What the Raven Saw – Dark Fantasy Novella, 8/13

It is not easy to pass through Elven territory, even if the raven is flying as high as the clouds, and often hiding in them. It cannot go down, or the many sparse colonies peppering this battleground may spot it.

From time to time, Runo can bind her vision to the raven’s and peer towards the ground, trying to understand what kind of structure the cursed beasts are building. A land does not forget the touch of Elves once they have rooted themselves into it – the plains beneath the raven are a vast territory of emerald grass, but if one tries to look beyond the obvious, the signals are all there.

The rivers changing their flow, sometimes even flowing upwards.

The trees growing manged and crimson, their leaves looking like stretches of skin held by thin filigree bones.

Black structure raising from the land like upturned roots, which emit a low hiss that grinds against the raven’s mind even when hearing just a note.

Elves can adapt to almost every environment, but that’s not the worst – their ability to shape it back is what makes them a dangerous infestation.

These colonies are all probably kept in check by each other.

Maybe, she wonders, when one of them established itself here, it grew too successful for its own good, soon splitting in dozens of competing ones, each of them finding the others to be an abomination and a stain upon the land.

The terrain is covered in corpses.

Some of those are still moving, and not all of them due to the wind.

Runo shivers. She has seen her share of horror serving under the Iron Crown, but what the Elves can do to each other and to the people that encroach into the their land… it makes her feel like the poor slave she had to eviscerate the other night, crying in pain and fear as his entrails splattered crimson and steaming on the floor.

She pulls the raven far and away from their territory. This entire stretch of the south is filled with competing colonies. She is not sure which she would have a harder time crossing, this or the Burning River.

As the evening starts to turn into night once again, the raven’s wings get heavier and heavier. It needs to drink and eat and a rest, but  the ground still shows the mutated patches of twisted natural order that signals the presence of Elves.

Runo pushes it forward. It is so unlike her, but she whispers a faint encouragement to its mind, trying to soothe it.

It feels like she’s holding the bird in her hands, passing her hands over its discoloured plumage, scratching it behind its neck and feeling like, for the first time in so many years, she can have an actual bond with someone.

She is supposed to share one with Heleth – but apart from her blonde superior using her like she pleases, what other bond have they actually shared? She used to protect her when they were both Novices, under the stern and violent look of their masters.

But that time has long-since past, and Heleth has not changed at all.

How much time has passed since she started to think of the bird as a living thing and not just another cog in the mill, another link in the endless chain?

Perhaps a couple weeks.

Heleth has not changed her vision of her for the past ten years.

The raven caws, weary. She pulls back into its mind and spots a change: the last colony is already behind them, and she can see the rest of the area is safe, or at least appears to be so.

Which is also a bit weird. Elves reproduce and take over like aa strangling weed. These are not held in balance by each other like the colonies she spotted hours before, they have room to expand and grow.

Unless something is holding them in check.

But she can see nothing of the sort.

The raven caws again and Runo decides to allow it to land. It is already wrecked by the growing tumor and how tired it is from the endless flight.

A ribbon of silver revels a brook glistening under the shattered moon – she hesitates just a moment, trying to spot more signs of Elvish presence, but there is none.

The raven falls to the ground. Its wings catch the wind and flutter out of sync, trembling as it finally, finally, finally touches the grass again.

It stumbles between the silvery grass, and with a stutter in its gait, finally reaches of the brook, where it can get a drink. And prey upon a small rodent that’s not a mouse but Runo does not recognize. Not that she really cares. As long as the raven likes it, that’s the kind of initiative she will leave to it.

The bird perches itself on a rock as it finishes its meal, and Runo uses its eyes to take a look around. There is something weird going on here. Air has a strange pressure and taste to it, like after a storm. It makes her tongue tingle even if she is not physically there.

Far off, to the east, she can spot a few scattered lines that are too white and too geometrical to be natural. There’s a city there.

She gives the raven a fair amount of rest, as she pulls back for a while and makes sure she is alone for the rest of the night. Heleth is out and away, dealing with a request from one of the Gloom Lords. It is unlikely she will be back before the end of the next day. She can enjoy the perch of solitude she exists in.

And as she jots down everything she has seen in her mind, she decides to take a closer look at this mysterious city. If there is one here, there used to be a road for sure. And that means that maybe, just maybe, she might have found her path.

Runo rouses the bird and makes it take flight. It is still a little worn-out by the recent experiences, but save for the grey tip of its wings running up to reach the primaries, it looks and it feels somewhat fine.

She will just need to use this body for a few more times. She feels like she is close to her breakthrough.

Her heart beats hopeful until she finds the first statue.

What is such a thing doing there in the middle of the plains?

But then she brings the raven close, and the animal lets out a shrill caw just as she gasps.

This is not a statue.

It has not always been.

A young man, dressed in a tunic, walking towards the mysterious city, caught in the act of raising his arm as if to touch something. The details of the back of his head, too elongated, his long legs and the elegant traits of his shape confirm he is, or rather used to be Anthilian.

As she pulls the raven back, she spots others like him, frozen mid-motion, scattered over the plains like the white sails of the boats crossing the stillborn water of the Black Lake.

She has stumbled upon something she thought she would never find.

A direct testimony of the Capsizing.

Author’s Notes: this chapter and the following one (especially the following one) come from a series of suggestions that go all the way back to childhood. There is something extremely eerie about what I am depicting here, and I feel really glad I can finally deal with that. Thanks for reading.


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