Crowfall: Penitence

My name is Edgar. And I am a Crow. Yes, the one that humans—a class of being I once belonged to—fear.

To be frank, I do not like the term Crow very much. They call us that because they see us as scavengers, a sort of petty nuisance (were we not so deadly, of course), like filthy sewage rats running across worlds scrambling for junk. I like to see myself more as a… demigod. An existence between a mortal and a god. No matter, it is but a name, a term, a label to make the inconveniences of social conventions convenient. Let’s not dwell on that.

Instead, allow me to tell you one of my many journeys. I am not one to brag, but you see, I did an immensely kind deed once and you must hear of it.

On my way to a ruined temple where I was despatched to explore and forage, I chanced upon a small town. The season was Spring and the trees were a youthful green. The town was buzzing with human activities. Somewhere hidden from sight, builders were hammering away, constructing a new house or perhaps a tavern. The bazaar was filled with the ebullient sounds of voices—greetings, haggling for bargains, the busy scurrying of feet. There is nothing more satisfying than to wander in a peaceful place, governed by law and order.

It was then that a boisterous voice bellowed from behind me.

“Stop him! Don’t let him get away!”

The voice that cut across the bazaar was gruff and deep. I turned around to see what was the matter. When I did, someone crashed into me and on his way down, brought me along to the ground with him. He was a young man—then again, all humans are young to me, as are Crows to the Gods. In his early thirties, I’d say. Brown eyes, high cheekbones… Handsome too, were it not for his unkempt hair and the dirt and soot on his face. Ah, a vagrant.

“Catch that thief!” shouted the loud voice again. Not any mere vagrant, I see, but a thief. A thief!

Being a Seeker of Truth and an Upholder of Order, needless to say, I acted immediately. I wrapped my hand around his ankles just as he got up and tried to escape. The thief did his best to jerk my grip loose but alas, though I am not a powerful warrior, my brawn proved too much for him. He was unable to get away. The man with the booming voice caught up with us, dragging along a crowd with him. The commotion had stirred the curiosity of the people—not a hard thing to do when their lives are so routine and mundane—and presently, they formed a circle around the three of us.

“Mendez,” said the burly man. “Give me back my goods!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the younger man said.

“Quit acting! You were the only one around when my goods went missing,” the burly man said and grabbed the thief by his collars. “Speak!”

“Pocino, for the last time, I did not steal anything from you. Now get off my back!”

“No, I will bring you to the chief. And you will admit your crime.”

An idea began to form in my head. I suggested to the victim that he allows me to deal with the thief and there was no need to trouble the chief. He studied me from top to bottom and must have recognised me for who I am as he said, “I dare not trouble someone of your position for something as trivial as this.”

“No, no. Do not say that, my brother,” I said to him. “It is no trouble at all. And certainly, this is no trivial matter. Every sin contributes to the power and reach of the Hunger. No sin is too trivial to me.”

“Very well. Then I’m afraid I shall take up on your generous offer.”

“Stand back,” I said.

The sinner looked at me with defiant eyes. His gaze was sharp and hard, locking eyes with me as if to claim he was innocent and was not afraid of me. But I see through him. I see through his lies and act. It was a common disguise amongst liars to attempt to deceive people who seek the truth, such as me.

“Young man,” I addressed the thief. “Do you confess to your sin of thievery of goods belonging to this gentleman here?”

“No, for I did no such thing.”

Of course, what else was he going to say? Sinners say the same thing: “No. I did not”, “I am innocent”, “I was framed”. But always, at the very end, they are bound to say, “Please forgive me.” This is why I have hopes for humanity. No matter how bleakly people speak of human race, I have found that everyone, at least the ones I had grilled, has a silver lining within their soul, a desire for redemption.

I gave him a chance. “Do you have proof?”

“Proof that I did not steal it?”

“Yes. What else?”

“How am I supposed to prove I did not steal it?”

“You tell me,” I said. Was he expecting me to prove his innocence for him? Atrocious. “You are the sinner, not I.”

He stared wide-eyed at me, his mouth lowered, and began to make some incoherent sounds. I thought he was in shock, as liars are prone to when cornered. Because of this, what was previously a conviction was now a verdict: He was an obnoxious thief and an unrepentant liar.

“Well, er, I…” he finally said. “I… was sleeping at home at the time he said his goods were stolen?”

“Do you have an alibi?”

“I am a man who has yet to ask for a lady’s hand. I live alone.”

“So, no alibi?”

“No.”

I snapped my fingers and a flame started at the bottom of his trousers. He let out a yell and started jumping around.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” he said. “I SAID I DID NOT DO IT!”

The gentleman whom I was upholding justice for came up to me and said, “Sir! Surely he doesn’t deserve a punishment like this for a petty crime. Please, kill the fire.”

“You are a very kind man,” I said and smiled at him. “But you do not understand. This is more than petty thievery. All sins empower the Hunger. Don’t you worry and leave this to me.” I put a hand on his shoulder to reassure him. I then returned my attention to the sinner, who was rolling on the ground, patting at his trousers trying to put out the flames.

“Now, confess!” I shouted over his screams. “Did you steal it?”

“Please, stop. I didn’t do it. I swear!”

It seemed it would take more than this for him to give up the truth. I snapped my fingers again and another small fire erupted on the back of his tunic.

There were murmurs and whispers among the crowd now. And then, someone ran toward the sinner with a bucket. Fortunately, I realised quickly what that man was about to do. I conjured a fireball on my right palm and hurled it towards the accomplice. He too caught fire, and in his dance of cleansing, dropped the bucket.

“What in Valkyn’s virtue are you doing to these men!?” said Pocino. “That man is innocent!”

“He was saving a sinner before a confession was made,” I said. “He is guilty by implication.”

It came later than I thought but then it came. They always do. “I DID IT. I DID IT! PLEASE FORGIVE ME! PUT IT OUT!” the thief said, still writhing around.

I told you. Everyone grilled by me eventually confesses.

“There, doesn’t it feel so much better now?” I said. “You have confessed to a crime of Greed. Now it is time to pass judgement.” With a gesture, I summoned a pillar of flame that sprouted from the ground below his feet.

The murmurs in the crowd grew louder, eventually turning into shouts and jeers. Some were holding sticks, others pitchforks, and some still challenged me with only bare fists and hatred. They started towards me, their faces distorted by Wrath—another of the Seven Sins!

At the corner of my eye, I saw Pocino fleeing in terror. He was the only one in the town not afflicted with any of the Seven Sins, and must have ran to seek refuge. With him gone, I could freely purge these sinners without worry of hurting the innocent. I chanted a spell under my breath. And though I was not supposed to, I could not help but feel pity for these sinners and snuck in a word of sympathy before unleashing my spell.

A circle of fire formed around me and kept my attackers at bay. Then, it expanded outwards, growing larger as it spread. Every sinner that was touched by it were cleansed. A short time later, all was gone. The sins were purged from their bodies.

I found Pocino inside a small hut, crouching at a corner in the dark (I would not have spotted him had it not been for my righteous flames that were burning in the back). Though a Crow, a demigod, I retained the basic courtesy of rapping and tapping at his chamber door. Having received no response, I took the liberty of opening it myself. “The thief is dealt with,” I said. “You have my word he shall not bother you anymore.” I had expected at least a word of gratitude, but he said nothing. Poor man. He must have been scared out of his wits by the influence of the Hunger had on his town.

It was when I turned to leave that I noticed a speck of white on my left shoulder. It was pure white, almost translucent but not quite. For a moment, I thought it was a snowflake. Then I realised it was a tiny white spider. It stood so very still, clicking its fangs one against the other, as if it was—call me crazy for saying this but, as if it was… telling me something. I wondered how long it’d been there and why I hadn’t seen it earlier. No matter. It was but a tiny spider and there was nothing to be achieved from ridding it. I left it perched on my shoulder as I resumed my journey.

My task had taken on a detour, but it was a small price to pay in the fight against the Hunger. I need no praises nor treasures for my kind deeds. The vanquish of the Hunger will be reward enough.

This marks the end of my little tale. Earlier, I had stated there was nothing more satisfying than peace. Pardon me, I had spoken too early. I know now there is something more satisfying than merely enjoying peace: upholding peace. The knowledge that the world is in a better place because of oneself makes for the best pillow at night.

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