Morgan and Lady Raven
Morgan sat at the table, candlelight illuminating the journals before her. Cail nudged the inkwell closer. “You should be writing instead of staring at the page. You know Lady Raven wants you to keep a journal.”
“I know, but after reading through Dmitri Basarab’s journal, hiding under a rock is a better choice. Listen to this:”
I have finally found a jeweler to work with the pieces of fire-stone I possess. I need nine pendants with each piece of stone carved into the shape of a dagger. One for myself, the others for the inner circle.
The shadow dagger has been made. We tried it out two nights ago; it worked as the instructions said it would. A gateway formed, and two Shadows entered our world. I allowed them free rein in the hamlet to the north, and when they were done killing the occupants, their ranks had grown by thirty. I sent them back across the Veil to await my summons.
Membership in the circle will be passed down from parent to child. After much thought, I believe allowing a woman to belong to the circle is a wise course of action.
“What about it? We both know Dmitri, the bastard is evil. Look at how many villages he has overrun. The ones who break his laws or don’t pay their taxes are sacrificed.”
She drained her beer and slammed the tankard on the table. “The hamlet he talks about is where I lived. Only I survived, thanks to Lady Raven.”
Cail hopped to her shoulder and rubbed his head against her cheek. “It’s been twenty years, Morgan. You need to let go of the past.”
“Easier said than done, my feathered friend.” She stroked his back. “The Shadows attacked while I was in the garden digging potatoes. My father was in the barn, and mother was in the house preparing stew. I heard screams coming from a neighbor’s house, and my father went to investigate. He came running back, grabbed my arm, and pulled me into the house.” Tears blurred her vision. “Moments later the door crashed inward and soldiers entered, followed by three Shadows.”
The Shadows advanced while soldiers blocked the exit, Run! ran through her mind, but Morgan froze, her body trembling. The human-shaped Shadow stopped before Morgan, its red eyes boring into hers. An aura of cold surrounded her and she shivered. The creature plunged a tendril into her chest; an intense pain coursed through her; replaced by an icy burn. Darkness invaded her vision.
A sensation of spinning and falling clouded her mind and when sight returned, Morgan stared. Ordered rows of columns marched into the distance. Across from her stood an archway of black stones, the center glowed with a silvery light. She turned and found another portal, this one constructed of white stones, brightly aglow. A slight pressure on her shoulder made her jump, an undignified squeak escaping her lips. A raven limned in silver perched there.
“Where am I? Where are my parents?”
“You are in the Court of Passage, Morgan Byrne,” a woman’s voice replied.
The air wavered and a tall, beautiful woman with a raven on her shoulder stood before her. Morgan’s heart raced, and she blushed, as thoughts she normally kept locked away surged through her mind. “Who are you?” She blushed at the thought in her mind and pushed it down.
The woman smiled and rested a hand on Morgan’s arm. “Let’s move off to the side so we can talk.”
Morgan followed the woman. They stopped and watched a group of Shadows escorting Shades away from the arches. “What are those things? Who are those people?”
“Like you, the Shades are those who have recently died. That group was killed by the Shadows. Like the one that attacked you.” The woman waved her arm, and a silver light surrounded them. “The light keeps the Shadows at bay so we can speak freely.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Lady Raven, and the Court of Passage is my domain.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“You were killed by the Shadow, however, your spirit is strong, and you refuse to give in to their taint. Normally, once a person dies, they cross the Veil to the Court of Passage, escorted by a raven. From there the Shade passes through the black arch to the land of the dead.” Lady Raven lightly rested a hand on Morgan’s arm. “I have the power to restore a person to life.”
“And the cost?” Morgan kept her gaze averted so she could think and not have her body react to the woman beside her.
“You know about the fire-stone that fell from the sky?” Morgan nodded. “When it arrived, the stone thinned the Veil between the living world and the Court of Passage. The Veil acts as a barrier between the Court and the living world. The arrival of the stone weakened the Veil and Shadows now enter the living world to kill people and increase their ranks.” The woman sighed. “However, the stone has another effect; it can also be used to banish and help prevent Shadows from crossing into the real world. Those that own pieces of the stone can summon the Shadows or banish and block them from crossing.”
Morgan glanced away. Her heart sank when she recognized two Shades escorted by a Shadow. “Those are my parents!”
Lady Raven nodded. “I can give you the ability to cleanse their spirits and send them to their final rest.”
“What do you mean by ‘cleanse their spirits?’” The silver glow surrounding the Shades of her parents weakened as she watched.
Lady Raven held out a ring. “When a human is killed by a Shadow, they become tainted. If the body or spirit isn’t cleansed, the Shade turns into a Shadow, and they cannot pass on to the land of the dead.”
“Tell me what I need to do.” Morgan faced the woman.
“Will you accept the offer to enter my service, to fight against the Shadows, and those who summon them? Will you accept this ring and become the founder of the Raven Council?”
With a sigh and a nod, Morgan held out her hand. “I accept your offer, Lady Raven, and willingly enter your service.”
The woman placed the ring in the young woman’s hand. “Place the ring on your right middle finger.” Morgan did. “Concentrate on the ring, Imagine a silver glow like that which surrounds us.”
It took a moment, but Morgan succeeded, and the glow of the ring matched the surrounding shield. “Now what?”
“I will drop the protection and allow the Shadow and Shades to approach us. You will need to surround the three with the light from your ring, then say: ’By the order of Lady Raven I banish you to the Spawning Ground.’ The Shadow will disappear, but the Shades will stay. Next, you say: ‘By Lady Raven’s love, go to your rest.’ The Shades will then pass through the black stone archway.”
Morgan followed the woman’s instructions.
When the creatures were a few feet away, Morgan expanded the light to surround them. The Shadow froze in place and howled in anger. “By the order of Lady Raven I banish you to the Spawning Ground.” The light from the ring flared, and the force sent Morgan down on one knee. The Shadow disappeared.
She regained her feet and faced her parents. “By Lady Raven’s love, go to your rest.” The flare from the ring was gentler, and she remained standing. Two ravens flew over and landed on the shoulders of her parents. They smiled and made their way to the black stone arch. A moment later they were gone.
“Well done, Morgan. I believe Lady Raven has made the perfect choice,” said the raven on her shoulder.
Morgan turned to stare at the bird. “It talks?”
“I am not an ‘it’. My name is Cail and the two of us are bonded through the ring to death and beyond.”
Lady Raven smiled. “Let’s return to the living world, Morgan. Time for you to begin your new life.” She rested a hand on Morgan’s shoulder, and the four walked into the glow of the white stone arch, and disappeared.
At the table, Morgan sighed and picked up her pen. “Cail, don’t let me get distracted. I have too much to do, and thinking about the past serves no purpose.”
“It’s something you need to write, my friend. You have put that off long enough.” He hopped over to a bowl and ate a few berries.
“I know. Still hurts when I remember my parents disappearing.” She sighed, dipped the pen into the ink, and wrote.