2 May 2007
Jeremiah stepped out of the metaphysical realm into a clearing in the Allegheny National Forest. The energy in the site was deadly calm, but focused on a low stone altar in the center of the clearing. He made a wide arc through the clearing, looking at footprints and the remains of magical signatures. Those remnants were the most interesting aspect of all to him; usually when someone used magic in a site, even a weak spellcaster, the mark of their magic remained loud and clear on the site for weeks at minimum.
“It wasn’t time that degraded these signatures, was it?” he asked, mostly to himself.
“No,” a feminine voice answered. He spun around and looked into the trees for some sign of who was talking to him. “Did you come here because you thought it was?” There. Two ravens sitting on a branch, one with a faint blue glow beneath its feathers, both unmistakably spirits.
“What business is this of yours?” he demanded. The blue, apparently female, raven laughed. The other, in a masculine voice, answered.
“All things are our business, Jeremiah. What business is it of yours?” he asked.
“It’s a family affair.” Jeremiah turned back and began walking toward the altar.
“Oh yes. Always a family affair with you people,” the blue raven said. Both ravens took flight, making a spiral around the clearing and landing on the altar. Jeremiah stopped and put his hands in his pockets.
“How do you know me?”
“We know everyone. That’s part of the deal.”
“The deal that allows things like you to exist,” she answered. Jeremiah quickly pulled his hand from his pocket and clenched his fist in their direction. Nothing happened. “Oh, you didn’t think we were made of wet matter like normal birds, did you?”
“It was worth a shot.”
“I very much doubt that.”
“What happened here?”
“I don’t think that concerns you yet.”
“Will you tell me when it does concern me?”
“We won’t have to,” the other raven replied. “Besides, you’re not really here to learn about all that. You’re here because you’re trying to find your grandson.”
“Is he near?”
“Not near enough to be a danger to you.”
“He is no danger to me.”
“If you insist.” The bird began preening as Jeremiah stepped forward, running his hand along the edge of the altar.
“He did this?”
“Not all of it,” the blue raven answered. “But he did destroy the magic at play here.”
“Is that not all of it?”
“That’s never all of it.”
“It must have strained him to do this much damage to this much magic.”
“Why do you only talk in circles?”
“We don’t. Sometimes we give people direct information. Sometimes we say nothing.”
“And why do I not deserve direct information?”
“It isn’t a matter of deserving. It’s a matter of the way things must be.”
“And how must they be?”
“You,” the other raven said, looking back to Jeremiah, “must take a lesson from this and prepare yourself accordingly.”
“And what lesson is that?”
“Your magic will not save you from him.” The ravens took flight again, this time circling Jeremiah once and then going straight up and vanishing from the world. Jeremiah watched them, then touched the stone again.
“Then I suppose I shall have to find something that will.” He placed his hands back into his pockets, turned away from the altar, and walked to the edge of the clearing where he disappeared.
8 August 1979
Elizabeth had a hell of a day at work, and wanted nothing more than to slip into a more comfortable outfit, pour a drink, and listen to music until she passed out. Henry was still away, and she had just picked up a new record the day before, and she even had tomorrow off. It was shaping up to be a good night, despite everything. She walked into the dark living room, locked the door behind her, and threw her keys in the bowl on the little table nearby.
“You didn’t make yourself easy to find.” That voice. Elizabeth would never forget it as long as she lived. In one movement, she had spun to face it and drawn a pistol she kept under her dress just in case this moment ever came.
“And you still ain’t taking hints, Jeremiah,” she hissed. There was a click, the sound of the lamp, as Jeremiah turned it on. There he was, in the flesh, just sitting in her living room as if he belonged there. Elizabeth corrected her aim, now that she could see his forehead.
“I don’t mean to impose, Liz. But I have some concerns about our boy and thought I should try talking to you about it.” He tapped his fingers on the wound that was still healing across his face. “Where do you think Henry is right now?”
“Ain’t none of your business what I think or know about that boy anymore. You turned killer and ran off.”
“Can’t I show a little concern? For his safety?”
“Not now. Not ever. You had your chance, when I was in court, when we were driven out of my home, when we struggled to pull a life together here! You didn’t give a shit then, and you expect me to believe you give a shit now?”
“Now listen,” Jeremiah started, pressing his hands into the arm rests. Just as he started to push against them to stand, Elizabeth pulled the trigger. It was too high, she hadn’t adjusted properly when he started to lean forward, but it hit bone and left a bloody mess on the wall behind him. Jeremiah slumped back into the seat and grabbed his head, screaming curses.
“Why should I listen to you?”
“Henry did this!” He screamed, pointing at the older wound on his face. “He’s come after me, Liz, and I can’t have that, you hear me? You stupid fucking mortals are picking a fight you can’t win!”
“You bleed like someone who can lose to us mortals.” She cocked the hammer back and leveled the gun at him again. “You run along now, Cain, unless you wanna bleed some more. You lost your home, you got your mark, and don’t you ever forget that you earned it by what you did to your family.” They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Jeremiah growled.
“You’ll regret this.” With that, he vanished.
“No,” she said, “I won’t.”
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.
18 February 2007
“So wait,” Bob said at this point, setting down his beer, “where does everyone else come in?”
“Like who?” Rick asked. They were sitting in his living room, waiting on Charles, who had slipped out to pick up the pizza. Rick’s beer was nearly empty, and he looked down the bottle as he mentally debated whether to wait for the pizza before grabbing another.
“Like Matteson. You guys are always hanging out with Matteson and he wasn’t even mentioned.”
“Oh, pfft. That’s because we didn’t meet him until eighth grade. He grew up over on the other side of town. But see he knew Tony, I think from scouts or something, and Tony’s mom was in my mom’s book club, so we knew Tony from way back.”
“And then when you all ended up in high school, Tony introduced you.”
“Yeah. And Charles couldn’t stand the guy! He was all ‘this guy’s weird and creepy’ and Tony was like ‘don’t be racist’ and Charles was going ‘weird and creepy isn’t a race’ and I thought it was hilarious.”
“I mean, he is weird and creepy.”
“Of course he is! The dude is like, constantly haunted!”
“So how’d you guys end up with him?” Bob leaned back in his seat and swirled his beer a bit. He always did that. Rick couldn’t figure out why. Before he answered, though, the door opened and in came Charles with dinner.
“You never told your boyfriend why we started hanging out with Matteson?” Rick asked, watching over his shoulder as Charles shut the door with his feet and handed him the pizzas.
“Don’t rush to get up or anything,” Charles said. “And why would I?”
“I don’t know, I thought it was funny.”
“You would.” Charles pulled off his boots and hung his coat on the railing before making his way around and snuggling in close to Bob. “Hold me, I’m cold.” Bob set his beer down, grabbed a slice of pizza, then wrapped his arm around Charles.
“So what happened?” Bob asked. Charles snatched the pizza from Bob, who sighed and grabbed another piece from the box.
“Okay okay, so,” Rick started, leaning forward, “it was coming up on Halloween, right, so we were going to one of those haunted corn mazes over in Ohio, you know the ones. And then we were gonna stay over at Tony’s, so my dad gives me and Charles a ride over and we’re gonna meet Tony and do the maze and then afterward his dad is gonna drive us back to his place. But when we get there, it’s Tony and Matteson. Seems he’d also been invited but we didn’t know.”
“Tony did shit like that,” Charles mumbled through a bite of food.
“Yeah, he does. Anyway, so, we do the maze, but we get a bit lost, and Matteson’s talking to the fucking corn, and Tony had told us about how Matteson saw spirits but we didn’t believe him so we’re kinda making fun of him, but he got the right information and led us through the maze like he knew the way. It was great.”
“Doesn’t sound very funny,” Bob said.
“I’m not there yet. So after that we get McDonald’s and go to Tony’s and after his folks are in bed Tony busts out this Ouija board he’d borrowed from someone at school, his parents would’ve flipped if they knew he had it, so it’d been hiding under the couch. And he and I start doing it, you know, the thing with the questions and it’s moving around and Charles is sitting there with us and he won’t touch it, but Matteson’s just sitting on the other side of the room looking like he’s bored with the idea before it even starts. So we’re talking to this spirit, and Tony’s telling us it must be the ghost of this guy that got murdered in the house in like the thirties, he’d found out about it and that’s why he got the board. And Matteson finally turns to the thin air next to him and goes ‘you know, this would be more plausible if you were at least over there,’ and we just look at him, and Charles goes ‘you’re being weird and creepy again, why do you keep pretending there’s someone there, don’t you know imaginary friends are for kids, you still piss the bed too?’ and on and on like this and Matteson just grumbles and looks back to the empty space and goes ‘can you just do a thing please?’ and then the Ouija board, I promise you, this thing lifts right up into the air! And Charles starts trying to scramble away but the whole board just gets hurled at him, hits him clean in the face!” Rick cracked up, and Bob just stared at him.
“Is…is that the funny part?” he asked.
“THANK you!” Charles said, rolling his eyes. “I nearly shit myself over that, and he’s been laughing about it for years!”
“Well fine,” Rick said, composing himself. “At any rate, we realized then that there was something going on with Matteson, and I wanted to know what it was, so we started hanging out with him more, and eventually got to encounter some spirits, and that was that.”
“And the best thing to come out of that so far is that I met you.”
“Aww, thanks,” Bob said, “hope that makes it all worth it.”
“You’re adorable, really,” Rick said, standing and dusting himself off, “I’m just taking this chance to get a new beer for completely unrelated reasons.”
“Wasn’t Jackie coming over?” Charles called after him as Rick made his way to the kitchen.
“Yeah! She should be here soon.”
“It’ll be good for you to gawk at something else.”
“You know what, I bet it would.”
19 May 1985
Peter and Abigail Whitman had a hell of a time getting into their first home. The projects they had been in since their wedding kept pace with their attempts to bring in more money, ensuring they could never quite set aside the cash they’d need to move out. Ultimately, Peter had to pick up an extra job and arrange to be paid under the table. It wasn’t legal, admittedly, but they avoided notice long enough to scrape together the bare minimum to secure a house on Sharon’s west hill. It needed some work, and Peter was probably going to have to walk to work for a while, and it only had two bedrooms, one of which would need to be shared between their young son and the child in Abigail’s womb, but it was theirs. That was enough.
They were in the house a month before they managed to have any real conversations with the neighbors, what with the pregnancy and Peter’s hours and all the work involved in moving in and sorting out a plumbing issue that was more of a hassle than they’d been led to believe. It was another week before the couple next door arranged to have a few other neighbors come by the house with food to help the Whitmans acclimate to the place. At this meeting, Abigail was surprised to encounter Janet Pawluk, now Janet Fielding, who had been a good friend in high school before leaving for college and losing touch with basically everyone Abigail knew. She’d recently moved back to the area with her husband and son, who Abigail just had to meet. So it was, the next day, that young Rick Fielding was plopped down in the living room in front of young Charles Whitman to entertain one another while their mothers slipped into the kitchen to catch up. The following Tuesday, the couples got together to play Rummy and the boys, already in their pajamas in case they fell asleep since it was almost eight already, found themselves staring at each other once again, this time in the Fieldings’ den.
And so it went, week after week the couples played cards and the boys were gradually accompanied by younger siblings. And then they were riding bikes together, and playing on the same Little League team, and finally in third grade got assigned the same teacher. And then they were tearing through the neighborhood together, sometimes with a friend from Charles’ church or the kid of someone from Janet’s book club and sometimes with a stray cousin, but always Rick and Charles. Sleepovers and music lessons and little wrestler figurines that seemed to drift from one house to the other without the parents having any idea which kid they actually belonged to. Charles was the first person to know about Rick’s crush on Rebecca Williams, and Rick was the first person to know that Charles might actually be gay, yes, like Elton John, but probably not quite like Elton John, whatever that meant, but that was later.
Because somewhere along the line they realized that West Hill Elementary ended after sixth grade and then they were going to be in the high school, with all those annoying brats from Musser and the stuck up pricks from Case and they didn’t really know what that meant but they did know it involved a whole lot of new people. New people who might like that show Rick laughed at and Charles didn’t, or had similar ideas about music that Charles tried to explain but Rick didn’t really understand. So they made a pact that they were going to be best friends forever, and not let anyone at that high school come between them, and they pricked their hands with safety pins until there was blood and spit on the blood and shared a secret handshake and that made it official. And they saw the little band aids on each others’ hands at school the next day and knew for certain that they really meant it.
3 March 2007
It had taken some time, between finalizing preparations with Roderick and gaining clearance from his father and working out the details of what he should take and say, but Michael Hudson finally stood in front of the Ravi River, north of Lahore. It was hot, much more hot than it had been when he left England, and he was still trying to get comfortable. To a certain degree, he was hopeful Iravati would be more tolerable.
The sun began to rise, and the river shimmered in a way that was only barely detectable through the spell he’d cast specifically to spot it. There, just upstream of him, was the actual entrance. He walked over to stand before it, set his bag down, and braced himself. It was no surprise to him when the gates of the city were suddenly thrown open from the river, and a group of naga soldiers rushed out to surround him. Each had a spear pointed at him. He held his arms up to show he had nothing in his hands.
“You dare return to Iravati, Hudson?” a larger naga guard demanded, slithering out behind the troops and approaching him.
“I have come to make restitution,” Michael answered.
“And why should we believe you?”
“You and I both know you aren’t the one I’m here to convince.” The guard’s eyes narrowed. “You may arrest or escort me, whatever suits you. But what I have here,” Michael said, nudging the bag with his foot; the soldiers tensed, “is a carefully researched plan that would allow us to undo the magic that severed Iravati from the world. It will require the cooperation, and consent, of the Queen of Heaven, and either a very powerful mage or a collection of mages. I would, of course, be willing to offer my services.”
“And you expect her to simply go along with this claim?”
“I hope to present it to her. I can only offer this; what your queen does with it is her business.” Michael and the guard stared at each other for a tense minute, then the guard yelled out an order in a language Michael didn’t speak. The spears were raised and the soldiers rearranged themselves to leave an opening in their ranks that led directly to the guard and the gate. The guard slithered forward, grabbed the bag, and returned to the gate. Michael felt a nudge at his back, and stepped forward. The soldiers kept pace with him. He sighed, lowered his arms, and entered Iravati surrounded by naga.
The ship tore through the sea faster than Benedict could remember ever moving. It plowed straight through waves, never rocking or lurching in any direction as its sails filled with winds he couldn’t feel and carried them on. Akshainie had pretty quickly made her way up the rigging, staying out of the way as much as possible and even helping when asked, but mostly taking full advantage of the view and the strength of her lower body wrapped around the mast to keep her in place. Benedict, on the other hand, stayed planted as firmly as he could on the deck, holding on to the railing and trying his best to keep the spray out of his face.
The ship cut southwest away from the Orkneys, dashing between Sweden and Denmark into the Baltic Sea, then into a river. Shortly after the river looked to be getting too narrow for Benedict’s comfort, the ship tipped forward and dove into the water, only to immediately emerge in another river. They did that three times, hopping from one river to the next, until the last river gave way to open sea again. The ship never slowed as it went, and continued to maintain speed as it turned up another river and flew along.
“The Indus!” Akshainie called down. Benedict looked out at the people along the banks and in the water as the boat passed harmlessly through them with awe. It certainly did look like Pakistan, or at least as much of Pakistan as he’d seen before, and then they took a tributary, and then another, and there was Lahore on their right. As suddenly as they had started, the ship ground to a halt, and Akshainie climbed down from the rigging. Benedict continued holding the railing until she reached him and held out her hand. The whole trip, near as Benedict could figure, had taken maybe an hour. “You coming?”
“Iravati, I believe!” Ingrid called as she and Tidh approached them. Benedict let go of the railing and nodded to Akshainie, who lowered her hand and turned to face the reunited pair.
“It is indeed! Thank you!”
“Thank you!” Tidh answered, wrapping his arm around Ingrid. “Without you, I’d still be lost in that cursed sea, bitter and alone.”
“What happens now?” Benedict asked, straightening his shirt.
“Now, we go back. I’m still under the authority of the Deep, and it won’t be happy bout me sailing halfway round the world without permission.”
“We’re going to confront the Deep,” Ingrid explained, “try to free Tidh from his obligation, make a new life for ourselves.”
“What if the Deep won’t give you up?” Akshainie asked.
“We’re ready to fight if we must,” Tidh answered, “together, this time. I don’t think it’ll know what hit it.” Benedict shook his hand.
“Godspeed to you all, then,” he said. Tidh nodded and called for the gangplank to be lowered, and after some more goodbyes Akshainie and Benedict took to shore. They watched as the plank was withdrawn, and Tidh barked out his orders, and the sails again filled with wind. The ship dove straight into the water and vanished. Akshainie and Benedict continued watching for a moment before she patted him on the back.
“We all need something to drive us, I suppose,” she said. Benedict agreed. “Come along, let me show you mine.” With that, she led him to the entrance of Iravati, and once it was opened for her, the two stepped below the river.
Tidh was standing at the bank of windows in his room on the ship, rocking slightly and praying the rosary, when Benedict and Akshainie entered. He quickly blurted out the last few words of the prayer before tossing the rosary on his desk and running to them. Before he could say anything more, Benedict produced the pelt and laid it out on the desk. Tidh took in a sharp breath and stopped, before reaching out and slowly running his hand through the fur.
“Oh,” he said, softly, “it’s beautiful. I should’ve expected nothing less.” He picked the pelt up, gently, and raised it to his face. He took a deep sniff, then fell backward into a chair and began to cry.
“Oh,” Akshainie said, “are we doing this?” Benedict rested his hand on her shoulder.
“Give him this,” he said, softly. Tidh looked up at them.
“It smells like her. I…I don’t know how,” Tidh said. Benedict stepped forward and knelt in front of the captain. “I don’t know how I remember her smell.” Benedict rested his hand on the captain’s knee.
“You never forgot her, Tidh. Why do you expect yourself to have forgotten her?”
“I tried. For the longest time, I tried. I…I was so angry.”
“Well,” Benedict said, standing and holding out his hand, “it’s time to start setting things straight, right?” Tidh wiped the tears from his cheek, nodded, and took Benedict’s hand.
“I don’t know how this is going to work,” Tidh said, as the three walked toward the deck. “I think I just call her with it? And then she comes along?”
“Do we…wait for her? How’s she supposed to get here?”
“I can handle that,” Akshainie said. She shed her human guise as they reached the deck, then slithered over the edge. Benedict and Tidh, and the crew on deck, watched her go, then looked around at each other.
“Is she okay?” Tidh asked.
“She’s fine,” Benedict answered. “If she said she had it handled, she has it handled. Call your wife.” Tidh nodded, then looked at the pelt.
“How do I do that?”
“I think, if you’re in possession of it, you just…talk? Say what you want her to do?”
Tidh took a deep breath, clutched the pelt to his chest, and called out for Ingrid to come to the ship. The people on the deck stood around silently for a few moments after that, while nothing happened. Tidh sighed, then looked at Benedict.
“Do I do it again? Do I trust she’s on her way?” Tidh asked. Benedict shrugged, and then a column of churning water rose beside the ship. The crew scrambled and began shouting to one another, trying to steady the ship as it rocked from the impact. Benedict and Tidh braced themselves as the column bent toward them, and then crashed onto the deck. When the water withdrew, it left Akshainie and Ingrid behind. Tidh and Ingrid stared at each other for a long moment, then Ingrid’s eyes drifted down toward the pelt.
“Tidh? Did…did you…” she began to ask, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Akshainie slithered over to Benedict as Tidh stuttered out the beginning of a thought, then realized what was happening and stepped forward. He held the pelt out to her.
“I would never try to command you, Ingrid. I called to give it back.” He continued holding the pelt out to her as she stared at it. She glanced between him and it a couple times, then reached with shaking hands and slowly pulled it back. She unfolded it and threw it over her shoulders, clasping the front paws together to wear it like a cape.
“Tidh, I…about what happened back then—”
“I know,” Tidh said, cupping her face in his hand. “I didn’t know then, but I do now. It wasn’t your fault, and I’m sorry I ever doubted you.” She leaned into him and he wrapped his arms around her, and they both began to cry.
“What did you do, anyway?” Benedict asked Akshainie, softly, as they watched.
“I spoke to the water spirits in the sea. I knew they’d grant a selkie passage, if they knew to be expecting one,” she answered. “Word travels fast in the waters, by the time she tried to answer the call a path was open for her.” Benedict nodded, and he, Akshainie, and the crew continued to watch the reunited pair.
“What happens now?” Ingrid asked.
“Well. Far as I’m concerned, you’re still my wife, so you’re welcome to stay if you wish,” Tidh answered.
“We have so much to catch up on. Did you see the humans went to the moon?”
“The moon!?” Tidh practically yelled. Ingrid nodded. “In the fucking sky?” Ingrid laughed, and Akshainie cleared her throat. “Oh, right, yes. The priest and snake here, they found the pelt for us, and I owe them transit for it.”
“Well!” Ingrid exclaimed, looking at Benedict and Akshainie. “What are we waiting for? Get this ship moving, men!” The crew looked around at each other for a moment.
“You heard her!” Tidh yelled. The crew scrambled to their work as Ingrid and Tidh made their way back to Tidh’s cabin.
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.”