The sound of flapping wings and deep throated ravens calling to each other settled around me. I felt like I was smothered with feathers. Lots of shiny, black, blue-sheened, long as my arm, feathers. One tickled my nose and I sneezed, upsetting the arrangement around me. I preened a few feathers back into place, then settled back down myself. Realizing a discrepancy, I opened my eyes to find I was an unnaturally large raven myself.
I am in Ravenwoman’s Boneyard, with several other ravens keeping me company. A few of them are watching me with amusement in their eyes. The others really don’t care that I’m there. Well, I know I’m safe. I am comfortable. The pain of the headache isn’t reaching me here. And I do need sleep. Well, then. If the ravens don’t give a shit, neither will I.
Shifting slightly on the unordered pile of long bones, I close my eyes and settle into the zen of ravenhood. Just as I get comfortable, I hear a silly chuckling. A cold pair of hands pick me up from the pile. Ravenwoman is holding me gently and walking elsewhere. On her way, she turns me this way and that way, examining how complete my raven form was. She pulled out a wing but I had enough of the manhandling and flapped furiously while cawing my displeasure. I only wanted to sleep!
She laughed. She laughed so hard. She laughed with gaiety and brightness and sincere enjoyment. I’ve never heard her laugh from the delight of humor before. No snark, no sarcastic words bracketing it. Just, laughing for the enjoyment of it. She almost sounds human. She placed me on her shoulder to perch on while she continued walking through the piles of bones towards an unusually ordered set of bones. Once the laughter died down, she had only one thing to say. “Keep this up, and you’ll never leave.” Well, so much for that.
“But I know you’re in pain. And you’ve sought refuge from the pain here. So maybe you won’t join their number after all. Here is a better spot for you to rest. I’ll leave you be, for now.” She sets me down on a set of bones that have been arranged, just so. I can’t tell what the arrangement is supposed to be. As soon as she had released me, I’m surrounded by other ravens. Their presence is comforting, and soon I’ve forgotten all about her foreboding remark. I’m safe, surrounded by allies, and I don’t have to be on alert. Deeper sleep comes quickly.
I’m on the bottom of a riverbed, facing the worn rocks under me. The cold water is rushing swiftly above me. The current is such, that it is keeping me down, gently pushing me into the riverbed. I feel my raven feather cloak rippling in the current, almost caressing the rocks. I bounce off the rocks slightly. The sensation is not unlike flying, except for the cold water in my ears, nose, and mouth.
I’m not breathing. I’m as cold as the water around me. The rational portion of my mind is screaming that I’m dead. If I’m still alive I need to escape the water, at once! The rest of me is telling the rational portion to shut the fuck up because we’re trying to sleep here. I know I’m dreaming. I know what I’m doing is impossible. If I am dead, well, tough shit. Besides, I’m too comfortable to worry about it now.
But, I have to admit, this is new, being a corpse on the bottom of a river.
Wait… no… I’m not dead after all. I find too many senses have engaged themselves for me to be dead. I just don’t need to breathe, that’s all. I move an arm with ease. I open my eyes and find I have some underwater vision. Gills maybe? Nope. No gills. I’m completely human. I turn over and see the water’s surface rippling four feet above me. All I have to do is stand up.
I push off the bottom and the current immediately pushes me back down. I would have complained, except the pain came as I rose towards the surface, and diminished as I settled back down. Now, I understand. This is how I’m dealing with the migraine. I get it. The river is separating me from my physical body. I’ll just chill here a while.
I tuck my arms under my head and chuckle at my bad pun. I finally completely understand the raven feather cloak, as well as my other regalia, is deployed around me. I worry the water will damage it and consider sending it away. The cloak seems to grip me, and I relent. It’s been through worse than water, after all. Of all it has suffered through with me, it has only lost one feather. And even then, that particular feather is where it needs to be, so I don’t consider it a loss at all. Content with where I am, content with how I am, I start to drift into deeper sleep.
~splish splash~ Too late I hear the splashes of someone entering the river next to me. Before I can react, a hand reaches down and grips me by the hair. I’m pulled half out of the river and the raven feather cloak is ripped off of me. I’m thrown back into the river like a rejected catch as the thief slowly walks out of the river with his prize, without fear of repercussion. It’s clear he assumes I’m not a threat. He probably thinks I’m dead.
Oh fuck no.
My muscles are too cold for quick action, but I need none to retrieve the cloak. I make a motion, and the cloak disappears from his grasp and settles around my shoulders once more. I note the cloak has bonded to itself around my neck. There will be no easy removal again. He stops, looks at his now empty hand, starts to look behind him. “Did I drop…?” The glare from the fireball that my roar of anger has manifested catches his eye and he immediately runs straight forward in near panic, barely managing to dodge the brunt of the flame as he runs into the forest. His ass is nicely singed, however. He will be easy to track. If not from the scent of burnt flesh, then from the scent of my magic lingering on him.
I’m of half a mind to give chase. Until I realize which forest segment he has run into.
“Well, I guess the Shamblers will have a story for me, next time around.” The scent of his wound will attract them to him. The scent of my offensive magic on him will stir them against him. I make a note to myself to bring something special for the Shamblers next I visit them. I would love to know what they learn from him before he dies, or goes insane.
My head throbs. The pain had returned with viciousness the moment he pulled my head above the surface. My anger kept me from acknowledging it at first. The thief now out of range, my initial anger spent, the pain was smothering me. My knees buckle, but I don’t fall forward. Somehow, I’m still upright. I look down to find the river current is swirling around me, physically holding me in place. I nod in understanding and release myself into the river’s grasp. It pulls me back down to the riverbed.
Cold water fills my lungs at once. I jerk in mammalian response, but release myself to the river completely. I feel the cold seeping into my bones again. I wonder about the thief, but realize he is as good as dead now. I surrender to the river, and fall into a deeper, painless sleep.
Oh hey. I know this place. It’s been a long while, though. I look around the mountain terrace, remembering the various altar pieces and talismans that were arranged here. A great wind had blown them all away, taking with it the coat and cane the Embroidered Man had given (lent?) me. There is still a hint of a circle in the shape of the clearing. But otherwise, the expanse is clear.
I hear the sound of something like a deep toned bell in the distance. I know the tone to be the name of a “spirit” that has helped me before. I speak ker human pronounceable version of ker name and smile. The spirit circles me three times then comes close before me but never touches the ground. Ke smiles as ke addresses me. “I see by the look on your face, you do remember here.”
I nodded, looking around again. “Yea, I do. Feels weird being back. I remember all the complications and machinations I would undergo here. Was fun, while it lasted.” It was also a level of complication that was slowly destroying my Waking life. I didn’t see it then, but in the months that followed, the relief enabled me to move on with other concerns. “I’m surprised to see you, actually. Or was the lesson you taught me then, just something to keep me occupied, an excuse to entangle yourself with me?”
Ke laughed, and in ker dual tones I hear tenor masculine and alto feminine voices in lovely harmony. “You saw through my ruse! That lesson would have tangible benefits for you, if you were able to follow through with it. But I knew you wouldn’t have that luxury of time, just yet.”
“You brought me here.” I wasn’t accusatory, just matter-of-fact.
Ke nods. “I have something for you. Or rather, something of yours that you need to be reminded about.” I raise an eyebrow in askance.
Ke shakes a wing, and a long feather flies off from him and lands at my feet. Though it seemed to be shed from a wing, it had the balanced appearance of a tail feather. It is about three feet long, and of a strange shade of grey. Neither dark, nor light, it looks like it was made of ephemeral whispers. When I bent to pick it up, I found it was as heavy as lead. I struggled to even shift it in the dry dirt.
I look up at my friend in silent askance. Ke answers, “You’ve wielded this before. But you’ve forgotten. It’s time to wield it again. Pick it up.”.
Well, if ke says I can do it… I guess I better do it. I’ve learned to trust my allies and their assessment of me.
I grip the barb-free calamus of the feather tightly. The space is large enough for one hand to grip it, but not enough for two. A test pull tells me the feather has somehow gained weight in the seconds since I tried it last. Exerting my will, and trusting my instinct, I pick up the feather and flick it outward.
I can feel it changing in my grip, but I hold it fast. At the end of my movement, I find I’m holding the grip of a 2 foot long, double edged sword. This is not one of my runeblades. This is something… different. But it does feel of me, somehow.
I look over the featureless sword. It looks like steel, but has the weight of bamboo. I know it appears brittle, but I can feel the denseness settling in my grip. But as true the sword appears, I feel… unbalanced. “I’m missing something for my left hand.”, I tell ker. Ke nods.
“That, I can not provide you. But I’m sure you can make up for that.” Ke smirks with secret knowledge.
I stare at him, then look at the blade. I hold the grip with both hands and swing outward. The blade lengthens and extends into 4 feet of double edged, menacing, storm grey steel.
I admire the sword, but I’m not happy to find myself with another thing I have to learn and master. I have too many already! “Why would I need a new weapon, when I’ve almost perfected the rune blades I have, Friend?”
“Because you are starting to tread in areas you have never been to. You will be confronting things you have ran from before. It is easy to brag of mastery, when your territory is only what you know. Word of you has begun to spread. While some think you a peace keeper, others know you bite. You will be tested.” Ke finishes speaking, and speaks ker own name in the manner that only those of ker kind can do. Dismissing kerself, ke disappears from the terrace, leaving me alone with a blade I am ignorant of, and the worry of confrontations.
Wish I had as much faith in myself as my allies and friends do.
Make of that, what you may.