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Orphan Druid, chapter three

    • 89 posts
    October 10, 2020 4:04 PM PDT

    Needles of spruce and fir scratch her face, clawing at her eyes as she ascends. "I know," she says to them, bowing under branches when she can.

    She comes to an open area and looks up. The peak is still so far away. Ahead she can see a sheer wall of stone leading to the next slope. High, but not too high to climb, or so she hopes.

    Ikaa flies down and lands on her shoulder. "Why," she caws.

    Crowsinger reaches up and scratches the crow under her chin feathers. "I want to see what is there. What is beyond what I know. I'm hoping..." but she doesn't want to give words to her hopes. Somehow it seems that saying it aloud might bring trouble.

    "Fly south for the winter," says Ikaa. "Not north."

    She knows a crow's laugh when she hears one. "Yes I know, but south is the ocean, so they say. North is Sorhiryth, and beyond that, the isthmus that leads to human lands."

    "Even taller than you."

    "Even taller than me."

    "Can you speak to them as you can to crows?"

    Crowsinger sits on the ground to rest a moment from her climb. "I don't think so. Saravai tells me the Esqaps in the north speak a trade language with the humans and elves who blunder in." She shrugs. "When the time comes, I'll learn what I need to."

    "And your village?"

    "My village?" she scoffs. "It is the village where I live, but it is not my home. Saravai is Esqap, like the council. They don't understand."

    Now she looks up the cliff. "What did you see?"

    "One of the old druid crystals, like the one by the pond, the one that excited you so much."

    "Why didn't you tell me right away?!"

    "Exciting to you, not to me. I did find some sweet, sweet bugs."

    "Mmmm." She has rested enough. "I'll leave those to you, my friend. Let me see if I can get up there."

    Her boots were a gift from another village, to reward her for helping them with a hunt. She climbs up slowly, grasping at handholds and trying not to look down.

    Now and then, Ikaa lands on a tiny shelf of rock nearby and laughs. "Wings," she caws, and flaps her own.

    Winds save me from the mocking of a crow.

    Almost out of endurance, Crowsinger pulls herself up onto the ledge. She lays back on the stone for a bit, catching her breath. Ikaa might enjoy a joke at the halfling's expense, but she can be a fierce companion. She would let Crowsinger know if she sensed danger.

    Besides, the Druid can feel it without looking. The pulse of something ancient, warm as the earth and reckless as fire. She has felt this power before.

    At last she stands up and walks toward the crystal. It pulses with a deep green light, and in the quiet of the small clearing she can hear the slight hum, feel its web of connections reaching out through the world. She stands before the crystal and hums in return, matching melody with harmony, drone with chanter, voice with voice.

    The crystal glows brighter, pleased, as if to say I know you. I will always know you.

    "Do you see?"

    Crowsinger turns at the voice of her fox companion, and her breath catches. From this height she can see the hills and valleys of Thistledown and surrounding villages. And smoke, pillars of smoke, rising from at least two of those villages.

    She runs to the edge of the cliff, wishing for a moment that she did have wings like Ikaa's—though perhaps a bit larger—and takes her bearings. In the lands below, Thistledown and Rithrock are burning.

    She turns and stares at the crystal behind her. Her gaze rises beyond it, up to the peak of the mountain. To her hopes.

    Not today.

    Moments later she appears in a glow of light at a similar crystal down in the hills near Thistledown.

    Feeling in her heart the running of wolves, she begins to race toward the village.

    "Where have you been?"

    Crowsinger has never heard such anger in the voice of Chief. Nor such loathing. She hears it through a fog as she feels Saravai's life fade away beneath her hand. She is not healer enough to fix what has been torn away.

    By the time has she gained such knowledge, it will be too late.

    The Chief is still shouting, but she feels remote from it all. She knows there are wounded nearby, but none of them are her teacher.

    Her fox snuggles around her neck, warm, trying to bring her back. She whispers into the Druid's ear, "Help me."

    For you, yes.

    Crowsinger stands and stumbles over to one of the wounded, tripping over the body of one of the Empty Ones who attacked the village. Then she is on the ground, trying to combine her healing abilities with those of the fox. She moves from one to the other, until she collapses on the ground.

    Six years a Druid, she thinks. Six years since my fox came to me, since I first sang to my favorite crow.

    Six years of waiting for the village to warm to her as they had many years ago to Saravai. But somewhere along the way, Crowsinger realized that they never would. She was not one of them. She was Nothi, the orphaned child of wanderers, and for some reason nothing else was enough. Not here. Not among those frozen in time and place, longing for things she would never understand. And they were wary of her friends. Druid Saravai might have been, but he had no crows following him around.

    She has stayed this long for one reason, but that reason is gone now. He wished her well the day before, as she set out on her quest to see the lands beyond. To see lands that in her heart she knew she must someday travel.

    The Chief of Thistledown is shouting at her again, stomping toward her where she lies on the ground. Suddenly there are crows, a murder of friends blocking his way in anger, cawing a warning. He stops, frowning.

    "There are no more wounded," says Crowsinger. "I have done all I can."

    She can tell without looking that the children are not nearby. They were probably shuffled into hiding places, caches, the tops of trees, when the attack came.

    More crows fly in from the east, bringing reports to their kin.

    "There could be more enemies coming," said the Chief.

    "There are not," Crowsinger responds. "My friends have told me these were the last."

    "Then get out," he growls. "And take your 'friends' with you. They will not feast on our dead."

    Crowsinger reaches for whatever air she can find and sings to the gathered winged ones, bidding them stay away from the dead. They caw their disappointment and light upon the branches above.

    The Druid rises to her feet. It is time.

    She sings to the one on the mountain, the one she met not so long ago. A bright glow hides her last view of Thistledown. She blinks and sees the Druid crystal before her.

    Her eyes look up toward the summit of the mountain, the highest peak in this ridge. Somewhere over that peak are Nothi, perhaps even some who knew her family. Larger towns, even the great forest city of Sorhiryth. In the north, perhaps she can breathe and dance without the scowling eyes of Thistledown.

    I thought this quest was for a day, but I still have far to go.


    continued in chapter four:

    This post was edited by Crowsinger at November 14, 2020 5:36 AM PST
    • 97 posts
    November 24, 2020 8:36 AM PST

    Crowsinger said:

    Crowsinger stands and stumbles over to one of the wounded, tripping over the body of one of the Empty Ones who attacked the village.

    It's always the simple lines that grab my attention.  This sentence is readable; I mean that it puts me there in the story with things I know, things I don't and am forced to imagine.  It's perfect.  What the heck is the crystal???

    Oh, by the way, love how you slipped some climbing in there.  Seems so natural like why haven't all games incorporated that?

    • 89 posts
    November 24, 2020 11:23 AM PST

    benonal said:

    Oh, by the way, love how you slipped some climbing in there.  Seems so natural like why haven't all games incorporated that?

    I love what I've experienced of the climbing so far. It changes so much about exploration and moving around the landscape.