Battle of Haibi Chapter 16

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Previous: Battle of Haibi Chapter 15: Flying Lessons

Chapter 16 Willow Branch

Roku stirs from a dreamless sleep. Perhaps not so dreamless, for she feels strangely anxious, but any dreams she had, she can't remember. She gets up from her bed, swings her legs over the side of the bed and strikes a cart with them. "Ow!" she winces, wondering what in the blazes such a thing would be doing in her apartment.

<Oh, yeah,> she remembers, < I'm in Defense Tower Four's convalescence ward.> The fifth floor of the eight in the stone-forged cylindrical structure. She knows how to find the light switch, uses the cart as a walker, finds the door and turns on the light.

"Oohh!" she yelps, desperately covering her eyes and collapsing, "Itai!" Unable to remove her hands from her eyes to turn the light back off, and too unsteady to stand even if she could she cries, "Help!!"

"Roku," Kabocha bursts through the door, "What's wrong?"

"The light," she bawls, "My eyes hurt."

Kabocha turns the light off. Their halos are bright enough that he has no trouble navigating the room. "What are you doing out of bed in this condition?" he asks.

"Oops," she says.

Roku can hear his wings rustle, and the soft beep of his phone, both of his hands are still on her shoulders. She feels her eyes, relieved at the darkness.

Hagane answers the call. After Kabocha explains the situation, the doctor answers, <The good news is that she's healing up, but we need at least forty-eight hours before we can expect her to see again. Use the scanner to check her eye pressure and make sure the swelling is under control. Give her another NSAID if it isn't.>

Kabocha repeats the report for Roku. She nods, and let's her boss help her back into bed. "Who flew?" she asks at last.

"Every young feather in Haibi. Tori was the eldest. Two hundred and fifty-four in all," Kabocha sighs, "The biggest Day of Flight in Haibi's history."

"Tori's gone?" Roku blurts in disbelief.

Kabocha nods.

"Tell me!" Roku demands, "Has Tori really left?"

"Yes, he's gone," Kabocha says with a blush Roku can feel the heat of, "Sorry. I forgot you couldn't see me nod."

Roku weeps, her tears made ever the more so by her sore eyes, "Who's looking after the crows?"

"Crows?" Kabocha asks.

"There were three injured crows in his aviary at the west end of the north wing of Western University," Roku says, "Who's looking after them?"

"I'll ask," Kabocha says, then makes a call, asks her question, and says, "Shinzoo is looking after the injured crows. He says there are four; that Tori found one last night and brought him back before he went for his Day of Flight." Kabocha listens further, then says, "This one, Juunanaban according to Tori's numbering system, was found in the Western Grove with severe dehydration, but no signs of injury or frostbite."

"That's really strange," Roku says, "Unless he ... flew over the siege forces." Roku stands, "Take me to Western University, I should get my eyes checked out there anyway."

"Seems rather odd that a Defender would come here in full armor," Kammy remarks.

Kabocha is guiding his unrecognizable companion to a waiting room chair. The Defender reaches for the armrest before taking a seat.

"We needed it to protect her eyes," Kabocha explains, "This is Roku. She saw last night's Day of Flight through optical binoculars. Her eyes are very sensitive to light right now."

"I'll put her on the MRI right now," Kammy offers, "This way, please."

By the light of only their halos and the glowing screens of the machine, they get Roku out of her Washi mask and hood. The robe generates too much interference in the machine, so they help her out of it completely. Reduced to a thermal jumpsuit, Kammy activates the scanner.

"They are healing up rather quickly," Kammy says, "They'll be sore for a few days, and you can try starting on low light tomorrow afternoon"

"When will she be able to get back to work?" Kabocha asks.

"Monday at the earliest," Kammy says, "Your cone cells are in relatively good shape, but your rods are badly damaged and need to recover. You should get a supplement with the appropriate micronutrients. I'd prescribe one if I had the authority."

"Straight out of the herbal garden in the Defense Tower already," Roku says, "The medic already prescribed it."

"Then why did you make the trip all the way out here?" Tammy wonders in annoyance, "You should be in bed, young lady."

"I need to see Juunanaban," Roku says, "I think he has ... I uh ... can't say why actually."

"Number seventeen what?" Tammy asks, "Shoe size?"

"The crows," Kabocha says, "You know, Tori's crows?"

"Tori's not in today," Kammy says, "Don't hold your breath either ... They're acting like he's never coming back."

"Of course," Roku sighs, "He was in last night's Flight."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Kammy sighs, "Shinzoo uh ... brought them in out of the cold. They're in the arboretum."

The arboretum doesn't quite match the description, being a semi-private room four metres by six metres with a single tree and a skylight. Hagane got creative in repairing the damage caused by his cocoon. When Kammy looks, she can only see one: Juurokuban with the white splint on his wing.

"Leave us, please," Roku says, then asks, "Oh, uh, Miss? If there is a camera, can you disable it please? We need to discuss something very sensitive."

"Sure," she says.

Kabocha tells Roku when the camera's light has gone out.

"Hi, fellas," Roku says sheepishly, "I have with me, Kabocha, Commander Sector Four. I trust him."

Kabocha gets really nervous, "Uh, Roku, who are you talking to? It's just me and these crows." He notices that one of the crows is flexing his toes.

"Nick," Freddo signs, "What the heck are we supposed to do?"

"Nod like a cockatiel?" Nick signs.

Three of the birds start bobbing their heads and whistling.

"You guys," Tess signs, then hangs her head.

"I'm sorry," Roku weeps, "I can't see you. I got blinded by last night's Day of Flight."

"They're bobbing their heads," Kabocha says, "I've never seen anything like it."

"I'll take that as a yes," Roku says.

The birds immediately stop their strange dance.

"Juunanaban?" Roku asks, "Spread a wing, show him who you are."

Nick spreads a wing..

"Bring him here please," Roku says to Kabocha, then to the birds, "I know some Toganese ... I hope ... I hope we can use it somehow to get your message, Juunananban. You risked your life to get over the siege and almost died. It must be important."

Roku holds up her hands. Nick jumps from Kabocha hands to Roku's.

"If you have some way of communicating in Toganese, spell the first few characters so I can understand," Roku asks.

Kabocha stares in fascination, unable to understand what the crow is doing. Roku asks him to try again, then say she gets it. The almost continuous stream of tears from her eyes thickens.

"Seventh?" she asks, "Seventh day, January?"

Nick shifts his feet, then tries again.

"Saturday," Roku says at last, "December twenty-first. Thirty kilometres." Roku gasps, her hands dropping an inch, "No ... that can't be." Suddenly she moves her hands slightly towards Kabocha, "Take him," she asks.

The bird hops into Kabocha hands. Kabocha is fascinated by the way the bird stomps on his palm with various spreads of his toes, but he doesn't understand.

Roku is bawling, her face buried in her hands, obviously distraught beyond words.

"What is he saying?" Kabocha asks. The crow seems frustrated that the elder haibane can't understand his foot gestures.

"This Saturday ... the day after tomorrow," she cries, "They've brought their best warriors from all over the world, gathered thirty kilometres deep in all directions. On the solstice ... Saturday, they're going to hit us with everything they have."

Kabocha reels. Nick flies from his hands back to the branch in the tree, barely catching it with his tired feet.

"I can't believe it was that easy," Freddo signs.

"Sorry, fella," Kabocha says to the bird. He keys his phone with his wing, "Hagane, Samurai, meet me in the cafeteria on the first floor of the north wing of Western University as soon as you can get here ... Samurai, take a flyer, it's that important."

Roku's still crying, "What are we going to do? God, what are we going to do?"

Next: Battle of Haibi Chapter 17: Training

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