Are You Ready!
What is it about?
“Avaria Norrith is the adopted heir to the Ariathan throne. But that means little to a man who, for the better part of fifteen years, has sought and failed to earn his mother’s love. Fueled by pride and envy, Avaria seeks the means to prove himself and cast away his mental chains. When he’s tasked with the recreation of The Raven’s Rage he sees his chance, for with the infamous blade he can rewrite history and start anew.
Erath has not felt sunlight for a century. Not since Ariath condemned her people to a life of darkness with their misuse of The Raven’s Rage. But when the Ariathan prince comes seeking the remnants of the ancient sword, Erath cannot contain her curiosity and resolves to lend him aid. Is there any truth to what he says—can history be revised? Can her people be reclaimed?
Toll the Hounds.
They are hungry—and they are here.”
Reshaper Year 1895
Ouran’an, once great city of the Reshapers, was a ruin. A necropolis of hoarfrost spires like the jagged teeth of dragons. A sick, black essence webbed its way along the streets; it crept up buildings like vines. Its gossamer threads extended from the rotted corpses strewn about. It had left none untouched.
Varésh Lúm-talé stood beneath the archway of the city gate and wept, consumed by déja-vu. This was not the first metropolis or people he had failed. He crept inward despairingly—just one more look. A moment in another monument to his failure, this stain of a legacy.
He wrapped his midnight, feathered wings around himself, though it did little to ward away the early morning chill. There was something angry to the cold, something…old. Familiar. Varésh closed his eyes and held his nose to the sky. Being the creature, the abomination that he was, he could discern the various energies in the air—arcane or otherwise—with but a sniff. They were more or less of him, after all.
“Mirkúr.” But different than the black essence tattooed to the city and the dead. Less a plague. He opened his eyes and trained them on the tallest spire. Even here, perhaps a mile or two away, he could feel the mirkúr’s urgency. He unfurled his wings and, with a great flap, took flight.
Mirkúr choked the interior of the spire. Every now and then the energy seemed to hiss, its discontent provoked by the illumination streaming from Varésh’s wings. He descended from the topmost balcony, heart thumping, skin like gooseflesh underneath his garb.
There were bodies here, what remained of them at least. The gore had left no ceilng, wall, nor floor untouched. This was where the slaughter had begun, in the halls and chambers of the Reshaperate Spire. Or, at the very least, where the savagery had reached its peak. Varésh pressed on, through the catacombs, and into the depths below.
He touched down in the anteroom; his equilibrium faltered instantly. The world spun in and out of focus momentarily before Varésh was able to steady himself. He took a deep, ragged breath and pressed ahead, crossing overtop the inlay of a black and white raven. Trickster, most believed. Wisdom bringer, Varésh sought to make them see.
The Reshaperate Vaults stood in a hallway wide enough for six to stand abreast. There were nine doors total, the first eight of which stood parallel to one another; the last was further on. Each bore a labyrinth of grooves extendiong outward from a unique symbol carved in the center of the door. The crests of the eight Reshaperate families. Though they bloomed with light as Varésh passed them by, they remained sealed.
He reached the final door, engraved with the symbol of a raven, wings outstretched. He mimicked the depiction, wispy tendrils of brilliant light—illum—extending from the tips of his wings. The illumination permeated the engraving and the grooves. The door dilated with a groan.
Varésh furled his wings around him like a cloak, light streaming from his feathers to erect a barrier that pushed against the wall of darkness that’d erupted from the vault. Smoke shrieked and crashed against the barricade, forcing Varésh to expend more illum than he would have liked. The onslaught faltered after a minute or two, leaving silence and a white-eyed silhouette.
Varésh approached at a measured pace. He sensed whatever this creature before him was, it would not hurt him. This was just as well because he’d used up an entire wing’s worth of illum.
The silhouette hissed bits and pieces of the old Reshaper tongue, though the words were too distorted to discern.
Varésh shook his head. “I do not understand. I am sorry.”
The silhouette swirled and, in a rush of smoke, retreated to the back end of the vault. Varésh followed. The silhouette moaned, and he realized its tether to this plane was growing weak; its form was collapsing. He knelt before it, staring into those white eyes, searching for something, someone—a sign, anything. It mewed again, and gestured with a wispy thread of a hand to a grimy leather book.
Varésh picked it up. His heart stopped.
A journal. The journal of a friend, of one whom he’d considered true son.
The silhouette wailed and, in a burst of mirkúr, ceased to be.
Varésh clutched the leather keepsake to his chest, trembling. He opened the journal and read by the light of his wing. Read, until he was numb and the prospect of death seemed to entice him more than did life. His creations, his children, were dead. Some worse than dead, puppets dancing to the tune this tainted mirkúr sang.
He looked at the journal. Where ink related fear and the fall of Ouran’an, it also offered hope, desperate as it was, to quell the plague that entropy had wrought. But for this minuscule chance at reclamation, at redemption, to help see the hope in this journal come to fruition, Varésh was going to have to the eighteenth most moronic thing he had ever done.
But do I have the strength? Two civilizations, two terrible ends.
A dead voice, a familiar voice, whispered from the shadow of his mind.
Varésh acknowledged the voice with a tiny nod. As always, it was right.
Journal tucked away, he withdrew from the vaults and the city he had failed.
It was time to swim the Temporal Sea.
Avaria Norrith was dead. Or dreaming. For how else could he have come here to this meadow with its silver trees and ocean-colored grass? He looked down at Geph, his faithful longhound, and the creature simply shrugged.
“Have you considered that you might be stoned beyond all comprehension?” Geph inquired. He did that a lot. Talking. Most longhounds retained some manner of silence even after they had learned to speak but Geph was the chatty exception. “Avaria?”
“You know I don’t partake,” Avaria said, starting slowly through the grass.
“Then why the hell am I talking?” the longhound asked.
“It’s what you do.”
“Well if you’re dead,” Geph said, “then why am I here? Am I dead too?”
The longhound heaved a sigh that fell into a yawn. “Fuck it all, Avaria, what have you gotten us into this time?”
Avaria glared at the dog.
“I’m just saying.”
“If you’re talking about the time we were interned for defacing Virtuoso Khora’s effigy,” Avaria said, “let me please remind you it was you who climbed atop and took a massive, runny—”
“I was drunk,” the longhound grumbled. “And the statue called my mother a bitch. What would you have done?”
Avaria rolled his eyes. “The effigies are incapable of speech, Geph. And your mother is a bitch. It’s the proper term for a female dog.”
“You keep saying that,” Geph said, “and every time I believe you less.”
Avaria shrugged. “Not my concern.”
“It should be.” Geph let out a hacking cough. “Where do you suppose we are?”
“If I were to venture a guess? The In Between,” Avaria said.
“Then where hell is Balance?” Geph asked. “I have a question.”
“I can guarantee you, Geph, that Balance remains incapable of manifesting you a jar of peanutbutter,” said Avaria, much to the longhound’s dismay. “Though I’m sure he’ll oblige you with an ear scratch.”
Geph gave a houndly grin.
“It all feels the same,” said Geph. “Have we actually gotten anywhere?”
“Not yet,” said Avaria. He had come to this place enough to know the straightforward path was never as apparent as it seemed. “But we will.”
Avaria started at the words.
Geph cocked an eyebrow. “Are you all right?”
“You didn’t hear that?” Avaria asked.
Geph tilted his head. “Because I’m a dog I’m supposed to have spectacular hearing, is that it? Well—”
How long have you been on this path, Avaria? How many years now? Days, weeks, and months spent trying to win the affections of a woman who could give two shits about you, hmm? And she had the gall to call herself your mother!
Avaria whipped around but there was no one there.
Search, but you’ll not find me in the grass, hissed the voice. I’m where I’ve always been—here, inside your head. Comfy, cozy in this prison that you’ve built. No—that your mother built. If she had loved you where would you be now?
A howl erupted from Avaria. The meadow fell to ash, and from its ruin rose a silhouette of smoke and flame.
“I told you all those years ago,” the figure said, “that she would set me free.” It beckoned with an upturned palm and Geph obeyed, each step leaving gossamer threads of smoke. “Faithful as always.“
Geph grinned at Avaria, eyes glowing white, teeth like needles dripping blood.
Avaria retreated several steps. The figure and the hound advanced.
“You’ll not escape, Avaria,” the figure said.
“For I am legion here inside your head.“
Sputtered, looking at the blade protruding from his chest.
“And there is nowhere you can hide that I can’t find.“
Crying now. He tasted blood and tears.
“For then what kind of vulture would I be?“
It was cold this night as Avaria walked the streets of Helveden, Geph beside him as he always was. His brow was slick with sweat and his head stung something fierce. He’d had the dream again, stoked by vultures of his own design.
“Was it Wrath or Envy in the grass this time?” inquired Geph.
“Some amalgamation of the two,” Avaria said, fingering his chest. It was tender to the touch; he winced.
“An answer,” said Avaria. “The Virtuosos passed on me again the other night.”
Geph nudged Avaria with his nose.
“Honestly…why’d she put me here if I’m never going to leave?”
“Your mother wants what’s best for you, Avaria,” said Geph.
“She’s got a strange way of showing it,” Avaria snapped. “Shoving me off to apprentice while while Avaness and Maryn took up arms and went to war for Ariath. I’ve been here half my life, a slave to erudition and abused by my own mind while they found glory in the heat of war. While they made mother proud.”
“And you think swinging arms is all that draws your mother’s praise?” Geph asked. “You think to her that mastering a blade is the be-all and end-all to life?”
Avaria scoffed. “In Ariath? Yes.”
“I think you focus too much on the glory of war,” said Geph. “Look around, Avaria. War destroys physically and mentally. Helveden stands half-erect, awaiting its resurrection by the Lightweavers who have drunk themselves into uselessness. The thought of facing vultures breeds fear, and that fear instills the urge to drink. It festers even now, an indomitable infection that has all but smothered Helveden’s glow. Is that what you really want of yourself? To go off and come back like…that?”
“If it would make her proud…”
Geph sighed. “Oh, Avaria…”
They walked the rest of the way to the Bastion in silence, Geph stopping to sniff the occasional tree and Avaria brooding all the while. He fingered the summons in his coat pocket as they crossed the courtyard. What could the queen possibly need of him this late?
A frowning stewardess awaited their arrival. “You’re an hour late.”
Avaria shrugged. “I got lost along the way.”
Geph nudged him firmly in the leg with his nose.
“Fine,” Avaria sighed. “I was drunk in bed and dreaming of the end.”
The stewardess rolled her eyes disgustedly. “Follow me.”
She led them through the Bastion, glorious in its whites and reds and various depictions of the raven god to whom they all implored. It was paradise where the Hall of Lightweavers was eternal hell.
Further and further they went. The walls, ceiling, and floor to a deep red. Avaria had never been to this part of the Bastion before, which was saying a lot. As a child he’d wandered where his legs and the Bastion staff would allow.
They came to a circular stark white door inlaid with various glyphs and grooves. The stewardess extended a glowing index finger and traced the innermost glyph. Illumination swam through the grooves and into the outlying glyphs. The door dilated, revealing the chamber beyond. The stewardess dragged him inside. Geph stayed put.
Avaria eyed three women sitting at the far end of the room. Shit.
“Ah. We were wondering if and when you might arrive,” said Virtuoso Khal.
“I was not so confident as Virtuoso Khal and Queen Ahnil,” said the Norema Sel, the shortest of the three. She dismissed the stewardess with a nod, leaving Avaria to the wolves.
He eyed the queen. “Hello, mother.”
Avaria stared at the queen. He hadn’t seen her in at least a half dozen years. She looked older in the eyes though no less hawkish and intimidating. Reluctantly, if not slightly mockingly, he touched his right hand to his left shoulder in the formal salute.
“How may I be of service?”
Norema Sel gestured to an open chair at the table. “Sit.”
Avaria gave her a prolonged stare before accomodating her request. He hadn’t seen her in a while either. His heart fluttered momentarily. They’d been a pair at one time. A secret kept in shadows, for what would people think if they knew General Sel had shared her bed with him, the Norrith family castoff?
“Virtuoso Khal says you’re developing well,” Norema said.
“Have developed,” his mother said. “You’re able to wield mirkúr as I understand it.”
“Have been for ages,” Avaria said, picking at a loose fingernail.
The queen drew her lips to a thin line.
“You say that with such nonchalance, Avaria, that it suggests ignorance on your part,” Norema said. “There are very few left who can do what you do, let alone as an apprentice.”
Avaria considered her words. “It isn’t ignorance Nor—General. I’m simply indifferent. What does it matter if I’m able to wield The Raven’s Wings? Mastering illum and mirkúr has gotten me nowhere. I’m almost thirty years of age and the Hall sees fit to keep me there until I die.”
An exageration, but it often times felt like he would never leave.
“I can understand you feeling that way,” said Virtuoso Khal. She offered a sympathetic nod. “Apprenticeships at the Hall are nortoriously demanding, but they can ill afford to be otherwise.” She passed him a slip of parchment. “We have need of you, Avaria.”
“It’s time for you to spread your wings, so to speak,” Norema said.
Avaria scanned the parchment. His eyes went wide.
“A simple yes will do,” his mother said.
Avaria looked at the women. “I—”
“Unless you aren’t up to it,” Norema said. There was a glint in her red eyes.
Avaria slipped the parchment into his pocket. “Of course I am.”
“Excellent.” Norema gestured toward the door. “We’ll be in touch.”
Avaria stood and gave the formal salute. Then he withdrew.
“You haven’t said a word since we left the Bastion,” Geph said.
Avaria nodded. He was prone to withdrawing into himself in times of stress.
“Avaria?” Geph poked him in the leg with his nose. “What is it?”
“Have you heard of The Raven’s Rage?” Avaria asked.
“In passing,” Geph said. “What of it?”
“They, um…” Avaria swallowed. “They want me to forge it.”
Geph yelped. “A weapon? That weapon? Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going to?” Geph asked.
A light snow fell, dusting Avaria’s hair and shoulders as he walked. “Maybe.”
Geph whined. “You told them you would. I know you did, Avaria. I can smell the truth on you a mile away.” He snapped at a snowflake. “It’s personal, isn’t it? Fuck all, but of course it is. Avaria, your mother—”
“She needs to see!” Avaria snapped. “I need her to see what she saw in Avaness and Maryn. I want to do something she’ll be proud of, Geph. I just…” Avaria heaved a sigh into the frosty night. “I want her to want me like she did them.”
Geph licked Avaria’s hand.
“You head on back to the Hall,” Avaria said. “I need some time to think.”
Avaria had always found solace in the woods, in the trees beneath the sway of night. Unlike Helveden they enfolded him in silence and allowed him peace enough to think. To brood as he was wont to do. To waltz with the monsters of his mind as they made manifest at his side.
“Envy, Pride, and Wrath,” Avaria greeted. They followed him as hounds, threads of mirkúr trailing their wake. He made no move to banish them, but held his arms out wide. “What do you think? Should I oblige them, forge this weapon they so desperately desire?”
“It would make them see,” Avaria agreed.
Pride snapped its teeth.
“True. I am the utmost of apprentices.”
“Swallow your fear,” Avaria hissed. If he were to fail… “I need to be worthy. She needs to see me as more than just a thing she and father found in the woods.”
A child, covered in snow.
Blood from his eyes.
Smoke from his mouth.
“If I were to perish would she care?” he asked the hounds. “Would—”
Pride growled. Wrath and Envy bore their teeth-like-knives as a distant-growing-nearer shriek destroyed the forest calm. Avaria formed a thread of mirkúr to a blade; he advanced behind the hounds.
At length the trees fell to ruin, and they entered a glade. At the center stood a shrine; before the shrine there knelt a girl. Avaria and the hounds approached with heed. His mirkúr pulsed with every step; the hounds dripped ichor from their mouths.
“Who are you?” Avaria asked.
The girl turned. Her eyes were dead moons and her flesh was burnt paper; her hair hung in silver strands. She cocked her head.
Avaria held his blade between them. “I asked—”
“We in this moment depart,” the girl rasped, “replacing all that we are.”
She stood and took a step toward Avaria, dark energy enfolding her from head to toe. Where once her face had been now hung a snow-white shroud; and from her back, six wings of black.
The hounds dissolved in her presence.
Avaria fell to his knees beneath her sway, cold in his bones. What was she?
“Are you going to kill me?”
She approached and pulled him up into a cold embrace, whispering, “Listen to your dreams, for things are never as they seem. We in this moment depart, replacing all that we are…”
She was gone, and Avaria was holding mist.
Where To Find It?
About the Author
Fantasy Author. Long Doggo Enthusiast. Snoot Booper. Shouter of Profanities. Drinker of Whiskey. These are all titles. I’m the Khaleesi nobody wanted and the one they certainly didn’t deserve, but here we are.