She was innocently beautiful. Her hair was a golden waterfall cascading over her slender shoulders and falling to her waist. Long lashes framed sapphire eyes and her lips were like a soft pink petal. She had a quiet, smooth way of moving that should have made her invisible, but instead brought every eye to her. Daron wondered if she was quiet because she was too modest to want attention or because she thought herself so above everyone that she didn’t care if she was noticed by them of not. Her face held no trace of scorn, but neither signs of bashfulness. She was as impassive as a marble statue as her willowy form walked though the city at his side. Perhaps that was what drew the stares—the mystery that lingered beneath her serene gaze.
Daron knew her secret. She looked years younger than him, fifteen or sixteen at the most, but she had lived thousands of years. She was one of the Old Ones. The ones who lived since the beginning of the world and were gifted with ancient wisdom that humans did not have.
The Old Ones once lived among them and shared their wisdom. and the land was prosperous under their watch. But that time passed long ago. The Old Ones journeyed across the sea to a land they could make their own after mankind refused to practice their ways and heed their guidance. Humans discovered they could do things their own way and could rely on no one. They didn’t need the Old Ones.
Only they did. Thousands of years after the departure of the Old Ones, drought and famine plagued the land. It was why Daron left on an impossible mission to cross the sea and find an Old One who was willing to come back with him and help their dying land—to sing the ancient songs that would call down rain for their withered crops.
Daron looked at the Old One beside him and thought how lucky he was to find her. He was warned that not all the Old Ones would be helpful. There were some who resented humans for their arrogant ways. Their disdain for humans festered inside of them and blossomed into a hate so strong it changed them. These Old Ones grew cruel and vain. They were so intoxicated with their power and eaten with thoughts of revenge that they were sent away from their own kind. If Daron had stumbled on one of them, it would have meant death.
But the danger and uncertainty of that journey had passed. Daron would soon present the Old One to the King as proof he had succeeded in his mission.
They stood on the steps of the front of the castle, looking into the courtyard filled with hopeful faces. The bright-haired girl stood in the center with the king standing to the right and Daron to her left. She didn’t address the crowd but closed her eyes and hummed. It was so low that Daron could scarcely hear it even at only a few feet away. It didn’t change in pitch but grew in volume. Then her soft, girlish lips opened and a melody of words drifted past them and filled the courtyard. Daron didn’t understand the words. She sang in an ancient language that the Old Ones alone had mastered. Even without the knowledge of the meaning of the song it was entrancing. The song rose and fell in somber minor notes. Her voice softening, then swelling to portray first sorrow, then urgency.
Daron thought that he would be watching the sky during the Old One’s summons for rain, but he couldn’t look away from the girl. From his peripheral vision, he saw that the others were equally entranced with the golden-haired singer. Her eyes remained closed and her face focused as her silky voice bounced off the courtyard walls. Small pricks ran up Daron’s arms. As the song went on, he almost forgot why they were gathered or the reason for the song. There was nothing in Daron’s mind but the captivating melody spinning sorrow and hope. He shook himself when a shadow passed over him. Rain! Rain clouds were forming and blocking the sun.
He looked up and was confused. Something was blocking the sun, but it wasn’t rain clouds—not unless rainclouds were ebony black and moved as one shimmering mass. Wait. That wasn’t shimmering. It was flapping. Thousands of crows filled the sky. Gasping and whispers filled the courtyard.
“What’s going on?” demanded the King, but the girl continued singing.
Daron tried to get her attention. “Old One, the skies are filled with crows.”
She didn’t acknowledge him.
“Thousands of them,” he continued. “They’re coming at us. Take them away!”
Her chilling song mingled with the people’s confused cries.
“Is this some trick?” The King asked, red faced. Daron was sure it wasn’t a trick, but a mistake. Maybe the Old Ones forgot how to call down rain. Maybe in all their years of isolation, they lost their skill. Or maybe this particular Old One didn’t know how to call rain.
The sky was getting darker. The birds would land soon and what little crops they had left would be destroyed.
Daron strode forward to shake the girl out of her trance.
As his fingertips touched her shoulders, a shock went through his bones and he staggered back. The girl’s blue eyes opened.
“Don’t touch me human snake!” It was her voice, but it didn’t come from her lips which were still forming the words to the ominous song filling the air.
Confused, Daron tried to form words. “Crows. Will eat our crops.”
Her laugh filled his head. The harsh sound didn’t match the softness of the girl before him.
“The crows aren’t going to eat your crops. They are going to eat you.”
He must have heard her wrong. An Old One wouldn’t speak such words.
“You, the humans who destroyed the land and drove the Old Ones out with your erroneous ways.
In an instant, Daron understood who the girl was. Not an Old One, understanding and willing to help mankind like the Old Ones thousands of years ago, but one of the wayward Old Ones he was warned about. She pretended to help them so she could destroy them.
Before he could call out a warning to the others, the crows fell on them. Shrieks mingled with the incessant cries of thousands of crows. People ran or fell to the ground and covered their face as the winged terrors swarmed them.
Daron ran, but there was nowhere to go that wasn’t already filled with crows. Sharp beaks picked at his arm and shoulders. They pulled his hair and bit the tender skin on his neck. He kept his arms in front of his face but their sharp beaks jabbed at his chin and cheeks. He wanted to cry out, but was afraid they would poke their nasty little beaks into his mouth and rip his tongue to shreds too.
He tried to keep moving, hoping he could find a door that would bring him into the safety of the castle, but the crows were so thick and so many wild thrashing bodies kept jostling him that he didn’t know if he were moving at all.
He fell. He didn’t know if he tripped from the crows gathered around his feet or if his legs gave out from the panic that snared him.
He laid in a huddle, feeling wet, sticky blood run down his back and arms. He was screaming now. His mouth pressed to the ground and his tongue tasted dirt.
He was ready for death. Anything to stop feeling hundreds of holes being dug into his body.
Everything began to fade, until one last sound remained. A haunting melody sung by a sweet, smooth voice.