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The Crowfall Chronicles - Part 20 Of 20


oridi
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It's with a mixture of joy and sadness that I finish this last bit of The Crowfall Chronicles.  Bittersweet. My gratitude again to all that contributed characters to the story.  I had a wonderful time playing with your creations.

Thank you to all the folks that have read my musings and mutterings.  When I started this story it was to write out the backstory for Oridi. It turned into pages and pages of everything but that.  Thank you for your comments, your feedback, and most of all your time and attention 

 

Thanks for reading Oridi's story.

 

 

Part 1 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...cles-part-1-of/
Part 2 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...cles-part-2-of/
Part 3 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...cles-part-3-of/
Part 4 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...cles-part-4-of/
Part 5 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...cles-part-5-of/

Part 6 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...cles-part-6-of/
Part 7 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...-of/#entry55082
Part 8 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...cles-part-8-of/

Part 9 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...-of/#entry57426

Part 10 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...les-part-10-of/

Part 11 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...les-part-11-of/

Part 12 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...les-part-12-of/

Part 13 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...les-part-13-of/

Part 14 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...-part-14-of-20/

Part 15 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...-part-15-of-20/

Part 16 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...-part-16-of-20/
Part 17 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...-part-17-of-20/

Part 18 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.cro...-part-18-of-20/

Part 19 of the Crowfall Chronicles - http://community.crowfall.com/index.php?/topic/5717-the-crowfall-chronicles-part-19-of-20/

 

 

The Crowfall Chronicles - Part 20 of 20
(featuring characters by IridianShadowweaver, Ellie, and Fiblit)

 

 

Trep woke early, rising before the sun.  Even with the villagers safe and sound he felt uneasy.  Something was nagging at him but he couldn’t place what it was.

 

He made his way to the kitchen and found the green woman there, sorting a wide range of herbs and greenery on the table before her.  Oridi was perched on a chair watching.  He looked with a wry smile over to the spot where Oridi had manhandled him through the wall the day she’d saved him from Olbuf’s axe.  Trep felt a bittersweet sense of freedom and loss and his gaze moved back to meet Oridi’s.  She smiled, a small, sad smile as if she was remembering too the distance they had come since then.  So many moments of fear, so many times of triumph, and each knew that the other was the reason they’d lived through it all.

 

 “There’s some porridge if you’re hungry.”

 

Trep sat down at the table and breathed in the myriad aromas of the greenstuff  before him. “Thank you.  I’m good for now. Inventory time?”

 

“Indeed,” agreed the green woman. “I’m preparing packages for the groups.”

 

“Groups?” Trep queried.

 

“She won’t say more than that,” responded Oridi.  “Apparently we are forming groups.”  Oridi looked puzzled but her voice was light. Everyone was safe, and while doom was just outside their door there was time to rest and recuperate for a bit before they had to figure out how to get off Parl before the planet destroyed itself.

 

Trep counted the piles the green woman was making. There were 5 of them. His mind set to divvying up the people in the Nest, forging imaginary alliances and creating rifts.  5 groups seemed too many to him but he had learned to trust the green woman’s judgement.

 

A sudden thought struck him. “Why bacon grease?” he asked Oridi.

 

The woman in green looked surprise. “Bacon grease?”

 

“When Oridi first came here to the Nest, she tied us up and left us in the Great Hall.  When we got loose there was bacon grease on the railing of the entryway staircase.” He looked at Oridi, puzzled. “Why bacon grease?”

 

She shrugged. “How else was I going to get an unconscious man the size of Olbuf up those stairs?  I greased the railing, draped him over it and used a rope & pulley to hoist him up.”

 

The green woman smiled. “I would hate to be the enemy of one so resourceful.”

 

Trep grinned and felt his mind start flipping through all the tricks Oridi had played on Olbuf. 

 

The woman in black rose from the far corner, startling Trep out of his reverie.  Oridi raised an eyebrow at her sudden appearance and wondered yet again how she could remain unseen when she was so clearly there. 

 

The green woman placed a bundle of tied and wrapped greenery into a cloth sack and handed it to the woman in black.  “This will aid you on your journey. Be safe and stay sworn my sister.”

 

The woman in black bowed and took the sack, pulling the green woman into a fierce hug before she turned and left the room.

 

“Where is she going?” asked Trep, a bit bewildered.

 

“Cice,” said the green woman. “They must be warned and the Hunger will let her pass.”

 

“You’re not going with her?” asked Oridi.

 

“The Hunger will let her pass?” questioned Trep at the same time.

 

“I will only slow her down. And my place is here for the near future. At the end of this planet’s time I will go back to my home in the forest and hold fast to the will of the beings there as they pass through.  They will need assistance walking the road ahead.”  The green woman paused and looked about. “Something is not right.”

 

Trep found himself rising to his feet and pacing, “I know. Something is off and I don’t know what but it’s been like this since I woke up.”

 

Oridi shifted her wide eyed gaze around, seeing nothing. “I don’t see anything amiss.  What are you sensing?”

 

“Danger,” said Fox, standing in the doorway with his snow white companion by his side. “Malicious, evil danger. Staring out from corners, peeking over our shoulders, surrounding us, invading us.  Danger.”

 

“Well there’s plenty of that to go around and the Hunger is definitely surrounding us,” said Oridi. She stood and stretched, hoping to lighten the mood.  “There’s porridge and I’m sure there’s tea if you so much as mention being even somewhat parched,” she said, with a small smile at the green woman.

 

The green woman finished packaging up the greenstuff and sat for a moment quietly, her eyes closed. “It’s as if overnight the Hunger has become a guest here with us.”

 

“Do you think one of the villagers? Or Mirl’s group?” Trep stopped his pacing and started unconsciously flexing his fingers.

 

Without a word they all moved to the doorway and headed towards the Great Hall.

 

---

 

Bepp sat on a window ledge in the Star Tower, crows roosting on her shoulders as she gazed out to the East.  Her thoughts had slipped from despair and grief to a quiet calm and she realized that she had spent the whole night here in the tower. Dawn started peering over the horizon.  The dim light revealed the true nature of the Nest, a twisted, disorganized collection of walls, roofs and towers with an overarching shape containing the chaos. 

 

Movement caught Bepp’s eye and she squinted to make out a small figure in black running effortlessly over the rooftops to disappear over the far Eastern wall.  She smiled with remembrance of the woman in black’s bravery and wished her well on whatever adventure she was on now.

 

Bepp was stiff from the long cold night and she took her time clambering down from the window ledge. The crows crooned soft encouragement and she wondered when she had been accepted into their ranks. Sometime during the night she had gone from prey to master.

 

She felt empty and worn out, and realized that with Olbuf gone and the King’s Court no longer a part of her days, her ties to everything were gone.  There was friendship, yes, and there was pleasure to be sought.  Challenge and fighting were still there to interest her but nothing to drive her with the relentless, teeth gritting passion she’d spent her whole life enduring. 

 

She wanted to wander now, and explore then come back to her base.  She wanted to tuck herself away in the Nest and venture out only to rediscover Parl before it split asunder, then return to her home here with the crows.  Bepp could see herself in the retired spymaster role, visited now and again by historians but mostly left in peace with her quicksilver blade in the top drawer of a desk as she puttered around in the garden.

 

She opened the door to the stairway, taking each step slowly and letting circulation return to her limbs as they protested with pins and needles.  By the time she reached the bottom of the stairs she was feeling well enough to discover how hungry she was after her long vigil.

 

---

 

Even through the closed door to the Great Hall, Bepp could hear the shouting. She opened the door to a wall of sound and the sight of chaos.  Shouted themes and variations of “the Hunger!” and “She’s got it!  She’s cold as ice! Feel her!”  filled the air. Bepp looked about the milling people and her eyes fell on a small group of people trying to keep the panic from turning into full scale pandemonium.  Port was among them, along with the green woman, Trep, Oridi, and Fox.  Bepp could see the Farseer tucked into a corner, her robe out of sight and her eyes wide with panic.

 

Bepp made her way through the screaming crowd to Oridi’s side and stood with her, back to back, as Oridi shouted for calm.  Bepp filled her lungs and with a huge yell that belied her smaller stature roared for silence.

 

The room froze and in the gap the green woman could be heard saying clearly, “No one has the Hunger, no one is Infected. We simply need to check everyone for something… ” 

 

Mirl’s eyes widened as he saw Bepp.

 

The green woman’s voice trailed off and Fox piped up. “If everyone could please bunch up against this wall over here and avoid contact with anyone else.” His words started a mutter that rose in volume as people moved over to the wall.

 

“Fleas and ticks,” said Trep loudly.  “We are looking for fleas and ticks as there seems to be an infestation.”  Oridi looked at Trep as if he was both mad and brilliant.

 

The large group of people started muttering as they milled about one side of the room.
 

“Fleas?  I have no fleas! I got dipped just before we went underground!”

“You did not get dipped, you were supposed to but you were off with Carlsly”

“He was not off with me you slanderer!”

“You were off with Carlsly? You cheater!”

“Honey listen, I was supposed to get dipped but I went to pick you those flowers.”

“He’s got fleas!”

“Fleas and ticks?”

“He works with the sheep – it makes sense.  Does he have ticks?”

“Dunno – hey did you get dipped for ticks then?”

“Of course he got dipped for ticks!”

“Actually darling, when I was supposed to be dipped for ticks I was making you that bench you love so much.”

“What good is that bench to me now? It’s back in the village you sod!”

“Poor fellow. He’s got fleas and ticks and now he’s got no girl.”

“Hey Carlsly, look who’s single!”

 

Port, Oridi and Bepp went over to stand with the large group and circulate calm.  The green woman started at one end of the group and Trep went to the other.  They systematically checked each person for any telltale shining spots or glazed eyes but found no one in the group Infected.

 

Mirl and his group stood separately from the rest.  The Chancellor’s eyes never left Bepp as he muttered to his bodyguards.

 

Fox and the fox stood in the doorway to the stairs leading to the entryway, the man feeling the oddness and danger but not able to put his finger on it.  The green woman came over to stand by him as the villagers grumbled their way back to their piles of belongings.

 

“Now that we have that straightened out, it’s time to make an announcement,” declared Mirl with a flourish of his robe.  He was posing by the windows overlooking the East, his troops and bodyguard fanned out to each side of him. “I declare this castle to be forfeit to the King as proof of promise for unpaid taxes and tithes from the planet Parl.  Those inhabiting the Nest may stay for a small stipend and a promise of fealty to me as the King’s Representative.  The Lord Olbuf may start the fealty ceremony by bending his knee to me first and presenting me with the deed to the castle.”  Mirl smirked at Bepp, anticipating her destruction.

 

Bepp found a now familiar rage rise up within her. “You’re welcome to seek my son’s oath of fealty but you’ll need to raise his corpse from the dead to do so,” she snarled, striding forward to stand before Mirl. “As his mother I inherit the Nest.  Would you like to fight me for it?”  The quicksilver dagger was in her hand and her body was poised in a formal fighting stance before she even thought about it.

 

Mirl’s bodyguards immediately moved before him, blocking Bepp’s access. “You’re his mother?” blustered Mirl, shocked.  He looked at the knife in her hand and took a step back, motioning to the troopers to get between him and Bepp.

 

Oridi and Trep moved to stand behind Bepp.  The green woman tilted her head, interested, and reached into one pocket.

 

The rest of the room stood stock still, unsure what was happening and clearly displeased at Mirl’s announcement.

 

“It’s a shame you never took the time to learn even the slightest bit about the King’s court before you were demoted and sent into exile. You would have learned my family history. Not only was my son the Lord of the Nest but this castle can only be owned by one born on Parl.  Claim all you want but the crows will drive you out before the ink on your fealty document is dry.”  Bepp let her stance flow from neutral to attack.

 

The bodyguards reacted immediately, two of them drawing their swords and hurling themselves at Bepp as the crowd gasped and backed up as far away from the fight as possible.  Bepp grinned and leapt up, one hand landing squarely on the head of a guard and pushing herself off into a cartwheel that took her behind them and facing the troops between her and Mirl.

 

The third bodyguard rushed Trep, and he stumbled backwards, loathe to cause injury to the villagers with backsplash from his powers.  A blowpipe appeared in the green woman’s hand.  A small puff of air and the guard attacking Trep slapped the back of his neck and went down. 

 

Oridi shouted at the bodyguards, grabbing their attention long enough for Bepp to spin around and make two lightening quick stabs into the small of the guards’ backs with her knife.  Both of them contorted with pain and fell to the ground, their legs useless as they writhed with agony from the nearly surgical cuts to the nerves in their spine.

 

“Stop” shouted Trep. “No one else needs to be hurt. Just lay down your arms and agree to remain peaceful.”

 

“Peaceful?” challenged Bepp. “When they’re here to kill me, take control of the castle, and force everyone here into slavery?”  She feinted with her knife towards Mirl, enjoying watching him flinch and try to step back.  His back was already against the wall.

 

“Peaceful!” responded Trep. “There are more important things to worry about than the ravings of a power mad court flunky.”

 

“I’ll have you know you are addressing a Chancellor of the King’s Court! I am no flunky, I am the legal representative of the King and I claim this castle in His Name!”  Mirl straightened his robe and took a step forward.

 

His remaining troops held firm.  The villagers murmured among themselves, wondering who was right and if they’d have to swear fealty to the puffed up man in the uncomfortable looking clothing. Some of them were still trying to find Olbuf’s features in Bepp’s face.

 

“Well regardless of who actually has claim to the Nest, they’ll need the deed,” drawled Fox, still standing by the door to the stairs that led to the entryway.  He was holding up a piece of rolled up parchment in his hand. “Anyone want this?”

 

“Get that deed!” shouted Mirl as he bolted out from behind his troopers and ran towards Fox.

 

Bepp threw her quicksilver knife at Mirl but he was too fast.  The knife missed and lodged itself hilt deep into wooden wall sconce a few feet from where Fox and the green woman were standing.

 

The entire room froze. 

 

Pouring out from the split wood of the sconce like a beam of sunlight through the clouds was an icy bluewhite flickering.  

 

Instantly, the green woman realized what had been disturbing her so.  The Hunger had infiltrated the castle. It was here, spreading through anything that was not clearstone. She was not sure how but it had gotten past the outer walls and the Nest was Infected.

 

Trep felt a low moan escape his lips and he yelled for Fox and the green woman to get clear of the door.  They dove out of the room, racing down the staircase and Trep let loose a burst of flame that incinerated the sconce and everything on the wall around it.

 

Mirl turned around mid run and dashed back to his troopers.

 

“It’s down here as well,” Fox shouted from below.  Trep advanced towards the door to the entryway stairs, flaming the walls and floor as he went, the rest of the room staying behind him as they tried to keep away from anything that was not clearstone.  The troopers grabbed the flamethrowers they’d brought in from outside and started flaming the rest of the room, herding people from one side to another as they covered every inch.

 

Trep slowly worked his way through the door and charred the wooden railings of the staircase, glad for the clearstone steps. He could sense the Hunger clearly now and aimed a gout of flame at the tapestry above the fireplace, grimacing at the silent screaming of the Hunger as it burst into flame.

 

“Get back upstairs,” he ordered Fox and the green woman. He looked about for the fox and didn’t see it anywhere.  He hoped he had not harmed it in the midst of all the fire.  The two of them dashed by him as he let his power pause for a moment and then he filled the entryway with wave after wave of flames, reducing everything but the clearstone to ashes. 

 

---

 

Hours later, order was somewhat restored and the Great Hall as well as the route to the kitchen was routinely swept with fire to keep the Hunger at bay.  Anything other than clearstone was quickly Infected, even the piles of ashes from burning everything.  The cook had taken charge of making sure they all got fed and the villagers were milling about repacking their possessions.

 

Port approached the village leaders as they huddled around an old map of the Nest.  Eld the Mayor was speaking softly, discussing the merits of camping out in the different areas of the nest while Torm the barkeep kept muttering about whether the foodstores were Infected or not.  Port sat down quietly and cleared his throat, suddenly nervous.
 

“Port,” said Ellaarn with a nod. “Is it true Lord Olbuf is dead?”
 

“You know the castle better that we do. Is it better to stay here or head back to the village with stores from the Nest and wait out the Winter there?” asked Torm.

 

“Neither,” said Port. “We all need to leave Parl.”

 

“Just because the Nest is Infected does not mean we have to leave the planet,” said Doctor Marl.

 

“You need to leave for Cice as soon as possible and get through the Portal there,” said the green woman, coming up to the group and putting her hand on Port’s shoulder. “This Winter will not end before the next one starts.  The planet itself will not survive the coming Winters and all who stay on Parl will lose this life and be set free to wander the hedgerows whether they wish or not. Your wisest course of action is to head to the Eternal Kingdoms”

 

“What are you saying?  What is she saying?” demanded Eld.

 

“The Hunger has grown too strong.  On this planet, on all the inner planets.  We have to leave Parl before Winter and the Hunger tear it apart.  No one will survive. Nothing will survive.” Port felt sadness well up in him at having to bear such horrible news.

 

Ellaarn was the first to speak. “They’re right. I should have seen it.  Winter will never end.”

 

---

 

Port watched as the Mayor went to the groups of villagers and told them the news. Before his eyes he saw each villager realize the future of the planet and the road before them.  He saw their eyes, once fighting and fierce at the challenge of outwitting the Hunger once again, turn inward.  Their mouths opened as if to protest but few words came out.  One by one they lost their innocent hold on life and joined the ranks of the displaced, the lost, the refugees.  The scavengers.

 

Mirl was sitting on the floor surrounded by his troopers and 3 unconscious bodyguards in the center of the room.  He was still seething with rage like a banked fire.  His mind churned and thoughts whirled about in his head.  Bepp had no knife now. It was a puddle of quicksilver on the floor. Olbuf was her son.  That was problematical.  Where did the deed go to the castle? That man had it. He needed that deed.  Bepp needed to die. Hunger had infected the Nest. No matter, he would flame the whole thing from top to bottom. That firecaster.  Where was he? He needed that firecaster.

 

Mirl stood up.  His troopers scrambled to their feet.  “We are going to go explore the castle. Please supply us with food and drink for 3 days and we will find a safer, Hunger free spot for all of us to inhabit. You there, firecaster, you will come with us.  And you may come as well.” Mirl gestured to first Trep then Fox.

 

“Sorry, no time,” replied Trep.

 

Fox just shook his head and looked like he was going to burst into laughter.

 

“You can get your own supplies.  Kitchen is downstairs,” said Oridi.

 

“Surely the two of you are not so weak willed that you want others to do all the heavy lifting,” replied Mirl with a forced grin.  “Come now, it’s a great adventure we’re off on, exploring the legendary Nest and finding a way for all of us to spend the Winter comfortably.”

 

Eld looked up from the list of supplies he was checking and doublechecking. “We’re not staying here in the Nest,” he said. “We’re heading back through to the village and from there to Cice.  We need to get off planet.  You need to get off planet.  The planet’s not going to last the Winter and anyone stuck here is dead.”

 

“What?” Mirl snorted in disbelief.  He looked around at the serious faces and seemed to suddenly notice the despair and distress in the room. “What?” he asked again, his confusion and dismay clear.  His troopers looked at each other and frowned.

 

Eld and Ellaarn went over to talk to Mirl and after a few minutes of patronizing  rebuttals from him finally made him see the truth.

 

“Right then!  We’re leaving immediately for Cice! Anyone that wants to come with us is welcome as long as you swear fealty to me and the King and sign over the rights to your share of the village property.”  Mirl paused as if to give people the chance to jump at the offer.

 

“We need to gather clean supplies and we’ll have to clear out the tunnel to the village and then get rid of the Hunger.  We can go overland from there to Cice though we’ll have to fight our way through the Hunger,” said Eld. He did not mention that they had already gathered up most of the flamethrowers from the soldiers and guards for the journey.

 

“I will go with you,” came Trep’s voice from a corner of the room.

 

Mirl spoke up, “Good man! You’ll do fine!”

 

Trep shook his head. “Not with you.  I’ll go with the village and help with the overland crossing to Cice.” Eld crossed to him and shook his hand then drew him into a hug.  He knew Trep’s value.

 

“Fine.  You’re a fool and you all deserve your fates.  Come men, let’s get off this accursed planet. Grab your flamethrowers ” Mirl strode out of the Great Hall and headed down the stairs, pausing to grimace at the green woman and ignore the small bag she was holding out to him.  One of the troopers took the bag then ran to catch up, slowing dramatically once he realized there were no railings on the stairs anymore.  Mirl left behind his three bodyguards, one of whom was still asleep from the blowgun dart and two of which were unconscious from the pain of their injuries. He did not stop for supplies and no one reminded him.

 

Mirl got to the front door and motioned to his men to unbar it. They removed the bar and opened the door, Trep standing at the top of the staircase ready to battle any Hunger that might flow through.

 

The scene outside was unrecognizable.  Winter had fully arrived and the entire southern lawn was filled with contorted ice, twisted and tumbled into a honeycombed maze that stretched over their heads.  In some places it was nearly halfway up the walls of the Nest.  Most of the front steps were lost to the ice, which reached nearly to the front door. The tents were gone, buried under 10 feet of ice and snow. 

 

Mirl snarled and grabbed a flamethrower from a trooper.  He blasted a tunnel into the ice and strode forward, certain his rank and birthright would keep him safe all the way to Cice.
 

They lasted a day and a half.  Mirl was the final one to fall to the Hunger, a few feet from the Traveler’s Hut on the main road to the city. 

 

---

 

The green woman knelt by the side of the two wounded guards.  She knew their wounds were past healing and quietly poured a bit of her specially brewed tea into their mouths. A few whispered words and the scent of Spring filled the air.

 

The green woman motioned to Trep and Port.  The two of them carried the guards out one at a time, down the stairs and into the East Wing.  They left the now bodies in distant rooms, knowing that the Hunger would discover them but find no use in their dead, paralyzed flesh.

 

---

 

When the third guard finally awoke from his dart induced slumber, his surroundings were different.  He was in a huge, dimly lit hall, being carried on some sort of stretcher. He sat up, still groggy, and let out an incoherent bellow. Those carrying the stretcher let it down suddenly and he had the breath knocked out of him as he hit the ground hard.

 

“Sorry!” piped a small voice.  It was Sill, who had been sharing one side of the stretcher with Board with Port on the other end.  “Didn’t think about what we’d do when you woke up.”

 

The guard sat up and tried to breath.  The air smelled fresh and new and he looked up into the luminous eyes of the green woman.  “You’re safe here.  Your companions and Chancellor Mirl have left you for dead.  These villagers are your people now, to protect.  Unless you’d rather take your chances on your own, out in Winter?” The green woman paused.

 

“No, no ma’m, no I’m happy here,” sputtered the guard, lost in the green woman’s eyes.

 

“Good.  This is Baord, and this is Sill. This other fellow here is Port.  They need to learn to fight well if they’re to survive off planet.” 

 

The guard nodded and the green woman moved away.

 

“Can you walk?” asked Board.

 

“Yes, I think so”

 

“We should keep moving.  The tunnel is just ahead and most of the village is already through.”

 

“What tunnel? Where are we headed?”

 

The green woman watched as the 4 of them walked away, Port folding the stretcher and tucking it under one arm.  Their future offworld was uncertain but at least it was better than the future waiting for them  here on Parl.

 

---

 

Oridi, Trep, Fox and Bepp followed the white fox down the hall, heading towards the tunnel to the village.
 

“Hey Trep,” grinned Oridi.  “Check this out.”  She pulled open a creaky door that led from the hall.  A half circle of disturbed dust on the floor showed that it had been opened before.
 

Trep followed and the rest of the party joined them, curious.

 

Oridi led them through several abandoned rooms then stopped before a green door. She motioned to Trep to open it.

 

He did and burst out laughing.  The room beyond was immense, the ceiling long since caved in and the entire area open to the late afternoon sky.  Covering every surface, clinging to the wall, decorating what was once furniture, were Toral plants, their roots curling up at the base, ready for harvest. Hundreds of them, generation after generation, and Trep found himself crying and laughing all at once.

 

“They were here,” he gasped. “The whole time.”

 

“They were here,” smiled Oridi.

 

---

 

The four of them met up with the green woman a few minutes later, still a bit giddy from the Toral root room and smiling as they made their way to the tunnel.

 

The green woman hugged Bepp and laid her hand to the side of her face.  Bepp was suddenly filled with the joy of watching Olbuf as a boy show her his new fighting move and discuss strategy as they shared a rare afternoon.

 

Fox felt the green woman touch his hand and he was back in his father’s workroom, watching as he expertly fitted the intricate puzzle of a harp’s sounding board together. He could feel the soft weight of his fox in his arms and hear the affection in his father’s voice when he spoke his name.

 

Trep saw the green woman gesture towards him and once again he was in the arms of his beloved, laying in the summer field by the village and watching the clouds float by above. Her voice was low and gentle as they planned their life together.

 

Oridi felt the green woman embrace her and press her check against hers. She closed her eyes and felt her father and brother there again, sharing the Link, seeing with each others' eyes and knowing with all their being that they were not alone, that no one is alone.

 

“This is where our paths diverge,” said the green woman.  “You each have held great joy, and I am better for having known you.”

 

“But, where will you go?” said Trep, clearly worried. “It’s not safe.”

 

“It’s safe for me. And I have loved ones to shepherd through the times ahead.  When this planet ends I will ride the waves to another.” She smiled at the four of them. “It’s likely we’ll meet again though you may not recognize me." She pressed two small bags into Oridi's hand.

 

She was gone between one heartbeat and the next.  The smell of flowers and a fresh breeze lingered in the air but they knew it was only an echo.

 

---

 

Oridi, Trep, Fox and Bepp caught up to the villagers clustered by the partially removed blockage in the tunnel, joined by the Farseer and the cook.  They were uncertain whether they should take away the last layer of stone and dirt between them and their village or take the chance that one of the other tunnels would prove safer.

 

Eld waved hands for silence. “Let’s recap then.  Some folks want to unblock the tunnel and fight our way through the Hunger then up to the surface and head to Cice.  Others want to try our luck with one of the other tunnels that may come out further from Cice but may lead to a village not Infected yet.”

 

“We already know how to fight the Hunger, for gods sake we’ve been living inside an infected castle for the last 24 hours!” cried one angry voice.

 

“What if there’s a clear road between Cice and another of the villages?” asked another.

 

“What if there is?  Do you know the fastest way to get to Cice from any other village than ours?  Martletown is the closest, we already know the way, we have flamethrowers and a firecaster, and at least we know the odds.”

 

The mutterings and musing of the village seemed to settle down a bit as everyone mulled over the danger they knew versus the danger they didn’t know yet. 

 

“What are your thoughts?” Eld asked the four new arrivals.

 

“I’d prefer to see the village one last time before we leave the planet,” said Trep.

 

The collective voice of the village rose in agreement.

 

“I am fine with whatever you decide.  Fox here will always choose the known over the unknown,” said Fox.

 

Eld turned to Oridi and Bepp.  “And you two?”

 

“I am not going with you,” said Oridi.

 

“Me neither,” said Bepp.

 

The two women looked at each other in surprise.

 

“I’m not sure how to explain it. I don’t think that I can leave without learning more about this monstrous new version of the Hunger.  I need to stay and explore and figure out what is happening up until the last moment.  Then I’ll leave.” Oridi shrugged, not sure she had made her thoughts clear but certain she was not ready to leave.

 

“It took me decades to get back to Parl.  I’m not leaving,” said Bepp simply.

 

Trep stood immobile with a look of consternation on his face.  “But, where will you go?  There’s Hunger everywhere? How will you live?”

 

“There’s a tunnel that leads North from the Nest.  I think it goes to an abandoned village where the Hunger was present year round.  There may be information about how to hold the Hunger at bay there. I’ll…,” Oridi looks at Bepp, “We’ll?”

 

Bepp nodded.

 

“We’ll go there first and see if we can uncover anything useful,” finished Oridi.

 

Eld inclined his head. “I will mourn the loss of both your company but I cannot force you to come with us.”

 

Trep stumbled forward and threw his arms around both women, crying with stifled sobs. “I will remember you and I will find you again.  Don’t die out there. You’re not allowed to die.” He dashed the tears from his eyes and glared at them both, so awkward and yet clearly a firecaster, with all the power and strength that entailed.

 

Fox nodded gravely at the two women and the fox sat quietly by his side, gazing at the two women with an even stare.

 

“Well then,” said Eld, blinking unexpected tears away. “Let’s vote then, on what to do next."

 

The vote was quick and nearly unanimous.  The villagers started unblocking the tunnel and within an hour the way was clear to their village.  As Oridi and Bepp watched people flowed by them, heading down the remainder of the tunnel to the underground village, no Hunger yet in sight.    Trep went first with a group of people bearing flamethrowers and he bowed somberly to Bepp and Oridi before he walked away.

 

The two women nodded to Board and Sill as the boys went by with the guard still wobbly on his feet but strong enough to carry the bear cub.  Port hugged them both and insisted he'd see them again.  Oridi handed the bag of herbs to Dr. Marl as she passed them.  Fox and the fox stood before each of them and wished them long lives and endless adventures. The village council went last, bowing their heads and walking slowly towards whatever lay ahead.  

 

Bepp turned and looked at Oridi.  “One last look at the Nest?”

 

Oridi shrugged. “Sure.  You hungry?”

 

---

Oridi sat down on the steps in the front entryway, Bepp settling down next to her.  They had filled their packs with supplies and two flamethrowers were laid out and ready on the landing just above them.  They had prepared a meal of bread, cheese, cold roasted meat and an icefruit pie.  Outside they could hear the crows’ raucous caws as they swarmed the battlements, pecking at the stone as if to claim the Nest for themselves.  The sound was somehow threatening and soothing at the same time.  In a world full of death and destruction, the sound of crows calling claim on their spoils of war was almost comforting.   

 

It would not happen for a few more months perhaps, but the planet would die and rip itself asunder like an Infected beast gone mad.  Long before the planet died the Nest would fall, victim to the Hunger.

 

They knew it, they had known it as they watched the others go down the tunnel to safety.  All they could do was bear witness to the passage of so great a thing. The two of them would stay for another hour or so until there was no safe spot left in the castle.  When it was time they would make one last dash into the northern tunnel and see where it took them.  Perhaps they’d find the lost village.  It was more likely that they would die.

 

“Remember Spring?” asked Bepp, her voice soft and distant.

 

“The groves budding and the lambs tumbling about, full of their first scent of grass and life” replied Oridi, her voice sounding just as far away.

 

“The taste of new brambleberries”

 

“Shaking out the heavy drapes and storing them for the next Winter.”

 

“There will not be another Spring on Parl.”

 

“Perhaps the gods will intervene.”

 

“On every planet?”

 

“True. Every planet is dying.”

 

The two women thought about what kind of life they’d lead on the off chance they lived, and what lay ahead for the rest of the inhabitants of the inner planets.  They would all be refugees, fleeing from decaying world to decaying world, staying only long enough to strip what they could from the dying planets.  Soon there would be too many fleeing the Hunger ravaged planets and the race for survival would grow fierce, with people fighting for the scarce resources left.  Like murders of crows, landing in great swarms of wings and beaks, devouring everything in sight then moving on. Eventually most of them would die, from starvation, from cold, and by the hand of others just as intent on surviving.

 

Both women felt a deep ache inside at the loss of their planet. All that was wondrous, all that was home on the planet Parl was succumbing to the relentless push of the Hunger.  Their memories would be all that remained.  There would be no more spring lambs, no more brambleberry pies, no more fresh grass and the first breath of clean air when stronghold windows were opened after a long Winter.  No more baking bread at the Nest or relaxing with a tankard of mead at the Queen’s Arrow. 

 

Bepp felt tears well up yet again at the thought of Olbuf’s body, broken on the Winter snow and claimed by the Hunger. Oridi saw the tears and was enough of a friend to let them fall without comment.  Grief was normal and at the moment seemed to be the most rational response to the times they found themselves in.  Bepp would cry, then they’d eat, then they’d head to the Northern tunnel. They’d die on their feet.

 

Oridi and Bepp sat on the clearstone steps inside the front hall of the Nest and listened to the calling of the crows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woman in Black - Ellie

Chinchilla - Fawne
Centaur - Vaands
Man with Fox - Fiblit
Knight - Luscia

Woman in Green - Iridianshadowweaver
The Dragon - B1GxB4NG
The Confessor - Ozzie Mozzie

Edited by oridi

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The Chronicles of Crowfall           The Free Lands of Azure            RIP Doc Gonzo.

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