Why do birds fly?
Following the season and the course of the sun, they chase after unseen currents, invisible to the eyes of Men. How many times have you looked up and tried to understand what sort of will pushes them forward on their wide wings, what sort of call they are answering to?
And if they are at all happier, lofty as they are above the cares and toils of earth?
If you were a scholar peering from their tall tower onto the span of the open sky, perhaps you could find an answer.
For it is not often that a steelbeak raven finds itself by the shores of the Ocean Sea.
It would be easy to spot: stark against the clear morning sky, and just as much over the expanses of carbonate sands washed over by the sea and carried by the rivers.
Here the raven would then find some rest atop one of the stoneships, the immense wrecks that had been sleeping over there since the Capsizing.
As tall as a temple and just as sacred, the hollowed-out stone structures are silent wardens and witnesses to the time before the Capsizing, when the people of the Land Beneath the Tide came on the wings of storm to find refuge upon the shore. They carried the last remnants of the people of Anthilia, and the Raven would perhaps look down at the long line of postulants carrying incense and flowers and written tablets with prayers to the departed and to ask clemency to the Gods.
Clemency that, to be fair, even if it ever came would be a few centuries too late. For the floundered land is never to be recovered, its treasures forever sleeping beneath the waves. Those three who visited it for the last time never disclosed all they found there, and by now it is too late.
The seagulls surrounding the raven do not seem to care about such momentous things: they cry with joy for fish is plentiful today, and the lines of postulant represent a rich resource of bread and biscuits for them. This is a good spot, and in fact the only thing that might hinder their usual good mood is the presence of the raven itself, busy preening his shiny primaries with its glistening beak.
The seagull is far from the kindest of birds: it is confident in its strength and size, and some may deem it as cruel as it is majestic. It is sacred to the survivors of Anthilia, and they hold it in high regard, for good reasons.
But the newcomer makes them feel wary: it is almost as large as they are, and sharper. Its talons are longer, and its plumage is just as black as ink. It stands out stark like a stain over the sacred marble of the wrecked stoneships – and the glint of its beak is like the reflection of a keen blade over the water.
It is far from welcome here, but the seagulls keep their distance, eerily dancing in circle around it.
The raven cares little for them. It regards the scene, from the grey sea battered by stern winds so that foam is stretched in broken crests, to the sparkling carbonate sand, to the lines of postulants. Some of them have stopped chattering and praying and are looking up at it, pointing their dark fingers.
The raven tilts its head. They have noticed it.
The shore is not the place where you would expect to find a steelbeak raven, and from the lines unkind murmurs rise into the air, similar to those of the seagulls. Someone leaves to find a bow.
The raven unhooks its talons from the marble and plunges into the depths of the stoneships. It flies between the ancient beams of stone and fossilized material, passing by the criss-cross labyrinth of blades of sunlight as they slowly give way to the utter darkness.
Something goes off in the raven’s eyes and its pupils change from the usual black to a glowing silver. The contours of the stone pillars stark and clear again, it lazily swings between them, reaching the bottom of the ship, where rainfall has accumulated into a wide and mirror-like pond.
The entire structure is as sterile and as doomed as the civilization that has birthed it, and the lines of people paying homage to a land capsized are not going to change any of that. Satisfied by its findings, the raven touches the line of the water and drinks – it’s fresh, and it has a bit of a strange taste, like the smell that lingers after and before a storm. It makes its back feathers tingle.
But it is far from enough to dislodge, or even discourage, the cold shine will that lights up its pupils.
The raven raises its beak to the far-off windows where light pours and shatters over the light ripples of water and lets out a tall and sharp caw.
It echoes and shatters from wall to wall, turning ever more into a mocking laughter.
What a useless, hollow shell. And is this what they should be afraid of?
Perhaps she will have to reconsider her plan… but then again she is just at the beginning of her journey.
She has, indeed, much more to see.
It shakes and takes off, leaving behind itself just a few droplets of water as it raises above the line of darkness, up and out through a side window, on the opposite side it came in.
As expected, the archers are already looking up at their mark, and it has to catch a warm eastward wind to escape their bitter arrows, wheezing through the air. From behind him comes a flurry of wings – the seagulls, emboldened by the presence of the rangers below and the glint of their bows, encroach it, their calls a storm.
One launches itself at the raven, beak open in a cry, ready to rend through its wings and make it careen to the sand below.
The raven flaps its right wing and pivots right around the assailant, snapping its sharp beak at its tail. Its edge cleaves through feather, skin and bone in one clear cut, shearing through it like paper. The seagull shrieks in pain and surprise and tumbles off the winds, and falls falls falls in a flurry of white feathers and blood droplets in a spiral that ends only when it hits a rock below, snapping its neck like a twig.
The other seagulls disperse.
The raven lets out one final caw – it sounds like a victory cry and it keeps flying east, over the first covers of pine trees, unmatched and alone.
It’s only a few minutes later that its pupils go back to its natural black.
Author’s Notes: here starts a short novella which I am writing also to deal with some world building elements of my next novel. I hope you will like it – thanks for reading.