From Marshal To Guardian, Part One: The Crossing

Bloody Incognito

Northern-Ambala, Southern-Kingdoms

Close to 2:08 a.m.

Christopher Barnes Markson, ex-TSA

An ice-cold raindrop has abruptly landed on Markson’s feathered head as he has stepped out from the hollow, the realistically limping Bethany held steady while moving by his right, extended wing, making sure that she would not fall over from her momentary absence of balance.

A lesser number of gazes and glances have met the two as they have exited the interior of the tree, as many of the previously seen owls have already took off in a swift flight, either because of their duties that were to be attended back at Ga’Hoole, or - and this was the more likely factor - they have managed to foresee the signs of the coming storm: the dark clouds that have rolled in ten minutes ago, the slow disappearance of the stars from one’s visual range, and the enormous waves of the wind that were, even now, violently whistling through the leaves and branches of the forest.

Irvis was quick to pick up on the fact that Barnes has finished the task he was, one-fourth of an hour ago, requested from him; he did a circular motion with his right talons to the group that has escorted the ex-marshal to this very place, then hurried off, on foot, to the former.

- Have you got what we need? - he shouted over the deafening scream of the wind, which was growing louder and worse as the minutes kept passing; the owl has sent a questioning look towards Bethany, but no one has really paid much attention to this - I have not seen a storm like this for years! With this weather on our tail-feathers, we need to leave before the conditions for flight become unbearable; we literally have minutes to decide on that! - his voice was heavily suppressed by the constant gusts that kept hitting them, but Chris was still able to take out every single word. However, just barely.

- Well, if you are expecting a confession, I do not think it is your lucky day! - replied the ex-marshal with an increased volume of speaking, close to hitting the brink to which he could physically have raised his voice’s level of hearability to - She is not the murderer, she is innocent; I can prove it, but not here, and not now! - he needed to squint against the force of the wind, as his eyes were dried clean by now, and were beginning to sting with a mild, but still disturbing pain - Do you have some two named Hakan and Marek around? - he placed an additional emphasis on the names, as much as his throat has allowed him to, so, even if Irvis would have been unable to hear his sentence, the two names, which he, assumably, knew of, would have gave the context away anyway.

- Waiting for us, yes, at the outer-branches of this tree - the Corporal motioned towards a collection of owls, perching a few meters away from them - I know of the transportation-method you have suggested and used; however, I believe that, in this wind, even if you just unfold your wings, you would be able to glide along with the... - Markson has suddenly understood the notion of the bird’s idea, and, with a sarcastic laugh, swiftly dismissed it with his response.

- Do not even think about it! - he began to slowly walk forwards, and, with him, so did Bethany; they approached the branch the ex-marshal has travelled on when Valery took up the burden of moving him from the Tree to this place... the forest of „Ambala”, or something - Get me those two I have mentioned, they will know what to do! - Irvis, reluctantly, as if he still have had a reason of dislike to hold against Chris, nodded and replied something, however, due to the fierceness of the weather, not a word was audible; Markson just went ahead and figured that the Corporal has agreed to his preference.

Before letting him to go, though, the ex-marshal has added another short sentence to his previous request:

- Oh, and you might want to tell them that they will be required to carry double the weight as they did on the way here, so they might want to be prepared for that! - Irvis nodded, then turned his back towards Chris, heading off in the direction of the outer-branches that were shaking in such an extreme fashion that Markson would not have dared to approach them.

- Are you saying that they will not be able to hold my weight? I can assure you of quite the opposite! - spoke Bethany in a measured volume that only Barnes could hear, smiling in a light and pleasant fashion.

- Are you saying that they will not be able to hold my weight? - laughed Barnes, turning his head towards the bird, then losing himself for a few moments in the pervasive gaze of the female owl’s coal-black eyes; but, inside that coal, there was a fire burning.

A fire of determination, the urge to assist; from what Markson could see, she was eager to offer help towards the solution of this murder-case, and to give more information to the ex-marshal about this PSRI organisation.

Then again, Chris had doubts if it was, indeed, the fire of determination that he saw; if he would have been required to be utterly honest, he would have took that flame as the fire of... feelings.

No, not even „feelings” - a more fitting word would have been sentiments.

Nevertheless, forcing himself to focus back on his original task, Chris gave his head a light shake, to clear it out, then kept on going in his slow and supportive pace, until they have approached the broken-off piece of a tree that the ex-marshal has used as his way of transport, instead of flying.

For him, it was anything, but flying.

He helped Bethany up on the branch, carefully explaining to her to not put too much tension into the process of perching, as it would way to easily drain away her talons’ energy, and losening up one’s grip mid-air could have resulted in a rather... frightening and panicky experience - Barnes managed to find this out the hard way, and he was now developing others’ safety from the correction of his own faults.

Also, some of his „Biology 101” memories have played an important part in this „show-and-learn” demonstration.

- Remember, owls can shift one of their claws to the back, so they would have two toes on the front, and the back. Yeah... something like that! - he commented as Bethany has experimented around with this part of her new, and yet unknown physiology; even though she has just crossed a few hours ago, she appeared to be a quick learner, as the female bird was picking up every piece of advice with an unbelievable proficiency, as if she was doing this for quite a while - Now, just stand on this branch here, and take a moderately strong grip on it, just enough for you to not slip and fall of mid-air - Bethany did as told, once again, successfully completing of what she was asked to do for the very first time.

Irvis has collected Hakan and Marek from the faraway section of the birch-tree, and these two were now assembling into a pair, ready to lift off with the carried weight of both Markson and Bethany, the latter already strongly perching on the broken-off branch, and the former getting ready to do so.

Just then, entirely unexpectedly, the female Spotted owl gave out an abrupt cry of pain and agony, pressed her right wing against her chest, roughly where her stomach-area would have been; Chris has jumped onto the carrier-branch with a speed that has even caught him by surprise, and leaned in front of the bird, so that his face was close to hers, which would have made sure that, even if partially in shock, she would still hear the words Markson was about to speak.

- Are you feeling all right? - he questioned, only to be answered by not words, but minimal spray of blood that has now tainted his face, to which he reacted by snapping his head away; Bethany definitely had something wrong with her on the inside, potentially with her organs, as she was coughing up a negligible, and yet still worrying amount of her vital fluids.

Even a few seconds later, she was unable to answer, which has led Barnes to shout over the volume of the roaring wind.

- I need some help over here! - as a swift response to this, three owls have came to the rescue, carrying something that looked like some type of makeshift gurney, constructed out of animal hide and two, strong branches.

By this point, Bethany was twitching in an involuntary fashion, panic spreading from her now glassy eyes.

- What happened to her? - asked one of the birds, a female Barn owl, with an unusually dark plumage around her chest-area; while waiting for a delayed response, she shouted over to another pack of owls who were currently observing the events from a respectable and non-disturbing distance - Someone get me four claw-counts of Thuja occidentalis, and make it quick! - then, the owl turned back to Chris, staring at him, expecting an answer to be spoken, and soon.

- I... I do not know, she just started coughing up blood! - he replied, feeling confused, frightened, and disgruntled; Bethany was his only potential connection to valuable information he was eager to acquire. What cruel twist of fate would have been so apathetic to take all that away from him?

In the meantime, a fourth bird has arrived with a metal instrument that has looked exactly like the one that Markson was injected with in his... hours of hostility (his violent scene that was caused back at the Great Tree’s infirmary), and a material that resembled a thin piece of fabric.

As of the response, the female Barn owl just simply sighed and shook her head in what appeared to be anger, and ordered two other birds to lay Bethany down on the gurney-looking object; another pair of brown-feathered owls came over, one wiping the above mentioned fabric to the Spotted owl’s beak, and the other appearing ready to inject the contents of whatever was inside the metal instrument.

Noticing and registering this as a form of hostility, Chris attempted to defensively approach the female, who was screaming (as a human) and screeching (as an owl) as if those birds were torturing her; and, on top of everything, she was still twitching violently.

- Hey! Get off her! - he shouted, but the female Barn owl halted him in movement with her right wing, and even gave Barnes a meaningful push, just to show that she was not messing around.

- Let he healers do their job, Silverbeak! - at the moment the ex-marshal has heard the name, he suddenly got hit by the feeling that, just maybe, this Barn owl might not be his new, potential best friend.

- What are they doing to her? - asked Markson temperamentally, the flashes of intimidation almost radiating from his blue eyes, creating a quite contradictory sight of his visual organs, to say the least.

- They are checking her blood for traces of long-period poison, and sedating her into an artificial coma that will last no longer than one hour; basically, healing her! Nothing in your field of expertise! - shouted the Barn owl over the constant, impenetrable volume of the raging storm; she did not even bothered to establish a respective eye contact with Chris. She just simply kept staring at the now silenced Bethany, whose feathered body was still twitching, but was beginning to become motionless by the passing seconds.

She almost appeared to be dead; but, luckily, Markson was experienced enough to know the difference.

- My field of expertise? - questioned Barnes, hoping that it was only the storm that was disrupting the words his ears perceived; who the hell was this Barn owl thinking she was! Chris understood that he has done some hardly pardonable actions in his first waking hours, but he was attempting with his hardest to redeem himself.

Purely, he was feeling frustration towards those who were, as matters appeared like, unable to discern these facts.

- Would you care to explain of what... - however, before ex-marshal would have been able to state his question, Irvis lighted down next to him on the birch’s branch, with an extreme impact that has, fortunately, left him without any permanent damage.

- Save your introductions for later! - he shouted over the roar of the wind and, since a minute ago, ice-cold rain - We have a massive storm incoming, and, if we do not get out of here in the next few seconds, we will have to wait until it passes! And, for the record, I will not even attempt to fly through a storm-barrier! - Chris stared at him blankly, with his beak dropped open, as a reply, physically not being able to believe of how awfully impolite everyone just, in all of a sudden moment, became.

Seeing that Markson was not reacting in any way, shape, or form, the male bird gave another verbal push to the ex-marshal.

- When I say that, I do mean the word „hustle”! - he cried out over the rain and wind, to which, finally, Barnes has came to his senses, and, with a speed even surprising to himself, jumped, and perched onto his „transportation-branch”.

The next few seconds were exactly like some type of fast-forwarded movie or scene to Markson; every single owl that were out on the field, whizzing by like shadows in the now extreme rain, some taking off early to form the vanguard and to scout ahead for any potential dangers this weather might have kept as a surprise; for some weird and unexplainable reason, audible sound appeared to be dampened for Chris, as he was, even right now, attempting to focus on an on-going conversation between his two carriers, Hakan and Marek, but, simply, only muffled sounds reached his ear-slits, and nothing intelligible followed those noises.

Time has, once again, ceased to exist for the ex-marshal, and the whole duration the flight took back to Ga’Hoole has came across to him as a flat minute, losing his sense to acquire the whole hour that has passed by in reality.

He only realised that he was back at the Great Tree when Irvis and Valery have successfully snapped him out from his almost comatose-like state; Barnes has blinked around for a few moments, and took a set of seconds to visually acquire and process of where exactly he was.

Well, almost snapping him out from this comatose-like state; at least, we can safely say that it had no connection to the weather.

Arrival and Take-Off Branches, Great Ga’Hoole Tree, Southern-Kingdoms

Close to 3:13 a.m.

Christopher Barnes Markson, ex-TSA

He was in some kind of alternate world that was populated with intelligent, talking owls (and, potentially, other types of birds as well that beared the same, or, at the very least, similar characteristics); Chris, himself, was also an owl, as, by some inexplicable scientific-phenomenon that was, more than likely, artificially induced, he was metamorphosed into this bird of prey, and crossed through some type of... interdimensional-barrier, and, finally, ended up here, at this place, which was populated with intelligent, talking owls.

And he, himself, was also an owl of some unknown species; has he mentioned that yet? To himself? Or to anyone else?

But who was anyone else? Figments of his cracking imagination, or conscious and individual minds?

What was this location anyway; imagination, or reality? What was reality? And what was imagination?

The ex-marshal was coming to feel as if he was stuck in some extremely strange drug-trip, but there were two facts that could have easily denied this theory; first of all, he never used any type of illegal, or recreational drug in his life, ever - especially not on the airplane. Anyone could have recalled such an experience without any exquisite effort of a mind!

On the second point, however: he, on all levels, comprehended to the fact that what he was conceiving for the past few days still is reality, be it as unbelievable as it momentarily was.

Then again, what was the exact definition of reality? The word „reality” itself could not have been - that option sounded, and was, way too simple! Was the idea of „reality” itself even real? What if not?

If so, who was Markson? No, in fact, what was Markson? If one takes away all the recognisable characteristics of a person, are they still a person? Or just an empty shell, with a collection of electrostatically-attracted atoms, mostly consisting of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and about seventy-six percent of hydrogen oxide?

All of a sudden, Barnes head began to feel heavy; too much to think about, too much to accommodate in his head. Was he having a cerebral hemorrhage? Why would he even have one in the first place?

He cautiously touched his right wing against his beak, which emitted a physical sense as if it was planning on disattaching from his body, and was about to fall off from his face; essentially, an uncomfortable pain has hit his head, as if it was a lightning that has struck down on him from the raging storm.

Lowering his wing in front of himself to be able to see, Chris visually acquired a thin streak of blood that has stained his otherwise light-brown feathers to an alarming red.

Looking up, and although he was unsure of it, but he believed that he has established eye contact with Valery - but it could have been Irvis at the same time; everything surrounding him was spinning too violently for him to judge the previous.

Before failing to hold onto the physical world and losing consciousness for about the fifth time in the past two, or... three days now (however, this time not actually understanding the real or logical cause for this), his eyes managed to focus in for one split of a second, which, in a normal scenario, would have been an insufficient length of time to visually acquire anything that would have been of any use.

But, of course, Markson did not belonged to the generally accepted norm, and this was not due to the momentary reason of him being an owl; being here and being alive in the first place has made him special enough anyway.

What he saw would, if not in the middle of falling unconscious, assumably have made his eyes open wide: the same owl who was keeping a keen and attentive eye on him back in the library. He (judging from his plumage, however, Chris was unsure of why he was able to identify an owl’s gender by its feathers, and of how he has managed to do so in less than a single second) was standing in a similar position, blending into the background, apparently not wishing to draw the ex-marshal’s attention to his suspicious and thoughtful gaze.

With this, obviously, he has failed, as Markson’s eyes, even if just for a moment, were in contact with the bird’s - whose real identity was currently unknown.

However, it was a pity that once he would awake from his unconscious state, Barnes would not remember the last ten minutes.

He could feel himself slowly falling in a forward direction, realising, but not caring about the fact that everything was growing dark around him.

He figured that either Irvis, or Valery (maybe both of them) would catch him, preventing his body from breaking something on his face; may it happen as it should, frankly, Chris could not be highly bothered about it.

After all, he was unconscious, again, for another time, and so on.

The Infirmary, Great Ga’Hoole Tree, Southern-Kingdoms

Close to 4:23 a.m.

Christopher Barnes Markson, ex-TSA

The stabs awoke him from his state of blankness, first only coming into his blacked-out mind as mild senses of a needle penetrating his skin, then he, eventually, came to the conclusion that, indeed, he was being injected with something.

His eyelids snapped open, and he sat up as much as he could, supporting his loss of balance with his unfolded wings, gasping for air as he noticed that he could not breath normally.

Instantly, two owls arrived to aid him, one placing a wet fabric on his chest, presumably to cool him down, and the other moving his left wing up and down in front of Barnes’ face, as to acquire his attention and focus.

- I am sorry to cut it to you, Markson, but you have been out for at least an hour - Chris recognised the authoritative and respectful voice without any recollection of thoughts; Valery, Lance-Corporal.

- What happened? - moaned the ex-marshal, raising his right wing to his head, shutting his eyes with a great force, albeit even more was required to pry them open again - Where am I now? - he asked weakly, and was granted a reply in almost no time.

- You have went into some type of shock as soon as we have arrived back, though Hakan suspected that you were already in this state about halfway-across the Hoolemere - spoke the female owl, allowing the previous to sink in, then carrying on - You are currently in the infirmary, with me and Irvis. I guess this shock was induced by your brain realising of where it actually is - her voice was like a melody in a foggy graveyard, keeping Markson’s mind afloat and away from an eerily inviting, imaginary grave.

Turning his head downwards, Chris scanned around his feathered body, and discovered the source of the light pain he was experiencing only about a minute ago; by this time, Valery was removing a needle-looking object from his right side, right around from his lower-chest section. A minimal amount of stained blood marked the location of where the point of penetration once was.

His memories were correct, and it was, indeed, a similar, syringe-like instrument, however, luckily, not the same one that was used on Markson when his immediate sedation was required; this seemed so far behind him, momentarily, as if it has occurred years ago.

- We were hoping to ask you a few questions about the young owl you have interrogated - the last word echoed through the infirmary hollow in a vicious and intimidating way; Bethany’s and Chris’ conversation was anything but an aggressive interrogation.

- I... - for a moment, panic jolted through the ex-marshal’s neurons, but this fear has swiftly passed, as the now somewhat alert Barnes’ memories began to flood back into his brain; still, this momentary headache was rather tough and unpleasant, which has led to his response - I can remember everything about the girl, but can I just... could we do this later? - he glanced pleadingly over at Irvis, an action which neither of the three would have expected to see at any time - This headache is unbearable! - he hissed between his beak, shutting his eyes tightly, again.

- Is she the same as you are? She is from a... different place, is not she? - questioned Valery, causing Chris to quickly snap his head towards the female owl; this gaze communicated everything through that she had wished to know. Essentially, the ex-marshal has just replied to her inquiry.

- You knew about this, did not you? - smiled Markson, an unlikely reaction to have come from him; things with this Bethany have worked out way too simply for them to be an utter coincidence. Irvis and Valery have wanted him and the female Spotted owl to meet; this now became obvious to Barnes.

The Lance-Corporal has responded with a matching action towards the ex-marshal, nodding, but only once, and even that was barely noticeable.

However, Irvis spoke instead of her first.

- Remember that parchment I have received during your questioning? - he asked, to which Chris has nodded to - That was from Valery here; her preliminary briefing about this so-called Bethany - he kept a short pause, but kept his eyes on the ex-marshal; albeit Markson was not returning the look, he could still feel it sharp edge on his feathered head - She mentioned the same words you did, that... „Massachu-something”. At that point, I pretty much knew that you two must be connected in some way - he concluded, although left quite a few questions open to the ex-marshal.

„But, after all, we are not actually connected; we are just a coincidence!”, thought Barnes, but was not feeling confident enough to share his theory yet - mostly because he did not have any.

- He flew to Ambala after that, to the place where you just have been - continued Valery, instead of the Corporal; this was not a complication to Markson, though, as he liked her voice better anyway - He told me about you, your presumed story, of what you have done. I told him to stay on the scene, and then I returned here, to Ga’Hoole, where I have waited for the right moment - she beamed another smile towards the ex-marshal - I realised right away that when Byran has stormed inside the Search and Rescue chaw’s hollow, furious and appearing dangerous, only an owl of your caliber could have frinked him off. After all, Irvis has been through with your style, more or less - she nodded towards the Corporal, who, this time, also gave place for a nostalgic smile.

For a moment, Chris did not acted, but paused to think for a few seconds; not that there was no point to carry on this doubtlessly informative and conscious-easing conversation, but there was something in the back of his brain that kept sparkling up again like a flame when placed from an environment with almost no oxygen into an environment of massive amount of oxygen; it kept coming forward for a fraction of a short time, then fell back into the yet not-so-active section of the ex-marshal’s brain.

Then, all at once, it just came to him - what he marked down as his priority once he arrives back at Ga’Hoole: to talk with Bethany.

- Where is she now? - he asked, glancing from Irvis to Valery, then back at the Corporal, then back at the Lance-Corporal, at least three times in a row - And what happened to her? Did you birds managed to find that out yet? - his brain still felt somewhat disorganised and was swimming with random and non-relatable thoughts, next to the matter in there that was actually attempting to make logical sense.

Pictures about his time away in Paris, Florida, and Stockholm kept popping up, images of a past life which appeared to be somewhat far, yet still not left behind in the years that felt like an infinity.

- Bethany? - it appeared as if she was hoping to avoid the topic of the female Spotted owl’s current medical state, but, after a short reconsideration that she has accomplished with herself, the Lance-Corporal sighed, and gave out the information Barnes was seeking - She is in a stable state, however, our healers suspect that she may have been exposed to some form of consumable poison - she allowed this shocking piece of information to sink in for the ex-marshal (which it did required to), then continued on with these grave, yet somewhat reassuring news - You have seen the early-effects of it kicking in, back in Ambala. It is what we call Glaux’s Touch, however, the name itself is rather misleading; it is a mixture of poisonous herbs that can be, when mixed in the correct concentration, lethal - Chris’ beak dropped halfway-open, the sight of panic and dismay obviously settling in his eyes; it was clear that this newly gained information has set the ex-marshal aback.

It would potentially have done it with anyone, who might have been closer than the norm to Bethany - family, close friends, and such; too bad that none of them were present anymore, or, at least, not in this world.

- But do not worry, even just a bit, we got the problem under control, and the poison can easily be neutralised from her system; all we need is just time - with this, Valery was hoping to restore some confidence in Markson, essentially attempting to share with him that, although she was, indeed, poisoned, Bethany was not dead; she was not that type of a kind, anyway - Of course, we were also thinking that, since you have managed to establish a somewhat positive acquaintance in her, you might achieve a better result in keeping her on this side of the abyss - spoke the Corporal, yet this only attracted a questioning look out of Chris.

- What would you need me to do, exactly? - inquired Barnes, albeit, instead of Valery, it was Irvis who now granted an answer to this question, which the ex-marshal was awaiting a swift response to.

- Talk to her, keep her focused, however, before you do so, please answer our questions... - spoke the Corporal, but the latter section of his sentence was ignored by Markson.

- Where is she? - the ex-marshal truly wanted to speed this up, as he, personally, did not believed that there was time for this, in this current minute.

Even then, at the very least, he did not wanted to arrive upon the sight of a suddenly deceased Bethany.

- The Spotted owl? - answered Valery with a question, as if she has wished to include a literary device in her sentence, which, evidently, was rhetorical, as she could not hold herself back from answering - We cleaned out a hollow and assigned it to her, temporarily; we were originally thinking of placing her in the same location as you, but dropped the idea, due to... - if not interrupted (and, to note, somewhat offensively) by Barnes, the female owl would probably have carried on for at least another solid minute, but, since her current monologue already began to feel like the physical-definition of eternity, Chris could not help; with every passing moment, impatience was eating him up from the inside, slowly gnawing through his hollow-bones, reaching deeper and deeper, right towards his... stomach-area, or somewhere near that.

For the past few days, he continued to have such impulses when a sudden feeling of panic, fear, or unsureness has managed to get through his titanium-like psychological-defenses, these... aches kept turning up around the above mentioned part of his digestive-system.

He did not knew what it was (which was also worrying him), but, momentarily, he could not care less.

What Bethany has promised to tell him was currently the thing that was meaning the world to him; his world, from where he hailed from. Reality - the real reality.

- Listen, we can go through everything you want, but, please, let us just do this at another time, maybe after I have talked with her, okay? - Chris stared into the yellow and amber tinged eyes of Valery, pleading for her to have some mercy on him; after all, he has accomplished his task, and a verbal report could wait anyway, could not it? - Please - he gave another small push to increase his chances.

To shorten the ten seconds he was required to wait for a response from the Lance-Corporal, Barnes’ „begging” had a successful effect.

- All right, I would have no problem with thirty, maybe forty minutes, but... - she emphasised the last word before trailing off for a second - ...Corporal Irvis must be the one to authorise this - the male got hit by this unexpectedly, for a moment not even realising of what Valery has just spoke out loud.

It took him a second or two, but Irvis nodded to Markson:

- Go ahead, we can found you when we need you, anyway - he stated a well-known fact, and gave a light tap with his right wing to Valery’s back, signaling her to walk with him, leaving Chris alone in the medical hollow, in a matter of seconds.

Only then the ex-marshal has only realised that, for one, he had no clue of where he even currently was, and, for two, he was not keeping a GPS, let alone a map on him that has contained the momentary layout of this gigantic tree.

He was just about to shout after Irvis and Valery, hoping that they would be able (which they would have been) to grant his some type of navigational and directional assistance, however, an owl has entered the hollow before he could have, and Barnes was suddenly on the level of a one-hundred percent assurance that, regarding the matter of finding a way around, he will not meet any complications.

And all the previous was, because, approximately five seconds ago, Lyran, who, regarding his proficiency of common skills, has probably finished the packing away of those ancient books in the library roughly a minute ago, has opened his beak to greet the ex-marshal.

From there on, Markson’s worries about getting lost in this massive maze of a tree instantly evaporated.

Outskirts of the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, Southern-Kingdoms

Close to 4:29 a.m.

Kenneth Zwegger

Another job, and the dirtiest of all, at that; even though he sometimes questioned Fayer’s motives and ideologies, not to mention The Director, back on the „home-side”, Zwegger understood that this deed had to be done, and as soon as possible - an already extreme amount of information was leaked about the agency, and the best possible way to silence someone these days was to take care and get rid of them - permanently, while we are at it.

If Zwegger would currently have been living in a perfect world, a single bullet of a .308 Lapua Magnum could have took care of all of the agency’s troubles, however, since he was not even in his own, original world and history in the first place, the usage of a firearm was to be automatically ignored.

Sending such items and equipment over here has not yet became an available possibility, and, although Fayer’s operation has been ongoing for at least three months now, only a few, trusted personnel were directly involved from the agency; of course, there were a few... „collateral damages”, such as this girl, or that TSA-grunt that somehow managed to cross over.

Zwegger has already visited this „Ga’Hoole-island” a few times beforehand, and, even though it was a fact for him that it still counted as hostile territory, full with the agency’s targets, he could not help but forget the world around himself as he gazed upon its majesty every single time he flew here.

Then again, everyone would have - even Fayer himself, despite that he was a hardcore agent, and still was, even now, in this reduced physical form.

Be as condescending as it possibly could have been, the brave and resolute men and women at the institution essentially gave and devoted their life for their country, as not many would have openly volunteered to be sent into another world, with which, in the same time, they would abandon their physical bodies they were used to, since their point of birth, and all throughout their lives.

It was a great sacrifice, which was to be, without doubt, appreciated by the coming and future generations of all.

As all sacrifices, however, their results had to be protected and cared after, and this was the main reason of why he was present at Ga’Hoole tonight.

Zwegger himself, when sent over by the agency to accomplish his assignments, woke up as what he was identified by his fellow operatives a Short-eared owl, or „Asio flammeus”, he was also told; the latter was to not rouse suspicion when it came to infiltration or trust-gaining missions. If there was one matter the agency could pioneer in, that was its professionality; not a single failed objective in the past three months that Fayer’s team has spent here. When they were told to commit assassinations or murders, they would not take more than a few hours, and would leave no detectable clues behind - even when they did, that was done to usually frame someone for a killing.

Although he only spent two months here from the total number of three, Zwegger considered himself a half-decent flyer when it came to maneuvering and speed-flight, and, when he judged from his past „get-rid-offs” and regular daily combat training, his talon-to-talon fight was not that miserable at all - it was more of an acceptable range.

Despite Zwegger’s past experience at such employers as the North-American Federal Bureau and the United States Navy SEALs, growing used to a brand new body, and, with that, physiology, did proved to be rather difficult for him; it took him for a day to figure out how to walk on talons without tumbling beak-first into the dirt, and his flying instincts did not kicked until a month and two weeks ago, when he almost broke his neck in his futile attempt to flap his wings, to stay above the ground for at least more than five seconds.

But he was not an exception. They had all, the ones who came from the agency, started of like this, in a similar fashion to Zwegger; first only doing the „paperwork”, as they called it - constant intelligence-analysis and physical training - and, as soon as they managed to figure out the instinctive-process of how an owl flew, they would immediately be assigned to infiltration and observation missions, assassinations, on-field interrogations, and similar deeds one would be expected to complete in a warzone.

As Fayer and his brave men and women (who were now, obviously, existing in the form of owls) were told by the agency, they should consider this place, in its entirety, a hostile world; they were the outcasts, and these birds were their enemies - only that, in reality, they volunteered to be casted out into an unknown and uncharted world that was not even their’s. Even know, some of the reasons of why they were doing what they were doing were unclear to a few in this team.

Nonetheless, at the end of the day, they were soldiers, and were not to raise any questions, be it reasonable, or just purely trivial.

Zwegger now turned his face towards the sky, and began scan the horizon for the sun that was to rise in a few hours’ time; even though the dawn was still only approaching, he could not afford to waste precious time, and, once again, scolded himself for being so easily distractable by hostile landmarks; he removed his weapon that he has stabbed into the wet wood of the lightning-scarred tree he was momentarily perching on, just around the outskirts of this small island.

If there was one thing he truly admired in this world, it was the unique development of these owls’ close-combat weaponry; it was nothing extensively special, what is more, the „standard-issue” designs did not even differentiated from a small-sized metal dagger, from around the Medieval-Ages, and yet...

Some of these were astounding; specifically, this so-called „ice dagger” Zwegger was carrying, even now.

Constructed from some type of „ice” from this place of what these owls have called the „Northern-Kingdoms”, these close-quarter weapons somehow managed to not only hold out for days without melting, but were able to cut and penetrate skin!

Even though the detailed analysis and report that Fayer’s team has sent back to the agency was quite thorough in most aspects, none in the institution were able to give a half-decent theory of how this could possibly occur with only sharpened ice.

As another example, there was the dagger that Zwegger carried around with himself - a nice little craft he stole of this unknown owl that was calling itself a „rogue smith” all the time, dragging his constant repetition of the title to a point where Zwegger could not help, but claw his throat out earlier than he was supposed to.

It was a shame to some degree, this „smith’s” death - it was obvious that some real quality work has went towards the dagger’s fabrication. As a prime example, the weapon had some expert precision-work on its dark-metal blade; probably achieved with hours of carving, this compact dagger had the suggestive image of an owl’s sharp talons (ironically, much like Zwegger’s), set in a position where they would be ready to strike on their enemies, on both sides of the blade. Some attempt of writing was also present, but only the first two or three letters were finished, for the rather clear reasons of the smith-owl’s early death.

Suddenly realising that the first orange tinges the sun painted on the untouched, flaming sky of the dawn-time in the wake of every single morning were beginning to appear, Zwegger swiftly unfolded his left wing, reached towards the sling of leather-craft that was tightly fitted to the flight organ, and he loosened a strap on it with his right talons; he lifted his dark dagger, allowed the faint glint of the starts to reflect from it in the late-night air, then slid it into the customised, and improvised leather knife-holster.

He unfolded his right wing as well, and lighted off from the dead tree’s branch with a few, but doubtlessly powerful flaps.

It was time for his short-notice assignment to be completed. If the intelligence he obtained from his insider-contact was correct, his time was already short, and was slowly starting to run out.

His short flight was probably around the length of a hundred meters, if not less; he had to personally admit that flying was, indeed, the simplest possible option when it came to moving from one place to the other, with, or even without, great haste.

He pulled off an effortless circle around the gigantic tree once he approached it, taking a great care of keeping his hidden dagger concealed - after all, that was the main reason of its compactness.

The other one was that a lesser cleaning of the bloodstains was required afterwards.

He decided to take the „back-entrance”, and landed with undetectable silence at the now abandoned side of the tree’s platforms; during his preliminary surveillances, he managed to find out that this area, when occupied, functioned as a training-ground for those who practiced talon-to-talon combat as a technique of self-defence, however, their fighting-style was somewhat different to what Fayer relied upon - this and that were either similar, or the exact same, but many aspects were, simply, unlike.

After his feet touched the wooden platforms, Zwegger took a quick glance around - not a soul that could have detected his entry. So far, everything was perfect.

But the harder part of his plan was only to commence.

He observed the approximate location of where they have took the girl for her immediate medical assistance. All he managed to place together from the words he managed to eavesdrop on during a regular fly-by was that the girl was poisoned somehow, and by someone.

Fayer’s „Plan B”, no doubt, for the possibility of a case in which his idea on how to frame this sneaky little CIA broad has not properly succeeded in time, and if she might have survived the poison, maybe administered the antidote in time - this was how it apparently has happened.

And this was why Zwegger was sent here in the first place.

To cut it short, he knew where he had to go: somewhere along the upper-branches of this tree, there was the girl, weak, exposed, but, potentially, guarded; the latter, however, did not mattered to him.

He was the type who usually crossed a problematic bridge when he came to it, and normally not planned ahead - bridges could be of many styles and types, and one could never predict of what he was going to walk across.

It took him a straight, light-stroll through the inside-bark of this tree for five minutes, and yet, Zwegger was still unable to spot a single one of these birds, and decided to hasten his pace, paranoid if he had kept his timing right, or just totally destroyed the work and effort put into the planning of this assassination; at his next turn to the left, he almost ran right into the ugly face of a Barn owl, but managed to avoid the stenching package of dirty feathers, but only by a very thin nut-hair.

The bird stared at him with his head turned around while he kept moving in the opposite direction in which Zwegger was walking towards; if he would not have been on an assignment, he would actually have took his time to go after him, and to finish him off in an isolated place - collateral damage, nothing more.

After all, every single one of these birds were categorised as „hostile” by him, and the agency.

An upwards slope followed, and this only one lasted for about five minutes - somewhat of a shortcut to the higher-stations of this tree, he has learned a few days ago, while he was still assigned to reconnaissance. An exhausting climb, yes, but, at least, it was rarely used.

A bird would rather fly than climb; now would not this statement be naturally true?

He cut back from his almost running-stance again as he spotted some smudgy Long-eared owl, acquiring him in the exact moment as the avian has turned his corner, its foul odor detectable smelling from at least a mile off; however, before this glance could be seen by the bird itself, Zwegger swiftly turned his gaze to the right, as if the almost rotten-looking bark had kept so much interest in him.

Unfortunately, the owl did accosted him, but, luckily enough, it was just a meaningless and regular greeting of someone who wants to appear polite as he passed by.

- Morning! - he squawked annoyingly, but Zwegger kept a straight face, and forced himself as much as he could to not flinch at the irritating sound of his speech.

He cursed in himself as he instinctively turned his head towards the bird; it was too late to now pretend that he did not realised that the owl addressed him with his single word. He was in no need of a witness that could have later popped up, stating that he saw someone suspicious coasting around this tree, on foot, even - that was the biggest giveaway of the truth.

Instead of blanking out and deliberately ignoring the avian creature, Zwegger replied on the uttermost politest way he could forcefully conjure out of himself.

- Good to see you - he responded in a comfortably-audible level-of-voice, with his best form of acted-out, casual speaking-style; to make his whole reaction more convincing than it was in its current, default form, he also added a barely-to-clearly noticeable nod to the mix.

Since the ugly bird gave no apprehensive or distrustful glances towards him, Zwegger decided that, no, this owl was not a potential threat to the plan anymore.

He will be just another confused and panicked soul in a few hours, after the body will be found, but without any answers for the usual questions left behind.

The top-end of the sloped passageway was now, ultimately, reached by Zwegger, who, judging his required direction from the imaginary reconstructed layout of the upper-level branches, took a turn to the right, keeping a close eye the few other owl that were perching in the vicinity; the murder will be committed inside her current hollow, anyway.

His only key objective was to go for the throat, so that there would be no screaming to alert anyone.

It took him another two left turns, a walk-over of a wooden platform that was intended to be a form of connective-bridge, and one change of direction to the right to finally, visually sight the hollow he was searching for in his memories.

To be brutally honest here, it would not have been such a difficult task, even for an amateur (as Zwegger was leagues away from that level); two owls, both wearing a blue-coloured headwear that has, for the closest comparison, resembled an alternative version of a beret-hat, were standing in a position and stance that was literally screaming out about them that, „yes, in fact, if you have not noticed, we are the guards over here”.

Zwegger found it too ridiculous, and was unable to hold himself back from a merry grin (with his beak, on top of all) - this was all way too easy. One would expect infiltration and assassination to be a difficult, and, frankly, rather tricky job; and yet here he was, staring at two - presumably - unarmed „guards”, wondering if their neutralisation will either take him four, or six seconds, in total.

He began to slowly approach, and it was then that he realised that, to some degree here, he crossed into the „too comfortable” territory; his underestimation will now require him to practice real-time planning and improvisation, as the two birds were, in reality, armed with metal daggers, that, to some extent, seemed to be just a little bit lethal.

The latter were hanging attached to a animal skin-and-leather belt, weirdly enough; they pretty much served the same purpose as Zwegger’s holster has, the only enormous difference here being that these were non-concealed, and were visible to anyone’s naked eye.

Originally, Zwegger planned on a lightning-fast draw of his dagger, then two stabs, one in each windpipe; but now, this seemed too risky, and, even if he would successfully finish one, the other would actually gain a decent chance in defeating him in combat.

Knowing that he was essentially born to improvise, he would not have prefered a losing close-combat fight to be his last - he wanted to play this one safe, and the best way to keep a fight harmless was to finish the whole thing before it even began.

Therefore, he acted as the following describes.

He altered his slow pace to a significantly faster walk, which has almost immediately caught the attention of both guards; dearly hoping that they would act as Zwegger himself has predicted, he kept his speed up, and readied his left wing for a swift reaction.

His relatively small avian heart was pounding in his ribcage, but he paid no worry towards this - it was a sign that his adrenalin levels have already began to act up, which had a chance to assist him in the coming fight.

He did not panicked about size-differences - the two were Short-eared owls anyway, so they were the exact same in height and strength as Zwegger was; what is more, possibly, due to all of Fayer’s training sessions, he might actually have been a bit stronger than the two birds.

- Sorry, but this hollow is under restricted access for the moment - spoke the one on the left in a bored and monotonous voice; from his words, the deduction that he did not truly care was obvious.

However, he cared enough to not allow, by all means that were to be necessary, Zwegger to enter; after noticing that the latter was not even planning on stopping, the bird changed his stance from „uninterested” to „halfway-between careful and alert”.

His colleague on his left already began to unholster his dagger.

- Pal, I do not want to exercise offensive force on you; now, could you please, turn around, and... - he continued, hoping that his words will eventually intimidate the closing-in Short-eared owl enough, but, by the word „please”, it was too late for both birds on guard.

Zwegger leaped forward, his left wing extended to its full length of an approximate seventy-nine centimeters, and, with its midway-section, which was still more bone than feathers, caught the owl - who was positioned on the right - in his windpipe; the avian creature gave out a surprised choking-sound on the impact, dropping his weapon as he reached up to his throat with an expression of disbelief settled on his face.

While his own, left wing was still extended, Zwegger used his right foot to gain a grip on his own dagger, wrenched it out from its animal-leather holster, spun around his personal axis so that he faced the still fully functioning owl (who was, by now, struggling to unholster his weapon), and, with the same momentum, drove the sharp blade into the Short-eared’s spinal-cord, potentially separating it in the process; a clean kill.

When the bird’s eyes have met Zwegger’s emotionless gaze, they were almost begging for a reason or explanation; he could see and determine from his avian-side instincts that his victim was still quite young, maybe a year old, two at the most.

He would not usually have, but, feeling somewhat remorseful for the bird’s death, Zwegger gave him a poor form of an apology.

- Nothing personal, kid, just doing my job - he spoke, yanked the dagger out from the rear-neck of the owl (who, at this, flinched, as if it was only a mosquito that has just gave him a bite), and, with a swift, disinterested slice to the left, opened up the young bird’s neck, grabbing and pushing him backwards by his face, leaving him to, eventually, die on his own, and not paying attention in any shape or form to the small spray of blood landing on his face’s feathers.

The late guard’s colleague was still choking on his injury - quite literally - leaning down halfway towards the floor of the wooden platform, not posing a serious threat to Zwegger for at least another ten-to-fifteen seconds; he left no room for mistakes, and drove his dagger through the breathless owl’s skull, that instantly ceasing to move from the complete destruction of his cranium.

The still-alive-and-breathing assassin took a moment, and a deep breath, glanced around with a fluid motion for any possible witnesses that might have ran to hide somewhere upon seeing the deadly-scene; when he settled in himself that not a single soul (now, not even the ones the two guards have had) were around, he unfolded his left wing, holstered his now blood-soaked dagger, then placed his flight-organ back to its original position.

Zwegger cleared his throat, gave a long exhale, then entered the hollow, slowly, as to keep the importance of this moment as a personal memory to himself.

Upon reaching the inside, he was honestly surprised to see of how plain, dull, and boring this hollow was; while some other living-areas in this tree were usually customly-decorated and contained their owners’ personal belongings and goods, this temporally assigned place was as dull as dishwater, to live with the simile.

A regular, round-shaped hollow, containing nothing other than a nicely done, soft-looking nest of feather-downs (Zwegger, of course, knew that these things were, technically, serving the purpose of beds); there was one, and only one living individual in this hollow, other than our master-killer, of course.

- Bethany Losold? - asked Zwegger without too much emotion in his voice’s tone, aiming his question at the innocent- and fragile-looking Spotted owl, who was currently taking up a comfortable position in the above mentioned „bed” of feather-downs - Are you Bethany Losold? - he repeated for a form of emphasis, and to show that he was meaning „business”.

- I am... - replied the confused and suspicious female owl, as it was only Markson who actually knew her full name, and this owl was clearly not the ex-marshal.

She had not a single clue or idea of who this Short-eared owl could have possibly been; but, as a second passed, something came to her mind.

Something that had cause her to freeze with the feeling of fear to the deepest marrows of her bones.

- Well, in that case, I am here to forward a message from a few „friends” of yours - he extended his left wing, reached for his dagger, then, a second later, already held it in his right talon, locking his gaze with Bethany’s - This is how the PSRI says „hi” to the CIA, in our book! - he hissed between the upper and bottom sections of his beak, then began to approach the female bird, who only had time to scream out two names.

- Markson! - this was the first, then another came, which did not quite make sense to Zwegger, but he could not honestly care less about it at this point; the girl was panicking, and many would bring up random or unrelated matters when they were in such a state - Agent Peck! - she shouted out with an unbelievable level of volume again, however, by this point, it was too late for her.

Zwegger was holding her neck tightly, and she was already on the floor of the hollow, unable to do anything; Kenneth considered this an easy kill, but he believed in the saying that stated the words „an eye for an eye”.

Back in their original world, reports came out that a few employees of the agency were injured during Agent Losold’s little infiltration mission, and some went blind for a lifetime, due to an exposure to a specific chemical compound.

Zwegger believed that it was time to repay these deeds, and what else he could have used for such a „procedure”, if not his trusty, dark-bladed dagger?

He totally forgot about the risks of being heard, then compromised; he only wanted to hear this bird scream in agony and pain - he wanted a payback for all that she has done back in Boston.

And he was going to have it here, and now.

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