It was, at first, a slight surprise to the ravens to realize how rarely anyone seemed to notice them. Sure, they made no overt attempts to be seen, but they somewhat expected humans to look around more, take in their environments more, bother to care about what was happening around them. They should have known better, and they very quickly did, but that first time warranted some excitable discussion between them.
The one made some sense, at least. He looked normal, if a bit large; but his companion had a distinct blue tint to her, flowing strips of faintly glowing color just barely perceptible among the black feathers. If nothing else, the idea that people could glance right past a bird with an otherworldly, shifting glow, and never seem to notice was a testament to something buried deep in the minds of mankind.
They were always together, just out of sight. On the night when a single woman first uttered the name of Hekate and a goddess was born, the ravens were there to greet her. When Father Josef Klappenger went scurrying down the side of Hörselberg hill clutching an infant, they were in a tree that he leaned on to catch his breath and resist the urge to look back. When Jackie Veracruz and John Matteson first stood on the fire escape of an apartment in Chicago, the ravens rested on a roof directly ahead of the humans, among a flock resting on its way south. When Father Benedict de Monte walked silently away from the fire outside of Southport, North Carolina, thinking himself the only living soul to know how the blaze began, the ravens were turning their attention to another form moving through the water.
That is not to say they were never seen. The annals of human history record them, sometimes in a manner that would reflect on the species as a whole, sometimes as a singular or dual part of the supernatural world. They were not the archetypes of ravens; whatever ensured that ravens would exist seemed to take little notice of them. But they were the Ravens, the mold by which much of human thought on ravens would be fashioned. As mankind found less and less reason to know every living thing observing them, the ancient witnesses drifted further into the background. Eventually, they were lost to even the most observant eyes, becoming little more than ambiance. The ravens did not seem to mind. They continued to watch, selecting their entertainment with no apparent system or guide that any human would be able to detect. It would be a long time before anything changed much for them. But change was coming, and they had known it for some time.
It was part of the long night in Norway. The ravens were preening when a cleft opened in the side of a mountain and three figures stumbled out into the snow. Benedict and Daniel were on either side of Matteson, his arms over their shoulders and his left eye bleeding. The black raven turned away. The other leaned over to him.
“It’s nearly time,” she whispered. Voices carry in this place, she knew, and it was not suitable for the humans, or near-humans, to hear her now. “Are you ready for this?” There was a long pause.
“Yes.” Benedict, Daniel, and Matteson passed under the ravens and managed to find the car they had left waiting. Benedict was urgently explaining the dangers Matteson faced with his wound exposed to this weather. Daniel was trying to offer comfort. Matteson didn't seem to hear either of them.
“You don’t seem ready,” she said as the car started and then drove away.
“I…I’ll be fine. It’s just hard.”
“We aren't trapped in this flow yet. We can go somewhere else for a while if you need.”
“No. It’s nearly time. We move forward.”
“You mean I move forward.”
“I'm with you a little while longer, yet.” As the car vanished into the long night, she sighed.
“To the next moment, then.” The birds took to the air, and then vanished.
30 June 1989
Mortimer was awakened from a dream to the sound of an explosion.
For a few minutes he sat, convincing himself that it was just part of the dream. An odd part of the dream, for sure, but then dreams were generally odd. He rubbed his face and made his way to the sink to pour a glass of water. As he drank, he glanced out the window, and saw the fire burning the cursed isle. He nearly spit out the water when he saw it, and ran back to his room to grab some pants before making his way outside. When he reached the edge of the water behind his home, he found a young man climbing onto shore. The boy rolled over onto his back, his feet still in the water, and took shallow breaths as Mortimer ran to him.
The boy was badly burned, his clothes in shreds, a strangely colored splotch covering most of the left side of his face. He had leeches on his exposed and unburned bits of skin. The burns were extensive, and occasionally shared real estate with cuts or bordered bruises. Mortimer was no doctor, but he suspected if he didn't find one soon the boy would die.
"Hey, hey, stay with me," he urged, prodding the boy. "Come on now, I can get you seen. Can you talk? Who are you, what happened over there?" The boy's eyes slowly opened, and Mortimer recoiled. They were slit, like a serpent's eyes, and fixed on him immediately. Before Mortimer could get far, the boy's hand snatched him by the jaw. Mortimer took a deep breath and turned pale, his veins beginning to show as his body shuddered. The boy's cuts closed and his burns began to grow new skin. He sat up as Mortimer shriveled, finally letting go when the man turned to dust. As he stood, the leeches dried out and fell off. He stared toward the flames, the pupils of his eyes opening wide and the last of his burns healing over. Only the splotch on his face remained.
"I am the salamander, born of fire this night. I am blessed by Nachash as the beginning of a new order. I am the Barzai, and it is my solemn duty to bring this fire to consume the very heavens."