A long sleep and a quick meal. That’s more than enough for the raven to regain its former strength. Jumping down from the alabaster towers like a drop of spilled ink, its shining beak making short work of a stray rat, it dines on the rodent’s springy entrails, focused on getting the best parts before the taste spoils.
Other birds of prey might be less picky when it comes to food, but would a steelbeak raven enjoy such a glistening plumage and strong wings if it rummaged through carcasses like the lowest of crows?
By the winds, no. Only the best for its stomach – and as luck would have it, the rat is plump and packed with delicious meat, much better than the dingy things it manages to hunt over the plains.
Its beak still covered in crimson stains, it leaves the rest to the cats that have been surrounding it, and then lifts off in a flurry of wigs, eager to reach for the skies again.
Behind its eyes, the will that guides him makes him take a wide turn, taking a look at the capital as it slowly gets up from its sleep, Carthaza’s lamps going dim even as the Black Lake grows populated by white sails.
A steelbeak raven might not have as keen a sight as a vulture, but it is keen enough to notice the tiny ripples as the boats hit the waveless surface of the lake. Is that really water that fills it? It can’t be otherwise, or it would have long-since all flown into the Ocean Sea. No, it must be indeed water, but something in the nature of the lake… or perhaps in the nature of those that excavated it… must have turned simple water into that viscous liquid.
There is too much she still doesn’t know nor understand about Anthilia and the last remnant of its greatness. Too many mysteries… her heart beat faster and she wonders if one day, when all is said and done and her plan has worked, she can walk those shores and feel the free wind over her face, having left behind all tha-
The link snaps like a taut rope.
She blinks and pulls back from the water basin, fresh drops running down her pale face. She’s back in the iron tower, inside her chambers, and she is Runo once again. She passes a hand to pull back her red hair and looks at the newcomer, the person who pulled her back from the communion with the raven with just a word.
Save for a Gloom Lord appearing right there in the tower, there’s only one who could do anything like that, and already a shiver of apprehension worms its way down her punctured spine.
The woman standing by the door looks even paler than her – her skin pulled taut by a series of needles piercing her at around her shoulders, her hips and her neck. She bears a thick iron diadem covering her forehead. Her white gold hair fall in a long curtain around her shoulders, mixing with her white and red dress, as her grey eyes fixate upon her. It’s the kind of sight she has learned to recognize, but it still fills her with…
“Heleth,” Runo greets her with a thin smile, passing a hand over her face to dry more of the water. Everything is fine. She is winding down her heart, keeping her breath even. Nothing in her tone betrays the emotions she’s burying deep inside herself, so that they can never see the light of the sun again. So that she appears just as safe and as loyal as ever.
The needles piercing her spine, one for each of her vertebrae, feel like icicles as she straighten her back.
“You did not reply,” the other Marrower says, walking past the door and up to her, taking one of her hands in her own. “What kind of spell are you preparing, that you would not answer to my beckon?”
“Ah, my apologies,” she tries with a flirty smile, tilting her head back to expose the elegant curve of her neck. “I might have gone a little too absorbed into it.”
“Hmm.” Heleth does not immediately reply, instead her silver eyes follow her neck to the hem of her dress, her white skin so vulnerable, so ready for the taking. Her fingers raise to brush a hand over them, if only to state, once again, what the status quo is. As she holds her in check like that, Heleth pushes her other hand’s into the water. A smirk creeps up her face again. “Remote vision? What is it worth watching at all, out there?”
“The Harvest will be here soon,” Runo replies, leaning into her touch, tilting her chest so that Heleth’s fingers can slide further down, so that she can feel how much she wants her, needs her, needs her not to inquire into the specifics of her spell. “I want to be prepared.”
“Ah, that’s’ my little Runo, always so eager to please” Heleth purrs, taking her fingers away from the water and pulling her in to give her neck a small, but sharp, bite. Her bitter teeth graze against Runo’s skin and she feels another shiver run down her back. She lets out a groan, and that’s enough to let Heleth forget all about her attempt.
For what would she be attempting to do after all? She’s a perfectly-loyal Marrower.
She is doing her duty and she will be one link in the iron chain.
“We will have a dance tonight,” Heleth informs her, her lips still dancing over the skin of her neck. “Every brother and sister will show off what they are ready to bring to the table just before the Harvest. I expect you to make the most of it and make me look good.”
“Of course. When did I ever leave my lady… unsatisfied,” she says with a coquettish grin, leaning in close as well to try and bite her neck in return, but Heleth chuckles and pushes her away with her hand. Runo pouts her rosy lips, but she is playing her part well enough.
No other emotions burning in her chest but devotion and need for her lady.
Surely not fear, surely not disgust.
None of that.
“Now finish what you are doing and get ready for tonight. Get dressed well or…” Heleth’s silver eyes shine as she finds just the perfect idea, “you know what? Do not dress at all. I want every brother and sister to grow jealous at what they see and cannot own.”
“A show before dinner,” Runo replies licking the side of her lips. “I like it.”
“Of course you do.” Heleth turns and is about to leave, but she knows it is not the end. “Next time, make sure to answer my call at once,” she warns her when she’s right on the threshold.
“So be it.”
Runo bows, Heleth disappears through the corridors, and she is left sitting on the nearest chair, as the iron tower creaks and moans all around her, as the grey wastelands of Tuonela seem to leer back at her from beyond the windows, and Runo, takes her face in her trembling hands, thinking at how easily Heleth rushed through all her wards, and she did not even-
She did not even hear her approach.
Biting her lip until it breaks skin and she tastes the iron of her own blood, she tries to take control back over her emotions.
She will go back to her spell. Take over the raven once more and find for a path from her to the Burning River to the city on the Black Lake.
She can offer much to the King. As a Marrower. And if things go sour, as a woman.
But next time, she will do best to be even more cautious.
Author’s Notes: first time introducing Runo and Heleth. I have a feeling you will see them again in November. Thanks for reading.