The Crow Keeper

Emmaline hesitated to ask the girl what was wrong. Far too often it led to a game or trick being played on her, but Nadia’s distress appeared to be quite real.

“What’s wrong?”

“Claudia has been gone for nearly two weeks. She should have been back by now.”

“She’s a clever girl. I’m sure she’s fine.”

“She’s not. I can feel it.” Nadia shook her head vigorously as she searched the dark void above them.

There was no use arguing, a crow keeper and their wards were bound together in a union created by the glowstones. If a keeper said their ward was in danger, it was simply a statement of fact.

“Then we should go.”

“You are going to help me?” Nadia’s question was full of suspicion.

“If I don’t who will?”

“I don’t need help.”

“Lead on,” Emmaline instructed as relief washed across Nadia’s face despite her words.

“She’s this way,” Nadia pointed as she shrugged on a rucksack.

As they walked, the ceiling began to lower and the walls closed in. “Uh, just how far away is she?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care.”

“Great.” Emmaline looked at the dark space in front of them and wished she had a glowstone to light their way. “Perhaps we should have brought an elder.”

“She’s my responsibility.”

“You asked for my help.”

“You happened upon me in a weak moment. Not the same as asking for help.”

Emmaline laughed and nodded. “Of course. So just keep going straight then?”

Nadia cocked her head and listened to something that Emmaline couldn’t hear. “We need to hurry. She can’t last much longer.”

“Last against what?”

“Does it matter? She’s afraid.”

“Great.” Emmaline felt a thread of dread pull through her spine. “So about that elder?”

“I don’t need them, and if you are afraid you can turn back now. Claire and I have always been fine on our own.”

Emmaline held her hands up to ward off Nadia’s anger. “Well I’m not leaving you to do this alone.”

“Whatever. Don’t expect me to thank you for it.” Nadia jerked her head away and the muscles in her back tensed visibly. “Claudia!” She took off at a run.

“Damn it, Nadia.” Emmaline cursed the crow keeper’s reckless haste. Nadia’s black clothing nearly disappeared in the darkness of the tunnel as they forged ahead.

I wish I had the ability to conjure fire, Emmaline thought as she watched the ground for jutting rocks. Her eyes widened as they fell on the pulsing root of a death plant.

“Nadia! Down!” she screamed as the maw of the giant plant loomed above the rash girl. Nadia dove to the ground in a painful maneuver that allowed her to narrowly escape the man eating plant.

Emmaline felt the moisture in the death plant’s drooling mouth and with a push of her will she commanded the molecules to stop moving. They slowed to a halt and frost formed freezing the creature with maw wide open.

“Shit,” Nadia cursed.

“You’re welcome.”

“I didn’t thank you.”

Emmaline rolled her eyes and pointed ahead.

“She’s close, but she’s losing her energy.” Nadia stooped to pick up her bow which had been thrown free when she fell.

They resumed their run, and now Emmaline could faintly hear screeching and flapping of wings. Is that a moth? The sound of paper wings was seared into her brain and she knew the doubt was just wishful thinking.

Nadia took the next blind corner at a full run, bounding of the rock wall without losing any momentum.

“Nadia! Damn it, girl!”

Emmaline turned the corner and a large cavern was revealed where a forest of death plants snapped the air to capture the battling flying beasts. The clever crow dodged its way through the maze of plants while the bulkier moths dodged and weaved. Each time a moth flew too close to a plant, the crow would vocalise in a way that made Emmaline think it was laughing.

Nadia was already taking aim at one of the moths, and her aim proved true. The wounded beast spiraled into the waiting mouth of a death plant. Emmaline took aim and encased another moth’s wings in ice.

Don’t use too much power, she told herself remembering the death of her mother not too long ago. Watching Nadia using her bow, she wondered who was actually the luckier: the magic users who risk death with ever spell they cast, or the non-magic using crow-keepers with their simple bows.

The crow, sensing the turning of the battle tide, spiraled up then plunged down through the wing of a moth. Again Claudia cackled that vaguely human laughter. Emmaline was mesmerized by the sight, she had always been taught that the crows and their keepers were defenseless and to be protected, but Nadia and Claudia were proving that particular notion to be patently false.

An arrow whizzed by her head and Emmaline fell to a kneeling position to assess danger. A heavy body fell behind her; one of the flimsy wings fell within breathing distance.

“Thanks.” Emmaline’s words were barely a breath.

“Now we’re even.” Nadia held her arm out for the giant crow.

“Not by my count.”

“How do you figure?” Nadia asked as the weight of the forty pound bird settled onto Nadia’s shoulder. She drew the birds head down and gently kissed its beak.

“I’m here, and I saved you from the plant.”

She stroked Claudia’s feathers. Naudia’s personality seemed entirely transformed in the presence of her companion.

“Then I owe you one. Go get your bounty, Claudia. Time for us to go home.”

The crow hopped off Nadia’s shoulder before taking to the air. Her wingspan as long as Nadia was tall.

“Let’s go,” Nadia commanded with the gruff returning to her voice.

“What about Claudia?” Emmaline’s question was answered moments later as the bird’s wings beat the air above them and she dove into the tunnel they had emerged from moments before. In her beak had been an irregularly shaped white bundle.

“What’s she carrying?”

“The past.”

Emmaline glanced at Nadia as they jogged through the tunnel and passed the dying death plant she had frozen earlier. “The past?”

“She harvest things from the outside world, and we deliver them to the elders.”


“They claim they are looking for signs that the Green Man has returned, but really I think they just like playing with the artifacts.” Nadia’s contempt dripped from every word.

“Not a fan of the elders?”

“Not a fan of people.” Nadia looked at Emmaline pointedly.

Emmaline laughed. “You have a very funny way of thanking people.”

“Thank you implies that you needed help. The only help I will ever need is from my Claudia and my bow.” Nadia responded as they emerged upon the outskirts of their village. “But your company wasn’t completely useless.”

Emmaline snorted her amusement. I guess that’s as good of a thank you as I’ll ever get from any crow-kin.

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