Month 12, Day 20, Sunday 11:30 p.m.
Gera was the first to realize that the Raven Queen had gone. They had all been distracted for a moment, watching Miles sleep with relief, and sometime while they had all forgotten to think about the unsettling creature, she had disappeared. It was almost like the stories, the ones told in the small, remote villages, among creatures with long memories and uninterrupted oral tradition, and among those skinwalkers who hadn’t forgotten that their other form was as much a part of them as the human one.
Gera, at least, was more convinced than ever that they had called upon a creature of night.
The stories were ancient, and the names given to the mischievous, sometimes benevolent and sometimes horrifically vengeful, shapeshifting creatures of dream and shadow were inconsistent. The stories of their abilities and physical characteristics were also inconsistent, and to be truthful, Gera had long thought them only fanciful children’s tales, meant to amuse, thrill, and frighten.
It was Lynwood who had been hopeful when he heard the rumors, but Gera now saw that though the tales may have been twisted over time with the retelling, they had some basis in truth.
When she pointed out their missing guest to her brother-of-choice, they sent their people—those who were not busy with the casting—to search the mansion and grounds for signs of her, but all came back with nothing.
Gera found the Raven Queen’s disappearance almost as relieving as it was frightening. She had to tamp down the little fear at the back of her head that said the creature might simply have disappeared from their perception and be watching them even now, hidden in some shadow.
She sidled closer to the ring of spellcasters standing around her son, examining his face for signs of distress. She’d been frightened when the Raven Queen had enfolded Millennium within her darkness and began to produce that deep, harmonized hum. Even the thought of it raised the hair on her arms, and she rubbed them briskly to force away the feeling.
Her brother placed a cloak around her shoulders. “Miles is unharmed. Perhaps you have gone so long without seeing him peacefully asleep that you have forgotten what it looks like,” he said softly.
Gera pulled the cloak tighter around herself, the movement reminiscent of a child huddling under the covers for fear of the dark. “Requesting an audience with her was dangerous. It was more of a risk than we realized.”
“It was worth it,” he said, gesturing meaningfully to his nephew. “But, yes. I found her…unsettling. Her gaze was black. Empty, almost. I had to force myself to meet it, but for more reason than simple fear. All my instincts told me to look away, to ignore, to forget. That the Raven Queen was utterly inconsequential, which was even more frightening as I knew it to be untrue. You were startled when you sensed her, too. What did you see?”
Gera’s eye had been brutally wounded when she was younger. Though she no longer had her physical sight, that did not take away the talent of a prognos, and she had learned to make up for her disfigurement with a specialized divination spell. In some ways, the spell was more powerful than sight, as it did not rely on light or angles to gather information. Everything within her sphere of influence was known to her, from every angle, with an emphasis on even the smallest movement. Her new sight lacked only color.
She shuddered at the memory of the Raven Queen walking up to her that first time. “To my senses, she was an empty hole in the world.”
Her brother’s eyebrows rose.
“She could be felt by where she wasn’t and seen through her effect on the things around her. Not directly.”
“She was very much present to my senses. She smelled of the same herbs used in the spell for Millennium, but underneath that…it’s very hard to differentiate and explain.” He breathed deeply, as if her scent still lingered. “It was like darkness, and old blood, and the smell of the air just before a spring thunderstorm. It was my first reassurance that she was more than a powerful witch or sorcerer. Then there were the feathers growing out of her scalp, woven into her hair, which was no natural color. It shimmered blue, like the oil-spill iridescence of a raven’s feather. And the eyes—too dark, like she hadn’t realized humans have both iris and pupil.”
“Considering how she slipped away, I suspect she can choose whether to make herself manifest at all, and if so, in what form,” Gera murmured.
“She came to the front door. Most of the stories say they enter houses by the night wind blowing through a window or through the shadows stretching under the doorframe. She said it would be rude to do that.”
Gera snorted. “Well, she said that she was young. Whatever ‘young’ means for one of her kind. Perhaps she has a better understanding of our modern sensibilities.”
“Or she was being mischievous. She has displayed a penchant for the dramatic.” Lynwood smiled, sharp-toothed.
Gera’s frown deepened at his attempt at humor, still on edge. “She was pleased with the stone? I would not want that ‘mischievous’ nature pointed toward Millennium.”
“Yes, the stories are correct on that point, it seems. I was slightly worried when she refused our food.”
“It is good we took the time to contact a lore-master before requesting an audience,” she said.
“Indeed.” The smile slipped from Lynwood’s face. “I shudder to think what she might have done if she was displeased. I’ve heard rumors on the street about what she’s capable of. I wonder how Lord Stag managed to make her acquaintance.”
They were silent for a few moments, and then Gera said, “We should deepen that alliance with the Verdant Stag.”
Her brother looked at her searchingly for a few seconds, then nodded. “Yes. We should.”
This was a short chapter, shorter than I like any chapter to be because I like to feel I’m giving my readers value every week. Because of that, I’ll be posting a second chapter this Sunday, to go along with Gera’s Interlude.
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