Ren looked around, searching for the source of the whisper and eventually meeting the gaze of an old woman bright eyes and blue-tinted gray hair. She was a jay, then. They were always pointing out the obvious.
“I know,” he said, trying not to be sullen and failing utterly.
“Don’t you think you should do something about it? The pure humans will drive you out of town if they see.”
“I know,” Ren said again, putting a bit of a growl in his throat. Well, he tried for a growl; it came out more like a croak, and he rolled his eyes in displeasure.
“Yes, that’s what they’ll do. They’ll drive you out, the humans will. Drive you out then go looking for more, and then we’ll all be at risk.”
“I know,” Ren repeated a third time, letting his anger out. “Look, I’m trying. I know they’re visible, but I can’t… the spell doesn’t work.”
But the old woman was still chattering. Jays tended to do that. “All of us at risk, and then we’ll have to find a new planet, and this one’s so nice, with the plump worms and the tall trees and the skies with room to really fly, and then – what do you mean the spell doesn’t work?”
“I’ve grounded and centered and counted to ten – to fifty, even. I’ve done the incantation. I’ve drunk the calming tea, and no matter what I do, I cannot banish the thoughts of Unkindness for longer than a couple of minutes.”
“Unkindness? Unkindness?” The women tilted her head one way then another, peering at him from one bright eye at a time. “But, you’re not a Raven. You’re a Crow.”
All of Ren’s senses suddenly focused on the old woman. “I’m a what?”
“You’re a Crow. Banishing Unkindness doesn’t work for Crows. You have to banish – ”
“Murderous Thoughts,” he said with her. “I have to banish Murderous Thoughts. I… my mother was a Raven,” he spoke the last five words very quietly.
“I’m sure she was, dear. Happens all the time. She probably pushed you out of the nest much sooner than the rest of your clutchmates, didn’t she? She’d have to, if she knew.”
Ren nodded, his head bobbing in a birdlike way that he usually managed to hold in check. Humans were too perceptive. They might not be able to see his Birds most of the time, but they’d notice the body language that was just a bit… off.
The old woman – the Jay – had gone quiet and still. That was odd, Ren thought. Jays only in did that when they sensed danger.
He looked at her more closely. She was old, yes, but not so old that there wasn’t some plumpness left. And she wasn’t too big… and he could – oh, God – he could hear her rapid heartbeat threatening to burst through her body.
He was a Crow, she’d told him.
He couldn’t reintegrate his Birds with the Unkindness spell – that only worked on Ravens. Crows required… blood. Blood and death. They had to give in to their Murderous Thoughts in order to banish them.
Silently, Ren thanked the Jay, the old woman, before he lashed out.
Hours later, all that was left in the street were a few blue feathers, and a handbag full of birdseed.