“We were attacked the moment we began mobilizing. It was unthinkable. The Natives were sent out first. The two Wardens in my squad refused to join the revolution. The Warden tribe was going independent. Apparently, the Fate clan wanted to stay as a single organization. Warden disagreed and the Arbiters got involved. They nearly condemned Warden but the Law men of Roost got involved too. So we have Warden divided, the scouts divided, Roost divided, and an entire powder keg that has just gone off."
-Personal Note: Marshal Verner-
Avisland: Robin Territory, Northern Border Wilderness
“Look who it is.” Trish pointed ahead to a pair moving below us. The land tilted down and we peered at the trees in rows and the ferns down our hill.
“It’s a suit of white armor, blue marks on the joints. I’ve seen those before.” I recognized the left shoulder symbol, it’s a painted crest that Macaw uses with their icon codes. A gear with two hoods on its sides. Arbit Vizier model Cataphract. Iconography is very specialized when painted by Macaw. It was almost a character writing system.
“Is the pilot an Arbiter or a Raben?” Volker pointed out mostly to get us thinking. He’s very calculating and so far, he’d been good with details. “I’m not sure we’re equipped to take one out with our weapons right now. Maybe in close quarters but not at range. Verloren might not make it.”
“Wait, I took a fiend out just fine.”
“I wouldn’t call that a proper threat to a Rabeness. An armed Cataphract suit? Different story.” Trish said. “And the one in the armor, no way an Arbiter would help a traitor who just did the unthinkable to their tribe.” Trish had Volker climb up and prepare a view.
“I think its an Arbiter, and they wouldn’t carry a Rabenite with trusting him, or wanting to interrogate him.
I clicked a switch on my wrist. The finger blades rotated to the knuckles. Volker loaded his Jezail and locked it back. He used his blades to grip and climb the trees around us.
“Oh, I see it now. It’s Rankivol!” Trish mentioned. “Custom claws. But he’s wounded, explains why she’s dragging him, female pattern armor. Whoever it is, she picked him up outside the bunker. A suit that big can’t climb ladders. So she climbed out and pulled him out.”
The sunset faded out and my eyes began to adjust. The world was pale but it was clear to me. Silhouettes moved like scissors and hooks lashed out above me. Merely branches and trees. As the light faded below a moon, the world went blue with the night.
We relied on our helmet communication. But my eyes still understood everything in the low light.
“We can’t just run down and say hi, if they were placed out by spies to lure us out, we’re dead, all three of us.” Volker informed us through our helmets.
“Any better idea?” Trish remarked.
“Verloren will introduce herself, we’ll take a position at her flank and her wing. But don’t stay too close. Remove your helmet” He planed out. “I trust you can play innocent in all this really well, you're confused, you're new, and most of all you don't know who he is and he doesn't know who you are.”
“I can see that working out. But what if they’re friendlies and they shoot first and ask questions later?” I interrupted.
“That's why you have body armor and weapons.” Trish said.
I moved down the hill towards them. I moved only at jogging speed. I just needed to present myself.
“Should I kneel? Curtsy? What the hell should I do?”
“Kneel? You’re not kissing a king’s ring. Just say hello with some confidence. Get their attention.” Volker suggested from his position through his helmet.
A quick sting and a sharp swing had my calf lighting up. From the ground, someone was lying in wait… covered in mud from trousers to the top of his head. My legs were swept out from under me and my view flipped up at the waking stars with the trees in the wind. The man below me was now above me with a revo.
“I know your squad can hear this, I want them out in the open now. They had a good plan I can imagine but mine was better.” His voice was tired. I’m frozen for a moment taking this confounding character in. Half naked, armed with a revo, and keeping his weight on his back foot.
The blood out side the bunker... He’s injured. He got jumped at the bunker. It’s him.
I turned my head away from him suddenly looking towards Trish.
He pointed his weapon behind me. The Rabenite turned and I swung my foot into his arm connecting with his weapon. The revo sailed clear and I swung my leg again to his shin. He tried to catch himself of his other leg but the Rabenite gasped out and screamed in a shudder with his leg clutched close to him.
With my mask off he heard me better, “I’m so sorry, I know you’re just being careful but I couldn’t trust you. Trish!” I shouted. “Bring any medical supplies we have, I know a few procedures from Robin. He needs a proper patch and some alcohol or something.” I say into my helmet. “He has several cuts and I just gave him a bruise. He is also bleeding from his leg heavily. Rankivol right?”
“Yeah I’m Rankivol. Don't attack Mazan.” He had to catch his breath.
“Who is piloting the suit?” Volker said as he approached from his side.
“What?” I said as a white machine advanced near me.
“Who is operating the Cataphract suit? Stay down, you’re hurt. I think I can make it a bit better.” Her arm pointed forward with two barrels pointed at her.
"Good to findd you two!" Trish said bringing up the rear. “We’re not your enemies, we found Alanza at the post.”
“We had her buried, the new bird here sent her off.” Volker said
“Rankivol, who are they?” The woman in the cataphract asked.
“Don’t worry, right here is Trish Raben Alt. There is Volkerous Raben.”
“What? Volkerous? This guy. Of the people?” I laughed even at gun point. Volker had been so distant for so long the sheer oxymoron of his name caught me off guard.
“Who’s that?” The cataphract pilot asked pointing at me.
“No idea. You, the new bird, I need a name before Mazan here shoots you.”
“Verloren Raben Scwester, Fate clan, I just feathered.”
“There we go, where were you from new bird?” He put his gun away and sat down as Mazan closed were weapons into her armor.
She walked up and let her machine halt by the four of us.
“I was marked from Robin, I had a rough transition, a Roostman, a close friend of mine tried to save me.”
“That's not true Verloren, you came in on the smoothest road I’d ever scene.” Trish said.
“That’s unfortunate. Following a Raben marked girl back to the Corvus Castrum, ouch. How far did he get Trish?”
“Verloren got him when he got through into the Corvus Castrum. But we can catch up later. I’m happy you’re alive Rankivol. You’re a sight for sore eyes. And you, Madam Mazan. Your protection is our number one priority at this point.” Trish took the lead again. “Who can we trust?”
“What do you mean? I’m not heading back to the Castrum if we have traitors lurking about.” Rankivol voiced.
“No, as much as I hate it,” Her visor lowered, “We need to go to Roost. But not just any Roosters. We need to take this to Kaiser. He’s been a reliable ally to both Raben and Arbiters.”
Her eyes were wide but her brow was thin, her face was angled down at us, but that’s just due to her tall armor. Her hair was a rich and dark brown, not a pitch like Raben but a fruitful lush, like fine chocolate, or a polished wood. Then her gorgeous blue feathers.
“Sorry Raben. I have Arbiter envy. I always wanted to be an Arbiter, childhood dream, sorry continue.” I interrupted Looking for any sign of her blue feathers.
“If you became an Arbiter, you’d be dead. You saw the convoy? It’s-” Mazan was knocked back as if struck by lightning. Her entire suit of armor was brought to a knee with an echoing blast. Dirt on the ground to her left exploded into dirt clods as what ever ricocheted off her back struck the ground from behind her.
Mazan’s shoulder lurched again as her suit absorbed an impact. A black spike was protruding from her armor this time.
We’re under attack.
The blasts of sound echoed around us from everywhere. After Mazan flinched, her visor closed instantly as we scrambled. She fumbled when more shots dented her armor and grounded her behind a tree. I sprinted up a side in the brush and branches until I found a rock face and began climbing. I crawled into a rain carved dent in the side. Trish was behind me and was trying to pull me out.
Mazan pulled the rod free from her armor but collapsed down.
There was no silence. The shooting stopped, the ricocheting metal darts had ceased. But my heartbeat and the rhythm of my pulse pounded me.
“Ver-” I hear something through my headset. “Verloren?” It’s Volker.
“I’m alright, just spooked. Who fired at us?” I asked back. My panic died at his voice.
“Listen, I’m pinned down with Rankivol. Stay low. That was a sniper. I’d say three but the third just ran for help. I have a shot ready but I need the other two occupied. They’re from my clan, scouts. Their weapons will skewer you. No more talking they might be listening in. Look to Trish.”
Rankivol had grabbed his helmet in the confusion. Volker and Rankivol were with Mazan under some foilage and some solid cover.
Two cracks pierced the quiet. A third shot fired back. This was a firefight in the night and my feathers vibrated with a tension before a calm breath stilled me to my core. I had to stop them. Trish signaled me to follow her as we left the crevice .
I inched up a rock face just under the sniper’s perch. Gave away their position as another crack echoed out with a light flash from above us in the night. I surveyed the scene from my spot in dense forest. More echos stung my ears as pieces of rock and dirt were sent flying from the wall Volker was firing right next to me.
Trish tapped me. Then made a grip around the metal beams lodged in the rocks from Volker. They were making hand grips in the rock for me with each shot. It was time to move in.
The metal bars were embedding themselves above me. Two long darts had a good handle for me to spring up on the shooters. I had a single moment. We reached the top of the rocks slightly above the shooters.
After the next shot towards Rankivol I found them below us in their very own camouflaged nets. Two Rabens in bushes that Volker called out, and one on my end. The shot was much louder when I was just above the front of the weapon. Just out side of his peripheral vision, we crept close.
To my right on the rocks from the last hill before the forest flattened out I saw a Rabeness. A black pony-tail poked out from the back of her Raben helmet. Leaves and moss were padded onto it for camouflage. I look to Trish for confirmation. She signaled with her claw squeezing like a vice around the air then activated her knuckle blades.
I descended straight into her position with knuckle blades out. I loomed and lashed with a scream in my throat. Before she could even understand I had my blades in her neck.
The blades shifted from the knuckles to the finger tips for a grab at her neck. And a swift bloody clench tore away access to air. She was prone looking through glass on her weapon.
She was on her belly in shooting position and I could feel her flesh shearing under the claws. She had body armor below that point and it served her for nothing. This was the Achilles’ heel. All four blades split her neck open with a different entry. One hand, four impacts, and one river of blood.
She rose quickly flailing around with a free knife. She'd bleed out but she was still dangerous.
I moved with her desperate motions and slammed her into the side of the rocky sniper's perch. I had her pinned now. My hand was plunged down and I lashed my combat knife into her side with my other hand. Blood whipped out and created a patter in streaks from each strike's force. A second attacker fell upon me from the front but Trish’s blade lopped off the clawed hand and returned back for a second swing chopping into her foe.
I swung the dying Rabeness into the rocks on the floor.
The woman’s mask opened in the chaos. Blood and tears meet me. With a puncture in the back of her neck with my knife in her side, she convulsed as blood spurted out her nose and lips. Her nose and mouth dripped. Her face was soft and pale. Her black hair flowed out from under the top of her helmet with mud and greenery laced into the top of her helmet for camouflage.
Her red eyes stared at mine with tears in them. Her eyes had a soft glow in the early evening, an unearthly red shimmer. My own tears broke through to meet hers. I was frozen, holding a dead Rabeness against the stone by a pair of talons and a combat knife. A pool formed below us. So much blood.
My communications sent some message through from Volker and Trish but it was just a distraction from the isolation of the moment. The adrenaline was fleeing me now and chills rattled my bones. They quivered like a musical gong struck too hard. Only after a few moments, I removed my hand from the inside of her.
“Verloren...” Trish called out next to me. “You alright?”
“She’s dead.” I said like I didn’t believe it. I’d done it. “I know, no, just…Ah!” I screemed.
I did it. First mission, I just killed a girl only a few years older than me, probably. I didn’t even flinch when the moment was near.
“Rankivol, her first kill. She’ll need a moment. You lucked out you know. They were moving very fast, they used Messers, not Jezails. Mazan might have died if they had stronger weapons.” Trish said to the group coming to our position with Mazan and Rankivol moving slower.
“I figured that out.” Rankivol put his uniform and some of his gear back on. “You like the decoy? They shot a few holes in the dirt Mazan was towing. ”
“Very cunning there. You fooled us, but Verloren pulled the rug out from underneath you. But you still had a back-up plan.” Volker gave Rankivol a jab in the shoulder to humor him. But he groaned, obviously he still had wounds.
“Hey, save whatever amount of cheer you’ve been building up for the new bird, Volker.” Rankivol pointed to me on the ground, sitting in the blood of my tribe.
Volker rushed over to me. Very uncharacteristic of him.
“Hey. You hurt?”
“No, but she’s dead. She could have been like a sister. She should have been my friend Volker! I don’t know, I don’t even know.” I felt a hand. A hand of bone and ice. It was scrapping me. It felt dark. Like a blind and a deaf miasma floating and creeping in the air.
“She was an enemy and I can tell you exactly why.” He picked up her weapon. A jezail of some sort. But it’s a tad smaller. “She shot Mazan. No friend would go after the Arbiters under orders or even with good evidence unless that Arbiter was a traitor and corrupt. Mazan was never warned. She was betrayed. And you stopped them. We must put a final stop to this. Because no one else will Verloren. Roost can try but what will happen to your parents if these traitors lash out at innocent people? ” Volker took off his mask.
Clean shaven, pale and muscular. A single red eye sat on his left with a patch on his right. He had a strong face. Scarred and hurt, he continued on.
“Can we put an end to this all?” I asked.
“We always do new bird. We always have, Miss Schwester.”
Mazan was sitting with Rankivol. She was very armed but she didn’t fight. She had rescued one of us; that Rankivol character. He seemed trusted and if they want him dead it means we want him alive.
Volker threw me the bloody rifle from the woman’s straps on her back.
“What do we need to do now Verloren?” It clicked. Something in me just roused a fire in the cold. I was calm, calm and settled enough to help out.
“We need to get the Arbiter to safety Volker.”
Rankivol motioned me to talk with him.
He leaned close. "I'm sorry for the kick, Verloren. You alright?"
"Yes Rankivol. Let me look at your leg again." I said returning to my old ways in Robin. Leg injuries were never pleasant but I could do some proper first aid. But painkillers would do more for his person than anything else now. I did what I could and he should recover in a few months but keeping him mobile would be tricky.
We employed stealth with Trish and Volker taking the point with Rankivol and Mazan at the rear. I was in the trees with the traitor's firearm.
We examined Mazan but aside from a bruise on her chin from the impact, she was unharmed. Maybe a concussion but I examined her eyes and they had no issues with dilation. The armor saved her life.
I didn't know how long I could take this with everything Everything as collapsed as it was. Life was so stable before. I farmed I worked on the sick and injured. I cared for animals and raised them. Now I obey kill orders, and pull flesh from bones like a vulture.
I moved through the brush by Mazan. I had a new weapon now. He gave me a messer. The weapon worked just like my revo only it was bigger and need a shoulder rest. It fired more times and hit harder. Revo’s made a solid weapon to begin with, but the Messer had the range. Only issue was, the weapon couldn’t even touch Catatphract armor as Mazan displayed. But nothing I had really could anyways.
“Who’s got the plan right now?” I asked Trish.
Mazan answered, “We’re going to a civilian only bunker. It’s smaller than your mountain post but it can work as a shelter. So hush now, we're there and we should hope we're the only ones there.” Mazan said before silencing the group.
“That’s it… isn't it.” I whispered.
The squad halted and Volker moved closer to the group and climbed a tree, looking down on us, he perched and scanned the area from his position.
The bunker ceiling hatch poked out of the floor just barely a foot from the ground. Roots and moss had overwhelmed most of the surface and if time allowed them, they would have smothered out the entrance long ago. But our squad knew exactly where to look.
Volker examined the hatch carefully poked at the moss around it and knew for certain, the door had been disturbed recently.
“Keep back! Masks On! Old native trick! Loren! Mazan! Get back!” Trish and Volker were engulfed in a cloudy spray and a sudden burst of fog erupted out from the ground.
“Classic.” Trish started to twist the hatch as the smoke cleared.
“I see,” Trish said.
“Are you okay! Someone explain that to me!” I shouted.
“Poisonous gas. We teach it to all Fate Natives. They’re not Rabenites but they need a good ace up their sleeve. It never hurt…” Said Rankivol.
“From now on I want Verloren covering the rear, Trish keep ahead of her.” Trish commanded after the gas.
“Hey, no favorites Trish. If you like our dear Miss Kind, special treatment isn’t allowed out here.” Rankivol shouted out.
The hatch Trish was twisting popped. “Got it, and no worries, Raben helmets can filter this stuff out. Just keep them on for a bit.”
I jumped down the hole with my weapons and Trish. My knife acted like a bayonet.
“Drop your weapon!” A boy shouted from the bottom of the fox hole, he was holding a revo as did two others. A black Raben helmet was on his head but no feathers lined his wrists. The poison still seeped down here but our masks protected us. As did the crowd gathered in the bunker, all masked.
I set my weapon down slowly.
“Who are you?” he couldn’t recognize me. Behind him are two small children and a small crowd. A boy and a girl, all masked. At his left is a fourth Raben Native with a mask. He’s holding a black sword and a revo while the other at his right just carries a revo. Behind all of them the metal frame and the concrete contain more than just Rabenite Natives. Arbiters. Blue feathers cowering.
“Prove to us, you’re on our side!” one of the young boys shouted.
“Mazan!” I shouted.
Eight wounded and weary people emerge from the back. But there’s a few Arbiters. White shoulder pads covered one of their arms with a symbol of a gear with two hoods facing away from it. Another Macaw icon.
An older man from Arbit shouted to stop them. “Wait, you know that name?” he said through a gas mask.
“She’s safe, she’s right up with us. I can’t have her come down though. Cataphract armor is too heavy to work with ladders I hear. But she’s alright, she saved one of our operatives.”
“Okay, the Warden and the Scout clan have been after Arbit survivors. I want your squad down here. I have information you need to hear.” The Raben native claimed. Volker turned off his helmet communicator and Trish did as well. Rankivol and Mazan got down after she detached her armor.
“We evacuated the Corvus Castrum, the Fate clan is under attack as are loyalists from all parties. Lady Armina told us to escape through the mission briefing exit and take anything we could carry. She wanted us to head straight for the Roost fort, the uh, Festung! That’s it. Only there were Great Ravens patrolling our way. Wardens too. Wardens are not friendly.
Mazan listened very carefully.
The second Raben native continued. “They had their hooks hanging off the back and everything. And a fire started at a Robin field. Raben Scout Clan snipers have these areas under watch. We lost one of our own in an escape. They pinned him to a tree from one-hundred meters. We knew a few spots safe to hide but we spotted Arbiters sealing a hatch.”
“It was the least we could do. These were no traitors.” The old Arbiter replied.
“They let us down to hide. They know we’re not civilians but they know we needed shelter. We had no feathers so we tricked them at first. But we explained afterwards and we’re all okay. We would have done the same for them.” The natives explained.
“I’m a Fate, we’re gathering survivors. I’m Verloren Raben Schwester, I just feathered into Raben.” Introducing myself.
Mazan peered down, a small mask covers her moth to a tank of air she pulled off the war suit. After her suit freed her to the ladder.
“Mazan! You’re alive!” The Arbiter shouted through his mask. The only thing not white on his uniform. His blue feathers waved at her desperate to embrace her.
“I found the armor. Tave managed to unlocked but died before they could open it up.” She assumed. “There was a matching male design that’s missing.”
The Raben Native spoke to me while everyone made plans and counted the people.
“My name is Anson, son of Diener and Orcidee. Fate native.” He said.
“Hello Anson, I just feathered into the tribe this week. I’m the new bird.” I told him.
“Oh, were you the Robin?”
“You beat up that Roostman pretty bad.” A torrent of evil emotions and wicked moments grabbed at me.”
“What’s our plan now?” I asked. And stood outside the bunk as Volker left to circle the area. Trish sat down by a tree and thought. Her focus was almost a sensation I could feel. She was completely honed towards a calculation of some sort.
Something relieved my focus off the bunker and my squad. A panic at first.
Black feathers fell as a croak broke out, then more. At a glance to the sky, Great ravens twisted in the air above us. The hatch acted like a window to the canopy above and through it, two fliers twisted above us in the clouds through the canopy. The talons of the birds collided and their riders dueled. i witnessed the slightest glare off them from the moonlight as wicked claws soiled their shimmer. Blood blotted out the flicker and one bird plummeted, chains and hooks hanging from it.
“Verloren, into the bunker!” Volker shouted. Trish and Volker sprint off. A plummeting corpse sent a young tree snapping and wooden shrapnel everywhere. Chains and hooks whipped one last time and the blades embedded themselves in the branches and trees around it in a morbid memorial to a downed Great Raven. The bird crunched into the ground as all of it’s chains and hook had stopped snapping around.
I open the hatch after the noise stopped. A pilot and bird was smitten against the floor. A Warden dead in the saddle. A tragic sight.
Talons from the pilot’s adversary gave us a message as to the power belongign to the one overhead. He was sliced several times in the air. Volker rushed back to the scene. The bird was still. It’s wings were clipped from blades and claws and three spears were in it’s torso.
The sound of Great ravens cawing didn’t stop. And to my rear, a pair of taloned lash out and hoisted me off the ground. I’m screaming and trying to get free but it has a talon in a vice below both shoulders and under each arm.
“Calm down! You’re fine! It’s your bird! It’s your Raven!” Trish shouted.
“Hex! Hex!” I shouted at the creature.
She bent her head to make eye contact. Her enormous eye squint at mine. Remember me? Feel familiar. I can imagine it asking. I held it at a similar position last we met With a claw in its leg. It lowered down and lets me loose.
“Hex!” It croaked out. It’s parrot-like mimicry of my frantic yelling mocks me. “Hex!” It squeaked out higher this time then cawed like a fickle laughter as it bent down and tilts its head at me. “Hex.” It blasts at my face from its expanded bird throat.
Trish walks over to me on the ground. I’m huffing from the relief and the confusion residing. Trish gives me a pull up leans me against on of the hooked trees. The chain is still attacked to the crooked blade, in turn, attacked to the dead bird.
“Your bird is a witch! You really couldn’t have named it any better.” But someone set it loose. “It must have been in training. It came straight to you, Verloren. Or it was just hungery and you are a food provider.”