Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: ‘The Gospel According to Saint Cuervo’

Last week, Chuck Wendig instructed us through his awesome blog to choose a random title from the comments and write a flash fiction story in a week using that title for inspiration. I chose this one because it immediately sparked some weird part in my brain (I’ve got a lot of weird parts) and it just kept going.

It’s a bit longer than I had planned and I still wanted to write more, but rules are rules. I was planning on maybe writing more of the story on Wattpad, so check it out there if you want: Wattpad Story

Anyways, hope you enjoy it!

Also, ‘cuervo’ is ‘crow’ in Spanish. Maybe it’s common knowledge, I don’t know, but just in case there’s some head-scratching going on.

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The Gospel According to Saint Cuervo

            When Rotell was caught, he knew it wouldn’t be a quick and painless death. He had seen what the Crows had done to the city. How even on sunny days, the world seemed like a dark place. The Crows were all a ruthless bunch, at least the ones that had arrived in their city. Rotell had heard of a lot of rumors from the South about how the Crows were slowly taking over the surrounding towns and poisoning the innocent grounds on which they thread upon. It was only a matter of time, he supposed, before they reached them and now, funnily enough, he had chains around his wrists and ankles.

“What, are ya crippled? Move faster!” Rotell felt something hard as stone smack the back of his head, urging him to move faster. The crowguard was much bigger than him, almost reaching the ceiling of the stone hallway. The guard to his right laughed in an odd clicking way with a scratchy croak. They all sounded scratchy.

They had reached the spiral staircase with two other guards on either side of the entrance. The one on Rotell’s left suddenly gave a squawk and spread its black, leathery wings abruptly, almost reaching either side of the hallway they were on. Black feathers flew randomly as Rotell jumped back instinctively and with a yell, tripped on his ankle chains. All of the guards started laughing their scratchy laugh. The one that had pushed Rotell lifted him up by the front of his robes with his hard, onyx beak and put him roughly on his feet, making him almost fall over again. They laughed heartily again at his loss of balance.

“Careful, you might end up without a few select limbs before you even reach Cuervo!” said the crow that had spread his wings, “You fall again, we’ll make sure you got no legs to fall on!”

Rotell knew better than to yell a retort; he knew that those weren’t empty threats. He had witnessed himself some of The Feasts, the days when the crows chose select villagers to satisfy their hunger. It had not been a pretty sight and all hope in him that the Crows might have an inch of remorse were destroyed long ago. But he felt his fear for Saint Cuervo overwhelmed him even more than the prospect of losing his legs. They had said he was the worst of them all, the one who had started all of this. The one who had started the empire.  He was pulled away from his thoughts when he was roughly pushed forward, making him almost fall over for the second time.

“Move, monkey!”

Rotell moved towards the staircase with an apathy that had plagued him since he was kept in the prison chamber. He hadn’t had anything to eat (the food they had given him was suspiciously familiar to the food present in The Feasts), he had drunk nothing but dirty water and he could think of nothing more than his family. It was odd how even with his life on the line he could only think of his daughter and wife inevitably being the next ones, and not of his own safety. It made him feel empty that he couldn’t even be there to attempt to protect them. It took away all motivation in him for an escape. He had cried all that he could have on the first night in the dungeon and he was not going to give the Crows now the pleasure of his grief.

The stairway was tight and cramped, but mostly because the two crowguards were crowding the space in front and back of him. Now and then the crow in the back pushed Rotell harder and harder each time. When they reached the end of the stairs, the crow had pushed him so hard Rotell fell face first on the ground. He immediately heard a room full of that scratchy laughter. The room sounded spacy and felt drafty. He could stay like that for the rest of his life, face-down on the dirty floor. The crow behind him grabbed the back of his robes and pulled him up again. He felt a sharp stab on his back as the crowguard pecked him and he walked forward. There were crows all around the room, all staring intently at Rotell and tilting their heads in apparent curiosity. He noticed why it had felt breezy and it was because there were windows the size of the Crows along the left walls, all overlooking a grey, silent ocean.

At the end of the room, there was a faded marble throne that was scratched and had cracks over its surface. In the throne sat who Rotell could only assume was Saint Cuervo. He felt a knot in his throat. He felt that he could weep like a baby. He could feel his eyes burn from anger and fear. Anyone – or anything – capable of the cruelties that were happening to all of these villages, towns and cities was not to be taken lightly. Saint Cuervo didn’t look much different from the others of his kind, but he seemed like a stronger Crow. His feathers were a lot shinier than the other Crows’ and his form was a lot more defined, like his feathers were part of his skin and not ruffled about his body. Rotell assumed it was because he got the best portions of food from the villagers, as the Crows raided his village every now and then, all in the name of Saint Cuervo. On top of Cuervo’s head was a golden helmet with a dark purple horn protruding forward. It was the same as the head of the idols they had put up in his village.

They had savagely destroyed a fountain in the village plaza that had been sacred to their people and put up the golden statue of Saint Cuervo, its purple beak gleaming like a starless night and his golden wings spread across either side of it. The three crows that had put up the statue proceeded to get some rope and hung three random villagers by their wrists: one on the left wing, the right wing and on the beak. They had kept the villagers alive for a week, each day eating part of their bodies. When a villager had had the audacity to free the victims, Saint Cuervo issued the first Feast (which a lot of the villagers had called The Night of Blood) for soiling the statue of its holiness. They had apparently done this all over the city, issuing idols all over historical and sacred places to the citizens.

The sight of the helmet made Rotell’s stomach lurch uneasily, and a wail of despair threatened to come out of him. Now he stood in front of Cuervo, his knees weak and trembling. Cuervo had the same purple eyes as all of his kind, but his right eye seemed to be scratched. After what seemed like five minutes, Cuervo finally spoke.

“Kneel.”

In another state of mind, Rotell might have had an ounce of defiance in him, but now, faced with this monster… he kneeled shakily. After a few seconds of reverence, he was about to get up.

“Did I tell you to get up?” Rotell noticed that Cuervo’s voice was a lot smoother than the other Crows. Quick as lightning, Rotell felt a white hot sting on his right shoulder.

“GAH!” Rotell, for the third time in this miserable hour, fell to the ground, but he managed to stop his fall with his left hand in time. He felt a warm gush of blood coming from his stinging shoulder. “What the—” He looked and a piece of his flesh was missing. He looked back and saw the shoving crow gobbling something up. The hole was bleeding profusely.

“So!” Rotell looked at Saint Cuervo, he could swear Cuervo was smiling through his beak as he spoke, “They tell me none of your offerings were received in the past week? And that you have been building a blasphemous group of rebels that worship a dead god?”

The offerings part was true. His animals were not well-fed and they were dying, the few scraps that remained he had eaten them with his family to avoid starvation. Him starting a rebellion, however, wasn’t even close. He had been gathering with a few villagers to discuss how to resist and put up a fight, but he was not single-handedly starting a rebellion. They got together with more fear in their hearts than bravery, often asking for prayers to whatever was left of their god. They weren’t planning to push but to pull back. It was going well until a villager who was a follower of the Gospel told on them.

“Have you not read the Gospel? That all who resides in the land of Saint Cuervo is to present Me their best offerings?” Saint Cuervo asked, rather unnecessarily, since the Gospel is spoken of day and night by the Crows.

Rotell wanted to fight back. He really did. But what was he to do? Even if he fought back and was killed, the fact that he had resisted wasn’t going to be spread out towards the city, no one would know what he had died for. If he escaped, the Crows would drag him back by his tongue and do the worst they could possibly do.

“Yes… I have read the Gospel.” Rotell muttered.

“My Lord.” croaked the crow that had pushed him and eaten part of his shoulder.

Rotell swallowed, “My Lord…”

Cuervo watched him intently and his eyes narrowed. He got up from his throne. He walked towards Rotell, his claws scratching the stone floor and he cocked his head, like all the Crows did. He walked to and fro, the scratching becoming unbearable.

“Yes, I know you know…” Saint Cuervo said in a whisper that travelled through all of the room, “I make sure you don’t forget.” Rotell began to sweat.

“So then, why have you hurt me? You know I’m jealous of my monkeys’ loyalty…” Saint Cuervo hissed. “Why did you choose to worship your other fake, useless god? I am your God now, you should know that. You know that that is too against the Gospel. Don’t I provide you with enough, monkey? ”

Rotell in his outrage almost forgot to bite his tongue. Provide? Enough? He wanted to punch Cuervo right through his beady eyes, but he controlled himself. He breathed deeply, “Yes…”

“Then WHY?!” In a split second, Cuervo was eye to eye with Rotell, the smell of rotten flesh issuing from his beak. Somehow, Rotell didn’t flinch. “Why did you betray me?! I care for you useless monkeys and this is how—”

“You care for no one but yourself, you stupid bird!” Rotell couldn’t believe what had left his mouth. In a flurry of squawks of outrage, the other crows started pecking at him and scratching him with their claws. ‘Bird’ was the worst form of degradation towards the Crows, Rotell knew. A man had once been decapitated instantly for using such a slur to address one of the crows in their village.

“STOP!” Saint Cuervo bellowed. The crows stopped attacking instantly. Rotell was a bloody heap on the floor. “Get up.”

As Rotell got feebly to his feet, he noticed the shackles had been broken off of his ankles. A rogue crow had scratched deeply at Rotell’s ear, and he was sure that half of his ear was somewhere on the floor.

“Eat him alive!”

“Tear his limbs one by one, Lord!”

“Silence.” Cuervo looked at Rotell, then over his bleeding shoulder, “Do you remember where you got him from?”

Rotell couldn’t see, but he was sure the crow that Cuervo had addressed nodded.

“Good,” Saint Cuervo’s eyes glinted, “Bring me the family.”

No. Anything but that. Anything. This time, Rotell couldn’t stop the tears in his eyes.

“No… NO!” Rotell screamed, his feet glued to the floor even though his bonds had been broken.

The crowguard that had eaten part of him glided towards on one of the windows while the rest of the crows squawked in approval and fluttered their wings excitedly. The crowguard looked back and said, “I’ve been hungry fer a bit more than shoulder lately…” He spread his wings and flew away from the throne room, Rotell’s wails echoing across the grey sea.

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