Chapter 12: Preparations for a Trip

It had been about a week or so since the Chaw of Chaws (or that's what everyone had been calling them nowadays) brought Ezylryb home and everything went back to normal. And so as I flew towards the dining hollow, I couldn't help but reminisce about the mission we had just returned from.

Since the return of our beloved ryb, the mood of the Tree, and especially the Weather-Interpretation and the Colliering Chaws, had bounced back to being peaceful and cheerful again, the first few days were filled with the most delicious food (compliments to the chefs) and the music was wonderful. I had even heard that Octavia had joined in at the harp for that morning, the one when Ezylryb and the CoC came back to the Tree. And the interpretation flight that we of the weather chaw had just had was the first we had with the grizzled old owl since his return all those weeks ago, thus this one was loud and boisterous, filled with lots of wet-poop jokes and singing. There's also an added bonus of getting good information despite Otulissa saying that we wouldn't get any if we hadn't stop gleeking(1) around.

Yes, I must admit that there were a few rybs that were stiffs, like Strix Struma, and never promote such tomfoolery, but Ezylryb was not one of them. He'd even said that gleeking, in fact, helped build trust and fellowship. Otulissa, being a serious and proper lady herself, was one that disliked gleeking in general, especially wet-poop jokes. I even remembered that there was a moment during the flight when I couldn't bear her complaints anymore that I couldn't help but yell out: "Oh, stop being such a stiff, Otulissa!" Not only did that earned me the churring of my fellow chaw-mates but also a frosty glare and temporary silence from the Spotted Owl herself. Giggling to myself, I looked at the slowly-brightening horizon, glad that everything was back to normal.

'Well, as normal as it could be.' I remarked sadly. For starters, I noticed that I'd been getting a few suspicious glares from Soren, Otulissa, Ruby and Martin when they thought I wasn't looking. I'd assumed that it was just a coincidence until I noticed I was getting the same glare from Twilight, Digger and even Eglantine. I mean, even Eglantine, whom I had at first thought I'd given no reason for her to lose her trust in me.

Sighing, I flew onwards towards the dining hollow and landed on a nearby branch, below the branch where Soren and Otulissa were on just outside of the hollow itself, all of us waiting for Matron to announce that breaklight was ready. While waiting for the announcement, I was trying my best to tune out the two owls debating on the point of wet-poop jokes and gleeking on a mission as I looked towards the mainland, a pointless debate most likely initiated by the prissy owl herself.

As I looked on, I watched as the familiar shape of Grimble began to form in front of me. 'He'd done it,' he reported, 'he had just killed the Brown Fish Owl who had nursed him back to health, just like you said he would.'

'Yeah, told you so.' I replied, bitterly I might add. Grimble flinched at the bile in my tone but did not rise to bite back. Seeing the hurt look on his face, I sighed, releasing my grip on anger. It wasn't Grimble that I should direct my anger at, no he was just doing his job putting me back in line and even he wanted to rip his pound of flesh from that murderous piece of trash for what he did to his own brother and sister. No, it was that said trash I should be furious at.

Sighing, my mind went back to that day when we first found Kludd, just after we had exchanged stories of our day, just like before. I started first, wanting to get my part over with, then I told him my fear that Soren and his friends might be onto me. I understood why they were suspicious but as a friend, it still hurt a lot. Grimble then told his part of the tale and I face-winged the moment it ended, immediately figuring it out what went wrong and why I was seen as suspicious even by Eglantine. 'Grimble, you idiot!' I grumbled, almost wishing I could smack him if it weren't for the fact that he was a ghost. Looking at his confused face, I then proceeded to explain the ginormous flaw in his plan and consequences, resulting in the spirit groaning in exasperation as well.

Right after that, I was intending to hit the hay but then Grimble had a different idea in mind and held me back, saying that he wanted us to search for Kludd first. I fussed a lot, of course, seeing that I wouldn't get the rest that I was promised, but yet again that fussy owl countered that I had to make sure that the monster still lived, just like the story said he would.

I relented, very reluctantly I might add since the alluring call of a good-day-long sleep was just too good, but with Grimble pulling the chains saying no would just be wasted effort. So with a heavy heart and a great sigh, I lifted into the air and headed straight to Ambala, where I assumed the bastard owl had flown to. And when we did find him, I remembered the conversation we had...

'So, that bloody owl's still kicking huh?' I asked when I watched as the Brown Fish Owl flew back to his hollow with a beakful of leeches, most probably for the damned Barn Owl who should have perished in his watery grave.

'Yeah, sadly,' my partner agreed before turning to me, 'though you already knew about it, so why did you bother to ask?'

'Doesn't hurt to hope,' I replied.

'True,' he nodded.

'Are you sure I couldn't just take a day or two to just come here and kill him?'

'You know you can't, Matthias.'

I sighed, still not happy at not being allowed to kill the monster who tried to kill his brother and brainwashed his sister. 'So I take it that you want me to keep on watching him until he leaves the place?' I said while making a 180-turn around.

'If you knew that, then what are you doing?' He asked, raising an eyeridge.

'Getting the sleep you promised me.' I replied and cut in before Grimble got a word in. 'Look, I know the mission, but the thing is that it doesn't really matter if we watch him or not. All we have to know is that he is going to be alright because of that owl and that after he was fully healed, Kludd will kill him and flee back to the group of raccoon droppings that he belonged to...'

'In which we had to know when he will be doing so...'

'...yes, so we do,' I glared at him for interrupting, 'but I won't be able to do it in some days either because I would be too tired or I have chaw lessons. Besides, I don't think there's a need for me to watch him because I know that he's going to be alive in the end and there's no point in watching him all day being healed.'

'Fine,' he relented before looking at me with understanding, 'you need a break after all that but still, it's probably best to know his every move. Alright, I'll watch him and when there's anything important happening, I'll tell you.'

'Thanks, Grimble,' That was the last thing I remembered saying to him before he left, and now that he did come back it meant that the book was finally beginning. 'So is there anything else you want to report before we get going?'

'Not really,' the other Boreal Owl said before he paused for a moment and recalled something. 'Oh wait! I almost forgot, during my watch, I thought I saw a scroom there a few times, watching Metal Beak like I was. But he looked kind of familiar.'

I looked at him with interest. 'Oh, now that's interesting. What does he look like?'

Grimble racked his head, trying to remember any details. 'To tell the truth, he looked a little young and I don't think he's a 'he' but more like a 'she' instead. Her feathers were one of a Spotted Owl's, but her feathers were grey instead of brown like she's made of mist or something. Her wings looked a little crippled but that's all I know. So I wonder, do you know anything about her?'

It was my turn to rack my own head for information. I frowned, knowing that she was an important owl but it was just that I couldn't match her name to her description. All I knew that she goes by Mist now because of the decolourisation of her brown feathers, leaving her with grey and white feathers which allowed her to look like she was invisible or at least made of mist. But that wasn't important right now. 'She used to be from St. Aggie, just like you but when she died, she was remembered as a hero by those whose eggs she saved.'

Noticing his look of confusion, I decided to elaborate. 'If I recall correctly, during her time at St. Aggie, she tried to rescue eggs by leaving them by the cliffside and letting her eagles take them back to Ambala. She was eventually caught, but she was pushed off the cliff by one of the masters there, I think it was a Snowy, but not before she told her eagles to save the egg. She was saved, of course, but everyone back there thought she was dead. And that's who you saw back in the forest. She now goes by the name Mist because of her feathers, but who she called herself before I just couldn't remember her name.'

Grimble nodded, but before he could say anything an Owl landed right beside me like a weighted boulder, dipping the branch. "Hey, Matthias!" Baron said. At the corner of my eye, I saw Twilight alighting on a branch close to Soren and Otulissa and joined in on their conversation.

"Hey Baron," I greeted back, smiling. "So how's your night?"

"It's great!" If he had a mouth or a muzzle instead of a beak, then I would be able to see all those pearly whites in that grin of his. "With Ezylryb back, everything just seemed to bounce back to before." He then noticed the discussion before us. "What are they talking about? Something...about yarping?"

I looked at the discussion before turning back to him. "...You don't want to know..."

Just then, I heard Matron's voice coming from somewhere near Soren's position. "Breaklight!" She announced cheerfully.

"Finally! Something good to eat!" Baron exclaimed before jumping off and flew off into the dining hollow, with me jumping at almost at the same time. "I'm starving!"

"You are always starving, Baron!" I laughed, flying behind him into the hollow. Both of us made our way to our corner where Matilda was already waiting for us. A familiar smell wafted past my nostrils and I smiled. "Please tell me that's roasted bat wings I smell?"

"Yes, it is," I turned around to see Joseph and Lilica walking towards us. "We came by the branches and saw them cooking the things ourselves, it was a beautiful sight." Behind them, I could see Gylfie swooping down towards Soren and Twilight as the three reached their assigned snake Mrs P.

"Careful," I teased, "don't say anymore, lest Baron would be tempted to go to the kitchens and steal a piece himself."

"Oh you would expect me to do that, would you?" The Snowy chuckled amid our laughter. Secretly, I was glad that I was able to eat something hot tonight because since I'm from Ezylryb's chaw, we mostly eat anything raw and with fur on it. Even for breaklight, which was the last meal for the night, we had to eat something raw so this was somewhat a rare treat for us.

"Oh hey there, Matthias," A new voice said. Holding back my giggles, I looked up to see a familiar Great Grey in front of me. "It's been a while."

"Cyrus, is that you?" I asked, surprised to see him. Last time I saw him I was flying off from the Library when my one week of no-flying ban was finally over while he was briefed by the Patriarch that his duty was finished. I had thought that since that was that, I wouldn't be seeing him again unless we were passing by each other. "It really has been a while."

"So have you been flying into storms lately? Because if you do, I might have to watch over you again like last time." Cyrus smirked, causing another round of laughter but this time at my expense. I laughed along as well, seeing that it was all for laughs anyway.

"So I heard laughter coming that sounds lively," Matilda said when we reached her. "Mind if I join in the conversation?"

"It's nothing, Matilda, it's just that...everyone is making fun of me..." I replied in a (hopefully passable) choking tone, making as much sobbing noises as I could, wings coming up to brush away non-existent tears. The rest just shook their heads, amused at my antic.

"Oh you poor owl," Matilda cooed, playing along. "Do you want a bat wing to calm down?"

"..Yes, please," I fake-sobbed with a smile as I took one of the offered bat-wing. Cyrus then waved goodbye, heading back to his friends and snake for his own meal, but not before he quickly snagged one of our wings and ran off with his loot.

"So where were you guys?" Baron asked as he tore apart a bat-wing. "I tried to find you at your chaw class, then back at our hollow but I couldn't find either of you."

"At the library," Lilica replied. "Octavia needs volunteers to help organize all the books that are about higher magnetics and flecks. That's where we met Cyrus. He was asking about you, like he wanted to know how you've been doing since the last time you two met."

"Wait, Octavia...in the Library?" I asked. "Okay then, first of all, why do you guys need to organize those book for anyway?"

"No idea, orders from the higher ups is all I know," Joseph answered, with Lilica nodding in agreement.

"Rrrrrright...And second, why out of everyone in this Tree, would a blind snake be in the Library organizing books in the first place? Couldn't they get the book matron to do that instead?"

"I don't know, but sometimes I feel that Octavia is more perceptive than most owls. She might be blind, but she is Ezylryb's nest-maid snake so she would know her way around those books about higher magnetics on that special reserve shelf, even better than the book matron herself. And then Dewlap came along."

We all grimaced at the name of that insufferable owl. "Joy suffers wherever she goes," I muttered, the rest nodding in agreement while Matilda 'looked' at me with a deadpan expression.

"Why is she there then?" Baron asked. "Ga'Hoolology has nothing to do with higher magnetics in the slightest!"

"That's what we said," Lilica said. "But apparently she was there to 'supervise', she says. 'You wouldn't know what to do without me,' she says. Ha! I would rather be under Octavia than her! That stuffy old owl!"

"Truer words have never been spoken," Joseph said and there was another round of nods. I could even see Matilda nodding as subtly as she could, agreeing with us on how annoying the ryb was.

I looked up to take a glance at Soren's group to see Otulissa joining them and Gylfie was leaning towards Soren and was whispering something to him. I had a good idea of what it was but before I could say it, Baron beat me to it. "Say, guys," We all looked at him in curiosity. "Have you guys noticed that Ezylryb and the other Parliament members aren't here?"

"Probably having a meeting or something, they did do this sometimes." Lilica replied.

"Yeah, but they must have had a good reason for having them during breaklight, right? I mean, couldn't they have had it after breaklight?"

The rest of us could only collectively sigh as one. "Only you could link food to anything, Baron," I said, Joseph and Lilica nodding together. There were more talks and laughs throughout the meal, and when we finished and were just about to leave, I felt that the winds that had been surrounding the Tree were getting bigger and colder. "Come on, let's get back to our hollow before the blizzard kicks in."

"Yeah, the sooner the better," Joseph seconded. We then powered our way through the increasingly harsher winds before we finally reached our little hole. "Finally!" he exclaimed as he rushed towards his nest and settled down in it. "Now we can sleep through the day without being frozen to death!"

I rolled my eyes(2) and settled down in my own nest. "Still, it was nice to rest for today." I sighed and closed my eyes, ready to drift off to slumberland.

'Not yet, Matthias,' I groaned at Grimble's voice ringing through my head. 'We still need to watch Soren and his friends in case of something that needs Watching.'

'You never let me have any time to myself, you know that?' I grumbled as I opened an eye to glare at the grinning ghost. 'Slave driver.' I muttered before closing my eye, feeling him pulling me out of my body.

'Yes, yes, you are my slave and I am your master. Now come on, we have to go.' We then jumped off and headed towards Soren's hollow, just in time to see the five owls gathering around. "As I said to Soren at breaklight, something big is going on," Gylfie spoke in a low tone

"How do you know?" Digger asked.

"Not one of the parliament members was in the dining hollow. There's an important meeting taking place."

"Getting ready for war I bet!" Twilight cut in, getting excited about the presumed action. "I'll bet that they'll put us each in charge of a division."

"It's not war, Twilight. Hate to disappoint you." I put a wing over my mouth to cover up my giggling at Twilight's disappointed expression. It was no secret that the Great Grey loved fighting, to the point that sometimes I bet that his dreams would be all about fighting and kicking the pellets out of his opponents. In fact, during our combat practice outside of chaw lessons, he was one of our best fighters, constantly beating most of his opponents. The fights that he did lose in were mostly against those who had been fighting a lot longer than he did (then again those in that category that actually beat him were few) like Boron (whenever he stopped by and joined in), and those with prodigious fighting abilities like Twilight himself.

Truth be told, I was one of his favourite sparring partner. Every time both of us were unoccupied, he would come over and spar with me, and every time we fought, those who were resting by the side would be betting on which one of us would be winning. It was my small size and faster speed against his bigger size and greater strength, but I would be proud to say that the score was 5 to 4 in my favour. He might be looking for a rematch, but until my next loss, yay me!(3)

"No, no war," repeated Gylfie. "It's higher magnetics."

"Oh, for Glaux's sake," the Great Grey growled. "How boring. As if we don't get enough of HM, as she now calls it, from Otulissa all the time."

"It's important, Twilight. We have to learn about this stuff." Digger said.

"That's just the problem." I could hear the low hiss in Glyfie's words. "This stuff is spronk."

"Spronk?" The other living owls echoed the word together at once and looked at each other, confused at the unknown word. I knew what it meant, of course, but I was a little surprised at two things: one which was that Grimble turned to me with a questioning look in his eye and two was that I didn't hear Eglantine missing in the chorus of surprised voices.

"Spronk is forbidden knowledge," the Elf Owl explained and immediately there was a deep, shocking silence in the hollow, including Grimble.

"Forbidden knowledge? No, Gylfie," Soren said, probably the most shocked out of all of them. "You have to be wrong. Nothing is spronk in the Great Ga'Hoole Tree. That's just not the Guardians' way. They would never forbid knowledge. They only want us to learn."

"Maybe not forbidden forever, but at least some things are spronk for now," she replied.

"Well, I don't like it," the Barn Owl asserted. "I'm completely against things being declared spronk."

"Me too." Twilight seconded.

I then saw Digger blinked, slowly even. As much as I could gather from the stories and our few interactions with each other, I could say that Digger was one of those deep thinkers, the philosophical and observant one of the Band. He would be the one to notice the things that most owls would overlook and know the words to say to those he sensed were upset. I remembered that during my very first meeting with him, a few days after we graduated from power flight school, we were sharing our first thoughts about the Tree when he was asking if he could help with any problems I was shouldering out of the blue. I was shocked at first, scared that the Burrowing Owl was able to peer into my soul with those piercing eyes of his. I was able to lie through my metaphorical teeth, and though thankfully he bought it, I still felt as if he knew what I was thinking.

Anyway, back to the present moment, Digger began to speak in that slow way he would use whenever he was considering a problem. "Yes, I think it's awful when they keep knowledge from young owls. Just suppose that Otulissa had not been permitted to read that book about the Devil's Triangle. We might never have been able to free Ezylryb."

"I think we should go tell them that this is all wrong," Eglantine spoke up for the first time since this conversation began.

"Before we do anything," Soren said in a firm manner, "I think that we have to find out for sure."

"To the roots?(4)" Gylfie asked.

"That's how you found out, isn't it, Gylfie?" Her best friend replied with a smile.

Gylfie nodded, looking embarrassed. I chuckled in amusement at the sight, knowing the reason that she was embarrassed was due to the fact that she had just admitted the fact that she had been eavesdropping on the Parliament.

"Oh, I'm so excited!" Eglantine was so close to hopping up and down in excitement. "I've heard you talk about going to the roots but I've never been there. I've been dying to go." Then there was a sudden and heavy silence as the other four owls exchanged glances, and even I had the same thought as them. "You're not thinking of leaving me out. You better not leave me out. No fair!" The younger Barn Owl pleaded desperately.

"I'm just not sure, Eglantine," Soren said. "I mean, first of all you would have to promise not to tell Primrose(5)."

"I won't, I won't. Listen, if it hadn't been for me, none of this stuff with higher magnetics would have started."

I had to admit, that was a really good point. If it hadn't been for the mysteries surrounding Eglantine's captivity under the Pure Ones and the kidnapping of Ezylryb, no one would have found out about the Pure Ones, higher magnetics and more.

"Well, all right," Soren finally relented. "But not a word of this to anyone. Promise?"

"Promise." His sister nodded. With a nod from the rest of the owls in the hollow, Soren then walked towards the entrance and jumped out, swooping down towards the base of the Tree, accompanied by his sister and three friends and unbeknownst to anyone, two spirits. As soon as we reached the roots, the group of five quickly entered the place. Grimble then followed them inside but I suddenly remembered something and hung outside for a while, turning back to look at the Tree, as if searching for someone.

'Matthias, what are you doing?'Grimble asked as he came out of the hole in between the roots.

'Waiting for an unexpected guest,' I simply said before spotting something in the distance. Or someone. 'And there she is,' I smiled before entering the cave myself. Grimble was confused as to that and turned around to take a look himself. His eyes instantly found who I was talking about and widened in surprise.

'Otulissa?!' Grimble exclaimed. 'Why is she here?!'

'Well, for one, because the story said so.' I said. Grimble glared back at me for the sarcasm as he followed me in. 'And second, because she had eavesdropped on them before and I wouldn't be surprised if she did it again.'

Upon catching up with the owls ahead, Grimble and I walked towards a nearby root and listened in. Based on the voices and the conversation, I guessed that Dewlap and Elvan were on the spronk side and Ezylryb and Bubo were on the opposite side with Strix Struma still sitting on the fence. "I cannot believe that teaching young and impressionable owls about such matters can really be helpful in the long run." I groaned at the sound of that damned Burrowing Owl echoing through my root. "Higher magnetics is a strange business. We ourselves have only begun to understand it all."

Just then, I noticed that Soren and his friends froze just as a shadow slid over them and looked up from their eavesdropping and to the owner of the shadow. Seeing the infuriating look on their faces when they saw Otulissa coming towards them brought a giggle to my face. "This really frinks me off." I watched Twilight silently mouthed what everyone was thinking, but the Spotted Owl was undaunted. She'd just lifted a talon to her beak to warn Twilight not to make any noise. Soren just sighed and got right back to listening onto the debate, with the rest of us, including Otulissa, doing the same.

"Higher magnetics is not a science," Dewlap continued. "It's dark magic, one of the shadow arts. And that book, Fleckasia and Other Disorders of the Gizzard, says as much, and must instantly be removed from the shelves."

"Wrong!" Ezylryb boomed out so loudly that it sent the roots quivering pretty hard to the point that it nearly sent Gylfie falling from her perch. "First, with all due respect, Dewlap, I must take issue with the term 'dark magic'. You use it in a derisive manner, as if something that is dark is negative. How can darkness in our world of owls ever be thought of as negative, something less good? For is it not in darkness that we come alive, that we rise in the night to fly, to hunt, to find, to explore, to defend and to challenge? It is in darkness that our true nobility begins to bloom. Like the flowers that open in the sunshine, we open to the dark. So let us hear no more of such expressions as 'dark magic'. It is neither dark, nor is it magic. It is science. A science that we do not fully understand."

"And I agree with that statement," Strix Struma spoke up for the first time during the meeting, or at least the first time since we came to eavesdropped. "I must say that we as owls must not be afraid of the darkness, so we also must not be afraid to learn of new things. That's what the Guardians are for, to learn and to become wiser in order to be better prepared for the future. Is that not how we learn how to use fire and to smith and forge and to navigate by the stars all those years ago? And since then haven't we learn more by delving deeper into the unknown?" Dewlap grumbled and looked to the side while Elvan just looked downwards in contemplation. On the other side, Bubo was puffed up in victory and even the grizzled owl had the rare smile on his beak. "Even so," Strix Struma continued, "we must also practice caution. We didn't get this far by being careless, so I suggest that we just remove a few books that go too deeply into this higher magnetics subject and put them in a section of the Library that's only reserved for...dedicated owls."

"But...but..." I heard Bubo stuttered, "most of the books regarding higher magnetics are heavily documented!"

"Oh well then," Dewlap shrilled, something that we least expected her to do and yet that made her more unlikable, "I guess that means that I won't be reshelving any books then!" I could almost hear the gnashing of metaphorical teeth from Soren and Otulissa, since they were the most invested in this meeting and now that they knew that the situation hadn't changed at all, it'd left them frustrated and annoyed.

"We'd heard enough," Soren said quietly, removing himself from his root. "It's time to go back to our hollow, and you are coming with us as well." He pointed to Otulissa as he said the last part. The Spotted Owl nodded in reply before they walked towards the exit.

'We better go too,' Grimble said. I nodded and the both of us followed the group of six out of the Roots, as I would be calling this place from now on, and back to their hollow.

As soon the last of the six entered the hollow, I watched as Soren immediately rounded on Otulissa. "All right, we need an explanation, Otulissa! You followed us. Who gave you permission?"

But the owl cut him off. "Who gave you permission to eavesdrop?" She shot back.

"Well, no matter. How come you're following us around?"

"I have as much right to as anyone. I don't want to be left out." Otulissa said, trying to psych herself up despite the growing nervousness under Soren's stern gaze. "I flew with you to rescue Ezylryb. You know that's true. And who was it who figured out the Devil's Triangle? Tell me that. And who knew about mu metal? Tell me that. Not to mention the fact that it was I who knew that fire destroyed magnetic properties. So who has more rights to know about higher magnetics?"

"You," I saw the Spotted Owl heaving a sigh of relief when Digger stepped up to speak in her defense. "And," he paused before looking towards his friends, "I honestly don't believe that one owl has more of a right than anyone else to know something. Isn't that what our objection to this whole spronk thing is about — our right to know? We should all be able to know." A still silence fell upon the group as they reflected on what Digger had said.

'Wow, that's deep,' I commented, Grimble nodding in agreement.

"Now, tell us," Digger said, "what do you think is spronk about higher magnetics, and why don't they want us to know about it? What are they scared of?"

"I don't know really. I think it probably has something to do with..." Otulissa hesitated, as if she was worried about saying her thoughts about it, but she went on anyway, "...well, with what happened to Eglantine after the Great Downing — to her mind, to her gizzard."

"Was that different from what happened to Ezylryb?" Soren asked.

"Yes, I think so. Ezylryb just lost his sense of direction. He couldn't navigate, but Eglantine..." she then turned towards said owl.

"I couldn't feel. I was like stone — like the stone crypts they kept us in." Eglantine finished the sentence with her own thoughts.

"So why don't they want us to know about this?" Soren asked, for the second time I noticed.

"I'm not sure. Maybe because they don't know that much about it themselves," Otulissa replied.

"So," Soren said, "What do we do about all this?"

"We need to confront them," Twilight said, "I'm not much for book learning, but I don't like the idea that someone can tell me I can't learn something. Makes me want to learn it all the more."

"But if we confront them, we're back to that same old problem again." Gylfie remarked.

"What's that?" The Spotted Owl asked.

"The last time we listened in at the roots and found something out and wanted to say something about it, way back last summer, well, we couldn't because then we would have had to admit that we had been eavesdropping, and we would get into really big trouble," the Elf Owl explained.

"Hmmm..." Otulissa shut her eyes as she considered the situation. "I see the problem." Then suddenly she opened her eyes, having that 'Eureka!' moment. "I have an idea. Remember that book they were talking about, that book that had to be removed from the shelves — Fleckasia and Other Disorders of the Gizzard?"

"Yes," Soren replied, the rest of us nodded with him.

"Well, what if I go to the library and ask the book matron to fetch it for me? Then we'll see what happens. This will be a test case, so to speak."

We all, including the two of us ghost owls, looked at each other, amazed. 'You have to admit, she is smart when she isn't being annoying,' I admitted.

'Well I knew that from the very beginning,' Grimble replied with a cheeky smile. I glared at him with deadpan eyes, one eyeridge raised up as if saying, 'Really?'

The six (living) owls then got down to planning. They immediately agreed on that as soon as possible to have this confrontation would be best, so they all decided that they would gather at the Library when tween time neared, just as when the twilight of dusk was about to come. And when they were beginning to discuss on the roles, that was when I turned around towards the exit. 'While all this is interesting, I think it's time for me to go to bed,' I told Grimble.

'What? But the discussion isn't over yet!' Grimble pointed at the group. 'We have to wait for them to finish.'

'Not really,' I replied, 'We don't really have to know who's going, only when's this thing's going down. So yeah, I'm going back to my nest to have a good rest. Besides,' I turned to look at the group who looked as if they were finishing up whatever they were talking about. 'it seemed that they are nearly done.'

'What?!' He turned to realize that what I said was indeed true, the six owls had just finished their discussion and Otulissa was walking towards the hole in the wall as well. 'Grrrr...fine, let's go,' the ghost owl finally relented before we both leaped out of Soren's hollow and back to mine.

'So I can finally sleep now right?' I glared at my partner.

'Yes, you may,' Grimble rolled his eyes. 'Just don't grumble when I wake you up, alright?'

I sighed before letting myself relax and fade into a well-deserved sleep.


"So what are you reading?" I groaned softly as Baron's words repeated itself for the fifth time we've been here. Initially I hadn't wanted the Snowy to join me in this... mission of mine, but when I was about to leave the hollow I was caught by the awakening Baron who then opted to join me in my 'reading'. I did try to convince him that he didn't have to come, but he insisted on it, saying that he's up anyway so he might as well accompany me to do something. And so from there, with me without having any real reason to say no, I relented and we flew towards the Library.

"It's the Fire Cycle, I hadn't had the chance to read this in a long time, so it might as well be now," I replied. Tilting my head slightly to the side, I could see Ezylryb sitting at his usual spot, munching on a centipede while reading from a book. When I came in with Baron, I saw that the grizzled ryb was already there. He'd looked up of course, but to tell whether he was surprised or not was impossible with that poker face of his, as if he had already expected me to be here.

And then there was Dewlap, the frinking Ga'Hoolology ryb. The moment the both of us realized she was here, we hastily walked past her, doing our best to hide our sneers from her as we reached for our books and ignored her presence for the rest of our time here.

Sighing, I went back to my reading but tried as I might, I couldn't focus on the words. My mind instead went back to the second reason I was here, or to be more precise, why I was awake in the first place. The first reason was to, yes, to watch the upcoming drama unfolding but the second reason was that well, I had...another one of those daymares.

I sighed as my mind flashed back to what I remembered in my dream...


It had been about four and a half weeks since I had been shoved into this hellhole, or at least that's as far as I could tell. You have no idea how difficult it was to count the days here, much less knowing the time, seeing that there was no chance I could see the sun from where I was and there's wasn't a clock as far as I could see. So the only way I was able to know how long I was trapped here was by the number of times they sent all the prisoners to sleep but even that itself was taken with a grain of salt. The work hours were extremely long and each time we were awake they would work us to the bone, and whenever we stopped when we were tired, they would whipped us cruelly until we either get up or faint due to the pain. And there were times when we fell unconscious because of the monsters torturing or experimenting on us, so my estimation could be way off.

Anyway, I was dragging myself back from a long 'day' of work like the many others around me, hoping that the disgusting grub they gave us would be enough to silence the noise my stomach was currently making. But when I was about to leave the tunnel, suddenly I felt someone grabbing the back of my neck and pulled me back before pushing me against a wall. Though I am thankful that the wolf body I was mutated into was able to take the blow much more easily than my human body, I was already weakened by fatigue not only from today's work but from the others before and also the hunger, so the wind was blown right out of me when I slammed into the wall.

With my captor's weight pressing onto me, I was unable to do anything to get out of the hold. Coughing, my bleary eyes opened only to see one of the monsters leering at me. "Well well," the monster said with a sadistic grin, "guess what, 5-83, looks like it's your fourth trip to the good Doctor!"

At those words, fear instantly filled my face and tears began leaking down my cheeks. "No please, I beg you! Let me go, please!" I screamed as I tried to push my way out of his hold. The monster just grinned sadistically and tossed me roughly onto the floor, knocking the wind out of me. He then looked up and said to the guards watching us in amusement. "He's yours, take him to the Master."

Coughing, I tried to stand up again but before I'd even got a chance to do that, I was pinned down to the ground by four wardens. "Hey, let me go!" I shouted, but no matter how much I struggled, I just couldn't stop them from wrestling all four of my arms and my tail onto my back and binding all of them together. With that done, they then proceed to drag me by my feet out of the room and towards their destination. "No, please!" I screamed in desperation. "Someone help me!" But everyone around us quickly stood aside and turned their heads away, letting us pass without trouble. Tears kept flowing down like waterfalls as I cried out my screams for help, but no one was willing to jump in to help. Everyone was too afraid to either be subjected to the punishments or the experiment as a consequence for retaliating against the guards.

After all they had seen this far too many times, especially from among the new inmates, when they tried to fight against their captors to help those who were singled out, only to be brought down and be subjected to the same thing. So that's why it was understandable why right now the instinct for survival was driving them to stay out of the way like the many times before, the defeat, despair and regret clearly on their faces. But that didn't mean that it didn't hurt.

But while they were dragging me away, my ears perked up when I thought I heard someone rushing over. "Get away from him!" I heard a familiar voice cried out as a cat-like figure came flying and landed a punch on a guard. My eyes widened to see that my saviour was Raphael, the one who was with me and took care of me all this time. Then, with blazing speed, he landed another two on a second guard and lashed out at a third with his thick tail. Making an astounding leap with his grasshopper legs, he avoided a blow from the last of the guards and knocked him down with a powerful kick. However, before he could do anything else, the monster rushed towards him and grabbed him from behind, trapping his arms by his side in a crushing hug. Caught by surprise, my friend was unable to react in time before the monster bit him in the neck.

"Raph!" I shouted, fearful of him being killed in front of him. The monster then dropped my friend before quickly turning towards the rest of the slaves, roaring loudly at them who were just moments away from jumping at him. I guessed that they were all spurred by Raph's bravery and the opportunity presented before them was a good chance to get back for everything they had suffered. But before they got a chance to retaliate, the monster was already wary of them, his stance brimming with confidence and aggressiveness. The savage grin of his was terrifying, as if the thought of fighting, and killing, them was going to be exhilarating. And with that blood-thirsty look in his eyes, the fear returned to the prisoners and the rebellion was quelled before it even started. As for me, I was just relieved to see his eyes moving around, though as compared to the rest of his body lying limply like a dead body, it wasn't enough to alleviate my fears.

Scowling in disappointment, the monster then growled at the guards. "Get up and get the kid to the Doctor, he's late as it is." He then grabbed my friend by the neck and lifted him up, forcing Raph to struggle as much as he could in his paralyzed state and gasp for air. "But as for him," his muzzle split into an evil grin, "he will be punished for this."

Hearing those words, the fear in my eyes suddenly increased tenfold. "No, don't!" I shrieked, the high-pitched tone contrasting against the growling bass that had attained due to my wolven form. "Let him go, I beg of you, please!"

The monster turned and looked at me for a moment, his grin becoming wider. "You cared for him, don't you?" Then he turned back to Raph, who was looking back at him with growing panic. "Then that means you cared for him too, right?" He gave a laugh that sent chills right down to everyone, and said in that growling tone that everyone had after a while. "Tell the boss that there will be some fun later." The other guards just grinned before proceeding to drag me to where they were dragging me to before. The last thing I saw then was my friend's fearful face before the whole scene became blurry.


When the vision settled, it was all hazy and full of pain. For some reason, though I knew that I had opened my eyes, it was still dark around me. Confused, I shook my head but that only made the headache worse. "Mhff," I groaned, then I wondered why it sounded muffled but with the raging headache, it was a pointless effort. I then tried to move, but I quickly found that for some reason...I couldn't, and all I got from that was a sort of faint clinking sound, the kind you got when you knock two metal rings together. Before I could figure out why, I heard someone shouting beside me. "Hey Doc, he's awake." I winced at the volume before I felt something whipped away from my eyes, blinding me with the sudden intrusion of light.

When my eyes finally adjusted to it, I could only gasp in horror and shock at the sight of my captor's face so close to me. "MMMPPPHHH!" I screamed in my gag and tried to back away, until I felt something pulled me in place, accompanied by that soft clinking sound again. Out of instinct and fear, I looked down and around only to find myself bound in chains and pinned kneeling to the floor.

"If only you could see the look on your face," the monster laughed. "Oh wait, you could." He then took out a mirror and shoved it in front of my face. I shuddered and whined in horror, seeing a third eye on my forehead. "So, what do you think?" I heard the monster laughing wildly as he tore away my gag and I looked back up, trying not to let my fear overwhelm me, but even I know that the facade wouldn't last long. "Don't you look pretty."

"What are you going to do to me?" I muttered weakly, shaking in my chains as I instinctively tried to make myself look smaller. "What do you want with me?"

"To enjoy your despair of course," he gave me a grin as if from the Devil himself. "Besides, you should be honored. Very few of you lovelies had got the chance to see this."

"See what?" His grin then became crueler as he gestured to the other side of the room, which was dark due to the lights were switched off. Yet I could see the outline of someone, who looked like he was struggling, on the other side of the room which was shrouded in darkness. However, despite my night vision was being rendered useless by the light I was under, I was still able to make out the few features on him, the features that I somehow recognized and seemed familiar somehow, my mind beginning to piece them together.

But the moment when they did, whatever colour that was left beneath my fur drained away. 'No...' I muttered, catching the eye of my captor and he smirked. He went to one of the walls and pulled down a switch and immediately the lights on the other side came on and I gasped in shock. "Raph!" I cried out in horror. The sight of him being strapped to a tilted surgical table frightened me to the core, but it was when I noticed that his head was in a cage was what that brought me to tears. I knew what that thing was: it was what they put me into about a few hours ago, so as to stop me from moving my head at all. "Let him go!" I cried out. Seeing him like that, struggling despite his helplessness, made me fear for him, even more than before. With panic on the rise, my breaths had suddenly become heavier, tears began flowing down like rivers. "Please, just let him go."

'Now I remember,' I thought, it was then when they cut into my forehead and drilled a hole into the skull, all so that they could forcefully grow an eye, just like how they grew my extra set of arms and my tail. It was the most traumatizing experience I had so far, even when compared to the other experiments I was subjected to when I got here, I thought that they were going to split my head and do all sorts of crazy things and I couldn't do a thing to stop them. Horrifying images of what they were going to do to me flashed through my mind when that scalpel neared my skull, followed by excruciating pain when they proceeded to cut open my head and into my skull. Most of what I remembered back then was me frantically fighting against my restraints, screaming and crying all the way before I finally blacked out.

"Now now," A familiar voice sent chills down my spine as it echoed throughout the room. Looking up, I saw a man then stepped around from behind the chair and into the light. At the sight of him, I immediately shrieked in fear and once again frantically tugged at the chains, trying to get as far away from him, yet again I was unable to overcome the chains. "You know that we can't have distractions while we are operating right?" The Doctor said it with a sinister grin before nodding to the monster beside me. With gusto, he savagely grabbed my muzzle and, despite my desperate struggle to escape his hold, quickly tied the slip of cloth around it, once more preventing me from opening my mouth to speak. "Now that that's done, why don't we get this show on the road, 5-86?"

I gasped in terror while Raph whined as he tried to turn and look at the mad Doctor from where he was. 'No please! Raph!' I screamed into my gag, but all it came out was 'mmphs'. After that, I watched as Doctor Linsey began to prepare for the operation while my captor walked up behind me, holding my head in place, all the while enjoying the muffled screams of terror and the expressions of fear and panic on our faces.

Switching on monitors, hanging up bags of fluids, Doctor Linsey then went to Raph, dragging trays and trolleys of tools towards the surgical table. At the sight of it, my friend immediately started fighting his restraints once more, to the point that I swore I could see the the bulging veins underneath his fur, along with the more-obvious straining muscles. And when the Doctor took a razor from one of the trays, I could hear Raph whimpering as he watched clumps of his matted fur falling down from his scalp until the top of his head was bald.

Tears ran down my cheeks as I saw the evil, cruel grins on both their faces. 'No please, don't do this,' I cried, watching as the Doctor picked up a scalpel from one of the trays. Then as the Doctor lowered the scalpel and made the first incision across his forehead, I screamed alongside Raph into my own muzzle, as if it was my own scalp he was cutting into. And the blood, oh god... the blood, I sobbed, it was like rivers of scarlet flowing down his side. 'Please, no more.' But no one could hear my muffled words. I wished I could look away or at least close my eyes, but as long as my captor kept my head locked onto the screaming patient and my eyes kept wide by his fingers, there was no way I could stop watching this horror show.

I could see him jerking wildly in his restraints, in an instinctual response to escape the pain he was being subjected to. But to his misfortune, the straps were strong enough to withstand his struggling, but thankfully they were able to prevent him from aggravating the cut and making it worse than what it was right now. Then again, that didn't bring any comfort to the current situation. I tried to struggle out of my own, but despite my strength, all I got out of it were those damn useless clinking noises. Raph screamed more as the Doctor made two more incision, one at the back of the head and the last one was across the top of the scalp, connecting the two together like an 'I' on it. Seeing the massive amount of the blood that was flowing down was already made me faint but when Doctor Linsey pull apart the skin, I was struggling to push down whatever that was coming up my throat and breathed deeply in exhaustion.

But whatever happened after this was what that truly terrified me. After pulling back the skin, he then took out some kind of saw from the tray beside him and placed it on his skull. "Now then," Doctor Linsey said evilly, "you might want to stay still for this. We don't want your brain to be cut to pieces, now do we." I could see my friend gulp in fear as he tried to keep himself still despite his fearful shivering.

I whimpered as the saw finally touched the bone, but when the Doctor activated the drill and pressed down onto the bone, my friend once more began to jerk and tug frantically at his restraints, screaming all the while in unbearable pain (6). Like before, I cried as I heard his tortured scream and no matter how much I struggle, I couldn't break out of my chains, let alone with my captor standing over me, alert to my every movement.

Though it had only been a couple of minutes when the Doctor began his sawing, but to us, the victims, it might as well been two hours. But finally, when the Doctor lifted a perfect circular piece of bone of Raph's head, I saw him slumped against the table panting heavily, his eyes half-lidded and the fur beside them was wet due to the numerous drops of tears he shed. "Now isn't that pretty," he said, gazing down at the organ before grinning at me. "Well then, let's get down to business, shall we?" He then replaced the scalpel on the tray and delicately picked up a huge metal ring, with spikes coming out of both edges bending slightly inwards with a cable plugged into the back.

'What's that?' I wondered, gazing fearfully at the thing, but then when Doctor Linsey placed it into Raph's head, it was then I recognized what it was, Raph had explained to me the tragedy behind the First Monster, so the sight of that ring sent shivers down my spine. 'No...' I whined, my face paled beneath my fur, the expression of horror shown clearly on my face. Instinctively, I slowly shook my head, as if in denial, forgetting that the monster behind me was holding my head in place, tears flowing down my cheeks. 'Please no...' Then with a burst of energy, I tossed myself against the chains once more, straining against their hold on me as I wildly tugged and pulled at them, desperately trying to break free.

Doctor Linsey gave me a glance, noting the pure expression of horror on my face. "So I guess you know what this was, don't you?" He said rhetorically, smiling all the way. "Then I guess you also know what it does, do you?" I then saw Raph's eyes widen in fear, knowing that from my reaction that whatever the Doctor had put into him was something that right down to the simplest of words, the most terrifying thing possible. Then from the same tray where he took the metal ring from, he took out what seemed like a shallow plastic 'scoop' with circuit boards, electrodes and tiny needles in it, with cables and tubes coming out of it, and placed it into my friend's head as well.

Raph's shivering got even stronger, yet he was trying his best to suppress them, being too afraid to move lest it made things worse. But even he couldn't stop his sniffles, nor his quickening breaths from slowing down. "Now then, let's continue." The Doctor then went to a nearby console and pressed a few buttons. Immediately, the chemicals from the different bags began to flow down the tubes and into the 'scoop', and both the band and the 'scoop' began to work their dark magic.

Raph began to twitch and grunt, his eyes squinting as proof of his effort to fight off whatever influence the two device were forcing onto him. But as the minutes passed, he then started jerking in his bonds, pulling at them like there's no tomorrow, his breaths becoming heavier once more and sounded strained. His eyes became so wide open that he looked as if he was gazing at something far away, something that I couldn't see. 'Raph!" I tried to call out through my gag, but Raph just kept looking forward, trapped in a world he was forcibly induced into. Seeing him like this, I couldn't help but be worried for him, the fear in my gut just multiplied tenfold.

Suddenly, Raph then arched his back as much as he could in his restraints and screamed his heart out. Even if he had not been muzzled, it was still an extremely horrifying sound, filled with bloody terror. His struggling became wilder as well, to the point that I didn't think they were for getting out of that table any more, but was just reacting to whatever he was going through. "Raph!" I screamed through my gag, but tried as I might, I couldn't get him to snap out of whatever he was in. "Please, let him go!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, seeing him twitching in his restraints and screaming into his muzzle, but his head was locked perfectly in place. Tears kept on flowing down my cheeks as I struggled to break free of my chains and my captor's hold, just so that I could free my friend from this torture like what he tried to do for me before. But no matter how hard I tried, I...just couldn't, so I watched on, crying and begging to let him go.

But just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, it did. It was unnoticeable at first, but as the seconds dragged on, I could faintly hear it, and the fear in my gut deepened once more. His screams, at first were both of sheer terror and a instinctual reaction to whatever he was subjugated to, were slowly becoming more aggressive. His whimpers amid the screams became growls, becoming more animalistic in nature.

Then he did something completely unexpected: he roared. Because of the muzzle, it was hard to tell the difference between a scream and a roar. But somehow I knew, and in that short moment, my struggling stopped. My eyes widened in shock at the beastly noise that was somewhat similar to the one that was made by the beast beside me a few hours ago.

'No...' I thought as my friend began to roar for the second time, this time the rage and blood-lust was clearer, not both in voice, but in his expression as well as it overshadowed the terror. 'No, please no...' The white in his eyes then began to taint with red, blood red, before it slowly swallowed the pupils, becoming a bottomless pool of scarlet, not unlike the streams of scarlet drenching his fur. 'Raph, no...' With each roar, they become more terrifying, almost monstrous even.

"STMP THFFS RIGFT NFW!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, not caring whether my words were messed up because of the infernal thing clamping my snout tight, and with one huge burst of energy, I drove at my accursed chains, straining myself to break free of them. I couldn't bear to see him like this, screaming and roaring at the top of his lungs while bound to a table like that, not to mention being tortured by a true monster. I had to get out of these chains, I had to, for my friend who was being brainwashed right now. I had already lost my family and my life, I didn't want to lose my only friend too. "RMMH!"

But no matter how much I tried, I couldn't break out of them. Pulling one final time, I lowered my head weakly, not realizing that my captor had allowed it at the sight of my broken expression, looking at the floor in failure and grief.

Looking at the tears splashing onto the unforgiving floor, that's when I learned a terrifying truth: that all this time I'd thought that the scariest thing that I've ever known were the monstrously shaped beings here, who would love to kill at the order of their masters and jump at the chance to torture any unfortunate people. But now I realized that I have never been more wrong. No, the real monsters were those who created those nightmarish creatures, those who would love nothing more than to tear your mind apart and steal it piece by piece. Leaving you as an empty shell only to be twisted and used by them. As monsters, as weapons, as tools...

I should have known all along, ever since Raph told me the story of Amelia Fortson, now known as the First Monster, but I was still too afraid of the beings that captured me, brought me to this hell and inflicted tremendous pain onto me. 'Please stop this...' I begged, closing my eyes in despair as I tried to block out the terrifying situation in front of me.

Then it was like forever when the muffled roars slowed and finally came to a stop. Looking up, I heaved a sigh of relief to see my friend breathing heavily, growling and twitching all the while as Doctor Linsey switched off the computers and consoles and took off the plastic 'scoop' that was placed in Raph's head. Then even those terrifying sounds slowed down to a stop when the red receded from his eyes and I could see his pupils once more. But as the mad Doctor fixed the cut-out bone back into his skull and began sowing back the skin, Raph had just laid there in silence, not even twitching in that instinctual response of pain and fear. And somehow, even that, which was usually a good thing here, terrified me. "Raph?" I asked hesitantly, "are you alright?"

On instinct, his eyes snapped up to me, and though the growling and roaring stopped and the red was slowly disappearing from his eyes, but the way he looked at me filled me with something that I thought I would have never felt from my friend: dread. The tips of his muzzle lifted up and exposed his inner fangs in a manic grin, frightening me even more. "Oh, he is alright, as you can see, 5-86," Doctor Linsey replied for him as he finished with the last of the stitches and took off the muzzle. "In fact he was better than before, don't you agree, 37-80?"

To my surprise, Raph answered with a predatory snarl, as if in agreement to what the mad doctor said. "You know, I kind of like this newest experiment of mine. Taps into the memory and emotion centres of the brain and forces the subject to relive every single tragic and painful memory he had ever lived, then reliving them again and again." The doctor continued, tapping my friend's head repeatedly to emphasize his words. "But do you know what the best part is?" He asked me with the same manic grin that was on my friend's face, while his hands deftly working on freeing the strapped captive. "It is that while doing all that stuff, I could also mess up with his emotions. By increasing all that fear of his, his sadness and whatever other measly feelings he went through during those times and slowly turning them into rage, I was able to dramatically increase his strength tenfold."

"Of course turning one into a raging, bloodthirsty monster tends to go on a rampage, so the first few tries ended up with them killing everyone in sight, and numerous attempts of stopping them were...ineffective at best. Seemed as if they were resistant to pain or just ignoring them or whatever. But that was easily rectified with this," he then pointed towards the device that was now implanted inside Raph's head, with a cable leading out from the back to a headpiece with an antenna. "Thought I could do two things at the same time, so why not? And it worked. So now thanks to this latest development, I could not only perform his 10th experiment and implant the MCC (Mind-Controlling Circuit) in him at the same time, I would also be able to enhance the strength of anyone I experimented on with this. Soon, with this army of super-monsters to do our bidding, no one will ever be able to stop us! Not the UN, not even SHIELD! And then the world will bow to HYDRA!" He then finished off with a mad scientist laugh before working on freeing the strapped captive.

As for me, I could only stare in complete loss and sadness, watching at my friend as he, when was finally freed of his bonds and stretched for a while from being restrained for too long, he then turned around and knelt before the Doctor. "Master," he said, looking up to him with obedient eyes, "I thank you for bringing me under your command."

"That's right, 37-80," Doctor Linsey agreed, with that evil grin still on his face. "Now is there something you would like to say to our captive audience?"

"Yes master, it seems that I do." Raph then turned towards me and, with the same evil smile as his new master, walked towards me calmly, as if he had just attained enlightenment and he wished to share it with me. "Hello 5-86, or should I call you as how you like it, Martin." He then stood before me and placed a paw beneath my chin, forcefully lifting my head up to look into my fearful eyes. "So what do you think of me now, huh? Serving my master for a greater purpose now, isn't that great?"

"Raph, please," I said weakly, "you cannot do this. You know you can't, it's wrong!"

"Come on Martin, why not? Think about it, what better purpose for our existence than to assist our masters in accomplishing their goals?"

"You know why! This isn't you! This is that thing in your head making you say all this, making you say what that monster wanted to say! You know that this is all wrong! Please, remember what they did to Amelia, what they forced her to do. They made her to kill innocents and kidnap children just to use them like guinea pigs and make them work like slaves?!"

"Yeah, isn't that great?"

"Great?!" I exclaimed. "Raph, they are enslaving kids just so that they could toy with them for their own evil purposes, taking away their freedom and treating them like... like tools! That isn't right!"

"But this would be a great honour for them, their service would allow our masters to finally achieve their dreams and take over the world. Besides, it's either this or death, at either our wardens' punishments, or should I say my comrades now, or during our enhancements."

"You're wrong, there is no honour in this! This is madness, this is evil, THIS IS WHAT MONSTERS DO! That's what Doctor Linsey is making you say and think with that device. Please snap out of this! Raph, please, come back to me."

"Come on Martin, I thought that we were friends."

"We are friends Raph, but you have to fight this control of his. I know you can! Please Raph, I can't lose you! The real you would never say all this!"

"Then sadly, I'm not the real me then," his smile became a little wider, a little more sadistic. "But then again this is the new and better me, not like the pathetic me who was all about helping others. Compassion, hah! What a joke!"

"Raph, please," I pleaded for probably the last time, "you have to fight it, I beg you. I...I don't want to lose you too."

"Oh too bad then," he shrugged, "should have known it was pointless to change your mind. Guess it was a waste to save you back then, but if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to have this chance to serve my master." My eyes widened in shock when I realized that he was right. If he hadn't saved me when I was caught to be experimented on, then he wouldn't be captured for his Tenth Experiment and then be turned into another of Linsey's brainwashed soldiers. At that realization, I looked down, horrified at what I had done. My breaths became heavy with guilt as tears built up in my eyes, unable to handle the heavy burden that was my sin. 'Because of me, my friend was turned into this monster...' I thought, the guilt increasing exponentially as the seconds ticked by. "So in the end," My friend continued, the smile he had then became more sinister, "I should really thank you Martin, because if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here right now."

"So now what should I do about you?" He looked up with a thinking look, his other hand below his chin to complete the look. He then snapped his paw. "Oh, I know how to make it up to you!" I looked up to see him wearing that manic grin once more. "Why don't we have some fun..." And the last thing I remembered then was him slamming me head first to the ground, hard, and his sadistic, toothy grin inches from my face, growing ever closer before I woke up from my sleep, trembling in fear just like my other rude awakenings.


Getting out of the flashback, I shook my head and went back to my reading and about ten minutes later, just when I was getting to a good part, I thought I heard a gasp and looked up again in annoyance. Very quickly the look was replaced with one of barely-concealed surprise when I realized the gasp came from a familiar Barn Owl and an Elf Owl.

"Matthias, what are you doing here?" Glyfie whispered suspiciously.

"Reading," I asked nonchalantly, getting raised eye-ridges from both owls. "All right fine, I woke up early that's all. Just didn't want to spend the rest of the day doing nothing, so I thought that maybe I could do some reading to pass the time."

"Ahem!" Startled, I turned around to see my Snowy Owl friend towering over and looking down at me with a mischievous smirk.

"I hate you at times," I grumbled under my breath. "Anyway, Baron, this is Soren from my Weather-Interpretation and Colliering Chaw," I began to introduce both groups to each other, "and his Elf Owl friend...er..." I looked at her, pretending not to know her name.

"Gylfie," she narrowed her eyes, "and I know you know that."

I just gave her an innocent smile in reply. "Right, and Soren, Gylfie, this is my hollow-mate Baron."

"Charmed, I'm sure," the Elf Owl snarked. "Has he always been this annoying?" Gylfie stage-whispered to Baron, who looked at me with a conspiratorial smile.

"You get used to it, and it makes it all the more satisfying when you do get him back."

"Stabbing me in the back with that smile on your face, how lucky I am to have a friend like you," I intoned with impassive eyes. "Just you wait; the next time we have a fighting session, I am going to completely obliterate you."

"You know you love me."

"Can't deny that, but I'm still going to destroy you."

My Snowy friend then flashed a victory grin at Gylfie, mouthing 'I win' at her and gave her a wink as well. The Elf Owl covered her barely-restrained giggle with a wing at the wink, amused at the friendly banter.

"Alright, cut it out," Soren interrupted with a chuckle in his words. "We're going to read the weather charts, so we'll be seeing you two for tweener later."

We both nodded at him before we went back to our books. But before the two owls reached the shelf where the weather charts were, I could barely hear Gylfie saying to Soren. "Baron was right; that was satisfying!" Annoyed at that comment, I turned around and swiped my wing at the Snowy's head, but Baron, also having heard the comment and was expecting that swing, quickly stepped aside to avoid it and scurried back to his book, sticking out his tongue at me to solidify his win. Huffing, I went back to my book, trying to put down the smile that was overtaking my frown.

Unbeknownst to any of us, Ezylryb looked down from his spectating back to his book, the small, rare smile still on his beak. The tension that was at first there with the four owls had been dismissed completely by the bantering at poor Matthias's expense. He knew that though it wouldn't lower his suspicions on the Boreal Owl, but still, it was nice to see him all flustered like that. Truthfully, he had wished that he never had to gaze at one of his students in a suspicious light, but in this case seeing him just like any other owl in the Great Tree was somewhat refreshing. In his heart he prayed for the day where he didn't have to accuse Matthias of being a spy and turnfeather to the Guardians, to look at him with prejudice and anger for what he did and will do, and hoped that he was indeed the kind owl Ezylryb saw he was.

When I got back to my reading, I found myself enraptured by the story. There was even a voice in my head reading each and every page word by word, painting the story and animating them like a movie, as if I was there myself, complete with sound effects and the various tones and accents of each characters. So into the story I was that I almost jumped when I felt someone poking me in the back. Infuriated, I turned around to see Baron with his annoying smirk.

"What?!" I whispered, not wanting to get reprimanded by the book matron for being too loud. Trust me, I had made the mistake once and she was like Matron when I was about to receive my flint-mop. Women are scary, no matter what species they are, especially when they are grown women, they are the scariest creatures on Earth.

"You are narrating to yourself," the Snowy Owl replied, that damned smile growing wider. My irritated looked immediately transformed into one of horror and my head quickly whipped towards the librarian, who was looking at me through narrowed eyes. I gulped before bringing up my book to hide my blushing face.

"Damn you, you...you..." I muttered, trying and failing to push down my stuttering, embarrassed at Baron's muffled chuckling. I peeked over the top of by book, hoping to see that the librarian would stop slaughtering me with her eyes. Heaving a sigh of relief when she finally looked away, I was about to get back to my book when I noticed a pair of owls entering the Library, namely a Spotted Owl, a Burrowing Owl and a Barn Owl. 'It's about to begin,' I thought, a smile began to break due to excitement.

"Hey Baron, look who's here," I whispered to my friend. The Snowy looked up as well and immediately spotted who I was talking about.

"Who, them? What's so important about them?" I turned to look at him in slight surprise, then I realized that he'd probably not known about them or at least not well enough to recognize them at first glance.

"Well, the Spotted Owl is Otulissa from my chaw, the Barn Owl is Soren's little sister Eglantine and the Burrowing Owl was from my power flight school Digger."

"Oh, okay," that was what he said before returning to what he was reading before."

Miffed, I went back to watching the two owls as they looked around the place, as if looking for someone. But when Eglantine laid eyes on Dewlap and the book matron, both who had suddenly appeared behind the circulation desk(7), she then quickly nudged her friend and pointed at the two owls. Otulissa turned to look at them and just from that, I could see Otulissa's feathers drooping in fear, making her look as if she was becoming smaller. But then, in her eyes I saw the fierce glint in her eyes and suddenly she stood up firmly, her feathers seemingly having puffed up, and so with the little courage she had mustered she flew the rest of the way to the desk.

"Book Matron," the Spotted Owl said, "would you be so kind as to look for a book that I can't seem to find on the shelves?"

"Certainly, dear. What is the title?"

Otulissa pushed down the urge to take a huge breath and stated the title. "Fleckasia and Other Disorders of the Gizzard."

There was complete silence, not even a pin drop could be heard, so much that no one even dared to take a breath in this suffocating situation. Then again, even a pin drop could either break this tension or make it worse. I took a peek at Ezylryb, whose stare was boring into Dewlap's head like drills. The book matron stammered, "Let me go see if I can find it."

"Oh no, Book Matron," Dewlap said. "That is one of the books that has been temporary removed from the shelves until certain decisions are made by the parliament."

"Removing books? Decisions? Since when are there decisions about books I want to read?" Otulissa drew herself up taller, and with her plumage got so puffed up to the point that it was akin to an attacking stance, making her look bigger than usual.

"There are plenty of other good books for you to read, my dear," Dewlap said in a soft voice.

"But I want to read that book," The Spotted Owl insisted, and paused for a second. "Strix Emerila, one of my distinguished ancestors, the renowned weathertrix, who has written several books on atmospheric pressure and weather turbulations, mentioned it."

But Dewlap interrupted her. "The book you have requested has nothing whatsoever to do with weather."

"That's possible. But you see, Strix Emerilla had a wide ranging mind, and I think that she mentioned this book as referring to a possible connection between gizzard disorders as related to atmospheric pressure variations."

"So?"

"So, I have a wide-ranging mind, too. Now, please, may I have that book?"

'Wow,' I thought, impressed. 'only Otulissa could use Strix Emerilla to justify everything.'

"Hmmm," I heard Baron's voice behind me. "Looks like something interesting is going on here. Can't wait to see happens next." I nodded in agreement.

"I'm very sorry, my dear, but that is absolutely impossible. That book has been declared temporary spronk." The Burrowing Owl declared before returning to whatever she was doing earlier.

"SPRONK!" Otulissa gasped so loudly that I doubt that no one in the library was not looking at her right now.

"yes, spronk," I could hear the frustration in Dewlap's words.

"There is nothing more ordinary, less noble, more ignoble, less intelligent, more common, and completely vulgar than spronking the written word." Otulissa spluttered indignantly. "It is completely lower class."

"Well, the book is spronk!" Dewlap declared loudly, as if that was the final word in that matter.

Enraged by the ryb's bull-headed stance, Otulissa swelled up to twice her size and shouted out the words that no one, not even those who knew her personally, would have expected to hear from her. "Well," she thundered, "SPRINK ON YOUR SPRONK!"

To say that Dewlap was shocked was a major understatement. Her eyes were blown wide open from the sheer audacity and unexpectedness in the usage of the profanity by one of the most cultured owl in the Tree. Then again, no one would ever expect anyone to say one, much less shout, in front of a ryb, so having one said in front of Dewlap, especially the worst swear word in the owl vocabulary, was sure to bring a shock to her ugly face. With that being said, when the Burrowing Owl ryb heard the word being directed at her, the blood immediately surged into the head and she fell backwards, already unconscious by the time her head slammed against the bark of the floor.

No one moved for a moment, all stunned to silence at the sight of Otulissa shouting a vulgar word at Dewlap and causing the detestable owl to faint at the sound of it. In my peripheral view I could see Baron's beak hanging in midair, just like everyone else, but I didn't care about it. 'If I had my hands,' I found myself thinking, 'I would have given her two thumbs up.'

Then suddenly a brown blur rushed towards the fallen owl pushing past Otulissa and the book matron. Upon reaching her, Ezylryb then lowered his head onto her chest and closed his eyes, as if in concentration. Three seconds later he then stood and announced, his voice bringing everyone back from their shock. "She's just fainted, nothing more." He then pointed at the two of us, me and Baron. "I want you two to bring Dewlap to the infirmary immediately. She needs Matron's attention."

"Do we have to?" I inadvertently said without thinking and like a whip, the ryb's eyes were already trained on me like heat-seeking missiles. "Alright, alright, we'll do it," I exclaimed, instinctively raising my wings in surrender. "Come on, Baron, let's go. You carry her and I'll fly on ahead to warn Matron."

Baron nodded and we went to do our assigned jobs right away; I quickly flew out of the entrance while my partner went to grab the downed owl before following me. And after that, it all passed by in a blink of an eye. By the time Baron reached the infirmary with Dewlap in his claws, Matron and I had just finished preparing the nest and all that's left was the owl that was supposed to be lying in it.

"We're done here, let's go for tweener," I muttered before we both left the hollow, not wanting to get involved with that annoying owl any further.

As we were making our way to the dining hollow, Baron blurted out. "Can you believe that that owl just...said 'sprink' onto Dewlap? She's...she's..."

"One of a kind alright," I agreed. "Never knew she had it in her, that's for sure." 'Well I do know, but still...seeing that in person still blew my mind away.'

"So true," Baron mused. "Oh, we're close to our branch."

'Our branch' as what Baron had jokingly called it that because we would usually wait here for Matron to announce that we could finally get in for our meals. I'd just gone along with it because I found it cute. Anyway, just as I was landing on the branch, a familiar, echo-y voice suddenly rang out in my head. 'We have to go now,' the voice said.

Caught unprepared by Grimble's voice, I missed the branch and instead tumbled forward in midair. "Whoa," I exclaimed before finally righting myself and landed on the branch.

"Matthias, you alright?" Baron asked, rushing towards me. "What's wrong?"

"It's nothing," I quickly said. Then I glanced at my ghostly duplicate who was looking a little guilty. 'Thanks a lot, partner.' I muttered sarcastically.

'Sorry about that,' he quickly apologized. 'But I want to inform you that Soren and his friends have reached their hollow and are now planning their next move.'

'Couldn't you do it instead?' I whined and Grimble then glared at me. 'Alright, alright.' Turning back to Baron, I said to him. "I still haven't finished my book yet, so would you mind if you wait here while I go get it?"

The Snowy rolled his eyes with a smirk on his face. "Go ahead, I'll wait here for the rest of them." I said my thanks to him before quickly flying off. On the way there, I quickly spoke to Grimble. 'Just let me get the book before we make the switch. I don't want you dropping me out of the sky anytime soon.'

Grimble shook his head with a sigh. 'I said I was sorry! Would you give it a rest already?'

We reached the library rather quickly and I immediately headed towards the book matron. "Excuse me marm, but I was wondering if you still have the Fire Cycle that I was reading earlier. I would like to borrow it for the night."

"Oh that," she said, "I had returned it back to its shelf. You will be able to find it there."

Nodding my thanks, I made my way there, but just as I was about to reach out and grab the book, I felt Grimble pulling me out and taking my place in my body. 'Go, do what you have to do.' He said. 'You know where to find me.'

I nodded and immediately left the library, making haste towards my destination. And when I was nearing their hollow, my beak split into a grin as I heard Twilight exclaiming from where I was. "She fainted? Dewlap actually fainted?" I could almost picture the astonishment on his face.

"Yes, they rushed her to the infirmary," Soren confirmed. I guessed they'd already told him who was there in the library.

Then Soren, Gylfie, Digger, Twilight and Eglantine turned to Otulissa, who was standing extremely still save for her quivering beak. "I don't regret a word. Not even the you-know-what word. I shall not apologize." she said sternly, but we all knew that she was more of trying to convince herself instead of everyone else. "Spronking is very lower class, and it is against everything that the Guardians of Ga'Hoole are and everything they stand for. I don't care if I get a flint mop for this. I don't care if I get chaw-chopped."

We all blinked in horror, for being chaw-chopped wasn't anything like having a flint-mop, which was like serving detention or doing community service. But chaw-chopped was worse, it was no different from being expelled from school permanently and nothing was more humiliating than that. Though I knew that she was not getting expelled of course, seeing the Spotted Owl trying to hide that fear and nervousness behind a visage of forced calm made me truly respect how brave she was.

'Then again,' I thought worriedly, 'if word about this gets out, and it most definitely will, that Otulissa not only said the worst swear word that ever existed in the owl vocabulary, but spat it at a ryb, everyone is going to swamp her with questions and judgemental comments just like I was. Though I wonder, if they know it was Dewlap who was cursed, would they think twice about it?'

But before anyone could say anything or move, a owl whom I recognized as the parliament matron poked her head into the hollow. "The lot of you are required in parliament immediately!" Okay, she definitely didn't sound happy, more like annoyed for some reason, most likely because she was going to have a late meal...again. "Except for Eglantine — she can stay."

Everyone had a 'oh-my-Glaux' on their faces but one took it a little bit differently. "Why don't I get to go?" Eglantine asked in a quivering voice. "I want to be included."

"You want to be included in a flint mop?" Twilight asked. "The last flint mop we got, if you recall, was having to bury pellets for Dewlap for three days. You were excluded from that, too, and believe me, you were lucky."

The Barn Owl could only whimper, but she nodded anyway. With that out of the way, the owls, sans Eglantine, left the hollow and flew down towards the parliament hollow, with me going along with them. On the way down, I heard Gylfie muttering to herself, "Good Glaux, we're going to be burying pellets from now until summer."

"You didn't say the word, I did," Otulissa muttered back. "It just sort of came out. I was amazed myself. But I'm still glad I said it!" She quickly added the last part with a sad smile.

Truth be told, we all were glad that she said it. For indeed there was something about this whole spronking business that rubbed my feathers the wrong way and I really, really didn't like it.

When we reached the parliament hollow, the five owls were ushered into the room and inside they saw Ezylryb, Boron and his mate Barran and much to the surprise of the five owls, Martin and Ruby. Not only that, the owl whom they were expecting, Dewlap, wasn't present and because of that, I could see the confusion on their faces, especially on Soren's.

I then heard Barran coughing several times to gain the attention of the seven owls. "The seven of you have been called here for a reason." Instantly the dread of the situation returned to their gizzards and was shown on their faces. After all, rarely anything good or happy ever happened to those who were summoned to the Parliament Hollow, especially the new bloods. Already, the fearful thoughts of what kind of punishment they would receive ran through their heads.

Boron spoke this time. "The seven of you combine an interesting array of talents," he paused, observing their expressions, "as was proven in the extraordinary rescue of Ezylryb." I watched as Ezylryb nodded and then fixed his gaze on Soren. "Some have come to refer to you as the 'Chaw of Chaws'." A smile grew on my beak when I saw Soren choking on his gasp and I could feel the excitement growing in my gizzard. "To get to the point, your special talents as the Chaw of Chaws are now needed." The deafening silence that followed was even more intense than the one that happened in the library, each of the young owls' eyes seemed to bulge at the unexpected twist in their situation.

I then glared at the Great Gray of the group. 'If he sprout one word about war or fighting, I am going to hand his tail feathers on a silver platter during our next fight,' I muttered, 'that is, after I decimate Baron for his cheek in the library.'

Then it seemed that Barran had the same idea I had. She swung her head around and glared at Twilight until he wilted under her amber gaze. "In a sense, it is much more dangerous than war. Although the stakes are as high, for you could be killed."

I could have sworn that no one had taken a breath in anticipation for the next few seconds and I was not even sure if I had taken one as well.

"Your mission is to penetrate the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls." Barran finally announced. Immediately I could hear a collective gasp from all the owls and I even saw Soren and Gylfie stepping back in shock, only to break out of it when they realized they were stepping on air, and quickly flapped their wings in order to get their grip and balance back.

I gritted my metaphorical teeth in slight anger, for even though I knew that this mission was coming, but that didn't mean I like it. They were talking about sending seven Guardian apprentices to that place, a place of slavery and oppression, full of misery and where freedom, happiness and hope dies. I didn't care if they were going there for a mission, no one deserved to be sent to that horrendous place. Memories of a similar place sprung into my mind and the rage that came with them before I desperately pushed them back to where they came from and wiped the tears that were threatening to drop away.

"We have reasons to believe that a dangerous group of owls, the ones that call themselves the Pure Ones, have possibly already infiltrated St. Aggie's with the intention of capturing the immense stores of flecks. We have had intelligence reports from Ambala that suggest this," explained Boron.

"Ambala?" Digger repeated. "Isn't that where the slipgizzle was, the Barred Owl?"

"Was is right," Boron stated. "As you know, he was killed. Over the last several months, we have been cultivating a new slipgizzle. She is rather frail and quite eccentric. They call her Mist, and she is perfectly suited for this work because through some odd accident, an almost terminal shock to her gizzard, she has lost all her colouration. Her feathers have turned a pale, almost foggy gray. Some might think she is a scroom. But she isn't. She does not fly well, but she has incredible powers of observation. The reports she has been sending about the Pure Ones are most disturbing."

Soren blinked. "Why?"

"They want flecks," Barran answered this time, "and St. Aggie's has the largest repository of flecks in existence. But Mist thinks their interest extends beyond the flecks, and that is what we want you to find out. The two greatest threats to the owl kingdoms are St. Aggie and the Pure Ones. The very idea of their being brought together in some sort of grand mischief is..." she then shivered in her moment of hesitation, "...gizzard-chilling, to put it mildly." Even I shivered at that remark. Just thinking about that homicidal maniac and his lackeys grabbing a weapon that could spell the destruction of all avian kind in their dirty claws was something that must stay out of my mind.

Then Boron resumed. "So, you see how important the seven of you are. We have faith of you. Now the question is, will you accept this mission?"

I could see the stunned expressions on their faces, their beaks almost hanging loose from disbelief. When they were told that they were expected at the Parliament, I knew that they were all expecting some sort of punishment for the stunt in the library (well, at least Otulissa), but not in their wildest dreams would they think that they would be entrusted with a mission that usually only fully-fledged Guardians would receive. But them? They had only been at the Tree for about four months and there's still so many things they had to learn, to grow. I then looked at the rybs', noting that they were evaluating the young owls' responses, especially Ezylryb on Soren.

"Soren and Gylfie," the male monarch spoke, "we realize that going back to St. Aggie's will be most difficult for you."

"Yes," Soren replied slowly. "But, Boron, won't they recognize us?"

"Never," Barran answered quickly. "You were an owlet when you were there before. Your flight feathers had not fledged, nor had your face fledged white, and you were half your size. Gylfie — you, too, looked quite different."

"And," I turned to Ezylryb, who had spoken up for the first time, "as you two well know, they are stupid, these owls of St. Aggie." The ryb then paused. "But still, you'll need a cover story."

"A cover story?" Martin, the Saw-Whet, asked.

"Yes, where you came from, why you are there," Ezylryb replied.

Otulissa then raised a talon. "Can we say something like we got sick of the Great Ga'Hoole Tree? We didn't trust the Guardians — something like that."

I face-winged, groaning into my wing. 'Why on earth would she think that that would work? I mean, come on! Claiming to be deserters from a well-known place would take a lot of convincing, even if they are idiots. No one would ever believe such a weak claim like that.'

"No!" The ryb snapped, coming to the same conclusion as I had. "They'll never believe you. It will raise their suspicions if they think you have anything to do with the Great Tree. You need to come from a place that they know very little about."

Soren's eyes then seemed to light up, as if in realization of something. "A place like what?"

"A place like the Northern Kingdoms," he replied.

"Hold on a second," Digger raised a talon to speak his thoughts. "Ezylryb, Gylfie and I are desert owls. The chances of our coming from the Northern Kingdoms are just about zero."

"I have it figured out." I rolled my eyes at that. 'Of course he does, why not.' Ezylryb continued, but instead of standing still, he leaped from his perch and began to sweep through the air. "Last summer, before certain unfortunate incidents like the Great Downing and my own entrapment in the Devil's Triangle, I had commenced a set of weather interpretation experiments. My original intention had been to pick up information on atmospheric particles and subparticles as they related to the displays we call the Aurora Glaucora, those magnificent colours in the summer sky when the entire night seems to pulsate with glorious lights. There was one last summer, as I recall, just around the time of my entrapment. Well, as often happens with scientific inquiry, one sets out to solve one problem and, quite by accident and happy surprise, one finds the answer to something entirely different. What I stumbled across was a new method for detecting distant williwaws."

It was then that the original four friends blurted out together. "Williwaws!"

"We know williwaws!" Gylfie immediately explained their recognition of the word when she saw the rest of the owls were looking at them.

"Oh, you do, do you?" I could almost hear the churr in Ezylryb's voice.

"Yes, sir. On our journey to the Great Ga'Hoole Tree, we thought we were right on course for the island when somehow we got sucked up into the Ice Narrows..." The Elf Owl's voice then started to dwindle off when they all realized what Ezylryb was planning.

"Aha," Ezylryb gave a deep, resounding laugh that was very...him, and rare. So rare that my eyeridges raised as he did that, my beak swinging loose in surprise. 'So he can laugh, that is highly unexpected.' "You're getting the picture! Yes, you see, that's how desert owls get to the Northern Kingdoms. They get sucked up there. For what is a williwaw but a sudden violent wind?"

"He's so clever," Otulissa muttered, her voice was so drenched in awe that I imagined that there were stars in her eyes.

"Winds become confused. It is essentially a thermal inversion anomaly. Or, to make a long story short: you got your cover. You were sucked up, all of you, to the Northern Kingdoms," Ezylryb said.

"And then what?" Soren said, his posture clearly showing that he was nervous yet excited about this plan.

The old, grizzled Whiskered Screech swooped in and landed beside the Barn Owl. "Yes, and then what? Perhaps Gylfie and Digger, due to your desert background, did not find this cold place comfortable," he said, giving him a few ideas. "And you other five, you felt that there was too much clan warfare going on. One clan chief fighting against another. Very disorganized. Disorganized is a key word to use with the St. Aggie's owls."

"Oh, yes!" Gylfie exclaimed, nodding in agreement. Clearly she knew what it was like there seeing that she and Soren were once held against their will there.

Ezylryb continued. "You must say that you find clans an inefficient, cumbersome method of social and military organization." He then paused. "But if you just mention the Northern Kingdoms, the land of the Great North Waters where I come from, every St. Aggie's owl will be intrigued. It is the last frontier to be conquer. If an owl has been there, every other owl will be consumed with curiosity about what they have seen or experienced. And if you suggest that the Northern Kingdoms might be vulnerable, you shall be welcome."

"But we can't fake it. I mean, we only got as far as the Ice Narrows. We don't know that much about the Northern Kingdoms." Gylfie said, the rest (and I) nodding in agreement, seeing the obvious flaw in the plan.

"You will by the time I get through with you," the ryb said with a small, yet devious smile. My smile grew as I watched Soren and his friends giving each other nervous glances .

Boron then spoke up. "The seven of you shall report to Ezylryb's hollow daily for the next week. During that time, Ezylryb will give you intense tutorials in the history and culture of the Northern Kingdoms." From my peripheral view, I noticed Otulissa was barely keeping her enthusiasm in, as she swelled up in excitement at the prospect of yet another intellectual challenge. Yet I could barely hold my giggle in when I heard her squeal over it. "I cannot impress upon you too much the need for absolute secrecy," the monarch continued. "No one is to know about this mission. Talk of it must not go beyond these walls or the walls of Ezylryb's hollow."

"What about our own hollow?" Soren asked, clearly worried about something. 'I wonder, is it because of Eglantine?' I thought. I knew that it was hard for the poor owl to keep this secret from her because I know how much he cared for her. "And when we are with Ezylryb, won't the rybs miss us for our usual classes?"

"We've thought of that," Barran answered. "In regard to Eglantine, we have felt, as I am sure you have, that your hollow is a bit crowded with five of you in there. Primrose is knocking about in that hollow of hers all alone since that one Masked Owl from the Great Downing died of summer flux."

"Primrose has asked time and time again if Eglantine could move in with her since they are such close friends." Boron continued. "I think Eglantine would like to, but she felt that you might be hurt. In truth, I think that she would be more comfortable with Primrose, who is somewhat closer to her age. I shall handle her move. I'll tell her that we have discussed it with you, and you understand."

His mate then turned to Otulissa, Ruby and Martin. "You three present another situation. We cannot go about moving everybody, or it will arouse suspicions. With your hollow-mates, you will just have to be as discreet as possible." She then addressed to all of them. "Now, as for your cover story for when you are gone...well, leave that to us. Ezylryb is devising a so-called scientific weather experiment that is going to require the transfer of some equipment to an area on the other side of the Sea of Hoolemere. The execution of this experiment necessitates the abilities of the members of a variety of chaws. Right, Ezylryb?"

The old ryb just nodded. Boron then spoke, "I think that just about does it, then. You are dismissed for now, but please expect to report to Ezylryb directly at tween time for your first history lesson on the Northern Kingdoms."

The seven owls then nodded and were about to leave the parliament hollow when Ezylryb called out. "Just one moment, young'uns, I have something here for Otulissa." The Spotted Owl turned around and saw the ryb flying towards her with a book in his three-taloned claw. "I believe you were looking for this?" He then extended the claw with the book and they looked at the title and gasped when they saw the title.

Curious, I peeked over Digger's head and read it. 'Fleckasia and Other Disorders of the Gizzard...That owl sure knows how to dance on the line and could still get away clean.'

Otulissa's eyes were like dinner plates, talons shaking in shock as she grabbed the book. "Really?"

"Yes...really, Otulissa," he said, "and I quite agree with you — sprink on spronk."

Barran gasped and Boron winced, but they did not reprimand him for the use of the word as it echoed across the hollow like a bell. The young owl just stared incredulously back at the old, grizzled ryb, their minds trying to process what he had just said. And as for me, I was laughing my lungs out, wishing once again that I had my thumbs to show my approval.

And with that, the meeting was over and Soren and his friends dumbly walked out of the hollow for their tweener and after that, their first lesson. But as for me, I really want to go back to my body. I know that I'd done this for a good number of times now but that didn't mean that I want to be apart from me any longer. So immediately I left the Parliament Hollow and flew towards Grimble, who was currently in my body and in the company of my friends. 'Ahem!' I coughed, seeing Grimble flinch at the sudden voice in his head.

"Matthias," Lilica asked, noticing his sudden movement. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, it's...nothing," he said with a nervous smile. "Thought I heard something, that's all." He turned to give me a quick glare before turning back to his friends. "Listen, I have to go for my Ga'Hoolology class, so I'll see you guys later."

As soon as the other owls left, he quickly landed on a nearby branch and whirled around to face to me fully. 'What was that all about?!' He almost screamed, frustrated for spooking him and thus almost breaking his cover.

'Now you know how I feel,' I quipped, a smirk blooming across my face. Grimble flinched at that and quickly turned away in embarrassment. 'Anyway, Boron, Barran and Ezylryb wanted Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, Otulissa, Ruby and Martin to infiltrate St. Aggie to find out what the Pure Ones were up to in there, most probably for their flecks. Our team is to move in as runaways from the Northern Kingdoms, and so as to make it look genuine, they are going to have a history lesson on the place.'

'What?!' Grimble turned back to me like a whiplash. 'Are they insane? They can't send them there, they'll get killed!'

'But they didn't,' I said, 'well, Soren almost did, but they all survived and came back to the Tree in the end.'

'Still, they'll need our help and we still have to watch them, both here and at St. Aggie. We have to go with them!'

'With them, as in, following them to St. Aggie?' Grimble answered with a stern nod. 'And you want me to do what? Oh no no no, I'm NOT going to St. Aggie!'

'But Matthias...'

'No means no, Grimble! You know what that place is, you know what they do, and you want me to go there?!'

'Yes Matthias, I do but...'

'I won't, Grimble!' I turned my head away and shut my eyes, trying to stop the surging flood of those horrible memories away again, but it was futile so I brought my wings up in an effort to further dam the flow of the memories. 'I will never go back to such a place again! I can't, please don't make me Grimble, please.'

Grimble's eyes then became sympathetic, knowing why I was so headstrong on not wanting to go. 'I understand, Matthias, but still we need to be there to help Soren and his friends.'

'And how exactly are we going to do that?' I shouted. 'They are already on to us, and if we go anywhere near them here, they will know that we know what they were doing and that's not good for us. And how are we going to explain to anyone why are we at St. Aggie in the first place? We don't have a reason to be there, so if they saw us, then we are done for.'

Grimble paused, not knowing how to answer those questions. 'But we have to do something!'

'Like what? Besides, I have to go for my Ga'Hoolology class, just like you'd just said, remember?'

'Oh no you don't. We have to watch over them, remember?' Grimble said.

'No we don't, or at least I don't.' I retorted. 'They are right here in the Tree, or more specifically in Ezylryb's hollow, studying as much as they could on the Northern Kingdoms. We're not in on the plan, so if we do know anything about the Northern Kingdoms, it's going to make things worse for us and our situation is already bad. Unless there is any information about the Northern Kingdoms in the Library, and I doubt there is, we are going to be exiled for eavesdropping on a briefing of a secret mission. Besides, all that's really important to know from their study discussions is how to defend myself from moon-blinking.'

The ghostly owl hesitated before sighing in defeat. 'Alright, fine. But still we have to watch them.'

'If you want to watch them, you watch them. I need to go back to class. I need to rest for a while.'

'But...but ...but...fine,' Grimble relented and nodded, albeit reluctantly. A second later, I got my own body back and Grimble was back to his spiritual self. "Now if you don't mind," I said, before turning around, "I have got a class to go to. See you later." Then I jumped off the branch and flew away, but not before seeing Grimble fading away, probably had gone to watch Soren and his friends for their first of their lessons.

Little did we know, that high above on a branch, a certain Great Gray was spying on us. Having seen and heard as much as he could, he flew off to report back to his superiors.


(1): Owl word for fooling around

(2): I just realized that owls can't really roll their eyes because unlike our eyes, which were like spheres, owl eyes were more like tubes, thus it can't be moved freely. So in order to compensate for this, they had to constantly move their heads around in all directions to get a better view. That is why I want to make this clear, whenever I write 'rolled my eyes', it would mean that the owl would be making a small circle with his head, kind of like how we humans would do with ours whenever we roll our eyes.

For more info: nationalgeographic (fullstop) org/media/birds-eye-view-wbt/

(3): Okay, I want to say that though the canon said that he had no equal but come on, do you truly believe that? In his own class, he might be the best but that doesn't mean he's the best in the whole Tree. But against seasoned and other talented fighters, he's still got some competitors for the title of 'Best Fighter of the Guardians'.

(4): Directly quoted from 'the Siege': Thousands of inner passages wound their way through the Great Ga'Goole Tree and, some months before, Gylfie, who often had trouble sleeping and would rise for a wander through the Tree, had discovered a place deep in the roots where there was a strange phenomenon. Something happened to the timber at a certain point so that the sounds coming from the owl's parliament chamber resonated within the roots. Entering the root structure itself was a challenge, for the roots were huge and tangled, but Soren and his friends had found an ideal place where they could listen.

(5): This was a callback to Chapter 8 when Eglantine told Primrose about the plan to find the Smith. Of course, by that time, the Pygmy Owl was already her best friend and as BFFs, they would tell each other everything.

(6): There is a layer of covering over the brain (and spinal cord) called meninges and one over the skull (and all bones generally) called the periosteum and they have pain receptors, so yes, it would be painful if one were to be cut to the bone. However the brain itself has no pain receptors, so I guess why when people had something lodged inside their heads they couldn't feel a thing. For more info, here are the links I checked out:

brainline (fullstop) org/author/brian-greenwald/qa/can-brain-itself-feel-pain

teachmeanatomy (fullstop) info/neuro/structures/meninges/

(7): For those who don't know, and this is just useless knowledge, a circulation desk is the counter that provides lending services and facilities for return/renewal of loaned items, and the staff there would help with the basic search of reading materials and reference services and more. But in the Owl World, it's going to be much simpler than that.


A/N

Alright, finally finished with this chapter! Sorry for making all you guys wait for this, but like I said, I have homework despite being an adult and I still have revision to do. But since Christmas is coming soon, so I thought, "Hey why not finish the little bit I have left and post it up." So I did.

Man, this is another long chapter. Hope you guys don't mind reading this monster chapter.

And remember, constructive reviews are always welcomed, flames will be doused by fire extinguishers and arsonist will be tortured and experimented on.

Have a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,
fan-like-irving