30 April 2007
The Barzai stood on the altar, looking down at the red spiral carved into the almost perfectly flat stone. It was hard to find a naturally-occurring stone this perfect, but he was deeply proud that they had. In the moonlight especially, it looked magnificent. It would make a fine place to call forth their latest abomination.
Everything had been fine. Preparations were going well, the selected cult members were sanctifying themselves for the ritual, things had been running smoothly. Until he came to check the site and found a fingerprint in the paint.
“Who are you?” he muttered, staring at it. Probably that cabin. The one up at the end of the trail nearby, which someone had said seemed like it had people in it suddenly. The altar was well hidden from the trail, and far enough from the cabin that they didn’t need to worry about anyone noticing them, but yet, someone was here. Touching the spiral. Leaving the smallest little sign of their presence to toy with him. He was furious. He knelt down, hovering his hand over the fingerprint, and began an incantation. The space under his hand started to glow, then his eyes did the same. He focused, willing himself to find the source of the fingerprint, to see them, to know exactly who they were and what they intended.
Instead, he screamed and fell backwards from the altar, clutching his face. He writhed on the ground for a little while, screaming and whimpering, until finally he managed to get himself under control. As he rolled over and rested on his knees and catching his breath, he looked down at his hands. His vision was blurred, but he could see the blood on them, from his eyes.
“What magic is this?” he growled.
“Quite the opposite, I’m afraid,” a voice composed of hundreds of other voices said from behind him. The Barzai jumped to his feet and turned around to face the spirit. He’d recognize that voice anywhere.
“My Lord Buné,” he said, kneeling before the man. Buné was ten feet tall, dressed in a finely-tailored black suit with a serpent scale pattern on it and a brooch of a pair of trees, one broken. The spirit had serpentine eyes and stern features, a pair of horns that each resembled a tangle of thorns growing straight back from his temples, and long black hair. “Will you not be the Great Serpent when we call on you tomorrow?”
“I will, and you will address me as such when that time comes. For now, I am here on business.”
“Of course. What can I do for you?”
“You must know that the people in that cabin nearby are not simple campers, Barzai.”
“I…have noticed. They have found the altar and shielded themselves from me. I was about to work a counter to the shielding.”
“Don’t bother, it won’t work.”
“You are trying to use magic to look upon a closed gate. Attempting stronger magic will only hurt you more.”
“Does that mean…”
“Yes. The Omen is here.”
“Is he alone?”
“No. He brings powerful mages and one other mortal.”
“He will not stand in our way. We will prepare for him and make use of the others.”
“Make it so. But be careful. I will be very displeased if you fail me again.” With that, Buné was gone. The Barzai stood and wiped the blood that remained off his face. His vision was clearer now, almost back to normal. It would have to do. They had much work and very little time to finish it.
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."