As one of the ravenfolk, even when he was in good health his body was never large or muscular. Like other birds his legs were thin and lacking in fat or muscle and his body was small and weak. He was covered head-to-toe in black feathers, though his kind were a flightless bird with fingers instead of wings, a feature that was foisted upon the ravenfolk as a curse for their curiosity many a century ago.
He spent the daylight hours on the run until he was too exhausted, or the weather turned to rain, or the darkness of night fell. In recent days he was needing to sleep earlier and earlier, having to stop to rest before the sun was even close to setting. The stress and constant exertion combined with lack of true nourishment made what little muscle and fat he had had melt off leaving his body thinner and weaker than ever before. Cloth robes hung in tatters off a sickly frame, feathers heavy with grease and dirt.
Or is my weakening body just making them feel heavier? He thought.
Stopping to catch his breath he gazed up at the leaves to see the light of a setting sun through them. He hadn't stopped running at all that day, the first time in at least a week, but he regretted it immediately. The wave of exhaustion hit and the world went black for a moment, forcing him to sit. It took everything not to pass out right then, and this time the feeling was different. Like he could close his eyes and never wake up.
Drift away peacefully, he thought. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad.
He shook the dark thought away from his mind, only to have another take its place. What if they were closer than he thought? Screech felt the panic attack welling up inside and attempted to push it down, to no avail. He started to hyperventilate, trying to catch a breath, but no matter what it felt like there was a weight sitting on his chest and not enough air was getting into him. His vision was blurry still and it sounded like a bell had just been rung in his head, ears ringing loudly.
He began to cry, pulling his knees tight to his chest, holding himself and waiting for the feeling to pass. His mind drifted to thoughts of his friends; Dew, the love of his life, and Knick, his best friend. What he would give to see their faces, happy and without care, as he liked to remember them. But the thought was quickly corrupted by the truth.
They were dead, butchered by orcs that had come for them in the dark one night.
The three ravenfolk had been sitting at their fire, reading out the words from a book of them they each carried. Their curse not only prevented their flight, but prevented them from proper speech. The Raven Lord, the chosen god of worship for the ravenfolk, provided them with the means to bypass it. They could not create their own language but were able to mimic words they heard, and so any word they wished to remember needed to be written down. Then every night before bed they'd read them aloud, and the curse would be put at bay for another 2 weeks, the clock reset.
That was a month ago. The orcs had stolen his book and chased him deep into the forests. He was lost and alone, far from civilization, and now his body was like a prison to him. He was unable to even say the names of his dead friends. He couldn't say anything. When he tried to speak, his body refused to obey, no matter how hard he tried.
Say something, he pleaded with himself. Anything.
No sound came out.
Screech sat under the tree for a time to gather what little strength was left for him to gather. He was starving and needed to pull himself together and forage for something to eat, but his body felt like it was made of heavy metal when he tried to move.
The sky had begun to darken when he found the will to move again. He got on his hands and knees and began to crawl around in the dirt, scouring for insects to consume, looking under rocks and in rotten logs. He dared not make a fire and so ate whatever he found uncooked. He would never have eaten insects before, ravenfolk prefered fruits and berries. But there was no other choice during these hard weeks.
Ants were most tolerable. They were so small one could hardly taste them when eaten one at a time, though they didn't do much in the way of filling. Slugs tasted awful, when he ate them the texture made him gag. He imagined it must be the same as biting into a fresh tongue. There were always plenty of wood beetles but the way their bodies crunched and their thick blood spread across his tongue always made him cringe. He ate what could be stomached and stopped when he came close to retching, finally standing again with the help of a tree.
He was thirsty too. He had gotten by enough with finding small streams and drinking rainwater as it fell from the leaves but it had been 2 days since the last rains had come.
Screech's legs shook underneath as he walked, but he maintained balance and began to hunt for water.
Walking slowly, he listened to the different chirps and warbles of birds in the trees, the light wind that made branches sway above, the sounds of squirrels running around and chittering at each other. He thought about how beautiful it would all be if he wasn't terrified. After a bit of time, behind all the background noise he heard a hopeful sound; running water.
He persisted. Get a drink, find someplace to hide for the night, and sleep until dawn.
But the thought of sleep filled his chest with dread. He felt like there was one foot in the grave, and he worried that if he closed his eyes he might not open them again.
At least that would be better than what the others got, he thought solemnly. Slip away in my sleep instead of cut to pieces.
The sound of water grew louder as he headed closer. This was no mere stream.
Screech climbed one last small hill to find a large river splitting the forest with banks on either side. He silently celebrated, thankful that at least something had gone right. He was sure he could follow the river to some sort of settlement starting tomorrow. He hoped his plight might soon be over.
He saw the sky began to darken as clouds rolled in overhead, felt the air beginning to cool. There was likely to be another rain.
The water didn't seem to be moving very quickly, but he worried it could still easily pull him away and drown him. His childhood fear of being swept away terrified him nearly as much as the thought of the orcs finding him.
Kneeling on the bank he scooped up handfuls of cold water and slowly drank mouthful after mouthful until he was sated, then he took some and began to clean the grease and dirt from his feathers. He would need a proper bath, but in the end he felt better.
He moved back from the water and sat on the bank, watching the water flow by so smoothly. He felt at peace for a moment as he listened to the calming flow, more tranquil than he had felt since he'd been on his own. He closed his eyes, just for a moment, and . . .
Screech awoke with a jump to wood snapping. He'd fallen asleep, and now most of the daylight was gone. It would be completely dark soon.
There was another crack followed by a curse from a deep voice in a familiar, guttural language.
The orcs were close
He was running for the trees before he knew it. It was as if his body had taken control for itself, the tiredness gone, replaced with panic and a pounding in his ears as adrenaline filled his body.
One of them shouted in Orcish, and the chase was on. He dared not even look back., knowing they were close behind by the rattling and clanking of weapons. Their strained breathing made them sound like monsters, deep ragged breaths like those of a feral beast. He ran as fast as possible in the dwindling light when the rain began to fall. Lightly at first, quickly becoming a downpour. The last remnants of light faded away and now Screech was running blind, unable to see in the dark like the orcs could, but he hoped the rain and uneven terrain would still slow them down and enable him to find a hiding spot.
He slid under a log and cut to the left, hoping to lose them. When there was a loud crash of metal and an angry curse, he thought maybe this was the right plan after all.
Then Screech's foot found a root in the dark that his eyes could not. With all momentum forward, he couldn't stop himself. He fell forward and felt the bone in his ankle shatter. They were bird bones, and malnourishment had weakened them.
He lay on the ground for a moment in shock, his ankle screaming with pain, the footsteps getting closer. He could feel the way his foot bent at an unnatural angle. He'd surely die here.
Desperately he sat up and began to pull at the root. The pain reverberated through his entire body as he moved. With a final effort he grabbed his foot and pulled it free from beneath the wood. The pain was so intense he would've screamed if not cursed into silence. He began to claw at tbe dirt and pull himself, hoping to find somewhere to hide.
In the dark he did not see the slope.
He couldn't count the amount of things he hit on the way down. With every roll he gained more speed until he was bouncing to the bottom, the breath knocked from him halfway down, leaving him gasping and whimpering for air when he finally came to a rest at the bottom. The adrenaline was still running, making his heart beat hard and fast, every single beat making his body throb in pain.
There was a flash of lightning. For only a brief moment the world was illuminated for him, and he saw the orcs standing at the top of the hill. After a moment one of them began to yell furiously. The yelling turned into some sort of argument, but when the voices began to move away he knew he had escaped them.
Screech lay there, body aching. It wasn't just the ankle, or the tumble, but all the stress of the last month at once.
The rain began to sap the heat from his body. He had no energy left to move, and it was very cold. Screech found some sort of comfort in it as he felt himself going numb.
He closed his eyes, and wondered one last time if he'd wake up again, before the exhaustion consumed him and he fell unconscious.
Obrigado pela leitura!
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