I recognized Nest Prime now, with the aid of Omoi and my own memories, as being an old Bank headquarters. Strung up with ivy and covered in blooming plants, it was giving back far more to the environment than the builders had ever dreamed of. The skyrise slipped inside of it and out the other side; a feat of engineering that would’ve been impressive if it hadn’t already been done in Hong Kong a half dozen times in an attempt to improve transit times.
Jay came to a halt behind me. “Warden, stop for a moment.”
From the open windows of the building, birds descended. A veritable murder of crows, their wings blackening the street below them.
I took a step back, and then another, until Jay was at my side.
“Friends of yours?” I guessed.
“Something like that,” Jay intoned, cocking his head to the side. “I’m not really the most well liked of crows around here.”
The crows settled on the ancient highway in front of us, and balled together. Hundreds of the black birds, swarming like ants over carcasses.
Then smoothly, crow-men and women strolled out of the mass of birds. Then there were no birds left.
There was no moment in between. First, crowds of crows, bunched together, and then the next instant, crow people. Then there were no birds left on the bridge, and there were three people standing in front of us.
They stood at about human height, with taloned hands and taloned legs. Beaks of stark white, and flecks of colors across the blacks of their eyes. Clothes weren’t on their bodies, giving them the strange appearance of being too feathered and not feathered enough for the humanoid form. Long feathered wings that twisted across their back.
This separated them from Jay, who bore no such wings. I hadn’t expected him to have them, but that was largely because I didn’t know what to make of their entire existence yet.
It was a difference, nonetheless.
Omoi pinged them in confusion, and idly tried to apply data and value sets to them so I’d have an idea of what I was working with, then pinged out an error after a few seconds.
It took my breath away to see an anomaly this close, outside of a closed circuit camera. The equations danced in front of my eyes, drizzled with time and distance and trauma.
What I wouldn’t give to have the time to examine that footage, to see the exact moment in between. How did they communicate with each other? Was each a jury rigged gestalt, or was each crow a part of a particular person?
Omoi chimed internally to tell me the footage was available for replay.
I didn’t have the time to examine it scientifically.
“You,” The crow said, pointing at Jay. “What sort of creature is this you’ve brought to our home?”
“It’s also my home,” Jay said, clicking his beak in frustration. “And this is a Warden.”
The three winged creatures stiffened, and stared at me.
“Is not,” The woman said at the back, cocking her avian head to the side. “That’s just a rather fat Fey.”
I blinked at her, and cluelessly looked down at myself. I had the figure of someone who forgot to eat far too often, and while you could say I didn’t have muscles, calling me fat was a stretch too far. “What?”
“She’s a Warden,” Jay insisted, pointing at me with one of his arms. “You know, like in the pictures.”
“The Wardens had darker skin. I’m fairly sure they’re not even the same species.”
“Wait, you have pictures?” I asked.
Pictures meant records.
Records meant goals.
Goals I could latch onto.
Jay cocked his head to the side. “Just let us in so we can see the elder, alright?”
“We’re not letting you, especially you, smuggle in a fey to Prime-Nest,” The lead said.
“Tane,” Jay said, taking a step forward. “Are you really going to do this now?”
“Way I see it, not doing this now would be criminal, outcast,” Tane said, clicking her beak. She took a step forward, and bared her talons meaningfully. A silver ring sat on one of the claws. My eyes flicked around. More rings decorated the other crow’s fingers.
Except Jay. Curiouser and Curiouser.
“Look, you idiots, the Elder quite clearly says to take any Warden that shows up to meet with them,” Jay hissed, clicking his beak together. “So let me in.”
“Prove you have a Warden, outcast,” The bird sneered. “And maybe we’ll think about letting you in.”
Jay’s glare softened, and he flicked his beak to look at me. “Well? Got any Warden magic?”
I stared at the birds with a bit of confusion, and silently commanded Omoi to play the music externally, rather than through the bones of my ears.
The three birds jumped back, feathers puffing up, and briefly floated in the air before settling back down, talons clicking against the ground. “Well, that’s magic alright.”
“So you’ll let us through?” I asked.
“After all,” Jay said. “Aren’t you three supposed to be on patrol?”
Tane clicked her beak a few times, then huffed, turning to the side. “You’re right. Go inside. Don’t think this makes up for the ill you’ve brought here.”
The other birds clicked at once, and then dissolved. Where once they were, hundreds of tiny birds sat.
The wind picked up, and they flew away like a dark cloud.