It was the following night before Akshainie and Benedict managed to arrive on the small island Huginn had told them about. The ravens were waiting for them, perched on a low branch, as they made their way ashore from the small fishing boat, Benedict carrying a shovel.
“Took you long enough,” Huginn said. Muninn nodded.
“Do you have somewhere better to be?” Benedict asked.
“Oh, always somewhere else to be. Nothing you need to worry about.” The ravens took flight and circled the other two a few times before Huginn landed on Benedict’s shoulder. “But for now, I suppose we should get moving.”
“What’s your interest in this matter? Or in us, in general?” Akshainie asked. Huginn shrugged.
“You’re interesting. You know where we’re going, Muninn?” she yelled. The other raven cawed and changed direction, flying away from the beach. Benedict hesitated a moment, and Akshainie grabbed his hand.
“You coming, priest?” she asked. Benedict blinked in surprise, looked at the hand she was still holding, and blushed a little. He started to follow, and Akshainie let go and continued on. Benedict glanced back to his shoulder to find Huginn staring at him. He could almost swear she winked, though nothing about her eyes actually seemed to change.
They followed Muninn inland, around a rocky outcropping, and up a hill to a small cemetery with weathered gravestones. Muninn landed on one stone and began preening as he waited for the others to catch up. Akshainie arrived first, kneeling down and wiping at the moss on the stone as best she could before pulling out a small flashlight and reading what was left of the engraving.
“This looks to be it!” she called back to Benedict, who was still a few yards off. Huginn left his shoulder and landed next to Muninn as Akshainie thanked him. He cawed in response. “Does he talk?”
“Oh, yes,” Huginn said, nudging him. Muninn grunted and straightened up. “He’s just very picky about who hears him.”
“Which doesn’t include us.”
“For good reason, don’t worry, it isn’t about you so much as about him.”
“Right,” Benedict said, stabbing the shovel into the ground next to Akshainie and leaning on it. “So we just bring it up, then?”
“I would be mindful of how you disturb him. Wouldn’t want to produce a ghost in the process.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Humans believe it is,” Huginn answered. Benedict grumbled and then lifted the shovel again. Akshainie moved aside and began to sing a low, soft song in Sanskrit.
“What’s that?” Benedict asked as he began to dig.
“A lullaby,” Huginn answered as Akshainie continued to sing, “intended to keep the soul at peace while you work.” Akshainie nodded, never breaking the tune.
“Does it work?”
“Depends on whether or not you start bitching about it.” Akshainie barely stopped herself from laughing, missing a beat in the process, but then resumed. Benedict made short work of the grave, heaving massive piles of dirt at a time and straining the shovel’s handle with the weight. He struck wood on the third verse, the noise of which caused Akshainie and the ravens to peer over the edge of the hole as Benedict laid the shovel aside and cleared enough space with his hands to open the box. Inside was a skeleton, its clothes barely still discernible, with a large piece of fine white fur clutched to its ribs. The fur looked like it had just been placed there, not even carrying any stains or marks from the body that had decomposed around it. Benedict carefully removed the fur and replaced the skeleton’s arms, then the cover, before grabbing the shovel and leaping out of the hole. Akshainie continued to sing as she took the shovel and filled the hole again, then finished the last verse as she stood over the freshly-buried plot.
“It is a beautiful song,” Benedict said, softly, once she was done.
“Thank you,” Akshainie answered, laying the shovel across her shoulder. “My mother sang it to me when I was young. Didn’t know when I’d have opportunity to sing it myself.”
“Well!” Huginn announced, hopping slightly to the side to center herself between Benedict and Akshainie, “I suppose that’s it, then. Enjoy!” The two ravens took to the air, and before the pair of grave robbers could respond, they were gone.
“What do you think their deal is?” Akshainie asked, as they turned to make their way back to the boat.
“I suppose, with all of eternity to flit about in, one has to find their entertainment where they can,” Benedict answered.
It wasn’t until Benedict and Akshainie were in town that they realized they actually had very little information to guide them to Lambert’s grave. Benedict assumed Lambert was his last name, and they knew his role and ship at the end of the seventeenth century, but that was it. Deciding against going back to the boat for more information, partly because Akshainie suspected it would be faster to find it themselves, the pair split up. Akshainie went searching for a Lambert family plot, in the hopes that the fleece would just be there. Benedict dug around in town for a bit until he found an internet cafe, where he began searching for information on the captain. As evening fell, they met at a local pub to grab dinner and see what they’d learned.
“Well, if there’s a Lambert family plot, I haven’t found it,” Akshainie said, before knocking back half her beer. “How’d you fare with that…thing you said you were going to consult?”
“The internet,” Benedict grumbled. He took a bite of his fish and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms, finally continuing after he’d swallowed. “It had very little useful information. It seems this ship failed to make it into the pirate folklore that persisted, though I can’t imagine why.”
“Do you think maybe Tidh exaggerated its importance?”
“I suspect Tidh exaggerated quite a lot. But that doesn’t help us reach Iravati.” He sighed and returned to his meal as Akshainie considered his words.
“Well, it has to be here, right? This town is Orkney, isn’t it?”
“No. Orkney isn’t the name of the town, it’s the name of this group of islands. I don’t even know if we’re on the right island, let alone the right town.”
“Are you fucking with me, priest?” Akshainie demanded. Benedict shook his head, and she groaned. The pair ate in silence for a few minutes, before Akshainie spoke up. “Maybe we should find those damned spirits that talked to Tidh and see if they know anything.”
“And how would we do that?” Benedict asked. “We don’t have any information we could use to summon them.”
“We can’t really be summoned, anyway,” a voice said. Akshainie and Benedict both paused for a moment, recognizing it as the voice of the raven who helped them travel from Yggdrasil. They both turned to find The Two standing next to their table. “We just kind of exist everywhere.”
2 August 2006
Kastor emerged on a rooftop across the street from Matteson’s rented house and sat down next to the ravens.
“You really must explain to me some time why you care so much about the Mattesons,” he said, watching through the window as the Anchor climbed back out of the bed, threw some clothes on, and stormed out of the room.
“We owe you no such thing,” the blue raven said.
“Oh, come on! I mean, I get it, you guys take an interest in basically everything that humans do, but you can’t deny there’s something special about the way you handle John and his dad.”
“We wouldn’t dream of denying it,” the other raven answered.
“But you aren’t going to explain it.”
“It will be obvious in due time.” With that, the ravens took flight, and Kastor sighed and returned to the grove.
29 October 2006
Henry’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. The nurse had gone to call Matteson, but they didn’t know if he would get there in time. He’d left a couple hours earlier, shortly after dinner, at Henry’s insistence. Before that, they had talked for hours. At first it was small talk, about what Matteson was doing when he wasn’t at the hospital, which hospital food Henry disliked less. Before long, though, Henry had grown more serious.
“Listen, John,” he’d begun, “he’s coming. He knows about you.”
“Who?” Matteson leaned forward and rested his hand on the rail of the bed.
“Your grandfather. I tried to keep your gift a secret.” Henry coughed, then took a deep breath. “I don’t know how he found out, but he did, and he’s coming for you after I’m gone.”
“I’ll be ready for him.” Henry shook his head.
“No, no, you can’t assume that. Never assume that. It’s dangerous.”
“What don’t I know?”
“Much. But it isn’t always about what you know. Listen, Jeremiah is ruthless, and driven, and patient. He may wait years before he moves, but I assure you, during this time he’ll be looking for a way to strike at you that you can’t just blow off.”
“Anything you can tell me would help.” Henry was breathing heavy, and reached for his cup of water. Matteson got it for him, and the two sat in silence for a moment as he drank.
The monitors were showing signs of distress, and the nurses outside were just starting to move. They seemed like a dream, slowly rising to their feet. They looked urgent, and I’m sure for them they were rushing, but time was moving slow. Henry noticed, and wondered if this is what time always looked like in the moments before one dies.
“It isn’t,” the man answered. Henry turned to see a robed man, his hood low over his face, his hand reaching out to Henry’s. Beside him was a young woman, with faintly glowing blue skin engraved with flowing runes. “We told Death to let us handle this one.”
“Why?” Henry asked, his voice weak and hoarse. The woman gave a weak smile, then walked around to the other side of the bed. The second hand on the hallways clock finally ticked. As the man’s hand touched Henry’s, Henry was flooded with memories. The things he had told Matteson, everything he could recall to mention about Jeremiah. The things he had forgotten to tell him. The face of his ex-wife. The moment he first held his son. The memories came in a flash, and then were gone again, back into the depths of his mind as the man’s fingers curled around Henry’s palm. “Who are you?”
The woman leaned down and whispered into his ear, and as she spoke, Henry’s eyes grew wide. When she finished, he stared into her eyes, then turned his focus to the man. His eyes began to water.
“Yes,” the man answered. “We are.” Henry slipped his hand out of the man’s grasp and rested it on the man’s cheek, then did the same to the woman’s cheek with his other hand as tears began to roll down his own.
“Thank you for visiting. Are you going to take me, too?” The Two both nodded, and Henry smiled. The second hand ticked again.
The nurses ran into the room just after the monitors around Henry’s bed began to sound alarms. They moved around his bed, pushing Matteson’s empty chair aside to access their patient and see if anything else could be done for him. Just on the other side of the doorway, Henry and The Two watched.
“Will John be okay? Do I need to stick around?” The man shook his head, and the woman took Henry’s hand and patted it.
“Your son will be fine,” she said. “You’ve trained him well, you’ve left him excellent records, and you’ve earned your rest.” He looked back toward the room, then slowly nodded, and the three of them walked away.
30 october 2005
"This is it, isn't it?" Huginn asked. The Two were in raven form, perched in a tree and watching the window of Lori's apartment where she was screaming and throwing things from her broom closet.
"Sure is," Muninn replied.
"How can you remember her memories, but not Aaboukingon's?"
"Aaboukingon is fully spirit. There was no human to access. But her..." The Two sat silent for a moment, as the screaming died down and was replaced with sobbing.
"Are you telling me Lori remembers all of this?" she asked, turning to the other raven.
"Everyone in her situation remembers. Not everyone chooses to recall." Huginn shuddered.
"That must be horrible!" Muninn nodded. "And you get stuck feeling all of that? From everyone? At the same time?"
"I also remember all of the good, all the time." Huginn sighed, and looked back to the window.
"I suppose that's something. For you, anyway. But for her-"
"She has complex feelings about the miscarriage," Muninn interrupted. He took a moment to scratch his beak with his foot, then turned to Huginn. "But that will become apparent very soon."
23 august 2005
There are places in the Metaphysical Realm that are barren for a season. Sometimes a culture will dream up a land for their dead, or their stories, or their heroes, and then slowly forget or die off and leave the realm of their imaginations untended. Sometimes the Ravens fly silently over a waking void, a place they know will soon house some new dream that is only barely beginning to form in the mind of a single individual. These places are generally avoided by spirits, or at least those who know how to access them at all. They are reminders of the frailty of dreams, the reliance the spirits have on the whims and imaginations and fears of a race that could not truly see them even if they wanted to. For the Ravens, though, these lands are scattered oases, wellsprings of energy and lonesome creativity, places where they can fly without worry, walk without hassle, live in quiet connection to the fundamental nature of the Realm itself. They are quiet, isolated, secure.
"Look, the deal was just that I didn't tell him anything, right? So maybe you could?" Kastor was standing on a massive stone, floating in the void. Above, the moons were constantly changing, some vanishing, some being created, some shifting in size or shape or brightness. A purple tree with orange leaves floated nearby, in which the Ravens sat.
"Why would we do that?" Huginn asked. "This sounds like a personal problem."
"Look, I don't know what your connection is to this, but it's no secret that you both seem awfully invested in the Mattesons. Hell, I only met John because of a bet about who could find out what was so interesting about them to you."
"Did you win the bet?"
"You're damn right I did! Admittedly, the standards for success were not high. But the point is, you care about this guy, and there's some spirit trying to do...something evil with him! Or to him! Or whatever!"
"Ghost," Muninn said, glancing up from preening his wing. "She's not a spirit."
"So you've been paying attention! Why is this not concerning to you?"
"It's already done. She confirmed her pregnancy today, with a test from Walgreens."
"Wait, she what? She just wanted to get pregnant? She threatened me just to get a cub?"
"No, but it need not concern you. We are aware of the situation and will act if necessary."
"Thank you for your concern," Huginn said. "Keep your distance, as promised."
"Okay, but if this goes south, I want you both to know I'll hold you personally responsible!" Kastor said, straightening up and putting his hands on his hips.
"Mm. And what will you do about it?" He stood for a moment longer, then slouched slightly, then stood straight again and wagged his finger at them.
"I will be very disappointed in you both! And I'm Mediterranean! Don't think my disappointment can be ignored!"
"We will be sure to bear that in mind, Kastor."
"Good! Good," he said, nodding. He turned around as if to storm off, then stopped and looked around. "How do I get out of here?"
"You could wait til the author finishes worldbuilding and just walk out?" Muninn offered. Kastor threw his head back and groaned.
"Oh come on! Authors are the worst! You didn't tell me this was some potential novel!"
"We didn't invite you!"
"Just jump into the void," Huginn said with a sigh, "it's still in a rough enough state that you'll land somewhere else." Kastor grumbled as he walked to the edge of his stone, then pointed at the Ravens as if to remind them he was watching, then dove off and vanished. "Does this book ever get written?" she asked, after he was gone.
"No," Muninn replied. She took to the air.
"You're cruel! What if he'd actually stayed here?" He laughed and followed her.
"Kastor doesn't stay anywhere, and you know it!" They vanished, and the moons continued their slow shift in silence.
15 May 2005
Jackie Veracruz arrived at the Crossroads, led by Hecate's hound, as Hecate sat on an ornate throne made of the still-moving limbs and occasional head of the undead. The Queen of Magic waited silently, sipping from a goblet of wine and looking out over her realm. As the hound made its way to sit beside the throne, Jackie hesitated.
"Welcome back, Jacqueline." Jackie took a deep breath and looked up at the goddess, who was now so large that the mortal had to keep a bit of distance just to see up and over her knees.
"Thank you, mistress. I was growing concerned."
"As you should. You're fortunate I called you back here at all, after you hid from me in the arms of that Anchor."
"Don't bother, child. I gave you power, and knowledge. I invested in you for years, turning your feeble attempts at magic into a force that has changed lives. I watched you grow from a scared child to a formidable young woman. I warned you about the greatest danger to magic that exists in this world when it was right in front of you, and you repaid it all by using him to hide from me. There is nothing you can say that will make that action acceptable to me." She glared down at Jackie, who was now trembling and looking down at the ground in front of the throne. "But, there is something you can do that I will accept as payment." Jackie slowly looked back up to meet her gaze.
"What is it?"
"You will bring him to me."
"You...you mean John? The Anchor?"
"I told you that Anchors and Warlocks are mine. He is a liminal being, and as such under my purview. I have use for him."
"Right, yes. But, how?"
"You must go to him. Nudge him, guide him. Make sure that he finds his way to me."
"What if he doesn't want to?"
"He is mine, child, just like you. I will use him while he is useful and discard him if he is not, do you understand?"
"I...but that-" Hecate snapped her fingers, and Jackie froze. Her eyes glazed over and she stood, upright, staring blankly forward.
"I have waited too long for someone as useful as him to come along, and don't have time for your hesitations." Hecate held out her hand, palm up, and as she curled her fingers in Jackie began to float up and toward her face. When she was finally hovering at eye level, only a few feet from Hecate's face, the goddess smiled. "Now then. You will go to live near John. You will watch him, you will guide him to me, and you will do it all without delay. Do you understand?" Jackie slowly nodded. "Good. And to make sure you behave, you will not remember anything from this visit except that you have been welcomed back. Is that agreeable to you?"
"Good. Now go. You have much to do." Hecate flicked her hand, and Jackie went flying. She landed softly, as if the road were made of cushions, and then slowly stood and continued to stare in her daze. The hound moved forward and led her slowly back down the path from which she came.
"You're very interested in this boy, Hecate." She growled.
"And you're very interested in trespassing on my realm, Muninn." The Two, in human form and as tall as Hecate, stepped out from the shadows behind her throne and made their way around to face her. Muninn, the man, smiled.
"All realms are our realms. All roads are our roads."
"What do you want?"
"She is of interest to us," the woman said, glancing down the road. "And I wonder if you aren't a bit harsh on her."
"I should wish I could be as harsh with you, Huginn. What business do you have with her?"
"That is our business. But I would advise you to not let your distrust of ravens make you forget your place."
"I assure you I have never forgotten my place. But it has changed before, and it may yet change again."
"Yes," Muninn said, turning away. "I'm sure it will." With that, the two visitors became ravens and flew out of the Crossroads. Hecate threw her goblet in their direction, then leaned back in her throne to think.