A/N: I must thank everyone that reviewed, followed, and favorited this story. I've been stuck working on essays and the like, it makes me yearn for some creative writing over the formats like MLA and APA. This chapter took me less than five hours to do, it's far from perfect, as usual, but I figured those of you reading would rather want something okay rather than having it delayed. This is a causal story, anyhow, mostly for practice.
As always, do whatever you want fellow reader. I really enjoyed the reviews, however, as to be expected. If you want me to leave a response to reviews in the A/N as I do sometimes, just let me know. Otherwise, that's all I have to say really. Have a good day/night!
Chapter Three: Action
"There's six bags of flecks!?"
The group had gathered back inside of the hollow at the same tree in Silverveil as before. Gylfie had brought the eagles and flying snakes up to speed on the situation during their flight over, they remained mostly silent, but keenly observant to their owl counterparts as the owls reported on their assignment success or failure.
The results were mixed, but mostly negative. The allies Gylfie brought along was far more than anticipated, it was the best thing case scenario for them. But the inability for the main chunk of the group to locate the Rogue Smith of Silverveil proved detrimental to their options. No battleclaws, no buckets, no mu metal and no additional embers were gained, severely limiting their options.
Ruby herself stared regrettably at the one ember she had managed to catch. With no bucket, she had to hold on to it with either one of her claws or her beak at varying times to avoid overexposure. While getting the ember ensured they had a chance, it was still hardly enough for the task, and would be pushing it.
The findings reported by Soren and Twilight now seemed to dampen the hope the group had for success.
"I'm afraid there is, me and Twilight are sure of it."
"But I thought Twilight overheard them saying they only had enough for a single devil's triangle?" Ruby asked, transfering the ember from her port to starboard foot.
"Yes, it doesn't make any sense . . ." Digger commented.
Soren shifted uneasily. "I hate not knowing, I get the feeling in my gizzard that this detail is perhaps the most important."
Silence ensued as the group's own gizzards started to emulate the feeling expressed by Soren. Otulissa, however, thought of a possibility and hazzard her own theory regarding the news.
"Well, perhaps there's a more tactical reason for them to have six bags rather than three."
Martin cocked his head to the side, as did the others. "What do you mean?"
"Well, last time we were able to find the flecks due to the magnetic signature it gave off. Surely the Pure Ones — despite their inherent lack of intelligence — learned from their mistake and are splitting the flecks further to avoid having it detected too easily."
Soren nodded in affirmation. "I see what you're saying, Otulissa. Do you think they're also spreading it out so the flecks doesn't affect the soldiers guarding it as badly?"
She blinked. "It's possible. The bags of flecks need to be a lot closer together if they want to have any real effect. They're probably waiting until they get to the Great Tree to combine them and create a proper devil's triangle with three bags. If only Dewlap could've read more about higher magnetics to be sure. . ."
Soren broke her irrelevant rambling with an assertive clearing of the throat. Before saying.
"Let's not think about that now. So if what you're saying is true, this could make our task that much harder."
She recomposed herself. "Yes, destroying one bag may not be enough. We'll have to get at least two to be certain the triangle's effective radius doesn't cover most of the Great Tree."
Uncertainty now clouded the group, they all stared expectantly at each other. Hoping that not all was lost and they still had a chance.
"I hate to be rude, but the only thing we should be worried about is: Can we pull it off?"
Surprisingly, Soren had a newfound surge of confidence and answered.
"Actually, I think this might work in our favor."
"Oh? I'd love to hear the good news you have for us."
Soren took a moment to collect his thoughts, before explaining.
"The main thing we're missing is mu metal to shield us from the effects of the flecks. But if Otulissa's theory is true, we may not need it so long as they don't get close enough to create a triangle."
Realization sparked in their eyes. Gylfie also started to see the advantages presented to them from the Pure Ones' strategy.
"Soren's right. And with the bags of flecks at six separate locations, the Pure Ones have to divide their forces to guard each one. We can easily overpower them even without battleclaws, especially now that Streak and Zan are with us."
"Indeed, but having only one ember to use is still a problem . . ." Ruby commented.
She continued. "Soren was right, though, it probably would've been better for us to focus on embers."
"Stay focused, we can't let mistakes distract us now. We still have one ember, that's enough to light several fire branches and destroy one bag at a time. We'll just have to act quickly."
"And what if we lose the ember somehow?" Digger asked out of impulse from the thought, he regretted having even mention it.
"Then we'll steal the bags if we have to, we must prevent as many bags from reaching Ga'Hoole as possible." Soren answered.
"Right, we should act quickly." Twilight encouraged.
"As much as I want to plan this out further, you're right. Time is something we do not have, we must strike now while we still can."
Streak, the male eagle, spoke at last."And what about us, young Tyto?"
Soren hesitated. The eagles were immensely powerful creatures, but they were large and flew noisily. Any seasoned and alert Tyto like Soren would hear an eagle coming from afar. Given how the Pure Ones were made up of almost exclusively Tytos, this disadvantage proved especially potent. The Pure One guards, if they realized what the eagles were up to, would have more than enough time to grab the bag and flee.
While aggressiveness and quick, deceive action was needed. Surprise was an even more crucial element. WIthout it, they won't get far, but the eagles' strength was still vital, especially if they get hung up by stubborn Pure One resistance.
Soren contemplated all of this. While he knew he was coming to be a great leader, his abilities as a combat tactician were quite lacking. He had seen combat, but his understanding of it was still rudimentary. Still, creativity was a strong-suit of his, and with basic reasoning he could make a simple, but effective plan.
With that, Soren explained his plan to the group.
"Yes, we will need everyone to succeed. But we cannot rush in blindly all at once, nor can we do anything fancy and complicated that is susceptible to mistakes. Our attack on the soldiers guarding the bags of flecks needs to be as fierce as it is silent. Streak and Zan easily qualify the former, but not the latter."
Soren would go on to explain how the eagles, and several owls of the Chaw of Chaws, are non-silent flyers that could be heard by the Pure One guards before they could get close enough to prevent escape. Upon doing this, he provided his solution he had thought up.
"Given what I've stated, I believe it is for the best that the eagles should hang back with the flying snakes riding on top as backup. They'll follow us in and by the time we are about to strike, they should come within hearing range of the guards. Once the attack begins, if the Pure Ones prove hard to defeat, the eagles and flying snakes will come in and finish to job while we focus on securing and destroying the flecks."
"If stealth is a problem, what about Digger and Gylfie?"
"They should follow us in as well like the eagles, but much closer. I think Martin should carry the ember that we'll use to destroy the flecks and reignite our fire branches. Digger and Gylfie will protect him and also flank the enemy if possible."
"You're starting to sound like Ezylryb with your plans, Soren."
"I'm sure Ezyl would think this plan is a bunch of racdrops."
"Considering our situation, it's the best we can work with."
"Back on topic. Me, Ruby, and Otulissa will use fire branches. Twilight will focus on getting the bag of flecks. If he gets the opportunity and snatches it, we'll disengage and move on upon destroying it. The Pure One soldiers would be yoicks to try and stop us once they realize how many of us there are."
"Sounds like a good plan."
"I have the first location for our attack in mind. Upon success, we'll move on to the next one, then the next if possible. It is unlikely we'll get anymore than that, the Pure Ones will swarm soldiers at us and our fire branches won't stay ignited forever."
"I'm all for it, let's do it."
"Any questions before we do?"
"Alright, we're leaving. Otulissa, find some branches."
"This is outrageous, sir. Every other unit just got orders to reposition but not us? Surely this must be a mistake, we should disregard it and join up with the others."
"Corporal, the last thing you should be contemplating is disregarding orders, considering that is what got you here in the first place."
"You know that is racdrops, sir."
"Is it? The lieutenant was quite clear on the reasons why you were brought here. You were too worried about promotions and glory over orders. You tried penetrating into the Great Tree itself and got your soldiers slaughtered — good, pure Tytos killed. You should be thanking the High Tyto for not executing you immediately and sending you here instead."
"The High Tyto didn't execute me because I was doing the right thing, I would've been successful if I had more soldiers under my command, but several Tytos is hardly enough against those Guardians. Pure or not."
A young barn owl in the back of the hollow stirred reluctantly from his sleep. Having the day-shift for guarding the area, he found himself struggling to sleep ever since that loud-beaked grass owl corporal showed up. Night after night, he would complain to the sergeant, a rather battle-hardened barn owl, about how useless they were being guarding against nothing while their comrades were out on an island in the middle of the sea fighting a war.
There was no way to drown out the loudness of the corporal, the youngling heard every last word of disdain escaping from the grass owl's beak.
For a species so pure, it's hard to believe our greatest strength is also my current greatest weakness . . . The youngling mused.
Unable to sleep any longer, the barn owl roused, attracting the attention of the two superior ranked owls. The sergeant remarked.
"If there's one thing you're good at, corporal, is killing our own soldiers. This poor youngling here is probably close to death from the lack of sleep he's getting from you rambling on your beak incessantly."
The corporal glared at the young one, the barn owl likewise stared back nonchalantly.
"What are you looking at, young'un?"
"Nothing . . . sir."
"I think you're confusing me for yourself. I'm not nothing, I'm a corporal with combat experience. You are nothing."
"Enough of this nonsense. Corporal, it's your turn to stand guard."
"This soon? That sooty outside hasn't even completed half of his scheduled time."
"Do you want me to shift you to day-shift, then? No? Then get on with it, before I decide to report you for disobedience."
The corporal snorted in dismay, but did not object further. He exited the hollow and relieved the young greater sooty owl outside, who entered the hollow in a rather pleasant mood.
The sergeant studied the bag at the center of the hollow, the one he had instructed no one to touch, before turning to the the young barn owl.
"Get some rest, young one. That's an order."
The sergeant whispered some orders silently to the greater sooty owl that had came in, before the sergeant himself stepped out. From the faint sound the young one heard, the sergeant heard an order be directed to the corporal before several wingbeats indicated one of the two of them had left.
The sooty adopted a similar position as the young Tyto and sighed. He seemed just as tired as the barn owl, though they weren't fully used to the sleeping schedules just yet, unlike their older counterparts.
After a brief period of silence, the sooty decided to break in.
"I don't think we've talked much before, eh?"
The barn owl simply shook his head.
"Well, you can call me Rodin, what's your name."
"Ah . . . well nice to meet you, Johan."
"So, how did you end up in the Pure Ones?"
"I'm not quite sure, to be honest. Sarge raised me for most of my nights as a hatchling. It's part of the reason why I got qualified to be a soldier at so young of an age. I've only learned how to fly about a moon ago."
"That's interesting. Do you like all of this?"
"Oh, yes, I guess . . . what's there not to like?"
Rodin seemed to restrain himself from going down that conversation path.
"Nothing, Johan, just figured to ask."
Silence returned to the duo. It was obvious to the sooty that the Johan wasn't a social owl, which is to be expected from someone who was raised from the bottom-up in the Pure One organization.
"I know this is probably a dumb question, but are you eager to fight?"
"Eager to fight?" Johan repeated.
"Yeah, we're both soldiers after all."
"I know, but . . ." He let the sentence die off on its own.
In truth, the youngling could hardly care about fighting in the war, in fact, he was quite comfortable with the arrangement made for him. He and many other young, aspiring soldiers were pulled from their units, and given the special task of staying behind to guard certain areas from possible Guardian intrusion.
The reasoning behind why he was chosen for the task varied. The greater sooty owl, on one occasion before had said they were kept back because of their lack of experience flying in the winterlies, and the Pure Ones didn't want to risk wasting their potential. The new-coming corporal, however, stated bluntly several times before that they were put here because they were close to useless. The sergeant, however, objected to this claim made, and reminded them that the task they were given is far more important than they realize.
So, in other words, no one really knew. But the youngling suspected that if anyone did, it was the sergeant.
Johan, not knowing how to continue the conversation, decided to try and ask Rodin something.
"You asked me how I joined the Pure Ones. How about yourself? I'm also curious to know how you got here."
"That's . . . probably best saved for another time. You look like you could use some rest, anyhow. Let's get some sleep before that corporal starts to rant again."
The grass owl poked his head into the hollow. "I heard that, sooty, and you'll regret it."
"Sorry, sir, didn't mean it."
"You'll be sorry alright." The grass owl sneered, before returning to his post.
"Anyways, sleep well."
Time flowed by quickly. Johan found himself dreaming about trying to kill a young fox. He was scared about it because he didn't have his battleclaws, He didn't know if it was a test or if he was hunting, he just wanted that fox. He overpowered his fear and dived at it at great speed, it noticed him halfway through the dive and turned its head to him. A shattering screech pierced the air, so loud it snapped Johan out of the dream. He would quickly realize it wasn't the fox that made the sound.
"Get up you sprinking young'un!" The corporal barged in frantically, yanking Johan up to his feet with a forcefulness never experienced before.
"We're being attacked! Snap out of it and get your battleclaws on!"
The corporal rushed back out, the screeching getting closer. Johan was flooded with a variety of emotions all at once, overwhelming his senses and rendering him unable to think clearly. He struggled to properly secure his battleclaws to his talons. The sounds outside got closer and closer, Johan had no idea what was going on.
"The bag!" He heard his sergeant yell just outside. "Get the bag! We have to move it!"
Johan froze, the bag was just beside him. Without thinking, upon securing his battleclaws he grabbed it and rushed out the hollow and onto a branch. The battle going on outside was too chaotic for him to properly observe it. In trying to do so, he only barely noticed a great grey owl coming right at him.
Reacting defensively, he hoped backwards off the branch to try and avoid him. It was only partially successful, he felt two claws cut across his right flank, the pain was excruciating, and it sent him in a spin he only barely recovered from a few feet away from the ground. Upon recovering, he realized that the impact had caused him to drop the bag, it laid there, exposed. While he didn't know what was in the bag, he knew it was important and tried going straight for it. A voice stopped him just before he committed.
"Leave it, soldier! Retreat!" The sergeant shrieked.
Johan hesitated, a costly mistake in the heat of battle. "Bu-"
A burning light filled his vision, as if a Guardian had used nachtmagen to generate fire. The short-eared owl was so close to swiping it at him, but a patch of grey feathers prevented it It was Rodin, he charged straight at it, battleclaws brought to bare. The short-eared seemed stunned momentarily, giving Johan the time he needed to escape. Spotting his sergeant fleeing, he flew after him, not intending to look back.
A drawn-out, agonizing scream came from behind him. He knew it was the Rodin's without even looking back, and he didn't dare want to see it. Tears welled in his eyes regardless, for though he didn't really know the sooty, it was still a horrible death — worse, he was being burned alive.
Johan didn't pause, however, he kept flapping his wings and focused only on the sergeant. The corporal was also with him, Johan didn't know if they were still being pursued or not, it didn't matter. He was going to fly as fast as possible anyways.
After thirty seconds, the sergeant seemed to reorient himself, and checked behind him. He seemed relieved, though, whether he was relieved to see Johan alive or the Guardian attackers not there was undetermined. He slowed his flight and motioned for the two other survivors to join up with him. But they didn't stop flying.
"Rodin . . . he . . ." Johan choked out, his sobs were cut short by the corporal.
"Sounds like the sooty owl is just soot now, serves him right."
"I've had it with your transgressions! If the situation wasn't as severe, I'd kill you by now!" The sergeant snapped, The outburst scared Johan just as much as it did the corporal.
They all took a moment to recollect themselves, before the sergeant stated.
"I'm sorry that we lost someone. That attack was completely unexpected and well coordinated. I've never seen owls weaponize fire like that. We're lucky to have escaped alive."
"But . . . the bag . . ." Johan got out.
"They can have it. What's more important now is warning the other units. They won't stand a chance without our help."
The corporal seemed suddenly fearful, seemingly knowing the true importance of the content in the bag.
"Sir . . . but us losing the bag . . . we'll be-"
"Corporal, I promise you, we did our job. Now our task is to warn others. If you all do that, we'll have saved the Pure Ones from disaster."
"Soren!" Twilight yelled. "We should be chasing after them, not letting them go! Prevent them from spreading the word!"
"No Twilight, we cannot overextend ourselves. We'll get separated and picked off. Otulissa had her fire branch dislodged and we're lucky they didn't put much of a fight."
Their attack had been not gone according to plan. A Pure One soldier seemed to have been hunting for prey in the surrounding area and detected their approach. Rushing back to his position, he warned his comrades, almost allowing them to escape with the flecks. Luckily, the Pure One commander seemed to had underestimate their numbers and didn't consider retreating until spotting Martin's group. Still, the fight was tough, the commander managed to disarm Otulissa, but he didn't have the chance to exploit it. Soren didn't want to think about what would've happened if he did.
"Please Twilight listen to Soren." Ruby begged.
"Fine. I'll trust his gizzard this time."
Martin arrived with the ember. "Where's the bag? We must not waste any time."
"It's right down there." Otulissa pointed with a talon.
"They sure didn't put up much of a fight for it." Ruby commented.
Twilight responded disgustedly. "No, they valued their lives more than the fleck. Cowards."
Otulissa seemed to notice something off about all of this.
"Something's not right, do you feel it in your gizzard, Soren?"
"I didn't want to mention it. Let's just hurry up and get this done."
Twilight landed near the bag. But upon inspecting it, he seemed extremely confused, then anxious. The group assumed it was just the magnetic effects messing with him, but he stated otherwise.
"Why am I not feeling anything?"
Soren and Ruby alighted down to him, they also noted the lack of the expected sensation.
Twilight opened it, revealing the content inside of the bag. Soren suddenly went yeep, Ruby also was stunned.
"What!? What is it!?"
"There's no flecks in it, it was a fake — a decoy!"
A/N: Yeah, a cliffhanger. That's what the readers want, of course, rather than an actual satisfying ending to a chapter. In any case, seems the Chaw of Chaws has quite a complication now.
As you may have noticed, I cut out most of the "fighting" due to it being kind of redundant. I think covering a Pure One's point of view is more interesting, especially since it'll be a recurring character. I didn't want to use OCs, but then again, Lasky sure didn't provide many Pure One characters to work with (not to say there isn't quite a few nice ones, just not applicable for the plot I have in mind). In any case, I'm rambling on at this point, will see you all next time!