Chapter 7:

The Beaked Beasts

Keio (9-K-O-512)

Time: Daytime, afternoon
Location: Giant spruce, top
Health: Weak but rested
Additional effects - enhanced nature-vision
Energy reserves: Somatic interface offline

I descend along the spider-silk after Little-Friend until I reach a larger branch. It waits for me there, wagging its two rat-tails and clacking its mandibles, as if waiting for instructions. And so we move one after the other, from branch to branch, sometimes passing formicas hurrying to and fro. Suddenly the whistle of wings and piercing cawing interrupts our journey. Little-Friend flees into the thicket of branches; two sharp beaks snap shut where it sat a moment ago. Only then do I see that these two beasts are actually one – both hate-filled bird heads share one body, one pair of wings. Little-Friend snuggles up to me and I notice that one of its rat-tails has fallen prey to the ravens. I scratch it soothingly. I gather spruce sap seeping from the branches and smear it onto Little-Friend's tail stump. I tear a piece of smart-fabric and glue it on top of the tail's remains. I don't know if it helps, but Little-Friend lets me work without protest.

There are more and more chattering birds. The branches around us shake dangerously. I peer between the supporting boughs – there seems to be a larger nexus of trunks. All the junctions are full of bundles of dry twigs, giving off a sharp organic stink. Bright blue eggs flash in the middle of the bundles, in cavities bolstered with feathers.

We have landed straight in a ravens' nest!

The threatening cries grow lowder and once again, wings rattle our sanctuary. It seems the ravens won't let us go without a fight.

But what use is fighting? A giant bird would devour Little-Friend in one bite and my shaking hands are no threat even to their eggs. I fumble for the pouch full of parasitic mushrooms gathered near the cloud line. Just thinking of the shrooms makes my throat parched with thirst. But there's no other way out. None except the might of the forest!

I chew the truffle carefully.

When I can see clearly again, I feel the giant spruce's encouraging bulk pulse around me. The spruce is like a green sky pillar, connecting us to the ground, protecting, calming. But the ravens' lively scurrying shapes glow bright red. I feel I couldn't bend any of them to my will, even if I could get close enough. We mean no harm. I try to form my thoughts into a feel-shape. Let us pass. I climb carefully out of the thicket, under the open sky.

The glowing red splotches pull away from us, although the ravens still screech.

Slowly, very slowly, I inch toward the outer branches, Little-Friend behind me. I consider the spruce trunk's patterns and map out a good path in my mind.

I snap my fingers – shoot some string, Little-Friend!

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