Chapter 13: If You Think Going In was Hard...
It had been a few days since the meeting and I was currently looking over my charges as they were reading up on a few of the Cycles, doing their best to memorize them while they could before heading back to their nests for their well-deserved rest. Counting down the days, I guessed that in a couple of days or so they would soon be leaving for their 'experimental trip for Ezylryb'. I sighed, knowing that the real plan was far more dangerous and unpleasant. But for me, it brought back memories, painful memories. And they had to go there, to their own, albeit less horrifying than mine, version of hell. It...just wasn't right.
But that wasn't my decision to make, it was Boron's and theirs'. They chose to go back there, to stop whatever scheme the Pure Ones were hatching there, or St. Aggie, whichever... but whatever it was, it wasn't a pleasant thing. Looking at Soren and Gylfie, it would be their return trip to a place that took them away from their loved ones and all they knew. Granted that they eventually found each other, new friends and this place and were on their way to becoming Guardians themselves, but still...
Then my thoughts were broken by a loud yawn. Looking up, I saw Twilight bashfully hiding the last of his yawn behind his wing. "All right," Soren said, "it's been a long night and we need our strength for Ezylryb's next lesson."
"Oh, great," Twilight yawned again. "Just a couple more nights and we'll be off for our mission."
The seven owls then began to put back their books into their respective shelves, in which I took it as a sign that my watch was over. Turning around, I was preparing to return to my own body for my own rest as well. But just as I closed my eyes and was about to disappear, an annoying voice cut through my mind. 'Matthias, wait up!' I sighed in frustration and opened my eyes.
'What do you want, Grimble?' I muttered, annoyed. 'I did what you wanted, so why don't you leave me to my sleep already!'
'I know but...' he then sighed. 'Matthias, I know that you didn't want to go to St. Aggie, but the thing is that you still have to go there.'
'What?!' I exclaimed. 'I told you Grimble, I won't go there!'
'You don't have much of a choice, Matthias. It's an order.'
'An order? An order from who?' I challenged.
'An order from me.' Grimble sighed before stepping aside and bowed to the owner of the voice as he stepped forward.
I gasped before bowing as well. 'King Hoole, what brings you here?'
'I'm here because I heard that you didn't want to go to St. Aggie so that you could watch Soren and his friends better. Oh, and may I ask that you do not look at your partner like that,' he added the last part, seeing that I was glaring at the other Boreal Owl in the place. 'He truly didn't tell me anything about this, in fact, he'd even tried to hide it from me and even lied to me about this.' At the part, I glanced at Grimble guiltily, not daring to look at him in the eye for the accusation I had made. 'Even so, the reason I knew of this is because I have been watching you all this while.'
I looked away from his gaze. 'Then you know why I don't want to do this...'
'I do, but I still want you to do it anyway.'
'Then at least tell me why,' I asked bitterly. 'You know that they are going to be fine, with or without me. They are pretty smart and observant, they don't need me. In fact, there's probably isn't a need for me there watching them anyway. So why do you want me to go there physically?'
'You mean, besides the fact that you are supposed to, as part of the mission that I have assigned to you?' He snarked, an unexpected action from one of his position. I, forgetting my manners for a moment, raised an eye-ridge at him out of annoyance and glared at him. Though it could be taken as an act of insolence, the owl just shrugged it aside. 'Because...' King Hoole took in a huge breath before giving out an equally big sigh and reluctantly continuing his statement. 'I was hoping that you could create another miracle there...'
That shot me out of my irritation. '...What do you mean?'
King Hoole hesitated for a moment. 'You know all those younglings there who had been taken from their parents and were brought there only to have their identity stolen from them, right?' I nodded slowly. 'And whatever was left of them, those owls manipulated them, twisted them until they were just as evil as they were. All those younglings...having their futures and their pasts taken away from them, and those...horrid beasts just take them without a shred of remorse or regret!' To the side, I noticed Grimble looking away with an expression of guilt.
'And so when you meant for me to, as you say, create another miracle, what you are trying to say is...'
'...that I was hoping that you could save those younglings and bring them out of St. Aggie, yes.'
I looked away from him, my mind frantically trying to find excuses to deny his request and not go to St. Aggie, but then the faces of Amelia, of Raphael and the other 'monsters' flashed across my ears and the beginning of tears that accompanied them sprung up once more. Wiping them away, I looked up at King Hoole again. '...Even if I wanted to do this, how would you even get me in there in the first place? I wasn't supposed to be there in the first place, remember?'
'Oh, I have already thought of a plan to get you into St. Aggie without rousing suspicion from the monarchs, Ezylryb or Soren and his friends. But I can assure you that you won't like it one bit...' The king then flashed a creepy smile at me, sending a shiver down my spine.
It had been two days since my meeting with King Hoole and right now I had just reached the dining hollow with Baron, just about two hours before tweener when the skies were about to turn to dusk, where those who were participating for tonight's hunt, and every other subsequent hunts, were supposed to meet. Looking around, I could immediately tell that I was one of the smallest among those here since most of the owls here would rather have just that extra hour or two of sleep. So the higher-ups had decided that there would be a schedule for owls to be part of the hunting party. Most of the attending owls were senior Guardians since it wouldn't be proper to have the new arrivals or the Apprentice Guardians to be drafted to this routine mission. Still, that didn't mean that they weren't allowed to if they want to, after all Boron had declared that it was also a voluntary thing as well so anyone who wanted to contribute was also allowed to join.
Anyway, I had been joining this group off the schedule for the past few days now, on King Hoole's orders. This here was the only easy part; the rest would be enough to get me killed. "I seriously hate you, Hoole. If I survived this, I am so burying you again!" I grumbled under my breath before heading inside after Baron. I recognized a few owls from our various sparring sessions and I thought I even spotted Boron at the centre of the hollow.
Sighing, I followed Baron as he ventured around greeting other owls, as he had been on these hunting trips far more than the rest of us hollow-mates combined, nodding in greeting back at those who greeted me. Then a familiar voice greeted me as well. "Matthias, is that you? Fancy meeting you here again." I turned around and saw Cyrus walking towards me.
"Hello, Cyrus. It seemed that I am running to you all the time." I said back, a smile growing after all the greetings I had muttered. Cyrus laughed at that, noting how true was that for the past few nights.
"Are you going on this hunting trip as well, Matthias? That would make it three times in a row. Are you sure you're going to be all right?" The Great Grey asked. He was right to be concerned of course; no idiot was willing to wake up early just to tire themselves after a hunt, not to mention having to be alert for whatever chaw lessons that were planned ahead. Sadly, I was that idiot, no thanks to King Hoole and the grinning ghost beside me.
"What can I say? I like getting my share of my meal." I replied, giving a hopefully convincing smile.
Bidding goodbye to Cyrus, I walked off to a side where I could freely converse with Grimble without looking like I was insane. 'First calling yourself an idiot, now you are saying that you are insane. You must really be losing it.'
'Shut it, dead guy. Why don't you make yourself useful and go spy on the others or something? And while you are on that, take a look at Dewlap too. You and I know that she is on to something.' The other owl nodded and immediately disappeared, leaving me with my personal space. I heaved a sigh of relief, finally getting rid of that annoying ghost.
Then another annoying voice spoke up. "Hey, Matthias. What are you doing here by your lonesome?" Turning around, I noticed that it was Baron who had snuck up onto me while I was conversing with Grimble.
"Oh nothing, like you said, just being by my lonesome," I shrugged. "Besides, when are we leaving?"
"Soon, I heard," my Snowy friend said, "and I do hope so. I really want to get to my meal... I mean, make sure everyone gets their meals on time." That last part he tried to say it in a hurry, but I knew what he was trying to hide.
"Of course you are," I said with a teasing smile, just in time to hear Boron announcing the assembled owls to gather.
"Alright everyone," the patriarch said, "today we will be going to the Forest of Tyto to catch our meals for the Tree. As usual, split yourselves into groups of three and if you couldn't find anything in your area, you are allowed to leave and seek out food at another place. However, I must ask you again," Boron then directed an angry glance at our direction before going back towards the crowd, "you must not incite or join in a fight with the locals there, am I clear?" This time the glare towards us was more prominent.
I jabbed my friend at the hips, glaring at him. "I told you not to fight with that Barred Owl over that raccoon!" I scolded him under my breath.
"Hey, I don't care if he saw it first or not. It was my kill and that's that!" Baron retorted with the same tone.
"Ugghh!" I groaned, not wanting to get back to the discussion, and looked back towards the King finishing the speech and dispersing us into our groups. Of course, Baron and I had already decided to be our own group ever since the beginning and we were just waiting to see if anyone was willing to join us.
"Is there a spot open in this group?" I saw Cyrus walking towards us with a smile. I nodded, returning the smile. Though there were others who would join us from time to time, Joseph and Lilica included, but it was Cyrus who usually was the one who would join us for the hunt. During our first trip together, Cyrus and Baron immediately hit it off and became friends right off the bat.
"So what do you think we would be catching today?" Baron asked our latest addition to our little group. I rolled my eyes behind his back, smiling at the fact that Baron would use food as a conversation starter. "I hope that it's bats, really love the crunching of their wings."
Our joyful conversation went on for a little while longer before Boron raised his voice and announced that we were all going to be leaving right now. Within minutes, each and every one of us was in the air and flying towards the mainland, angling towards the Forest of Tyto. As we flew, I could see that the skies, which was bright blue dotted with white clouds, now slowly turning bright orange from the fading sunlight.
Glancing around, I could hear the owls around me having conversations with each other, about various things which they resumed from the dining hollow. Unfortunately, so did Baron and Cyrus. Who knew that my Snowy friend would be so enthusiastic about discussing the different tastes and textures of each kind of meat he had tasted. I had made a comment that he should have been a cook instead of being in the Search-and-Rescue chaw and that got a laugh out of all of us and King Boron, who had coincidentally came close to us to hear my little joke. The banter flew back and forth between the five of us for a few minutes longer before the King had to fly off to make small talk with the other groups.
Over the horizon we could see the shore of the Beaks, appearing through the mist of the sea. "There it is, the Beaks." Cyrus said with glee. "Just a little more to go and we would be having squirrels for tweener."
"You and that bottomless hole you call a stomach..." I muttered, hearing Cyrus giggle.
"Hey," the Snowy retorted, "if you didn't want your meal, you could always pass it to me you know."
"I'm kidding, I'm kidding," I quickly replied. Cyrus finally broke down in laughter at our friendly squabble, and soon even Baron and I joined in, our laughter joining the chorus of words around us.
Looking ahead, I noticed that we had just reached the shore and still we flew on, our flight becoming slightly longer due to the wind blowing towards us. Yet onwards we flew, not even bothered by this delay for we were the Guardians of Ga'Hoole. Flying through this was never a problem for us. We skimmed over the treetops and skirted around the towering rocks that were dotted around the place. There was that one time we had even flown over a few lakes that were so clear and so still that it was like there was another 'us' flying on the other side of the watery line. Most of us younger ones ooh'ed and ahh'ed at the sight and some of us, including Baron, had attempted to fly down closer to the water, but they were reigned in and reprimanded by the older owls. I was still barely holding my laughter for some time after Cyrus scolded my Snowy friend, telling him tales of the owls who got close to the Lakes and either wasted their lives caught in their vanity or drowned by the waters. I didn't know if that last part was true, but it certainly was effective to deter Baron and all those unfortunate enough to be listening in from going near the famed Mirror Lakes ever again.
The rest of the journey to the Tyto forest then grew progressively silent, each of us focused on where we wanted to go. Since there were many beaks to feed and stomachs to fill, each group was tasked to fly to a spot of their choosing and hunt for as many bats and voles as we could (I teased Baron a lot for this). So after we touched down on a tree at the border of the forest, which was to be our gathering point afterwards, we went our separate ways to find our soon-to-be-dinner.
Cyrus, Baron and I decided to fly further inland and began our search for our prey. "Hey, let's go this way!" My friend enthusiastically said before flying off in that particular direction, with Cyrus shaking his head before flying off after him. Giving out a short laugh, I was about to join in when a soft voice in my head told me to hold on for a while, stopping me in midair.
'Grimble,' I sighed exasperatedly, 'if I had to hear you sneaking up on me one more time...'
'Don't worry, I'm not Grimble.' the voice chuckled, sounding much clearer to the point that my eyes widened in recognition to the voice. Quickly turning around, I gave as deep of a bow as I could as I flapped my wings at where I was.
'King Hoole,' I muttered. 'I take it that you found one of St Aggie's patrols?'
'I do, but you'll have to hurry. From what I could see, they were nearing a tree lived by a family of Boreal Owls. The parents weren't there, most likely on a hunting trip, leaving a young chick in their nest. But if you do not hurry...' But I had already stopped listening to him when he said 'family', the blood on my face drained as the images of a kidnapping flashed through my mind.
My kidnapping. No way in Hagsmire was I going to let another be a victim to it, much less to monsters like them. 'Where?' I snarled, unaware of my eyes tinging light pink, 'lead me to them.'
But Hoole had taken notice of it and was worried. 'Just remember the plan,' he said before flying off. I followed him, every fibre and feather in me was twitching for some blood, but then Hoole looked back and glared fiercely at me, prompting me to cool down. Growling, I did what he said and took a huge breath, feeling some of my bloodlust abating.
We flew silently, or should I say I flew silently, for the past few minutes through the Forest of Tyto, heading towards where the unguarded nest was. Worry and rage flowing through me, one keeping me focused, the other just wanted to let loose on the slimy bastards. 'We're close to the nest. We will be there quite soon.' I nodded. However, just as we reached the place, I heard a voice behind me. "Hey Matthias, wait up!" I stopped once more, the shock completely wiped away any bloodlust in me, and turned around to see Baron flying towards me with Cyrus right behind him, with a look of suspicion on his face. "Where are you going? I thought we are flying that way."
I looked away, trying to not let them see the nervousness on my face. Instead, I glanced my eyes at Hoole, who was looking back at me with a curious yet firm look. "Well...I, uh, thought there would be something juicy there, but...uh, you two were far away for me to say anything. So I, er, thought I would go ahead and check the place out before finding you guys." I ended with an awkward laugh. That earned a confused look from Baron and an 'I'm-onto-you' glare from Cyrus. "So, uh, since you guys are here, do you want to come with me?" My Snowy friend nodded enthusiastically while Cyrus gave a slower one. "Alright, let get going then."
As we flew on, Hoole slowed down till he was flying beside me. 'Why in the name of Glaux are you bringing them with you?' He reprimanded me. 'You know you are supposed to do this alone.'
'Then tell me how would you get rid of them, eh your Highness?' I snarked back in return. 'Because as far as I can tell, if I told them to leave, they would be suspicious of me. Would that not be true?' The ghost stumbled mid-flight, struggling to find an answer. 'Not only that, well, you did say that those St. Aggie bastards were going to kidnap a child. So how am I going to save him if I were to go against them?' Another good point struck home.
'...Alright,' the ghost conceded but he then made a counter himself. 'Then how are you going to separate yourself from them once you are there?'
'Don't know. Improvise I guess.' Hoole only grunted in reply, clearly disliking the reply before taking the lead once more. It was another five more minutes of a silent flight until we heard a scream. "Where are you taking me?!" The voice cried out, sending a shiver of tension down our spines. "SOMEONE HELP ME!"
"That was..." Baron began to say but my mind instantly snapped out of the shock.
"Someone's in trouble!" I shouted as I dashed ahead. "MOVE!" Memories of my kidnapping flashed before my eyes once more as I sped through the trees, giving me all the strength and rage I needed to fight and the speed to get there quick. Baron and Cyrus were quick on my tail, worried for both me and the owlet.
The trees, to me, couldn't go by any faster but at a distance, I could see several owls, one of which was a Barred owl carrying a young one, who seemed to be struggling, in his claws. At the sight of them, my vision became slightly red. "GET AWAY FROM HIM, YOU BASTARDS!" I roared at the top of my lungs while flipping and sending a wing smacking hard at the back of the neck of a Spotted owl who was in my way. Cyrus and Baron tackled two more owls, a Barn Owl and a Long-Eared, stunning them. The other owls, recovering from the shock from our sudden appearance, tried to attack us, but we quickly regrouped, staring down at them to let them know that they weren't going to get away without us chasing them.
Looking around, I saw that there were seven owls altogether, three of which we had knocked away and were currently back with their friends once more and one with the owlet in his claws.
"We have to save the kid," Cyrus muttered softly, "but with the fight in midair, we would have to take down the other owls first."
"No can do," I retorted sharply, the growl clearly heard in my words. Both owls turned to look at me, Cyrus glaring at me for defying his orders. "If we do that, that one would just fly away, leaving his stooges to keep us busy. Cyrus," I turned to my Great Grey comrade, "you and I will rush them and head straight for the owl holding the little one. We are to make him drop the owlet so that Baron can catch him."
"And then what?" Baron asked, nervous yet excited for the inevitable battle.
"We hightail it out of here," Cyrus answered instead, already knowing the rest of my plan. "We have to find the others as quickly as could. As good as you are, Matthias, I doubt the two of us would be able to hold off seven owls at the same time." With that, Baron and I nodded sharply and faced our foes with renewed determination. For me, my eyes landed on the shivering owlet in the claws of the Barred Owl. He was a Boreal, just like me, but he probably wasn't old enough to know how to fly yet. His eyes were filled with tears, reminding me of mine when there was no one to save me. Eyes without hope and filled with despair. But not this time! This time there would be someone to save him.
"Whatever you three are thinking off, you had better quit it. There's no way the three of you can fight the seven of us!" One of them said to us, all of them getting ready for a fight.
"That doesn't mean we won't try!" I shouted back, already dashing ahead with Cyrus by my side and Baron behind. Six of the owls were moving to face us head-on, leaving the one with the owlet to fly away. But with the plan in mind, fighting them would only slow us down. So instead, when the enemy reared back in preparation for their attack, we just simply flew forward and evaded them. Weaving in and out of the barrage of attacks, we managed to slip past their charge and head straight for the Barred Owl, hearing the owls behind us yelped in surprise.
"Say what?!" The Barred Owl exclaimed as he looked back in response to the yelps only to see the three of us charging straight at him. He hesitated in his flight, giving us the opening we needed. Dashing in front of Cyrus, I slammed into the owl's back, stunning him and making him drop the owlet. Cyrus quickly followed up with a deep slice to the neck just as Baron swooped down and saved the young owlet.
"Got 'im!" He shouted.
"Great, now let's get out of here and find the others!" I shouted back. "Cyrus, we have to make sure that no one gets near them!"
"Don't need to tell me that!" He replied while we sped out of there, the St. Aggie owls getting over their shock very quickly and began coming after us, starting the cat-and-mouse chase. It was an uphill battle for us, being hard-pushed to maintain the distance between us and the pursuing owls intending to kill us.
I chanced a glance and my frown deepened. "Damn," I said, "they are gaining on us!" It was true; while we had plenty of training back at the Tree and could definitely give those losers a run for their money but with Baron carrying a child in his claws, he wouldn't be able to fly at his fastest speed for long. And since we had to protect him and the owlet he's carrying, we were forced to fly at his speed. Even so, I knew Baron long enough to know that even he knew that and now he was straining those wings of his to fly even faster, forgoing the silence in our flying that we owls were famous for the desperate speed to get our rescued chick out of here. But despite that, even with all the speed we were able to muster, I could see that the St. Aggie owls were gaining on us bit by bit.
"To Hagsmire the lot of them!" Cyrus growled, looking back and forth between Baron and our foes. "We can't keep this up!"
Just then, King Hoole then appeared beside me, his eyeridges showed that he was serious and he nodded. This was the moment to enact our plan. With a burst of speed, I dashed past Cyrus and Baron towards a tree and flipped forward, wings raised far and wide the moment my two claws slammed against the trunk, my eyes trained on the larger group of owls. Without losing my momentum, I jumped forward with my wings giving me a powerful thrust at the same time, sending me once more speeding past my two comrades, but this time I was heading straight towards our pursuers. "EUULALIIIAAA!" I shouted, head-butting the lead owl and sending him straight into the tree. The unfortunate and unconscious owl then proceeded to crack his head on every single branch on the way down. After knocking down the owl, I then went on to attack the rest, successfully stalling their advance.
"What are you...?"
"Go!" I cut off Baron's panicked words. I made a quick glance sideways and I could see him and Cyrus stopped mid-flight and were looking at me with wide, unblinking eyes. But in the kid's eyes, though I could see the terror, I could also see hope and awe in them. I flashed him a reassuring smile before turning back to my companions. "Leave me. Save the kid!"
"But what about..."
"I SAID GO!" I swiped a wing in their direction before engaging another owl, my smaller size giving me the edge in this one-sided battle. Against the remaining five owls, I had little to no chance of surviving this, much less winning this. But thankfully, or unfortunately, the plan didn't require for me to win. Still, I tried to give a good show anyway. My head swivelled around to look at the foes surrounding me as they kept on coming at me, my eyes trying to keep track of all five at the same time. One of them charged at me but I managed to evade him, quickly moving towards a Long-Eared. The Long-Eared saw me coming and went to meet me head-on, rearing back to claw me the moment we were about to collide. Thankfully, the many training sessions back at the Tree had allowed me to quickly react to that, avoiding the telegraph attack and followed up with a hard swing down at the back of the neck. A smirk grew when I heard the crack and it grew wider when he plunged head first and landed onto the ground in a painful and messy manner.
"You are going to pay for that!" The Barred Owl, the one who had held the young Boreal in his filthy claws, screamed at me as he and the rest began charging at me. Grimacing, I advanced towards them as well, claws twitching to be stained with blood and my vision began to turn red. Glancing past them, I heaved a sigh of relief to see that neither Baron nor Cyrus was there, probably going to find the King or the other Guardians to either help me or the kid. Most likely both. Anyway, that would mean that the plan could go off with less trouble, now all I need was to be captured by these losers. Unless of course, they would kill me here and now, that would be bad. Then again, getting captured was bad as well, so yeah...it was a lose-lose situation for me.
Anyway, as we were getting closer, the St. Aggie owls decided to pack in tight, to stop me from flying through them once again. I gritted my imaginary teeth before breaking off, flying off in another direction in hopes of losing them. No, not really but like I had said, I had to make this look good. I glanced back, noting the fact that they were chasing me. With King Hoole flying beside me and nodding at me, I begrudgingly began to slow down a little, just enough for them to catch up without them noticing it, while constantly looking back now and then to make it look like I was panicking.
"Go away, you kidnappers!" I screamed at them, my inner fury demanding to just go and kill them in a red-tinted view but Hoole seemed to have sensed it as well, tugging on my chains to make sure I keep flying straight. Grumbling quietly, I looked back at them once more, seeing them uncomfortably close, to the point where I could clearly see their furious expressions and blazing eyes. Glaring at them, I was about to look ahead when I felt someone slamming hard on my back, sending me straight to a nearby tree.
I groaned in pain, was barely able to get up when the gang of owls began coming at me, hitting me from all sides. I tried to fight back but in my dazed state, all I could do was to cover up my head with my wings as they clawed, pecked and kicked me. "How dare you snatch that owl away from us?" One of them would say. "Do you really think you'd had a chance against us?!" Another managed to move my wing away and scored a successful kick against my face. "We should kill you right now, but it would be a waste of a good slave. You will take that owl's place and soon you will learn to love it from our side!"
"Go kiss my tail feathers, you piles of wet poop!" That earned me another kick to the face, this time knocking me out cold. The last thing I remembered in those last few seconds was someone calling someone else to pick me up before taking off towards their base at St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls.
"Uuggh, what happened?" I groaned, eyes slowly looking around in my blurred vision to find something to focus on.
That earned me another kick to the face, threatening to send me back to the welcoming embrace of unconsciousness. "First rule in St. Aegolius: no questions!" I could have growled at my attacker but I was too busy fighting off the nausea brought upon by that kick. When the dizzying headache was finally over, I took my first look at the depressingly huge, stone cavern around me, surrounded by terrified owlets being led to by their captors to who knows where with St. Aggie guards watching over them. For me, I was being watched by two of those guards, eyeing me like a hawk. I glared back at them hatefully, daring them to make another move against me, before looking up at the ceiling and the walls. Just like how Soren had described them in the book, it was a truly depressing sight. Above was a very thin line of blue with various pockets dotted few, far and tiny around the place, reminding me of how detached the sky was to us poor folks. St. Aggie guards were walking in and out of the slits in the walls of this horrifyingly-familiar stone world, reminding me of another place that was as cold and lonely as this place.
"So, you are the owl who managed to kill two of my soldiers and let his friends get away with an owlet." I looked up to see an immense, ragged female Great Horned Owl walking towards me. On her left wing the shoulder feathers had parted, revealing an unsightly patch of skin with a jagged white scar running through the middle. A Western Screech was standing just a little behind her, both of them having that cruel sneer on their faces that was eerily similar to the many sneering ghouls that had haunted my nightmares. So similar that those on the two owls before me grew even more sinister at the sight of me shivering because of them.
"Yeah, and you two are ugly," I shot back, fighting my urge to attack them in a scarlet haze despite the odds against me. "Who are you and what do you want?"
"I said no questions!" One of the owls guarding me raised his wing, intending to strike at me again.
"No wait!" the Great Horned Owl raised her wing to stop him from attacking me. "I will allow it this once since he was just brought here." She then turned to me, her eyes narrowed to express her cruel pleasure. "But I will answer your question, little Boreal Owl. My name is Skench and this is my lieutenant Spoorn and right now we are offering you a great privilege."
"A privilege?" I questioned.
"A chance," the Western Screech replied for the leader, "to serve a greater cause."
"And what kind of 'greater cause' is there?" I mocked, knowing that whatever she was selling was going to be worth less than pellets.
Both owls frowned a little at the tone, but the sneers returned in full force. "Why, to unite the owl kingdoms of course. Have you not seen how chaotic the kingdoms are out there, how...disconnected they are with one another. Borders created to separate one from the other, pwah, how preposterous is that! How on earth would that bring peace to the kingdoms?" I glared at her, not even giving her any satisfaction for answering her. "But with us young owl," she continued, swinging a wing around to the other owls in this cave and beyond, "you can change all that. We can unite all the owl kingdoms together by bringing each and every owl into our little family, starting with the little ones such as yourself, teaching you our ways and our life. Perhaps then maybe one day we could even introduce the fabled Guardians of Ga'Hoole into our way of life and our mission. They may not see it now, but in time they will embrace it too. Just imagine, the Guardians spreading our ways to everyone they could reach, bringing peace to the kingdoms under our name. Would that not be great?!"
"Then by your words and your actions," I interrupted her monologue, "your 'peace' and 'unity' is nothing but a lie."
"What did you..." That turned a lot of furious heads onto me, especially Skench, with blazing eyes trying to bore holes through my head. "WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?!" I noted that she was so enraged that she had actually asked a question, something that was forbidden by her own rules.
"You say that you are bringing peace and unity to the kingdoms, yet what did you really do?" I cried out, stretching out my neck as far as I could to meet her eye to eye, the fury was beginning to boil in me again. "You snatched hatchlings away from their homes, eggs from their families, and you bring them all here just so that you could raise them up into your army. And for what? So that you could send them out and attack anyone they laid eyes on and snatch more innocent hatchlings?! Do you ever consider how their families would have felt? How devastated their parents would be? When they saw their hollows empty, their nests without their eggs?!" Memories from when I was kidnapped, slaved and tortured resurfaced once more, adding more fuel to the fire within me, giving my words a growling edge. "And what did you do to them? You stole their minds and their free will, you tore away their identities from them and replaced them with mindless obedience. You took away their freedom and their future, their families, their world... everything away just so that you say that it was for their own good and be proud of it? You dirty, lowlife, selfish pieces of racdrops, you spread misery wherever you go, not caring how your actions had affected others. You preached peace and unity, yet you steal, kill and turn hatchlings into your slaves. How dare you... how dare you..."
Then the fire exploded in the loudest roar I could make. "ORDER THROUGH SLAVERY AND BRAINWASHING IS NOT PEACE OR UNITY AT ALL!"
The world exploded around me and my head slumped against the floor, reeling from the savage kick Skench gave me. Looking back up at her, I could almost see her breaths as she heaved, her eyes wide with fury like she was trying to kill me with them. With the light shining from behind her, she was covered in shadow whilst she was looking down at me, making her look huge and intimidating from where I was. Her beak trembled with rage as she glared at me. But I had seen scarier, whoever she was and whatever she would do to me would be nothing compared to what I had been through, so I glared defiantly back at her, and the silence between us stretched for minutes.
She broke the tension between us, snorting loud before chuckling for a while. "You are saying this now," she said, that cruel smirk of hers returning but somehow it seemed more sinister, "but you will see it from our point of view soon enough. For now," she addressed the two guards standing over me, "bring him to the glaucidium. There he can join his fellow newcomers in our...initiation ritual."
"Yes, Ablah General," one of them saluted.
"But don't worry, youngling" Spoorn spoke up, stopping us from moving, "we are not going to let you leave us with nothing."
"That's right, Spoorn," the Great Horned Owl said, "be honoured that you are going to receive your number from me." I growled at her, a distant memory of me being numbered flashed in my mind. That was a time when everything began to go wrong for me, but not this time. This time, it would be them that everything would go downhill for. "Let's see, yes, I have decided. Your number will be 64-32, yes that is a good number." She then nodded to the two owls over me. "Now, take him..."
"Say, Ablah General," Spoorn interrupted his master's thoughts, "pardon my interruptions but before you send him on his way, might I ask if this owl looks somewhat familiar to you? Because to me, he reminded me of someone." Just like her lieutenant, the owl took a step closer, squinting her eyes as she took a second, closer look at me.
"You are right, Spoorn, he does look familiar," Skench admitted, her speech slow while she was observing my looks through squinting eyes as if she was seeing me truly for the first time. "That Boreal that Finny said she'd killed, but younger. Tell me, owl, do you know who I am talking about?"
I grinned maddeningly. "Who knows? Maybe I am the scroom of the one you are talking about, coming back to haunt you from beyond the grave." They took a step back instinctively, their eyes widened in fear. That only lasted for a second before they realized what they had done and their maddened faces returned in full force.
"Take him away!" Skench screeched, swinging a wing away. "Get him out of my sight!" The two guards saluted hastily before they roughly pushed me up, herding me off deeper into the cave and down a passageway. I moved slowly, partly because of my injuries, but partly because I want to keep my eyes on the two head owls, death glare met death glare head-on, until the rocks blocked my view of them. Onwards we marched until we reached an opening ahead which led to a cavernous arena-like place, a deep box canyon with an open ceiling where moonlight streamed down on the large group of owlets that was in front of me, seemingly turning their feathers silver.
"Fall in there!" One of the guards directed me to the middle of the group, shoving me into the crowd of scared, probably newer, owlets. "Prepare to assume the sleeping position!"
A nasty-looking Long-Eared Owl walked up to us and began introducing herself. "Listen up, you orphans! My name is Lora," her voice was disconcerting, the thrumming in her voice was so strong I thought my heart would thump out of place, the monotone in her words was so deep and strange that it didn't sound natural, "and though I used to have a number like you, I had earned my name because the Ablah General had seen my hard work and considered me worthy of having one." Suddenly she turned her head sharply and began screeching. "I can see the question forming on your disgusting beak, 24-10!" I turned around to see a female Boreal Owl slowly closed her beak and sheepishly looked away. The huge Great Grey next to her put a wing over her, protecting her from the glare while the Barred Owl on the other side stepped forward, chest puffed up to make himself look bigger.
"She didn't know anything!" The Barred Owl bellowed back. "We don't know anything! How could you just stand there and tell us we are all orphans and expect us not to ask questions?!"
"Why you little..." The Long-Eared Owl stomped towards the three but before she had even taken her fourth step, I immediately stood between her and them.
"You take another step towards them and I can assure you that you will regret it," I growled, my puffed up chest and sudden defiance shocking her momentarily.
The Long-Eared Owl(1) took a step back, shaking her head before taking a closer look at me. "I know you," she muttered before chuckling slightly. "You are the one who'd killed two of our owls and even dared to anger our great High Ablah, even after she had given you your number."
I could hear everyone gasped around me and felt their eyes on me. "So? No one in their right minds would actually want to join this facade of a 'peace-promoting' cult."
Within a blink of an eye, she was already a foot in front of me, our faces almost touching one another with matching snarls. "I should kill you right now, but the High Ablah had warned us about you, ordering us to keep a close eye on you. Saying that you have the potential to be one of us." Then the corner of her beak lifted up into a predatory grin. "Maybe you would...after you have seen from our side."
"Stuff the invitation," I retorted, "I won't join you and your group of hypocrites!" She snorted rudely before walking back to where she was before and resumed her introductions and rules(2) of the place.
Half-listening to the Long-Eared, I made my way to the trio of owls. "Hello," I said, "I take it that you guys are all right?"
The Great Grey looked up from where he was comforting the female Boreal. "Yeah, we are. Thanks for your help back there."
"But what do they want with us?" the Boreal sobbed. "We didn't do anything to them, but why did she call us orphans? We have a family, we have parents, we...we just... we just want to go home!" The last part she cried out loudly to the point that the Long-Eared Owl turned around from her introductory speech on how to 'sleep properly' and glared at her. I glared back at her, daring her to come closer. The Long-Eared Owl just snorted before going back to her introductions.
"Shh...shh, it's going to be all right Rose," The Barred Owl tried to comfort her, looking at the Great Grey. "We'll find a way to get out of here and we will bring you home, I promise."
"Yeah, we will," The Great Grey met the eyes of the Barred Owl, sharing the uncertainty in his eyes. "We'll be out and away before you know it."
"Now, go to sleep!" We heard the Long-Eared yell out and we turned to see her leaving us.
"But...what are they going to do to us?" The female Boreal whimpered, frightened eyes never leaving her back until she was sure that she was gone. She only calmed down after that.
"We'll see soon enough, let's get moving," I said, following the crowd of owlets that was joining the bigger crowd just as the alarm (which was a high piercing shriek) sounded. As one we began circling around the place, the air was immediately filled with noise.
"What..." the Great Grey was confused as to the situation in front of us. "What are they doing?" For in front of us, the owls were marching listlessly, their beaks to the sky muttering endlessly, their collective mutterings become senseless noise. "What are they saying?"
"Listen carefully to what they are saying," I whispered, listening carefully myself. "They are all muttering their names, over and over again. Just as what that damn owl told us to do."
"But why?" The Barred whispered back as the four of us huddled together as we marched along. "Why would she tell us that? Why would she want us to do that?"
"Because she...they...are trying to moonblink us."
"Moonblink?" The female Boreal asked, looking up at the moon and wincing all of the sudden. "What's that?"
I looked at my female friend. "You felt something just now, didn't you, when you looked at the moon." She was obviously astounded by my sudden observation and intuition but nodded anyway. "Like a needle driving through your head and into your gizzard?"
"How did you know?" she gasped.
"I don't know how it's done, but somehow the moonlight was able to attack our mind and dull our gizzard," I glared at the moon, "confusing us and turning our world upside down and inside out to the point that we couldn't make sense of it. We wouldn't be able to tell which is up or down, right or left, real or dream anymore."
Everyone nearly took a step back in shock, beaks open wide at the horror that was about to be on them. "That's horrible, but why would they want to do that to us?" The Barred said, his eyes wide in fear.
"So that we would be vulnerable and unprepared to what comes next."
"And that would be?"
"You know how each and every owl around us is muttering their names to the sky?" They nodded. "Individually, they can be heard but right now, with everyone muttering their names at the same time, those names collectively become a noise, a noise that you could no longer hear your own name, a noise that is endless, senseless, meaningless."
"And our names would be a part of this, how?" The Great Grey asked.
"Our names are special," I explained, "they represent who we are; our memories, our importance to those around us. Our names are us. But when they are repeated endlessly and become part of the meaningless noise around us, then they would lose their specialness. Your own names would not have any special meaning to you anymore."
"But if our names meant nothing to us anymore," the Great Grey's eyes widen in realization, "then that means..."
"That means that whoever we were before would mean nothing to us now," the female Boreal gasped. "We would not recognize or even remember who we were before. We would be...nothing."
"Exactly, we would be nothing, a number but not a name. We would be a slave, not an owl anymore. Brainwashed to serve their will."
"No!" The female Boreal whimpered, her body became smaller because her feathers stuck to her in fear. "I don't want this! I don't want to work for them, I don't want to kidnap owlets and make them serve St. Aggie. We...we have to get away from here."
"We will," I reassured her, "but first we have to survive this night."
"But how are we going to do that?" The Barred Owl asked before turning to me. "Do you know of a way out of here?"
I looked at him in surprise. "You are...trusting me to get you guys out of here?"
The three of them looked at me with resolute stares, though one with the remnants of tears in her eyes. "Yes we do," one of them said. "Lead on," another replied. "Please," the third meekly asked.
I sighed before returning my glare back at the moon. "First of all, whatever you do, never say your name as long as you are in this place. If anyone of them finds out, then they would force you to say your name until you forgot about it."
"Oh no!" The female Boreal gasped, shoving a wing up to her beak to muffle her noise as we walked. "Do... I mean you said my name when you were comforting me." The Barred gasped as well, eyes wide in alarm.
"Don't think too much about it," I tried to comfort them. "You spoke softly and let's hope that no one heard you. But from now on don't ever say each other's name whilst you are still here."
"But then what shall we do about this?" The Barred Owl said. "How are we supposed to get out of this when we are supposed to say our names to the blinking moon?"
"Then don't," I replied quickly. "Repeat your numbers softly and if anyone comes near, mutter another name, any other name but your own or anyone that you care about."
"Then is that it?" The Great Grey hastily said. "Is that all we have to do?"
"No." My glare became stern. "That was only something to slow down the process, but from what I heard, the best way to withstand the process of moon-blinking would be to tell stories."
That earned me three confusing looks from my three new friends. "Stories? Are you serious?"
"I am, and like I said, it is the best way to defend ourselves from moon-blinking, as I was told."
"By who?" The Barred Owl wondered.
"By those who had actually escaped from here in the first place, and I trust them. Completely. And the stories they said to each other weren't just any stories. They were stories that inspire the brave, stories that bolden the heart and gives them the strength to fight even against great odds...such as of those of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole."
"The Guardians of Ga'Hoole," the three gasped together.
"Can those stories really save us?" the female Boreal whispered.
"Only if you believe those stories with all your heart. If you want to escape from St. Aggie, you have to be as cunning, as clever and as brave as the Guardians themselves."
"Then count us in," the Great Grey spoke up for the three of them, "we want to get out of here too."
I nodded at them. "Then quickly, stand around me and speak out your number or whatever name you chose. I will be telling the story softly so you all had better listen hard." The three nodded at me before speaking their numbers up to the sky. I too turned towards the moon, but unlike them and the rest of the owls around, in a soft voice, barely audible to anyone save for the three owls surrounding me, I told them the tale of the 'Coming of Hoole', the first legend of the Guardians. And as I told the story, I could see their eyes growing brighter and bolder.
3rd Person POV
"Is that really all, Cyrus? Baron?" The patriarch of the Tree asked kindly, to which both the Great Grey and the Snowy nodded sadly, the Boreal owlet between them peering timidly beneath Baron's wing at the assembly of owls before them. Boron sighed, closing his eyes before opening them slowly. "Very well," he nodded to them, "then you are free to go."
Cyrus and Baron bowed before turning around, ready to go back to their hollows. Baron nudged the little owl beneath his wing, indicating that it was time for them to go back to their hollow. When Baron and Cyrus returned to the Tree, they brought along the little owlet so that they could keep him safe, while the other owls resumed their duties save for a pair who was charged with finding the owlet's parents. They were told to wait in Baron's hollow until they would be called to address this situation. Joseph and Lilica were of course immediately brought into the fold the moment the owlet was brought into the hollow. The four older owls then spent the rest of the time comforting the young Boreal owlet and reassuring him that everything would be alright. It was almost daybreak before the three were called into the Parliament Hollow to explain everything.
The little Boreal owlet turned as well, head down in sorrow. He looked up at the owl whose wing he was under and suddenly he remembered something. "You are going to save him, right?" The words he said though was soft, in the enclosed space they were somehow magnified that everyone in the room could hear. He slipped out of Baron's wing and faced the owls on the podium branch. "That owl, the one who saved me." Tears once again graced his cheeks, but this time it was in remembrance of the one who risked his life for him. "He looked...scary back then," he looked away, remembering the fierce look Matthias gave, but he also knew that he was looking at the ones who were holding him in their evil claws. Then he recalled the desperate look when the Boreal's eyes met his own, seeing the desire to save him in them, and also that second look when the four of them were escaping. But that one, with those determined eyes and that reassuring smile Matthias gave to the child, it was filled with a promise that he would be alright. Whether it was Matthias or he himself he did not know, but he knew he could trust him. "But he was trying to save me. He fought them and got captured to save me!" Deep down, the owlet knew that the older Boreal was a hero in his gizzard and no one would be allowed to say otherwise. "Please, you've got to save him!"
All the owls in the room were taken aback at the outburst by the owlet gave, especially, Boron, Barran and Ezylryb, who were suspicious of Matthias right from the very beginning. Boron sighed, his eyes closed for a while as he recalled everything that Cyrus and Baron had told him; of how minutes after the group separated, Matthias then ditched them and went on his way and of how they caught up to him. He could almost imagine it, of the brief skirmish for the Boreal owlet beside them, and then for the chase in which Matthias sacrificed himself to buy them whatever lead they needed to make a safe exit. Baron and Cyrus almost ran into the Snowy monarch and those with him and with heavy breaths, they managed to spill out the words needed to get the point and urgency across to the King of the Tree which led to the frantic dash towards the Boreal's last known location, only to find a few broken feathers and two dead owls. 'Matthias, I'm too late,' the single tear flowed down with that thought back then and it flowed down again in the present. 'I'm so sorry.'
Opening his eyes, he looked back at the three owls before him, his eyes on the little Boreal who had stood with pleading yet determined eyes. "We will do our best, I promise. Court adjourned." He then nodded at the other two and motioned them to leave, before glancing at Barran and Ezylryb. The two owls nodded in return, knowing what the King wanted.
As the three were finally left alone in the Parliament Hollow, Baron turned towards the Whiskered Screech, who was pondering over what he had just heard. "What do you think, Ezylryb?"
The ryb sighed before turning towards the two monarchs. "I don't know, Boron. To tell the truth, I have a feeling in my gizzard that Matthias had a part in this, yet I can't think of any reason why he would have wanted this. Then again, this could be coincidental, an accidental chance of encountering a St. Aggie patrol. And I don't know which to listen to." He looked away and up, as if he was looking past the walls of the hollow and gazing into the night sky. "I still believe that Matthias is a good lad, but I wish I could know more about him to understand why he did these things."
When the long night finally ended and the moon sunk below the rim of the canyon, we newer owls were brought back to our pits. I was silently thanking Glaux and King Hoole that the four of us were put into the same pit. "Wow that was the roughest night I had," the Great Grey whispered beside me, knowing the necessity of our silence at this point. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see that my companions had weary eyes on them. Of course, this was probably the first time that they had been awake for more than a day, no wonder they were so exhausted. As for me, I was somewhat used to this back at the Great Tree so I was more alert than them, though I could also feel the fatigue creeping up on me. That was when it hit me that I probably looked out of place as a new 'member', so I quickly changed my expression, giving myself droopy eyes and slowed my pace, hoping to pass myself as a tired owl.
"I'm just glad to be out of there," the female Boreal, Rose if I recalled correctly, muttered under her breath, lifting up a wing to rub her tired eyes.
"Shh," I quickly shushed them as we entered our pit. Ahead of us, I could see the Long-Eared Owl from before already there, glaring at every owlet that entered the chamber. When she spotted us, her beak split into an evil grin.
"Well well well, if it wasn't the troublesome four." She snarked as she approached us and noticed our tired eyes. "So, you can't sleep last night without someone teaching you how to, huh." My growl was threatening to break the facade of a tired owl when the Great Grey placed a wing on my shoulder, silently telling me to calm down. "Guess I have no choice but to take care of you lousy lot." She then pointed to a ledge that was high up and looked to be barely large enough for the four of us. "No point having tired owls getting their first work assignments. Now git!"
Slowly we made our way towards the ledge, my eyes trained on the sleazy owl with that creepy smirk. "Mark my words," I muttered silently to myself, "I'm going to tear her wings off and make her crawl on the ground like the rat she is."
"You say that now, but for that to happen we would need to be able to get out of here first," the Great Grey said, reminding me of our priorities. "And to do that, we need all the wits and luck we could get."
"Craig's right, we need to bide our time and think our way out of here but we can't do that if we are tired." The Barred Owl seconded. "Let us sleep over it and hopefully discuss this when we wake up."
Rose and I nodded in agreement and the four of us laid down on the hard rock. The female Boreal Owl looked around at the small ledge and frowned. "Looks like we are sleeping on empty stomachs as well, the bullies."
"Yeah, what I would kill for a juicy squirrel right now." The Great Grey complained with a similar frown.
"Well, beggars can't be choosers, Craig." I replied with a sympathetic smile.
"True, and...wait," The Barred Owl slowed turned his head to look at me. "How did you..."
"Know his name?" The smile grew into a smirk. "You told me yourself, remember? It was just a few moments ago." The three owls before me looked at the ground for a while, recalling the bits of conversation that we have had.
"Oh...right..." The Barred Owl mumbled sheepishly with a guilty smile. "My bad." He then wilted under the glaring eyes of Rose and Craig.
"But to make it fair," I sighed after a while, "my name is Matthias."
"And his is Donovan," Craig growled. "So now that everyone knows everyone's names, I think it's time for us to get some sleep." The rest of us nodded and closed our eyes, preparing to have our rest no matter how short it was.
The minute I closed my eyes, a voice that I hadn't heard in some time began speaking into my brain. 'Finally! I thought I would never get you alone.'
I was so close to grumbling when I heard that voice echoing in my head. 'Grimble, what are you doing here?'
'So you don't miss me at all? Pity...' The ghost owl sighed before his expression turned serious. 'Anyway, come on. Let me show you the place while I tell you what happened with Soren and the Band.' I nodded and I felt him pull me out of my body. 'This way.' As we flew around the canyon, zipping into every room, crook and nanny there was(3), Grimble managed to summarize everything since he left me, with how he first spied on each of the Band for a while before finally shifting his focus on Otulissa. He watched on as Dewlap caught Otulissa reading the banned book(4) and forced her to follow her and perform a 'special' flint mop right there and then; which was to bring her voles and squirrels to eat while gathering seaweed and salt-soaked pellets to bring back to the Tree, all the while she herself was reading the same book that got Otulissa in 'trouble' in the first place.
'Just when I thought she couldn't get past being dull,' I snarked in disgust, 'she added a whole new level by being cruel on top of being completely useless.'
'Don't forget that she was a traitor as well(5),' Grimble reminded.
'That would be later, Grimble. One moment at a time. Moving on with the story...'
'Oh right...' The ghost owl continued his story; starting from when Otulissa finally had enough of that bossy Burrowing Owl, tossing a dead squirrel right at her face. I must admit that this was my favourite part, especially when Grimble affirmed that she cried out 'SPRINK ON YOU!' at that annoying ryb, even laughing at the part when he complained how terrible that Burrowing Owl flew. And I knew what he meant, though Burrowing Owls were one of the weakest flyers (generally since I know that there were a few notable ones, like Digger. I was honestly amazed that he could fly almost silently that it was barely noticeable), Dewlap took the cake of noisiest flier ever. I would compare her to a seagull but that would be insulting the gull.
The ghostly owl continued on with Otulissa chasing after the rest of the group when they left her behind, seeing that they couldn't wait for her any longer(6). She finally met up with them pretty soon, surprising them considering that she managed to catch up to them fighting against a strong headwind. After that, the seven of them continued with their journey, heading south towards the Beaks before turning west for St. Aegolius, only stopping at the border of the canyons where they would rest until the next evening come. From what he said, I was guessing that they would probably be arriving at St. Aggie sometime later. In the meantime, I will have to know every inch of this place and find a way to perform my 'miracle'. I sighed, not even having a hint of an idea of how to execute it in the first place.
By now, Grimble had taken me to everywhere this place had to offer: starting with all four of the pits with their guardians which were Lora, Unk, Cubby and Cockles(7). Looking at them lit a spark of rage in my eyes. I knew who they were deep down; on the surface they might look kind and caring, always looking for the newer ones, but inside they were manipulative and cruel. They put on that sweet and friendly smile on their faces but whisper sweet lies to us, showing themselves as a pillar of support and trust yet they would twist the minds of the weak and the scared with their doctrine of false truths, until they fell into their web, never to be free again. Oh, how I hated them. Seeing them reminded me of the beasts who held me and my fellow inmates captive and turning us into living weapons, causing my blood to boil to the point that my ghostly partner had to drag me by the chains out of there.
After the pits would be the battle-claw repository where they store all the scavenged battle-claws and learning how to care for them; followed by the glaucidium where we had just undergone a brainwashing program via moonlight; the moon-scalding chamber, which used light-reflecting rocks to create a stronger version of moon-blinking. When I stood in the middle of the chamber, I imagined what Soren and Gylfie were going through, suffering and becoming undone by the concentrated beams of moonlight until they managed to overcome the trail through the telling of the stories of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole. Because of what they had done here when everyone thought it was impossible, it really encouraged me to see this through to the end. I didn't know what sort of miracle I was going to do here, but whatever it is, I am going to give it my all.
Then Grimble took me to the pelletorium, where I saw what me and my new friends were supposed to do. Owls were standing in many rows, each with a stack of pellets by their sides. Each of them was grabbing a pellet in their claws and picking out things in them using their beaks before lining the items up before them. Grimble told me that the newer owls like us would usually be shuffled here and were considered third-degree pickers, so we were tasked to find pebbles, bones and teeth. After spending some time here, we would then be promoted to second-degree pickers and pick feathers and fur from the pellets. Only those who had served well in this horrible place would become a first-degree picker, one that would be given the privilege to pick for the accursed flecks. The flecks were then stored at our next stop, the library, which surprisingly had thousands of books in them (of course they have books, why in the Sothern Kingdoms would they call it a library then?), while the rest of the stuff was then organized and stored in the inventorium, a branch off of the library. While I was there, I gave one quick look at all the books there and noticed that though they were old, they were also frayed around the edges and from the top, I could see that the pages were deep yellow and there were even tears in them.
'For owls claimed to be learned and knowledgable, they sure aren't bright enough to care for these books.' I shook my head in disappointment. 'Don't they know that they will laster longer that way?'
'Like you said, they aren't bright in any way possible.' We moved on, passing by many guards and long passages until Grimble stopped suddenly in front of an opening in a wall.
I looked at him in confusion. 'Grimble, what's wrong?' I glanced at the entrance. 'What is this place that got you so down?'
The ghost didn't reply immediately, instead opting to take a huge breath before giving me a vague answer. 'You'll see for yourself... Just prepare yourself, alright?' I watched as he walked into the mysterious hallway. A growing mix of unease and curiosity welled up within me, something that I hadn't felt in a long time. Gulping, I followed, shaking step after another shaking step into the long, foreboding passage.
When I exited the hallway, I was admittedly confused at the neat little cave around me. It was split into two passageways with shelves that were somehow arranged into steps on both sides of the walls, all of them were filled with nests of various sizes and each of them had an owl on them. In fact, there were all sorts of owls here, from Snowies to Elf Owls, from Barred to Burrowing Owls, and as I watched on, I noticed that they were split into two groups. One would be those who were sitting in the nests ('Broodies,' Grimble informed me) while the other group was rushing around to meet the needs of those in their nests ('Moss tenders,' my ghostly friend supplied). Once in a while, I would see some moss tenders bringing in some snacks like worms, snakes or as such to the broodies while the others who tuck moss and fluff into the nests to make them more comfortable. All in all, I thought it was a pretty neat job to do until I heard a Short-Eared Owl cried out, "Crack alert! Crack alert! Egg tooth visible!"
All the heads including mine turned towards the Short-Eared Owl, save for Grimble who turned away in disgust. I was looking on in anticipation and excitement since this was the first time I see an egg hatching. As the egg kept on rocking in that nest, the excitement in my gizzard kept on rising and when the egg tooth finally broke through, glistening in its egg fluid I was unable to keep my delighted smile down.
"All right, that's enough with the egg tooth." A flat voice broke through my delightful gaze and I was taken by surprise at the sight of the two new owls who had suddenly appeared before me, one an Elf Owl while the other was a Whiskered Screech. "Time to open it."
I watched on in shock as the two owls gave solid whacks with their claws at the egg until it split. Then the Whiskered Screech hooked the sticky white stuff with a talon and pulled it out while the Elf Owl turned the shell up. "Bottoms up!" She said and promptly dumped the chick out of the shell. "Number 306-38," the Elf Owl continued.
'...What just happened, Grimble?' I asked my partner slowly, trying to comprehend the horrible scene in front of me. 'Tell me I didn't just hear those two say those words or did what they just did.' I could literally feel my blood pressure rising as I watched on.
'Your eyes and earholes did not lie to you Martin.' He'd even went to use my real name, indicating that he was very serious. 'But the next place that we are going to is going to be worse. And it's right in front of us, just beyond this room.'
'Worse than this?' I snarked, before following him to our next destination. 'Oh, joy...'
Once we entered the place called the eggorium, my expression immediately turned grimmer. 'Disgusting sight, isn't it? ' Grimble commented. 'I have always hated coming here.'
'No kidding,' I replied with an animalistic growl. 'This is a truly depressing sight.' And it was, for before me were the stolen eggs from all over the Southern Kingdom. Eggs, numbered to several hundred or probably even over a thousand, were everywhere, placed on shelves and grouped by the type of eggs they were. Barn Owl eggs, Spotted Owl eggs, Elf Owls eggs and more. The rage within me was beginning to build up once more, leaving my view tinged with a light pink haze. 'Those...those beasts!' One of my claws clenched in anger at the sight of this place.
Then at the corner of my eye, I spotted a figure darting into one of the shelves. 'Who's that?' I wondered, curiosity temporarily overcame my rage at the moment as I followed the mysterious owl, and what I saw greatly angered me even more. Grimble landed beside me and he gasped in shock or horror I didn't know when he too laid eyes on the owl before us. 'Finny...'
Truthfully, I didn't know who the b**** in front of me was but the moment Grimble yelled out her name, I had begun to recognize her as well. All that I knew of her was the fact that she was a Snowy Owl with a large gash on her neck which stained the feathers around the area darker than usual and a teary eye that could barely see anything and the owl in front of me matched that description to the T. But it was what she was doing at this very moment that was extremely disturbing of the both of us.
With that crooked smile on her beak dripping in egg white, she quickly dived back into that broken egg with a squelch and a splash of egg juice before bringing her head back up again, this time having some meat in her beak. My vision began to blur, accompanying with a heartbeat that was increasing with every second passed. My breaths were heavy and my beak was clenched with rage.
'I...I can't believe it...' I heard Grimble muttering in a hesitant tone beside me. 'I knew that she was a little yoicks inside, but for her to be this far off...I...I just...'
Despite my building rage, I took a deep breath in an attempt to calm my nerves. ' It's not enough,' I calmly muttered.
'What?' Grimble asked, not understanding what I was talking about.
I took another look at the shelves of eggs around me. 'King Hoole once told me to make a miracle, and that is to save the young chicks who had been kidnapped by St Aggie, but what about them?' I gestured at the eggs around me. 'They are still here, Grimble, and they will too one day become part of St. Aegolius. And that is why His Highness' orders are not enough; we are not only to save the owlnapped owlets, but we must save the eggs too!'
That last part stunned the ghostly owl; not only at the boldness and determination of his living friend but also at the sheer lunacy and impossibility of the mission. 'Have you gone yoicks?!' He exclaimed. 'Do you know how crazy that sounds right now? I know that saving the younglings already sounds almost impossible but how in Glaux's name are you going to bring all those eggs out of here? Do you even have a plan in the first place?'
'Truthfully, no. Not at the moment, but even so we have to try.' I turned back to Grimble. 'For now, could you check on whether these eggs are...not affected? I know St Aggie placed flecks into their nests whenever they were sent to the hatchery, so I want to be sure that they are alright.'
'Leave it to me, I'll check them out. What about you?'
I turned around and jumped into the air. 'Finding an inspiration,' I said vaguely before flying off. At first, I was just flying around aimlessly, poking my head into every crack and crevice in the walls around the hatchery and the eggorium, hoping to find some sort of passage. Most of them were just caves while the rest just led to a dead-end eventually, wasting a lot of my time.
I was starting to lose hope and patience by the time I reached the...how many caves had I visited again?... cave, just another cut into the wall. With a heavy sigh, I entered the cave and travelled down the passageway. It was kind of a long tunnel seeing that I had been travelling for some time and I was flying(8), not walking with my two terribly short legs. Encountering many forks along the way (one of the few trails that actually had them), I had decided to ignore them for now, unlike the many others I had done before, wanting to get this over with as soon as possible.
I had lost track of time as I went further down the tunnel, feeling like this was a really stupid idea right from the get-go. Feeling discouraged, I turned around the corner, expecting to see nothing but rocks, so imagine my surprise when I saw a literal light at the end of the tunnel. Stunned, I slowly walked towards it like a moth to a flame and before I knew it, I was stepping out into the sunlight outside of St Aggie. 'I did it... I found a way out...' A smile grew on my face as I gazed at the trees and the grass around me with glee. 'I DID IT!' I 'screamed' into the skies above.
After those few minutes of basking in the warm sunlight and enjoying the scenery of the bright forest, I then begrudgingly headed back into the tunnel but this time my spirit had risen to the all-time high ever since I came to this world, definitely on par with the time that I had flown for the first time and the two times that I first flew into a storm and a forest fire. I'd even hum a jolly tune as I walked along the rock walls, memorizing the route I had taken from the exit back towards the eggorium. 'Hey, Grimble!' I yelled the moment I made it back to the cave. Looking around, I noticed that the wretched Snowy monster wasn't anywhere around.
'Finally back from your exploring?' I heard Grimble spoke up as he came closer. 'So what did you find? Anything that can help with your mission?'
'Nothing yet, but I have found a way out of here!'
'Yes, come with me, I will show you. We might not be able to find something that can help me in my quest or maybe we will, but whatever it is we will do it together!' Grimble just looked at me with a raised eyeridge and a smirk on his face. At his signal, I turned around and headed back into the tunnel, this time with my partner following behind.
As we retraced my steps, we also explored all the forks and caves that I ignored earlier, venturing into countless more caves and meeting more dead ends. It was about two-thirds into our way out of the cave, we ventured into yet another fork and into another cave. But what was inside here was much different than the other ones we went into, for one this cave was so much bigger than the other caves we went into. In fact it was ginormous, probably even the same size as the glaucidium. The second was that this cave also had pointed rocks dripping water from the top, probably there was a river above this place. Yet I could hear the sound of a lot of water crashing somewhere, so there's probably a small underground waterfall and river somewhere around here.
But it was the third fact that left me astounded. Looking up into the high and dark ceiling, I saw thousands of dark shapes hanging upside down, some of them were even hanging on the dripping stalactites. 'So this is where all these blood-sucking bats came from.' Grimble commented, coming in after me.
'Yeah, so it is. So the bastards here have provided these winged rats with lodging and food, in exchange for their services in taking away the freedom of others. ' I agreed, before looking down onto the floor, realizing that I had stepped on something squishy. 'Uggh, gross!' I cried out before remembering that I could not feel whatever that I was stepping on or the fact that I could only step on anything if I willed it. Looking down, I examined the stuff before rearing my head back in disgust. 'Yup, I'd just stepped on bat poop! That's just great.' All Grimble did was cover his beak with his wing to stop me from seeing him laugh, but the twinkle in his eyes gave him away.
Glaring at him, I turned back towards the cave. 'Come on, you old bird. I still haven't shown you the way out yet, so get your tail feathers moving.' I grunted and exited the bat cave (no pun intended). Continuing on our journey down the dark tunnel, we encountered and explored a few more caves. Unfortunately, so far none of the caves was as interesting as the bat cave so it came to be a surprise for me that one of the last few caves left held stones that... different somewhat. At first glance this was a bigger version of the tunnel that we had came from but surprisingly, it was Grimble who noticed it the moment we entered the cave. 'Say, do these rocks look...different to you?'
Prompted by his observation, I stepped closer towards one of the walls and strained my eyes in the limited daylight to observe them closely. 'You're right, these rocks are...yellow...light yellow in fact...' Laying a claw on the rocks, I willed my talon and lightly scraped the wall, seeing yellow powder and small yellow pebbles tumbling onto the ground. 'And they are soft too.' Looking around, I saw that the surrounding walls were all lined with the same yellow rocks and on one of the walls was a hole that led to another cave. The adjacent cave had barely any light shone into it but despite that, I couldn't help but stare, shake my head, blink and stare again into the darkness.
What I saw there was something that was definitely out of place in an owl-filled territory but the thought to explore the cave was shoved aside as Grimble's voice broke through my shock. 'I never knew rocks could be this soft!' Grimble exclaimed.
'Very few were and if this thing's what I think it is, then it is a good thing that I'm here as a scroom right now.' My partner gave me a questioning look as I pushed him out of the cave.
'So what are those yellow rocks that got you scurrying us out of there?' Grimble asked as we neared the exit, the light that I had seen before was clearly in view.
'It's sulfur, or brimstone in olden terms, Grimble.' I explained, digging up every scrap of knowledge I know about the stuff. 'Though they are not toxic in small amounts however, if you breathe it in as a powder, it would irritate your lungs and throats and make you cough. Too much of it would also cause major problems on our stomachs, lungs and even our brain. We should also not let it get into our eyes as well because it will hurt mort than dust or sand. But the one thing we should do is to not let it get anywhere near fire because not only does sulfur catches fire pretty easily, the gases that burning sulfur would produce would kill us quickly.'
That made Grimble stop in his tracks. 'Wow...I never knew how dangerous this...sulfur...is.'
'Yes it is, but as long as we don't go near them or set those yellow rocks on fire, we should be fine.' I assured my worried friend. 'Even though we are covered in feathers, molten sulfur is enough to burn through them and cause major burns on our skin. And that's not all, once it is lit up, it is never going to stop burning until everything becomes liquid.'
Grimble then gave me a long, hard look. 'Just when I thought this sulfur was dangerous enough, you just had to make it worse, do you.'
I couldn't help but shrug. 'Just for your information only. Besides,' I smiled just as we walked through the arch of our cave and into the sunlight, 'looks like we're here.'
Grimble turned to look around, eyes widened in amazement as a smile began to form on his beak. 'Wow...' the elder owl gasped, 'you really did it, Matthias. I'm...I'm impressed.' That made me smile brightly at him, happy to share this moment with him.
'So what do you think? Pretty cool exit, huh. Besides us, no one knows it even exists, much less bothers to find it. So with this, we can sneak as many owls out of here!'
'Well done, Matthias.' Grimble smiled before slowly turning into a frown. 'So how are we going to get anyone here? Having one or two owls missing without any reason would bound to cause some sort of investigation but an entire group of owls?'
'True...' I pondered. 'Then that means I need some sort of a distraction. But I wonder what could I use for this?' Then I turned to my partner-in-crime. 'Do you have any ideas, Grimble?'
Grimble, in turn, looked at me in surprise with a slight hint of skepticism. 'Do I have any ideas?! With what? There's nothing here that could provide that big of a distraction. The only things that could have the slightest bit of use here are these trees, those yellow rocks you called sulfur and that cave with all those bats and their poop. But other than them, what else is there?'
What he said was true though; bat poop, sulfur and these trees, there's nothing that we could make from them. 'Grimble is right, what can I do with bat poop and sulfur anyway?' I thought furiously, my eyes closed in an effort to think of a plan. 'Come on, think Martin! There must be a way to make things go boom!'
Boom!... My eyes opened at the thought of the slip of the tongue as it went into a loop over and over again in my head. 'Boom...as in like an explosion?' Like a flash, memories and knowledge of anything and everything related to the word raced past my mind, dismissing most of them as they were mainly just two parties fighting one another, with tons of explosions adding into the mix, all coming from the various documentaries, cartoons and animes that I watched in the modern world of the Others...I shook my head. 'Human!' I cried aloud, startling Grimble. 'I am a human, damn it!'
'Erm...Matthias, are you alright?' Grimble asked warily and I turned to look at him. 'You...kind of jumped on me just now, did...did I say anything wrong?'
'No!' I quickly reassured him. 'No, it wasn't you. I was just...correcting myself...'
Knowing exactly what I was talking about, he looked down sadly. 'Matthias...I...'
'Don't. It's just...it's just that sometimes I slipped into speaking like an owl.' I sighed. 'I know that I am an owl now but I just... don't want to forget where I come from, you know, and little things like this just show that I'm...slipping. Slowly losing my identity as a human. Not like I was all human before I came here.'
Grimble did not comment on that, which was something I was grateful of, instead he redirected me back to the train of thoughts I had earlier. 'So what were you thinking of earlier?'
'Just something from my world,' I muttered. 'I got an inspiration of sorts earlier and then I was trying to see if I could turn it into an idea of sorts.'
'And what have you got so far?'
'Just bits and pieces of useless, random things. Nothing of use so far.'
'Oh? Then what are you looking for specifically?'
I pondered over that question for a while. '...Oh, I don't know,' I said helplessly after a while. 'I came across the thought about explosions, and since it was a good idea for a distraction, I tried to remember everything about it but all I came up with were not useful in the slightest.'
'Yes, and the frustrating thing is even though I know that causing a few explosions around would most likely be our best bet here, but I don't even know to make one yet!'
'Explosions, huh...' Grimble muttered. 'Isn't that the one that goes 'BOOM!' loudly with lots of fire everywhere?'
'That's the one...but in this owl world, how am I going to get the resources to cause one?'
Grimble groaned and placed a wing to his forehead. 'Getting out of this hagsmire is already almost impossible, how are we going to get every owlet...' he then looked at me, 'and every egg out of here? This isn't something as simple as banging two stones together!'
'No it's not, but how else are we gonna...' Then a particular word that Grimble said came back to me. 'Wait what did you say just now?'
'Er...' my partner looked confused at my sudden change in topic. 'something about banging two stones together, isn't it?'
'Stone...stone...' I muttered, repeating the word over and over again while my mind went back to the collection of knowledge I was 'browsing' through earlier. That was when a familiar story, one that I had watched a few weeks before I was kidnapped back in my world, came to mind and with that came... certain information I needed desperately. After that, related knowledge from documentaries and internet sources surfaced as well, along with what Grimble and I had found on the way here. With each new piece of the puzzle falling into place, within minutes I had a somewhat decent plan formed. 'Grimble,' a grim smile began to form on my beak, 'I've got an idea.' (9)
My partner frowned worriedly in return. 'I don't like that look on your face,' he replied. 'Is this plan of yours, erm...dangerous?'
My smile grew larger. 'Very.'
(1): The reason I didn't use her name save for when she was introducing herself was just that Matthias, and by extension, me, don't like her. Period.
(2): Rules and introductions of the place includes
- no questions allowed (especially words that start with 'whh', saying that they were 'dirty' words, swear words punishable by the most severe means they had)
- the proper way to sleep (standing tall, heads up with the beak to the moon) and the wrong way (the head tucked under our wings, dipped towards the breast or twisting our head in a way that it could rest on our backs) which was also punishable by their most severe methods
- sleep marches (sleep correction monitors would patrol around the place at regular intervals, an alarm would go off and all owls have to begin the sleep march, repeating our names over and over again whilst we march, at the second alarm we stop, say our number designation once and assume the sleep position once more)
(3): I must admit that this part I was responsible for it but I was just curious about the place, hoping I could find something useful.
(4): The book in question is titled 'Fleckasia and Other Disorders of the Gizzard'
(5): Spoilers! =)
(6): There was a reason why the Band left without Otulissa. Back then, all seven owls had to meet at their meeting place at tween time, however, due to Otulissa being caught by Dewlap, the six other owls were forced to wait for her. As day turned into night, the winds were becoming wilder as if they were growing confused. The turbulent winds were caused by the change in temperature due to the arrival of winter and the transition from day to night, thus becoming stronger and wilder due to the difference in pressure, inevitably making it harder, longer and more tiresome to fly over the Sea of Hoolemere. And it was due to this that Soren and Gylfie made the decision to leave without Otulissa.
(7): Cockles is a made-up character who had recently replaced Finny as pit guardian whilst she was promoted to an eggorium supervisor. You don't have to know who he is.
(8): Yes, Matthias was traveling down a tiny passageway on wings. First of all, he was a spirit at the time. Second, he was bestowed by the power of the Author to be able to do so.
(9): If anyone figured out what I am talking about here, good for you but please don't spoil it in the review chat.
Finally got this chapter done! I'm sorry for all my readers and watchers if this chapter took so long to come out. It was going as expected at first when dealing with the first half but when it came to Matthias inside St Aegolius, I had to refer to Book One: The Capture a lot. Then it got harder when Matthias decided to include the eggs into his breakout plan. I know he is making it harder for himself but that is the kind of the guy he is. If he didn't make that this decision then he wouldn't be the Matthias that I envisioned. Still it was hard and will be extremely difficult in my next chapter. So expect that it will take a long time for the chapter to come out.
Speaking of the next chapter, I had originally intended for both Going In and Getting Out to be in one chapter but as you can see...just the 'getting in' part took about half of this chapter and hence the decision to split. Also, in the process of making this plan, I had realized that Matthias' breakout plan would not work as well as I hoped due to the limited resources that he had and the fact that he is an owl, so by the power invested in me as the author of this story I have decided to...'add' a few Other things that might help. I know that this borders on the line of Dues-Ex-Machina but there were tidbits of human stuff in the world of Ga'Hoole so...why not?
Once again I am sorry for taking this long to come up with this chapter and I hope that it would satisfy you all. And remember, constructive criticism are always welcomed, flames will be put out by extinguishers and arsonists will be shipped to St. Aggie (and be subsequently moonblinked).
Thanks for reading,
PS: I think I might be going back to re-edit my first few chapters...again. I had an app that allows me to hear what I wrote and after hearing it, I could spot a few errors so I might be doing that for the next few weeks.