because thats all he can do. He probably felt like he enjoyed the peace of the mountains and the forests. And it’s come to my attention he talks to ignore his pain not because he enjoys talking. When he’s quiet, he’s moving. When he’s quiet, I only have to wait a few moments before he winces.
And I mentally paired us up too. I’m a dark-skinned Arbiter, a head shorter than him, slender, and flexible. I was a Macaw before I feathered and theater and performances were part of everyday life. I can move quickly when I need to and keep up a pace. I wouldn’t call myself athletic but I was close.
I heard my family line once inhabited a region known as India. Many people here have as well. Most of the others descend from a place once known as Germany. We’re about fifty-fifty. And that was a long time ago with dozens of other origins thrown into the mix long forgotten. By now we’ve probably diluted those origins with an entire globe since.
“Okay back on topic," Rankivol got back to the life and death topic. Clearly Arbiters did something to make Raben pissed. "We have Marshals slitting the throats of innocent Rabens, cutting communications, and we’ve witnessed them stage an attack on Arbit.”
“To me… this came out of nowhere."I said as he tossed two pebbles at the back of my armor.
“We’re being trailed.” He freed and painfully loads darts into a cylinder weapon. His off-hand held a combat knife and his gloves were on.
“What should we do? Sun’s almost down. It’s getting dark.”
“They’re not in the trees. They’re on the ground. We don’t patrol the floor when we’re out for blood. It’s not effective. They’ll have four, a typical squad. Maybe more or less, but no more than six."
Mazan, got behind the downed tree.