Omoi awoke me with the normal alarms. I swished through math equations, dove through logic puzzles, and got awarded with a stream of dopamine dispersed into my neural cells that brought me slowly rising out of the bed.
Then there was a knock at the door. Jay jumped awake in a flurry and opened it. “Yes?”
The Elder stood there, frowning. “Did either of you two happen to see Teri last night? I know you were talking to her, Warden.”
“Jess,” I reminded automatically. “And she mentioned wanting to talk later, but she never showed up.”
The elder frowned. “Apparently, she’s been missing since after the game.”
I blinked. “That’s horrible.”
The Elder flicked her eyes to the side of her, and I peered after. Joli hopped into view. “Do you mind if you help us look? I’m sure with your Omoi, you could find many things.” Jay yawned, and slid behind the door, sliding back into his travel clothes.
A strange human quirk, but I wasn’t going to call him on it. After all, I’d been wearing USEC standard clothes since I found them, and it wasn’t like that didn’t reek of a maladaptive coping mechanism at all.
“How long have you been searching?” I asked.
“Teri does maintenance on the forge computers,” Joli said. “So it’s fairly important she’s around in case something goes wrong with it.”
“Do things go wrong a lot?” Jay asked.
“It’s cantankerous at the best of times, and only her assistant can get it working if it throws a fit and Teri’s not around,” Joli sighed. “So I’ve been searching since this morning; the systems throwing out errors again.”
I clicked my teeth in sympathy. Jay nodded, and stepped out into the hall, now dressed in his rags. I joined him, then we slipped out of the shrine.
Forge-Nest wasn’t quite as covered in artifacts and whispers as Prime-Nest. Other Omoi users had to have swept through and disarmed some of the voices, taken away some of the ghosts, if only to make their job easier. The pristine and mostly untouched Prime-nest, however, had been kept as raw and jagged as possible; a memorial to the old world.
Walking the city streets, it was strange to not live underneath of a canopy of trees keeping sounds soft and distant. It looked far more like I’d dreamed the city might look, though all around I could see the lingering remnants of stumps cut down, bushes burned down to the roots. A city being strip mined for spare parts.
The skies were filled with crows, flying around like jibbering angry fleas, scouring the area. I thought I saw a glimpse of a bird that looked like Tane.
“Well?” Joli asked, tapping the side of his head.
Omoi started scanning for Tane’s nodule. Nothing within range.
I shook my head. “We need to keep moving, she doesn’t have that long of a scan radius.”
Joli nodded. “Understood.”
The impromptu tour might’ve been more inspiring if the sky didn’t get angrier and angrier with searching crows, flocking, demanding progress, for though the city was being picked apart, it had its own old world beauty. Here and there, old bridges still stood against the flow of time, a defiance of mankind. Here and there a tall building still stood, marked for consumption by whatever avian engines needed filled.
But despite my best efforts, and my aching legs, Teri’s Omoi didn’t register.
We were walking towards the shrine when the call came up.
A sign. Something found.
A cry from the crows flocking and swarming in the skies, and then the top of the shrine was covered in black feathers, smooth crows, and mournful warks.
Tane formed into her humanoid appearance and scooped something off of the roof. It dangled in her talons, head twisted to the side unsightly.
A single dead crow.
Red tipped beak.
The Elder knelt before the small black bird and muttered soft prayers. Quiet little noises. Utter silent in the city. Not a single noise. The Prime-Crows held their breath, though I could see some nervousness in their mourning.
Joli paced behind the first row of mourners. Talons clicked against the ground.
Not here more than a day and already someone had been scattered. What next?
Omoi presented facts. Straightforward.
Teri had been warning me to leave. She’d looked around, seen there were too many people, and decided to hold off until later.
Crows were disappearing from the city.
Teri’s lost crow had been found on the roof of the building where I’d been sleeping.
Conclusions; she might’ve been intercepted trying to contact me.
She wasn’t dead, she was just… Injured. Scattered.
And we didn’t know where the rest of her was. I had to believe that, because…
Lani was coming back together, after all, so surely Teri would…
It didn’t stop the dark from touching my heart, or my head slowly turning to look at the tiny bird, clutched in the Elder’s talons.
“Broken neck,” The Elder said, looking up. “Someone did this quietly.”
Joli’s feathers ruffled and he looked out over the gathered birds. “I hope nobody was thinking of leaving soon,” The overseer said. “Because as of right now, anyone that tries to leave before we get this sorted out is going to get locked up for a purging by the guard. We need to locate the rest of Teri, and fast.”
Joli turned to look at me. “Warden, I expect you’ll be up for helping with the investigation? Regardless of who the culprit might be?”
I hesitated. Just a second. Should I mention Teri was supposed to visit me last night? Now?
No. Not when I knew where he was going next.
“We will be leaving when the Capital sends their troops,” The Elder reminded, none too gently. “And I rankle at the accusation that one of our number did this.”
I couldn’t look at the bird anymore than a few seconds, the familiar flicker of my heart off beat corresponded with Omoi cranking up classical music in my head to drown out the panic.
“You may rankle at the accusation, Elder,” Joli said, his voice cold. “But I think that Teri’s crow being found on your building is…”
“A clear attempt at framing one of us,” Morrigan spat, abandoning her civility and pretense. “If you think for a second that this isn’t clear, Joli, I’ll have you remember that I have a few thousand years on you.” The Elder, the Original Crow swelled up, rising to a firm eight feet tall of pseudo human, beak half open, and snarled down at the Overseer, who took a few steps back.
“And Zach knows I’ve seen my fair share of framing.”
“Morrigan,” Morrigan snarled.
“Even your protection is not above the search for justice, surely?” Joli asked.
The Elder slid back down to a standard 6 feet tall, and flashed her now red eyes across the Crows from Prime-Nest. “We will cooperate, of course. But let it be known that you’ll have to prove quite handily one of our number was involved before anything else is done, Joli.”
A harsh silence in the air. Joli looked away from the Elder first, not being able to bear her rage, and flicked his beak over to look at myself. Then back into the crowd. A slow breath bubbled from his chest, I could see the slow expand contract on his feathers.
“If anyone has any information, please, feel free to step forward. I’ll be in my office. Warden? Meet me there.”
Then he dissolved into a swarm of birds and left.