It had been a mere two days since the Crow Lord had last seen Asha, and the atmosphere of the ruined tower felt lonelier for it. Darrah had not known much peace as he cared for the birds that roost at the height of the tower. The shadows seemed longer and time simply went on without him. He only did his duty. The numb anticipation of his duties as a Forest God, however, did not stop his feeling of the hollowness in his chest. The hours were no longer as bright as they once were to him and the silence of tower, excluding the ruffling of feathers and the caws of the birds, was a new burden on his shoulders. Darrah sighed deeply, glancing out the window and in the distance seeing the far reach of the forest and, deep within his thoughts, the village where Asha resided.
However, his thoughts were interrupted by a crow swooping into the tower with a loud series of caws and landing directing in front of the Crow Lord. It continued to caw at Darrah, loud and brash, and Darrah was taken aback at what the crow, the very one Asha had helped heal so many months ago, was speaking of. His reply, interrupting the crow, was breathless in the shock that nearly overcame him.
“Asha is dying?”
Sirona’s heart was slowly becoming filled with grief as she tended to her own daughter, overcome with the plague. Their village had become one that death held in its grip. A grip so unyielding that even her daughter could not escape it. Asha's breathing was pained, too weak to move even when she violently coughed. She had not eaten for two days, unable to keep anything down and water only barely. Sirona's own herbs could only do so much and she had tried to make them as potent as possible. But still Asha remained weak, and Sirona knew there was nothing else she could do but watch her daughter die.
She sat at Asha's bedside, holding her hand giving her the comfort only a mother could. Her own tears were held back, not wanting to grieve for her daughter until there was no more hope to be had. Only then would she face the rest of her life without Asha. Sirona was broken from her thoughts when she felt a gust of wind enter the room, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw ebony feathers floating to the ground.
"You are early, Crow Lord," she whispered, though not too kindly, "It is not time for you to start your other duties."
"It is not," he agreed calmly.
"Then why are you here?"
Asha's voice was incredibly weak, further ruined by the racking coughs that came even after speaking one word. But it had been his name, and soon he was standing by her bedside and what he saw tore into his very soul. Asha was far paler now, seemingly far smaller in her weakness. Her hair was limp and clumped together, her breathing the most painful thing he had ever heard in his long life, but the worst was her eyes - their brightness was almost gone. As Darrah made these observations, Asha had slipped her hand from her mother's and reached for him. Without a second thought, he grasped it in both of his and she smiled. That moment, brief as it was, brought her to life again.
Sirona watched in awe at their interaction - at just how much her daughter had affected the reclusive Forest God. She didn't say a word, deciding to watch and let the Crow Lord spend time with her daughter during the remaining time she had. She wouldn't deny Asha this. After another coughing fit, though still gripping onto Darrah with all her remaining strength, she then said to him, "I love you, Darrah. Nothing will ever change that."
Darrah's throat was raw with his emotion as he asked of her, "Can you forgive me?"
She nodded, her smile brighter. "I forgave you the moment I saw you again. I could never hate you, Darrah."
"You should-" he hoarsely protested, but she cut him off.
"I will never be able to hate you, not when I understand you well enough to know you were scared-" Asha herself was cut off by more coughing, and it was a few minutes before it subsided long enough for her to finish with, "I pushed too hard, and for that I am sorry."
"Asha..." the Crow Lord lowered himself onto his knees, almost eye-level with her, "You do not need to apologize to me. I am scared and I am afraid that I am too late to make up for my mistake."
"You're not," she soothed, her smile still on her lips, "You're not too late."
Asha then exhaled raggedly, shudders running through her body, and her eyes became half-lidded.
"I don't think I can stay awake much longer," she told him, "I'm tired, but I want to stay with you. My day was always better when you were there with me, no matter what we were doing."
"Mine were made better too," he admitted quietly to her, "The tower has become lonely without you."
Her laugh was hoarse, but he smiled purely for the fact that she did.
"I'll... I'll make sure to... visit soon," she said, trailing off into more weak breaths, "I promise."
Darrah squeezed her hand gently.
"I will be waiting for you."
A final, tired smile.
Asha closed her eyes, slipping easily into the soft darkness. The Crow Lord and Sirona waited in the few minutes of her strained breathing until it stopped - cruel in its simplicity. It was a while longer until Darrah stood, gently placing her hand back on the bed. Asha looked at peace, her soft smile still with her. It was hard for him to turn away from her, and then it was her mother facing him. She was crying, but she looked at him with gratitude.
"She will not be lost," he promised her, "Her soul will not wander."
Sirona stared at him with wide eyes before fresh tears spilled from them.
"Thank you, Crow Lord."
He nodded, but she stopped him, saying, "Wait here a moment," and going to her daughter. Sirona stopped at the other side of the bed and looked to slide something off her daughter's arm before returning to stand before Darrah. She held out to him what was in her hand, and he was stunned by it. It was the leather bracelet she made for herself, the one paired with his. The black feather he gave her still dangled from it, and he could tell the bracelet as a whole had been maintained with the greatest care.
Darrah looked back at Sirona and she said, "She would have wanted you to have it."
He took it delicately in his grasp and held it close to his heart.
And with another gust of wind and trailing of feathers, the Crow Lord vanished from the Herb Witch's home in the village. He returned to his tower, and he looked upon its looming ruin with heartache deep within before disappearing into its darkness.