A small raven flew to its nest, its black wings beating, disturbing the still air of the night. The moon in the sky was no more than a crescent and the stars were hidden by dark clouds. The streets of the town were lit, a waste perhaps as there was no one about. The streetlamps made a hum that was almost silent and a few were blinking lights, dying out. Those dying lights were out of place in a town where the homes were identical and barely had a weed out of place in the lawns.
The raven settled in a nest that was situated in a fork of a maple tree. It was a nest for one large raven or two small ravens. The leaves of the tree were dying with the change of season and many had already fallen to the ground, littering the manicured lawn which the tree was situated on. Another raven was seemingly asleep in the nest but the first raven knew better, though ravens were not nocturnal creatures.
The first raven chirruped. Rayv’n, it is time for you to leave. The raven was not comfortable saying this to the other but it wasn’t happy sharing the nest either. The raven which had spoken was slightly ashamed in asking Rayv’n to leave but Rayv’n was not to stay here. The bird felt that Rayv’n should be with her own kind.
The second bird gave no response. It seemed as though it had barely heard its companion. The bird that had spoken moved closer, about to repeat the words when Rayv’n flew from the nest and onto the ground, noticing her surroundings. Nobody was out as it was the middle of the night and in an estate like this, everyone was asleep.
But where a raven once was, there was now a teenage girl who bore no resemblance to a raven. Her blond hair was almost white, a sharp contrast to the black of the bird. Her hair would have seemed long if the girl hadn’t been short.
She stretched her arms over her head but they came back down and covered her mouth as she yawned. Sleeping in the form of a raven wasn’t entirely comfortable but she could catch up on sleeping later. She glanced back at the nest in the maple tree, but the raven was already asleep.
“My name is Yuki, not Rayv’n,” she muttered. The bird couldn’t hear her but even if it could, it wouldn’t understand. Yuki had spoken in the language of her village, of Rubicund-Chi. She crouched to the base of the tree, tucking a loose lock of blond hair behind her ear.
The soil that had been recently dug up was still damp from the night's rain. This made it easier for Yuki to dig up the soil again, not caring for the dirt that was gathering in her nails. She pulled a rucksack out of the ground, shook it which dislodged the loose dirt and swung it over her shoulder. It wasn’t a large bag and carried the little amount of possessions Yuki had brought with her but still she guarded it well.
She didn’t bother to cover up any traces of her being there but it did not matter as she would be long gone. She had been in the town for two nights and a day but had already flown to take note of the nearest shuttle station. It was her only means of transport and she wanted to arrive quickly to the country of Rutas.
Yuki had considered flying to Rutas but she had never seen it on a map, and would easily get lost. Besides, how would she carry her belongings?
The shuttle station was not far from the nest where Yuki had rested, which was why Yuki had chosen that particular tree. It meant a quick getaway in case anything happened. Although Yuki would rather stay and fight at the first chance.
She made her way to the shuttle station in silence, her footsteps the only noise at the dead of the night. As she approached the ticket office, her left hand hovered over her leg instinctively where a knife was strapped to her leg.
The station was a large building in comparison to the buildings in Yuki’s village, but was considerably small for a shuttle station. It reminded Yuki of pictures she had seen in a book of Earth’s railway stations.
Inside the building was empty, and the sound of Yuki’s footsteps echoed as she made her way to the ticket office. The man in the booth was the same man that had sold Yuki a ticket a few days before.
The man glanced at Yuki, narrowing his brown eyes for a moment, before glancing at the ticket that Yuki had slid onto the desk. From the expression on his face, it was almost as though he expected the ticket to explode. The man drew his hand and almost poked the ticket but seemed to think better of it.
“Name?” he asked Yuki.
Yuki couldn’t help but stare at the man – her eyes barely reached over the desk. He had asked the same question the day she had bought the ticket; surely he could remember her name. Even if he didn’t, he could easily have read the ticket for Yuki’s name.
“Yuki Bell.” Yuki stopped herself from making a comment.
“Date and month of birth?”
This information was also on the ticket and Yuki felt that this question was even more pointless than the first. The man in the booth didn’t need to know when she was born. “21st December.” The man checked the information on the ticket. “Why?” Yuki spoke in English as the man had asked her the questions in English. She didn’t add anything to her question.
The man blinked once and then twice before repeating what had been asked to him. “Why?”
Yuki nodded but was confused in her mind. Couldn’t this man understand what she had asked?
“Why?” The man asked again, looking baffled. “It’s a matter of security, little miss. Anyone could pretend to be someone else. The rules clearly state that these questions must be asked.”
Yuki nearly growled at the man. She didn’t appreciate being called little or miss. Calling her both would be asking her to cut your fingers off. The reason that the man had given Yuki seemed stupid to her. Anyone could easily have memorized the information on the ticket.
The man must have been happy with the answers that Yuki had given him as he ripped the ticket, handing half of it to Yuki and keeping the other half. Yuki stared at the piece given to her as the man told her which shuttle she was to take.
“Silver Arrow at Platform 6.” He pointed in the direction.
Yuki glanced at the direction that the man was pointing to and then turned towards the man to thank him.
Platform 6 was 2 flights of stairs and 1 long corridor away. The shuttle was waiting on the tracks. It was a large, metal structure, and streamlined. A faded picture of a target with three arrows was on the side of the shuttle facing her. The lettering of the name was hard to make out in the dim light given off by the lights at the platform. The door to the shuttle hissed as it opened and it closed itself after Yuki stepped inside. The shuttle was windowless and smelt odd. Seats for more than 30 people lined the walls and above the seats were luggage racks. There were only 2 others in the shuttle.
Yuki looked at the luggage rack and tightened her grip on her bag. She sat down and was immediately buckled by the seat. She tugged at the buckles, loosening them but to no effect. She wriggled uncomfortably before deciding there was nothing she could do.
She studied the passenger sitting in a seat opposite her. It was a beady eyed woman, her blonde hair cut in a short bob and her clothes of a businesswoman’s. Her eyes were rimmed with red and saying she looked tired was an understatement. The woman was staring at the other passenger in disgust.
The old man was muttering to himself and picking at his clothes which looked like they needed a good wash. The old man looked up, almost as if he could feel the stares coming in his direction. He grinned, showing teeth that were rotten.
A female voice crackled and Yuki almost jumped in surprise.
“Could all passengers please remain seated?” The voice said the question so that it was more of an order. “Welcome to the air shuttle, Silver Arrow, one of Cameo Enterprises designer shuttles. All passengers should begin to prepare for take-off. Emergency procedure leaflets and entertainment brochures are available under passenger seats. We will now be taking off in ten…”
Yuki scanned around her, the woman was almost drifting off to sleep and Yuki couldn’t understand how anyone could go to sleep with the bodiless voice booming a countdown.
“Eight, seven, six, five, four, three.”
Yuki took in a deep breath and clutched the sides of her seat.
Yuki waited for an explosion and a fast jerking of sorts.
Nothing happened and Yuki felt disappointed. Yuki wasn’t even sure that the shuttle had taken off. There was no explosion. There was no sudden jerk. There was no whirring of mechanics. For a few moments, there was silence. It was an eerie silence – a silence which made Yuki feel like she was about to die. She pushed away the thought just as the voice came back.
“Take off successful.”
Yuki let go of a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding. The business woman was asleep, giving off gentle snores and the man had taken to his mutterings again. Yuki leaned as forward as the seat buckles would allow her, reaching under her seat for the leaflets the voice had mentioned. There were 2 – one depicting what to do in an emergency, the other was the entertainment brochure. It wasn’t very entertaining. There were words, all in English that Yuki barely understood. The pictures were different images of the shuttle, some taken at platforms, others showing the shuttle in mid-air, gliding over blue seas. Yuki seemed to gather that the shuttle moved through the air without noise, powered by some sort of blue flames.
“Are you Cley’s daughter?” The man asked, pointing a finger at Yuki.
Yuki took in a deep breath, calming herself before answering the man’s question with the answer she had given to all of his other questions. “No.”
The man looked surprised and then put a finger to his lips, deep in thought.
Yuki didn’t know how long she had been in the shuttle and how long it was until she arrived in Rutas. She did know that this old man who she was in the same shuttle with was irritating her. The woman in the shuttle was still asleep. Yuki was grateful she could speak to someone and she felt that she would rather speak with the crazy guy who thought he knew her than with the stern woman.
“Are you Stella’s daughter?”
“Look old man. I’m not anyone’s daughter so shut up!” It took Yuki a moment to realize that she had shouted at the man in Russian, and her accent had caused her to sound angrier than she was. The man seemed to shrink back and the woman slept on.
Yuki regretted shouting at the man for she had no one to talk to now. She sank back in her chair and lowered her head. The man had started to ramble again but she took no notice as the shuttle continued to fly through the air.
It was only a few minutes until Yuki heard a noise that weren’t snores or mumbles. It was a noise that was best described as bang and came from the roof. Yuki raised her head towards the ceiling, almost wishing she had eyes that could see through metal.
The noise came again, louder, and to the left of where the first noise came from. Yuki winced at the noise as it rang in her ears.
In the moments that followed, a hatch in the roof was opened with a harsh sound, a sound which made Yuki want to curl up into a foetal position and cover her ears, a sound which made Yuki wish for one moment that was no noise in the world.
The noise echoed in her ears as someone dropped from the hole in the roof. The figure was clad in black, the hood to the wearer’s jacket pulled up. It was only when the figure faced Yuki that the figure become a person. Tufts of brown hair escaped the hood and covered most of the girl’s face, but the dark markings were visible. The markings reminded Yuki of rivers, flowing from the right side of the girl’s face.
The girl stared at Yuki, narrowing her eyes, as if deciding whether or not Yuki was an enemy. Yuki’s hand instinctively went to her leg, where her knife was strapped, but the restraint of the belt prevented her from any further movement.
The girl took no notice of the other two passengers; it was almost as if they didn’t exist. Yuki glanced in the direction of the old man and the businesswoman to see the two slumped in their seats, deep asleep. Yuki’s gaze went back to the girl but the girl had turned her attention to the roof of the shuttle.
The girl whistled. A signal. “Slightly disappointed that my sources lied to me.”
No, the whistle wasn’t a signal.
The girl continued, grinning twistedly. “Two humans. One who could barely keep a job by the looks of it, the other barely knows what a job is. Rekya, you are a liar!” The last sentence was shouted.
The girl jumped up, grabbing the edge of the opening with both hands before dragging something from the roof into the shuttle.
It was a young man, his light hair wild, his hands and feet bounded.
The girl continued to speak to the man, Rekya. “You lied to me. And if you were under anyone else’s command, they would’ve sliced you apart.” The words were spoken slowly and through clenched teeth. The girl kicked at the man, making a sickening crunch and Yuki audibly winced. The girl looked up to Yuki, as if noticing her for the first time. “You’re a Guardian, right? You must be. You’re not dead.” The girl nodded in the direction of the two other passengers. “Unlike those two.”
Yuki seemed oblivious to the fact she had been asked a question; she was still playing her game. Her mind picked at the sentence, trying to make sense of the English that was foreign to her.
“You’re armed.” The girl’s voice was just audible, and held slight surprise. For Shadow, which was the girl’s name, this was a waste of her time. Shadow had much better things to do and she preferred to prepare for battle than be sent on a goose chase. But orders were orders. “Although, it’s not as if you can do any harm. You probably couldn’t defend yourself in a fight against a chicken. You’re not even an Academy student.” Shadow scoffed.
Upon realising what Shadow had said, Yuki growled. She didn’t take insults lightly. “I suggest you shut up or I’ll rip off your arm and shove it so far down your throat that it’ll be sticking out your ars-”
Shadow laughed. “I guess you could be useful unlike Rekya here. I’d prefer you stay alive, so I’m going to give you a bit of advice.” Shadow moved closer to the hatch opening, preparing to leave. “This shuttle’s going to blow up, you should spread your wings, little Guardian.” Shadow jumped up again, grabbing the hatch and pulling herself up to the roof. She then peered over, and spoke again, wanting to confirm any doubts, “Are you Yuki Bell?”
Yuki, who had been staring up at the hatch, nodded, and waited for the girl to speak again, but she was gone.
Yuki heard a soft hiss and felt her seat unbuckle. She breathed in deeply, glad of being liberated from the ridiculous contraption. She mentally reminded herself to avoid the seat belts and she made sure her knife was still strapped to her leg. She gripped the strap of her bag with her teeth and decided to take Shadow’s advice.
Groaning could be heard from Rekya, but Yuki decided to abandon him. He could save himself. It took four jumps for Yuki to successfully grab and climb through the hatch, her height being an inconvenience. It took her much longer than she would’ve liked to make it safely on the roof of the shuttle.
The wind whistled past her ears and the air was cold. Yuki couldn’t see past a few metres and for the first time, she wondered how they had got to the shuttle.
In the dark, she shuffled forward, keeping her balance on the roof of the shuttle. But she had moved to far and fell from the edge of the shuttle.
The shuttle had been suspended over 50 metres above the ocean and Yuki willed herself to change to her raven form.
Yuki had always made a full transformation into a bird, so when large wings that resembled those of a raven’s, spouted from the gap between her shoulder blades, it was a new experience. She managed to fly from the sea that was inches before her. A throbbing pain began to form in her back.
But at that moment, she didn’t care. She had to make it to Rutas.
For Yuki Bell was a Guardian. And from her village, that was a curse.