“You should’ve done something,” Tane said.
“Jay didn’t want me to,” I said. “I’ll do something when we get him out of there. Why are they moving so fast?”
“They’re trying to cover their asses,” Tane cut in, grimly. “So they’re going to scapegoat a convenient outsider, shove him off as the main culprit, and go right back to what they were doing before instead of figuring anything out.”
I snapped my fingers. “So if we figure out what they’re hiding, we can prove to the guards that they’re actually doing something wrong, and get the lot of them busted for it.”
“Or, you know,” Tane shrugged, leaning back. “Jay could actually be a cannibal. Our beaks are wide enough to devour crows.”
“Is that an actual issue?” I asked, curious.
“It happens to some of the birds that came from war,” Tane sighed. “They snap and starting eating their own pieces or the pieces of people around them. They don’t last long after that.”
Parts of the city still remembered the war brightly. And the Crows… they never had to forget anything, they had several different pieces in charge of remembering. They wouldn’t forget a cannibal. So they were moving fast to neutralize a threat to all of us…
Or they were moving fast to neutralize a threat to them.
This was stupid. Why should I suddenly doubt Jay?
“They know the guard is coming,” I said. “Which means Joli knows that something’s wrong. How do we get him to talk?”
“We could hit him with a wrench?” Tane suggested. “I’m not looking forward to letting someone get away with hurting Jay.” She paused. “Unless he deserves it, I mean.”
“We won’t,” I promised. “Even if the guard are coming to take Jay…” Vague realization that I was willing to throw that opportunity away to keep my friend safe. How strange.
“I’ll do as you ask,” Tane said. “I have my own bones to pick with the guard.”
The journey back to the shrine was dark, dreary. Angry. The Elder was pacing when we arrived, and she tugged Tane to the side, eyes wild with fire, and I ducked into my room.
I could hear the shouting. On one side, Tane arguing that we were going to save him. On the other side, Morrigan angry that we’d let them take him at all.
They were so sure it wasn’t him. Why?
That’s what it all came down to. Why would Jay hurt Teri? There was no motive for it apart from wanton violence.
So it could only be what Teri was coming to talk to me about. Disappearances… or…
My thoughts flicked to the data I’d collected from Omoi. Or she knew something Jay wouldn’t want known.
So there was only the data to parse through.
I sat down in the corner and let Omoi play me the beats.
Of the data around the room, most of it was fragmented. Old advertisements, videos corrupted by time. Messages begging for help. I’d seen the ghosts before, seen their faces, heard their voices. But I’d never considered what it looked like to the Crows.
Their gods had left them messages of the end. Of what happened to us. Messages that had lasted thousands of years, if only you had the tools to listen to them.
But I wasn’t interested in hearing about more ghosts. Ghosts didn’t matter to the case at hand.
Next patch of nonfragmented recordings were Crow Births, deaths, military records. Time served, numbers of tours of duty. A few names flickered by; crow style, often clipped, kept short in order to prevent overworking pronunciation. Names granted by birds.
Morrigan broke the pattern, but she had named herself.
Then onto the meat of the recordings; files about the recent Fey war itself. Not the first war the Crows had fought, but the first fought personally by them. Battle after battle.
The first attacks swept up through the side of Alabama, startling a small enclave dedicated to salvaging USEC buildings who had starting to poke at the remnants of a post apocalypse human settlement that had failed. Utterly unprepared, the Crows had to rely on their natural tools in order to fight them off.
The bugs brought guns, weapons, blueprints, and the recollection of modern tactics.
The Crows brought immortality, their capacity for learning, and aerial superiority. In the cities, it was a massacre for the bugs. Crows could hide anywhere, splinter off, reform.
But the bugs had sheer force of numbers. Every Crow that was carved out of the sky was irreplaceable, and the Crows mourned hard.
Cities fell as Crows were routed and forced to retreat. The spaces in between were impossible to fight for, and ground was lost in hundreds of miles as cities were burnt, shelled, old guns brought to bear.
Then, from the depths of the gulf, an old enclave of thinkers elected a King. Bearing the locations of all of the old military outposts in the area, long buried, they excavated their own plans. Guns. Military tactics that hadn’t been studied.
The Crows rarely had need to learn more from the old world than they had to, they’d long seen what the world looked like and had no desire to resurrect it without the human that had passed, but their king brought the Crows guns. Taught them tactics. Formed the Guards, The Scouts. Brought unity to disparate bands of Crows who had long splintered off to do their own things.
Brought it to bear against the hordes of the Fey.
Didn’t matter. Only slowed down their progression. The Fey declared they would own the entire continent by the end of the century.
Last real city, the Capital, where the King had set himself up as ruler. Defended. Every roof held arms. Every street a killing floor. Bodies piled high in the streets, burned again and again, but they were merely drones.
Held there for months, bullets piling up. Supplies running low, despite the forges raging and the military surpluses being raided.
Even the old world could run out of black powder, and the fire of industry was new, and their ability to process it even newer.
The Fey were tapped out of drones and sent in their heavy pushers. Great beasts born of anomalous powers. Lances of dark lightning and lines of sonic blasts; screeching out heralds of the old war. The sky rippled with darkness, and the Hand of the Watcher—
Omoi censored the next section of text, warning of Symbolic dangers
—–The plume of atomic fire from Montgomery stretched high into the sky from a corona of flame, and of those blasted birds that arose from the ashes, whispering of the creatures beyond the veil, none were allowed to survive.
The Fey weren’t defeated so much as routed. Too many Crows had been lost from their immortal ranks to reclaim all of the cities. Too many connections had been made at the Capital to recoup their losses.
And the King of Crows was missing, that great warlord who had saved the world from being consumed.
Those Crows left behind on this flight were traitors. Those who chose to not make the final flight. Birds that broke off from the King’s path, who did not blaze the trail with him as he streaked through the stars and saved us. They ring with a harsh buzzing. A deep set feeling of wrongness. Names stripped from their heads. Prevented from reproducing; they cannot reproduce. Anathema.
Curiously jumbled translation; perhaps an error in transcription, I couldn’t tell.
Some were purged and allowed back, after having everything wicked flayed from their minds.. Memories removed of the events. Rendered normal.
Others could not be made such.
They who bear the same markings, in their eyes, in their thoughts, in their words, as those beasts that bore the Hand of the Watcher, cannot be trusted. The great traitors of the old world, here, in the flesh. Again. Anew.
Then a long line of those killed or missing in action. The list was too long.
Stretched too far. Too many names.