Chapter 1: The Prophecy
It felt as if I was sleeping for a long time, but when I woke up, I was surrounded by mist. "Where am I?" I wondered.
Spinning around, I turned towards the direction where the voice came from. There, in the mist, a silhouette of an owl began to form. "Who is there?" I asked.
"Follow me..." The owl began to turn and walk away.
"Wait up, who are you and where are you taking me?" I chased after him, but the more I tried, the more he seemed to be further away.
"Hey, wait up! Please, wait up!"
"Wait up!" The words came out so loudly that the only other owl in the hollow jumped in shock. As I came back to the waking world, I shook my head, clearing the fog of drowsiness. Memories of what happened before I fainted were streaming back to my mind, when I was saved by two owls from certain death in a forest fire. Looking around, I spotted the other owl in the place. A Short-Eared Owl, I told myself then got confused as to how and why I knew that. "Who are you? Where am I?" I asked the owl.
The owl replied, "Oh, don't worry, dear, you are safe. My name's Matron and you are in the infirmary of the Great Tree."
The Great Tree? What does she mean by the Great Tree? I pondered. Then the image of a certain old Whiskered Screech rescuer of mine came to mind and my eyes widened in realization. "Do...do you mean I mean at where the fabled Guardians of Ga'Hoole are?" Matron nodded, smiling. I stared at her, amazed.
"Are you alright?" The nurse asked, giggling at the sight of me staring.
That question got me out of my stupor. "What? Oh I'm completely fine." I answered, blushing in embarrassment. "By the way, how long have I been sleeping? And may I know what time is it?"
"Well, ever since you were brought here since last night, you have been out like a light. And you woke up just in time for tweener too, you should be hungry right about now." Just then, my stomach decided to comply to her request, making a soft grumbling noise. Matron chuckled, clearly showing that she heard that, making me blush in embarrassment once more.
Tweener...that word bounced around in my mind. I thought I had read of the word before. It's the owl word for 'dinner', right? Just then, I heard some owl singing a song, and it sounded beautiful. I was absorbed by the harmonious music and the melodious voice that I barely took note of the words themselves. All I caught was something about 'day is done' and 'time to rise'.
"The Evensong." Matron sighed, enjoying the music as well. "Even though I've heard it for a long time, I will still never get tired of hearing it." Turning to me, she said. "Come along, I'll bring you to the Dining Hollow to get you something to eat."
I nodded, getting off the nest to follow her, but then something strange happened. I felt a sudden urge to go somewhere, to do something of utmost importance. I didn't know what it was and I tried to dismiss it at first, but it was constantly tugging me at the back of my mind. Sighing, I gave in. "Um...Ms. Matron?"
"May I...um, take a look around the Tree, please?" I asked, earning a questioning look from Matron. "I'm really not that hungry." I added, despite the growls my stomach gave.
"Well, ain't you the curious type? Very well, but if you want to go to the dining hollow, just approach any owl and they will take you there." Matron replied, then shook her head. "How rude of me, I told you my name and introduced the Great Tree to you and yet I didn't know much about you. Sorry about that. So may I know what's your name?"
"Erm, my name... my name is..." I strove to think of a name, any name but my own. "Matthias, yes, my name is Matthias." I replied quickly.
Matron nodded, accepting the false name. "Seeing that you are still a young Boreal, do you know how to branch yet? And do you know where we could find your parents?"
At the mention of my parents, I began to shiver in grief. Memories of our last quarrel and my last words to them before my kidnap brought tears back to my eyes. "No, I haven't began branching yet," I answered, forging on despite the tears. "But as for my parents, I...I don't know where they are." Matron looked confused, as if asking how could I not know where they were. Before she opened her beak to ask that question, I answered her. "We had a fight, I went outside for a while to cool off, and before I knew it, I was...snatched."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..." Matron replied.
"It's alright, I got over it already." I quickly reassured her.
Matron nodded and left the Infirmary. As soon as she was out of sight, I began to follow wherever the strange urge wanted me to go. Curiously, the urge also seemed to be that it didn't want me to be noticed by other owls as well. One instance was when I walked past a group of owls that seemed familiar in some way. Looking back, I noticed the group was comprised of a Barn Owl, an Elf Owl, a Burrowing Owl and a Great Grey Owl.
Oh, stars above! My mind made an accurate representation of a 'fan-boy' giggle. It's the Band! I wanted to go to them, to meet them and shake their wings, but the urge was pulling me back. I tried to ignore it, but the urge became stronger. Then my mind began to become fuzzy and my vision became blurry. My breathing felt labored, forcing me to take a step forward to steady myself. Only when the group was out of sight did the strange symptoms disappeared just as suddenly as they came. Sighing in resignation, I resumed my journey.
The urge took me into a hollow at the top of the Tree facing north by west. Taking a peek inside, I saw books, charts and many other strange things placed neatly around, for purposes I did not know. Suddenly, I saw a shadow in my peripheral vision. Turning towards it, I saw an owl, as if made of mist, looking at me and walking into the hollow adjacent to this one. Stepping into it, I could tell that this was a hollow meant for sleeping. There was a bed filled with down, moss and other unrecognizable apparatus and a small table next to it, stacked with books. The misty owl was at a small perch hanging by a wall. He pointed at the perch before walking into the wall.
Walking over to the perch, I examined it, knowing that my weight would snap the perch immediately. So why would he led me here in the first place? Gingerly, I placed one of my foot on it and it immediately fell off the wall. "Well, that was stupid." I muttered. However, I noticed a piece of string in the hole where the perch was supposed to be.
"This seemed familiar. Why does this seems familiar?" I wondered, carefully pulling the string out and tugged it. Then, I heard a creak and a hidden door swung open. My eyes widened at the recognition of this hollow from the story; it was Ezylryb's. "Of course this is his hollow,"I laughed as I entered the hidden chamber. "Those things outside must have been used for his weather-interpretation experiments! No wonder they looked so strange!"
But then what would happen if he or Octavia entered the hollow and caught me snooping around? I shuddered at the thought and quickly reassured myself that he would still be at tweener, or even at the Parliament Hollow addressing the Band for coming to the Tree.
I followed the passage to a small room where I saw his old battle claws hanging on a wall while being surrounded by books. The misty owl was there, by one of the book stacks. As soon as he laid eyes on me, he seemed to smile before fading away. Curious, I walked over to the stack and the first book to greet me was titled To Be A King, written by Hoole, the first King of Ga'Hoole himself. Though covered in dust and wrinkled with age, I couldn't believe that the last book of the trilogy was right before my eyes and still in remarkable condition. The spine might have changed time and time again for almost a thousand years but the pages themselves were surprisingly well-preserved. As I flipped through the pages, I couldn't help but read the tale of the newly-formed Guardians and the final battle they had with the hagsfiends and won, with the happy ending of Hoole living out his life with his mate. Reading it first hand, I felt...unworthy and guilty of even being close to this historical treasure.
Just then, I couldn't explain why, but I was compelled to turn to the last page of the book. On the page were his final words, telling of a Barn Owl who was destined to retrieve his Ember from the Scared Rings, a powerful and dangerous object. Yet at the back of my mind, something told me that this was not all. There was more, but what? As I stared at the page, something caught my eye. I went closer, narrowing my eyes to examine it. There, a message at the bottom of the page, almost invisible, as if the author had lightly scratched the message on the paper, waiting for the right owl to read it.
Scanning the chamber, I snatched a coal and a piece of parchment. Placing the parchment on top of the last page, I quickly used the coal to shade on it. Just as I predicted, the message was beginning to reveal itself.
When I finished my task, I began reading it, mystified.
But yet in the ember, I saw an Other.
An Other who has a noble heart and a generous gizzard.
Snatched from his home for a mad beast's desire,
To go through endless pain and sorrow for the mad beast's delight.
From the pain and suffering that he had received,
A desire to protect others he had gained.
Tortured beyond reason and changed beyond measure,
The seeds of loneliness and sorrow grew.
But a duty he must fulfill, a mission only he can complete.
For he already knew the tale, from the beginning to the end.
His journey starts here, both himself and the world.
For what that is written, must never be changed.
"But what does it mean?" I asked no one in particular. "And why do I feel like I was meant to see this?"
"It means you were brought here for this very reason." The voice spoke out, but not out loud, more like it sounded in my head. I quickly turned around and saw two owls in front of me, their bodies indistinct as if they were made of mist. And when I moved, I felt like I was...being separated from my body somehow.
"What do you mean? Who are you?" I asked.
The two owls stepped forward, a Spotted and a Boreal. "My name is Hoole, you will know me as the first embered king of Ga'Hoole," the Spotted replied, "and you were brought here for a mission only you can do."
"But what mission are you talking about?" I panicked, not liking the fact that I was kidnapped again, no matter how much better the current situation was. "And how was I brought here?"
"I brought you here." The Boreal spoke.
I peered at him, trying to see past the mist when I remembered. "It was you, wasn't it? You were the one who slammed me in the chest before I fainted."
"It was. My name is Grimble, and I was tasked by King Hoole to bring you here and help you in your quest."
"But what is this quest you are talking about? And why do you say that this is my quest?" I asked, scared of their answers.
"As the prophecy stated," Hoole replied. "You are to make sure whatever that was written in the tales must not be changed in any way. You are to protect those who must not die until it is their time and observe that the events take place just as they are supposed to."
"But why me, Hoole, why does it have to be me? There could be others who are more worthy than I am, but why did you still chose me?"
"Because it was you I saw in the Ember," Hoole began. "It is you who knew this tale from the time Soren was born till the time he is made king. It was you who was snatched from your family and was tortured and disfigured for the wishes of an evil Other. Yet, it was you who protected others who were snatched and tortured just like you and led the escape from your imprisonment. And it was you whose heart had became noble and strong even though they tried to break you after you were recaptured. You have done more than you realized, Martin." I flinched when he said my real name and looked away, wishing that he hadn't said what happened back there. Those were painful memories, full of pain, fear and misery. Misty tears welled at my eyes and started flowing.
"It is because of these I chose you among others." He continued, walking towards me. "You have a strong and noble heart, Martin, that is why I can trust you to finish this quest. And I know you can do it." Stopping in front of me, he raised my head so that all I could see was him. "So I must ask you, will you accept this mission?" His eyes were warm and caring, yet holding some guilt in them.
"I...I..." I withdrew from him, tears of grief still rolling down my feathered cheeks. I covered my head with my wings, shaking it in an attempt to shake the pain away. "I don't know. I just want to go back to my family. I can't do this, please, just let me go."
"I'm sorry but this isn't a choice, Martin, but a commitment." With that statement, it was like my heart suddenly stopped, firstly from shock, then from despair. It was then I knew, no matter what happened, I would still have to do it, forced to if I should resisted. Clenching one of my claws, my whole body shuddered in hopelessness, I quietly sobbed. Hoole looked at me in guilt, sighing before making a promise to me. "But once you are done here, you are free to return home. You have my word."
I looked up at him in shook, registering what he had just said. "Really?" I asked him. He smiled, nodded sagely. "Guess I have no choice then, I accept my mission." I replied, wiping my tears away.
Hoole nodded his head, his face full of regret, forcing an owl to take upon a heavy task, yet he must do this, for the Guardians and the rest of the Southern Kingdom. "There is one other thing." He said. "There will be times when you will reject everything to do what is right, even if it means changing the story, and you'll be tempted to reveal everything." Suddenly, chains appeared out of nowhere and quickly wrapping around my body tightly, but they were loose enough to allow movement. Looking at him, I stepped back in fear, afraid that he might do something worse. "This will make sure that that will never happen." Grimble walked over to pick up the other end of the chains, lightly pulling them to make sure they were secure. "You are also ordered to obey Baron and Barran, because from now on, they will be your king and queen as well." Hoole then looked at me, shame and deep regret seen clearly in the eyes of his. "I'm sorry," were his last words before the two owls and the chains disappeared.
My head drooped in sorrow as I felt myself returning to my own body. Looking outside of the hidden room to make sure no one was around, I quickly grabbed the parchment, closed the book and shut the door before rushing out of there. Back in the safety of the Infirmary, I sighed in relief while stuffing the parchment under my assigned nest. With the deed done, I exited the Infirmary, feeling a gentle breeze blowing through the branches as I made my way to the dining hollow, waiting for my first flight training to begin.