From Marshal To Guardian, Part One: The Crossing

A New Life in an Ancient Town

Upper-Tree Branches, Great Ga’Hoole Tree, Southern-Kingdoms

Close to 5:35 a.m.

Christopher Barnes Markson, ex-TSA

The path Chris and Latimer took (on their feet, of course) to reach the hollow that Valery, in all likelihood, has described in her little note, or message (it all depended on one’s preferences) has only robbed the two of about ten minutes from their entire lifetime - maybe even just seven or six, in fact; it was one of those journeys that have, in an individual’s mind, felt like an absolute of not just one, but two eternities, while, in reality, their actual length was probably around short, five-minute stroll.

Of course, the ex-marshal and his companion have only perceived the passing of time as such, because there was an all-too-obvious lack of a conversation, or any type of verbal interaction between themselves.

The way they took, winding all around the in- and outside of this gigantic tree was unnaturally and awfully silent, reflecting the shock and the enormous impact the very recent occurrences have had on this island’s population and inhabitants; however, there was no possible way with which Chris could have came to the realisation that he was incorrect.

After mentioning - well, more of a “bringing up, and suddenly”, if we would wish to be pedantic here - the question in the middle of their somewhat, awkwardly taciturn travel, it turned out rather swiftly that there was a much less complex answer, when directly compared to Markson’s theory.

- I clearly would have no idea about the natural and generally expected behaviour of your... well, as I was told, “original species”, who apparently have resembled the race we call the Others, but us, owls, are, what we call, “nocturnal”, and this means that... - Latimer began his “educational-lecture”, but was intercepted by Chris’ following words.

- Yeah, yeah, I do know what “nocturnal” means - seeing that this has caused a yet unpronounced question to form in Latimer’s head, Markson hurried his personal process of, to put simply, “coming up with an answer” - Momentary amnesia, I guess; you know, forgetting this and that for a short moment? - he attempted to clarify the source of his sudden knowledge, and, hoping that this would present his latter sentence as something more believable, Barnes concluded his words with an unsure smile.

As a response to this, the Barn owl has just, without any preliminary or further comments, shrugged, and, until they have finally arrived at their destination - the hollow - not just a word, but not a simple audible sound could have been heard between the ex-marshal and the Lieutenant.

It was as if the saddening calamity and the respectful grief that poor Bethany’s unanticipated assassination has lead to has now, in its entirety, mercilessly descended upon Barnes’ brain, which was already enough distressed with a collection of other thoughts of issues - passive, yet still deeply emotional mourning would have been the last thing he would have needed now, but he could not help it.

And it was this that was holding the ex-marshal’s words back in their metaphorical tracks: leeching away his natural urge to discuss and settle on a decision on such horrific, but nevertheless crucial matters; and even though he and Latimer have managed to converse about the deserved death of Zwegger (which was, to some extent, controversial, as there truly should have been no one granted with a higher level of power, with which they could be the judge of “who should live, and who should die”), the unexpected murder of the, assumedly, ex-CIA Spotted owl (and Chris felt the latter to be a deliberate action), was not even attempted to be brought up by the Barn owl.

To sum this up in a shortened style, it was the larger portion of the above mentioned that was troubling Barnes, however, due to his, essentially, own self, he was unable, and unwilling, to be the first to commence a discussion on the topic.

Even worse, Markson could not read emotion from the Lieutenant’s face, and was indecisive towards any of his personal theories on the former. But then again, Latimer... how possibly could Chris has had knowledge about anything that was going on in the bird’s head?

After all, this was the precise intention and entire concept of private-thoughts.

Either way, for now, Chris would have preferred the, so far, dominant silence to maintain its current position.

It was actually a somewhat incredible as how the ex-marshal’s brain has managed to process so many thoughts in such a little time span; it took him a few seconds to notice, but, when he did so, Barnes had to realise that they have, for the most, successfully reached Latimer’s chosen destination: a grand amount of hollows, each appearing to be eerily similar to every other one.

Markson would have been, alone and all by himself, unable to differentiate anything between the massive armada of hollows they have passed by in this moment (he actually gave a half-worth of an effort to count the amount of how many have visually appeared to be the same. Around the number of forty-three, he decided to abandon this hopeless attempt to try to pass his time, as he was assured by his mathematical intuition that there was no point in the attempt of counting up to a thousand, or, if given by the circumstances, note down more than a chiliad); albeit, he has seemed to be overly confident over the fact of in which one of these hollows Valery was awaiting his, and Latimer’s, arrival - however, this was presumably because the female owl was standing guard in front of this specific location, practically shouting out to them that they should halt their casual walk there.

Even though Markson remembered the Short-eared owl to have been dressed only in... well, plain feathers of their usual creamy-brown and white colour the last time they have met, on this occasion, she has appeared to be not just clothed, but also, armed - the latter was of a similar fashion to Latimer; a medieval-styled leather belt was tied around her feathered waist, this item itself bearing the colour of dark-black.

Hanging from it, surprisingly stably, was a kind of “lightweight dagger-sheath of the same material, but this holster, when it came to the matter of the official colour-spectrum, had more of a brown touch to it, when compared to the previously mentioned belt.

As it would have been naturally expected, there was, in fact, a dagger sheathed in the scabbard, this weapon being not much of a contradistinction from what the Lieutenant has insisted on handing over to Chris, back at the scene where Zwegger has... expired.

Nonetheless, this particular edged-weapon the Lance-Corporal was carrying on herself has appeared to be of a higher quality, with a barely-decorated, discreet, and short cross-guard, and metal grip, which, at the first glance, did looked to be more solid than its leather-wrapped cousin; the blade, obviously, was not visible, due to the actual sheath of the weapon covering up the rather sharp and lethal sections.

On Valery’s head, the blue, Renaissance-era beret, which Barnes has now began to categorise as somewhat iconic (for those GHID owls) took its place, appearing to perfectly fit the female bird’s head; although he did not noticed at the first sight, but Barnes could now see a tiny-sized, silver-coloured leaf on the headwear’s right side (of course, the ex-marshal was thinking of the position from Valery’s perspective), the now faint shine of the dawn’s stars reflecting back from its metallic surface; Markson has assumed it to be some form of a badge, as it looked sophisticated enough to be something of an actual importance.

On the top of this blue beret, a lone, but majestic-looking feather of a crow was dangling in an unstable manner, as if it was about to float off from the headwear in any given second; surprisingly enough, as much as Chris was expecting it to, the feather has not done as such, and held its elevated position in a proud manner, not submitting to the rules of gravity - momentarily, the ex-marshal was thinking that it must have been very strongly attached to the beret.

When Markson and Latimer were in a quite close vicinity to Valery, the female Short-eared owl has turned her head to spot them, giving way for a light, relaxed, and pleasant smile; even though she was attempting with her hardest to, visually, seem pleased at the sight of the two birds, Barnes was indubitably assured by his brain’s interpretation that, in reality, the Lance-Corporal may not have been as delighted as she has shown herself to be.

Chris suspected the recent happenings to have been a reason for this, but decided to not venture into conversational-topics that, in their current statuses, could result to be rather... sensitive.

Of course, the ex-marshal knew that it was only a matter of quickly passing time until he would be required to recall every single precise detail of what actually has occurred in the hollow, which was (once again, in heavily-emphasised past tense) serving as Bethany’s temporary dwelling - at least, this was what Barnes was expecting to happen.

As they have approached the Lance-Corporal, she, all too suddenly - in Markson’s opinion - tensed all of her muscles, stomped with her right foot, and began to talk while she has executed a movement that was supposed to show the requisite amount of respect towards her outranking superior.

- Lieutenant Latimer, sir! - she saluted with her right wing, bringing the flight-organ up to the front-side tip of her beret; Chris noted this physical action down to be, at least, a little bit peculiar, as the female bird’s fluid motion, when saluting, was rather similar to the style with which Byran has done his own, back when Latimer has saved Barnes from almost being successfully apprehended by sedation.

However, he has not heeded too much attention towards this little detail, as he believed that coincidences still occurred on a daily rate, and were a perfectly and seamlessly acceptable concept - that is, for the most of their times, but never always.

There was not a single thing in life that was always doubtlessly unobjectionable.

The Barn owl’s reaction towards his, presumably, subordinate’s ordinary salute was simple, and yet, unanticipated by the ex-marshal: the male bird gave out that weird and unusual “avian-chuckle” - the one that sounded as if the owl was churring - then shook his head with a sympathetic and relaxed smile taking its place on his face; due to this, the Short-eared owl has lowered her wing, and folded it in its natural position.

- Lance-Corporal Valery, you never fail to disappoint; even when you are expected to! - spoke the Barn owl casually, as if this kind of talk was his ordinary, everyday-routine.

Although it did take Barnes a few seconds to realise the true meaning of the above mentioned, and, to him, it turned out that, indeed, Latimer was just simply attempting to create a more light and laid-back atmosphere with his previous sentence.

- Sir, I consider it my absolute duty to maintain the respect that is to shown to each levels and stages of the chain-of-command - she responded with a half-smile, looking like as if she was about to let an, otherwise, heavily-restricted chuckle out; as Markson has took a swift glance over at the Lieutenant, he had to recognise that, on the Barn owl’s face, the exact same, non-hostile grin has took its appearance.

For an unknown reason presently unidentified by Chris, Valery and Latimer kept a bizarre, almost non-existent, and short pause between themselves, then, a moment later, the female-side took herself to be the one to continue.

- I appreciate you bringing Markson up here, Latimer; I was dearly hoping that my message would reach you quickly enough - as a regular response to this, the Lieutenant just gave a light wave with one of his wings.

- Any time you require my services, Lance-Corporal - he bowed comically to the female owl, who, if she would have been physically able to, would have been likely to roll her eyes - As you have mentioned beforehand, “chain-of-command”... - the Barn owl took on a serious facial expression, and formed the symbol of “quotation marks” with two of his right talons, but it was rather clear that this was only a part of his increasingly awkward act.

Chris had not a clue on what the Lieutenant was possibly trying to achieve here, but there was one thing he was, without question, confident about: whatever it was, it was becoming more and more uncomfortable as the seconds have passed.

- It would appear that it has only took Ryley a rough estimation of... - she paused for a second here, and buried herself in her thoughts for this short amount of time, concluding with a number when she finished - ...Four minutes to hand my note over; I would say that his speed is developing - said Valery, and, suddenly, shifted to an entirely different topic and matter - I hope that you do not mind if I take Markson away from your company here and now - requested the bird, to which Latimer was quick to agree to; however not impolitely-quick, as if he had wanted to know the ex-marshal away from himself as soon as possible.

It was really his nod that could have been categorised as “swift”.

- Certainly; after all... - sighed the Lieutenant with the effortlessly detectable emotion that signalled that he was, shortly, about to engage in an activity which he might not have been that keen on accomplishing - This mad-owl’s rampage has demanded three lives today, and, since I was the highest-ranking officer on the scene at the time when that... idiot Byran has almost took Markson into custody, Gareth will expect me to give him a written report about this incident - he shook his head, almost as if he was hit by a sudden wave of grief - I better get going sooner, rather than later - nodded Latimer towards both Barnes and Valery; the former responded with the same gesture, and the latter has bid her farewell with the exact same action she has greeted the Lieutenant with.

Of course, by nothing else, but weirdly military-resembling salutation; this, apparently, the Barn owl has found rather hilarious; therefore, it was clear that the female owl has perfectly achieved her aim.

- You know, when you did it for the first time, I actually had to reconsider if you were being serious, or not! - commented Latimer on the Short-eared owl’s witty “goodbye”, silently chuckling to himself as he flapped twice with his wings, ascending into the air without a single hitch, almost as if his bones’ weight were planned for these kinds of movements (which, from a physiological perspective, they technically were).

- You see, Latimer, I find it rather entertaining how you pretend to be a low-ranking officer in my vicinity! - stated Valery in the middle of that churring noise - Ever attempted that with Colonel Gareth around? - this time, she allowed a proper chuckle to be let loose, an action which the Lieutenant has decided to share with.

- Have I ever told you, Valery, that your humour is simply magnificent? - shouted Latimer his rhetorical question from above, so that both birds, who were still standing on the platforms, could properly hear; not waiting for an answer that never would have came anyway, he took off in a direction that was facing away from the Lance-Corporal, and the ex-marshal.

In a matter of two, perhaps three, seconds, Latimer has disappeared from the ex-marshal’s sight, flown off towards a different location of this “Great Tree”, where he, as pronounced by the owl before, will attend to his further duties.

Right now, it was only Markson and Valery left here, and Chris has now, expectantly, turned towards the female owl, inquiring about a trivial matter that has arose in his brain just a minute ago.

- What was that about? - questioned Barnes, clueless about what actually has took place between the Lieutenant, and the Lance-Corporal; he was unsure about the meaning of the recent... act that Latimer has presented - I mean, in my world, we would categorise this as “flirting”; I assume that the same expression is in use here as well? - he added to narrow down his question to a more specific are-of-interest.

- Well, here, that would be called “fliving”, and I highly doubt that Latimer, who still is the mate of a female Barn owl known as Caroline, would be randomly courting with other members of his opposite gender - the Short-eared owl produced a sound that has reminded Chris of a combination of a hearty laughter, and a slightly-annoyed sigh.

- Ah, damn, I did not intended to be irreverent or anything... - attempted Markson to back out, but considered it to be too late by now; if his words have, unfortunately, did managed to hurt the female bird’s feelings, there was nothing he could do against it now.

Nevertheless, as it turned out, what the ex-marshal was momentarily afraid off was, once again, not quite happened in the way in which he has expected it to.

- Even if I would have found your statement to be somewhat hostile, I would have allowed it to slide; however, if to anyone, you should take your apology to Latimer himself. Although I doubt that his emotions would be so drastically affected by your comment - she narrowed her eyes as she spoke in a partially scolding, and partially sarcastic manner, and, after thinking for a short while with her eyes closer, the owl continued on with her sentences - You see, Latimer has this, what I would consider, a fairly unique sense of humour, albeit he only uses it when he understands the specific circumstances relaxed and tranquil; otherwise, he sticks with his professional-style, and can be as emotionally-untouched as a solid stone. But it might only seem this way because he would usually interpret a situation from a... pragmatic-perspective - concluded Valery with a now neutral expression on her face.

- I will keep that in mind - responded Markson, not actually being able to come up with a better answer to the female owl’s previous statement, therefore, he decided to stick with the decision of re-directing the entire conversation to the original subject - So... you have wished to show me something? A... “hollow”, from what I have heard? - he inquired, paying additional attention to his the second word in his latter sentence; although he could almost feel how absolutely ridiculous it must have sounded from his beak, the ex-marshal has placed extra emphasis on it, hoping that it would not make him sound too flippant towards the subject.

- Indeed - she replied with one, sole word - You could not possibly imagine how quick information can spread; by the time you have managed to incapacitate Bethany’s assassin, I already have been informed of some type of... “on-foot” chase going on at the Upper-Branches by three different officers - she spoke, and, in the meantime, decided to take her beret off; she reached above her head-level with her right talons, then, when she was done with this, the female owl has tucked the mentioned headwear between her own waist, and her leather-belt, so that the tight hold of the former would not allow the (if pedantically categorised) “hat” to drop down onto the wooden platform they were both standing on - My deepest and most sincere condolences about Bethany; she has... definitely not deserved such a death - she shook her head slowly, but lifted it back up soon enough - For now, we cannot do anything more than what we take as proper procedure; cleaning up the scene, searching after evidence, and identifying possible sources of information. However, this is not what I wanted to stress you about - she switched the topic suddenly, but, if he would have been required to be honest, Markson would have declared that he did not honestly mind - If you follow me inside, I will walk you through with the “what is what” inside your new, private-hollow - Valery signalled for the ex-marshal to walk along, who did as such, and stepped through an almost too-narrow opening in the bark.

Those individuals out there, who consider themselves to be in the possession of an extremely lively mind and an impressive imagination most likely would have been disappointed by the dull-as-dishwater sight of the hollow’s internal space, which awaited and greeted Markson as he and the female owl have entered; of course, the ex-marshal himself was not planning on the essential’s of his new dwelling to be of a first class suite’s of a luxurious, five-star hotel (however, he still had some minimal hope), and entirely comprehended to the fact that this place was, after all, just the inside of a tree - how comfortable or pompous could it even be in the first place?

At a more lengthy inspection, Chris came to think that this hollow did not actually differed that heavily, when judged from a visual-perspective, from the location where he has first met Felias; if there were any things that obviously were not alike, those were the physical shape, the empty and usable space, and the initial, so-called “furnishing" of this habitat.

If it would have been drawn as a sketch, the outline of the hollow itself would have seemed more “regular” than “irregular”, its wooden-walls appearing to have an almost perfectly circular-shaped form, only diverting from a naturally-accepted circle here and there, with a few outcrops and indentations.

Although at the time of his first and latest visit, the ex-marshal has found Felias’ hollow to be consummately crammed up with the owl’s, presumably, important papers and sheet-mountains, Barnes imagined that, maybe some long time ago, when a different, less unsympathetic bird has occupied the living space, it might have been just as empty as the dwelling, on which Markson was currently gazing upon, currently was; yes, there were a few easily recognisable items and objects lying here and there, then, also, some rather foreign-shaped... things - Chris was, in a minor way, ashamed by not being capable of finding a better word to label these unknown items with.

But then again, when surrounded by a world which was only moderately comparable and relatable to his own, old one, what compulsory deed could he have done?

In the far right corner of the circular hollow (albeit this statement, technically, would have been, when pronounced in front of a geometry-class, totally nonsensical), the ex-marshal has spotted something that his mind has deemed to be familiar, and, almost right away, he realised what he was actually staring upon: a bird’s nest, particularly an owl’s, consisting of what has seemed like a mixture of soft feather-downs, and equally as velvet-like moss.

From that point on, Barnes began to suspect that his so sought-after and desired, full-night’s (or day’s) sleep might not happen just as smoothly as he has originally expected it to; despite the undeniable fact that the nest did appeared to be (and, logically, should have been) rather comfortable, and the time when he was still imprisoned, and he could not help but rest while he was standing on both of his feet, Markson was completely unsure of how he was going to do this; he found it too embarrassing to state such a question to Valery, and, therefore, he was stuck with the not-always reliable option of improvisation.

Nevertheless, this specific problem was yet to arise; Chris decided it to be wise to might as well not dwell on it for as long as it was affordable.

- So, what should we begin with? - asked Valery in a rhetorical style, glancing from one corner of the hollow to the other; there was not that much to see, but Markson would still have appreciated a bit of a walkthrough in the, as the female owl has mentioned beforehand, “what is what” category - Standard hollow, if you ask me: you have a nest, and a branch hanging in from the outside, so you can sleep in whichever way you prefer - she raised a talon to point towards the feather-bed that Chris has already noticed, just a few seconds ago - A small shelf, for books, obviously - nodded Valery towards a wooden-fabrication; it was almost like a man-made shelf, only that it has seemed to appear somewhat more rough, and a bit irregular as well. Nevertheless, it probably still served its purpose; as a result of which, there was really no point to criticise, or to complain - You can either request volumes from the library, directly, or note any of your current thoughts down on those sheets - she pointed towards a smaller stack of clean-and-clear parchments with her right wing, which took their position on the top of the “bookshelf”; also, she has expanded this little bit of information with an additional statement - Irvis suggested it; he said that it might come in handy later on. So... just use it as you wish to; you will be able to find a scribe-stand over there. Its usage pretty self-explanatory, to be honest - she gestured towards a furnishment that, once again, brought back memories of Felias’ hollow to the ex-marshal.

The bird gave another quick scan for the hollow, and highlighted a few more points that she has found worthy to mention.

- You have a fire-grate over there - she gestured with her wing towards an object that has looked like the lower half of a metal cage - But I would only use it, in your place, when the worst side of winter comes around; at a later date, I will show you how to fill it up, then how to ignite it - Valery has turned her head around in both directions, probably just to see if there was anything else to introduce; after a short moment, the female owl has carried on in a style that clearly stated that there was nothing else to be introduced to Markson - ...And I believe that to be all; for now, at least - she concluded with a fairly standard conclusion.

- Thanks for the introduction - showed the ex-marshal his standard level of appreciation - What comes now? - he inquired, suspecting that Valery was still in this hollow for a very specific reason; otherwise, why else would she have decided to stick around, just for a bit longer? From what Chris has learnt about her so far, such an action would have been in an absolute contrast with her personality.

- A good-light story; what else would you expect? - she chuckled at her own sarcasm, and diverted onto the topic which she, by reasonable assumption, was originally planning on discussing - Now, even though I personally dismissed this a few hours ago, the High-Council still will, officially, class you as a suspect and potential offender, for now; until a further decision is made, you will have to be constantly guarded by a selected warden - she paused for a moment, then gave a sharp look to Barnes - I would have kept Lyran by your side, but, taking that he has almost bled out from that wound, he will be unavailable for a few days - her words have struck as heavily and mercilessly as a still extremely-hot hammer of a blacksmith, however, this was not intended by Valery to happen; it was the ex-marshal’s brain that has realised that, for the past thirty minutes or so, he entirely forgot about the sympathetic Barn owl - for all he knew, the bird might have even died from the laceration he has suffered by Zwegger’s claws.

„How could you forget about him, you idiot!”, he reprimanded himself inside his own head, too afraid of making his words to be heard on this matter; after all, his carelessness has almost led to the death of one who definitely has not yet deserved, or was aged enough, to be casted into the abyss of whatever came after one’s death.

If Lyran would not have been lucky enough, his death might as well have been scribed onto Chris’ metaphorical „bill”.

- In the heat of the moment, I... - he began with a weak excuse of an apology, and was almost immediately halted by Valery, who, peculiarly enough, did not come down on Markson as bad as the ex-marshal has originally expected her to.

- If Lyran would have been a fresh recruit in that “heat of the moment”, he would not be among us by now - she narrowed her eyes again, giving Chris a gaze that was actually somewhat difficult to stand up against - Nonetheless, he is alive, and, currently, there would be no point in getting stuck in pointless arguments; that is why I am willing, for this one time, to overlook your mistake - the female has moved significantly closer to the ex-marshal, almost leaning into his face - It may be that you are not from this world, but that does not means that you should disregard the lives of those who are, does it? - this sudden rise of strictness in the owl’s tone has caught Barnes off-guard; but that did not mean that he was unable to respond.

- As far as I am concerned, no, it does not - responded the ex-marshal; all in the while, he forced himself to keep up the facial gesture of neutrality, not wishing to tip the ends of the scale in neither of the possible directions now.

- I am glad - nodded Valery, her eyes still narrowed, but not as much as they were before; Markson decided to take this as a gratifying-sign, hoping that this did mean that no extreme grudges were about to be kept against him - Then, for now, this is everything you need to know - sighed the Short-eared owl, stepping away from Chris’ direct vicinity - As I have already mentioned, the Council will assign a warden to your side until Lyran manages to recover in the infirmary; if you require either mine, or Irvis’ presence, you will be able to ask that warden to fetch any of us, when needed - she concluded, and, from the massive range of physical actions she could have done in that moment, the female owl has, surprisingly, settled with a yawn - Now, if you excuse me, I will now go and attend to my own businesses; hopefully, I will not fall asleep while writing my reports - she gave a light smile, something that the ex-marshal has considered to be a pleasant contrast to her rather negative mood, which she has placed into practice just a few moments ago.

- I guess I will see you around later, then - spoke Barnes, and watched as the female Short-eared owl has nodded again, with very much identical smile, just like her previous one, then, not so long after, took a ninety-degree turn-around, and began to walk towards the hollow’s entrance (which has now served as an exit), taking every single step in a notably unhurried fashion, as if there was something else that was lingering around in her mind.

All of a sudden, the bird has spun around to face the ex-marshal again, and began to speak; her words sounded sincere enough for Markson to not make a witty comment, albeit the true and genuine tone of her voice was next to impossible to judge.

- Oh, and before I go... - she began, then, immediately, took a second to pause and to recollect her thoughts (at least, this was what she, presumably, might have been doing); after the above specified short period of time, the owl has continued on - Us, Guardians, have something that is almost like a tradition to us, however, due to, particularly, the circumstances of your arrival and its aftermath, no one actually has told you this yet but... - she straightened herself (as much as a bird was able to do this), and gave her statement in an official, almost ceremonial-style - Markson, welcome to the Central Kingdom of Ga’Hoole! - and, with this, she gave another, conclusive nod towards the ex-marshal, then, in less than five seconds, has turned and left the hollow; this time, ultimately for that specific day.

With only his own self left - alone, may we loudly emphasise - in the hollow, which he could now count as his own personal and private dwelling, a sense of indecisiveness and tentativeness has descended upon Chris; he was unsure on what his next action or interaction should be, and, even though he was hoping on earning himself a greater collection of hours, in which’s time-span he would have been able to sleep for a comfortable and sufficient amount of time, just around twenty minutes ago, somehow, he has now ceased to physically, or mentally, feel himself tired or exhausted - it was as if his urge to descend into this rejuvenating state of unconsciousness has, without a single polite word of warning, has just suddenly disappeared, leaving Barnes in this state of irresoluteness.

He carried out the decision of taking a swift glance around, determined to spot something that might have been able to occupy his mind’s interest for more than, at least, thirty-to-forty minutes.

Unsurprised by its obviousness, he could not help but to, eventually, settle his gaze on the small pile of empty parchments that Valery has previously highlighted to him as one of the “more essential” objects, or, in this case, collection of objects, that this hollow had inside; fully comprehending to the fact that, for now, he was rather short on alternative activities (in fact, he could not think of a single one), Markson started to take up a casual pace-of-movement, and began to leisurely walk towards the, as it was officially labelled by the Valery beforehand, shelf.

Upon arriving to the above mentioned “furnishment”, Barnes has managed to discover that, fortunately, a rather large-sized feather, which was presumably here to aide one who was wishing to write, and a small glass-orb, filled with ink, and assisted to stay standing by three, tiny wooden-legs (much like the one Chris has, quite a few hours ago, spotted in, once again, Felias’ dwelling), were both included in the “welcome to your brand new hollow” first-timer package.

Nevertheless the fact that these, shall we call them, „pre-modern age stationery-equipment”, were clearly and easily accessible to the Markson, there was only a single problem he was, somewhat awkwardly, still trying to successfully figure out a solution to in his mind - and this was on the matter of “how to write with four claws and talons”.

After all, if the ex-marshal was interpreting this correctly, he, more or less, would have been required to write with his right foot (he personally believed that, since he was right-handed as a human, this has meant that, now, his right talon could have been considered the dominant one), which, next to sounding outright impossible, has also appeared to him as rather uncomfortable.

However, Chris entirely understood that he had no other choice for now; he had already made his mind up, and was going to cross this bridge here and now, however difficult it might happen to be.

With a minimal shade of reluctance on his beaked face, Barnes has reached up with his right talons, took a hold of a single sheet of blank paper, the feather-quill, and the ink-bottle - in the exact same time (this, Markson has personally considered to be just a temporary, yet ridiculously-helpful turn in the laws of physics).

Cautiously balancing the three objects while standing on the ground with one foot only, the ex-marshal has carefully set everything down on the hollows natural, wooden surface; shortly after, he proceeded to carry everything over to the “scribe-stand” - another object-of-interest that Valery has specifically mentioned while she was still in here - and, when he was done, Chris has stepped upon the weirdly ergonomic perch, which he has, only now, noticed to have been veiled in a type of soft, red-coloured velvet.

“I swear, if this place will turn out to be a five-star hotel...” he thought as he shook his head in a mild mix of amazement and disbelief; he ran his right talons on the surface of the expensive-looking fabric, raising his feathery-eyebrows in a surprised manner as the fact, that this velvet was this silky and delicate, has reached his brain.

He, now practising additional care when stepping up onto the velvet-covered perch, helped himself into the scribe-stand’s elevated position, and started to meticulously arrange the three items he has brought with himself into their desired spots; first off, he straightened out his paper-sheet, paying extra attention for the object to not slide off from its position.

As for the second item, it was the ink-bottle that was awarded with its right- and respectful position at the bottom-right corner of the scribe-stand, where an actually quite stable-looking, horizontally-positioned board was conveniently placed, so that the former “stationery-equipment” would not spill ink everywhere, unless it was, either deliberately, or by accident, pushed over with one’s wings or talons.

And, for the last, there was the quill, which, in this specific case, was going to accomplish itself as a “pen”; Markson has just assigned the undermost-edge of the stand to this larger-than-usual owl’s feather, where a small-but-efficient wooden-outcropping was fixed, probably to prevent a singular, or multiple sheets from sliding down and away - if positioned on such a spot, the ex-marshal believed that his writing-instrument will be just stable, and sound.

However, he could not test out this well-thought-out position’s long-term reliability, as now, that he had every single item where he had wanted them to be, Chris raised the quill, and gave it a careful, and yet, still rather long dip in the ink-bottle.

“Well then, you... paper”, he thought to himself, feeling his talons shaking from a form of nervousness - of what he was worried about, he did not know; could it have been the fear of being unable to write like this, as an owl? So that his thoughts will keep on stacking up in his head; an endless mountain of stress and problems, which, eventually, would expand into the concept of madness itself?

Barnes honestly did not know, but, momentarily, forced himself to not even care; he was going to, whatever matters might arise midway through, put words on the paper that was in front of him - even if he had to scribble those sentences down at the end!

“Here goes nothing!”, Markson could hear his own, actually non-audible words echo inside his skull, a strange feeling of nostalgia, and a surge of unknown instincts washing over him as he placed the inky-feather against the paper.

He watched with a mixture of mild confusion and sheer astonishment as the letters he put down on the parchment came together into a set of beautifully-written words, their layout and visual appearance looking like as if the ex-marshal would have been writing as an owl in his entire life; despite the fact that he could not honestly comprehend to the fact of how this could have occurred, Chris redirected his mind to the task of “noting down his thoughts onto a piece of paper”, too afraid that, if he would allow himself to lose his momentary focus for even just a single second, his currently remarkable-looking letters and words would degenerate into a lowly and barely-readable scribble.

Therefore, although it originally has felt somewhat unnatural to the ex-marshal, he has now allowed himself to just go along with these... instinctive-motions of writing; and so, on he proceeded, noting down everything he could recall about a specific topic he now chose to preserve in a written form - and this matter was what he decided to refer to as the “Bethany-Murder”.

An approximate amount of thirty minutes have passed by; the sun’s first rays began to gently stroke the outer-rim of the hollow’s exit- and entry-opening, painting most of its inside-area with an orange- and yellow-tinge, bathing Barnes’ heavily-focused face with the latter colours, and with natural sunlight.

Markson lowered the quill that he was still, now rather stiffly, holding with his right talons, barely being that much distant from dropping it, and carelessly allowing it to slowly soar downwards, and, eventually, softly land on the ground.

It was doubtless that, for the past half-an-hour, he held out valiantly against the cramp that began to cruelly and gradually build up inside his right talons’ muscles, however, in the current moment; he could not help, but to give his stronger foot an almost-violent shake, then, to actually relax the muscles that were affected by the extensive stress of writing, gave his right talons a relieving stretch.

The ex-marshal has now glanced upon the two entire pages he managed to fill up with his, currently, somewhat-troubled-mind’s words; with the amount he wrote, he actually succeeded in surprising himself - he almost was not willing to believe that, although in a moderately-lengthy time-window, he was able to note down this much.

Still feeling himself way too aware and “awake”, Markson decided that he might be able to, even if just a little bit, doze off, if he would give a quick read to the entirety of what he wrote on the now not-so-empty parchment.

He flipped the sheet around, so that the top of the page would be at the exact-beginning of where he had started to write; when he considered his eyes to be prepared for the reading-task - which were, to the ex-marshal’s most tremendous satisfaction, becoming somewhat more heavier and tired as the minutes kept on passing by - Chris proceeded to recite his own words, however, not out loud, but, instead, inside his head; in his thoughts.

Approximately five days after the 23rd of October, 2014; notes of Christopher Markson, quondam-agent of the TSA.

All the expert and most professional military- and federal-training of the entire world would have failed to prepare me for the situation which I am currently involved in.

Hell, I would have labelled my own self as demented, if I had ever came up a theory that such a world, let alone such an astonishing species, was currently in existence; and yet, here I am, writing these words, still somewhat unable to comprehend to the occurrences of the past days.

After that plane crashed... coming to my senses - learning that I am actually alive - would have been the last and uttermost thing that I would personally have expected; then again, nothing could have readied me, in both body and mind, for the realisation that, along with being... “crossed over” into this somewhat surreal world, I would also awake as an owl - a bird, an avian creature.

I doubt that any of my human peers will manage to get their hands on these notes and read them - either before or after my death - therefore, I must explain what the... knowing of an otherwise foreign, and weirdly different body physically, and mentally, feels like.

There is a vague sense of comprehension here and there, almost as if this... form... would have been the one I was living my life with so far - however, this specific perception is not always there to be found; occasionally, I would get stuck on simple movements, such as walking in a civilised fashion, and yet, sometimes, in moments such as the current one to me, everything comes naturally, as if they were build up from years and years of instinctive-motions - I mean, technically, at this time, I am marking down these sentences with an almost nonchalant-doing, all in the while using my foot to do so.

Still, for me, there appears to be this... “sense of emptiness” - as if something is absent from me, or I am missing something’s presence, which was either never here, or is just not anymore.

I... do not know - I kept such thoughts as my own, when it came to the individuals I have met in this world; whatever my problem may be, they do not have to know about it.

Then again, neither do I truly know what this issue is - do I?

Nevertheless, I do not consider my words of... emotional and mental distress to be important or worthy enough to waste the free space on these papers I am writing on; ergo, my topic now must divert.

After all, I have dedicated these pages to the peculiar case of Miss Bethany Losold.

Now, I must admit, that the actions I have committed at my arrival to this place have been rather... unethical towards a few, specific individuals (whom I will now not name); this matters not as much now, however, as my presence was, for reasons that are still yet unclear to me, requested in a, what I just refer to as, “murder-investigation”.

At this point, he took a second to flip the now already, fully-read page over, so that he could continue on its other side.

With methods that would take me years to properly explain, I was transported, along with a few other of these owls, to a region they prefer to refer to as “Ambala”, and, there, I was able to personally meet with a bird who was regarded both as a suspect, and, to a rare few, as a victim as well.

To me... well, it became clear to me the moment I saw her that she was innocent - however, not as much as one would have expected her to be; she was deceitful enough to appear and sound believable. This, I liked in her.

That was the case until I was left alone with her in the same hollow; then and there... it turned out who she really was.

Losold has revealed herself to be much like me - a human, “trapped” in an owl’s body - then went ahead, and explained her “story” to me.

Apparently, poor and innocent Bethany was an active agent for Langley (although, she denied the fact that she was with the CIA all along our conversation), who, during an investigation into this pharmaceutical-company, the PSRI’s private-businesses, began to dig around for evidence in locations where she should never have gone to; from what she could recall from her vivid memories, Losold has suspected that she, albeit not openly, but was, still, caught by the company while investigating their... suspicious internal affairs, who, although not blew her cover, still managed to strike back on the CIA operative in a way.

She told me that she found documents that referred to an item only known as the “Anomaly”, and that, allegedly, this... item, was capable of “crossing individuals over” (as she personally labelled the process) from one alternate-universe or -timeline (from where I came from; the real world) to another (which I suspect this place to be) - very... peculiar matters going on here, I must say.

Sadly, however, before Losold could venture into a more detailed and further explanation than what she gave me in Ambala, she was ruthlessly murdered by another owl, who, unbelievably, and rather disappointingly, was from my own kind.

Kenneth Zwegger, he called himself, just moments before his death (which he induced by his own talons); the bastard has claimed himself to be an ex-agent and -marine, bringing up the names of such organisations as the FBI, and the Navy SEALs, however, he gave no logical answers that could have suggested a true motive of why he decided to kill Bethany.

And so, here I am now, contemplating on the “why” and “how”, hoping to dispel the madness and chaos that is currently raging inside my brain by further contemplation.

Trying to understand... of how I have ended up in this place.

Markson turned his head towards the “ceiling” of the hollow, shutting his eyes tightly as he let out an exhausted and painful sigh; he had to force himself with all his remaining power to stay awake while reading, and, he had to admit to himself, that he almost drifted off here and there.

Now that he read through his noted-down words for the first time, he was surprised to find that, when interpreted as a whole, some of his paragraphs did not make as much sense as he has wished them to do; then again, even if he would have, the ex-marshal could not truly blame himself for this - after all, he almost fell asleep, at least three times, while he was writing it.

However, a sudden and unexpected idea has now manifested in his brain, which he has decided to accomplish now; he stepped off from the scribe-stand’s velvet-covered perch, and proceeded towards the empty shelf, so that he could acquire another blank and untouched parchment.

When he has successfully done this, Chris walked back to the writing-stand, and climbed up on the perching-rod for another time; he went through the same procedure which he did about thirty, maybe forty minutes ago - he straightened the paper-sheet out, and, attentively, placed it on this “furniture’s” writing-pad.

He, almost instinctively, dipped the quill in the ink-bottle, allowing a few dark drops of the liquid to drip back into the glass-sphere before touching the inky-feather against the clear and white surface of the paper; at the top of the page, Barnes has inscribed the three words “Casualties” and “Body Count”, placing the former on the top-left corner of the parchment, and the latter in the top-right corner.

Under the title of “Casualties”, Markson wrote the name “Bethany Losold”, and, beneath the heading of “Body Count”, he put down the name “Kenneth Zwegger”; he had not a single guess, or assumption of why he had done this, but, then again, in such a half-asleep state, many have done more illogical thing as well - what the ex-marshal has now done could have actually have been counted as something coherent.

Consequently after this, Chris lowered his head, and closed his now heavy eyes, his mind drifting off into an unconscious state, just as he was beginning to contemplate about of what on Earth he has just managed to get himself into.

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