From Marshal To Guardian, Part One: The Crossing

The Girl From Another Place

Northern-Ambala, Southern-Kingdoms

Close to 1:30 a.m.

Christopher Barnes Markson, ex-TSA

Latimer has immediately began to speak as Chris has approached him, nodding to the ex-marshal roughly mid-sentence as he had introduced himself; proceeding by preliminary analysis, Barnes had thought this owl to be rather... non-hostile and trusting, to live with the expressions that Markson was mostly unable to use in the past hours - if not days.

- Well, you must be Silverbeak - of course, only if you are not bothered by that name? - so far, this Barn owl was the first to ask permission for the usage of this somewhat bothering nickname, passing on a pleasant surprise to Barnes as he was about to answer; but, he was cut short and silent, as the bird has not yet spoke everything that he has planned on saying - Nonetheless; the name is Latimer, Lieutenant of the Ga'Hoole Investigatory Division, but... do not let this rank to give you this typical sense of dividedness; I only look at it as a... „courteous-title", not as an excuse to order you around or for you to stay quiet when I speak - at this point, Markson was originally planning to reply with something that could be interpreted from multiple perspectives, or with something sarcastic; deducting only from the previously declared, the Barn owl, suddenly, did not appeared to be overly pleasant to the ex-marshal.

„Rather ironic, I must say, taking that you have technically just stopped me from talking!", thought Barnes, hoping that his eyes had not gave his real feelings away, „In addition, I was not planning on receiving that typical sense of dividedness, in case you were wondering", he finished in his head.

Then, Chris needed to realise that he was prematurely concluding from the set of only two sentences, which was, obviously, not even near the sufficient amount that was required to do, at least, a regular and basic analysis; thus, he has decided upon the action of „staying emotionally- and intentionally-neutral".

- I would prefer the name „Markson", to be honest - he began, also nodding towards the Barn owl in the meantime; from what he has seen so far, Barnes took this to be these owls' variation of a human handshake - So... I was told that you will show me to the scene of crime? - the ex-marshal was highly hoping that his (technically) foreign vocabulary was not-so out of context in this current scenario; from the answer that has followed his question, Chris has deducted that, luckily, all of the words have been properly understood by the owl, giving the ex-marshal a sense of relief, as he was still unsure of what expressions he was able to use without creating any further complications or awkward situations.

- Certainly - replied Latimer, then gestured with his wing towards the entrance of the hollow, which they have now began to casually proceed towards; strangely, the previously mentioned have visually appeared as if it was a black-hole, sucking in all the light around it, turning the vicinity into a dark and unwelcoming area on this birch-tree.

Alternatively, if one would have analysed these current features with the power of logic, it would have been clearly realised that the sheer reason of why this hole-in-the-bark was such a „sinister" sight was due to the fact that it was night-time, and, usually, at this point of a day, everything grows murky and dim, meaning that the visual appearance of the hollow's entrance did not beared any level of significance.

Markson, for most of the time, was attempting to not rely on the „illusion" of first impression; the idea that an intelligent and communication-capable being's intentions and characteristics could be, let us say, deciphered on the first encounter, to Chris, was bizarre - albeit, with his personal thoughts about the notion, he would have mainly described it as, and may we excuse him for the usage of primitive language, bullshit.

The whole concept of first impressions was, once again, to the ex-marshal, an ignorant form of perceivement; fully knowing and „understanding" someone from the point of becoming his or her acquaintance? Now, that was easily and simply a pseudo-style idea.

The above was Barnes' primary reason to keep his true, inner-emotions, unconscious-reactions and -gestures concealed when conversing with the Barn owl - Latimer, to be referred to specifically by his given name; if Chris sticked along with common sense and used regular judgement, he would have categorised the bird as „one of the good guys".

Of course, this expression does seems a lot more uninformative than its opposite, and would explain a great deal if it was analysed in a well-thought-out reconciliation - which was exactly what Markson took as an action; he played around with the concept of his remark for a bit in his head, then concluded that, for another time, he has compared the situation to his past experiences:

Back at the TSA, Chris has met and saw a massive group of people, and each of these individuals did had their wide varieties of experiences and personalities amongst themselves, which has usually impacted on how the ex-marshal behaved when they were in his vicinity - be that an operation or situation, or just another day in the office.

Then again, it was mandatory for such an administrative-force to keep up their stability and order, thus, all members of the agency were required to work along with and to handle all characteristics they might have ran into, during their line of work; one always had his or her pick of people (or, occasionally, conflicts), but, at the end of the day, the TSA was too elite to be assaulted by the press, which, on a level of common agreement, would not have been profitable, for anyone.

But let us return back to our main topic; the detailed description Barnes would have gave about the, may we say, „title", that he has only called as „one of the good guys", would have consisted of the following sentence:

The type of person - be that officer or agent (or, to be a bit more contextual, owl) - who, beyond the norm, average, and the basics, fully understands and lives with the nature of his or her work - which is more than just a simple job. At this league, it would count as a responsibility; he or she is successfully and efficiently able to communicate and to co-operate with anyone when the requirement arises for such, and is usually capable to handle most situations (be that in the category of „line of work", or in the topic of „private matters") that life throws at him, or her.

Additionally, Markson noticed something else, in connection with Latimer, as well; he was smart - not by the full-intelligent „lexical-knowledge" some would have bragged about whenever they had the chance (Barnes now specifically refered to someone by the name of „Boyd Tate"; but, almost immediately, he realised of what he has just actually thought, then he scolded himself, recalling the saying that „one should not speak ill of the dead"); no, this owl was able to perfectly and efficiently analyse a given situation, which, considering his presumed line of work (which strangely reminded Markson of an investigator, as if he was working for the FBI), had the potential to give many favours to this bird now, and in the future.

- I trust that Valery has informed you about the victims, our suspect, and, all-in-all, about the murder itself? - inquired the Barn owl, turning his look at Markson as he spoke; his answer first began short, then, as it progressed, it grew in its length.

- No, she did not - sounded the response's primary section from Chris; however, the second and last part of his thoughts were just about to verbalised - Although, she mentioned an unexplained phenomenon that has occurred in this... „gray-marsh", I think it was called - he glanced towards Latimer, who, instantly knowing (another highlight from his exceptional traits) that the ex-marshal was expecting a sign of reassurance, nodded; after that, the current speaker continued on - I must say it, though, that she was... notably emotional about it, and I am not meaning to complain or anything, but I think that I have experienced her worst side for a minute at that point - he concluded, then turned his head towards his front again, and began to deeply study the outer-structure of the birch's bark.

-Ah, yes, the Graymarsh-Incident. Honestly, I would not blame her; of course, she should not have came down on you like that, whatever the circumstances were. After all, it was not your doing, was it? - smiled the owl as he was, with great effort, attempting to lighten the mood and its tenseness with a joke (which even Barnes took to be a terrible idea, taking that the topic was, as seen beforehand on Valery, is a rather sensitive one); awkwardly, no one has laughed, not even the bird himself - ...Anyway, I believe you now know that the incident at Graymarsh is a rather... critical subject to converse about... - it was unclear if Latimer has just took a dramatic-pause, or simply lost the track of his thought; either way, Markson has now took over the role of the „speaker".

- You could say that, yeah - he stated, then, seeing that the hollow was not that far away in the (rather short) distance, Chris decided that it was the perfect time to hasten up the speed of the events - Since Valery did not, could you give me a briefing about this murder-case? - Markson's feeling of worry (for some reason originating from his stomach-area) surfaced once again; he was, for another time, unsure that all the words he had just pronounced were known and used by these owls.

A few seconds later, his suspicions were proved to be „spot-on", as Latimer has appeared to be a bit... confused, to say the least, as he has cocked his head slightly to the right, displaying the obvious and clear signs of confusion on his face - he was not exactly having a grasp on what Markson was trying to communicate through.

- ...Briefing? What do you mean by this, if I can...? - he started, but, shorty after he initiated his process of talking, Barnes has interrupted and cut him short, and began to go through a more clearer explanation.

May it be stated in his defense, the ex-marshal was, in this exceptional situation, not losing his patience and temper; simply, he was just saving time, and Latimer's breath.

- Could you give me the details of what has happened in that hollow? - his (we could say) answer to the owl was sufficient with its content, although this could have been rather obvious, as Latimer has signaled that he has understood with a swift set of nods and an „ah" expression.

- Definitely - the Barn owl has cleared his throat, then a massive flood of brand new informations (to Markson specifically, of course) began to stream out from his beak - The victims are a family of Spotted owls, Strix occidentalis, consisting of a father, and two chicks, both being female and roughly about twenty nights old - so far, Chris managed to make sense of everything, with the help of focus and close interpretation of words; he was hoping that he will be able to do the same for the following sentences as well - Yesterday, around Last Light, we have received a report from one of our scouts that there has been a suspicious happening near this area, multiple owls who are currently dwelling in the vicinity reporting a set of shouts, then screams; one of them was even brave enough to take a peek into the hollow. They say that he went yeep a few seconds after that - for most parts, Markson followed the spoken words, without problems, only feeling unconfident about this „yeep" thing; nevertheless, he carried on with the listening - Two hours later, our teams arrived at this spot, and established a perimeter, allowing no one in or out, except us, obviously - Latimer has kept a short pause as he recollected some of his thoughts - We have examined the hollow, identified the bodies by their descriptions, then found something that we were not expecting to be still in there... - Markson did not allow him to carry on, as he was positive that he could have predicted the exact words the owls would have said.

- Do not tell me that you have found your suspect; the one Valery has mentioned to me? - the Barn owl gave off a pleasantly surprised smile, the nodded before he carried on.

- You have an investigator's mind, Silv... Markson - he corrected himself in the last second before he fully pronounced the word - Indeed, we did; a fully-fledged and -grown female of the same species as the family. The ones who live nearby were even able to give us a name - another short pause was kept by the bird; the ex-marshal has noticed that he was not disturbed by this anymore. A few seconds do not matter anyway, especially when a given situation was not exactly the prime-proof of the phrase „danger" - Bethany, she is called, and our witnesses stated that she is, or now, was the part of this family; the first-entry teams had found her distressed and confused in one corner of the hollow, appearing to be mumbling to herself...

- You said that the first ones of you have arrived two hours after the reports? - intercepted Barnes, not bothering to apologize this time, though - If she was the one who had committed this murder, which we can only assume, for now, why stay at the scene of crime? I mean, she is a bird, able to fly away and all that, am I not correct? - Latimer stopped and closed his eyes for a second, and, a moment later, opened them up again as he replied to the ex-marshal's collection of ideas.

- Believe it or not, we were having similar thoughts about her; that is why this case required the help of an outsider - he gestured at Chris - We believe that your... style of thinking in a different manner might assist us in some shape or form - in the moment of Markson's brain registering this information, he immediately decided that this was nonsense; what possible help could he even bring into this investigation (if we could even call it that)?

There was something else in the background; Barnes had no theory or idea of what it might have been, but, with time, he will come back to it, and will manage to figure it out, one way or another.

- Anything else I might need to know about? - he started, but quickly rephrased his question, as something else had darted across his mind - Wait, actually, I have got one for you - Latimer nodded, and thus, the ex-marshal has carried on - Why do you suspect that she might be our murderer? - the Barn owl opened his beak, but shutted it almost immediately after, as the current talker has not yet finished what with what he was wishing to say - How do we know that she was not framed; she might as well be in shock, especially if she was just a witness to someone massacring her family! - it only took the other side of the conversation (the bird) two seconds to successfully place an answer together; at the count of three, he shared his reply.

- That is a small piece of information I have failed to share, my apologies for that - he cleared his throat, for another time since the previous occasion, where he had done the exact same - When our first-entry teams have went in and found Bethany, her whole plumage was covered in blood, from talons to beak - Barnes attempted to imagine the said situation; basically, an owl, just with red and black feathers all around its body. But, soon enough, the ex-marshal has halted his line of thoughts, as he came to the conclusion that there was no point in assuming - he was going to see the real owl in a few moments anyway, then he will be able to visually acquire the above mentioned sight for himself.

- You told me that she was mumbling - continued Markson with their so-called briefing - What was she saying, exactly? Did your teams managed to make sense of any phrases, or words? - Latimer gazed far-off into the distance for a few seconds, as if he was considering a crucial decision that he might have been about to make; now, we have, for another time, arrived to a sentence that has been repeated a few times beforehand: „only if Chris would have known...".

- There was one, specifically, that we have not been able to recognise or understand; now, do not take offence for this, please, but, uh... - Latimer has dragged on with that „uh" sound for quite a time, slowly decreasing his volume of speech as he went along for the following five seconds - I have been instructed to not share this piece of information with you; it is nothing personal, I am just... - Barnes has heard similar excuses too many times in his life (before all of this... currently-unexplainable happenings have occurred), therefore, it was not a complicated accomplishment for him to predict the Barn owl's not-yet-pronounced words.

- ...Doing your job, and you hope that I understand that; I know, I know, do not stress too much about it - he was hoping to keep clear of this topic, and has made a bypass around it, so that the matter will not be covered in the near future - Anything further, or will we enter this... tree, now? - indeed, the two were, for the last three minutes, standing and waiting outside the hollow; to be fair, though, it was Latimer who have decided to automatically halt his advance towards the above mentioned destination as they have walked closer and closer with each passing second. Chris only stopped because he thought that he was required to cease his movement.

- Certainly - responded the bird, his whole body and being physically unmoved by the question, and his answer - I go ahead and lead - he nodded, then gestured towards their target destination with his left wing; for a moment, the ex-marshal has thought that the bird was suggesting him to go forward and take the point, however, this has appeared to be purely just a signal that the bird has gave to himself, and Barnes has only took it to be addressed to him by accident.

After a minimal amount of awkward who-goes-first movements, Markson clearly showed that he will go second by backing away; Latimer muttered something short under his beak, then swiftly walked into the hollow - with the ex-marshal following, keeping a regular and comfortable distance behind the owl.

The inside of the hollow was, to say the least, was the very opposite of clean and pleasant, giving both birds (who have just entered the enclosed-location) an instant feeling of uneasiness, and slight fright; all around the wooden surface of the hollow's inside, small-to-medium splatters of not-yet-removed blood were found, an overwhelming portion of these vital-fluid spots already beginning to turn black as they had expired outside a non-deceased body that has once used to contain them; a wide variety of objects were thrown all around the place, some of these items and equipments appearing familiar to Markson, but most seeming quite foreign and unknown to him as he scanned around with his eyes.

There were three mounds of - one larger, and two smaller - somethings that were, for some yet unclear reason, were covered down with a white piece of fabric, however, the material has began to turn dark-red here and there; after processing this, Chris suddenly earned an understanding of what he was currently gazing at, and, after another short glance that has took no longer than a second, the ex-marshal has turned his eyes away from the bodies of the murdered and now deceased owl-carcases, and began to visually discover the other sections of this birch's hollow.

It was at this moment that he has spotted Bethany for the first ever time, shaking and darting around with her eyes constantly, the previous two being induced by the fear, and the emotional shock that she has been forced to live through a few hours ago.

The Spotted owl (as Barnes was told) was in an isolated and guarded corner - with two owls, possibly from the same unit as Latimer - were watching over her, as if they were expecting her to suddenly act out in a dangerous manner, and murder another count of owls, or, maybe, some other birds.

„How in the world could she ever have done this?", thought Markson, changing his visual focus between the covered-down bodies, and the quivering and innocent-looking bird, who, as the ex-marshal had settled his look on her, locked her gaze into Barnes' eyes; it was as if something was passed between the two, however, only the female part understanding of what that was. She now knew a definite fact that had a connection Chris, and he was entirely positive on this - the only thing he was unable to figure out was that he had not a clue of what was just exchanged in this non-verbal style.

- Leave us, please! - ordered Latimer, speaking towards the two birds who were standing there solid-guard over the Spotted owl - Us two are taking over for now - then, he nodded; something that he could be easily identified about by this point.

- Sir - replied the bird on the left, bearing a dark-brown plumage of feathers, ear-tufts, and bright, orange-tinged eyes; both have left their positions at the exact same second (as if it was compulsory), and walked out from the hollow, leaving only Latimer, Markson, and Bethany inside in the unnerving and disturbing silence of the dead.

Albeit any and all of them had the will and strength to break this „absence of audible sound", none of them have acted out as such; it was as if the deceased and the murdered had took over this place's atmosphere, covering everything in absolute grief and mourn (even if, at this very moment, none of the three birds were doing so).

„The dead do not talk", people used to say, and, up to this day, they still bring it up in different types of conversations; and yet, Barnes (although for a moment believing that he has just simply dived to deeply into his own, intuitive mind) thought that he was able to... almost sense the presence of something that did not belonged here, to this world - an „otherworldly-ubiety", one might have said; inaudibly crying out for the need to be left alone, to be given peace that everyone has deserved after the span of their life has reached a timely, or an unfortunate and premature end.

„Who's idea was to leave the bodies in here?", wondered Markson, simultaneously glancing around in the same time, speculating if it was only his imagination playing a trick on him, or, in fact, he has just saw some minorly-dense mist that, in its gaseous-like structure, resembled fog, and has just hovered out from the hollow, then dissolved into the night sky, leaving not a trace of itself behind - it was even more macabre to consider that this... whatever it was, has originated from the empty space that was located above the largest heap that was covered down with the now almost fully blood-soaked fabric.

However, Barnes had not paid to much heed towards to it, as he has now considered it to be only some type of mirage, something that only his mind's eye has spotted, and, in actuality and reality, was never even there in the first place - well, so the ex-marshal has thought.

It was Latimer who has gathered enough bravery and willpower to break this lifeless silence, first clearing his throat (which has removed an enormous pressure from the hears of both Markson and the Spotted owl), and, after that, opened his beak, and began to speak.

- Bethany - the bird he called out now glanced away from Markson, and established an eye contact with the Lieutenant - We are here to ask you a few questions - by Chris' personal judgement, the owl's latter sentence could not possibly have been more clichéd than this.

- The previous ones have said the same - replied the Spotted owl, to which Latimer has reacted to with a inquisitive look; the bird (who was currently being regarded as a suspect) saw this, and began to give a further continuation on her previous sentence - Those owls you have just sent away. They have asked questions from me; and the ones before they came - an uncertain pause was kept by her - And... so did those before them, as well - although she might have been distressed and confused a few hours ago, now, as far as Chris could see, Bethany was in an acceptable shape to be questioned - this was an advantage.

It was only those nervous and frightened twitches and tremors that were constantly shaking her... How could this bird have been a ruthless murderer only two set of sixty minutes ago? Even if she was in the not-so-far past, presently, this female owl was an agitated and mentally disoriented being, staring nervously at anything that had moved in an unexpected style, appearing as if she could have been frightened by her own shadow.

- Why are we here if she has already been questioned? - whispered Markson to the Barn owl, who was as equally perplexed as the ex-marshal currently was. Before any of them could have added more, Bethany spoke, reaching the two others quite unexpectedly.

- They kept calling in other owls, saying that they were unable to understand some of the words I was saying - she stated; Chris and Latimer have exchanged an uncertain glance. The former had gestured towards the latter with his head, to which the bird has nodded to in agreement.

It was a rather peculiar sight: successful non-verbal communication between two individuals who have met each other roughly fifteen minutes ago; frankly, it was somewhat fascinating, and has perfectly proved the fact that „great minds always think alike".

- Not understanding the words you were saying? - while Latimer has proceeded on and kept asking for answers, Barnes has took a deliberately unhurried and carefully measured turn, glancing around the hollow as if he was its proud owner, drinking in all its majesty; the only issue at this comparison was that there were three dead bodies inside this birch-tree, and the wooden-inside of the hollow was painted with their blood; re-thinking this now, it was not the best simile one should have decided upon using in this specific scenario.

- I just told them what they had wanted to know; apparently, they have never heard of the place I came from, although I would consider it to be globally known - the second-to-last word has caught Chris' attention, but he halted this premature-excitement; the phrase was presumably used by these owls as well, no overcomplication in that was needed. They had maps and an, apparently, organised system of kingdoms; they must have had the knowledge that the Earth was round.

„Then again, who said that I am still on Earth?", he thought to himself in an ambiguous way, but dropped the idea (due to his worry about focus-loss), and carried on soon after.

Markson walked over to something that has resembled a hand-crafted bookshelf, however, it only had two slots for items to be stored on it, a few of these - mainly books and tomes resembling in appearance the ones that Chris has read, back at the Tree - hanging in a half-stable style, pointing out the absence of extra space that was, beyond any doubt, missing. The ex-marshal had a quick run-over on most of the titles, catching out such as The Legend of Hoole, Tales On The War of The Ember, and The Dead in Our Dreams; The Unofficial Guide to Starsight - all were unusual, and, to say at the least, odd to Barnes; nevertheless, by this point of time, he ceased to give most of these volumes (and, frankly, everything that was occurring around him) a fair chance, thus, even if something has seemed to be totally ridiculous to the ex-marshal, he would just keep his beak shut, and would concentrate on his given task that was standing ahead of him instead.

- What did they wanted to know? - continued Latimer, not allowing a single trace of impatience to mix with his voice's tone; he simply kept asking back, gathering small, but nonetheless useful pieces of information, which would, progressively, add up an answer that will be sufficient in details.

Barnes took the courage to do something that he would, in normal cases, never even have considered in the first place; he moved over with his talons the largest heap that was covered down by the discoloured fabric, balanced himself on his left foot, reached out with his right, and lifted off the carcass-covering material in a reluctant, but respectful fashion.

- They wanted to know why I did it; I could not make sense of what they were saying - heard the ex-marshal the speaking Bethany from the background; even though he was investigating the hollow itself, carefully scanning around for any clues, he was still paying close attention to what the Spotted owl had to say for herself - Then... then they told me that I have murdered someone - my family in fact! - her voice turned into a light sob, as if she was about to drop a few tears; however, the reason for this potential action was yet unknown by Markson and Latimer.

As soon as he lifted off the respective cover from the largest motionless-body, Chris has instantly regretted that he has ever acted like this: he did not visually acquire too much details, but the blankly-staring and glassy eyes would have frightened even the strongest-willed. That unmistakeable face of death, where the absence of motion cannot be confused with the state of unconsciousness...

Seeing the deep-reaching and bloody gash on the male Spotted owl's throat was enough to force Markson to drop the fabric back on the deceased body with a half-nauseated, and half-terrified frown on his feathered face; in that very moment, he could have sworn on his life that blood was still oozing out from the wound that once gave place to a larynx that was now removed and torn out from its natural position...

„Shit", he sweared in thought, „I knew that owls had sharp claws, but this?", he refered to the previously encountered dead body, „This is simply... brutal".

- And? Have you murdered someone? - Chris could hear Latimer proceeding with the same he did before in the background - Any owls that have lived in this hollow, or were a part of your family? - personally, Barnes deemed this question to have crossed that specific ethical-line; his latter sentences effect was not so far away, as Bethany had began to cry tears, and, in the same time, was attempting to speak.

- Is no one aware of what I am constantly saying? - the Spotted owl asked as she was sobbing, attracting a quick glance from the ex-marshal as she did so - I do not have a family! - she was clearly about to carry on, but Latimer did not allowed her to; instead, he, metaphorically, lifted up a verbal piece of evidence.

- All the owls living in the vicinity say that you do - the Barn owl has changed from the stature of neutrality to the position where he, although not publicly, but was still accusing Bethany with first-degree murder; rather early at this stage, especially if one would have considered the current emotional state of the owl. Nevertheless, this could have led to her breaking down under the solid pressure, and, if, in fact, she was the murderer (which was highly unlikely, as Markson was thinking about it), the bird would have admitted it by herself, just to end this whole thing. Entirely expected by the ex-marshal, she did not - Alright, let us consider that I believe you; now... - Latimer planned to carry on, but Barnes has intercepted him mid-sentence, causing the owl to give him a frustrated look.

- Do you mind if I try, for this time? - asked Chris, now turning and gazing down at the vulnerable and quietly sobbing Spotted owl; a second after, he has looked back up at the Lieutenant, who's annoyance has swiftly disappeared as he has (for about the hundredth time for today) nodded to the ex-marshal, signaling with silence that he shall begin to ask his questions.

Latimer has now took a few steps back, giving space to the now deliberate-looking Markson, who has now moved forward, making ready to talk; essentially, the two birds have exchanged their original „positions" in the hollow, the Barn owl now being the one to scan around and to search for any potentially-useful clues.

- Bethany, I would like you to forget about the whole murder; just do not concern yourself with it for a few minutes, got it? - the addressed female has gave out an incomprehensible noise that has resembled a faint „yes", also, the gesture she did with her head was indicating the same, showing she has agreed to do what the ex-marshal has requested from her; while doing the previous, the bird has wiped her freshly-shed tears away with her wings (although in a rather uncoordinated fashion).

Considering that she was now attempting with all her strength that she could gather to get a hold of herself, the Spotted owl was still, from time to time, shaking uncontrollably, as if she had been connected up to some type of electrical device (however, this clearly objectionable image could only exist in Barnes' mind, for obvious reasons).

- I will ask you a few... - hesitated Markson, as the reaction Bethany has responded with to a similar sentence had turned out to be almost catastrophic when it came to emotions - I am unable to put it otherwise: questions.

As predicted, the female owl was about to give another complaint with a potentially extreme emotional-spike (honestly, no one could have blamed her for this; she was being interrogated by different individuals for the past hours, it was not an unexpected surprise that, by this point, she was slowly-but-surely being consumed by stress; if someone would not forcefully stop this process, their was the possible danger of losing Bethany).

- No, not the ones that you have already answered a countless times for the „previous ones" - the bird to whom Chris was speaking to had turned her eyes towards Latimer, who was holding some type of plastic object, its shape being a miniature cuboid, not appearing to be much larger than the Barn owl's talon; one could have called it an „only just" fit.

The object had awakened a familiarity in the ex-marshal, however, he ignored the impulse, swiftly shook his head (with such minimal movements and with such speed that it was barely visible), as if he had wanted to temporarily banish his latter thoughts with this.

- Bethany? - the Spotted owl has caught her head up, which has suggested that she was unprepared for this sudden and (to her) abrupt addressing from Barnes; her body was starting to tremble again, therefore, Markson had decided upon taking the action which he, in usual circumstances, might not have done: he reached out with his right wing's tip, then gently placed it on the female owl's left shoulder.

Consequent to this, Bethany's agitated tremors have came to an end, leaving the female owl physically stable and calm (if we do not take the light sobbing into account, for now); on the ex-marshal's behalf, however, the previous reaction has left him with a perplexed and pleasantly-surprised facial gesture.

Markson was not bearing a single clue or theory of what had just occurred between him and the Spotted owl; even if asked, he probably could not have gave any logical explanation. Frankly, he was still unconfident that it was actually him, who have had this unexpected effect on the female.

Left without any thought that could have served as a foundation for potential concepts of ideas or answers, Chris has proceeded along with his line of inquiries, as the bird has seemed to be fully focused for once again; she was staring right into Barnes' deep-blue eyes, erasing any traces of a doubt from the ex-marshal's mind that she still might be distracted.

Albeit this should be rather obvious by now, but she was not; not anymore.

- Some of my questions might sound a bit strange to you, but, please, just bear with me; I will need you to co-operate with me, okay? - a barely audible uhum could be heard from Bethany; Chris has felt that it was now the appropriate time to carry on - What can you remember of the previous two hours? - asked Barnes, placing as much sympathy in his voice as he possibly could have in a such a situation.

- I can try, but... everything that happened is just... so hazy, I am not sure if I... - the female owl has slowly decreased her speech's volume to a mutter; she was becoming uncertain again, and this could have resulted in her failing to share crucial pieces of information - this has required a quick intervention to be stopped, and this was to be provided by Chris.

- Just tell me anything you can recall; no matter if it does not makes much sense. Remember that even fragments can be useful - it was a common and (almost) clichéd saying used for reassurance (which has made the current situation rather ironic), but, if the ex-marshal was reading Bethany's facial gestures correctly, his interrogatory-technique has proved to be a successful attempt.

For the length of two minutes, silence began to suffocate the hollow, leaving Markson with a motionless keeping-of-position, and Latimer to continue digging through any incriminating items that might still have been deposited in this hollow; every time Bethany would open her beak, the ex-marshal and, occasionally, the Barn owl would hold their breaths back while waiting for an answer, however, these have usually greeted them with a sigh, or absolute silence.

After the previously mentioned sets of seconds have passed, the Spotted owl gave out a short, hope-lost moan.

- Even if I would tell you everything I remember and been through, you would either not understand it, or just simply not believe me - she shook her head, apparently now forcing herself to focus on the hollow's wooden (and, also, blood-soaked) floor, feeling too shy to establish an eye contact with Chris.

„You would say the same after hearing my story!", the thought to himself, only as a laugh, but skipped one instance of „breath-in" after a rough theory has surfaced in his mind; „in fact, this sounds awfully similar to me when I have arrived here...", his eyes opened up wide, the ocean-blue glint now clearly visible to Bethany (then again, she was gazing at something else at this time).

„Come on, Markson!", he reprimanded his own self, still only in his head, „Stop fantasising and return yourself to reality!" How could this owl possibly be like you";

With this, he had placed a full-stop at the end of his „self-argument", but, before acting as such, he has swiftly devised a plan that, if delivered successfully, will tell Barnes if Bethany was, indeed, only an owl, nothing more or less than that.

Even though he was ready to state his question, Markson had his doubts, taking into consideration that what he was planning on might not even make any sense at all; yes, he could have asked, but, deep-down, he was not actually expecting a beneficial outcome from this - then again, one single question could never hurt in this specific circumstance, could it?

No; it could not possibly have.

- Alright, maybe if we begin with something easier first, just to get your mind to work before you answer my previous question - smiled Barnes, to which, greatly surprising the ex-marshal, Bethany has responded to with the same - Now, this might sound like an illogical and unusual question, but, please, bare with me, and just give me an answer - the Spotted owl nodded; Chris has took a deep breath, and let his beak loose - Where were you born, Bethany? - once again, a stillness of audible sound has descended upon the hollow, the only hearable anything being Latimer, who was humming some type of quiet melody; seemingly, this has kept him occupied, therefore, Markson did not wanted to hush him.

At least, one bird in this interior was keeping themselves in a somewhat positive mood...

The Spotted owl took a few seconds of her time, then gave a clear answer; this, after pronounced, has caused Barnes to believe that he has heard something wrong, catching out information that was incorrect, badly perceiving the female's upcoming-sentence.

As unbelievable this sentence has sounded, it was, in fact, free of lies or error; it was only Chris, who did not yet knew this.

- I... I was born in San Francisco, California, but, honestly, I do not think that this piece of information would change anything... - she kept on talking until she has, in an uncertain style, cut off, raising her glance at the ex-marshal; howbeit, the latter has blanked-out after the mention of the well-known city, and state.

From a personal perspective, Markson was expecting for an answer that included a... kingdom of these owls, a name from which he would have only understood a trifling little portion, leaving him clueless until Latimer would have cared enough to explain.

This... this was the last and finla thing the ex-marshal would have presumed to hear; San Francisco, California... improbable, unbelievable, and simply astonishing. What were the natural chances of him running into someone to whom a similar... transformation (in lack of a more specific word) has occurred to as well?

Well, by the laws of nature, zero; then again, by the same „rules", Chris should not have been here in the first place.

The surprise and the positive shock must have been easily visible on his face, hence the content of Bethany's future sentence, which has, ultimately, snapped Barnes out from his „caught-unexpected" state.

- See? I have told you; I have kept repeating this exact same story to all the owl who have came beforehand, and no one could comprehend to what I have had to say! You two are an exception in this case, as you are not constantly... - here, he sent a too-brave stare towards Latimer, who, luckily, was not looking at her at the time, and has failed to notice this - ...accusing me of murder - she spoke, finally, catching the eyes of Markson around mid-sentence; his expression was still identical to what it originally was when the female has pronounced the words „San Francisco", only that now he was able to close his beak, and breath through his nostrils again.

After a short recollection of his senses, it was Barnes' turn to talk; and so he began, keeping a well-weighed, pensive, yet still somewhat disorganized structure to his sentence.

- Bethany... - he started, choosing his words as if an invisible gun was being held to his head, forcing him to be extremely careful with what he is about to say - I... am the... same as you are - confusion has set itself down on the Spotted owl's face, which she has also communicated through verbally.

- The... same? - incomprehension was all over and around the female bird's tone of voice; Chris has suspected that, even if given a minute or two to put this „mental-puzzle" together, Bethany would have been left exactly as clueless as she currently was.

To help her out, Markson has gave a further explanation on this topic, which, in this case, has ceased the female's breathing in-and-out for approximately... four seconds.

- What I mean is that... - he sighed heavily, taking a moment to consider of what he was just about to say; this will either bring him out from the situation as the only other individual to whom Bethany could mentally relate to, or as a distracted bird who is talking total gibberish to a possible suspect.

Needless to say, the former had the highest chance of occurring, taking away any doubts from the ex-marshal's head for another time.

- Christopher Markson, ex-TSA, Bethany - he spoke, feeling the words that were (somehow) pronounced by his beak to be... extremely out of context; nevertheless, it felt relieving to finally speak to someone who could entirely understand him (even though at this point of time, he was only assuming that this Spotted owl was once... human) - I... am from Boston, Massachusetts personally, but, uh... - his mind went blank for a moment, and so Chris let up with the continuation of this sentence, and, instead, patiently waited for any reaction from Bethany.

Instead of her, a rather peculiar sentence was spoken by Latimer, not revealing anything to the female, but sending a quite large surprise towards Barnes, who now looked at the Barn owl:

- Well, Valery and Irvis were correct, after all - he was nodding continuously and slowly, clicking his beak while thinking of what to do next; it only took him seconds to make a decision - Alright, Markson; I will leave you two alone to... figure something out now - by the time he has finished his sentences, Barnes had at least twenty-to-thirty questions floating around in his head, not being able to decide to which one he should commence his line of inquiries with; unfortunately, Latimer walked particularly fast out of the hollow (well, he almost flew), not allowing the ex-marshal to ask for even just a single answer.

Shifting his gaze back to Bethany, Chris has spotted a reaction that was much similar to his, and yet, still quite different; beak dropped open, pupils wide and shining, an expression of disbelief sitting on a pretty, brown-feathered face, and, from the inside of those innocent dark eyes, the same was being radiated out, only with a sense of warmth.

Markson has chased these thoughts out of his head in a swift manner as the Spotted owl has began to speak; while she was doing so, „unfocused" was the last thing the ex-marshal would wanted to be.

- Are... are you being totally serious, or did one of those other owls told you to say this? - Chris shook his head from the left to the right, indicating that, basically, he was telling the truth; believing this, Bethany has carried on - All right - she kept a short pause to herself, probably to think on her next sentence - You have mentioned that you are... were TSA; that would mean that you are a federal-government agent, is that correct? - she asked, her tone being unexpectedly serious.

- Uh... I am not sure of how much importance this... - started Barnes slowly, but was aggressively-interrupted by the female, who has, impatiently, cut in at the middle of the previous sentence.

- Are you or are you not? - knowing that Latimer was now gone, and that someone similar to her was in this hollow has suddenly aroused the Spotted owls level of active- and consciousness, as if a spark had kindled up a brand new fire within her; it was almost impossible to compare this Bethany, and the one Markson was speaking to only a few minutes ago.

The one who was crying in the corner of this hollow then, being the perfect physical representation of the word „stranded", and lost.

- Yes, I was a federal agent - he said with an edge in his voice; the Spotted owl drifted a bit too far into the territory which Chris would not tolerate well - But I think it is obvious enough that here and now... - apparently, about the latter part of his speech, Bethany did not cared about; she has cut into the ex-marshal's lines with such swiftness that Barnes did not even had time to realise that he, basically, was silenced.

- Where and when have you crossed over? - she asked, but, seeing that Markson was not following her, she gave out more detail in another sentence - Tell me the exact location; which city, what street, anything suspicious in your vicinity? - the ex-marshal was clueless; what in the world was this owl talking about?

It was indubitably obvious now that Bethany was, indeed, the „same" as Chris; she knew such informations that only a human could have known, let alone ever heard of. There was only one little detail here that was mentally disorienting Barnes.

„What is this „crossing over" she was speaking about? What is she attempting to point towards? Am I not supposed to be the one to question her? As far as I am concerned right now, it is me, who is expected to answer!", and these were just only the minimal section of all the thoughts that were currently darting around Markson's skull.

- Uh... crossed over? - he asked uncomprehendingly, currently feeling as if he was hit on the base of his skull with a blunt object (like a frying-pan, if we would prefer to stick around in the area of comedy-clichés), which would usually have caused light-to-medium disorientation.

- I believe I have jumped into the middle of the subject quickly - she said, giving voice to her own opinion about the present moment with a tch sound - Right, before you... woke up in this „world", did you experience any nausea, tiredness, or muscle pain? A loss of consciousness, maybe? - the frequency of the ex-marshal's heart beats has now quickened again, leaving him in inertia for a few seconds that have followed.

From the above described, at least two have been experienced by him while he was inside the plane; then, as some kind of bizarre addition, there was that thing with his eyes, which, so far, he has only classed as a weird form of heterochromia; nonetheless, now knowing that, in his current physical form, his pupils were of the colour blue, Barnes had began to connect some of these stranded dots together.

What has really occurred on that aircraft on that night? A terrorist attack, then a sudden electrical storm, causing the death of at least a hundred people - civilians? Too many questions were unanswered, and Markson kept ending up on this point for over and over again in the past hours - days even!

This had to stop, and it had to do it now; he was not sure of how much information the Spotted owl would be able to provide, but, even if it was just a minimal set of clues she might give away, Chris was feeling more and more eager to hear them.

- I did, and... two of them, specifically; the muscle pains, and the tiredness - he halted to reconsider something for a moment - Also, there was this... recolouration of my...

- ...Eyes? Yes, that is, also, a common side-effect of the crossing - she nodded quickly, and drifted off for a few seconds into deep thinking - Was there a book nearby? Before you have fell unconscious? - she asked, suddenly snapping her eyes back on Markson, who, by this previous question was, for another time, rendered motionless and silent.

Only for a few moments, though, as he now gave a verbal-highlight to his suspicions.

- Now, how did you know that? - he questioned, disguising the surprise as professional seriousness on his feathered face, narrowing his eyes, and tilting his head slightly to the right.

Bethany did nothing, but smiled in a light and satisfied manner; seemingly, she has just got what she required.

- Then, as you have indeed said, we are quite the same, Agent Markson - the vulnerable and innocent (in appearance only, of course) female owl was gone, totally taken over by a no-nonsense and rather diligent-like type of personality; no doubt over the fact that the bird was still the same, but, somehow, Barnes had the feeling that she is not the worst actor he has ever met.

Nevertheless, his suspicions were still sky-high, and, considering that, officially, Bethany still continued to be a suspect, Chris felt that the main reason of why he was left here by Latimer was due to an expectation - an expectation of interrogation.

Even then, this was only going to be a non-hostile questioning, nothing more; at least, the ex-marshal did hoped so.

- Who are you, really? - inquiried Markson, keeping a strict gaze on the Spotted owl, trusting that this would forward his message to Bethany; it was him, asking the questions now.

The female once-a-human has shook her head, all in the meanwhile, smiling; if Markson would not have known better, he would have concluded that she was not even aiming to answer, while, in fact, it was just her, still being in the higher position on the case of who-knew-more about the above discussed topic. Essentially, she was having a fun time of understanding that Barnes had almost no knowledge on what has happened to both of them.

Of why she was doing this, Chris had no idea; but whoever this „girl" was, the ex-marshal was certain that she was important - immensely, if we would be required to categorise it.

Let us just call it a hunch, but Markson's instincts („human ones", at that) were acting up now, and made him physically feel (around the stomach-area) that something was... unique in this individual „ex-human".

Something important was clearly there, and the only thing that was required of Barnes was to find it.

- I do not think that you are authorized to know that; at least, not just yet - she spoke secretively, dragging an (imaginary) eye brow-raise onto Chris' face; who the hell is this girl? - However, there is one thing I can definitely talk about, and you have the right to know this. What is more, you should know this! - she stared-off into the short-distance of the hollow, carefully examining the cuboid-shaped item that Latimer has placed back on the hollow's floor after leaving - It is mandatory for you to know of what we are up against - she snapped out of it, slowly shaking her head while doing so.

- Who is we? - demanded Barnes with a slightly louder-than-comfortable volume, his now authoritative voice echoing through the inside of the birch-tree - You need to tell me more than this! - he shrieked with a sharp screech of an owl, surprising himself for the most in the whole process (of course, no one could have said that this was also unexpected to Bethany as well; no doubt about that); however, the sound his throat has just emitted was not what had bothered him the most. It was the knowing that this has came to him instinctively, as if he had been doing it regularly for his whole life. The uncontrolled, aggressive vocal-trademark of a bird of prey; was it the animal taking over his rational and logical mind inside him? Was he losing it, was that it?

No, that was impossible: there was no animal, only him, just... physically different - that was all to it. Overthinking took over his brain for another short timespan. This was all that has happened.

Apparently, Bethany, after a short while of thinking, understood of what the ex-marshal was thinking to himself, as she has smiled again; but this time, it was out of pure empathy, not from sarcasm.

- First time you hear yourself like that? - she asked; Barnes looked at her questioningly, to which the female has responded to with the following - Not like I should be saying anything; I was only here for a couple of hours, and I am already giving you some type of a lecture - she shook her head again, however, she had aimed this at herself, as if she was reproaching herself; shortly, she has continued on - Anyway, to get back to my point - the Spotted owl has cleared her throat - Ever heard of a privately-funded company named PSRI? - sounded the inquiry, ordering a few seconds of total silence across the entirety of the hollow.

Chris, although just minortly and sub-consciously, but still had his doubts about this whole situation; nevertheless, he has finally found someone who might prove to be the bearer of enlightening information.

It was only straightforward for him to play along his role now. Latimer wished for a proper „interrogation" that would, when concluded, not end up fruitlessly; for now, Markson was potentially about to hear facts that the Barn owl would not even have dreamed about.

- The pharmaceutical-company? - asked back Barnes, following his short seconds of consideration; he has definitely heard the name beforehand - But these people only developed drugs. What possible harm they could have possessed?

The silence that has came after the unintentional-sarcasm was shrieking across the hollow; it was Markson's threatening-screech all over again.

- Yeah, right - said Bethany with a disgusted note in her voice; this was not sent towards the ex-marshal, however - PSRI; Pharmaceutical-Services Research Institution - she pronounced the entire word that the abbreviation has stood for; it was not the shortest one might have dreamed up as the name of their company - Do you know how many drugs they have managed to pass by the FDA in the past years, dating back to their establishment, 2009? - Chris has shrugged; the female has carried on - None; their response to the public was that the drug they are still working on requires a great length of time to be properly tested and produced; personally, I think that to be the most obvious lie in the world, but heed me no extra attention for that - she was about to continue, but, growing a bit impatient, Markson was hoping to hustle the speed of the events that were presently occurring.

- So what is your role in all this? Of course, only if I have the „clearance"? - he smiled, sarcastic with all of his bones (which, considering that they have now belonged to an owl, were hollow).

Bethany sighed, glanced away, into the distance again, for a moment, then faced Barnes as she spoke.

- I will not tell you of who I was working for; the only thing you need to know is that my work was to... collect and deliver sets of crucial informations to a specific group of people; an investigatory-agency, but this is all I will say; for now, that is - spoke Bethany, kept a pause for Markson that has enabled his brain to process this sudden rush of new facts.

- Let me guess; you are with the CIA? - this has started out as a joke from the ex-marshal's side first, but, upon seeing the unwilling and instinctive facial-gesture the female has reacted with to the previous sentence, the smile was scratched off by an imaginary scraper from Barnes' face.

- No - she replied suspiciously swiftly, making it clear to Markson that she was, in fact, an agent for the Intelligence Agency; Chris was still a government agent, and he knew extremely well of how to read lies (however, sometimes, he did made mistakes, as everyone would have); the Spotted owl, with that latest „no" of her's, was, in fact, lying.

Still, the only thing was that, now, she was only an ex-agent for the CIA; the irony of the situation has almost succeeded in forcing the ex-marshal to laugh out loud. Two ex-agents in one hollow? It was almost too ironic - nearly.

Although he has felt that, with this thought, he might have just crossed a non-existent and imaginary line, but he could not help but smile at the given situation, albeit he was cautious and discreet, as one would have expected him to be in such a scenario.

It was only seconds later that the female has carried on with what she has had to say.

- Of whom I have worked for is not the important matter, Markson - she emphasised on the name, still attempting to defend the lie that has stated that she was not involved with the CIA; this was, of course, since Chris has easily deciphered without any extreme effort that she was working for „Langley", hopeless to drag on now.

- Uhum - hummed Barnes incredulously, hoping to show Bethany that it was way too late to use a bluff now, therefore she should either focus on telling the truth, or steer away from the topic, and carry on with what was called „mandatory to know" by her, just a few minutes into the past - Would you mind to continue? - he inquired with an impatient tone of voice, signaling to the Spotted owl that she should hurry up; he was not wishing to leave her with any alternatives for this time, out from the not-so-many.

- Of course not - she narrowed her eyes, but returned them to their neutral positions as she has, with a slight lateness, went on - Now, I was tasked to do a bit of... intelligence-gathering on the PSRI, as my agency has considered them to have been overly-suspicious in the five or four years - she has shook her head, slowly, as if a massive weight was sitting on not only her skull, but her heart as well; not a human anymore, but Bethany did sounded like one who might have been a serious agent; enthusiastic and always on the point.

How come she has ended up here, like this? Not that being physically transformed into a bird was some form of purgatory, but, now that we think about it, really... how?

- I must have been discovered; my cover as an FDA inspector has granted me access to most areas my agency wished to know more about, and I have liberated myself to look around some not-so-public offices, research-wings, and laboratories as well. The joys of being under a cover, I guess! - she exclaimed the last sentence with a sad and disappointed-in-self smile; Markson could, deep-down, feel a sorry for her, but had not yet wished to let it entirely surface.

It was now clear to him that, indeed, they were similar - both being agents who have went through their own style of a „downfall".

- How do you think your cover was blown? - questioned Barnes, to which the female has replied to with a slightly more energetic sentences; after realising that she has sounded like as if she has switched over to the offense, the Spotted owl took away the frustration from her tone - My cover was perfectly kept intact, even during my requested „evacuation", I was in the clear! - her voice's volume has increased once again, but swiftly decreased after her above mentioned self-realisation; she sighed deeply and painfully before carrying on - Well, it does not seems as such now, does it? - she laughed at herself in a light manner; now, the empathy was no longer hidden by the ex-marshal.

He reached out with the tip of his wing again, resting it gently on the female's left shoulder (the upper, bending-section of her flight-organ), sending a friendly and sympathetic glance towards her eyes while doing so.

- What did you find out, during your investigation? - asked Chris, hoping that he would not be regarded as too invasive with all these questions about a, presumably, covert-operation - If you do not mind me asking? - he added to suppress the previously mentioned, in the case that it would have occurred.

- Experiments and scientific-discoveries that you would never believe, unless you have seen them with your own eyes - she said distractedly, as if she was under the effects of a... mind-altering drug (which, usually, would not have necessarily been legal); Chris has now retracted his wing - Ever wondered of why you have crossed over? - she asked rhetorically, not waiting or expecting for an answer - Well, the PSRI must have had a grudge against you, of why, I do not know; after all, you were just an air-marshal. Why would you be in their way? - but she has not continued on with her last verbalised-thought; however, she has left a short space here for breathing - Of what I have found out, they are in the possession of this... item they have usually referred to as „The Anomaly"; from the documents I have been able to run through, this thing is able to initiate a process that would rip someone out from our world, to say simplistically - she has now gazed and has established an eye contact with Markson.

- Wait for a second there! - he stopped Bethany as she was about to continue with this nonetheless fascinating topic of, assumably, science (this is stated here as such, as Barnes had not a clue if this was even inside any of the fields of science) - When you say „rip", I... could you just go into further detail on that? - asked the ex-marshal, an awkward mix of smile and confusion settled on his face.

- Okay, maybe „removed" would be a more fitting word; quite literally, you are crossed over by the so-called „Anomaly" into this world we are in, right now - she sighed, sounding minorly hopeless as she was doing so - It is unknown of why or how this occurs, and, from what I was able to gather on the PSRI, even they have no solid theories about this - she kept another break to take a breather, then carried on - As this process occurs, one would... metamorphose into an organic creature that fits the „destination-world". Here and now, owls, as they appear to be the ones who are the primary „civilisation" of this place - she concluded her long explanation.

- So we got screwed over by some fake-pharmaceutical company; why? - asked Barnes, almost demanding to know a proper and satisfying answer.

- Well, they had done this to me to keep me out of the way. You? I would have no clue - she replied, almost sounding like as if she was feeling regret for not providing a sufficient answer.

The two have allowed silence to take over the hollow for a few minutes, the only audible sound to both of them being their own, individual heart-beats; Bethany's steady and calm, and Markson's excited and drumming in his chest.

They were not talking; for them, there was nothing else to talk about.

At least, not without a lingering sensation of unsureness; apparently, they both had this PSRI as their ill-wisher.

Markson was the one who have felt it as his task to break this absence of sound.

- Did you kill her? - he asked suddenly and abruptly, only raising his eyes at the Spotted owl a few seconds after, who appeared to be overly confused at this question; Chris has hurried on to help her out - The family in this hollow. Did you kill them? - he gave a careful and short glance towards the bodies, but swiftly returned his look to the female bird.

- No, I have not - she spoke, and the ex-marshal could hear that she was telling the truth, not bluffing, like she was when asked about her affiliation with the CIA - When I came to my senses, the bodies were already in here, dead - at this response, an idea has surfaced in Barnes' brain.

- So... let us just think this through; you have just stated that when you have regained consciousness, the bodies were in here - Markson has just basically repeated Bethany's previous sentence; she has nodded as a response - I have been told by my associates that screams came from these hollow before the murders have occurred. Your voice, specifically - the ex-marshal has narrowed his eyes; an outraged and insulted emotion has placed itself on the Spotted owl's face.

- I have just said that I am innocent, and you are charging me with murder, again? - she spoke, shaking her head slowly and angrily - I took you to have a more logical mind than this, Markson - the latter-mentioned has ignored the offensive comment, and attempted to settle down the situation.

- Well, if it was not you, who was it? Another Bethany? - taunted Chris, but realised that maybe, just maybe, he should not be turning to an offense, especially not against the one who was his only currently known „link" to the notion of what he has took as „reality".

The Spotted owl's eyes flashed, telling the ex-marshal, without the use of conventional speech, that he should back off.

Then, unexpectedly, her face changed towards something that resembled emotionless, and, after, the former has transformed into a state of amazement; her eyes opened up wide, and glinted with the light of realisation and revelation.

- Precisely - she spoke the single word, however, Barnes required the length of a second to establish the connection between his previous, sarcastic sentence, and the female bird's latest response.

- What „precisely"? - asked Markson, noticeably somewhat baffled by the owl's earlier, single word - You mean that the murderer was another Bethany? - he questioned, not hiding his skepticism in connection with the topic.

- So they have found a way to do it - spoke the Spotted owl again, in a similar manner as the last time, only achieving to obtain another set of confusion and perplexity from Chris.

- Would you mind to share your thoughts? - inquired the ex-marshal, slowly shaking his head, showing to the female bird that he had not a single clue of what she was speaking about.

- PSRI - she pronounced the four letters that, since her explanation, appeared slightly more corrupt and ominous to Barnes - While... while I was at their headquarters, in Boston, MA, I have came across a collection of hidden research-papers, and... - she sighed, apparently, a heavy burden weighing her down. There; she has suddenly knew of how she was crossed over, into this world. Without Markson's questioning around, she might never have recalled these events.

At least not anytime soon.

- The scientists at the PSRI have posited that, if that thing they have called „The Anomaly" would be used accordingly, it could cross over one's consciousness, leaving the body, well... empty and dead - she said with a slight hint of fright; essentially, she has just concluded that, in the real world, she was no longer alive.

Even if there was a way to cross back... it was hopeless and impossible for her; in the best case, she could have woke up in a coffin, eventually suffocating. In the worst case... there would be no body to return to. Many people have still choose cremation over a regular burial.

She has extorted these thoughts from her brain, took a deep breath to re-regulate her breathing, then carried on:

- The documents have also mentioned that, once crossed over, the host-less consciousness would invade the closest intelligent and organic creature's brain, and, in a short timespan, „overwrite" the said creature's consciousness - the female owl has looked across her own body, as if the structure of her plumage and feathers has instantly began to interest her; obviously, this was not the case. A moment later, she has glanced back up at the ex-marshal - I believe that Bethany was in the worst place, at the worst time - she stared off into the distance, severely attempting to avoid any type of eye contact with Barnes - I guess we could say that, technically, I have killed Bethany - devastation has struck down on the ex-CIA agent, silencing both owls in the hollow for an almost unbearably lengthy time, once again covering the whole interior in quiet and personal contemplation and unheard thoughts.

- This still does not answers our main question; if not you, and neither the... original Bethany, then who is our murderer? - he paused for a moment, then proceeded to conclude, after an inaudible sigh - I think we should abandon the topic for now - he focused his supportive gaze on the innocent and, momentarily, vulnerable ex-agent, his heart, for some reason that he was unable to explain, ached for her.

It is not that Markson has never felt empathy, that is not what is attempted to be stated here; it was just that... Chris could feel something, like some type of invisible connection between this Bethany and himself.

- So? - began the Spotted owl with a short question - I have told you what I know about this whole murder. What happens now? - another set of quietness followed, then the ex-marshal has concluded his task, of what he asked to do.

After all, Valery and Irvis have not actually specified an objective for him to be achieved; he has recovered important information, and made contact with a suspect who was more of a victim, in reality - if this was not a result, Chris was not an owl.

- Now... - he began, appearing unsure, but not even being near that in his personal thoughts - Now I will walk you out of here, and tell my... overseer to arrange a transport for you back to this place these owls call the Great Tree - Bethany has tilted her head slightly to one side, questioning the point of this plan; noticing this, Barnes has proceeded to expand on his idea - You just keep that act on you did when Latimer - my other associate - was in here, okay? We will pretend that you have been framed for this... well, murder - the last word has tasted bitter in Markson's mouth, so he swallowed; his saliva has barely slided down his throat - Once we are back at that Tree, we can arrange a private meeting spot; together, with the information you could provide and I could acquire, we could work out of what this murder was about; who was the murderer, what was the aim. Will that be fine with you? - as a response to this, Bethany has nodded, then, with an awkward-to-see effort, she has stumbled to her feet.

Two seconds later, she was standing upright, roughly the same size as Chris, if it was the heights we were wishing to measure here.

- Ready then? - inquiried Barnes for another, final time.

- Ready as much as you are - nodded the Spotted owl again, seemingly having a bit of difficulty with walking.

Chris has protectively placed a wing around her, and supported her with moving forward; the two have slowly, but surely, headed towards the entrance (and, in the same time, exit) of the hollow, giving out a silent sigh of relief as they have now left this enclosed space behind, being glad that they would not be required to spend even just another second with the three deceased bodies.

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