The raven feels it in its plumage, right to the tip of its primaries – this place is not like any others. It has shivered and stuttered as it advanced towards the Hearthwomb, but this time the feeling is different… is far more ancient.
Even for a bird, a simple animal, the sensation in the air is a harsh tingle that runs through its body, making it feel unwelcome. Like turning past the mountainside and finding a nest of seagulls sitting there, waiting for it, and entire horde of white pests about to descend upon its wings and clip at them.
The place reeks of unspoken threat.
And Runo, behind its eyes, feels just as under scrutiny. It pushes the raven forward, and it obeys, but she feels like this is going to put the shared trust between time on a test.
She does not want to risk the life of the bird, she has grown fond of it, and yet… this is a place unlike anything she has ever believed she could discover.
They know so little about the Capsizing. The shattered moon is evidence enough that something went down, something terrible, together with the scattering of races that the Anthilians used as playthings.
And now, these Anthilian statues walking towards their city… this is a sign of what might have happened that day.
Is this going to help her find a way to freedom?
Is this going to help her win the sympathies of the King in any way?
Most likely no.
But this is going to surely help her curiosity.
And if there’s something she can’t say no to…
The ravn flies towards the next statue. This one is of a woman, holding a child in her womb. She is also reaching out as if to touch something that isn’t there – the raven taps with its beak on the stone material and a few grain dusts scatter under the light of the moon.
They look a lot like the carbonated sand on the shores of the Ocean Sea.
But maybe it’s just her imagination. The raven is a good choice for flight and endurance, but she can hardly perform any serious examination.
So she pushes the bird to proceed. Along the way, the raven picks up a faint trail: smell of people and freshly-pressed grass.
She is not alone here. But who would brave the Elven lands to reach this place?
Perhaps it would be better to reach a vantage point – the raven takes off once again, and once again Runo notices how many people are actually there, caught in the act of walking towards the abandoned city. As the raven crosses past the walls, she feels the white stone cast a shadow of doubt over the bird’s wings that reverberates all the way through her bones.
The buildings below are scattered and molten – the stone and metal that was used to build them twisted in fantastical shapes, like a child playing with sand. Hooks, circles and spirals come out of the layers of stone, and each of them proceeds to flourish in a new and increasingly-mad form as their proceed towards the centre of the city.
The air feels tingly, and the raven shivers at times when something prickles at the end of its beak or of its primaries. Something invisible, lingering just out of reach. Or perhaps they are the ones just out of reach of what is going on.
And then there’s the people.
The streets below are packed with statues – the same kind she saw outside, reaching out for something right at the centre of the city, though all she can see in an empty spot. Each of the people turned into glistening dust reach out, each of them caught in the moment of trying to grasp something they seemingly desired more than anything in the world.
Entire families, people still caught in the act of holding together, are frozen as they each reached out for something else. Mothers letting of their child as they also looked away from their parent.
Elderly men abandoning their likewise-enraptured spouse.
Over and over and over again.
Runo feels the same shiver run down her spine, fiercer this time.
She reaches for the raven’s mind, and she can feel the same doubt that rackets her bones – she hesitates, but the bird does not.
And so onwards she goes, grateful she can share a connection with it.
The city unfurls beneath them, the air crisp, clear and yet feeling like a storm.
The raven does not let out a single cry, not even a quip. It feels like this silence has been here since the undoing of the world – and yet its ears pick up a faint noise.
She guides it past a spiral walls, and she catches a procession of grey figures, one by one proceeding through the twisted roads and beneath the misshapen roofs. They carry lamps that cast a white light and walk in silence.
But even from here, she recognizes them. Their grey cloaks, their dark skin and how tall they are: these are a Anthilians.
What are they doing here?
And how come do they know this place?
It’s an armed party: their cloaks betray the shape of bows, and many carry swords, knives and spears, though she is a bit less worried about those.
It would be the third time she puts the raven in danger.
She hesitates – but the animal, once again, does not.
Perhaps it has grown accustomed to her presence and is starting to share her proclivities. Or perhaps her control over its mind is starting to destroy its sense of self-preservation.
Questions for another time.
With her heart beating fast, she follows them as they enter the city’s central square – unlike the fantastical shapes of the buildings all around them, it’s an empty space.
In face, it is just an open void. Houses, streets and towers all just cease to exist at the perimeter of a vast circle, as if the same giant that shaped the stone pressed down with a glass and carved the entire area out.
And as they reach it, the column of Anthilians stops right at the edge.
The raven finds a hidden spot behind them, atop a tower – and yet one of them, a woman with short black hair and aqua eyes (is she not pureblood perhaps?) turns right in their direction. Runo recoils at the sight of her battle axe glistening at her side, its edge lethal ceramide.
But then the others look at her, she shakes her head and follows the others.
Runo and the raven both relax.
this chapter owes much to a story I read as a kid. The book by itself was good, but one of the chapters dealt with the characters exploring a city that was left abandoned all of a sudden, and the image stuck with me somewhat fiercely. Thanks for reading.