5. Crows Ain't White

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Two days came and went, during which Jett did his best to stay out of the way. It became very clear to him that he was not wanted, despite Jerrick's decision to accept his help. No one talked to him, no one looked at him, and everyone maintained a certain distance from him. If he approached, they fell silent and ignored him until he went away.

It hurt, though Jett could, to a small degree, understand why they treated him like the bubonic plague. So he tried his best to seem unthreatening, to seem unaffected by their actions, but it was no easy task. Especially when the one person he thought would accept him went out of their way to avoid him.

He'd seen Tarrod all over the place, helping people gather belongings, directing those younger than him on what to do next, or even haul supplies to the buses that Jerrick had somehow found. He knew Tarrod saw him, but every time, the young Crossfire would turn away. The very act made something twist itself in Jett's gut, and it was long before he gave up trying to catch Tarrod's attention.

Instead, Jett had taken to watching from rooftop, for there was little else he could do. When he wasn't watching, he foraged for food and water, for no one offered him any. Water was easy enough, for it dripped from damaged pipes all over the city. Food was a different story, but he managed to find some remnants in crumbling homes.

It gave him a lot of time to think. To wonder what had happened to his friends, to Suil and Iern. They weren't trainees anymore, but full fledged flyers of Troit. He was happy for them, but uneasy, because the next time he saw them, they would probably stand as his enemies. Troit did not look lightly upon betrayers, that much he knew.

How long did he have before the Elders sent flyers after him?

Jett shivered as cold fingers danced down his spine. A small croak made him look over to where a large raven pecked at a shiny piece of metal on the ground. Its sooty feathers held a purplish sheen to them, which helped him identify it as Flint, Ravia's mate. The bird seemed to have taken a liking to Jett, though it always kept a certain distance.

Jett turned his attention upwards as he squinted at the sky. Most of the fires had died out by now, leaving only the faintest wisps of smoke behind. A acrid stench of burnt things still hung in the air, potent enough that he could taste it on his tongue.

He wanted to leave this place.

Caws erupted as three dark birds streaked around the corner of a building, descending in a mad flurry of flapping wings. Flint looked up from his newest obsession and straightened, lifting his head high while his three children landed nearby. One and Two, as Jett had dubbed them, immediately began squabbling with each other, while Three hopped over and began pecking at Jett's boot.

Smiling softly, Jett reached into a storage pouch he had fastened to his torso armor, and pulled out a handful of dried out bread. It had gone stale long ago, but that mattered little. As soon as he began crumbling it onto the ground, all the ravens crowded in to devour it. The younger ones gave their father his space, picking at their portions while eyeing him warily. Flint ignored them completely.

"Ah," Someone exhaled slowly, the sound much like a rake being dragged through mounds of dried grass. Startled, the birds took to the air, squawking their displeasure at being disturbed. Jett spun, heart jumping to his throat, his hand dropping to where he kept his sword.

A ragged figure stood in the dark space between two buildings, only feet away from the white flyer. Jett stared with wide eyes, then grimaced as the stench hit him. The man was old, though it was impossible to tell how old, for his features were hidden behind a matted snow-white beard that trailed down a bony chest. His legs and feet were bare, and he clutched a stick of wood as a makeshift cane. A thin cap covered a wrinkled head, made of the same filthy material that barely managed to cover the man. The exposed skin was covered in scabs and scars, and even at this distance, Jett could see the flies buzzing around the man.

He fought the urge to cover his eyes and look away. This miserable creature could only be from the Forbidden Zone.

"Little crow," the old man rasped, shifting his milky gaze from the ground where the ravens had been to Jett's face. "Little crow, why'd you run?"

Jett felt nauseated. The smell grew stronger, and it was one he knew all too well. Sickness. He couldn't let this man get close to the Crossfires. "You need to leave," he told the man. "You can't be here."

The man grinned, showing off blackening teeth. "Silly crow. This place is ours. All ours now." Gripping his cane tight, he took a tottering step forward. Suddenly alarmed, Jett tensed. This one posed no threat to him, he knew, but the old man was surprisingly lucid for a Forbidden resident. That alone was enough to make him nervous.

Unfortunately, the old Forbidden one seemed to pick up on that, for he tilted his head. "Scared? Are you scared?" That toothy grin trembled, as if not sure whether to stay or go. After a moment, it slowly shrunk into a mere twist of scabby lips.

"Silly crow," the man sighed, almost forlornly. His head drooped onto his chest and even though he began to mumble, Jett was still able to make out most of the words.

"We won' hurt you. Never hurt you. Can't . . . no. Don't. Not the white one. Any but the white one..."

Jett curled trembling fingers around the hilt of his sword. This nut was seriously creeping him out. "Stay back," he warned. "You're sick. You can't come closer."

A hacking sound burst from the man. Thin shoulders heaved, giving Jett the impression that the Forbidden resident was convulsing in a fit of coughing. It continued for a while, and just when Jett thought the other was going to die, it stopped. The man leaned heavily on his stick, smiling in that way that screamed "I know something you don't." That was when Jett realized the man had been laughing. The very idea raised the hairs on his skin.

"We's all sick," rasped the creature. He stared at Jett. "Even you, little crow."

"Stop calling me that and leave." Jett tried to sound stern, but the waver in his voice gave it away. This guy had just made it to the top of his 'creepy' list, right behind a cheerful Raven.

He resisted the urge to move back, instead planting himself on the spot, determined not to run away. If it was necessary, he'd have to take out the old one, though something inside him squirmed at the very thought of getting close enough to do so. "I won't let you get any closer."

"You's got sickness, too," crooned the man. He didn't move, yet Jett suddenly felt stuck. Pinned in place. It was nothing like being trapped by the mere intensity that Raven could exude. No, it was something else, something about the old man's knowing tone that held him fast. "Deep inside, where's most can't see it. But I can. I see it."

"Enough!" Jett gritted his teeth. "I'm not gonna to listen to a crazy person talk! I'm not sick, old man."

"You were with us long enough," the old man softly spoke, his manner of speaking suddenly more clearer than before. "An' we all sees it, the dark. The sick. Little crow. You belong here, too."

"No. You're crazy." Jett shook his head uneasily. "How could you even -?"

But the old man's hacking laughter cut him off. Shaking his head, as if amused by the antics of a small child, the Forbidden resident turned around and started to hobble away. After a step though, he paused and looked back at Jett. And showed off his rotting teeth once more in a grimace of a smile. 

Then, with the bearing of an ancient being on his deathbed, imparting his last and greatest words of wisdom, he solemnly said, "Crow's ain't white."

The white flyer stared as the other departed, feeling confused and nauseated.

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