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A note from Michael Adams

Right, so, you know how I keep talking about how I'm surprised by our growth? Well, that's gonna continue right now because we just crested 1,200 followers! That's amazing! Tons of people are pouring in, which, by the way, thanks for joining us! I'm pretty sure that if I know most of us well enough, that some of them are binging this story right now.

Does anyone else tend to wait until a story has at least like 15 chapters before they start reading it? I do, so I can get a feel for the story and see how I like it. Also because bingeing. 

Anyways, I am absolutely thrilled to say that the Patreon Growth is likewise nutty, and you guys have a pecking ton of comments that are very interesting to read. Some of them are absolutely cursed, but, that's amusing in its own way! 

Right, so, special thank you to the following people! -deep breaths- "BelligerentGnu", "H"," Lord_of_boredom", "John Growcott", "Cody Adam Carroll", "Travis Beck", "mutu", "Hal", "Huuwas", "J3_Haustkottr", "Xalibur", "scott kostuik", "Thomas Christie", "Nightlife", "Khalydor", "Dakotah Tyler", "Isaac Boyles", "Philldoran", "David Zhang", "Nighten Day", and "Green Tang"! 

Yeah, I'm a little gobsmacked at how many there are! Thank all of you! And thanks everyone on RR for helping to get us so far. 

Now, the chapter starts a little morose, but picks up in the latter half. I hope nobody was hoping for our oversized chicken to become a murder hobo, because that's not happening here. Keep in mind that there is a light at the end of the tunnel! The story is not intended to be grimdark, but there will be portions with potentially triggering content later. I WILL POST WARNINGS LIKE THIS ON THOSE CHAPTERS so be on the lookout for them. 

Anyhoot! I hope you enjoy the chapter and, as always, have a wonderful day! 

 




Charles woke slowly, dredging through the siren call of sleep whilst trying to make sense of the blurriness his eyes sent him. With prodigious effort he pushed away the worst of his fatigue, and with it some measure of sharpness was restored to his vision. Everything was in its place in his nest, ranging from the sigil in the wood, down to the hides and other random assortment of things he’d collected over time. It wasn’t what he would call a full nest, given that there was much space remaining for anything he might add to his hoard, but…

It felt remarkably cold and empty right now.

He rose slowly, the fugue of sleep losing the last of its purchase on his mind. As it did, a slideshow of memories rose in its place, stoking the embers of his rage. However, instead of surging to wakefulness with heated and righteous fury at the world's cruelties, Charles instead… felt a profound apathy.

‘I’m so tired.’ He allowed himself a sigh and wallowed in the sadness and self pity for just a while longer. ‘Should I assault the city?’ The idea seemed very appetizing before he begrudgingly smothered it. Regardless of how powerful he might be in comparison to some of the people around here – something he wasn’t even remotely confident in his estimation of – he was still just one bird.

‘One big, useless bird that couldn’t even protect his family. This was my second… no, third chance.’ First his parents, second was his sister, and third was his bird family. Sure, he couldn’t have possibly done anything about his human family abandoning him, but this time he had no excuse. He had been there, he’d virtually held their freedom in his talons, and he’d plucked it all up. With some effort he pushed those thoughts down, recognizing them for what they were; he wanted to be angry, to boil up into an uncontrolled wrath. It wasn’t constructive, and it certainly wasn’t going to help his current situation. The problem was the alternative to wrath was even less appealing - the cloying, dark depression that lingered in every afterthought from the bitter note of his failure. The calming sensations of the sigil fell away as he walked out of his nest towards the river, and Charles felt his mood sour further.

‘I messed up. I shouldn’t have screeched and made the mules run. That was stupid of me,’ he chastised himself as he stepped over a game trail. ‘The surprise attack was perfect though.’ He noted with pride for a moment, before cynically re-examining his initial response, ‘No, not quite perfect. I should have used that surprise attack on the leader, I underestimated how much damage I could deal in a short time frame. He might not have been able to fight back at all, or at least sustained mortal injuries. It would have been easy with just the other two.’ Charles contemplated that, noting distantly that he couldn’t have truly known how his strength matched up to humans yet. At the same time, he had to have known that if he couldn’t take the strongest of the poachers even in a surprise attack, he couldn’t have succeeded in his rescue mission in the first place.

That should have been his target first, then. He’d lost sight of his end goal, his instincts having silently swayed him to treat them as prey. They weren’t, not in the usual sense that he could take one down and carry it off to eat. This hadn’t been a skirmish, it was an all-or-nothing battle, and he hadn’t acted accordingly. Charles clenched his beak tightly, feeling his inner row of teeth within shift with the tightness. ‘I need to pay more attention to what my goals are.’

Charles was under no illusions; he would still have to move forward, as much as he wanted to sit down and let the mire of depression overtake him. Some dark part of his mind thought that would be a deserved and just punishment for failing his family. He honestly wasn’t sure if that was the product of his Phorus side or his human side, though, having always been something of a self-defeatist in the short term. Even with that knowledge and with the darkness weighing him down, Charles was surprised to realize that there was more of himself that wanted to carry on in spite of it all. It wasn’t even just his deal with Alterra, but he genuinely did want to see the world, even if he didn’t really believe he could ever fully reconcile with humanity. After everything he’d seen, he was just all too wary of their darker side.

Reaching the river, he found one of the pools of calmer water before looking into it to find his own distorted reflection in the ripples. The embers of anger had begun to crackle without the help of the calming sigil in his home, letting his emotions slowly begin to work themselves up into a hair-triggered fury. Charles didn’t keep it from rising, letting it flow over him without bottling it up. Learning to live with his instincts was easier, but there were still extremes that he didn’t know how to deal with.

His contemplations turned inwards once more, and Charles realized that his emotions were feeding on the looping memory of his family being taken, again and again, anger and anguish building with every pass.

‘Phorus have got to be one helluva high maintenance bird,’ he snorted idly, ‘If they can go off the deep end like this, I can’t imagine how useful they’d be.’ Exploring that thought more pulled some of his attention off of his emotional gridlock. Perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing in some cases; if a trainer had a connection to a Phorus, where the bird treated them like family, would they ever really have anything to fear from them? He doubted it, considering the want and need to protect his siblings, and how strong it was. But he knew that he didn’t have the best perspective on things, and so had to be careful about the assumptions that he made and be cautious about basing too much off of them.

It was then that Charles realized something else that he distantly felt should have been upsetting.

‘I killed a man,’ he noted plainly, ‘I don’t even feel bad about it. In fact… I feel worse about killing fish. That can’t be healthy.’

Then again, he figured that it wasn’t unreasonable to not feel particularly sympathetic to people who’d kidnapped his family. If he were honest, he kind of felt good about killing the man, like he’d gotten what he deserved. With a shake of his head and a plunge into the cold water, Charles rid himself of that line of thought.

Afterwards, he forced himself to preen through his feathers, amused that in spite of everything, he could still find some measure of enjoyment in the process.

‘Damn, I’m a pretty bird,’ he snorted to himself, remembering the last time he’d thought so. ‘I might be a little narcissistic at this point. Hmm, well, I guess that’s fine.’ With a shrug and allowing himself a small dispirited chuckle, Charles finished preening his feathers before shaking himself out, sending droplets of water through the air. He admired them as they fell, light shimmering off of them, before he came down to his next major decision.

‘So, what now? I don’t have a reason to stay in the forest any longer now that my siblings aren’t here, but I also don’t think I can get into town to find them. Physical form aside, my mentality is a mess.’ Given how his emotions were still highly unstable, being around a large group of people would be very unwise, and as he’d noted before, not something he could just butcher his way through. While he thought about it, he moved through the forest, not minding heavily where he wandered. He practiced his stealth as he weighed his options.

Moving out of this region entirely was a possibility, but Charles still wanted to know what happened to his siblings. He needed to know if they were safe, and if they were tamed, he needed to know what that entailed in case he needed to end whoever was holding their hopefully metaphoric leashes. His Earth logic would have said that they’d be released back into the wild, but that almost certainly wouldn’t happen. Alternatively, they could be placed in a zoo, or at the very worst case scenario, shipped to a taxidermy speci– ‘Nope, no. Not clucking going there.’ Them being tamed was the most likely scenario. If that was the case, he needed to find them and free them. ‘Unless they’re okay with it… but… peck, I don’t know nearly enough about what taming even entails.’

Charles wandered back across the path the cart had taken. Going after the leader had briefly been entertained, but he had even less of an idea of what lay across the mountain range, and had even less desire to scout through the oversized hornets’ domain. His anger didn’t cloud his judgment enough that attacking those overgrown bugs sounded like anything but an awful idea. That was another point in favor of leaving entirely, though, given that those things were like a stormcloud on the horizon to his instincts, and that wasn’t even including the strange essence dead zones around their nest.

Lowering himself to the ground, Charles began the process of recreating his steps through the pursuit. The scent of his cart was long gone, as he expected. Even without the strange obscuring scent each of the poachers had, the smell would have been overwhelmed by the forest. While he had an excellent nose there were limits to what he could do with it. The light breeze was enough to have carried away what little might remain. Being downwind, though, helped to pick up some scents that he could just barely make out. The pulped vegetation from the passing of hooves and the heavy cart made certain that he could fairly well pick out the trail of the cart at least, even if he couldn’t clearly see the tread marks left in the ground.

As he was continuing forward, though, he began to pick up another set of scents.

‘Living things, probably. Smells like sweat and some fairly poor forest-herbs.’ Charles froze as he continued pulling on the scent. Every living thing he’d come across so far had a particular smell, but there was enough in common with them that he could at least tell a few things. Mammals had a particularly musky smell, even humans he’d come to realize. There were differences in the flavor, so to speak, enough that he could tell the difference between a squirrel and a badger nearly instantly.

This scent belonged to humans, though one was different enough that he couldn’t be certain. The herbal scent that should have masked them well enough simply wasn’t sufficient to obscure his senses. They weren’t proper for this forest, or if they were then they were out of season. Before he knew it, Charles was prowling low to the underbrush, carefully avoiding fallen branches where he could, and gently nudging them out of the way when he couldn’t. His heart beat faster in his chest as his peripheral vision faded at the edges. In return, everything in front of him looked more real, sharper as his iris focused.

It took next to no effort to hone in on them, and as he came to a stop next to a tree less than thirty meters from the group, he could hear them without issue.

“Trail goes this way,” he could hear one man say, black clothed in light leather armor. “There’s barely anything, though.”

Charles’ eyes flitted between each of them, taking stock of them as one. The speaker had a bow on his back with a quiver of arrows, while he also had what looked to be a short sword and currently strapped on a buckler. The four around him were adorned in other sets, a tall, well built man with a spear in his hands looked out at the forest, but Charles could see by his eyes that he wasn’t really seeing it. If he were to be generous, he’d say the man might detect movement if it was big enough. Then again, perhaps he had some kind of ability to pick out detail easier.

At that thought, Charles rested his body even closer to the forest floor. ‘What am I even doing here?’ The thought went through his mind, but he decided to entertain himself with this for the moment. He needed a distraction for a moment, anyways, lest his thoughts become all consuming and self-destructive.

“It’s enough to check. We’re already out here.” Confidence accompanied the words, the man had a mix of leather and plate armor, a mace in his right hand and a shield that resembled a targe held in his left. “If we can find any survivors, it’ll look good on our guild record.”

The comment set Charles hackles up when the others chuckled at the comment. The remaining two men had a greatsword and a paired shortsword and dagger combo, respectively. Their armor and other gear was mostly black, drawing uncomfortable parallels with the poachers. From their waists hung a dull bronze coin with the numeral ‘I’ printed on it, held with a loop of red cloth. Charles wasn’t sure if that meant anything particular, but he did know one thing.

He did not like them. They smelled like pecking assholes and Charles decided he wanted nothing to do with them. ‘Or do I? Hmm…’ An amusing proposition began forming in his mind, one his instincts agreed with wholeheartedly the more he thought about it.

“Still, sucks that we didn’t get to the cart sooner, the Greenhorns are probably getting points for helping out at the scene.” The tallest man shook his head before spitting off to the side. “They don’t even need the points anymore. Easy credit just wasted.”

They moved forward, unknowingly shadowed from behind. “I got a brief glimpse inside. Might have been more trouble than it was worth.”

“What’d you see?” The scout asked, even as he led them along the trail, one that Charles recognized from his attack.

“The cart had a lot of bodies in it. And it looked like several Red Hawks. My bets on poachers, but something spooked the mules bad and they ran back to town.” The man uttered mirthlessly.

“Mohrgrum’s purse…” The big man murmured incredulously before becoming more confused, “But, how is that a bad thing then?”

The other four turned to look at him, three of them just shook their heads. Before he could get upset, the leader spoke up, “They’re a protected resource, for one, and two, with the shit going on in the capital, standing out too much isn’t going to do anyone any favors. But, if whoever in those carts was willing to share, the entire Greenhorns team just became nobility.”

The man nearly went green with envy at the statement, but didn’t speak anymore after that, much to Charles chagrin. That was potentially useful information, but they quickly came across the sight that Charles had left behind. A quiet kind of fury lit in him, though, at the thought that his siblings were someone's ticket to nobility.

“Well, body found, I guess.” The scout uttered, posture stiff as he walked around the corpse of the man that Charles had killed. “Decapitated. I don’t see where the head is.”

The others looked unsettled and queasy, especially the now-extremely pale man who had come across the body, whereas Charles found that he was remarkably coolheaded instead. Slowly he pushed forward as the scout peered around the area.

“There’s just… Nothing, no tracks. Whatever it was, it’s not leaving footprints.” That comment further unsettled the team, who immediately began looking up into the trees.

“Fuck, you think it’s a Necker?” The biggest man lowered himself with a bend of his knees, “I thought those were in the Daurghast only.”

“Maybe it migrated. But I don’t see any webs, so… maybe not a Necker.” Another of them spoke hopefully, “It’s too essence light around here for most of them, anyways.”

The leader paused in his examination to glance at the man, “You sure?”

“Positive, my aunt knows better ‘an most.” He peered closer at the trees, “Did anyone notice any webbing anywhere else?”

Silence greeted the man, who shrugged, “Necker’s hunt out an area before moving, but they always leave webs when they go. Plus, the body’s on the ground, not wrapped up for a late night snack.”

His nervous chuckle fell numbly on the silent group.

“Are we looting the body?” The scout asked aloud.

“You and your Samut’s cursed gambling debts,” the big man rumbled, “the least you could do is spend it better.”

“What, like with you and whats-her-face?” He quipped back, “She’s leading you on and has like three boyfriends.”

“Not anymore, I kicked their asses.” The man stated proudly, only for the rest of the group to turn to him and stare flatly.

“Right… Of course that’s the part you’re worried about.” The man with the shield and shortsword shook his head.

“Alright, Paul, bag the body, we’re taking it back. Taimin, any idea where the head’s at, yet?”

Taimin began looking around more, only for his eyes to widen in shock, “Hea-”

Then Charles plowed into him bodily, knocking him backwards with a heavy kick without essence. At the last moment, he curved his talons inward, though in a sense he felt that might have been just as painful. Charles honestly still just didn’t like the smell these ones put off. Objectively speaking, they weren’t the worst Charles could imagine, but that didn’t change the fact that there was something about them that rubbed him too far the wrong way.

However, when he felt a rib crack under his kick, he had to admit that, perhaps, he had been a little overzealous in the attack.

“Venris’ teeth!” Someone shouted, even as Charles ducked a reckless swipe from the leader’s mace. In return, Charles slapped him across the head with his arm, once more pulling in his talons. The man didn’t expect the strike at all, and tumbled down to the ground, his weapon separated from him by the dizzying blow.

The big man bellowed loudly and charged at Charles, followed up by the other two members of the team. For a moment, he feared he may have bitten off more than he could chew.

‘If I’m surrounded, I’ll be at a huge disadvantage,’ Thought Charles with a clinical edge as he dodged to the side, catching the slight edge of the large man's spear across his chest. It barely cut into his feathers, and Charles felt excitement rush through his blood as he counter struck with a sharp snap forward with his beak. He didn’t pour essence into the strike, but even so the impact thundered into the armguard on the man's right hand. He clenched his teeth, groaning with the blow, but held tightly to his spear.

His comrades both came from the same side, and Charles immediately exploited the maneuver by circling around the big man's other side, keeping them effectively out of the fight.

“Jorgen, get out of the way!” Shouted one as they tried to go forward. The big man grimaced as he gripped his spear, and shuffled to the side. Charles matched him step for step before darting forward. The man cursed as he pushed his spear in the way, keeping Charles from reaching his body. When Charles bit the spear directly and yanked hard, the man was nearly pulled off his feet, not expecting the motion.

With the spear thrown backwards into the forest, Charles stared at the man's shocked expression and snorted. Stunned as he was by that, he wasn’t ready at all when the Phorus kicked him in the chest flat-footed, sending him backwards into one of his teammates.

The fight was over rapidly afterwards as Charles charged the last man standing, ripping his weapon out of his grasp before turning and doing the same to the still tangled pair on the ground. He battered them around several times in between, managing to not use his claws, but he was positive they’d be bruised and feeling this for days.

‘Ah, that was surprisingly cathartic…’ Charles let out a long breath as the group lay on the ground, scattered and groaning in pain. He surveyed them, seeing that they were hardly fit for more fighting. Satisfaction rolled through him, but there was something else picking at the edge of his consciousness that he couldn’t quite place. Perhaps it was the moral question of whether this was the right thing to do. Perhaps he could have thought further on if it was fair for these people to have to bear the brunt of his frustrations…

Charles conveniently packed all of those little inane questions into a tight bundle and told them to squawk off. After all, his instincts positively sang at him that this was the good and proper way to handle his aggressions, his pain, and for the time being Charles was helpless to fix much of anything. Getting into town would require more thought, but he could do something else fun and relaxing in the meantime. It felt so pecking good to fight like this, and while his instincts pushed him to destroy them utterly, he didn’t want that.

Pausing in his stride, Charles noted the fact that his instincts were not so subtly also demanding that he murder these people for their transgressions. But, they hadn’t done anything wrong, they weren’t the ones who took his siblings. Shaking his head like a dog, Charles pushed the thought out of his head. He knew very well that he was trying not to think about how he couldn’t come up with any workable plan for getting to his family. But, he also wanted to lose himself in another task while he contemplated things. And so…

The Phorus was about to turn away, trilling to himself in a mock-happy tune, when he turned his attention to the now scattered weapons.

‘Mmm… Why not? Still plenty of room back home.’ Charles got to work, feeling a strange kinship with the blades and the act of claiming him. He began collecting them before trotting through the forest back to his nest.

 

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A note from Michael Adams

(As a small mention I'm feeling socially anxious of late, so you might see less of me for a few days, but I'm still lurking!)

 

Edit as of 05/24/2022


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