Rise of Glie Chapter 24
Previous: Rise of Glie Chapter 24: Growth
FHD Remix: The Rise of Glie
Chapter 25: A Second Chance
The crow is lost, soaring over the ruins of the Earth. By following other crows, he's learned how to ride in thermals and ridge lift, learned how they form, and the weather that makes them, which isn't as common or safe as he'd like. He can soar all day with only a few flaps of his wings to take off, assuming the weather is right. He struggles to get enough to eat from the dead of a starving population of strange creatures, most of which don't even resemble humans.
The dream haunts him. He threw himself off that building to end the driving evil that directed his steps, and end it he has, but ... when his human body hit the street after the long fall, his spirit lived on, leaving it behind in the shattered heap with the cars screeching and the people screaming in horror, he could not utter a sound. Silently, he rode a current to meet a God who was supremely and predictably pissed off at him for living the life that he had led.
"I chose to end that life because of what it was ... The monster I had become," he cried, "What else could I have done?" It came out as thoughts, not words.
"Nothing," a softer voice said.
He looked up to see a man glowing, with fire in his eyes, a white robe with a golden belt, and white hair, "I have done everything you needed. All you needed to do was accept that."
"Another wasted life," it was a snide growl off to his right. He turned to see a bony monster with bat wings proudly sneer, "He has worked great evil. I kinda like him."
"Silence," God said.
"Accept you?" He remembers saying it, but not hearing himself say it.
The man extended his hands to take his, and as the sleeves of his robe slid back off his wrists, he could see scars, holes where nails had been driven through.
In shock, the spirit fell flat on the glass floor, seeing the holes in the man's glowing bronze feet, "You ... you're real! The only one who can save me. Could you please?"
"Useless worm, look at him grovel!" the monster accused.
"Saved you are," God announced, "but there is no room in heaven for one like you, my child. You can stay in the courtyard given for those without a room, or..."
"I feel your love and your power to do away with the evil that was my life," the spirit quietly bawled, "Please don't send me away, how may I serve you?"
"You will recognize the place where I send you," said God, "but you may still need to remind yourself that it is not hell."
No kidding. The crow lands on a carcass and quickly downs bite after bite, looking about lest the monsters catch him. They can throw their fireballs quite some distance, and one must be quick to avoid them. A minute later he is back in the air, sated for another day.
It is little trouble to live as a filthy scavenger who is saved, rather than as a human monster compelled by evil thoughts to do such horrible things that he committed suicide to escape a justice system that refused to do the right thing and execute him. That is how he saw himself, and that is why he eeked through judgment into another life.
The crow spent three years picking up the monsters' language. God had given him two languages. The first was spoken, and written with a huge variety of ideographic symbols, some of which he found in his travels and was able to read signs and pages from ruins that were no longer relevant. By this, he learned that more than one language used those ideographic signals, but not the graceful alphabet unique to his. That's how he learned he was sent back to a ruined Earth. The second is a language of the hands, with no spoken sounds, and simpler symbols. It bothers him that he has neither a voice nor hands, and wonders how he is supposed to earn his room in heaven without such capabilities.
He tries to rescue orphaned animals. [Real crows have been known to do this.] If he succeeds, that's great. When he doesn't, there's a little to eat.
That can't be it, obviously. There must be more to this life than rescuing kittens and sparrows. He's looking for the monsters' biggest complaint, a phrase that has become the worst expletive that can be uttered: "Sudden City". He's learned that it is surrounded by a wall that no one can look over, and no one can touch except on the first Saturday of winter, and that it has been that way for twenty-three winters. This means that nineteen winters before he hatched from his little cocoon, something happened to change things about that city. Something that none of the monsters talk about.
Where is it? Where is the Sudden City?
Soaring for it, he got lost in an enormous forest where the monsters don't like to hang out. At night, he perches on high branches and stares into a cloudless sky, wishing the sparse stars could tell him where he was; wishing that he had come to know the sky better as a human ... wishing he had done many things better as a human.
This morning, he wakes, then goes about the task of finding his day's meal, flying easily before the sun is hot enough to produce thermals simply because he weighs less after the previous day's meal is digested. He follows an interesting smell through the air, going back and forth through it to follow it upwind to find its source. He knows he's close, and finds the body of a domestic cat. Very unusual. He lands close to it, but not quite right at it, looking about, ready to fly, wondering if it is a trap. After satisfying himself that there is no one else claiming the kill, nor any monsters near or downwind, he walks up to the cat and chows down.
The cat and the crow are gathered up together into a net, and the latter emits a frustrated squawk as it dangles from the tree. Counterweights don't have a smell, he realizes. Escape is his only option; he must fulfill whatever purpose God sent him for, and to do that, he must survive. He gets on top of the cat, within the dangling net, and munches a few more bites before making for an opening he's pretty sure he can squeeze out of. He's a mess and must preen and clean at least a little before trying to find a safer perch, lest whoever set the snare should come back for him. It seems specifically designed to catch a crow, after all.
The robed man makes absolutely no effort to sneak up on him. Far from it, he announces his presence from twenty feet away by tapping his walking stick on a tree. By this point the crow is free of the trap, clinging to the outside of the net, and already knew he was there.
The man, whose face is covered by a pale grey scarf, tucks his stick under his arm and signs, "You must be new around here" in the sign language.
The crow looks around for who the man must be talking to, but sees no one else. It suddenly dawns on him that this is the first time he's seen the sign language he's known since he emerged into his life as a crow three years before.
"All the crows familiar with this area know about this trap," the man signs, "since it has caught many of them. Some even trigger it for fun, but I know them. We are the Toga, welcome to our camp."
The crow realizes that the net really wasn't designed to constrain him, but rather, the rotten bait has slimed up his feathers so badly that he can't fly. He starts preening madly.
The man taps his stick on the tree again, and signs, apparently hoping he has the crow's attention, "Wouldn't you like a bath?"
Someone's offering me a bath??? The crow decides to pay some attention.
"I'm not here to hurt you," the man signs, "We're enemies of the hellspawn, so we try to make our camp hard for them to find, but easy for you crows, our friends."
He suddenly realizes that he is surrounded. Crows in the high branches seem to chuckle amongst themselves at his misfortune, and about a dozen robed men have apparently emerged from the ground itself. He realizes that the trap is the town square of an extremely well concealed encampment.
The man offers the handle of his cane as a perch for the crow. He spreads his soggy wings and takes it, riding it unsteadily back to the man's tent, within which is a pot of warm water. The crow jumps in, splashes around a bit, climbs onto the edge of the pot and starts preening his feathers properly.
The Toga signs, "I know how smart you are, not like animal crows, but smart like us. It is a harsh world, and most crows who are new here recognize the trap. Then they stake it out to see who tends it. We know to look for this."
The crow feels silly for not trusting his instincts, but grateful for finding a friend who knows how to communicate with him, even if he can't offer much of a reply.
"You remember," the man signs, "that the language the Saviour has given you includes some simple gestures for creatures with wings."
With hardly a thought, the crow pauses in his preening to extend and wave his right wing, then continues to straighten out coverts and primaries from its dorsal side.
"You must have been a crow a couple of years," the Toga signs, "practiced at observing the happenings around you while busy preening or eating. Most don't take long to find us."
The crow tucks his wing back to his side and looks up at the man. He's right, obviously, but the crow doesn't know how to say it.
"The Sudden City lies west," the Toga signs, "It is where the clouds come from. Some crows never go there. Most find their purpose with us. Most crows will visit there, since our purpose is with them." The fluent speaker of Toganese knows how to add emphasis to certain gestures.
The crow continues preening and "listening" to the Toganese gestures.
"My instinct tells me that your purpose is with us, the Toga ... at least for now. In any case, it is about to rain, so I'd wait-"
The crow jumps to the floor, gliding as best he can, scrabbles out of the tent, which is somewhat underground, and climbs along a branch forming part of the roof. He starts preening furiously where he can see the gathering clouds, in a massive hurry to get away. The only "rain" he's ever experienced came down as fifty kilogram balls of ice that smashed what little was left of the abandoned human town he was in at the time into little smithereens. He and his murder shared the flesh of a large bear that was killed by that storm.
"It's okay, it's okay," the Toga frantically signs after following him outside, "The rain is gentle near Sudden City. We can even farm if it's not too far from the wall. Please, come back inside, I have much to tell you."
The crow seems quite wary of the clouds, and still preens furiously.
"At least," the Toga now signs, "I will set the cat's body in a safe place for you to finish it if you like. It is not fresh enough to remain in the trap, you've surely realized."
Another, somewhat smaller crow lands next to him on the broken branch. He was higher up in the tree staking out the trap. It is obvious to the crow frantically preening his feathers, that he is looking into very inexperienced eyes on his fellow bird.
"Yes, my friend, it is my trap," the Toga signs, "It will not harm you if you trip it."
The fledgling looks like he's in a playful mood, so he takes off, glides down the unmarked path, alights on the dead cat and gets caught with his wings outstretched. He squawks indignantly at the Toga, but once the Toga has lifted the counterweight again, lowering the bait and resetting the trigger, he seems none the worse for wear and didn't get anywhere near as dirty.
"It is your life to live," the Toga signs to the elder crow, who is now ready to fly, "You were never my prisoner."
He turns to the younger crow and signs, "You mustn't have seen the hail far from Sudden City. The stones are no smaller than thirty kilograms, nurtured into such proportions by raging high altitude turbulence. Usually the clouds pass over without incident, but when they do, they will drop their entire load in two or three minutes. It is best to avoid them if you're far from here."
It's not too hard. Clouds are extremely rare anywhere other than around Sudden City.
The younger crow seems to trust the Toga. The elder crow watches with him as the Toga removes the half-eaten cat from the trap and sets it under another tree, where he clears away bones picked so clean it would take very trained eyes to tell what wild, or semi-wild creature they may once have belonged to. Within minutes, several members of the local murder are feasting on it, but the two crows to set off the trap have already had their fill.
They lift off as one as the rain begins to fall, and find themselves high branches for refuge. The gentle rain does them no harm. The two "new" crows accompany him inside the tent, where the Toga tell them many things.
"We too, are scavengers as well as traders," the Toga explains well into his lesson, much of which is familiar to the elder crow, since he is three years old in this world. "We serve the needs of Sudden City, and they seem willing to serve the needs of the world. I wish I could live there," he signs. He takes a moment's rest, probably longing after the safe community inside the protective wall. "We are looking for fuel oils and engines, pumps, and other machines. We can also produce fuel oils from grain and rotting ruin; remains too far gone for you crows to be interested in, so we are more interested in the machines. You can point them out on the map when you return-"
The elder crow, who has wandered around the continent for three years, hops onto the Toga's table and wanders over the map, showing the Toga where he hatched, thousands of miles away, and taps on abandoned human settlements some of which are marked on the map already, some of which aren't. The Toga marks these places with yellow chalk.
"Do you know these are abandoned human settlements?" the Toga asks.
The crow extends his right wing and flaps it once, slowly enough not to blow himself over.
"Hellspawn settlements?" the Toga asks.
The crow extends his left wing, but does not flap it, trying to convey that his knowledge is unreliable. The monsters are moving around a lot, probably because "rain" is so rare and causes massive havoc when it hits. The crow then taps a smaller number of places on the map.
"Any places where the enemy has remained for more than one year?" the Toga signs after marking the new spots with black chalk.
The crow taps just one spot on the map, which was already marked with black chalk when he first saw the map: the nearby ruin of Chita.
"That's what I figured," the Toga signs before he puts away his chalk.
The crow caws at him and points at the map. He knows where they are and taps that place with his bill, then gently drags his bill west along the map. After that move, he looks at the Toga again and caws.
The Toga does not understand what the crow has asked.
The younger crow jumps onto the map and gently pushes his older companion out of the way, then points at a specific spot on the map, northwest of Chita and east of the deep lake.
The Toga suddenly understands, "The Sudden City is not marked on this map," he signs. "The hellspawn don't like us, but they really hate the Sudden City. They do search us, and for that reason our maps are never marked with Sudden City. We don't want them to know how close we are to our friends within the wall."
The Toga reads the question from the eyes of the corvids.
"Very close," he answers, "That's all I can tell you."
Next: Rise of Glie Chapter 26: The Engine