8 Fortress Gates

Seran smiled, "Just some ordinary travelers that happened to rescue you before the bandits found you." Etienne gave the 10-year-old boy a withering look at the 'ordinary' part, which the latter ignored.

The little boy's mismatched eyes opened widely as he tried to get up quickly, "The bandits!" As he did so, he caused himself to fall back down, as his legs had been numb for a long time. This made Storm's inner protectiveness kick in as he cautiously nuzzled the boy, who was briefly stunned at the giant bird, and at the crow's evident worry.

"Don't worry, kiddo. The bandits are all dead. Burnt to ash a good several hours down the road," Etienne gave the boy a sympathetic look, "Besides, Storm here wouldn't let you leave without him if you did want revenge."

The enormous crow snorted indignantly, "Like hell I'd let him run off to die. He'd die in a heartbeat. I'd rather keep him safe." The exceptionally protective attitude of Storm surprised, and soothed, the younger boy. Of course, part of the surprise came from the fact that the bird could talk.

The 10-year-old Seran sighed, "I really don't want you to see this, but you should know about your company... and I believe, your parents."

The boy's two-colored eyes stared at Seran with evident shock, worry and a smidgen of hope, which pained the older boy to see, "My parents? Are they okay? Where are they?" When he got silence in response, with 3 beings staring into the fire, eventually he figured out why they didn't speak. Tears immediately began to form as he quietly began to cry. Storm comfortingly curled a wing around the boy, who began to sob into the bird's side.

"If you think you're strong enough to, you can see your parents bodies... but I recommend you don't. All I can do is give you something to remember them by," Seran said as he took out a jade pendant and a red ring. He calmly walked over to give the items to the boy, "The pendant was your mother's, the ring was your father's. These, along with all the other things on their person, belong to you now."

Etienne looked solemnly into the flames, "If you no longer have a home anymore, you can come and live in our village. It's probably the safest place within several kingdoms of here. Storm there is just one of our village's proud protectors." The bird in question puffed his chest in pride, which made the tear-faced boy giggle in surprised amusement. "Have you ever heard the story of the Gateway Village? Or the tale of Edric Greenwood?" He did his best to distract the boy from his sorrow.

"Gateway Village..? Greenwood... I think so..." The boy thought for a long time, as his memory wasn't very good. After a time, he squeaked rather adorably, "You mean the secret village that's protected by a guardian spirit? In the forest?"

"That's the one. I'm the village chief, Etienne Greenwood, and 5th generation descendant of the founder, Edric Greenwood. Seran here is our village's genius, and he's just like you. He came to us, pretty close to death, and we took him in. Storm liked him immediately. He didn't leave nan's roof until Seran woke up." The bird then looked away when Seran stared at him. Etienne continued, "You don't have to come with us, but if you do, you'll be a part of our big family. I'd bet my title as village chief that nan would give all 3 of us some good hard knocks if we left you alone."

The white-haired boy shivered, "Nan doesn't hold back... anyway, you'll be my little brother if you want to come with us. You won't be alone. There are several other kids in the village, you'll love it."

The little boy looked down at the pendant and ring, then up at Storm, then the two next to the fire. "My parents were my only family... I've seen orphanages in the cities..."

Seran sighed deeply, "You'd still be better off in an orphanage than living how I did in the slums. I'd rather you come back with us to the village. The entire village will immediately love you, I guarantee it. Especially Nan."

The little boy cocked his head a little, "Who's Nan?" After Seran explained who Nan was, the boy's eyes lit up, "Really? She's the blessed girl from the stories?"

"Indeed. She's the oldest member of the village, and everyone calls her Nan since she's delivered even our grandparents as babies. Don't call her old, though, or you'll discover what a cane to the head feels like..." Etienne shivered again as he recalled that sharp pain.

After thinking for some time, the boy looked up and nodded, "I want to go to the village." The childish determination in his eyes made the others smile.

"Alright, then it's settled. You can come with us on our journey to Lightwood Fortress first, then we'll head back together. Sound good?" The chief wanted to go back first, but it would be best to stay together and make up for the lost time. After the little boy agreed, Etienne asked, "Well, if you're going to be with us, we'll need to know your name. You already know ours, but we don't know yours."

"Fenmore. Fenmore Rhodes," shyly answered the boy, who smiled cute enough to make everyone grin.

"Nice to meet you Fenmore. Welcome to our little family, which will be bigger when we get back to the village... For now, it's time to eat." Seran poured soup into two of the wooden bowls they'd brought from the village, giving one to Fenmore, who almost immediately began to eat.

Storm yawned and shook his feathers, "Now that he's okay, I'm going to go hunt for a rabbit or something. I'll be back quickly." After lightly patting Fenmore's head with his wings, Storm moved away from the camp before taking off with a short run. After a certain height was reached, he shrank down and dove towards the forest.

Fenmore watched the bird with the eyes of a child who just discovered magic, making Etienne and Seran chuckle. "You'll be riding on his back with us in the morning. You'll love it. After we eat, we're going to get some sleep. We'll be leaving at dawn." The odd-eyed boy nodded at Etienne's words as he ate eagerly.

Not twenty minutes later, Storm came back and transformed into his huge form next to Fenmore, who immediately hugged his side upon being covered with a wing.

--

An extremely happy Fenmore was squealing with joy as he and his newfound companions flew in the sky. They'd broke camp about 4 hours prior, but that hasn't stopped the little boy from loving the experience of flying. Granted, it was an unforgettable experience and Seran was certain he'd grow up with a desire to fly as well.

About ten minutes ago, they'd spotted the great fortress that was their destination, Lightwood Fortress. With worn but solid stone walls capable of withstanding heavy assault for days, the fortress city stood tall beside the Primeval Forest to its northern side. Several caravans, citizens and soldiers made their way in and out of the city now that the gates were open. It certainly stood out as a major military and trade hub on the Everd Kingdom's northern border.

As the enormous Golden Crow began to coast downward, the guards on the walls spotted them and began to prepare the ballistae and the longbows. In order to not directly cause problems, Storm began to circle downward outside of the walls by a good 100ft (30.48m) before deftly landing on the ground a ways from the road so as not to startle the civilian horses.

After Storm shrunk himself and perched on Fenmore's shoulder, who gave him lots of scratches, the group walked to the gates. The guards were visibly wary at the sight of the golden bird on the littlest boy's shoulder, but as they weren't behaving aggressively, the guards didn't prepare for combat.

One of the guards, a man with a thick mustache, stopped them, "After almost putting the city into a state of alert, I hope you have an ID. It'll make it easier to explain to the General about it if you do."

Etienne nodded and took out a card from his pocket, "This is my Adventurer Card. I am Etienne Greenwood, the chief of Greenwood Village. I came to bring one of my village children to the Adventurers Guild for the job awakening. I apologize for the misunderstanding earlier. This crow is one of our village's protectors, so I'd forgotten how others react to him." The chief made it sound like Storm was always this powerful, which made the bird puff up with pride, much to Fenmore's amusement.

"Ah, it's Sir Greenwood, I remember you now. The last time you were here was about 13 years ago. It makes sense that the Gateway Village would have such special creatures," said the guard, who Etienne quickly recognized as a previous new recruit the last time he was here.

"Yes, well, it's the first time since then that we've had someone old enough to be awakened. I see you've been promoted. Congratulations."

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The guard captain smiled and nodded, "Thank you. It's still my first year as the gate guard captain, though, so you can tell I'm pretty worried about any problems."

"I believe it. Well, good luck to you." Etienne thanked the captain as he took his Adventurer Card back before heading inside with Seran, Fenmore, and Storm, with the captain relaying the information to the walls that everything was fine.

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