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A Raven's Message MAG
The final member of the Thalia bloodline opened her deep green eyes and sat up in the soft grass, her long red hair rising with her head and flowing down her back. The young, 14-year-old girl wore a pristine white dress fit for a wedding, with deep pockets in the skirt. As she leaned forward and turned her legs on their side, she felt a small object rub against one of them. She knew immediately what it was, and wished she was the only one who did.
She looked about and took in her surroundings. The clearing in the startlingly green woods was a cozy little bed of grass, with flowers and bushes surrounding it, masking it from view from anything that approached. But the brush also created a barrier that hid everything outside the clearing from within. Sunlight shone in from above, through a hole in the canopy, illuminating the dark understory of the forest.
She turned her head sharply at the sound of rustling in the bushes to her left. She shifted, readying herself to stand and run, her hand involuntarily gripping the precious, sharp object in her pocket. She would have called out, asking who was there, but she was fairly certain she already knew.
The figure emerged from the bushes and confirmed her suspicion. He was an abnormally tall and slender man, his skin pitch black in the few places it showed beneath the dark, feathery outfit he wore. He wore goggles and a mask that hid his eyes from view and made his mouth and nose look like a beak. A raven was perched on his shoulder, as always. He halted, and spoke.
“Hello again, Maybell.” He greeted her with the friendliness of a vulture watching something die.
Maybell’s entire body was tense, and she said nothing, only tried to match his gaze that was sharp and cold as a sword.
“Come now, don’t you remember me?” His voice had an otherworldy quality to it, and it felt as if it was coming from within your own head if you closed your eyes or blinked. Neither of which Maybell was inclined to do.
Maybell gulped, and nodded. “Rokh.”
“Yes. That is my name.” He nodded approvingly, as if she were a child. Which, technically, she was. But that didn’t help.
“What … what …” she stammered.
“What do I want?” Rokh finished for her. “Ask a question you don’t know the answer to.” He nodded to her hand, buried in her pocket. He also knew very well what it was holding.
“Why are you after me?” she asked, finally able to form a complete sentence in the suffocating terror the Raven Incarnate’s presence cast over the clearing.
He shook his head and chuckled, bemused. “That’s just another way to ask the same thing.” He nodded again to her tightly clenched hand which was turning nearly as white as the dress it was hidden in. “One more try.”
She swallowed again as the raven on Rokh’s shoulder’s intensified its gaze, like a cat about to strike. Its master also subtly tensed. It did not help. But while Maybell’s body was effectively paralyzed with fear, her mind worked in overtime to ask something that he couldn’t just brush aside. In her haste, she finally settled on something.
“Where are we?”
The tension in Rokh’s body evaporated and he nodded approvingly once more. “Ah, that’s an excellent question. I’ve only ever done this kind of thing once before, with your brother, so how would you know? It’s not as if he ever had a chance to tell you.”
Maybell flinched, and now she was seriously struggling to keep her eyes from moistening. She felt a brief surge of anger, but it was quickly subdued by the same thing that had caused it: the fact that her brother was dead, his life ended by the very being who stood before her now. This was followed by similar recalls of her parents and she quickly shut them out of her head. She was already fighting to keep herself together; she didn’t need their memories weakening her flimsy composure any further.
“So he did tell you.” The Raven Incarnate watched her for several moments. “Don’t worry, you can cry. I won’t stop you,” he said consolingly. But when the comforting words came from his lips, or beak, they were inevitably poisoned by his voice and his appearance, and especially the history he shared with his current audience. It came out sounding like a trap, or a threat, and that was exactly what poor Maybell heard.
But she was firm, and she wiped her eyes with resolve and looked right back at him. “I’m fine. Now answer the question.”
He nodded. “Do you remember what your brother said, the day after I first crossed paths with him?”
“H– he’d seen you in his dreams.”
“Well, there you go.”
Maybell looked around again, but not for more than a second did her gaze stray from the figure standing in front of her. “We’re in my m– mind?”
“Not quite. But that would be very interesting,” he replied. “Here, come closer.”
He started to slowly walk toward her, and his great height made the slow, deliberate movements of his slender body extremely ominous. Maybell began to crawl backwards, but she didn’t get an inch before a sharp wind blew into her face with the sound of a very large bird moving extremely fast and she closed her eyes. She felt a firm, feathered hand grip her arm, the one she still had in her pocket. A foot pressed down on her leg, and she dared not struggle and anger its owner. She felt breath on her neck, and was too afraid to open her eyes. Then, the Raven Incarnate spoke into her ear.
“Now answer a question for me, little one.”
She nodded immediately. Just as immediately, his voice intensified, as if all the trees were echoing after him in a haunted chorus.
“Where are you hiding?”
Maybell shook her head, still refusing to open her eyes.
“Perhaps it will answer you.”
The hand gripping her arm loosened and dove into her pocket.
“NO!” she screamed, and opened her eyes. She twisted her arms and legs away from him and held the small item tightly in both hands. Rokh’s goggles shone red. She held it tight against her chest and tried to curl her body around it.
“Give it to me, child. Give me the final Thalia stone,” he demanded. Ravens flew violently through the air above the clearing, swooping past her head and catching painfully in her red hair. “Give it to us! Give it to us! Give it to us!” they cawed and squawked.
“You can’t hide forever.” he said, and she felt a hand grip her by the back of the head and lift her painfully into the air. Her bare feet dangled below her, seeming miles away from the ground. The ravens continued to blaze through the air all around her, filling it with their black feathers and horrid cries. She refused to meet his eyes.
“YOU CAN’T HAVE MY STONE!” she screamed over the chaos, and it silenced immediately. Flinching, she lifted her eyes to meet the red hot gaze of the being who had taken everything but the stone from her. She felt like nothing, dangling in the air above him, his firm grip keeping her right where he wanted. She stared deep into his eyes and saw things she’d never forgotten and never would.
Her older brother, lying still on his back, his eyes gone from his face. The raven, perched on his chest and observing its handiwork, his deep blue stone held tightly in its bloody beak.
Her mother and father, sprawled on the flagstones of a courtyard far below the balcony a flock of merciless crows and its master had thrown them from. Their red and purple stones were gone, already deep in their killer’s pocket. The Raven Incarnate standing up where they’d fallen, his gaze following a distant figure running as fast as she could, already beyond the city’s walls and disappearing into the countryside.
And then, an image Maybell had only seen in her tortured imagination flashed in his eyes: herself, doubled over in pain, clutching helplessly at her face as her beautiful green eyes rolled away from her, ruthlessly stolen by the raven. Blinded, as Rokh stood over her, the stone that completed his collection in his hand, raised proudly over his head.
Maybell shook her head and snapped out of it, only to be faced with that same raven staring back at her, perched tensely on its master’s shoulder, looking eagerly, hungrily, at her eyes, just as it had looked at her brother’s. The Raven Incarnate raised his other hand and reached for her tightly closed palms.
At that moment, with the pain of his grip in her hair, the devastating feeling of loss he’d forced back into her, and the fear that the only thing she had left in this world, the only thing connecting her to all that she’d loved, was about to be taken away, Maybell Thalia snapped. With a defiant yell, she opened her hands, revealing the small, bright green stone as sharp as obsidian. Maybell brought it down as hard as her terrified strength would allow, smashing it into the Raven Incarnate’s mask. Just before impact, his unreadable face transformed into a crow’s.
The stone crushed the crow’s beak and skull, killing it instantly. But Maybell was no longer in that place, no longer in her hunter’s grasp. She was in her bedroll, having bedded down the night before in this wooded countryside so far away from the home she had fled. She had awoken very suddenly, and taken the bird which had been standing over her by surprise, quickly ending its life. She held perfectly still as she realized all this. She began to shake and sob uncontrollably, lifting the stone from the dead bird. She didn’t have the strength to whisper, but what she would’ve said ran through her mind over and over again, trying to drown out all the trauma she had just experienced.
He’s gone, it was just a dream … He can’t hurt you anymore, it was just a dream … It’s just a bird, and it was an accident … You didn’t tell him where you are, he can’t follow you … You still have your stone, he can’t use it …
But she knew he would be back. And she knew he would hurt her again, dream or no dream, just like he’d done to her brother. She’d killed that bird, and its blood was all over her stone, staining her clothing as she held it tightly against her chest. He didn’t know where she was, but he certainly had a good idea of where to look.
But she still had her stone, and as long as she did, he couldn’t complete the terrible work the Thalia Stones would unlock the power to do.