On a bright day like today, you can look out from the top of the Warrens over the misty hills for a thousand miles, as the wind rushes through, howling like a child raised wild and free.
I sat there, feeling like I sat on top of the world, wrapped in my thoughts, clutching my knees closed to my chest.
Something was missing. There was a space inside my head, like when you have a dark spot in your eye, moving away every time you try to focus on it. I tried to think about what was missing, to skirt around the jagged edge of whatever had been ripped out, but it felt raw, like some awful sore, so tender it hurt even in anticipation of touching it. Each time I got close to thinking about it, the headaches would come. It started as a soreness, a discomfort really, was all it was. but when I probed and focused, trying to dig deeper and recall what was missing, the discomfort grew into sharp, stabbing pains that increased until I gave up. My head still throbbed and I just sat back, tears streaming down my face until my pulse steadied and the pain faded away.
I stopped poking around inside, and instead stared out across the hills, as far as my eyes could see. As I sat there, the wind rattled through the honeycomb of rock again, chilling me to the bone. It was always cold up here, but I liked it. The Eyrie was the only place in the warrens where I felt free. I felt like I could just let go of everything and let all my worries just drift away.
I stood up and moved to the edge, gripping the rough rock and digging my fingers into a crevice to secure myself. I leaned forward until I could see alllllll… the way down, squinting as the wind whipped my face. The ground was a long way down, sloping off into the misty hills. I could just about make out the dark, thick grass and wiry foliage, beneath the whispering white mist. The Warrens spanned almost all the way down; a maze of tunnels cut into the red rock, by the ravages of nature and aided by our hands. About one hundred feet from the bottom, the tunnels and windows stopped, replaced by solid rock, an unbroken wall of rock. It was all that protected us from what lurked out there.
This was the only home I had ever really known, even though we had only been here for… months I guess, maybe a year. Before this we lived on the run, moving every night, hunted by creatures that still haunt my dreams. I couldn’t describe them in any detail, in my memory they are always dark and moving so fast I can’t see them. I do remember the sounds though, the screams as they claimed us one by one. I remember the smell too -blood and fear.
So, now I watched, for any sign of life. I watched all day, and all night sometimes, if the moon was bright. Not that it mattered, I don’t guess. Up here we were safe from the danger. We were apart from everything that used to be; the blood, the war, the heartache and death. We were safe from the monsters that came in the night and stole our loved ones. The monsters who ravaged our world and stole our cities. We were also, very, very alone.
The clouds shifted across the sky, covering the sun for a moment. As the glare diminished, I saw something, just for a moment. It was a dark speck, almost as high as the clouds.
I took a long deep breath and opened my mouth wide. “AARrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.” I screamed and let my frustration and pain go, I let the wind steal it from my mouth and carry it away.
“Carrow… keep it down. You’ll wake the Devourer with that scream.”
I ignored the voice, and stared out after my scream, wishing I could leap into the air and follow it, across the hills until it settled, or died, or did whatever screams do when they set off into the world.
“So… you’re ignoring me now?” The voice came again, closer this time.
“Nope. Just don’t answer to Carrow. I have a purpose now, an identity.”
“Sure you do, Watcher. You have tough job, sitting up here, looking at nothing all day.”
I glanced bank to see a lithe, dark-skinned girl, weaving her way between thin spindles of rock.
“What are you doing up here Lessa?”
She smiled and continued to weave her way closer. She moved in slow, graceful steps, as if balancing on a tightrope, stopping only when she was right behind him. “I thought I might find you up here. I was getting tired of the drab, dark faces down there. They’re talking about food running low. Farmer and Scrounger say we should go out into the world. They say we need to act now before things get desperate.”
“Yeah, I bet they are itching to get out there into the nowhere.”
“Well, not like they ever will. Chief says we hold still. He says we wait and plan before we move. He reckons we got food enough for 18 months of stingy living, but Farmer says it depends on the crop. If it doesn’t come out strong, or if it comes out rotten like the last lot, we could be starving by Winter.”
“Well, I think Farmer is probably right, but if Chief says no, then no one’s heading out any time soon. It’s too risky out there. We can’t afford to lose any more…”
Lessa didn’t reply. She stepped back away from me and turned away. I didn’t ask why, I didn’t really care. I heard her sigh, and sob. The silence I’d been enjoying turned awkward. I waited to see if she would walk away and give me my moment back, but she didn’t. I turned to face her.
“Lessa, don’t do that to yourself. I know you miss him, but, it wasn’t your fault he left. I mean, he left for you but, it wasn’t your fault he didn’t come back.”
She shook her head, and through the sobs she let out a short laugh. “You’re awful at this… but thanks.” She wiped her face with both dirty hands and snorted before turning back to look at me. She gave me an awkward smile. “I’m sorry, about what I said before.”
I nodded and sunk both hands into my pockets. She was staring at me with wide teary eyes, and I had no idea how to respond.
We stared at each other for a few minutes, listening to the sound of the wind.
Then the awkwardness returned, and I spoke. “It’s not true you know, what you said. I do watch and I see a lot. Chief told me to be up here all hours, waiting for breaks in the fog. He wants to know the whole lay of the land out there, no just what monsters but every hill and tree and river. I shouldn’t tell you, because you’re not purposed yet, but, I think he might be planning on someone getting out. Maybe it is for a food run?”
“Yeah, maybe. Whatever it means, I hope it’s something more interesting than being stuck down there. It’s like, being stuck in a recurring nightmare. Everyone is always in such an awful mood, and you know what, it’s getting worse. Even Cook as been getting down.”
I placed my hand on her shoulder while I fumbled for the words. “I think, it’s going to be okay. I’m going to go talk to Surgeon today, maybe I can see if he knows anything. He’s known Chief longer than any of us. If anyone knows something, it’s him.”
Lessa shrugged and started walking back to the stairs. I followed a few steps behind.
“I promise, I’ll tell you, if I find out anything.” I said, but she didn’t respond, she just stepped down into the darkness. I took one last look around at the hills and the cloudless skies, then I stepped down into the darkness after her.
Monster is under the Warrens – it drew them here and has been feeding on them, stealing emotion and thought.
It has corrupted Surgeon – he is preparing them to be devoured.
Chief discovered the monster and has been working on an escape plan. He has been working with Surgeon – an old friend. But has recently discovered Surgeon is compromised. Picked Carrow to be Watcher – to keep him high up away from the effects of the creature, and to watch the terrain to aid in escape. He will send Carrow along with the youngsters and Farmer and Scrounger (trusted because Surgeon does not trust them)