What the Raven Saw – Dark Fantasy Novella, 12/13

Runo has heard about these three, a whisper murmured in the dusty corners of history. When the stars align…

“She does seem a little taken aback,” the tallest one, mighty Thiur, says with her stern voice. She picks up the still-trembling raven and gives it a shake. “Is she actually there?” She asks Pulum.

Runo, still caught in her stupor, only then notices how similar and different they are from each other: they all look like Anthilian women, all of them gorgeous thanks to their smooth skin – but that’s not skin, it’s cerarmid, a material that has been lost since the death of the last Hearthwomb – and their long black hair. The light in their blue eyes shines through like twin stars, the azure deeper than the Ocean sea. Their heads are finely-shaped with the shell-like curve of their skulls that’s typical of the pureblood strain. All in all, they are the most striking example of what the ideal Anthilian form ought to be, maybe even more than the royal family.

But they are also so very much different – faint lines décor their skin, pulsing with a soft silver light. For the petite Pulum, the Witful, they run over her skin in a geometric pattern of angles and echoes that seem to run over each and make her feel a little dizzy. The middle one, Steadfast Usil, shows a motif of waves and glistening stars, reaching all the way up to her shoulders. At a glance, she has a little something  the other two lack, a kind of more refined grace or existence that makes Runo think about how in every legend that came after the Capsizing, the Sun was born after the Moon and the Stars.

On the other hand, Thiur makes a striking difference: she can still catch the hints of the floral pattern that used to cover her body, but most of it is now lost to cracks, chips and tiny wounds that seep argent light. It looks like she has been cracked, her skin ruptured by a mallet, and then slowly patched up together, painstakingly-so.

In a way, she resembles her namesake much more than the others.

“I believe she is,” Pulum says, setting her own hand against the bird’s carcass, feeling the energies that now animate them. Once more, Runo tries to reach out to her, but all she can feel is the thin membrane of sable cerarmid, and then beyond… a rustle of infinite grains of gold as they tumble through the abyss of the sky, launching dark sparks towards each other, meeting up in nets of commands she cannot understand.

Whatever they are, they are far beyond her skill to control, command, or even understand.

But the Three Wanderers have a history of kindness – and their gentle visages invite her to stay. Perhaps they could offer a word of advice to her as well.

“She has met with Mother,” Usil interjects, the curve of her lips enhanced by the dawn of a smile. “Therefore she has seen, and she knows, if just a bit.” Her blue eyes seem to transfix her even more than Thiur’s strong hands or Pulum’s fingers.

“She has filled the bones and knitted the skin,” Pulum explains, her forehead creasing in thought. “It is a net of control, but it far gentler than I am used to. These two used to have the bud of a connection. Do you still want to proceed?”

“It is why we are here,” Usil states, leaning over to look directly into the raven’s eyes. “We have followed you with great interest, Runo the spirited child. Spirited away, if one can be so bold.”

Runo shudders as unwanted memories stir in her mind – as she was little more than a child. The village. The tremor of the mill-slaves turning it into a battlefield. The scream, the fires. The look of the Gloom Lords as they recognized in her potential enough.

The fierce smile of Heleth as she declared her protector.

“Now come,” she says standing up again. Thiur follows her and Pulum to close the group, walking amidst the creaking grass, right towards the emptied city. Thiur’s blue gaze looks at the statues that are still immobilized and looking for something that is not there. Her forehead creases as she passes by one that resembles a young man, reaching out with both his arms as if to welcome someone or something in a hug.

She sets her hand against his shoulder and lets it fall in a gesture of support, beyond all time and knowledge.

“It was perhaps unexpected that you would be offed by an arrow like that,” Usil muses, turning her face to regard the raven as it lays still in Thiur’s hands, its wings creaking softly as it tries to open them, its beak parted but emitting no more sound.

All Runo can do is to make its neck move in a nod.

Right when she believed  she had found a way.

“But the intuition was good. Especially after all you have seen, all that you have passed through. And most importantly, what you have managed to share with this bird.”

“Her connection is remarkable,” Pulum points out, walking now next to Thiur as she looks at the raven in her hands. “She has managed to get through this distance and to hold their bond. I would not be able to explain it just by Marrower art.”

“Then perhaps there is a little more to it,” Usil chuckles. They are getting closer now, the walls of the city looming over them. What are they going to do with the raven?

With her? They cannot reach out to her all the way in the tower, and yet what they are suggesting is they somewhat followed her through all this time?

She has never even found a hint of their presence…

“Perhaps this will be a chance for you to finally step out of that river of pain of fear, Runo the Marrower.”

And once again: how do they know their name?

Even if they are constructs from a time long lost, the last daughters of the forbidden power of Anthilia the floundered, how can they know all that about her?

Her heart beats so fast.

Even more now as they are carrying them through the streets of the city. She has time to assess the twisted architecture once again, from a different angle this time. The raven simply answers to her calls. Is there even an inkling of its spirit left, or did she miss the chance completely?

It feels like she doesn’t understand even her powers anymore.

Perhaps she never did.

Perhaps. That’s a weird word, heard from the lips of Usil. It sounds different: in her world is a sign of betrayal, of doubt. Here it sounds like an inkling of hope.

The streets twist and tumble – the architecture plays with the sky and the fragments of the Crumblemoon, shearing the sky in geometric patterns that remind her of the lines on Pulum’s arms.

The Three Wanderers bring them to the edge of the square. She can feel the air crackling with that stormy quality. What are they going to do… are they…?

She doesn’t really want to step into that unseen energy. That…. Ghostfire.

“Everything happens just once,” Usil murmurs, striding into the circle.

One, two, three steps. She turns, still perfectly fine.

“And yet once it has to happen,” Thiur and Pulum echo her.

Runo does not really understand – and she has no time to. Thiur walks after her – and she feels like the air starts to hook into the raven’s body, pulling it apart from the inside. It does not register pain because it is already dead… but on her own end, it feels like a tremor is trying to pull herr bones apart, rattling her cranium through her teeth through her arms.

“You have one chance to step out of that river, Runo the Marrower.”

She is losing the link. The raven is sizzling, turning into a mangled mess of blooming bones and flourishing skin. It loses its form, now more like a sponge of scattered matter.

Her spirit feels the wrinkle of the Ghostfire try to lick into her essence, turn it apart like that, transforming it… restoring it? It’s pain and ecstasy at the same time, it’s death and rushed birth. It’s…

“We are going  to show you how you can find your way out of it.”

Thiur throws the remains of the bird up in the air – they sizzle into dust – and Runo feels the Ghostfire sets its hooks into her spirit, and pull her into a screaming abyss of shadows and colours.

Author’s Notes: About to end. I hope you have enjoyed this little trip. Thanks for reading.


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