A Court For Crows (Part 5)

Prime-Nest’s entrance was about what I expected it to be. A mixture of shattered glass, sprouting plants, and a small path where birds and feet had stepped over many years.

Rows of garden plants grew from planters, clay, plastic, metal, it didn’t matter. Tomatoes here, carrots over there. It went in defiance of my understanding of agriculture, but, I suppose, those things didn’t matter to swarms of anomalous crows.

Past that, Omoi went wild with the variety of pings that popped up after the door opened.

Dozens of notifications scrolled past; map notifications, place notifications, dates, times, births, deaths. Everything had been noted down for ages. Omoi chirped out a complaint, and I shoved the line appearing in my vision to the side.

“Oh, your com’s probably going off,” Jay said, bobbing apologetically. “It happens when someone new arrives. I couldn’t use mine for a day before I figured out how to work the mute function.”

I paused, swiping more notifications out of the way. Omoi pinged more and more location data, updating freely from the shared data spaces projected from the devices in the room.

But they weren’t what I was staring at.

Raw, the wall that was setting off Omoi was a massive mosaic. Thousands of shiny rocks in every color of the rainbow came together to make up a human face.

A familiar human face.

Not that familiar, mind you, but I’d seen him in the lunch areas from time to time.

Agent Zachary; darker skinned, a gleaming smile, broad shouldered. Always meant business.

Our fates had never really crossed more than a few times, but I was aware that he had kept my lab stocked with all of the strange things I could study.

And now here he was again.

“That’s the wall of messages,” Jay said, smiling softly. “It’s where everything that happens in Prime-Nest is stored. Under the original Warden’s image.”

I stepped forward and reached out to touch it, then paused. “Can I?”

“Of course, he’s one of your kind,” Jay said, laughing. “He might as well be one of ours as well. For all he did for us.”

“What did he do?” I asked. The stones felt curiously warm under my touch. Omoi marked the wall as important, taking context from my memories.

“Come, let’s talk to the Elder,” Jay said, stepping carefully around the plants. The rest of the room was decorated similarly, though the mosaics were instead of birds on two sides, and then on the door facing outside, the curious crow-men that I’d encountered earlier.

Then we slipped into a door located where a nest full of squirming birds was glued, and the building grew far darker. Rubble was strewn about. “Is this a city?”

“It used to be,” Jay admitted. “Now it’s mostly a religious ground, and trainees are sent here to learn their place. It’s part of rotation for guards.”

I nodded slowly. It was good to learn about the past.

It was what I was doing, after all.

Through doors scattered with trinkets, treasures, and a single room covered in enough pocket change to have paid off the rest of my student loans we walked, before pausing behind a single door marked with carved eyes.

Jay knocked on the door a few times. Then waited.

After a moment, the door slowly swung inward, exposing a room lit by a single beam of light.

“The Elder awaits,” Jay said, bowing.

I stepped inside.

The door shut behind me.

“Hello Warden,” came the darkness, rumbling forward.

Fear touched my heart, for in that darkness I heard something shift about. Something moving. Something large.

By the light of the window, a long white hand reached and opened the shades.

Stained glass cast beautiful shadows. A glowing sigil. A glyph. USEC.

United States Extranormal Containment.

The Elder stepped into the light. For a second, she could’ve passed for a normal human being, and then I saw the long talons and the lines of avian scales crawling up her arms.

“Hello,” I said, bowing politely.

The Elder bowed even lower, so much that I suspected her spine was more for show than anything else. “Do not lower yourself below me. There is no comparison between the two of us, Warden.”

It was nice to be complimented, but the question was dying on my tongue.

“Why do you call me Warden?”

The Elder walked slowly towards the far side of the room, where the light of the stained glass window barely caught hold of, and pulled out a small Com.

Ancient, damaged really. Omoi made an attempt to access it, but failed, giving a despondent chime internally.

“Because that is what your kind did for the world,” The elder said, sitting down. “Now, I have done this five times in my life, and this shall be the sixth. Please, have a seat and listen to what your kind have done for us.”

I had a seat. The stained glass drew shadows cross the room where I blocked the passage of the light.

Then the Elder calmly opened up the Com, and turned it on. “Blessed are you, the child of Omoi, for you shall receive the message of the prophet.”

Omoi beeped that a message was in progress, tagged with a file. It then warned that such files were likely to contain viruses, but I ignored the warnings and downloaded it anyway.

“This is Agent Zachary, reporting mission success. Not that anyone will ever hear this. Omoi tells me that all USEC systems are down at the moment. Radiation, I think. I’m hiding the worst of it out in this room, hoping that I can get word back that I am Hot, carrying the artifact in question.”

The video started playing now, recording a dark room. A desk sat in the corner, with Zachary sprawled underneath of it, staring out the window.

“Do you think the birds know that the world is ending? I’ve always liked crows, you know,” the man said, breathing out. “Omoi, play me some music.”

Warped counter measure laden music played. I could barely recognize it through the fuzz. EMP, probably.

“Ah, Omoi, I’m sorry,” Zach said, laughing. “You probably are getting shit signal. Come on, just…” The agent stood up and walked over to the window, the camera bobbing with each step. Shaky, unsure. Sick. Then he opened it and stared out into the mushroom clouds in the distance.

A bird crowed at him angrily, and he looked around, then down. A bird’s nest. Tiny baby crows stood inside of it, patiently waiting to be fed. “I guess you’re scared too, huh?”

The bird nest screeched at him again, and he peered over top of it, shading this eyes to stare at the clouds, neutrons and radiation cascading, frying every surface. It’d glow for weeks.

After a moment’s thought, he gently took the nest full of baby birds, their eggs still visible, and took it inside, leaving the window open. “Come in little guys. I could use the company right now.”

The bird nipped at his fingers, and he slid the nest up on top of the desk. “You know, I never really thought about dying like this,” Zach whispered. “Omoi, are you still recording?”

Of course Omoi was still recording. Omoi was always recording.

“Okay, okay,” Zach said, schooling himself. “Guess I get to leave one of these for the future. This is Agent Zachary, of the United States Extranormal Containment Agency. I have in my possession a relic of relative power. It is not to be touched by anyone. If I am found, and this message is read, only touch it with appropriate safety measures. Those can be found in the attached file.” he paused.

“If this is truly as bad as I think it is, I guess…” he trailed off, looking down at the birds. “Hey, little guys. I’m glad you’re here for this.” he fished through his pocket, looking around for things, and pulled out a small bag of jerky. With his fingers he shredded it, then kept talking, feeding the birds.

“I am a member of a government agency responsible for protecting the world. We have existed, somewhat openly, for twenty years, though I’ve been working for them for the better part of thirty. We contain the things that could destroy the world around us, and we research them, to make sure that we know how they work, so that when we destroy them, no knowledge is lost. All knowledge that is gained will be used, eventually, whether by removal or actual use, to benefit humanity, and the world at large. If the world no longer remembers us, that’s fine.” Zach paused, looking down at the birds. He cooed at them for a moment, then looked back at the open window.

“Getting really bad out there, little guys.”

The birds ignored him, and cheeped for more jerky.

Then resumed. “I have reason to believe that the world will still be a dangerous place. If you can hear this, and you can understand me, I want you to take anything that you don’t understand. Anything that doesn’t make sense, anything at all, and I want you to take it to the facility marked on the attachment, and leave it there. Don’t disturb it. Mark it as a bad place, where nobody is allowed to go except for burial. I want you to learn the lesson now, because if you don’t, you’ll regret it. Human history is littered with settlements erased for daring to mess with those forces.”

He swallowed, then coughed. “Skin’s peeling. Late stage radiation sickness. I’m too close.” He stared down at the birds. Laughed again, then slipped down on his back to clutch at his chest.

Then his arms slipped up and he grabbed the nest.

“I just want someone out there to know that the world’s bad now, but there were a lot of people who gave their lives trying to make sure it never got worse. There were a lot of people who tried their hardest to make things alright.”

The crows cried out for more food, and he let them bite at his fingers.

“And I want you all who hear this to maybe do all you can to keep the world safe, okay? Because I have to keep hope that there’ll be people after this. I want there to be people. I don’t want the world to end forever.”

Another ragged cough.

He laughed, then tipped the bag over onto the nest of crows, showering them with the remnants. “There you go, little guys. I’m not going to need that where I’m going, and you guys should pass with a full stomach, okay?”

“The artifact in question is a necklace believed to have been worn by…”

Omoi cut off. The rest of the feed was too corrupted.

A Court For Crows (Part 4)
A Court For Crows (Part 6)

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