The Moxy Byrd Chapter 8

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RescueRaptor
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The Moxy Byrd Chapter 8

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June 25th 2040 17:45
Justin pulled Amia away from the crowd. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you need to find that Simon Greggory fel-low and sell him the crier’s teeth.” His face was no longer shocked but grave and determined. He led the way to the tool shed. All of the farming equipment was in here, including saws, shovels, and pliers. They worked almost silently, gath-ering all the things they guessed they might need and then slunk toward the crier graveyard.
They were accosted by the sharp, moldy smell of decaying flesh long before they reached the graves. Amia took a deep breath and held it as they walked. When she had no choice, she exhaled and inhaled as quickly as she could. The stench was overwhelming.
They approached the mound of fresh dirt in the center of the graveyard. In theory, it would have certainly been easier to get the teeth out of a crier that had already fully rotted away, but there was no way to be certain exactly where the bodies lay and dirt that had already settled would be harder to dig up, so they had to take on the unpleasant task of pulling the teeth out of the newly dead corpses.
The teeth filled Amia with dread. Armarians, like most other clans people, had a slightly superstitious fear of them. The scientifically grounded part of her knew that the infection from crier bites was probably due to bacteria, but part of her wondered if there wasn’t something so toxic and vile inside the monsters that even touching a tooth might be dangerous. At any rate, she and Justin weren’t taking any chances. They both wore heavy work gloves and had pliers and burlap sacks.
They began digging as soon as they reached the mound. The macabre nature of their work and the intense stench kept their lips tightly sealed. In the distance, they could still hear shouting and crying from Town Square. A sharp twinge of fear was jabbing at Amia’s stomach. Just then her shovel struck something slippery and soft and then something hard.
The strange feeling of her shovel cutting through flesh and the explosion of noxious odor from the grave were too much. She was knocked to her knees and hunched over by a round of vomiting. She stayed that way for a few moments, waiting for the heaving to stop. Finally, she recovered and used the shovel handle to drag herself back into a standing position. She braced herself and began to scoop away the topsoil. A bloat-ed, ghoulish face peered out of the dirt at her.
Amia cleared as much dirt as possible off of the face with the shovel. As she dug in the bag for the pliers, Justin found the second and third head. Luckily, they’d been dropped in on top of their bodies. She gave her work gloves a once-over to make sure there were no holes then took the head in one hand and used the other to pry the mouth open. After a moment of wiggling it fell open with a disgusting ‘pop.’
Positioning the head on the ground, she held it down with one foot and used the pliers to grab one of the teeth. After a bit of yanking and wrestling, the tooth popped out with rela-tive ease. Pleasantly surprised, she held it up and showed it to Justin, who extended the burlap sack. They quickly yanked one tooth after the next. Less than an hour later, they had completed their task and began the process of putting the heads back in the grave and covering them back up.
Having replaced everything as satisfactorily as possible given their time restraints, they headed to the stables. Justin was carefully explaining the way to Athens to Amia as they saddled up Sampson.
“I found a bag of some hard tack and a couple of canteens of water. It will be enough if you eat sparingly. If you get enough money from the teeth, there’s plenty of food in Athens. Just remember, it’s a day and a half ride out there and a day and a half back. You’ll need to conserve the water; it won’t go very far. Sampson is good at finding water if you give him a little freedom out in the open fields.”
Amia felt like she was listening to the instructions under-water. Nothing seemed real. Route memorized, she glanced at the burlap sack she was holding. It reeked of crier and was stained with blood. There was no way it would go unnoticed. Justin’s eyes fell on it.
“Damn it. You can’t go like this. Okay, here, let’s clean them off a bit.” They poured the contents of the bag into a half-full drinking trough. The water swirled, streaked with black. After a moment, Justin carefully tipped it and drained the water. The teeth lay at the bottom, looking like the shark teeth she’d read about in a book once.
“Here’s another bag.” Amia grabbed an empty sack from a shelf. Before transferring them to the new bag, Amia took a moment to count the teeth. There were eighty in all. It was going to be enough. Feeling more confident about the plan, Amia carefully wrapped the sack up within another sack and slipped it into her quiver, under the arrows. Justin inspected her for crier blood. Somehow, she was clean.
“Now listen, Sis,” Justin started, “I know you’re going to feel nervous being away from home at a time like this, but you can’t ride in the dark. There’s just over an hour of day-light left so you’ll have to go straight to the Cleyborn clan. Sleep there tonight. Make up some story for them. It doesn’t matter what you say. They’re not the brightest people. To-morrow morning, go into Athens and do what you need to do, then sleep there.
“We have a few weeks before taxes are due, so you might as well dig around in the library for books on soil and sting beetles. If you’ve got a little extra money, maybe pick up a new crossbow, we could use a better one. Start out the third day and you’ll get here on the fourth day. Whatever you do, do not ride in the dark. That’s how people die. And don’t talk to strangers.”
“Come on now, Justin. I’ve been to the city before. I’ll be fi-ne. You’re the one who’s going to have problems. What are you going to tell Dad?”
“You let me worry about that. You just stay safe.” She started to argue, but he shook his head.
“Now, I think you’re all-ready. How about giving your brother a hug?” He held her for a long time, seemingly hesi-tant to let go. Anxious and emotionally exhausted, she just stayed there, enjoying the warm calm of her brother. It was going to be four days before she could see him again.
They parted, and she climbed up onto Sampson. As the horse began trotting out of the stable, she looked over her shoulder and smiled at Justin. He waved once and then turned to clean up the stables.
Amia was on alert as the trees of the forest blurred by. There probably weren’t any criers, but you could never be too careful. In a field, they couldn’t outrun a horse, but in the confines of the trees it was possible. Amia kept her eyes peeled for signs of movement or the absence of it.
Twenty minutes later, she emerged onto the main road, having neither seen nor heard anything out of the ordinary. She took a quick glance at the sun, thought through the direc-tions Justin had given her, and kicked Sampson into a gallop. “This is going to work,” she whispered.
• ● •

Back in Armaria, Justin crossed the now deserted main square, trying not to look at the blood staining the ground, and went up the stairs of City Hall. Arriving at Thomas’, of-fice he knocked twice. The muffled sound of his father’s voice came through the door. Justin opened it and walked in. Thomas looked up from a pile of papers. Justin immediately knew what they had to be: taxes. They both had the same bad feeling when they had seen David. Taxes for their region weren’t due for another three weeks.
Justin closed the door behind him and sank down into a padded chair. “Is he okay?” he asked.
Thomas shook his head. “He’d lost so much blood. There wasn’t much we could do for him. Dr. Winters did his best.” He paused for a moment. “He’s gone.” He gave Justin a pen-sive look and continued, “I can’t believe this is true, but he said they were just a few silver coins short. Even still, they killed all the adults and took the children. We’ll send a man out tomorrow to check.”
He glanced at the door behind Justin and sat up with a start. “Wait a second, where’s Amia? Where were you until now?”
Justin looked down at his hands silently for a moment. Fi-nally, he looked back at Thomas. “Since I was seven, you raised me like your own. I always knew you loved me. I never needed anything. You’re a good father, and Amia’s a good sister. I should say this more often, but thank you.”
Thomas rose to his feet, his eyes locked on Justin. “Where is Amia, Justin? What happened?”
Justin stayed seated. After a moment of hesitation, he looked up at Thomas. “I sent her away,” he whispered.
“What do you mean you sent her away?”
“I sent her to Athens…” At these words, Thomas started violently and stared in shock at his son. Justin sank deeper into the chair. “Doesn’t it seem strange to you that tax day happened three weeks early and rather than taking a few people to work the mines, they killed everyone? I just got to thinking… what if they’re coming here today or tomorrow?”
Thomas sank back down in his chair and nodded. “We’re all on the same tax schedule.”
“I just didn’t want her to be here, so I sent her away. She was going on about James’ blasted story about that man who buys crier teeth and begging me to help her. And then, Da-vid… I just sent her. I don’t think he’s even real, but that just means she’ll have to spend a few days looking for him, so it’ll take her even longer to get back.”
The two men were silent for a moment.
“She would have gotten herself killed, you know?” Justin said softly. He glanced up anxiously at his father.
Thomas rocked back in his chair. He inhaled slowly and leaned forward as he exhaled. He stood and walked over to Justin. Putting his hand on his shoulder, he looked him in the eyes. “You’re a good son. I never tell you that enough either.” They were silent for a moment. Then Thomas’ eyes narrowed. “We have some work to do.”

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