The rest of the small procession of lookers dispelled piece by piece, until it was just the Scouts from Prime-nest, Jay, the Elder, and myself.
Tane clicked her beak. “I don’t like this,” She tore her gaze from the small bird.
The Elder sighed. “At least we know it’s not one of us.”
Tane’s eyes flicked over to Jay instantly.
“Say it and scatter to the winds,” Jay growled.
“He was with me the entire night, guarding,” I said, dismissively. “It’d be pretty hard for him to have done this.”
But this close to where I was sleeping… she really must’ve tried to contact me after all. And someone silenced her.
And he’d moved in the night. Been in and out.
But I couldn’t cast doubt on Jay the second things turned against him. He deserved better than that.
“Still,” Tane said. “It’ll be easy enough for them to throw suspicion at us.”
“But we already know that none of us did it,” The Elder repeated. “So. That’s handled. We really don’t have to do much of anything.”
“What we don’t need,” Tane said. “Is for this to still be around when the Capital forces arrive. It’d be bad on us, bad on the Crows here, and just bad in general to have an active crime when they arrive.”
“Why?” I asked.
“They’re…” Tane clicked her beak. “Well. They’ll be sending their best. Overzealous is a good was of describing them.”
“Oh,” I said. It clicked into place. “They might take action regardless of who is actually responsible, just to get this over with so they can move the Elder.”
“Does anyone have any information?” The Elder asked, looking over the scouts. Nobody replied.
“Teri was supposed to meet with me last night,” I said. Tane blinked. “There’s been a series of disappearances.”
“Why didn’t you mention it earlier?”
I shook my head. “And give up information to whoever scattered her?” I gestured around us. “They were all there, if we discussed anything, it might…”
“Give away something we can use against them,” Tane finished.
“Right,” Jay said. “But… shouldn’t we be cooperating?”
The Elder glared at the city around her. “If none of us did it… Then that means someone among their number silenced Teri to make sure she wouldn’t make her move. That means…”
“Any of them could be responsible for the disappearances,” I realized.
There were a lot of birds in Forge-Nest. And now, any of them might be the culprit.
The Elder gestured at Tane. “Follow the Warden. Make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble.”
“Looks like you’re with us,” Jay noted. Tane sighed.
“The other scouts will watch your back, Elder,” Tane commanded, gesturing at the ranks. The birds converged around the oldest bird.
“It’s not my back that will need watched,” Morrigan said, grim. She reached out and touched my shoulder, talons grazing the edge of my lab coat. “Keep yourself safe, Warden.”
“I’m more worried about Crows disappearing,” I said. “There’s going to be people on me constantly.”
The Elder closed her eyes and turned away.
Jay sighed. “Let’s get to the overseer’s office. It’ll be on your Omoi.”
The office was built in the shadow of two colossal buildings. Old skyscrapers, hanging in place
mid collision, with the nest of shadows underneath taken up by chalk drawings and old paints. The office was a newer construction; stout, short, but it wasn’t human construction; clean walls and windows designed for ease of access from all levels instead of doors.
I scanned it with Omoi, who returned a blank on what the rest of it was made out of.
“What is this?” I asked.
“Mycelium,” Jay reported. “Er, Mushroom bricks. It’s cheaper and easier to get than what you built your buildings out of.”
It’d been hard to do when my world had been alive, but five thousand years was more than long enough to figure it out.
I swept inside, rapping briefly at the front door. A few muffled noises, and then Joli opened it up and chirped brightly at us. “There you are!”
He was also a suspect. I couldn’t let my intentions of goodwill get in the way of that.
“Alright, I’m here. What’s the briefing?”
Joli moved in a mass of feathers over behind a desk. It was simple; just a com tucked to one side, his talons wrapping around it. A few bags of freeze dried apples sat in the corner, and he crunched down on one as he waited for me to take a seat. Tane and Jay flanked me appropriately.
“Priority one,” Joli said, offering me an apple. I shook my head and he crunched down on the chip. “Is figuring out where Teri’s going to gather at. Obviously, it’ll be easy to figure out who scattered her if she reforms in our custody.”
“It follows,” I agreed. “Where’s her house?”
Joli’s eyes flicked to the Crows behind me, then back to me. “She lives inside of the worker barracks about a mile away from here. You want to search it?”
“Might as well,” I said. She’d been trying to talk to me… I might find whatever she’d been looking at still at her building. A start, at least. “I doubt she’ll be there, but it stands to reason I might find something that says where she’ll reform at.”
“I can handle myself,” I lied. “And what was that look about?” I was being trusted here, I had more power. I could make demands to figure things out.
“Are you quite sure your companions there are trustworthy?” Joli asked. “Afterall…”
“Say a word about the Outcast,” Tane said. “Go on, trust me, the Warden’s thought it through.”
Joli’s eyes were on Tane now, “I definitely remember why you were sent to Prime-nest to remember your terms of service, Tane. I wouldn’t put it past you-”
“Where in the worker’s barracks?” I cut in. “And stop going after my companions. I trust both of them.”
And I did, in some bizarre way, trust both of them. Tane might be unhinged enough to want to stare death in the face, but she wouldn’t try and kill someone. And why would Jay do it?
But I thought back to that moment he hadn’t been at my side the night before, and grimaced.
Internally. I’d had years of practice as a doctorate in not reacting when an experiment didn’t turn up what I knew it should, there was no need for me to give it away now.
“Room 441,” Joli said. “Teri’s assistant should be more than willing to assist you in locating it.”
I breathed out. “Fantastic.”
“Be careful out there,” Joli warned. “After all, Teri’s crow was found on your building. Could be a warning.”
I gave him a nod to show I understood, and then turned and left.
I’d be fine.