Author Topic: The Murder of Black Wings (Writing project)  (Read 457 times)

Offline Mr.Obvious

The Murder of Black Wings (Writing project)
« on: June 07, 2018, 08:02:41 AM »
Feedback appreciated.
Hope to turn this into a fully fledged story.

I.

 Mr. Crow set down amidst the soggy leaves. The cold night air penetrated even this deep inside the forest. He was wet and, despite his best efforts, shivering. The night bit into the scar on his left wing. Fruitlessly he comforted it with his right.
 Resting in one of the many treetops would have been the smart thing to do. He knew that, as he eyed his surroundings carefully. At night there were predators abound. And nowadays, he was simply an old ruffled bird without a murder to call his own. The trek South called to him, from deep inside his bones; and instinct older and stronger than the waistcoat he wore and the fancy civilities he'd been taught. Finding an inn was a ridiculous waste of time and resources; too much chance to get involved with a business that wasn't his own.
 And yet; he was cold. And shivering. If he couldn't spare a decent night's rest, he felt, he'd be lost already. He needed this. Even old birds needed to fly South. But old birds needed rest too.
 Calmly and very much aware of his surroundings, Mr. Crow walked over to the light he'd seen from the sky: a small door at the base of a tall and wide oak. The forest continued to drip the afterglow of the rain on him, but he didn't rush. There was no loud music, only amiable chatter and the scraping of cutlery. Still, even if it wasn't a place of ill-repute, rushing into a bar would be sure to draw attention. Attention he didn't need.
 For one second, he considered knocking, but refrained himself. The bronze little bell above door hadn't even been an option. He opened the door with some restraint, using his good wing. It creaked heavily and set of the bell. Rush or no rush, all eyes were on him now. And all amiable talk fell short.
 Four squirrels were seated at a nearby table, with empty plates and half-full glasses of ale, playing a round of cards. A mole was seated next to a rabbit on the other end of the room.
 He could just about hear the mole ask: “Who is it then?”
 “It's a bird.” The rabbit informed his blind comrade in a hushed tone.
 The grimace on the mole's face was undeniable, even if the man wouldn't have been able to see it himself. Some of the same disdain, though better hidden, was on the faces of the other guests as well. The badgers, the otters and the rats. Even all of the waiters stood there frozen at the frozen bird at the door; mice, pure white. Their eyes completely red. All looking anything but hospitable. Especially in a room without window, lit only by firefly's in cages, casting dancing shadows on everyone.
 He closed the door behind him.
 A middle-aged mouse rushed for him through the crowds. She wore the same outfit as the other waitresses, a skirt and a black shirt. Except unlike her fellow waiters and waitresses, she had a white apron to boot.
“Come on then. Come on.” She ushered her younger staff. “You all act like you ain't never seen a customer before. Tom!” She ordered. “Get that platter to table four. And the rest of you, don't lollygag about!”
Though begrudgingly, the other mice followed her commands. And life and sound returned to the small in. As the lady rushed towards him. They were small, mice. It seemed like an odd thing to specify. But he was always reminded by it, whenever he came face to face with one.
 Her fur was as whiter than anything he'd ever seen before. He'd only once seen anything akin to it on another animal. And not even the snows he'd witnessed back when he was just a boy and his first murder had taken a wrong turn compared.
“Good evening tall, dark and handsome.” She spoke, a little out of breath.
 He'd met a thousand innkeepers. Most of the women tended to do this kind of thing. If he'd been in a good mood, he'd have replied in kind; told her what a ravenous young beauty she was. But he didn't feel like it tonight. And besides, she was comely.
“Evening.” He croaked back.
 She smiled at him. A careful smile. He could tell her red eyes were trying to read him. Yet he found his own eyes darting back; captivated by her fur. It reminded him. Reminded him of Her.
 The pain in his wing flashed, unwarranted, bringing him back down to earth.
“Will you be needing a table?” The little mouse asked, her small paw guiding him.
 He ignored the lingering stares. The moment he began to move, she led the way to the only free table left; all the way in the poorly lit back. But that was okay. It would suffice. The smell of food and drink put him in an anticipating daze.
“Lodgings too.” He declared. “For one night.”
 “I'm not sure we have a room for you, stranger.” The reply came. “But we can see you off with a nice meal.”
 “I see.” He said, somewhat disappointed. He'd spent many a night on a branch. But he wasn't the young bird he'd once been. He wasn't looking forward to it. Absent-mindedly he began checking his plumage, to make sure it was still doing the trick.
 He took his seat as she produced a pen and notebook.
“So, what will it be stranger?”
 “Pardon?” He asked, catching himself drifting off again, staring at her white fur.
 Her smile was less careful now, instead an honest fluster. This had to be embarrassing.
“What do you want for dinner?” She explained in a way that told him that despite being flattered at finding out she was still able to make someone daydream, she did not have time for this right now. The place behind her buzzed. She was staring him right in the eyes with those big red ones of hers. Her paws on her hips.
“What do you suggest?” Mr. Crow asked.
“How 'bout a nice slice of cricket-quiche?”
 “Is it good?”
 “I made it myself.”
The answer should have sufficed, but the old bird had a hang-up about such replies. “Is it good?” He laughed softly through his beak.
 Rather than being offended, she joined in the laughter. “I make a crooked cricket-quiche.” She assured him.
“That will do nicely.”
 “And something to drink?”
 “Ale.” He answered. “Or something stronger, should you have it.”
 “Coming right up.” She winked at him.
 He watched her go; saw her dancing tail disappear into the bustling crowd of mice waiters. The fumes of the nearby kitchen were enough to lull him into a daze. Before long he had to fight to keep his eyes open. Yet all the while, his mind raced on. About this place, the staff, the guests, that white fur. Perhaps he could risk sleeping here, at this table, just for a few hours. It could be pleasant. There was no doubt it was all very tempting. Then again, he hadn't reached his ripe old age by giving into every foolish whim.
 He nearly jumped when she returned with his supper, her kind face close to his.
“You're a quiet one.” He expressed, somewhat disoriented.
 Again she smiled, and he found that he quite preferred it on her. He didn't even mind her overbite. It was something he'd never been able to do, with his beak.
“You're a tired one.” She shot back. “I brought you your food.”
That she did. The aroma of the quiche reached him. A sweet seduction. A fragrance rich and determined.
“You don't disappoint.” He complimented. “This smells amazing.”
 “And it's ale.” She went on, taking his words in stride as she shoved a wooden mug closer by. “But it has a drop of something stronger in it. My personal favorite.”
With some bravado he reached for the cup and brought it to his beak. The taste was not an unpleasant one. The ale brown and thick. And whatever she'd put in there, it bit back.
“I can see why.” He spoke honestly.
“If there's anything else, just let us know.” She said as she made to turn around.
“Actually… Miss.” He started, his feathers wrapping around her arm for a single second.
“Yes?”
 “It might not be polite to ask, but I've been wondering...”
 “Yes?” She folded her arms, expectantly yet ready to shoot him down with bolts of lightning.
“You must get this more often...” He said, before reading by her expression that he better get a move on. “Your fur.”
 “Ah, yes.” She said, leaning on the table with one paw. With the other she played with the hairs in her face. “Quite the uncommon colour for a mouse, is it not?”
He nodded.
“I'm not from the fields. Nor the forest.” She continued. “Let's just keep it at that.”
 “So these are all your kin then?” He gestured to the busy mice running from the bar to the tables carrying plates and cups.
“It's a family business, yes.” She said, looking over them fondly. “My husband and I started it. And these are all our sons and daughters, helping us out.”
 “Large family.” Mr. Crow noted. “You and Tom must be proud.”
 “Oh.” She laughed, but not really. She fidgeted with her collar. “No Tom is my eldest. The place would fall apart without him. But no… Their father… He's not...”
 “I'm sorry.” He apologized, understanding immediately.
“It's okay.”
 “I didn't know.”
 “It is okay.” She reassured him.
“It's not. It wasn't any of my business, but I just had to pry. It's a bad habit. I am sorry.”
Her eyes narrowed with a kindness in them. “You just enjoy that slice, stranger.”
 “I do have one more question.” He said, raising a feather carefully.
“Yes?” She held her head lobsided.
“I noticed I'm the only bird in here?”
There was a flash in her eyes. Her smile never waned. But her eyes betrayed her. That was fear. Worry. Unfiltered unease.
 He tried to play it off. “I'm just afraid I may be off course, it's a bit early to see none of the younger birds around. They tend to start their trek south later than us old timers.”
 “You truly are a stranger to these parts, aren't you?”
 “Yeah.”
 “Perhaps you should keep it that way.”
And with that, she left him; disappearing into the crowd once more. He ate his quiche in silence. He drank his ale quickly. Perhaps too quickly. When he ordered another, one of the daughters took the order. And one of the sons brought it. He could not tell if this one was Tom, or not. He didn't ask either. There wasn't a hit of the strong stuff in the second round either. It felt like a subtle hint.
 The matriarch had been right, of course. He was a stranger to these parts. Best thing was to keep it that way.
 He had to make it South.
 The sun called out to him.
 Somewhere.
 He didn't realize how quiet things had gotten, until he heard the voice that broke the silence.
 He hadn't focused on it at first, unsure of what it had said. But he knew he wouldn't be able to ignore it now.
 It demanded attention. It was elegant and suave.
 He hated it from the second he heard it.
 The crowd had parted enough, backing up against the walls somewhat, as to give the newcomer space. It's grey and white feathers looked somewhat scruffy. Yet the bird didn't wear them like they did. Instead, he strutted, sporting his grey pants and matching waistcoat with a bloated chest: pride. Nothing but self-brewed pride. You could see it in his strut.
 Fuck. He hated pigeons so damn much.
 Mr. Crow tried to keep to the shadows in the dark corner; sipping his half-way gone second drink. This was none of his concern. He'd pay his bill and be out of here soon. He had no dog in this fight.
 When the innkeeper rushed to meet her new guest, he became acutely aware how hard he was holding the wooden mug. With his bad wing too.
 She was pleading with the pigeon. Mr. Crow couldn't quite make it out. Not from here. But he could guess. The grey bird carried himself in a way all too familiar to someone like Mr. Crow. This guy was a crook. A gangster through and through. As slick as he was revolting.
“Hey, I'm just the messenger.” The bird said without so much as a hint of a hang-up, holding up his grey wings innocently. “But if you want to take this up with the Night-owl?”
 “He knows we're good for it.” One of the waiters rushed forward, stepping in between the pigeon and his mother.
 Mr. Crow could only assume this was Tom.
 The old crow had to remind himself. He had nothing to do with this. This wasn't his fight.
 But it was hard to focus on that, as he felt that he could tell where this confrontation was leading. He'd been in it often enough.
“You're just early, that's all. He can wait for one more week, can't he?” Tom urged.
 Not his fight. This was not his fight.
“Tom. Please. I can...” His mother tried, grasping him by the shoulder.
 Too late.
“He can wait?” The pigeon asked. His voice still not quite unpleasant, but clearly disturbed. Like calm waters with a fin, barely visible, rushing through them.
“Sir, please, he didn't...” The woman wasn't just scared, she was terrified.
 The South. Remember the South.
 The pigeon waved her off. He didn't so much convince her to stay calm. Mr. Crow could tell, even from the back, by the sparkles in her red eyes. Tears.
 He couldn't deny the trek. It was all there should be.
“Shh. It's okay.” The pigeon ushered. “He's a grown boy, he can talk for himself. So boy, he can wait?”
 “I just meant...” Tom started, but the fire was gone from his voice. He was putting up a brave face, but it lacked conviction.
“You just meant you know what it takes to do what the Night-owl does, didn't you?”
 “No. NO. I didn't say that, I...”
The mug was trembling in Mr. Crow's wing.
 The pigeon was on Tom in an instant; it's talon pinning him down. The nails dug into the white fur. The young mouse screamed in agony. And yet none rushed forward to aid him. None of the customers. None of his brothers and sisters.
 And Mr. Crow sat there, desperately trying to recall the South.
“No don't!” The crying innkeeper rushed forward, her tiny frame desperately trying to push the behemoth off her first-born.
 A grey wing lashed out, knocking her to the ground.
 Fuck it. He fucking hated pigeons.
 Mr. Crow rose from his seat and rushed forward in a steady pace. He had time, the pigeon was calling out everyone and anyone in the bar; asking if they wanted a piece of this and if they wanted problems with the Night-owl. All the while, Mr. Crow could move in his blind spot.
 The pigeon didn't see the wooden mug coming until it was too late. The sound of it connecting to the bird's head was overshadowed only by the loud gasp on everyone's lips.
 He didn't care. The pigeon stumbled away from his prey, loosening his footing. Mr. Crow could just, from the corner of his eye, see Tom and his mother crawling to one-another; meeting in an embrace. But by then the intruder demanded his full attention. He was trying to regain his balance, but Mr. Crow knew better than to let him. His beak lashed out, not once, not twice, but three times. The cuts weren't deep, but they were enough. The pigeon fell to the ground, his bleeding wings raised in self-defence. Though it was his side that bled the hardest.
 Mr. Crow fought the temptation to take his eye out. But as the shivering bird lay on it's back, dreadfully anticipating the next blow, he thought better of it. This one was a nobody. A coward. But from the sound of it, he did belong to some dangerous murder. The bloodrage subsided as soon as it had arisen. Maiming or killing this bird would only cause for more problems down the line.
“Get out.” Mr. Crow ordered.
 The bird lowered it's wings, apparently only seeing his assailant clearly for the first time.
“But… But...” It started, clearly confused. “You're a… You're one of us.”
 “I said get out.” Mr. Crow went on, not fazed. He wished he'd remained seated. He didn't want any of this. None of it. “I won't repeat myself.”
 “You crazy bastard.” The pigeon crawled up, but clearly kept it's distance; afraid of the sharp beak at Mr. Crow's dispense. “This isn't over.” It warned, clutching the wound at it's side. “You hear me?!” He yelled in impotent fury as he backed up towards the door. “ You'll be sorry!”
Truth be told. He already was.
 And still, he watched the grey bird back out through the door and flee into the dark night.
 With some luck, perhaps a fox would catch him. Though deep down, Mr. Crow doubted it.
 He turned back to find a hundred eyes watching him. None of the least Tom's an his mother's.
“Thank you.” The innkeeper managed in between sobs, clutching her son who lay in her arms.
 The boy's face, however, was one solely of surprise.
“You shouldn't have done that, stranger.” Tom spoke.
 He was probably right. Mr. Crow had no illusions.
"If we have to go down, we go down together!"
- Your mum, requesting 69 last night.


Offline Mr.Obvious

Re: The Murder of Black Wings (Writing project)
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2018, 08:04:38 AM »
II.

 The crowds dispersed soon after the fight. When the initial shock had settled, all the squirrels and hares and other critters soon remembered early appointments in the morning or mumbled something incoherently about their wives waiting for them, back at home.
 Uncharacteristically, it were the rats that abandoned ship last. Three of them had been seated in the inn, all every inch as pitch-black as Mr. Crow himself. Apart from the scars. Of which there must have been roughly, divided amongst the three of them, a whole lot. The biggest, meanest looking one of the three had one running across his right eye, leaving it milky white and quite dead. The other one Mr. Crow felt linger. But he’d already started one dumb fight tonight, he wouldn’t go for two if he could help it. All three of them took the time to finish their drinks as the others stumbled over themselves to leave the oak tree as inconspicuously as possible.
 Only when the one-eyed rat rose, slowly and deliberately as if he owned the place, did his two stooges follow suit. As one they collected their leather, black, studded jackets from their chairs and put them on. One-eye even whistled carelessly as he fished for his wallet and put down enough to cover the expenses and leave a hefty tip at that.
 They passed by the concerned lot of the innkeeper and her offspring who were already diligently bandaging up Tom’s minor wounds and cleaning up the mess of ale and blood his scuffle with the pigeon had left. When the big rat passed by Mr. Crow, he paused. The old bird felt his feathers bloat, an instinctive response.
 The rat tilted his head, smiling and acting like a thought had just popped in his head. The one good eye fell back on Mr. Crow.
“One might think of what you did as brave.” The rat said with a devious grin. “But I suspect you just don’t know what kind of shit you walked into.
“I get the feeling I have some idea.” Mr. Crow sighed, not trying to focus too much on the dead eye. He didn’t like this punk very much. But it didn’t do to make more enemies than he already had.
“Yeah.” The rat confided, his dead eye piercing him dead-on. “I can see that in you. Word to the wise though, oldtimer. Compassion and loyalty are things that can get you killed.” The rat finished, pointing two of his fingers at the crow’s chest.
 Mr. Crow managed to not to snort, but just barely. Loyalty? He didn’t even know these people. Compassion? No man that knew him well enough would ever accuse him of such a thing. The things he’d done… They alone were enough to make him deserve showing the compassion he never displayed. Given the validity of the rat’s claim. But most of all, he had to stifle the laugh at the fact that he was being lectured by some middle-aged punk who had the balls to call him oldtimer, on survival. Some showboat punk that thought fingerless, leather gloves were a cool and impressive thing to sport. The peter freaking pan of ‘bad boys’ that had failed to realize he indeed did get older himself.
 He managed a single nod, as if he understood. “Wouldn’t it be great if those were the things that kept one alive?” The old bird said.
 The rat’s stern gaze and frown were lifted in a second’s time, making way for a mad, entertained laughter. “Now that…” He started. “That would be a world to behold with my very own eye. The rat’s laugh grew more sinister as he turned away and moved for the door. His cronies stepped in line behind him. Mr. Crow could now clearly see the embroidery on the back of their jackets, a crown of gold, diamonds, rubies and sapphires.
 When One-eye reached the door and pried it open, he paused one last time. “I guess now we’ll see if it was bravery or not. Fight or flight. Die, or fly? I wonder which it’s going to be.” His faked apathy couldn’t quite mask the underlying sadism. “Well, at least you might make things interesting around here pops.” He went on as he walked out into the darkness. “A bird against bird. What a night. Wait until the rat-king hears about this.” Mr. Crow heard the rat laugh as the shadows consumed him.
“Huh. Yeah, Mad Eye, heh.” One of the stooges got in right before the other slammed the door shut.
 And here he was thinking Tweedledum and tweedledee were just for show.
 For a while, he didn’t know just how long, Mr. Crow stood there; lost. He was unsure of his next move. Or more precisely: he didn’t have one. Eventually he turned around to find Tom and his mother had been helped to seats by the rest of their family. That seemed like a good enough start. He only now realized how tired his legs were. He reached one just his size, one table over, and plummeted down.
“You okay, sweetie?” He heard the concerned mother ask as she checked him all over.
“Yes, mama.” Tom answered. “Just some scratches.”
 “Are you sure?” She asked.
“Yeah. Mom. I’ll live. I’m fine. Don’t worry.”
 “Good.”
Even with the back of her head facing him, Mr. Crow, who’s face was resting in his wing, looking out through his feathers, could imagine that content smile. And in that single fatigue-driven second, it almost seemed like maybe things wouldn’t turn out quite that bad.
 He was therefore all the more shocked when her paw struck out brusquely, slapping the recovering lad in the face. Though, despite the initial confusion, the old bird’s look had nothing on Tom’s.
“Don’t you realize what you did, you, you… stupid, stupid boy!?” She fumed.
“Mama….” The shocked lad tried.
“No!” It was obvious she was crying by now. “No, Tom. Why couldn’t you just let me handle this? Why did you have to open your big mouth?” Her blows were landing on his chest now. Initially stronger, but the drive was fading fast. “God damn it, Tom. God fucking damn it.”
When she could see the shame taking over her son, it seemed, she spun in her chair, facing the old bird. The tears couldn’t make her eyes any more red. But not for a lack of trying.
“And you…” She mustered, quickly regaining her matriarchal control. Mr. Crow found himself straightening his posture. She wiped the tears from her face and looked at him half-sternly, half-lost. “I don’t know whether to thank you or to kick you out.”
 “If you want me to leave, I will.” Mr. Crow replied levelly, feeling a deeprooted sympathy, not compassion, for the woman. “Every part of me is telling me to fly off and get the hell out of here anyways. Because it was a stupid thing I did.”
She nodded with pressed lips. He couldn’t help but have the feeling they were tightly shut, not just to contain her wrath, but also to keep herself from falling back into despair.
“Why couldn’t you have just killed that bastard?” She managed, after a brief silence.
“Mama!” A surprised female voice from the crowd of offspring exclaimed.
“Oh, hush Jo.” The innkeeper shushed, her eyes glancing sideways, but not turning away from him.
“I think you know…” Mr. Crow said, reaching for a half-filled little bowl of nuts. “That that would not have made things better.”
 “And beating him up did?”
Mr. Crow didn’t answer immediately. He chugged a few nuts into his beak and looked blankly at the door, still confounded by his own stupidity. He shook his head.
“They’ll be back.” She breathed, following his gaze.
“Yes.”
 “With a lot more beaks.”
 “Yes.”
 “Tonight.”
 “Yes.”
 “You’ll stay?” She asked, turning back and looking up at him.
 He met her gaze. Those red eyes. The white fur in her face.
 So white. Reminding him of promises made in a life, lifetimes ago.
“Yes.”
His voice was more coarse than it had right to be. He had no idea why he was acting this foolish.
 She swallowed and nodded back miserably. A spasm of a confused smile ran across her face, but decided against such a miserable home and disappeared into thin air.
“It’s going to be bad.” He stated. “It’ll be worse if they can’t find me here.”
 “Right.” She sighed. “Right.” She stood up and dusted herself off, straightening her skirt and her apron. Her children looked at her expectantly. “All of you.” She ordered. “Get to the tunnel underneath, and take the black suitcase with you. If anything happens here tonight, if you hear anything loud or breaking, I want you to go to Nell.”
 “Aunt Nell isn’t going to be able to help us.” One of the older boys protested. Mr. Crow couldn’t honest to God keep them apart. “We can’t stay there.”
 “No you can’t, but that blind old mole knows the underground better than anyone. If she can smuggle in anything, she can well enough smuggle you lot out.”
 “But what about you?” The boy asked, defiantly.
“Jack, I’m not in the mood for your lip tonight. Just do as I say, okay?” Her voice a tower of authority leaving little room for argument.
“But mama…” One of the girls at the front started, with faltering voice and watering eyes.
“Oh, get a hold of yourself Liz.” The innkeeper ordered, folding her arms. Her thin tail tapped the ground impatiently. “You always have to be so dramatic. This is just a precaution, so stop making a big deal out of this.” The girl looked like she was about to argue, but couldn’t get the words out of her mouth. “And wipe those tears out of your eyes.” The mother added, without missing a beat.
“Yes mama.” The girl obliged, sobbing
“Now off you go.” She shooed them. “Mr. …” She turned to back to him, waving her hand aimlessly, beckoning him for a name.
“Crow.”
She shot him a frown of incredulous disbelief.
“Mr. Crow.” Her voice ridiculing his name as she spoke it. “Mr. Crow and I will stay here and take care of things.
 Even still with her iron paw ruling the clan, it took the matriarch of the family several more minutes to get every last one of her offspring ready and headed towards the cellars. Minutes of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in which the old bird became very aware of the standing clock next to the bar. A heavy wooden thing that slashed away the seconds mercilessly. And with each second shaved, it seemed the offspring grew more reluctant to leave her to the oncoming rendezvous. Two things had to be said about this family, Mr. Crow felt. They were loyal. And stubbornness was clearly a family trait.
 At long last it seemed that she finally got rid of the collateral, but then Tom reappeared from the cellar. He was protesting and complaining how everything was his fault and that he wouldn’t leave her alone to face come what may. And unlike his brothers and sisters, the eldest didn’t just let himself get shipped off with fancy promises and half-baked lies.
“No. Because it’s not going to be alright!” He shouted after a long row.
 Mr. Crow felt just about ready to step in himself, before the madam stepped up her game.
“Well of course I know it’s not going to be alright, Tom.” She hissed. “Do you think I’m stupid?”
 “Do you think I am?” He argued.
“Yes!” She exclaimed, shaking her paws angrily. “Stupid and irresponsible! A stupid, stupid, stupid, irresponsible boy! Don’t you get it?!” That shut him up. If only for a few seconds, more than enough for her to deliver the final blow. She placed her hand on his cheek and rubbed it motherly. “And so very sweet. But I need you to be smart and responsible now, boy. I need you to be a man. Who else can lead your brothers and sisters? Who else can I trust to keep them safe? To keep them from coming back here? And if need be, to get them out of these woods?”
 “Tom.” Mr. Crow croaked from his table. When the confused lad looked at him, apparently having forgotten he was there to begin with. “Trust me; being a man is about having to do stuff you don’t want to do, and doing it anyways. It’s about knowing where you can mean the most, and being there. You can’t help here. Your mother and I will try to talk. Work something out. It’s our only chance of fixing everything. If it comes to a fight, one mouse more or less isn’t going to do any good. But you can help your brothers and sisters.”
He looked back to his mother who nodded. And then finally, they were left alone.
 
"If we have to go down, we go down together!"
- Your mum, requesting 69 last night.


Offline Mr.Obvious

Re: The Murder of Black Wings (Writing project)
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2018, 08:05:00 AM »
The moment her children had gone, Mr. Crow couldn’t help but notice, the woman’s posture changed. Relief works in the strangest ways. It might unveil the greatest stress. She was shaking by now, and avoiding his gaze as she made for the counter. From his seat, he saw her duck under and return with a bottle, a glass and a packet of smokes. Only then did she look back at her guest. One feeble smile later; she ducked once more and returned with a second glass.
 She was fumbling with the packet when he rose from his seat and walked over to her. Cursing under her breath and mumbling softly. When he took a seat by the mouse-tailored bar, allowing them to meet eye to eye, she’d finally managed to fish out a smoke. He eyed her with quiet fascination as she reached for a nearby book of matches. But her hands were shaking too hard to strike the flare. His wing folded around her paw and he took it from her gently.
 A sigh so deep one might mistake it for a moan, be it from agony or ecstasy, escaped her lips, pursed around the cigarette. The striker in one wing and the match in his other, she made a grab for the pack and offered him one as well. Her eyes told him this wasn’t mere civility, she wanted him to join her. With luck or a newfound, be it fragile, sense of calm, she flicked one of the smokes, popping it up higher than the rest. Mr. Crow took it carefully with his beak. Mice cigarettes were a tad too small for him, but he wasn’t about to argue. In one fell swoop he lit the match and proceeded to set hers ablaze first, before taking care of his own.
 The innkeeper was sucking on the thing for dear life, preoccupied once more with her worries. So he took the liberty of pouring the glasses full with the unmarked bottle.
 It seemed fitting, an unmarked bottle. Before the night was through, he’d probably be resting in an unmarked grave. If he was lucky, he wouldn’t have to dig it himself.
 He offered her one of the glasses. Small to him, rather large to her. Both filled to the same amount. She took it and raised it absentmindedly, continuing to smoke ferociously.
 The bouquet was rich, tough and familiar. He realized he’d had it earlier that night. It made sense to have the good stuff straight up now. No sense in denying themselves anything. The clear liquid burned in his mouth and throat, but it helped steel the nerves.
 With one hand at her brow and the half gone cigarette protruding from it, the innkeeper mustered the courage to speak once more. And even before she’d let the glass meet her lips. “What brought you here?” She half asked, half accused before taking a major gulp; making up for lost time.
“Just passing through on my way South, miss.”
 “An ancient bird like yourself, without a flock? Isn’t that pretty stupid and reckless?”
A short, one syllable laugh escaped the back of his throat. “You don’t really have a filter, do you?”
Her reply was nothing more than a pensive glare and a drag from her cigarette.
“I had a murder once…” Mr. Crow went on. “Unfortunately, growing older doesn’t equal growing wiser, more likeable or more patient.” He took a sip of the strong stuff. “But despite the odds… Despite how much circumstances might change… There is one inescapable truth we birds must obey. One drive we cannot ignore.”
The innkeeper exhaled her fumes in a long thick cloud. “Yeah? What’s that?”
 “The migration. The trek South. When it calls us, we can’t ignore.” He brought the glass to his beak.
 The innkeeper produced an ashtray and stamped out the small bud. “Silly me.” She said. “And here I was thinking you were going to say sex.”
Mr. Crow nearly choked on his drink. “Madam innkeeper.” He did his best to stifle a laugh, despite the circumstances. “Are you always like this when your kids aren’t around?”
 “I’m always myself. No point in being anyone else.” She replied levelly. “I get the feeling we might differ in that regard.”
 “He grunted and took another sip. Focussing on the heavy pendulum of the standing clock, he spoke. “Sex is relief. But South… South is purpose.”
 “That’s the way it should be…” She said, resting on her elbows on the counter, allowing herself to daydream as her hands absentmindedly played with the glass. “Fly off, somewhere warm and exotic. If I had been born with wings… I’d see the entire world. I’d find everything beautiful on this globe.”
 “And then what?”
 “I’d just look at it. All of it.”
He looked at her white fur.
“You can find beauty anywhere.” He mumbled to himself as he raised the glass to his beak.
“Hm?” She asked, awakening back on earth.
“Beauty is the eye of the beholder.” He answered. He stamped out his own cigarette as she lit another for herself, with a lot more determination this time. “What kind of numbers are we talking about here?” He moved on, refusing her offer for another smoke.
 She took her first drag and asked: “Numbers?”
 “The pigeon.” He answered back. “His flock.”
 “A lot.” She replied, taking another nervous hit of tobacco.
“Fifty? Sixty?”
Her eyes played a quiet game of mockery.
“A hundred?”
 “Three thousand.”
His initial reaction was to scoff at the very idea.
“Oh please…” He managed.
 Her response was deliberate. “Over three thousand.”
 “That’s impossible.”
 “The Parliament of the Eclipse.”
 “What?”
 “That’s what the Night-Owl calls his mixed-flock of pigeons, robins, woodpeckers, blackbirds, magpies, …”
 “Why?”
 “Because they have enough wings to blot out the sun.”
 “Fucking hell.” The old crow said, lost to the world. He downed the last of his drink. “This is insanity.”
 “The world has gone crazy.” She agreed, filling his glass again.
“How long have they been here?” He asked, fearing he might squeeze the glass into a thousand pieces.
“Seven years.”
 “They come back every spring?”
 “No.” Her red eyes pierced him. “They’ve been here for seven years.”
 “What?”
 “They don’t share your passion, stranger.”
 “You mean…”
 “They don’t migrate.”
 “Madness.”
 “It wasn’t too bad, in the beginning.” She said, pacing about behind the counter. “The Night-Owl arrived with his lieutenants. Eagle. Buzzard. Sparrowhawk. They took refuge in the human ghost-town near the hills and quickly took control of the skies. Many friends and family were taken, but no more than they needed to survive. It was horrible in its own way…” She seemed lost to the world once more. “But at least that was how things go.”
 “The law of the jungle…” He nodded, understanding. All animals knew; it was a cruel world that owed you little and gave you less.
“But then…” She shook her head, still in disbelief after all these years. “Then the Night-Owl did something far, far worse. And much more monstrous.”
 “What’s that?”
 “He made us all co-exist.” The glass was at her lips, but she didn’t see it, nor how much it trembled: sloshing the liquid over her front paw.
 He took it from her gently.
“How so?”
Her wandering eyes found his face now. “’A new era’ he called it. ‘One of peace. And prosperity.’” Her voice rose now, critical and unstable. “Those bastards had been killing our kind for months on end!They would be coming back the year after. Of course we agreed. Of course we went along. Anything to stop all that carnage!”
 “Calm down, woman.” His wings took her small shoulders. “Get a hold of yourself.”
 “They told us… They told us we just had to give them food and money and power. In turn, they’d keep us ‘safe’. It worked, the first winter. Very few of us got killed and eaten, only once in a while when it struck their fancy. We had less to go around for ourselves, but nothing major. Then the next year, when spring rolled, they kept the covenant going. And rolled in more birds that passed by. They employed the pigeons and the magpies to go into the nearby human towns and steal food. And with every new set of wings, came a new enforcer to make sure we would pay all we were due, throughout the year. And with more and more eyes in the sky, there was less and less we could hide from them. And even our past friends, birds we’d known for years, were either driven out, killed or turned to their collective. Every year their flock, the parliament, it grew… More and more of their mouths to feed. Every winter, less and less of us made due. The weak. The elderly… We lost so many last year. And even now… they’ve grown with another seven hundred in their number over the past year. I just don’t know how we’re going to make it through winter.”
A silence grew between the two. And it wasn’t broken by anything but the relentless swinging of the pendulum, until Mr. crow asked: “Why didn’t you run?”
 “Someone had to try and save this place.” She whispered with newfound vigour: trying to convince him as much as she tried to convince herself. “With this place, even with how bad things have gotten, we are still better off than most. If there is a chance I can save it. Some deal I can cut… A chance I can keep using it to support my children and keep them from dying in the winter cold: I will.”
 “I meant, why not sell this place years ago, when you still could, and move on. Not tonight in particular.”
The immediate glare of disbelief in her eyes at the mere suggestion said it all. “Harrold and I made this place what it is. We sunk our lives and souls into it. It’s all I have left of him. It is where our children were born and grew up. This is our home.”
 “I see.” Stubbornness truly was a family trait.
“Why didn’t you run?”
 “Wouldn’t have been a smart call either. Not with six thousand wings on my tail.”
 “Yes.” She answered, not letting herself get fooled. “But you didn’t know that yet.”
 “Well…” He started, unsure how to respond.
“Do you think we have a chance?”
He knew he was a good talker, and a creative solution-finder. “Somewhere between slim and nill, yes.”
 “Are you suicidal?”
 “No.” He shrugged, oddly not offended at the suggestion. “No. Not that.”
 “Then what?”
 “Well… You see…”
The innkeeper’s ears bobbed and turned. Her red eyes widened and her fine nose curled. In one shocked turn, she made to face the door. She gasped and swallowed.
 She had fine instincts, the old crow remarked. Their awaited guests had arrived. And he felt himself grow empty as he heard the knocking on the door. It was far too polite for comfort.
"If we have to go down, we go down together!"
- Your mum, requesting 69 last night.


Offline Mr.Obvious

Re: The Murder of Black Wings (Writing project)
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2018, 08:06:09 AM »
III.

 Mr. Crow did his best to appear at ease, hoping to respond in kind with an outward calm; matching the knocking mobsters. Perhaps a friendly demeanour would likewise rub off on them. He heard the innkeeper stifle a gasp somewhere behind him. A second later, he felt her front paw on his wing, squeezing. He steeled himself for whatever was to come, as the door opened .
 He wasn’t ready. The figure came into view more and more as the door turned.
 Large. Dark. Feathered. And it’s voice…
Mr. Crow’s breath stalked as well.
 That voice.
“Hello, hello, little mooshkas.” It spoke pleasantly, despite the coarseness that had slipped in over the years. Yet, there was no mistake. And when de door swung open fully, revealing the large raven, there was no surprise left for Mr. Crow either. Only disbelief. The raven wore a white waistcoat now. And the seasons had roughened up his feathers somewhat. But he was undeniably still the same bird.
“Thalons?” Mr. Crow asked.
“Eyes?” The seemingly equally struck and frozen bird responded similarly.
“Thalons!” Mr. Crow exclaimed, rising from his seat, the paw left his wing.
“Eyes!” The raven replied in kind, opening his wings in a kind gesture.
 This moment was completely lost, however, on the wired upstart that barged in after the larger bird.
“That’s him!” The pigeon accused. “That’s the one that attacked me!” He continued, pointing at Mr. Crow.
 The old bird would’ve felt a sick pride, seeing the red still seeping through the white bandages, if he’d had eyes for the grey nuisance. Instead they were solely on his former, younger brother in wings.
“Thalons!” Mr. Crow exclaimed a final time, rushing forward and ignoring the pest completely. He felt his one-time ward’s wings fold around his back as his smaller ones stretched to achieve the same. They patted one-another.
“Eyes.” The raven added, as they broke apart somewhat, at wing’s length. “Who’d think you’d still be flying around, huh?”
 “You sound surprised.” Mr. Crow laughed. “A strong feather is not swept, it sweeps the wind.”
 “Goddamn.” The raven looked down at him, holding him by the shoulders. “You haven’t changed at all, have you?” His voice quickly lost elevation after that. “And to meet you here, of all places.” He spoke, more gravely now. “What brings you here, Eyes?’’
 “A lot less than what brings you here, I’m afraid.” Mr. Crow answered, his eyes now falling on the pigeon who, by the looks of it, was seriously reconcidering his situation by now.
“Ah yes.” Thalons agreed, letting go of Mr. Crow’s shoulders. “The little mishap we had here.” His left wing fell down to Mr. Crow’s brown waistcoat. Holding the fabric between two feathers, he continued. “Though I guess you don’t know how things work around here, yet?”
 “That’s right.” Mr. Crow said, eyeing the raven’s prying eyes with some unease.
“He ain’t one of us, Ray.” The pigeon blustered. “He ain’t wearing the colors.”
 “You know you pigeons have a tendency to state the obvious.” The raven’s cold look fell on his companion who seemingly shrunk three sizes.
“The colors?” Mr. Crow asked.
“Brown, leather?” Raven asked, tugging at the waistcoat.
“White, whatever this is?” Mr. Crow replied in kind. “It’s just as strange for me to not see you in black either.” They both let go of the other. “Are Beak, Wings and Feathers running around dressed the same?”
 “Things change, Eyes.”
 “What does that mean?”
 “It’s just me.”
Mr. Crow was taken aback, he had to blink a few times to bring him down back to earth. “You left the Murder?”
It seemed to take his friend a while to find the words. He even averted his gaze. “Things happened, after you left. Too many things…” The gaze returned full force. “Too many things to talk about tonight. I found a new Mur… A new flock, Eyes. The Parliament of the Eclipse. And we’re always looking for new wings that we can count on.”
 “New wings.” Mr. Crow joked, hoping it would get him out of a pledge. He sat down at a nearby table. “Mine are old and weathered, lad.”
 “Innkeep.” Thalons called out, hailing the still frozen and confused mouse behind the counter. “Two glasses of whatever that is you have there, okay? Thanks sweetheart.” He sat down at the same table, not waiting for a reply.
 With a wordless stare, Mr. Crow tried to tell her things would be alright. He didn’t know if she got that. But regardless, she kicked into action.
“It’s your eyes I could use.” The raven said, hunching over conspiratorially. “Are they still as sharp as ever?”
 “As sharp as your thalons.” He boasted.
“Heh.” The raven laughed shortly. “That’s good. That’s good. Ah, thanks, doll.”
 “Ray.” The innkeep said, void of emotion but chalk full of irritation.
 The Raven accepted the drink offered by the little white mouse. Mr. Crow did the same.
“Mr. Crow.” She spoke, much in the same way but more softly now. And as she did so, he couldn’t help but notice the cold in her red, usually piercing eyes. He watched her retreat to her counter with a raised chin and pride in her stride.
“So…” Mr. Crow started after the uncomfortable interlude. “Ray, huh?”
 “Short for Raven.” His friend said before taking a gulp. It was as if he was trying to bury his face in the damn thing.
“Yeah. That I figured. So… Ray.” He let the name simmer.
 His friend lowered the glass calmly. Deliberately. A deep inhale. A calculated exhale. The feathers of his hands folded into one another.
“Mr. Crow.” His friend countered.
“What are we going to do about this, Ray?”
 “Oh, I don’t know, Mr. Crow. It’s a mighty fine mess, I’ll give you that much.”
The raven finally turned to the pigeon. And for a second, Mr. Crow too had almost forgotten about him. It was an easy thing to do. The grey bird stood there, lost to the world. No control over the situation whatsoever and stuck in purgatory.
“What do you think, Pete?” Ray asked.
“What do I…?” The pigeon was startled. Fear and confusion in his eyes; fighting for dominion. “I don’t … Ray, he…” He was struggling, and settled on a whine. “This bastard fucking attacked me, Ray!” The plead went.
“Why don’t you have a seat, son.” Mr. Crow offered.
“What?!” The pigeon’s head bobbed from crow to raven. “Are you fucking serious?!”
 “Sit down, Pete.” Ray ordered.
“God damn it Ray, I…” Pete was shaking by now.
 The raven rose so quickly that it was a blur. And Mr. Crow had to admit, he heard the glass shatter before he even realized what had happened. The years had been kinder on his friend than they had been on him. There was something oddly satisfying in seeing the perplexed look on Pete’s face and the way he turned to eye the wall where behind him, close to his face, the glass had shattered into a thousand pieces. The unbranded liquor still a stain on the wall. Yet, Mr. Crow found he couldn’t enjoy it. Not with the genuinely terrified shriek he’d heard from the bar.
 Mr. Crow finished his drink, before the raven decided to throw that one too.
“Sit. Down.” Ray ordered.
 This time, there was no comment.
 Blindly and hurriedly, Pete searched for a chair or a stool or anything behind him. He seemed to be unaware he’d settled for a table, as he parked his tail.
“Don’t forget your colours.” Ray’s words were much more stern than Mr. Crow had ever heard him use against his own flock.
 At long last, and before either Peter or the innkeeper had recovered from the shock, Ray sat himself down again.
“Sorry about the glass, doll.” Ray gestured to their hostess.
 Mr. Crow too turned to see the effect his friend’s behaviour had had. She was shaking like a leaf and fumbling for the bottle. From the corner of his eye, Mr. Crow could see the raven signal her not to bother.
 She smiled faintly and insincerely.
“Do you mind only destroying this place after you’ve decided to kill us both?” She laughed. “I need it until then.” She was putting up a brave façade, but her red eyes were full of dread.
“I’m hoping it needn’t come to that, doll.” Ray sighed. “Still… This is a mess. … Eyes, you don’t know how this place works.” He said, turning to the old bird.
“I’ve been informed.” Mr. Crow nodded. “The Night-owl. Enough wings to blot out the sun.” He played with his glass. “Wish I’d known sooner.”
 “If it’d just been someone wearing a blue waistcoat… I think we could’ve just let this off the hook. But grey…”
Mr. Crow gave him the eye.
“Birds who wear grey aren’t just part of the flock, even worms like Pete here. They’ve got status, Mr. Crow. They’ve got certain rights.”
From across the room, it seemed like the pigeon mumbled ‘that’s right’. If he did, he was at least smart enough to keep it to himself.
“See, it’s not that I care about Pete. Not in particular.” Thalons went on. “But if we don’t stand up for our own… Then what are we? We have over six thousand wings, Eyes… Six thousands wings flying under the watchfull eye of the Night-owl. Six thousand wings in need of order and certainty. Wings that look up to their leader for guidance. For protection. Can you imagine what would happen if he couldn’t deliver that? If he couldn’t back up his promises? The chaos?”
 “Chaos, yeah.” Mr. Crow nodded wearily. “If you’re going to have crime…”
 “It might as well be organized. Exactly.” The Raven said, remembering.
“So… This order.” Mr. Crow said, looking up at his taller friend. “What would an old fool find himself were he to fly in… Unaware of the entire situation… Pick a fight with an unruly and, might I say unsavoury, random punk… And save a family of mice in service to this Night-owl. Where would he find himself, were he to… interrupt… this ‘order’.”
The huge raven leaned back in his wooden chair and weighed his words. “The Night-owl is a bird of vision.” He said. “He’s built a wonderful world here. Brokered an understanding… A peace… with the locals. They sustain us, and we keep predators out. We keep them safe… you see? Buzzard… Sparrowhawk… Eagle… They work so hard to make his vision come true. They ask so little in return.” He shifted his weight, now leaning on the table with one wing. “So you ask me, where would this old fool find himself? The same place any meat that does not obey the new order would find itself. Making itself useful by feeding our protectors.”
That coldness in his voice. Perhaps Thalons had changed after all. Mr. Crow didn’t want to stop and consider just how much. Whatever the amount, he was certain he wouldn’t like the answer.
“So help me out here, Eyes.” His friend beckoned. “Help me figure this one out. Because I know an old fool. But he’s a useful old fool. And I know a family of mice, to which our leader has a special fondness… But who can be of so much more worth in the long run than as a midnight snack.”
Mr. Crow inhaled deeply. He paid full attention to his breath, as he tended to do in moments of stress. And carefully, as he held it in, he went through all his options. It didn’t take long. There really weren’t all that many. By the time he exhaled, he knew his play.
“Pigeon.” He said, raising his head towards the grey bird.
 The pigeon, who’d regained some of his former demeanour after his boss had started with the threats, shook out of a wicked trance.
“What?” He asked.
“Pete, was it?” Mr. Crow checked.
“Yeah, what of it?” Pete answered back.
“What were you doing here tonight, Pete?”
 “What’s it to you?”
Mr. Crow answered with: “Remember that I don’t like repeating myself.”
 “Up yours, man. You know what I was doing. People need to pay up for their protection.”
 “You have three thousand birds in your parliament.” Mr. Crow noted.
“So?”
 “Why would you need to do these kinds of runs on your own?”
 “Why not?” Came the reply. But half a second too late and with an inflexion only barely audible.
 Mr. Crow knew to press. “For safety.” He explained loftily.
“You said it yourself, oldtimer. We’re over six thousand wings strong. No-one is stupid enough to mess with us. No-one but an old fool.”
 “If you don’t understand just how many stupid animals there are out there, you’re one of them, Pete. Which of course just might explain your piss-poor undertaking of a shake-down.”
 “What?” Pete said, honestly confused for a split second. A split second Mr. Crow took advantage of. He laughed a provocative one-syllable laugh.
“Did you just call me stupid?” Pete asked.
“If you have to ask, I think you answer your own question.”
 “You want to go again, old man?” The pigeon asked, finding his courage again as he rose from the table. “I promise you it won’t be as easy now that you can’t catch me off guard.”
 “I can see you are a tough one.” He mocked in a an unimpressed tone of voice. “Is that why you always go on these house-calls on your own.” Mr. Crow asked. “Or you don’t, do you?” Without a care in the world, the old crow turned to his hostess. “Does he? Ever?”
 “Never.” Came the reply.
“Now. That. Is. Odd.” The crow punctuated every word.
“It isn’t.” The pigeon’s response was far too immediate and far too worried now. He shifted uneasily in his chair.
 The raven shifted too, assessing the situation with keen interest.
"If we have to go down, we go down together!"
- Your mum, requesting 69 last night.


Offline Mr.Obvious

Re: The Murder of Black Wings (Writing project)
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2018, 08:06:22 AM »
“You know, Ray.” Mr. Crow said, standing upright and taking his glass with him. “You speak highly of your leader. And I must admit, he must be a bird unlike any other.” Mr. Crow spoke loudly and absentmindedly. “To organize an operation like this. Three thousand beaks… And to hold control over them all… I can’t even begin to calculate the logistics. “ He placed the glass on the bar and shoved it closer to the innkeeper. He winked assuredly at her, before turning and leaning on the bar. “But I do know the nature of birds, Pete.” He declared, taking some glee in the way Pete couldn’t even look him nor Thalons in the eyes anymore. “I know that urge all pigeons have. To quickly pick the crumbs. I know dumb birds that think themselves invincible and intelligent. Birds that spend entire lives trying to outrun other dumb birds in the race for a crumb rather than going after an entire loaf. And I can imagine that in a huge undertaking like this, it must seem like there are a lot of crumbs left unattended, while the big boys rack in the loaves.” He let him squirm for a few moments. “Innkeep?” He asked the mouse behind him. “When do you usually expect this gentleman? Your son mentioned he was early.”
 “Not for another eleven days.”
 “Eleven days. Hmmm.” Mr. Crow tried, but couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of his voice entirely. “Thalons, is the Night-owl in that much trouble that…”
 “You’re implying that I’m stealing from the Night-owl? Then come right out and say it!” The frustrated pigeon shouted in an obvious, desperate swing for control.
“You would have to be pretty damn stupid to do something like that.” The Raven agreed, looking from the grey bird to the black one.
“Yeah, how stupid do you think I am?!”
 “Pete.” Mr. Crow answered. “If I were to have enough rope to make the climb down the dark depths that is your brain, in search for the bottom, I’d sooner use it to hang myself than to take that descent.” He chose to take the simmering anger as a sign of confusion instead. “I’m saying your lack of intelligence knows no bounds.”
 “Goddamned Prick!” Pete shouted as he smashed a nearby chair in rage. Holding one of the wooden legs, he aimed it at Mr. Crow.
 There was the paw again, at his wing. Mr. Crow noticed the reflex.
“We’ll see how smart a mouth you have when you’re begging the Night-owl to just finish you off.”
 “First sensible thing you’ve said all night, Pete.” Ray intervened, from his seat. Calm as ever.
 It was enough to drag the pigeon out of his adrenaline-filled rush.
“What?” He asked his superior.
“We’ll go straight to the Night-owl. Let him settle this. We’ll go there, I’ll set up the meeting for tomorrow morning. There you can make your accusations and then Mr. Crow will have his say. And we’ll let the bossman figure this out. What do you say?” Pete didn’t look like he could say anything at all. “You can explain yourself to him.” The raven added, clearly aware of everything.
“Oh, come on now, we don’t need to…”
Ray didn’t let him finish. “You can explain all about why you were making an early withdraw. Good thing too, Pete… I’ve been hearing rumours of pigeons thinking they can undercut the boss. We can ask him to have a closer look at your recent dealings.”
 “Ray, I don’t…” He was breathing irregularly now.
“Would be good to clear your name. Right?”
Mr. Crow knew the pigeon knew it too. Thalons was being too friendly. Too reasonable. It had to be a tactic the flying rat had to have seen before. When the pigeon darted for the door, Mr. Crow expected his friend to rise quickly, throw his chair overhead, use it to trip up the bird, pin his wing to the wall with one of the tables and break his leg. That’s what the old Thalons would have done. But it wasn’t what Ray did. Instead, the behemoth watched him run with an almost distant expression of curiosity.
“You wanted me to get that for you?” Mr. Crow asked calmly, straightening himself up somewhat and gestured to the door as it slammed shut. He gently removed the innkeeper’s paw.
“Not necessary.” The raven replied. “He’s bleeding. He can’t hide from the lieutenants. Nor can he outrun them. And those three love a good chase.” Thalons turned from the door to Mr. Crow. “Make no mistake; there is no escape, old friend.”
 “So what do we do now?”
 “I gotta go report to the Night-owl. Tell him that we have a runner on our hands.” Raven said, standing up and straightening his white waistcoat.
“And tell him about me.”
 “Naturally.” His friend answered. “And tell him about your keen insights.” He walked closer to the bar, close enough to tap him on the shoulder. “He has plenty of muscle, Eyes. Plenty of guys like me. More than he can use. But he could use you. I’m not supposed to know, but I’ve found out about a few… problems. He could use a fresh pair of eyes to look them over.”
 “And what about us?” The innkeeper’s voice rang behind Mr. Crow. “What about my family?”
 “You stood up against the Night-owl, doll. One of his delegates came a knocking and you refused. So… What do you think?” The raven dropped in a kind voice. But not the same fake kindness of before. There was an actual hint of regret in there. Somewhere.
“Concidering he was acting outside of his… jurisdiction… maybe an exception can be made in this one case.” Mr. Crow pleaded, placing his wing on his friend’s shoulder.
“I’m already making an exception for you, as you caught us a treacherous rat.”
Mr. Crow didn’t relent. “For old times’ sake?”
Ray gave him a strong, deep stare. Mr. Crow felt himself being weighed and examined. Every fibre and feather of his being. At long last, Ray inhaled deeply and breathed: “Okay. I can get that done.”
 “Thank you, Thalons.” Mr. Crow bowed his head slightly in reverence.
“But there will be a debt.”
 “You name it.”
 “It won’t be a debt to me.” Thalons shook his head. “Never between us.” The raven answered, towering over him as he placed his wing on Mr. Crow’s shoulder. “It’ll be to him. And you can start paying it off tomorrow.” The black behemoth looked past him now, to the small, white mouse. “Tell you what, doll. You have our money ready in eleven days and in the meanwhile, set up my friend here with a bed. I’ll swing by in the morning to pick him up, see the sights and meet the chief. And as long as he stays and does what he’s asked, we won’t even speak of this again. Sound good?” By the response his friend gave, he was certain she’d nodded ‘yes’. “Good. Get some shut-eye, Eyes.” The raven padded him on the shoulder before turning around an heading to the door. It opened, as it always did, with a creak an the sound of the outside bell. And before he let it fall shut, Thalons turned to look back at him. “It’s good to see you again.” He said.
“It’s good to see you again too.” Mr. Crow returned earnestly.
 He watched his friend depart, hoping he was still enough of the same bird he’d known for all those years. Only when he’d left and shut the door, did Mr. Crow turn back to his little hostess.
 He watched the adrenaline drain from her comely face. She looked like crying. She looked like laughing. She was heaving and trying to hold herself steady by the bar.
“You alright?”
She didn’t speak. Instead she raised her paw, asking him to wait so she could catch her breath.
 He obliged.
“I can’t believe that just happened.” She managed at long last. Looking up, her red eyes were on him once more. “I can’t believe you did that.”
 “Don’t thank me yet.” He replied earnestly. “We’ll still have to see if I can pay my debt to the Night-owl.” He nodded, gazing at her searching look. “But yes, it looks we get to live another day. Just to be safe, however, I’d let your kids stay at the aunt’s for tonight.”
 “I have to go tell them.” It was like she was lost wandering in a foggy forest and had just seen a light in the distance. She even turned to head to the tunnel. But one pace in she reconcidered. Turning back, she addressed him. “But first, you.”
 “Me?”
 “You need a place to sleep.”
 “I thought you were fully booked.”
 “We are…” She said, absentmindedly, thinking of a solution. “We are.” She concluded.
“I’ll just find a branch and…” He said, gesturing to the door.
“No!” She urged frantically, her paw outstretched. “No.” She calmed herself down. “You can sleep in my room.”
He cleared his throat.
 He didn’t know what to say.
 He really didn’t.
“I’ll sleep in the girls’ room tonight.” She nodded to herself.
 He sighed in relief. “You really needn’t, miss.”
 “It’s the least I can do.” She seemed truly determined now as she emerged from behind the bar. She led the way to the back and he couldn’t help but follow. “And if you think I’m sending you out there and risking something happening to you… My children’s lives depend on you now.”
 “Fair enough.”
He followed her through a few doors and hallways leading down into the ground, deep enough to withstand even winter itself. As a crow, he felt the familiar feeling of slight Justfocus on the bed that awaited him. The hallways were decorated with wood. Simple and brown. But he hardly noticed them. He felt tired, in the maze of marked rooms. In the end they came to round door and the innkeeper produced a ring of keys and opened it.
 She stood by the door, gesturing him inside. A plain room. The same wood and brown. Lit by the same dancing light-bugs in lanterns. Only the old drawings of mice were enough to make one realize the room was permanently occupied. That, and the king-sized mouse bed. It made for a bed just large enough for a crow. His eye felt on the drawing of a white mouse with red eyes and a black ribbon over the corner. He tried to ignore it.
“This is lovely.” He commented, unsure what else to say. “This will do nicely. Thank you.”
He turned to find her still standing in the doorway. She had something on her mind, he could tell.
“What is it?” He asked.
“I have no choice but to put my trust into you, Mr. Crow.” She tried her best to look him in the eye. Something had changed between the immediate relief and the long walk to her quarters. Probably the return of reality. “Can I trust you? With the lives of my children? With my life? The inn?”
He needed only two seconds to find his reply. An honest one. “I hope so.”
 “I guess that will have to do… Won’t it… Eyes?”
 “Please.” He said, sitting down on the bed. He held the scar on his wing in his other one. “Don’t call me that.”
Amidst the downtrodden misery, a flash of curiosity ran across her face. “Why not?”
 “It’s not my name. Not anymore.”
 “Then who are you, Mr. Crow?”
It took him longer than two seconds now. “Just an old crow, miss. … And old crow that can’t find South.”
The silence between them grew. Until she, perhaps unsatisfied with his answer, felt the need to break it. “I’ve heard about your friend.” She said, folding her arms. “He hasn’t been part of the parliament for more than two years, but he’s made a name for himself. Impressive.” That last word, she almost spat out in disgust.
“I imagine he would.” Thalons had always been a pro-active one.
“Word’s been going around about him.” She said, knowingly with disdain dripping from every word. “They said he used to part of a different gang.” He waited, for her to finish. “The Murder of Black Wings.”
 “Is that so?” He would have tried to laugh it off, if that hadn’t been too much of an insult. “How rumours do start, huh?” He spoke levelly.
“What do you think? ”
 “I think rumours are overrated.”
She seemed to swallow a curseword and needed to inhale deeply before continuing. “So you won’t tell me your name.” She accused. “You won’t tell me your past.” Her red eyes were undeniable. “Will you at least give me an answer to my first question?”
 “Which was?”
 “Why did you save us.”
 “Oh…” He looked down at his feet, mulling it over himself. “I guess…” He tried, eventually. “I guess that you remind me of someone I knew. Someone that I wish I could have helped.”
He could tell she could tell she’d crossed a line with that. She was probably unsure just what line it was and what it meant. But that was okay. It was the same for him.
“Okay.” She nodded to herself, putting her paw on the handle of the door. “That’s a start.” She smiled faintly. “I have to go see my children.” She went on. “I’ll be back to work, later tonight. To clean up. And I’ll wake your bright and early.”
 “Help me get the worm.” He jested poorly, to show he held no grudge.
“Yes.” She laughed without conviction.
 She moved to close the door. He layed himself on his back in response, ready to throw a towel over the nearest bug-filled lantern; to dim the room. He was tired enough to sleep fully clothed.
 He didn’t hear the door shut. However. Turning his head, he found her still hesitating, at the crack of the door. “My name is Meaghan.” She said. “But I guess you can call me landlord, from now on.”
 “Goodnight.” He spoke, not unkindly. “Landlord.”
 “Goodnight.” She replied. “Mr. Crow.”
Finally the door closed all the way. He tossed the cloth blindly and it stuck. With the bugs covered, the room grew dark.
 Despite all the commotion. Despite all that had happened; sleep came easy to him. The first time in a long, long while. He wondered, right before he drifted off, if he’d be lucky enough to dream of the South.
 He dreamed a better dream yet. One of pure-white feathers. And of a beak he never forgot.
"If we have to go down, we go down together!"
- Your mum, requesting 69 last night.


 

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