A Throne For Crows (Part 21)

Rapid construction saw the spread of wireless towers, looming high over unclaimed buildings. Several of those buildings were picked clean of ivy and plantlife, barring where it was structurally important. Banners flickered in the wind, personal effects. Words of encouragement dappled with a layer of fresh paint, only a few decades old.

The City was moving towards war. Already, the buzz of the birds were more nervous. Fewer Crows walked the street in favor of flying around as flocks. Squares were cleared for training purposes. Crows, both white and black, observed airborne creatures dodging through narrow tunnels and flying through buildings at speed.

Jay stood to the side, watching the birds fly. I stood next to him. A small ringlet of Crows watched us.

Many of them had Omoi nodes. Vapid conversation flickered back and forth. Occasionally I was even invited or pinged into them. The more technical the conversation, the less likely I was to be involved.

I really wasn’t that good at being a programmer, and the spread of Omoi nodes had been centered on the Crows interested in computer sciences first off, with support staff second. What I wouldn’t give for an observatory.

So Jay and I stared up at the heavens, at small disks exchanged by targets, thrown into marked places, and shattered against the ground.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what they were doing.

“Those are supposed to be bombs,” I said.

“That’s right,” Jay agreed, characteristically grim. A red disk flew in through a window and shattered against a bug shaped target.

Then three more, thrown by more small birds. I took a seat on the asphalt, unnaturally, cool, and watched their work.

I’d seen, briefly, how effective Crows could be at combat, when the Guard squadron had descended from the sky and destroyed Joli in seconds after Jay was clear. They were good shots with guns.

But turning their individual pieces into bombers? Effective.

Quen barked out a command from the center of the watching birds, and the bombers wheeled through the air and returned in front of him. He glared, severe, eyes narrowed into pinpricks, then nodded once. “Again!” He barked.

They dove towards an open crate, collected their payload, and started to fly again.

“How effective is this?” I asked.

“The lighter ranks of the Fey are particularly vulnerable to explosions,” Jay said. “If we’re good, we can be cleared out before we get caught in them.” He clicked his beak. Shook his head. “This is attacking behavior. Most of us haven’t done that much attacking… the cities were best for defence.”

Tall buildings meant that Crows had infinite hiding places and high grounds for the monstrous creatures. Open windows meant they could escape inside.

Urban areas were perfect killing fields for Crows. It’s how they’d slowed down the armies of the Fey the last time, after all. They’d made them bleed for every inch.

I couldn’t keep myself from looking towards the graveyard of beasts, where the Regent’s throne sat watching. That was where the furthest advance of the army had gotten.

A complete and total loss of defences, straight on towards the nurseries.

I swallowed.

Jay followed my gaze. “It won’t be as bad this time,” He suggested, because his voice couldn’t firm up enough to say it with a complete straight face.

“Different army,” I said. “Where’s Tane?”

There was a crack of gunfire in the distance. I tried not to let it prickle at my heart, but goosebumps spread down my arms anyway. I didn’t like that noise.

“Teaching,” Jay said. “Not everyone here has had to hunt for their food, and she’s one of our best shots.”

I swallowed. Stared at the whirring cloud of birds overhead. Heard their bombs shatter against the ground, devoid of payloads. “Is that hard to carry?”

“It’s not nothing, but more than you’d think,” Jay said. “Albeit, it’s been a long time since I could do that.”

A pause.

“Are you going to teach?” I asked.

Jay laughed. “I am still an outcast, Jess. All the support in the world won’t let them forget that.” His feathers ruffled, and his head slowly tilted until he was staring at Quen instead. “Though… it’d piss off Quen.”

I laughed. “Is that the bar?”

“It’s a pretty good reason,” Jay admitted. “I don’t think I should rock the boat quite that much, though.”

“I’ll see if I can do something for you,” I said.

Jay hummed. “It’d be nice… to be useful, I guess.”

War-plans fluttered across the Omoi connection. Sketches of what cities to strike at, hypothesized doomsday devices that would drive the Regent to action after decades of stillness. Monsters lurking at the heart of the Fey compounds. So many eyes, so many legs.

I didn’t engage, because I knew what some of their ranks looked like, and I didn’t want to help them give themselves nightmares. I was already dealing with those myself.

—–

Mobilization was complicated. The towers were functional, if unfinished, by the end of the day, and wireless networks graced the entire capital. With it, I could ping a Crow from the opposite side of the city. Wireless traffic grew complicated almost immediately. Message groups went from niceties to nervousness to pessimism to optimism. Lani spread stories of the last war, of prior victories. Teri told tales of her time at the base, thankfully leaving out the more moral ambiguous bits, and what we’d agreed to not talk about.

The cafeteria of the aquarium, where the Archivists and my party were set up, was utterly packed by the second day. My fingers ached from the practice range. Arms shook from trying to force my fear down so I could keep them steady.

The band played in the corner, soothing little songs. We all could use it.

An aura of nervousness had settled in on the archivists. Their collective feathers smelled faintly like gunpowder and engine grease.

They ate without comment. With the towers up, there was no need for noises apart from the clicking of beaks and utensils.

We knew what was going to happen next.

—-

The meeting room wasn’t in the shadow of the Regent’s throne. It wasn’t even near the graveyard of beasts. Instead, it was in another important location that I hadn’t given much thought to.

Prime-nest had a pit for anomalies.

The Capitol had one just as well. A massive crater in the ground, pavement long since having fallen inside, still emitting faint trails of smoke. Omoi’s quick analysis determined it was safe, so long as I didn’t spend all day there.

I didn’t plan on that.

Still, there was a bizarre whisper from the pit that passed just under the threshold for being censored, and a firm feeling that something was terribly wrong, if I only looked over the edge to see myself.

Assembled at the table were the leaders of each military group. Tane sat as leader of the Prime-Nest scouts, even if they’d been mostly dissolved. She still had the best knowledge of how to use them. The Regent sat as head of the Inquisitors.

Prin sat in as leader of the guard regimes. Specifically, the volunteer guards, those who hadn’t grown tired enough of fighting to give it up, or those who had lost someone in the last war and couldn’t give it up, not yet.

Quen, the warleader, sat at the head of the table, looking severe. He wore a cape now, to signify his position.

Jay was at my side as my protector.

The Morrigan wasn’t there, as she was busy mixing with the soldiers. There was a lot of consoling going on.

Boss sat opposite of Quen, with only myself at her side. A row of empty chairs haunted the table between her and Prin.

“The First War meeting is now in order,” Quen said. “Let’s take a count of the established and armies, and what our offerings are. The Regent, if you will?”

“The Inquisitors are to be deployed as defensive units,” The Regent said. “Around the nurseries and the hospitals.”

Quen looked around the table. “Ay or nay for this proposal?”

“Ay,” Prin said.

“Ay,” Tane said.

“Ay,” The Regent said.

“Ay,” spoke the Warleader. “We need a permanent contingent of guards. The Inquisitors are still good at fighting, yes?”

“I trained them myself,” The Regent reported. Her hands were steepled on the table, long black digits twitching this way and that.

I bit my lip to not say anything. It wasn’t my place to say anything.

“Excellent.” The warleader gestured at the recorder on the table. “This is recording the minutes of this meeting. Do you all agree.”

A round of Ays. No point in not agreeing, we all wanted records of what was going down.

“Alright. Back to the offerings.”

“I offer my scouts,” Tane said. “I know they’re currently being integrated into the normal troops, but I think our experience with routing out the fey during the end of the last war would be useful.”

“Of course,” Quen said. “I remember quite well the decade it took to clear our territory of errant beasts. Be more careful this time, their minds are back up.”

“They won’t engage unless necessary,” Tane said. “I trained them better than that.”

“I offer the Guards,” Prin said. “Volunteers, all of them, but not a soul had come forward to say he wants no part in this conflict. Point them at the enemy, and they will figure out the rest.”

“Revenge burns holes through the minds of Crow-kind, Prin,” Quen pointed out, dryly.

“It burns holes in our enemies just as well,” Prin said. “We can sort out what’s good and what’s not after we know what we’re fighting.”

“Of course,” Quen said. His eyes flicked across the meeting table. Outside, the pit in the earth bubbled and let loose a cloud of red smoke. Everyone ignored it. Quen’s eyes slid across mine, and then onto the Regent’s, who nodded slightly.

“And I, obviously, represent the conscripts,” Quen said. “They’ll need thorough training. Many of them were not here during the last war, or only flocked late into it. All in favor of pooling our talents thusly?”

“Ay,” Tane said.

“Ay,” Prin said.

“Ay,” The Regent said.

I bit my lip.

“Warden?”

Quen’s eyes flicked over to mine. “Is something the matter?”

Beside me, Jay went utterly stiff, and then, as if accepting his fate, his feathers shifted to be pinned against his body. Not quite as dramatically as that, but the twitch of his feathers gave it away. “May I nominate Jay to be apart of the training?”

Jay grit his beak.

“As in he needs trained, or…?” Quen asked. An odd note in his voice.

“To train the soldiers,” I said. “He’s proven quite capable of fighting in my service, and I think he could add something to the training.”

Quen’s eyes flicked over to Jay, then back to mine. “He didn’t put you up to this, did he?”

No. He didn’t. He’d mentioned it, but this was my decision.

“Of course not.”

I could remember that brief moment where I thought all had been lost, where Joli had been about to blow himself up for the sake of his hateful cause, and Jay had ripped out his throat for daring to use the Command Tongue.

If there was someone who could train resistance to those awe tactics, it’d be Jay.

To minimize death.

Boss, on the other hand, in complete reversal of the tense mood, was filing at the each of her claws with a bit of stone, looking completely bored.

“I can’t say that’s very traditional,” Quen said, looking at the other leaders.

“There’s only been one other war,” Tane pointed out, quietly. “It’s not as if there’s much tradition to be granted here.”

Quen and Tane both looked at Prin, who sighed. “I’m not sure if I’m that fond of letting Outcasts teach our ranks how to fight.”

I swallowed. Was I going to get denied?

The Regent’s eyes were closed. All eyes were on her. In this stage, she wasn’t the leader of the civilian forces, of the hospitals and mental treatments. In this stage, she was the last carrier of the War in its entirety.

“I remember,” The Regent said. “That the King’s personal soldiers were trained alongside me.” Her eyes snapped open, staring at Quen.

“We were,” Quen said.

“And we were trained specifically to combat the higher ranking troops,” The Regent continued. “Those with extra normal abilities that could not be reduced by mere gunfire and bombs.”

Quen breathed out. I heard it hiss like a cat from his lungs. “We were.”

“And Jay has survived out on the wilds of our territory longer than any other Crow that has returned,” The Regent continued.

Quen clicked. “Is this a yay or a nay?”

“I hesitate to put corruption among our ranks; there’s still a chance he’ll turn rabid on us at the wrong moment.”

“A good point,” Prin said. “That’s a yay from Tane, a possible yay from the Regent… what say you to those problems, Warden?”

My fingers were steepled together now, to put feeling back into them. The whispers at the edge of my thoughts weren’t…

Well, honestly, they weren’t so bad. Whoever had constructed that containment pit had made sure to kill the most of it. I’d have to thank the Morrigan for figuring out how to do it.

“If you don’t trust him to teach alone, don’t let him teach alone,” I said. “Have someone team up with him at all times. Quen, you served with him, as did The Regent.”

Prin smiled. “An easy solution. I imagine most of us want to keep an eye on him in the first place. I still remember the dead looks in the Outcasts’ eyes when they arrived after the end of the war. I don’t want to see that among our troops.”

“You’ll find that inescapable,” The Regent said, knowingly. “I fight looking like that every day.”

Jay was tensed. “May I speak?”

“We are debating your inclusion,” Quen said. “I don’t see why not. Speak.”

Jay breathed in, his chest swelling like a blackbird’s, then breathed right back out. “Where are we to be deployed in the first place?”

“We are in the process of mobilizing,” The Regent said. “The strategic implications haven’t been discussed. Considering that the Beast has not shared all of the locations with me.” Her eyes flicked to the creature at my side.

“Is it my turn?” Boss asked, yawning.

A quiet moment around the table.

“Yes,” Quen bit out.

“Excellent.” Boss leaned forward, her ears twitching. Her tail wagged. “They’re going to be moving in a member of the Queen’s guard to Prime-nest soon.”

Silence from the table.

I couldn’t hear Tane, but I felt Jay grow angry. Maybe it was just the way he went still, or the way his head tilted to look at Tane.

“Why the hell would they do that?” Jay asked.

The Regent nodded. “That’s what I thought they’d do. They’re looking for anything Jess may have left behind.”

“Oh?” Quen asked. “What’s Jess got to do with this?”

My breath caught in my throat. Prince’s memories played in my head. That…. That was not something I could easily share. Even if I wanted to.

“Quite simply, I’m most likely to know where the weapon they’re looking for is,” I said. “But I don’t have that thought. It’s not in my head anymore.”

Quen blinked. “Wardens can do that trick as well? I thought only Crows could manipulate their minds like that.”

“Impressive,” Prin said.

I bit my tongue. Annoying was more like it. It made me resistant to interrogation, at least. “So they’re going to be searching the city from head to toe for information on the weapon.”

“There you go,” Boss said. “I’m going to be involved in the fighting on Prime-nest.”

“Why?” The Regent parrotted. “Wouldn’t you be of more use here, on defence, telling us how they work?”

“I will fight, or I will not give you more information,” Boss suggested. “Besides, you need me. They’ll be fronting all of their emanations there. I’m going to kill them and eat them.”

Upfront. Charming.

“Which ones?” Prin asked. “The Watcher, obviously, but any others?”

“Maybe Lord Physical,” I said, musing aloud.

“I’ve only heard them talk about the Watcher,” Boss said. “I think he’s the only one that cares about this place anymore. Just so he can watch it burn.”

“What about Lord Knowledge?” Jay asked.

All eyes looked at him. Including mine, for once. I quirked an eyebrow. “Lord Knowledge?”

“I had my briefing,” Jay said. “Why wouldn’t he be involved?”

“He never intervened before,” I said. “And he’s all about not intervening.”

Jay clicked his beak. “Right. If there was a time to-”

“Hopefully, if he was going to intervene, he would’ve done it back when the world ended,” I said.

“We won’t have to worry about the Bystander,” The Regent said. “Boss, can you deal with anything else?”

“I have hunted many great things,” Boss said.

Quen’s eyes closed, and he brought a hand over his head. He was probably getting a headache. “Let the beast die in battle if she wants to.”

“There will be Queen’s Guards there,” Boss said. “They are rare prey. Jess took Prince. I want one as well.”

“I…” I started.

“All in favor of Prime-Nest being the first target for liberation?” Quen asked.

“Ay,” Prin said.

“Ay,” Tane said.

“Ay,” The Regent said.

“My vote doesn’t matter,” Quen said. “So it passes. All in favor of including the beast among our troops?”

Boss basked proudly in the light of the crackling phosphorescent bulbs overhead.

A round of Ays.

“If we retake Prime-nest, as well,” The Regent said. “That scores us a morale victory. For the other Crow colonies, it’ll be obvious that we’re the winning side.”

“Are we trying to curry their favor?” Prin asked. “I’d rather they all have died rather than watched us last time.”

“If they join us, you’ll be thankful,” The Regent said.

“Will I?” Prin asked. “I’m not so sure we need the guns of cowards fighting this war.”

“Bullets are bullets,” Tane said. “You’re just as dead if a coward shoots you than if a warrior does.”

“Tane’s right,” Quen said. “I’ll let the Regent handle recruitment, however. In the meantime, what exactly does this weapon do?”

Tane and Prin both looked at the Regent with interest.

“Honestly?” The Regent started. “I have no idea. Our intelligence just dictates that they’re willing to take up nigh suicidal positions in our territory to find it. Prince’s base was not sustainable in the slightest. Even a single leak of position would’ve brought our wrath down on his head.”

“That’s why there were no breeding pits on the base,” Boss said. “Just what soldiers he brought with him.”

“Grim, but proving my point,” The Regent said.

“So whatever the weapon is, it’s big enough that they can sustain the loss of a general,” Tane said. “I don’t even think they can make more Queen’s Guards without a Queen.”

Silence for a moment. A look of understanding across their faces.

“It makes Queens,” Quen said. “That’s one explanation.”

I wish I knew it was that simple, but I had no idea what the hell it would do. Save humanity was just vague enough to be frightening.

“Or it kills us all,” I offered.

“Another explanation,” The Regent said.

“I don’t think it matters exactly what it does,” Jay said. “Only that they want it, and everything they have ever wanted has come at the cost of everything in their path.”

“Any good news?” Prin asked, sighing.

“They’re multi minded,” I said.

“Without their queen, they would be,” Quen said. “So the armies are divided as well?”

“They probably don’t have the full swarm on their side,” The Regent said. “Beast?”

“Boss,” Boss corrected. “They hired quite a few beasts to assist in their infighting. Something about needing to extract a Bismarck from a sticky situation, but that was before I was hired on.”

“So we’re not facing the full might of the horde,” Quen noted. “Odds are growing in our favor.”

“I wouldn’t underestimate them,” I said. I wanted to say they were human, that they were willing defectors to the Fey, and had access to full fledged Omois and all the minds of the old world, but-

Self preservation won out there.

“They have access to Omoi, and the Command Tongue,” I said.

“Indeed,” Prin said. “And some of their lackeys have that as well. Hopefully, it’s all just direct attacks. Some of the more indirect stuff makes me nauseous in battle.”

Quen clicked his talons together. “So, to gather it together, A Queen’s Guard will be in Prime-Nest, searching for information on this weapon. We’re going to move in and assassinate them, hopefully crippling the army in one fell swoop, and then we’ll only have one or two more generals to deal with?”

“Sounds about right,” Prin said.

“Yes,” The Regent said.

“I don’t think it’ll be that easy,” Tane said. “They were able to take a Warden out from under our nose, after all.”

I had killed Prince myself. I desperately hoped I didn’t need to kill another.

“We weren’t expecting them,” The Regent said. “The Warden wasn’t protected enough. Can I propose we keep her among the Inquisition during the course of the war, to keep her safe?”

“Ay,” The Warleader said.

“Ay,” Tane said.

I sighed.

“I know my vote doesn’t count here,” Jay said. “Ay. Especially if I’m to fight.”

“I’d rather you stay here, outcast,” The Regent said, dryly. “Ay regardless.”

Prin nodded. “Ay.”

“Any other business that needs to be attended to?” Quen asked. “Regent, can we see the information that has led us here?”

“You cannot,” The Regent said. “Regrettably, it destroyed itself after detecting we were past its defences.”

Quen clicked his beak. “Not to doubt you, but that’s convenient.”

“You were the one looking for war,” The Regent reminded.

“I was hoping to have the support of the people,” Quen said. “Building it up piece by piece and lead from there.”

The Regent shook her head. “There is no fighting at the heart of our people, Quen.”

“There’s no fighting in their hearts. Yet. Prin, your thoughts?”

Prin looked away from Quen. “I’ll admit, I was on the fence about this war until the Regent’s speech. Now… I think the only thing that scares me more than the Fey is the thought of being picked apart alone.”

The Regent grunted. “Boss, we’ll be corroborating your testimony before we make any moves. Might take us a few days.”

“No matter,” Boss said. “So long as I get my shot at Trellis…” She bared her teeth. The three leaders looked uncomfortable at this, while Tane and Jay were entirely too used to it to respond.

“You’ll get it,” Quen said. “If only to get you out of our feathers.” A pause. “Thank you for assisting in the hunt. You’ve hauled in quite a number of cows we might not otherwise have.”

“It was something to do,” Boss said.

“I have one more suggestion,” Quen said.

“Oh?” The Regent looked up.

Quen closed his eyes. “Permission to kindle a few more soldiers from the nurseries.”

Utter silence. I looked around at the five birds. I was well aware that this wasn’t the sum and total of the city’s governing interests, but these were the ones that were related to war.

This was not only an issue of war.

“This is outside of this council’s jurisdiction,” The Regent said, primly.

“We are waiting to hear about reinforcements,” Quen started to make his case. “We can make some ourselves. We have aeries full of crows, sleek things that we’ve bred to be as smart as possible. We can just make more of ourselves.”

“Nay,” The Regent said, not even bothering to listen to the entire stretch.

“Nay?” Quen asked. “We can diminish casualties.”

“Nay,” Tane said.

Quen rolled his eyes. “And why would we not take advantage of this? Regent, you of all people should understand.”

“What I did was a mistake,” The Regent said. “Putting that much of myself into another was a mistake. Making a Crow for a specific purpose like that… It set a bad precedent. For that, I sinned.”

Quen clicked his beak. “Be that as it may, it opened up-”

“It only opens it up if we let it open it up,” The Regent said. “How many generations of Crows were created only to fight, Quen?”

Quen sighed. “By the Morrigan?”

“We have thousands of years of history of being created only to be told the world wasn’t good enough,” The Regent said. “And we’d make it better with our blood.”

“I know,” Quen said.

“And you know what? We made it better with our blood. The world is stable. Reality has a meaning. We no longer need to worry if the moon will rise at all, or if the stars will whisper into our eyes, or whether the buildings will move when we close our eyes!” The Regent hissed. “But we don’t have to do that anymore. We don’t have to bring in more lives just so they can fight. We don’t have to kill our young, the new minds. We are Better Than that!”

“Is it better to have the moral high ground, or to die?” Quen offered.

“The one thing that separates us from the Fey,” The Regent snipped. “Is that our troops are voluntary. The conscription is ultimately meaningless. We have no authority except that which they give us. If we start making troops… if we start twisting their minds to only wish to fight… How can you not remember the day you were kindled, when the Morrigan looked upon you and told you your job, your fate? How could we do anything of the sort?”

“I get it,” Prin said. “Nay from me as well.”

“Even you, Prin?” Quen asked. His voice was low.

“Especially me,” Prin said. “I would not like to fight with coerced troops. It goes against what the volunteer guards stand for.”

Quen’s eyes closed.

They weren’t quite speaking against the Morrigan here. But it was a near step in that direction.

And they were right. Creating life just to fight set a poor precedent.

But if it saved their lives… Surely they could back off on their morals?

I remembered Boss laughing at this exact idea, that the Crows would never back off of their moral high ground.

Quen’s eyes flicked over to mine. “How did America solve this?”

I blinked. “Me?”

“Yes you. You’re an old world doctor,” Quen said. “Surely you know a few things about this. How did USEC handle this?”

I hadn’t had to think of that in quite some time. They had recruited me, of course, after I’d had a college breakdown and the Kind-Lord had invaded my dreams.

Not an absolutely uncommon occurrence. Instances of communications with the Lords had only been increasing over time. Doomsday speculation aside…

“Volunteers,” I finally said. “We were employed, and we were paid for our work.”

The Regent nodded.

“I see,” Quen said. “Perhaps it was different with how much surplus population you all had.”

“Surplus is a poor word,” Tane noted.

“All of the Crows in the world could not fill this city, not even close,” Quen said. “And this is but one of many cities. We are not a manied people.”

“Atlanta was a large city,” I said. “Not to give any wrong ideas.”

The Regent laughed under her breath. “Quen… I know you may be right. There may come a time when we need more troops. But I don’t want to cross that line now. We have gotten lucky, in the time of our species, that we have not infinitely splintered under easy access to new Crows. We have understood the burden of creating new minds. Perhaps… would you care to visit the swan house again? You can see why I hesitate to inflict new minds to new wounds.”

Quen shook his head rapidly. “No Regent, you have made your point thoroughly. I’ll not ask before this next battle.”

“I value your input,” The Regent said. “You know I do. Is that all?”

“That’s all from me,” Quen said.

“Ay,” Tane agreed.

“Nothing more,” Prin said.

“Nothing,” I said.

We stood, and The Regent paused, turning to look at Jay and Quen, one by one. “Do you think the King would agree with us?”

“The King would be happy,” Jay said, confident.

“Sometimes I doubt that,” Quen said. His eyes settled on Jay’s instead. They shared a moment. “Do you think it odd how long the King stands in our minds? That we cannot shake his influence?”

Prim sighed. “I don’t think now is the time to think about this.”

“I just find it odd,” Quen said. “That even now, twenty, thirty years since he went missing, our thoughts still turn to him, even when it comes to sorting out hierarchies. Everyone here, minus Prin and Jess, were involved with him.”

“He was a good Crow,” The Regent said. “And he carved this city out of blood. We spent a long time in each other’s company, exploring the world, you know.”

“I did.” Quen was silent. “Will you ever tell us what happened, Jay?”

“Lord Inquiry will pry it from my corpse,” Jay said.

I looked at him, taken aback. His eyes were narrowed. “I’ve already lost my life here keeping that secret, Quen. I won’t give it to you just because you let me in again.”

“Fair enough.”

“De-escalate,” Tane barked. “Now.”

Quen sighed. “Another loss for me. Figures.”

Another silence.

I just didn’t have the input I needed here. What was I to do; stand up and give a speech? I was a doctor, not a warrior. These were all trained soldiers. The fact I was here was…

I was beating myself up again. They needed me. They’d find a way to utilize my skills, regardless of what happened.

“If that’s all, I think we have quite a lot to do, and quite a lot to prepare for.” The Regent stood up, and walked over to the window, peering at the smoldering crater behind her. “We’ll meet in a week. Prioritize getting the veterans ready to deploy; they’ll still remember most of their training, and leave the new Crows back on defense.”

Another pause. “Hopefully, we’ll still have a newer generation untainted by war when this is over.”

She was silent. I sensed the dismissal, and I stood up. Prin scattered and flew out the open window, making a 90 degree turn to avoid flying near the crater. Tane caught my eyes, and then did the same.

That just left five of us.

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