Dream Journal: 2017-08-07.01

Around the fountain was a thick forest. I could barely see the path that led into the very small clearing where the carved white stones had been installed around the natural spring. The fountain could only be viewed and appreciated best from the small bridge that curved around it and over the guided stream flowing from it.

From that bridge, the stonework gave the fountain the appearance of a carved granite eye, with the actual upwelling of water creating the dome of the “corona”. The lower lid of the carved eye was intentionally split, so that granite eye was forever weeping, and the stream flowed out from that point.

Attached to the railing of the bridge was a long bamboo rod and cup, so those on the bridge can draw a cup of the clear sharp water for themselves from the stream as it flowed under the bridge.

At least, that was the intent. Continue reading “Dream Journal: 2017-08-07.01”

Iron and Ash

It’s thundering and lightning outside. The storm rolling in is warning everyone to take cover before it strikes. The fast moving storm is actually carrying very little moisture, so flooding is not a concern this time.

Getting struck by the lightning it is brandishing about, is.

Continue reading “Iron and Ash”

Down To The Bone

My right arm ached. I reach over with my left hand to rub the shoulder, but another hand takes mine and lays it back down.

“Rest. You are safe here.” Socheniel wipes my face in a soothing gesture. I notice much of the right side of my body numbs as a response. I open my mouth to speak, but feverishly chatter instead. My right shoulder joint catches in the shudder and I wince.

It is bright where I am lying. I can’t see anything distinct, however. I can only feel. Socheniel has me resting with my head in his lap. He continues wiping my face as he is doing something with the clothes over my right arm.

My right arm hurts deeply. The bones feel twisted and the muscles pierced by a thousand impossible needles. The relaxing numbness ends at the shoulder joint itself. My chest and torso are without sensation. My arm feels like it is breaking itself from the inside out. Continue reading “Down To The Bone”

Dream Journal: 2015-01-03.02

The people moved aimlessly across the compacted desert. If you ignored their humanity, it was like watching Brownian motion on a two-dimensional surface. Strangely captivating to watch.

Everyone was naked. Most appeared over the age of thirty. Some appeared gaunt and underweight. Some appeared buff and in the height of health. Most were distinguished by being indistinguishable. If I stayed still long enough, I could find some feature that stood out from the collective average.

A strange moan came from them. “Amber.” Some said it and wept. Some said it and were angered. Some showed regret, some showed hope. “Amber.” Continue reading “Dream Journal: 2015-01-03.02”

Dream Journal: 2014-06-09.01

So the Ravens in the Boneyard pulled my arm bones and leg bones out of my body. And while they prepared their replacements, a very large Raven stood on my chest and fed me worms.

Bitter meats.
Bitter treats.
That which is vital
is always hard eats.

Like any recalcitrant fledgling, I would turn my head away at first. But the Raven was insistent, and the moment the worm touched my lips I would eagerly slurp it off the bird’s beak and gulp the whole thing down. So it went until I started playing with my food and a worm bounced off my face and almost got lost amid the pile of skulls I was lying on.

~zip~ ~splat~ ~slurp~ A quick change of my tongue from mammalian to amphibian rescued the snack. And caught the eye of every corvid in the vicinity.

«Who gave you that tongue?!»

Oops. I don’t think I was supposed to do that. At once I knew the answer, and knew when the giver snuck it into my mouth and how. But I was hesitant to answer in the same way one is hesitant to answer one’s parents. They probably already knew, but somehow it was less damning if I could keep from saying the name.

The Ravens were having none of that shit.

They pecked and slashed at my mouth until I opened my jaw. Viciously, they tore the offending tongue out of my head, making sure to remove it in pieces so it couldn’t go anywhere on its own volition. They made sure to go into the flesh of the lower jaw and into the throat, removing even the roots of the tongue muscle. They devoured what was taken, pulling it apart to demonstrate their offense at its presence among them, and its presence in my mouth.

They never explained to me why.

So here I am, my legs and arms devoid of bones but still having flesh, and no tongue in my head. It reminded me of another dream, another place, where I was held captive in such a state. A forgotten fear awoke and I panicked.

I remember shrieking to make the bones vibrate. The shrieking stopped when a Raven lightly pecked me between the eyes. «You’re not there now. And if you were, you wouldn’t be their prey again. They would be yours. And it would be a fun hunt. If you don’t call us to feast after we will be very cross with you.»

I just nodded. I was very tired. I’m going to have to answer for the loss of that tongue, and I’m not sure how the giver is going to take it. Tricksters are never easy to predict, after all. Exhausted, I surrendered to deeper sleep.

“Hey. Get up lazy bones. Got something to show you.” I rubbed my eyes and sat up on pile of bones. Then I realized I had just rubbed my eyes and took a look at myself. The flesh was the same, though the rough scars of earlier Raven interventions had been refined into yet another series of tattoos on my shoulders. They matched something I had discussed with [a person] elsewhen. The bones underneath were sore and new. New to me, anyway. And sore in the way that bones feel when mending. “You gotta move around, or you’ll get stiff. Come on.”

I hefted myself up off the bones and lumber awkwardly after the Boneburner. “Where we going and where’s the handbasket?”

Ke laughed a sharp corvid bark. “The new tongue fits well. That was nice and smooth. Good.” Oh yeah, the tongue. I wiggled it around in my mouth trying to feel where the seams were, but it held fast no matter how I maneuvered it.

“Since you’re on the up with what happened, why did they replace my bones? Again?”

“You’ve outgrown the previous set of arms, and finally worn down the legs to a significant degree, so why not replace them again while they had you for the arms.”

Ke stopped at a small hill made of bones and ash. A tall pike was mounted on the crest, angled to point towards a valley. The place was familiar but I was missing the landmarks that identified it. “Wait. Again? But they only replaced my arm bones once, and never the legs.”

Ke gripped the pike and tried to wiggle it. The pike did not move nor did the substrate it was embedded in. “[Keri], how many times have you died in this life?”

“Twice.”

“That you remember.” That ke spoke with the finality of a statement, implying that my count was inaccurate and low, was very unnerving.

“… Yea. I guess you can say that. Third party witnesses told me about it after, so I suppose if some shit happened while I was alone, I wouldn’t consciously know of it.”

“Yea. You could say that.” Ke gestured into the valley. “Look familiar?”

I followed kir lead. There was a strange absence among the piles of bones. A large circular track ground deep into the surface. Within that boundary, a great pit had been burned out. Several hundred feet deep, it looked like the aftermath of an archeological dig looted savagely by thieves. The dirt still carried the scent of intense heat and the shattering of organic molecules from those temperatures.

“The Bone Temple.” I looked back at the pike. “I mounted the betrayer’s head here. Don’t tell me the bastards are going to try and rebuild!”

“Hah. No. Those that escaped the flames and remained in the Boneyard have been caught and dealt with. Some fled back to [your realm], though. You may see them again, masquerading as spirit guides and pretend gods to the gullible and the naive. You know your mandate as a Boneburner. Do not touch their living victim. But spare them no mercy.”

“So that’s why the equipment upgrade.”

Ke barked again in laughter. “Ah, no. You’re just that hard on your gear now that you’ve pulled your head out of your ass.”

“And the tongue?”

Ke sucked on a tooth for a moment, and I was hardpressed to tell if kirs or one ke had picked up off the ground. “Yea… the tongue. Don’t you worry about that. A more proper one has been grafted in place, so you’ll most likely not notice anything new. But as for the giver…” Ke spat and I heard something hard bounce off a scapula. “Well… not your fault, so don’t worry about it.”

We walked away from the pit that used to be the Bone Temple. Our topic segued into different forms of anthropomorphic corvids and representations of corvids in different art styles.

Dream Journal: 2013-06-26.01

My itinerary last night: Respond to the Ravens’ call and go to the Boneyard. Go see a Svartalf about some politics. Go check on some folk in the Nine Realms and avoid an obvious trap. Then end the night in the Nagalands because I think I’ve had more than my fill of drama, and I do need to practice being calm.

I’m sure there is a homily about well made plans and how they go awry.

Entering the Boneyard, I emerged winged and shrouded. The scars on my shoulders have been extended down my upper arms. I have given up on the idea that they are rank and accepted they are the marks of Raven ownership upon me. I push my mask off my face and note my skin itches as if painted. I pull the mask off completely and take a look at it. The features are almost completely faded away. Only the original marks remain and even then they are only viewable because I know where they are. To anyone else, the mask is matte and featureless.

My face still itches. My fingers map out the locations and I realize some of the mask’s missing marks are now present directly on my face. I smile at noting which were translated and which have gone.

Ah, well. There’s work to be done. I attend to Boneyard duties without incident, much to my surprise. Surely, there will be some fallout for my little stunt in splitting the sky. Right? Bones sorted. Fires set. Time for some quiet in the corner before leaving to see about other troubles.

I turn around to see Ravenwoman sitting on one of the piles. I can tell she’s smirking with schadenfreude despite the full mask. Before I can challenge her, two ravens descend on my shoulders with enough force to bring me to my knees. More ravens arrive, tearing at the scars on my shoulders and arms, opening old wounds and adding more between shoulder and elbow. But the attack doesn’t feel punitive. They work precisely and with little noise.

Ravenwoman’s smirk changes into a frown. This was not the entertainment she was expecting.

I had dropped the angle of my wings to allow them access to the back of my shoulders. While the ripping was painful, it wasn’t excessively so, and I was able to bear the discomfort with ease. The marks on my arms were superficial and filled with ash to make them scar later. The attack on my shoulders was more specific. They worked to reach the shoulder joint and only pulled away enough flesh to make it visible and exposed to the air.

I allowed my arms to hang limp and looked at the anatomy lesson with curiosity. They finished and held the wound open. The ball of the joint looked damaged. It was black and pockmarked from a multitude of tiny burns. I was surprised to see charcoal there.

I heard a beak clap over me. I look up to see one of the larger Ravens. It looked into the shoulder joints and cawwed dismissively.

“I’m not sure when this happened, to be honest. The only thing I can think of is when Quetzalcoatl poured my melted heart back into me. I haven’t placed my arms under stress since then.”

The Raven cocked its head with an “Oh, really.” expression. It hopped to one of the pyres and took a beakfull of flame. It hopped back to me and dripped the flame and ashes into the joints. The pain increased but I just closed my eyes and bore it. After the heat passed, I looked into the shoulder joints again. The pockmarks had been filled and the bones glowed as if cinders but were whole.

The Raven backed away and the smaller ravens holding the wound open released their grip. They all took turns pinching the wounds together with their talons, encouraging the flesh to reseal itself. My shoulders healed in minutes, but kept the ashes under the skin in a macabre tattoo.

The medical care completed, the ravens all flew away. I was left kneeling on the ashen ground of the Boneyard with only Ravenwoman for company.

“That’s it? That’s it! After the shit you pulled, that’s all that happens?”

“What shit?” I didn’t get up from the ground. My shoulders had begun that dull aching that comes after surgery.

She gestured wildly in a small tantrum. “You dare to ask me about what! Everyone knows what you did, Sky-Splitter! Who gave you right to take others with you into your madness!”

“I didn’t take others with me. I told them plain what I meant to do, and asked for volunteers to come with. Not all of them came with me. Those that did were able to leave at any time. Not a single one of us were forced to remain.”

“The affairs of the living is not our concern!”

“Is not your concern. I’m still alive. I’ll wager that those that came with me are also still alive. And each of us have folk that are being affected by the Grey Sky. I’ll wager that being torn to pieces by those things is among the most gentle of handling they have experienced, and that the discomfort of being regenerated in Boneyard fires is nothing compared to what our kin is having to deal with because of that barrier.”

“We deal with the dead! And that’s it!”

“Then why do you deal with me? I am physically living, after all.”

She stood from the pile of bones but I remained kneeling.

“You are promised my skull, Ravenwoman. And that’s all. I’m sure you want a feast served to you. Rich in experiences and emotions. I’m sure you would not be satisfied with a skull of a person that died long before their body did.”

I finally stood up. “We living Boneburners are tied to the Boneyard and the Ravens for as long as we are alive. We have duties here. Yes. But we also have duties to the world we live in. My actions were rash, short-planned, ignorant of possible failure states, and over all a terrible idea. Yes. But I could not just stand by and do nothing, when there was something I could do.” I hung my mask on the side of my head. “Don’t think I didn’t consider what could have happened to me if I failed, Ravenwoman. I have not forgotten the years when I was multiple people in one skull. Nor have I forgotten what it cost me to unify myself.”

I turned away from her. I heard her moving swiftly towards me. A constable of ravens swooped down from the surrounding mounds. I had not seen them there. They poured over and around me in fluid flight and accosted Ravenwoman directly. With loud caws and vicious bites, they forced her out of the boundaries of my little corner of the Boneyard. I watched them chase her away in surprise.

So I did not see the Raven Lord in front of me until I bumped into it.

I bowed my head in apology but stood up square to face its gaze. It looked over my shoulders and upper-arms. It looked over the faded mask and the fresh paint on my face. It grunted and flew off, with all the conspiracy of ravens behind it.

I didn’t realize I held my breath until I let it out in relief.

A bone was out of place on one of my pyres. I reached into the fire to place it back in the pattern I had made. The fire itself grabbed me and pulled me into the pyre, snuffing out my awareness entirely.

Needless to say, the rest of my itinerary did not happen.

A Call To Arms

The Bone Temple stands as mute and horrifying as ever. I never did find what the original name for the edifice was. Or is. I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the Unburnt Pyre. The mounted head I’m standing beside works his jaw. I hear the gentle tap from the drop of a shed tear on the dry dust. As long as he lives, his head will function. Tears will be shed, attempts at speech will happen.

“They have to be self-extinguished. No more neophytes. No more power left in the bones they stole. Then, and only then, will the Unburnt Pyre finally burn, and you shall be released. There is nothing else to do until wait for that day.” I hear another tear drop to the ground. I shouldn’t be here next to him. Not after his shunning and execution. It is the highest point immediately around the Unburnt Pyre, facing diagonally relative to the edifice’s main entrance.

I notice I have feathersword and shield. My wings are settled on my back. My featureless deathmask is over my face. The shroud feels different, but other than having the new scars on my shoulder visible, I can not say for sure how. I shouldn’t be here, but my instinct says here is where I should be.

A raven settles on my shoulder. It announces itself with a solid ‘caw’ and flies off. I leave the trophy and follow down the mound, away from the Unburnt Pyre. A collection of other Boneburners are waiting. Most of them have weapons of some sort. This is unusual.

As I approach, they gesture in greeting. I will have to get used to that gesture, I feel. The marks on my shoulders have set me apart. But I feel like a child in adult armor. I know what they expect from me, and I don’t know if I have it in me to live up to it.

But a Raven settles on my shoulder, and its weight releases a presence from within me. I feel an old knowing waken. I don’t recognize who I am becoming, but I have the comfort that comes with wearing old jeans.

“Thank you for coming on short notice, and from the call of one mostly unknown to you. As far as I am concerned, we are equals. We merely have different skill sets, and it is for these differences we are assembled.”

Is this my voice? Where did this… experience… come from? Is this my first time in the Boneyard, or have I been a Raven here before?

“Each of us are from different areas of the physical world. We know different cultures and peoples. Equally important, is that we know different pantheons. All of you are experienced. You have seen first hand how pantheon psychopomps are being shut out of the spiritual realms. Somehow a division has been put in place, that keeps the divine from reaching the recently departed.”

“But that division is not affecting us. We Boneburners have individually experienced death, but was returned to life. Our dual-citizenship allows us to not only pierce the division, but allow the pantheon psychopomps to follow our actions. We can go where they have been barred, rescue the spirits of the dead, and hand them off. But this too, you have already experienced.”

The assembled Boneburners nodded. All of them were in formal stances, with their masks pulled over their heads. Many of the masks were once marked, but the marks have almost eroded away.

“Have you then, experienced the scavengers?” A few grunted in obvious distaste. One slammed a fist into an open palm. “They grow in numbers. Those I have personally seen appear to be acting alone. But I propose the coverings that keeps the psychopomps from reaching the dead are not the work of one sorcerer, or even a small group of them.”

“Have you noticed when and where such coverings are being erected? Think to your own physical world. Your countries, and the places in your countries where great emotional upheaval is happening. Never mind the cause of such knots of chaos, just note where the chaos is. How many have recently died there? How many of those dead have you had to dig out and present to the psychopomps personally? How many of those Grey Sky places have you encountered scavengers? I say to you, this is not circumstance.”

“What can we do? We do the same as we have always done. We bring the unclaimed dead here. We assist those psychopomps that ask for our assistance. We defend the dead. It does not fall to us to break the Grey Sky. That is beyond our ken.”

“However, we have other skills at our disposal. Skills that the creators of the Grey Sky are certainly aware of. And the greatest of them is this: We are not alone.

“We each know Chthonic deities, entities, and powers. The pantheons we individually know have those that are of the earth and of under the earth. I propose we entreat those we know, relay to them what they most likely already know, and ask for their assistance in securing the dead. It is not ours to play politics within the pantheons. Who is out of ways with who is not our concern. But the Grey Sky only affects those from above. The earth is greedy. Or we would not have to dig. Those sent under the Grey Sky also have to dig. Let their work be burdened and ours be lessened.”

The assembled Boneburners nodded and saluted me in agreement. I thought my words were done. I was wrong.

“Those behind the Grey Sky and the scavengers must know that those that seek the release of the dead will not stand aside for long. So far, our mutual encounters have been accidental and of little personal consequence. As we, and those that listen to us act, it will become obvious by our behavior that we are attempting to rescue the dead before others can claim them. I anticipate personal battles. We are Ravens. We may act alone but we are not alone. Each of us have a personal connection to the Boneyard. If you are in danger, call. Your brethren here will come. If you have assistance of Chthonic entities, call on the boons granted to you. If you know of others that work with the dead outside of the Boneyard, warn them. The Grey Sky is not a Boneburner only phenomenon. Not for the places it has been encountered, and not for the chaos it is taking advantage of.”

“I do not know who is behind the Grey Sky, or what their ultimate goal is. I do know the dead are being exploited on a level that defies even the gods. Something grand is coming, and it will be terrible when it arrives. Be prepared.”

I looked up to the Raven that sat perched on my shoulder for my entire monologue. I nodded and yielded to it. The others gestured. The Raven cawwed loudly and flew off my shoulder into the distance. Just like that, our meeting was dismissed. The other Boneburners either nodded or gestured to me and we each went our separate ways.

As I returned to my personal “forty acres”, I put the sword and shield away. I pushed the mask up over my head so that it appeared more a fashion statement than uniform attire. Tending to the pyres in my care, I realized I remembered each and every word of the monologue, including the directive to warn those outside the Boneyard.

“Great. Now I can add delusions of grandeur to my list of psychoses. Especially after yesterday’s meltdown. This is not going to look good on my resume.” Bones sorted and proper fires lit, I knew I would have to post the entire script. I have seen too many clues in other people’s words to know the Grey Sky is spreading. Someone is intentionally hijacking the dead on a level that hasn’t been seen for centuries.

I am quite sure I am not the first to sound the alarm. I am most likely the last knowing how I tend to stumble onto the last moves of a game in play. But it is my duty to sound the alarm when it is called.

I’m sounding it.

A Raven’s Mercy

Another pile of bones ready for the Devouring fires. Another pile of bones in need of the Purging flames. Too many damn bones to keep track of them all. I wondered why there were still so many bones about.

My mask was resting cockeyed on my face. Looking more a fashion statement than uniform, I found I did not need it in the Boneyard. Most of the original marks that Esse had painted were gone. Unless you knew what it looked like before, it appeared clean bone white.

Once upon a time, I had a cloak that pretended it was wings. Now I have wings that sometimes pretends to be a cloak. Black feathers move unconsciously to help me keep my balance as I bend over here, reach there. My burial shroud is tied around my waist and my neck. Since being marked by the Ravens on the shoulders, I keep that area exposed.

Which makes it a perfect target for a raven that wants to land. It grips my right shoulder with its talons and proceeds to rip off the scab that had formed there. Jumping off my shoulder to a pyre to collect some ash, it returns and tears off another scab in the process. Before I can complain, it rubs the ash into the shallow wound. These marks must scar.

“So is this a social call, a job offer, or are you just having fun?” The raven just cawwed and nodded. “Okay, where to?” The raven flew off to a path between mounds. I started to follow, but before I even left my “territory”, another raven landed on my left shoulder. While its talons pulls the scabs free from there, it reached over and pulled my mask into place. “A formal event?” I felt a severity in the raven’s stare. “Should I get sword and shield as well?” The raven just nodded.

“Okay, then.” I dusted both shoulders with dust, and made sure my hands and forearms were dusted as well. I straightened the mask, and called the feathersword and warshield. As I went along the path between the mounds, more and more ravens were appearing and flying overhead. I noted these were very large ravens, almost of mythic size. I converted my wings into the ravenfeather cloak, but at once several ravens grabbed and pulled on the cloak.

“Wings? I know they’re a rank around here…” I didn’t wait for an answer, but stretched the cloak back into the great expansive wings they were more comfortable as. They stopped pulling at me and continued escorting me through the mounds.

The clatter of bones from beyond the mounds told me I wasn’t the only bipedal creature headed somewhere. The further I went, the more quiet the ravens with me, and the more heavy the air was. This was definitely a formal affair I was going to. If I wasn’t already in the Boneyard, I’d say I was headed for someone’s funeral.

There were more ravens than bones. A few turned to watch me approach, pass, and depart. Most were staring at a fixed place. Just before I made the last turn, the ravens pulled me to a full stop. I understood. It was not time for my entrance just yet. I heard a commotion around the bend. The sound of someone weeping. A scuffle. A sharp cry. Silence.

I felt a sudden presence beside me. I didn’t have to turn my head to know which Raven this was. I turned, bowed before the Ravenlord and lifted my gaze to his eyes. You will know what to do, and when. I nodded in understanding. He flew off into the clearing. The already silent area became absolute silence as even the sound of moving cloth ceased.

Under the mask, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and waited. I heard sudden movement. The sound of cloth ripping. More sharp cries. A clattering of wings. The feel of a new-lit pyre. Angry shouts in human voices. The sobbing of one person.

As this happened, I felt an anger stirring in my bones. At first I dismissed it as nerves, misread instincts, but as the scene continued without me, the anger grew stronger. A righteous anger. A justified rage. As if…

No.

No one would be that foolish.

Once you’ve committed yourself to the Bone Temple, you never leave it. So the person being judged around the corner can’t be one of them. The anger turned to ice in my marrow. But what if…

I took another deep breath and surrendered my will to the Ravens around me. I know my anger. If this is a Bone Temple sympathizer, a bone-thief, my fury may upset the order the Ravens want the event to play out.

The Ravens turned to me. I opened my eyes to see them staring at me. I stepped forward and followed the path around the mound. I step into a large clearing. Bone piles surround me, but you could not see them as they were completely covered with masked Boneburners and ravens and Ravens. I saw Ravenwoman standing in the back of the crowd at the far side of the clearing. She was fully masked, but I swear, I could feel her smiling at what I have become.

I recognized a few Boneburners by the marks of their mask. If they recognized me, their body posture did not give that away. In the middle of the clearing was the Ravenlord, a young male human held in a captive’s posture, two masked Boneburners holding the naked youth, and a small fire in which was burning a mask and a shroud. Only the young male was making noise of any sort.

You begged for mercy. She shall be your judge. Present your case. The Ravenlord’s “voice” was never spoken, but all present heard him in our hearts. The youth sobbed a bit more and slowly raised his head. He saw the tip of my sword before I saw his face. He recognized it and shouted as he looked up. “Weaver! My ancestors have sent you to me again!” His face and torso was covered in cuts, scratches, and random gouges. These wounds were not meant to be life-threatening. They were meant to hurt.

I recognized him. He was the youth that helped me clear the field. He later talked with me of the Bone Temple. My line of sight with him was such that Ravenwoman was directly behind him. I watched her settle into a smug pose. Her body language screamed, “Let’s see you deal with this, bitch.”.

The will of the Ravens hovered over me. But I was free to do as I pleased. “From the beginning. Leave nothing out. Add nothing. What have you done?”

He was sorting bones, as was the beginner’s duty. Learning spirits were ready to be released from the last vestiges of life from which spirits needed help letting go. Even among the bones of the same skeleton, some bones may be ready to be burned to ash, some bones may never be broken. Learning the distinction is necessary.

He was sorting bones, when he came across a fresh skeleton that felt very familiar. Looking it over, he found a particular break in a particular place. Recognizing the wound that would have caused this, he looked for other skeletal markers and found them all. He knew this person. A cousin, but closer than a brother to him. He had received word that he was dead, but the youth did not expect to come across the bones of his relative.

I wanted to pontificate about how Boneburners are always surrounded by death, and that it is inevitable we will come across the bones of our kin and friends. But this was not the time for that. I could teach the youth no more. This was his test.

“You… you understand… right?” The youth cried a few tears, scanning my face in hope.

“What did you do with the bones, boy?” My face remained stoic behind the mask. My voice remained flat.

His face fell. “You… you told me that anyone that gives themselves over to the Bone Temple… doesn’t come out. Their bones… won’t burn… right?” He laughs a little chuckle from nervousness. “My cousin died too early! He was still a virgin! He never knew a woman! He was innocent!”

“What did you do with the bones, boy? Answer me, lest I judge you from what little you have spoken.” I knew. My stomach knotted from the inference. I was hoping he would prove my conclusion to be a false one.

“I… I took them. To the Bone Temple. To the priestess that was waiting in the door. She said my cousin would not suffer.”

The audience of Boneburners were subdued in their reaction. Some sucked in their breath. Many clenched their fists. The collective anger was warming the area as if we were all in the heart of a pyre. I did not show any outward reaction. Internally, I was wondering why I hadn’t removed his head from his shoulders yet.

The youth sagged against his captors. “She… she said the spirits of those brought to her will have an afterlife of their desire. And he will never burn. He will never suffer.” He started crying. “She told me to come back once I was gifted with fire.” His face scrunched up as he tried not to break out in great sobs again. “And that once I did, if I gave that fire to them, my cousin and I would always be together and there would be no one to strike him down or…”

“You have condemned your cousin.” I have no idea how I kept my emotions from my voice.

He looked back up at me, shaking his head. “No… the priestess said…”

“Spirits lie, embodied and disembodied. You have condemned your cousin. Even if we take her words at face value, that what he is experiencing now is an illusionary afterlife of his own making, if he felt he deserved Purgatory, Hell, or some other spiritual punishment, that is what he is enduring. His own personal Hell, that he can not be raised from.” I cocked my head in a very corvid manner. “I know of no human, no matter how humble, or how proud, that does not have some actions they regret. You have condemned your cousin to revisit his pains, without hope of relief, until the Bone Temple itself burns.” I cocked my head the other way. “Which, because of what you have done, will be a little while longer yet, as your cousin’s anguish feeds the priestess and her… ilk.”

He shook his head violently. “No… no…. [Cousin]! You died too early! [COUSIN]!” He starts to wail, but suddenly ceases and stares at me with impassioned eyes. “I can go back! I can enter and leave because I have no fire! I can get the bones back!”

I shook my head. “They have become part of the Bone Temple’s very walls by now. They are sealed and lost to us until that edifice falls.” The youth deadweighted against his captors, wanting only to throw himself on the ground before me. “The matter to consider now, is you. I see you have been stripped of your mask and shroud, which means once you are cast out of the Boneyard, you will never be able to return under your own power.”

I turned to the Ravenlord. “What is requested of me?”

Judge, pronounce judgement, and see that judgement is carried out. On the one hand, I felt used. After hearing the entire story, I felt there was no way to just leave him as he is. I had to make an example out of him. What I wanted to do, was to sever him from ever being able to Travel again. He will have to die one day, the Boneyard will always be waiting for him.

But the more I thought of it, the more I realized there were too many possible events between now and his death and his final entry into the Boneyard. I’ve dealt with enough running spirits to know when his day comes, he is going to do everything he can to avoid his final sentence.

No.

Better then, that he never leaves.

“You have stolen bones and spirit from the Boneyard. You have surrendered these stolen bones and spirit to the inhabitants of the Bone Temple, which you have been already informed about the obscenity of that place. Rather than consult with those more knowledgeable than you, you have presumed to act according to your ignorance, and for that, another will suffer for long after you have died and burned yourself.”

I dismissed the shield, and extended the feathersword into a two-handed long sword. “Or would if you had not been caught. You have been stripped of your status as a Boneburner, but you will never leave the Boneyard.”

I took a few steps forward and impaled the youth on the dual-edged blade. To his surprise, there was no blood. I hauled the blade up through his body, passing it between his emanation in the Boneyard, and his physical self. The shock of the division silenced his scream, leaving him twitching as his mind was now in a dual existence. He was in his bed in the physical realm, and he was here in the Boneyard. Such duality is my normal frame of existence. But for him, it was horror.

“Here is your judgement, Betrayer. You will never leave the Boneyard. Your physical self will continue to go about those things you do in the Waking, but you will always have eyes open here. You will always smell the fires and the ash. But you will not be allowed to wander about.” I changed the longsword presentation of the feathersword into a sturdy kukri and moved to stand before one of his captors, standing beside the boy. “Your body here shall be beheaded, and the flesh surrendered to the ravens. Your fleshed head shall be mounted on a pike, mounted on a high point before the Bone Temple, and turned to face the Bone Temple. You, personally, shall hold vigil over the condemnation of your cousin. Your bones shall not be allowed to burn, but shall be tied to the post along with your head. Because of this, when your physical body dies, no god shall be able to claim you. Your soul shall be bound here until the Bone Temple itself burns, and in those fires shall your bones and head be thrown so you and your cousin may obtain freedom at the same time. For the moment you condemned him, you condemned yourself.”

“Mm….mmm…..” He struggled to bring his awareness fully into the Boneyard. “Merrrrrr…. sssssyyyyyyy…….” His head rolled back, throwing his tears onto the ashen dirt.

“Mercy? I am a Raven of the Boneyard. I am not merciful.”

I lifted the pitch black kukri high into the air with one hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ravenwoman nod ever so slightly. I turned away from her and looked at the Ravenlord.

The boy labored to cry for mercy in between bouts of vicious shuddering. The fire consumed the last of his mask and shroud before consuming itself and ceasing with a hush.

The Ravenlord considered me, considered the boy, considered everyone else, and cocked his head at me in that very distinct corvid way.

He clapped his beak.

I turned my attention to the boy. With my free hand, I pulled the boy’s head forward by his hair. I threw my weight into the descending blow, and with one strike, decapitated him. His body twitched then slumped in his captor’s hands.

I lifted the boy’s still living head up by his hair, turning him to face the Ravenlord. The boy’s mouth worked in a mockery of speech. The Ravenlord gestured with a nod. Slowly, I turned around with my trophy, so that the boy’s eyes swept those gathered as well.

One by one, bird and Boneburner turned away in an obvious gesture of rejection. The boy would not be acknowledged as a sentient anymore. In the wake of the stare, the Boneburners made a gesture that I thought only I made.

Even Ravenwoman turned away in judgement. But when she made the followup gesture, her body posture confused me. I could not dwell on her subtle change, as I was still on display.

I turned back to the Ravenlord. A tall metal pike was brought to me. The two that held him assisted me in shoving the pike through the skull. I turned the skewered head around to see into his eyes. They were clear and moving.

I looked back at the Ravenlord and held the grisly decoration up. He looked off a certain way. A path opened up through the gathered murders of ravens. I followed the path, with the assembled audience following after. The path led to a tall hill of compacted ash, dirt, and bone fragments. It overlooked the Bone Temple. I mounted the metal shaft there, stabbing it into the dirt so that the head was seven feet above the surface.

“Here, you shall wait. While you are still alive, your body will regenerate. You shall be food for the carrion crow until the time of your physical death. You shall feel each and every action performed upon your flesh.” The mouth tried to work again. Unnatural tears streamed down unnaturally bright eyes. “Pray the Bone Temple burns soon.”

I turned away from the mounted head to find the Ravenlord standing in my way. I made the gesture that all the others have made. He reached forward and with his beak carved even deeper marks into my shoulders. A Boneburner came forward with handfuls of ash. He patted them into the wounds with no words. And another. And another.

One by one, all the Boneburners came forward rubbing ash into the intentional gashes on my shoulders. I stood there, mute and obedient, wondering what line have I crossed this time, and if I have always been this way or if this is how the Boneyard expresses itself in me.

Ravenwoman was the last. She came with ashes clutched in her taloned hands. I could see her smirking as she rubbed the ashes into my shoulders with a touch so light, I questioned if she even touched me. “Heh.”, was the only word spoken, and she did so in her usual sardonic tone.

“D’T ‘V M’!” Don’t leave me! He’s figured out how to make sound without lungs already? My turn for grunts.

“You won’t be alone. Corvids like to play with their food.” I heard his teeth suddenly chatter. I bowed as I passed the Ravenlord. He soon passed over me in flight. As I descended the mound, I could see the clearing where the execution took place. The ravens were beginning their feast.

My memory returned to the cave and the cathedral. To the culling of the herds, and the ritually unclean being barred from the cathedral. I suddenly understood why they were necessary.

When I woke up, I considered how, or even if, I should record this for public view. I know I will never forget it, written or not.

Dream Journal: 2013-05-24.02

“Raven. Hello.” The speaker clambered over the pile of bones to join me just below the summit. Another Boneburner, he is wearing his shroud as a wrap about his waist. His chest is exposed, and covered in deliberate ashen markings. His mask is cocked on his head like an askew beret. We are in the Boneyard. No formality is required.

“Raven. Hello.” My shroud is in tatters, exposing one breast. I care not for my modesty. The ravens had torn it in their… play… with me earlier. I bore fresh gouges on my shoulders from them. Gouges that were packed with bone ash after. The wounds will scar as was their intention. But I do not understand why.

I had seen him only once before, but I feel I have known him my entire life. I appear in my late 20s, he appears slightly younger. He does not look at me, but joins me in staring at the Bone Temple in the near distance.

“Does it anger you too, that it stands? That it even exists?” He speaks quietly, in the measured tones of one trying to withhold emotion.

“Yes. But I feel its time is growing to a close. There are fewer of them still living.”

“There are fewer of us overall.”

“They can only take from our number.”

“Have you seen any?”

“No. If any have come or gone, it was not from this side of the temple. I’ve seen a shadow just within the door. I think it was the same ‘priestess’ that tempted me. There was animosity in her glare.”

“Animosity? That place is unclean in every sense of the word.” He clenched his fist. “I don’t understand my anger though. Why just looking at that place fills me with such heat.”

I lift my mask and look at him. I lean in and smell for too hot flesh. “You have all your body parts.” My matter-of-fact tone caught his attention. “You have not been inside.”

“Yes, I do. And no, I haven’t.”

I lower my mask to hide my emotions. “Ah. It is good you have your instincts then.”

He looked at me, at the marks on my shoulders, at my harsh ridged hands, and says nothing for a long while. “You are losing your humanity. They have kept theirs. And yet I feel your fate is the better one.”

“I am not losing my humanity. I am gaining other… things. They have kept theirs. And yes, my fate is the better one. Do not allow your perception to muddy your understanding. The priests within the Unburning will always appear strong, beautiful, young, and human.”

A shadow of movement at the entrance to the Bone Temple. We watch in silence for a moment more. “What you have not said is more important than what you have. I will remember that, Raven.”

“What have I not said?” I queried him as he stood up to leave.

He looked at the Bone Temple, then turned his back to it as if it could hear him. “You have not said what price is paid for the priests to always appear strong, beautiful, young, and human. And that price may be the most inhuman of all.” He slid his mask over his face. “When my time comes, reduce me to ash. Do not allow any part of me to go to that… place.”

“If it be in my power, Raven, I shall.”

He left, scrambling over the top of the bones and disappearing down the other side. I remained sitting on the dry clattering heap, watching the Unburning Bone Temple. I was soon joined by dozens of ravens. We continued to watch. To wait. For the burning to one day begin.