Wow, time really flies when a certain author is busy living his life...
I know my update was incredibly delayed, but I buckled down and cooked it up.
This crossover is drawing to a close, but don't fret, because I have a sequel planned, which will come into existence sometime in August.
Without further ado, let's get to the good stuff.
Chapter 6: Talons-On Training
Three months have passed since the time Blu and Jewel began their Guardian training. They had truly learned to appreciate the knowledge that had been conveyed to them, and they enjoyed it as well. Still, they also knew that they had only scratched the surface, and that a plethora of knowledge and skills remained to be grasped.
They had recently wrapped up the more auditory side of their training, and the two macaws were anxious to begin their talons-on training. Today, or rather tonight, was that very night, and Blu and Jewel were trembling with anticipation in their respective classes due to that fact.
In her first class, Jewel had successfully tracked and located one of her classmates, having hidden himself on the island. The other students had performed well, but Sylvanna was especially impressed with Jewel's skill and determination.
In her next class, Ga'Hoolology, she had been assigned the task of correctly burying pellets, which she accomplished decently. By now, the notion that Otulissa's class was not one of her favorites had been written in stone. As such, she had worked fervently, wanting desperately to attend her final class of the night, Weather Interpretation.
Now, she sat in Ruby's decently-occupied hollow, conversing with Alistair about their coming flight. Although the Short-Eared Owl had yet to show up, they had a fair guess as to what they would be flying into, even without her announcement.
"So Alistair, how rough do you think that storm is going to be?"
"Quite exciting, Jewel. I can feel the disturbance in my gizzard, even though the storm is so far away! Those thunderstorms that have been hanging around near the mainland must have organized themselves."
"I started to feel funny yesterday, as a matter of fact, and it hasn't let up. It feels like a thousand tiny prickles in my stomach!"
"Oh, you don't have a gizzard?"
Fixing the Barn Owl with an amused look, she replied, "No. I guess that's why I don't cough up pellets like everyone else!"
"Oh, that's right! Silly me."
A few moments later, Ruby landed into the hollow, all of his students' eyes widening as they faced her. Her feathers were soggy and frayed, but despite that, an ecstatic expression marked her face.
"I notice your surprise, and you may be wondering why I have returned in this condition. You see, I flew out over the Sea, and there is a nice storm raging about out there. Come on class, it's time to tackle that storm and apply what you have learned so far!"
After an invitational sweep with a damp wing, she glided from the port she had just entered. The students flashed energetic glances at each other, then flew out of the port in small groups. The owls quickly gathered behind their ryb as they left the island and glided across the Sea.
Directly in front them, although fairly distant, was a wall of lightning, white-hot bolts in the moonless night. Jewel could feel the eagerness in her companions' gizzards, and that very same emotion welled up inside her automatically.
Just then, Alistair glided in on her starboard side, his onyx eyes often illuminated by the frequent bolts of electricity.
"Are you ready, Jewel?"
"Without a doubt, Alistair. I've been waiting quite a while for the chance to fly into a typhoon! The first few months of Ruby's class was interesting, but this takes it to a whole new level!"
"True words you speak, Jewel..."
Pausing to glance out ahead, he could see the bands of clouds roiling from the winds they harbored.
Craning his head back towards her, he continued, "Brace yourself, were getting close!"
He drifted ahead, and Jewel now refocused her mind, preparing for what was to come.
A few minutes of steady flight later, she could feel the air flowing past her and funneling into the storm. The populous peals of thunder shook her bones, the flashes of lightning assaulting her eyes.
The band of owls pierced the outer wall of the storm, and they were immediately waterlogged by driving rain. The winds were not tumultuous, but they were definitely blowing at elevated speeds.
Being as her wings did not possess the airflow-smoothing feathers of owls, her flight was more difficult, and she nearly lost control several times.
They flew along inside one of the rain bands, and Ruby would occasionally lead them into the grip of a maverick wind. After they exited, she would ask one of her students to name it.
Amidst the drone of the thunder, Jewel heard her name being called as they fought their way out of one such area of wind. Instantly identifying the wind in question, she shouted back, "That was the gutter, Ruby!"
"Well done, Jewel! On to the next one..."
They repeated this routine several more times, and once all of the winds that this particular disturbance carried had been named, Ruby felt it was time to head back to Ga'Hoole.
Swiveling her head completely backwards, she hooted, "Fantastic work, class! You all have learned well so far, and I hope that many more opportunities such as this will arise. How about we return to the Great Tree?"
The entire class responded with a fortuitous, "Let's go, Ruby!"
She tilted her flight path upwards, and the rest of the students did the same, the motion flowing through the group like a wave. Jewel was situated near the tail of the formation, and as they climbed, she sensed that something was amiss with this storm.
Uncertainty and fear crept into her mind, and then she sensed a warm bubble of air pushing on her from below. She voiced her concerns, hoping that her teacher would hear her, being as she was near the front.
"Ruby, we just ran into a thermal! We need to be on alert for any downdrafts that these cloud bands may be hiding!"
She heard the Short-Eared Owl faintly reply, "I agree, Jewel! This typhoon could be more dangerous than I expected. Class, level out and group together! We are going to punch our way out of these rain bands!"
They quickly ceased their climb and drew in closer to each other, allowing their bodies to help calm the airflow. The warm air had slowly faded away, and Jewel could see they were nearing the edge of the squall, thanks to the back-lit clouds.
Just as she powered her wings to slice past the outer wall, a cold jet of air encircled her. She felt her forward momentum disappear, and full-blown dread exploded in her head. The chilled air twisted into a spiral and dragged her down, as if she had been caught in an invisible drain.
She could only shout, "Help! I'm stuck in a downdraft!"
She watched as the bodies of her classmates faded into the thick clouds above, meaning that she was being pulled towards the sea. She was descending belly up, and although she tried valiantly, she was powerless to right herself and fight her way out of the death trap that gripped her.
Knowing that she would sink and drown upon contacting the sea, she closed her eyes, waiting for the murky water to swallow her up and steal her life away.
Her body slammed the heaving water, knocking her out completely. However, a feathered missile streaked towards her, and after flaring its wings as a braking measure, reached down and locked talons with its classmate. The Long-Eared Owl dredged the macaw from the water and carried her out of the perilous typhoon, slowly rising up to fly alongside Ruby.
Upon seeing her limp form, Alistair shrieked, "Jewel! Is she okay? What happened?"
"I think so. She's just unconscious. She got caught in a rogue downdraft, Alistair. I pulled her from the water just in time."
As the other owls gathered around to witness the aftermath, Ruby cried, "Oh, thank Glaux you saved her! She knew what could happen before it even did, and it nearly killed her! I should have been more careful..."
The female owl replied, It was not your fault, Ruby! She was near the rear of our formation, so she was the most likely to be caught. Just be glad that I was able to reach her before she sank..."
"Thank you so much, Arianne. Her mate would've been devastated if she had died in my care. I can't even begin to fathom the shame that I would have had to bear..."
"It's all over, thank Glaux. Let's just get her back to Ga'Hoole..."
The Weather Chaw flew silently on, and the serene air away from the storm made for a quick flight. Upon reaching the towering tree, they filed in and made space for Arianne and Jewel. She laid the macaw out on the floor of the hollow, while Ruby jetted off to fetch Hannah.
Before Ruby had returned with the nurse, Jewel had came to, slowly opening her eyes and drawing a panicked breath.
The macaw's body was trembling uncontrollably, and Arianne declared, "Calm down, Jewel! You're alive, and we're all here with you. I saved you from drowning."
"I was s-s-so scared. I just knew I was going t-t-to die. Thank y-y-you, Arianne..."
"No need to thank me, Jewel. I did it because no creature, owl or otherwise, deserves to die so soon. You have an enriching future ahead of you, and I couldn't have let such an innocent, noble life be cut short."
A few moments later, Ruby led Hannah in, and Jewel smiled weakly upon seeing the familiar face of the Burrowing Owl.
After giving her a thorough look over, she determined that Jewel had borne no injuries or consumed any seawater. She offered her a calming elixir to combat the shock and advised that she head to her hollow and rest promptly.
After thanking the Burrowing Owl, she left the hollow, and Jewel asked for someone to escort her to her nest.
Alistair accepted, but before they left the hollow, each of Jewel's chaw mates enfolded her in a brief yet sincere hug, utterly relieved that they had not lost their fellow friend.
The trip to the crown of the tree was lengthy, for Jewel was drained from her ordeal, coupled with the effects of Hannah's medicine. She bid the Barn Owl goodbye and settled into the nest, quickly drifting away into a patchy sleep.
Even though Blu had not yet arrived, she silently wished for him to nestle in beside her as soon as possible and ease her trauma.
Blu was situated in Martin's hollow, a bit nervous about his first Colliering assignment. Martin had told them that a healthy fire was cooking over in the Tyto Forest, and that is where they would be heading. The Saw-Whet Owl was hidden behind his desk, barely visible, and Blu could not discern what he was doing.
It was then that a Short-Eared Owl sidled up to him, a less-than-confident look on his face.
"Hey Curtis! How's your day been?"
"Pretty good, Blu. I'm just nervous about that fire that we have to visit. Despite all that Martin has taught us about how to stay safe during fire-dives, I can't suppress the twitching in my gizzard."
"I feel just the same, although the feeling is in my stomach."
"Maybe it will help if we get to be paired up. I will make sure that you are safe, regardless of how uncomfortable I feel."
"As will I, Curtis. Although we understand the inner workings of blazes, they are still deadly, and I will not allow you to fall victim to one."
"Exactly! Those words sound like something an actual Guardian would say! You will make a fine protector of this tree, when the time comes."
"Thanks, Curtis! That helped calm my nerves."
"No problem, friend."
A few minutes later, Jasper joined their conversation, and Blu now regarded him as much a friend as Curtis. Blu had come to learn that the notion of the Saw-Whet scheming something was unjustified. He was sincere in his words and his actions, and over the past three months, Jewel had often told Blu that she felt the same about the plucky little owl.
Shortly before their conversation ended, Martin walked around to the front of the desk, his movements drawing his students' eyes to him.
"It is time for us to depart, class! We will stop off at Grayson's forge to collect the ember buckets, and then we will head straight for the Tyto Forest."
He hopped across the hollow and took flight, sailing out of the port and into the shadowy night. The rest of the owls followed, some pleasantly confident, and others visibly apprehensive.
They flew a short distance from the tree on a downward slope, landing at the mouth of the forge. The imposing Great-Horned melted from the amber glow inside of the cave and handed out the buckets.
After enough had been supplied, Martin grouped the owls in teams of two for their upcoming roles at the Tyto fire.
Blu and Curtis had been paired, which gave them great relief, knowing that they shared each other's trust.
With a quick swipe of his wing, Martin rose into the air and banked to the left, orienting his flight path in a southerly direction.
As the rest of the owls fell into position alongside their partners, Blu looked to his right, out across the choppy sea. A raging mass of clouds was churning in the distance, illuminated by frequent bolts of lightning. Blu prayed that Jewel would be safe, since she had told him that tonight was her first Weather Interpretation flight.
The vision of his mate being de-winged by a sudden wind, or cast into the murky water, was too much to bear.
I know she'll be safe. She's a confident bird, and Ruby is the best teacher one could have. My Jewel will fly in and out of that storm without any hassle.
Blu focused his vision back in front of him, and a different fury glowed in the distance. The onyx sky was pierced by orange tongues of flame, and the outpouring of smoke from the blaze was plainly visible.
Curtis, who was cradling the ember bucket, drifted in alongside Blu, his wing-beats were more frequent due to the increased load.
Without gazing at Blu, he stated, "That is some fire, wouldn't you say?"
"Agreed, Curtis. It may look bad now, but just wait until we're inside it!"
"Don't remind me, Blu! Ha ha..."
The two birds shared a laugh in an attempt to lighten the mood, and it worked wonders.
They powered on towards the mainland, the uncertainty in their bodies now overshadowed by pride and confidence.
After fifteen minutes of flight time, the fire was exceedingly close, and its character was now apparent, both by sound and sight.
Nine pairs of birds, along with Martin, alighted on a small ridge downwind of the conflagration. The air was filled with uncountable numbers of tiny amber flakes, and a hot wind blew them along in all manner of directions.
Martin faced his students and shouted, "Alright class, now is the time to demonstrate the skills you have acquired so far! Each pair of owls should fly out to a different spot of the fire, alternating between ember retrieval and sentry duty. This is a textbook case of a crawling fire, and you all should have no trouble collecting embers. Now go and make me proud!"
One by one, the pairs lifted off, branching out to search for favorable entry points.
Blu and Alistair fought their way through the roiling updrafts and surveyed the structure of the fire. Several patches of fire burned about thirty feet ahead, no doubt ignited by the primary wall that burned just below them.
Dozens upon dozens of oval embers were rolling about in the space between the two sections of burning ground, unable to escape.
"We should dive down and grab those embers, Blu! You can go in first, and then I'll take my turn!"
Running through the strategies he had inherited, Blu paused to collect himself.
"You got it! Alert me at the first sign of danger!"
Blu folded his wings in and dived forward, cutting through the rising air and landing twenty feet ahead of the primary blaze. Blu could now feel the heat flowing out from the burning plant matter, and it was on the verge of unbearable. Grasping an ember in each of his talons and a third in his beak, he quickly blasted from the ground and up to his waiting partner.
After dropping the glowing orbs in the bucket, he dropped back into the fire for a second round.
After four repetitions and twelve embers, Blu switched places with the Short-Eared Owl, hovering above the fire with the warm steel in his talons.
Curtis had re-entered for the third time, and Blu could easily spot his friend about below. Amidst the roar that filled his ears, a new sound weaved its way in, a more high-pitched, crunching noise.
Scanning the forest with steady turns of his head, Blu soon spotted the source: a charred fir tree, leaning precariously.
The base of the tree was painted with flames, and it continued to angle more and more towards the ground. The popping sound returned once more, and Blu went into alert mode.
Hoping he would hear, Blu shouted, "Curtis, get out! A tree is coming down! Hurry!"
The weakened fir broke away from its scorched base and plummeted into the fire gap. A thick cloud of ash was thrown up from the impact, spreading out in all directions and causing Blu to choke.
The seconds flew by, and Blu feared that his friend had been crushed by the fir.
Please let him come out! He can't die, not now! Surely he heard it coming!
As Blu began to turn around and head for the ridge, a welcoming voice cut through the rumble. "Blu, don't leave! I'm fine! Come here!"
The macaw whirled around and came face to face with his friend, who dropped two embers into Blu's container. He recoiled slightly, because the once pristine was now covered from head to tail in gray soot.
"I thought that you hadn't made it out! I was so worried!"
"I wouldn't have if it wasn't for you! I heard your voice over the flames, so I gave that blasted tree plenty of room to fall!"
"I must have done my job pretty well then. Still, you got covered in soot. Your feathers are completely gray!"
"Oh Glaux, you're right! Well, it should come off as I fly. I think we've gathered enough embers for now. Let's head back to the ridge."
The two feathered creatures hastily wound their way through the desiccated air and touched down on the warm stone. Most of the soot had drifted off during their flight, but in many places, Curtis had patches of gray mixed in with his ivory and maroon feathers.
"We're back, Martinryb!" shouted Blu.
Three other pairs had already returned, and their faces cracked upon seeing Curtis's tarnished state. He did not rebuke them, deciding instead to laugh along at his predicament.
Martin soon appeared and peeked into the steel container.
"Very well done, you two! I see plenty of bonks and grade A coals in there. If I may ask, why are you so dirty?"
"I had a close encounter with a falling tree. Even though I avoided it, with Blu's help of course, I can't say as much for the soot cloud that resulted!"
"Ah, but that is part of the beauty of Colliering! Any permanent marks you may receive from future coal-dives should be honored, not scorned. You and Blu should remember that."
"Of course!" replied the macaw and owl in unison.
"You two can relax and rest. We will depart once the rest of the teams have returned."
Martin walked slowly away and examined the other students' collections.
The fire had burned until it met the banks of the river Hoole, at which point it sputtered and died.
The last few pairs returned shortly after, having their catches scrutinized by Martin's intuitive eyes.
After they had all been accounted for, along with sincere praise from their ryb, they lifted off towards the diminutive silhouette of the Great Tree.
The flight back was eerily calm, save for the whitecaps rushing around below.
The leaf-laden tree steadily grew in size, towering up into the sky as they reached the shores of the island. They spiraled down to drop off the coal-filled buckets, which the blacksmith gladly accepted.
It was there that Martin dismissed the class, since he planned to stay and chat with the blacksmith about their accomplishments.
The Colliering owls dispersed and glided towards the massive tree, their bodies yearning for the embrace of sleep.
Blu entered the tree by way of a mid-level port hole, making his way lethargically up the trunk. Upon reaching the familiar fork in the passage, he let out a soft sigh, knowing that his mate awaited him just a few feet away.
He followed the branch until it bent off to the right, quietly brushing aside the moss curtain and stepping down into the hollow. He spied the love of his life dozing peacefully in the nest, but her feathers appeared damp.
I bet it was the rain from that storm. She made it back, safe and sound, and that's all that matters...
As carefully as he could, he slipped in beside her and slowly closed his eyes. He was on the brink of losing consciousness, but a hearty nudge from Jewel prevented him from doing so.
"Is there something you need, honey?" he muttered groggily.
"How was your night?"
"Just fine, actually. Tracking and Search-and-Rescue were pretty fun, but I had a great time in Colliering! Curtis was gathering coals when a fir tree toppled over. It took him some time to come out of the flames, so I grew very worried. He eventually made it out, but he was completely gray from the soot. I couldn't help but laugh! How was yours?"
"All went well, until I headed out with Ruby for our Weather Interpretation flight..."
Jewel shuddered, and her face donned a mask of fear.
Blu brought her closer with his right wing, startled by her show of emotion.
"Did something happen? Were you hurt?"
"Hurt? No, I wasn't hurt. I almost drowned..."
"We flew into a storm so that Ruby could help us understand the different winds that make them up. Right before we broke away to come back to Ga'Hoole, I got caught in a downdraft. Before that happened, I sensed that something was unusual about the storm, and I warned Ruby. I was flying near the back of the group, and I was just sucked away. I went out cold after hitting the water. There was nothing Ruby could've done..."
"I am so sorry, Jewel! I prayed that you would be safe! I see now that my prayers went unanswered. Who rescued you?"
"A Long-Eared Owl named Arianne. She pulled me from the water by my feet and carried me all the way back here, to the Weather Hollow. It was then that I woke up, and Ruby had gone to bring Hannah. She checked me over, and she said that I was mostly in good condition. She gave me a calming medicine to combat the shock I was in. Alistair guided me to our hollow, and I soon fell asleep."
"I never could have imagined. I thought that your feathers were still wet from the rain!"
"I was...so scared, Blu. You will never understand how terrible I felt..."
"Perhaps not. Still, thank god you're safe! I can't lose you, Jewel. I just can't! I have to see Arianne tomorrow and give her my absolute thanks."
"I know. I'll go with you."
"Jewel's demeanor had improved slightly, but he could tell that she was still reeling internally.
"Everything is fine now, Jewel. You need to rest and recover. I'll be at your side for as long as it takes."
"Thank you. That makes me feel a little better..."
Blu stroked her back repeatedly with his right wing, timing it with the rise and fall of her chest. She soon fell into dreamland, and Blu silently willed for the nightmares to avoid creeping into her mind.
Blu could not keep his eyes open, and after spending five minutes in a half-conscious state, they drew shut. He managed to fold his wing in before slipping away, and his dreams transported him to a faraway locale.
He slept peacefully, for his dreams placed him back in Rio, alongside his mate and their children.
They flew through the jungle as a carefree and happy family, and the two macaws smiled in their sleep.