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King of the Sky

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Fishers join him. Hunters join him. Everyone with a will to use their talons stands with their king, and so the raids begin. Tibarn does not think of this as harsh. It is simple justice.

Most of the humans fight back, but their resistance means little. Sooner or later, they all sink below the railings as their masts keel over. The flag of Begnion is torn between young hawks for sport, and Tibarn joins them in their hearty laughter.

Phoenicis’ time of poverty ends, and prosperity reaches even those back on the island. One ship is loaded with leather and shoes, and an old huntress cries with joy when she finds a pair that could fit her son. The shoes are of human sizes, but a mender promises he can customize some of the leather to fit Tibarn, and he’s not one to decline such a kind offer.

Another ship carries linen and finery. Among the cargo are a few pieces of sturdy cloth in an array of colors. And one in particular catches Tibarn’s interest. He brings it with him up on deck, and waves it like a banner.

It is a coat, a very large one, and pearlescent green.

“I wanted something just like this when I was a lad!” Tibarn hollers, and his crew cheers as he cuts the back open to make room for his wings before he dons it. It is a powerful kind of green, and with the red of his scarf around his hips, he’s a figure all will see and recognize. And most importantly, fear.

 

---

 

They become known as the Shipless Pirates. It is the name the Begnion crews cry when they’re targeted, and Tibarn likes the ring of it. He would prefer Begnion’s Bane or something the like, because it is only Begnion ships that he targets. Small fishing boats, Gallian flags and Crimean flags are all off the hook.

“They have done us no ill”, the Heron King Lorazieh had pleaded with Tibarn from his sickbed. King Lorazieh acts a lot like a heron in that regard.

Reyson, on the other hand, acts the part of a hawk child with all of their recklessness and none of their bulk. And just like a hawk child, he ends up in the healer’s ward too often to count.

“I’ll go with you, one day”, Reyson occasionally says, with tight fists. “I’ll make them pay!”

“Hm”, is Tibarn’s only response every time, and it is a disapproving kind of ‘hm’.

“At least let me fly overseas and fetch my own food!” Reyson insists. “Or let me be useful and talk to the Ravens. This sitting around is… humiliating!”

“You’d have to be able to make it off the island, first”, Tibarn shrugs.

Reyson opens his mouth as to claim he already has, and Tibarn hastily adds; “In one piece, Reyson!”

And Reyson clams his mouth shut again, but not without an angry glare.

 

---

 

The years pass by, and while it comes to Tibarn’s attention that the ravens have taken the opportunity to become Shipless Pirates as well, he does not fight them over it. He’s made sure to show them he disapproves by roughing up a few ravens that targeted a ship of Crimeans, but he has no time to go out of his way to defend any nations other than his own. If the ravens breach into his territory he will kill if he has to, which he is sure they know. It has not yet come to such extremes, which is a good call on the ravens’ end.

Winter storms pass into spring rain, again and again. The heron king gets sicker, while Reyson steadily grows stronger. With twenty more years to his name, Reyson has finally been able to master the ocean winds and is able to fly back and forth between Kilvas and Phoenicis. Reyson is one of the only ones that tolerates King Naesala’s presence, since ravens had been close to herons both geographically and politically before the massacre. Although not even Reyson is very welcome in raven halls in later years, something that greatly upsets him.

“Naesala has never been anything but kind to me and my family”, Reyson says as he paces Tibarn’s halls. “Ten years ago he said he was happy I acted as the hawk-missive these days, and he told me he was interested in broadening the Phoenicis trade… And now he doesn’t even let me through the border! What’s he thinking?”

Tibarn grunts and shrugs. Naesala changes his mind with the weather, that is nothing new and it is all the same to Tibarn. With the waters safer Tibarn can send his merchants back out into the world. And having Kilvas no longer be the most viable trading option, he will not bother with Naesala’s petty schemes.

Though perhaps there is more reason behind the raven king’s choices than mere pettiness – said merchants have jokingly called themselves Phoenicis spies, and Tibarn cannot disagree. Information bleeds into his kingdom naturally, the keenness of his people working in their favor. With proper knowledge the pieces of a large puzzle fall into place, and Tibarn is a spider in the net of the world. The only one that will not yield any valid information is none other than the old Naesala himself, and the Goldoan dragons.

What he gets is still plenty. The changes in the world overseas are wilder than ever before.

War, the humans say, in every corner of the beorc world. Daein invades its neighbor Crimea and lays waste to the whole place. Tibarn cares not about that, but once Gallia, a fellow laguz nation, is invaded by the madness of Daein, he perks his ears and sharpens his talons.

 

The winds are indeed shifting. A note carried by dragon’s magic finds him even as he is out searching for Begnion ships to raid in the middle of the ocean. It sticks to his feathers and will not leave him alone until he shifts to his beorc form and tears it open.

The letters are golden, at least before saltwater sprays onto them and melts the whole thing into a soggy kind of grey. Parchment is not meant to last out in the sea, but even so, Tibarn folds what remains and sticks it inside his coat.

It is an invitation. The ancient king Dheginsea will allow him to pass over the borders to Goldoa, as part of a call for all laguz kings to assemble. For what purpose, the letter did not say, but Tibarn has a pretty good guess. The entire world is abuzz with the whispers of war, so there’s hardly any other reason for the dragons to get involved with the outside world.

Goldoa has not concerned themselves with their laguz neighbors since the beginning of history and the Great Calamity some eight hundred years back. As Tibarn turns around to return to Phoenicis, he ponders the possibility to ignore the missive and stay in his own lane, but he could not do such a thing. It is far too exciting a prospect – and in truth, stepping in place does not suit him. This is a leap, a plunge right into the action, and he is ready for it.

 

Reyson’s father has received a letter as well, which Tibarn learns once he returns home from his raid (with five leather satchels in his arms, filled with all kinds of spices). Tibarn walks to the heron kings chamber with purpose, and as he enters, Reyson is already there as well. The letter sticks to King Lorazieh’s fingers as he pulls it out to show his son, and Tibarn sees the same excitement glisten in Reyson’s eyes as Tibarn feels himself.

King Lorazieh cannot move more than three steps from his bed, and it is unspoken that Reyson will be the one to travel to the dragons in his place.

“To be granted entrance to Goldoa”, Reyson mutters as he reads the short invitation once more. “It’s been forbidden territory for almost a millenia. I can’t help but wonder what they want.” He lowers the shimmering piece of parchment, and lifts his chin. “Not that those dragons frighten me, mind you.”

“You’ve got the heart of a hawk”, Tibarn smirks at him.

Reyson scoffs back, but he does not object. He simply smiles a little bit, still with his eyes on the letter.

 

---



The dragons have chosen a desert ruin as their place to meet. The sand whirls in the wind and blends together with dropped feathers of soft black, dark brown and seafoam green. Shimmering white feathers glisten like snow as Reyson follow Tibarn and his retainers down toward the ground.

The dragon monarch Dheginsea stands in his beorc form, as does the dragon prince and the King of Lions Caineghis. Their guardians stay in a transformed state, dragons with glistering scales and tigers and cats with keen eyes – it’s a way to demonstrate power, as royalty does. Thus, Tibarn and Reyson are the only ones to shift, while Janaff and Ulki remain as they are behind them, cocking their heads and slamming their beaks.

King Naesala, however, comes alone. He seems more concerned with how the desert winds handle his hair than the show of power around him, and he stays quiet, his arms crossed while he waits.

The purpose of this gathering is evident as soon as Dheginsea speaks. It’s about the beorc war, and Tibarn will happily share what he knows – if they ask him, that is. He would rather stand and observe them all, first.

The King of Lions tell stories Tibarn already know through his spies, of the Mad King in Daein that would destroy Crimea, Gallia’s human ally, and has now turned to Gallia itself. The Lion king even calls the mad king monstrous, which is rich coming from a laguz with a mane wider than Tibarn’s shoulders.

The reasons for the mad king’s actions remain clouded, but it is no secret to any of the kings present that he seeks the last heir to the Criman throne, a young princess. And as Tibarn claims to know that her whereabouts are concealed from Daein in Begnion – because what goes around in Begnion is very much his business – Naesala finally speaks.

“Your information is dated, hawk king!” He flicks his wings and smiles the smile Tibarn knows is meant to provoke, yet it always succeeds. “Have your legendary eyes and ears abandoned you after all these years?”

Tibarn glares at him. If the Raven thinks he can provide to the conversation after years of silence, he’s welcome to try for all Tibarn cares.

“You have something you wish to say?”

“Polite as always”, Naesala chuckles. “Very well, I’ll indulge you – Princess Elincia spent two long months at sea, arriving in Begnion mere days ago, that much is correct, but what old Tibarn’s spies have apparently failed to make known, is that these events are no secret to Daein at all. The mad king has dispatched a team of hunters to make a corpse of the girl, while the attack on Gallia… Well, you harboring the princess is just an excuse for a bit of laguz-killing, I imagine. And that, dear kings, is the latest news...At least, to the best of my poor knowledge.”

“Daein knows the princess is in Begnion?” the king of lions proclaims, his mane frizzled. “King Kilvas, how did you come to possess this information?”

“Why, there's no trick to it”, Naesala shrugs. “I just perk up my ears and...point them in the right direction.”

Tibarn has had just enough of this nonsense – he’d come to discuss politics, not coddle with the veiled words of the Raven King.

“You expect us to believe that a stray wind carried it to your ears? This is an odd tale, Naesala.”

“Hmm?” Naesala hums, clearly pleased with the provocation. “Do you think so? Well, there is one trick to information gathering that I know. Shall I share it with you, bird to bird?”

Tibarn scoffs and crosses his arms. “I know your tricks, crow. If it involves dealing with human scum, I'll pass. Forgoing my laguz pride is not something I'm willing to do, unlike you.”

Naesala laughs, tensing his wings and shoulders.

“Ha!” he snarls. “Is that not always the way of Phoenicis, to cling to those last tattered remnants of pride? Instead of proclaiming that you will attack none but Begnion ships, just admit that you don't have the power to do more!”

What did you say?”

Tibarn can stand for many things, but to have a greasy raven spout ill of his nation in front of every laguz king is more than he can stomach, and Janaff and Ulki are clearly of the same mind. Their feathers on end, they merge their cries with his.

“Both of you will desist at once!” The voice of the dragon king rumbles over them. “We did not come here to listen to petty bird squabbles!”

Tibarn backs down, but Janaff’s coat remains ruffled in indignation, and Reyson has clenched his fists so tightly the skin on his knuckles looks as if it will break.

The dragon king’s harsh words are directed mostly at Naesala, which the raven takes with a bored, blank face and an empty ‘I’ll take your words to heart’. And once the dragon turns to Tibarn, his own face is just as blank.

“And you, King Phoenicis. What good will your piracy do you if it earns the wrath of Begnion? Continue at this pace, and there's no telling when the hostilities will end.”

Tibarn has never met a dragon before, but he’s somehow not at all surprised that they’re this preachy.

“Until the people of Begnion apologize for the slaughter of our kindred herons, I will do no such thing”, he answers simply.

“Prince Reyson of Serenes? Are you of the same mind?”

Reyson does not release his fists, only clenches them tighter. “Those humans burned Serenes Forest and killed my people. No amount of human blood can slake my thirst for vengeance. For my siblings, for my countrymen, I demand justice. I cannot even return my bedridden father to our forest home!  I am no soldier. I know nothing of war, so King Phoenicis acts in my stead. I am most grateful to him, and I would not see him stop until Begnion has paid.”

Tibarn cannot omit how it warms his heart, even in the midst of clashing wills, that Reyson would speak good of him. The dragon king is clearly not impressed, but the goal was not to impress, just to state the truth. “Blood leads only to blood”, he scolds them. “And violence begets violence. Nothing more. Revenge is simply another name for murder.”

The dragon king looks away, and misses how Reyson rolls his eyes to the heavens. Tibarn doesn’t.

“And you, king of lions?” he continues. “What will you do about your home of Gallia? Now that you know Daein's feint toward Gallia is merely another move in his game of war, how will you act?”

“If it's the first step towards eradicating this human scum”, Tibarn adds, “Phoenicis will help you destroy Daein.”

“No”, Caineghis says. “We will wait. Unless this becomes a true war among all nations, I want you to stay your hand. There is no need for you to get involved. As long as Gallia is protected by the sea of trees, we can stave off Daein's attacks on our own.”

Tibarn ignores the dark gaze the dragon king is giving him, and rests a hand on his hip with a lazy smile at Caineghis.

“Well”, he says. “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”