A Throne For Crows (Part 39)

Petty bullets did nothing to the beast in front of her. Nor did the retorts of small arms, or even the typewriter noises of the fully automatic rifle they’d salvaged.

Admittedly, they did pulp the fey lowerlings tossed out like refuse, but soon enough Teri’s gun clicked empty, and she gestured through the OMOI link for the room they were already heading towards, and dove for cover. One by one the guns clicked empty, each Crow giving covering fire to the next, and they made their escape.

It wouldn’t be for long, but if they won here, they wouldn’t have to worry about being chased. They wouldn’t have much to worry about at all.

The murals they’d left in this place had been tarnished by age and lack of upkeep. The important memories were stored in the countless nodes and miniature data storages they’d pressed against the walls. Firing-days that had passed while keeping the structure intact, kindlings, unions, theses, successes. They flashed across Teri’s eyes, lit up by the computer, and then disappeared before she could read more than one or two of the words. Her fingers nervously played against the barrel of the ungainly shotgun, flicking shells into the open maw. Behind her, she could hear similar clicks of her group fiddling about.

There was a nervous stink to the air, an awareness of their own iminent demises, and the demises of the city, and perhaps everything that was good and holy in the world, if they lost here.

And they were just a few birds desperately clinging to sapience in a building covered in bugs.

Teri opened the next door and reacted to her Omoi before she reacted to her own eyes, and the shotgun blast bisected an intermediate who was in the middle of opening the far window. The pellets shattered the glass and spun half of his body out of it, falling far below into the burning forest. The other flopped on the ground, oozing gently. 

She poked her head out of the window, and spied the circling cloud of birds coming in closer and closer. She shook her head, marked them as hostile across the group chat, and then they moved on. Behind them, things skittered, and the back of the line opened fire.

It wasn’t right, sending them out like this, but they were the one who had erected the equipment in this building, they were-

A bullet intersected with her thoughts, and Teri scattered. She had just enough wherewithal left to fall upon the fey who had taken out her train of thought with talons and beak and hissed and pain and screeching, and the epidermis popped like the skin of a grape and graced her feathers with it, and the world was a wash of screaming and gunshots. Fey underlings fell from the roof, crawling out of the ceiling tiles, and the guns went wild in the hands of her desperate birds, and she saw it all in dozens of eyes before she was back together.

Then one of her birds died, neck broken, and her thoughts scattered even further in the chaos of the room, but the other six of her number turned and glared at the dead bird.

Feathers filled the air.

The gunshots had stopped. Birds milled around in confusion, scattered. A few were strategically dead, agonizing minutes until the rest of the flock could get back together. Teri wondered how she could still think with so many holes in her head, but she could, slow, with heavy latency, but she was still in one piece.

Filk sat there, his eyes black as coals, and stared into the room. Behind him, the murder of crows only intensified, got larger, and larger, and larger, and Teri abruptly realized there wasn’t a one of her number left in one piece, just scattered and terrified birds under attack by their enemy.

Teri did the only thing she knew how to do, and through her scattered thoughts, screeched out orders to get to the mechanical building as they could, to save themselves. They weren’t here to fight, they were here to-

Not a one of them returned her message. They were scrambled. Their number was weak.

It was down to Teri.

“You’re all thorns in my side,” Trellis spoke through Filk’s beak. 

In a moment, Teri had two choices. Freeze up at the cool voice coming through Filk’s mouth, feminine and angry and give up the fact she was still sound of mind, or hop around aimlessly like the other confused birds. Give herself up in that moment, or pretend.

It wasn’t a hard choice, but it was a quick choice. Teri hopped about, cocking her various heads to the side, and pretended to be one of the tame Crows they raised. Trusting, friendly, docile.

Filk looked down at one of her number, and Teri cawed happily at him for food.

“When you’re scattered like this, you’re only seconds from being wild animals,” Filk said, a faint hint of… wonder in her tone. “Isn’t that fitting? The closest thing we have to enemies in this last stage of the world are self important vermin. Fine feathered folk.” She shook her head through Filk’s own. “It’ll be a shame when you’re wiped from this world. A shame, but perhaps you’ll be remembered. After all, I can hardly blame you for fighting against extinction.” Filk walked through, wooden, half puppetted and awkward, and lifted Teri’s gun. “And even an idiot can be dangerous with a gun.”

The fey were motionless while Filk walked through, their eyes and ears occupied with the Guard’s presence. “In another world… perhaps we’d be able to work together. But there are 9 billion lives waiting on us, and I’m willing to sacrifice the children of the future for them. Not that any of you understand.” Filk sighed. “No point in describing Bismarck’s will. It’s written in every bullet and bomb we paint this city with, with every order and position overrun. There’s no surrender to broker here, no desperate struggle. Just the assuredness of our own victory.”

A pause, where Teri hopped about, desperately aware of how wooden her performance felt, inches away from someone very intact, who had the room very under control.

“But I can’t see that future.” Filk paused. “I know it is there, and I have seen it before, but this gift, these gifts… there’s a moment in the future where it all goes dark, and that moment is soon, too soon. I am… scared, I suppose.”

The Crow reached out a finger and scratched a Crow Teri dimly recognized, and the Crow leaned into the touch, puffing up happily at the attention. “Do you understand being scared? I’ve lived so very long, and the moment is very near. I remember, when I was younger, I could look so far ahead without the pain destroying me, but even now, looking at brief moments, sussing out which paths lead to death, my nose bleeds and my brain aches. It won’t be too much longer now.”

Another hand gestured towards Teri, crooking a finger towards one of her Crows, and against her better judgement, and decades of living, she played into the act, hopping over to caw needily at the finger. Filk scratched at her feathers, long talons sliding in deep to play against the feather bases. “But you don’t have to worry about that. I wonder. Are you sleeping like this, or are you dead? Reborn, each time you come back together?”

She laughed, the noise horrible through Filk’s beak.

“Of all the creatures that could come into power in the apocalypse, I’m sad that the final race we have to kill is so cute. So very stubborn, but oh so very cute.”

Slowly, Teri guided the rest of her birds over to the open door, hopping through, intent on exploring. Filk didn’t look up from her, and she opened the beak of the one that was being scratched and loudly demanded food with a CAW!

Filk shook his head. “Now now, little one. You know I won’t feed you. I have business to attend to, after all. Perhaps after I negotiate the total surrender of this city.”

One last scratch. “Good bye, little ones. Try not to reform any time soon; it’ll be better for you if you’re unaware for what happens next.”

Filk’s eyes closed as the woman puppetting him sighed, and then he turned to the window. He leapt out of the frame, scattered into birds.

Teri waited for a moment, hopping on her tiny feet, and then drifted towards the rest of her flock. Just enough cohesion for the lot of them to reform, but even the slightest distance made her head hazy, and her self concept weaker and weaker. It’d be hours for the others, if not days.

But they hopped and hopped, and the birds she’d left behind explored aimlessly, not a thought in their hollow domesticated heads, and then, when she could see no insects, none at all, she reformed, slipping back into her proper form.

The rest of her number was down, Teri knew, which made what she’d have to do next nearly impossible.

But if she didn’t do it, Trellis would win, and she’d win by a long shot. She just had to be better, and better, and sneakier, and maybe, maybe she could set off the signal.

The next room, Teri found a fey staring out the window at the departing Trellis, vacant, not a hint of control in his stilled form, and she broke his skull against the wall, both hands pressed against his pseudo skin, and his thin bones shattered against her talons, blood oozing down. She swallowed, trying to ignore how sticky it was, and picked up his pistol.

They were easy to kill when nobody was commanding them.

It was up to her to make sure it happened to all the others.