The Raven and The Wraith Chapter 13
I stared at the raven, I did not know how long, gathering myself. Picking out the pieces of me from the vast snow field of old pain, wading through the ice storm of past memories.
The raven had broken down old, hidden walls. It had thrown open a door to a house of horror, and now those horrors were creeping out. They were slithering out into my every thought, ravaging me with the fangs of the past, not dulled by time, but poison-tipped instead.
I could see the woods all around me. But my mind’s eye was locked onto that doorway. I was four years old, watching my birth mother leaving me. I saw her love for me in action, I saw her hide me away. And I heard her parting words to the lady who had raised me until I was six.
"Keep him safe. The Council will not rest until they have their hands on him. That must never happen. I will return when I can. If I do not return...well, take care of him."
I could feel the confusion and pain in my little four-year old mind as my mother walked away. I could feel the distance between her and I growing by the second, like a piece of me was being torn away.
She had separated herself from me, that day in that scummy, dank alleyway. She had used her willpower to methodically pull apart the strings of our bond as she walked. She had left me. Completely.
She had never returned. I had never healed from that betrayal, that consuming loss. I had locked those memories behind this door that now stood open. This door I had tried so hard to forget.
But now, seeing those memories through my teenage eyes, the pieces finally clicked. Even at just four years old I had heard the love in her voice. I had felt it burning bright in her even as she had separated herself from me.
Now, I could feel what it had cost her. I could sense, in a fragile little way, how her love for me had actually given her the strength to walk away. To separate herself from me. Because she knew she was going to die. She did it to save me.
She had known the Council would use their power on her. To try to force her to tell them where I was. She had pulled apart the bond between her and I so they could not find me. She had defied the Council and they had killed her.
I remembered meeting the first Council member when I was ten years old. I remembered the calm, radiant power he wore, like an invisible cloak. It had called to me, offering peace and warmth and structure. Snaring my wild mind like one would capture a wild creature in the woods.
I could feel that power wrapping about me, my memory of it so clear that it made me swivel my head and scan the woods for that sorcerer, even though I knew he was long dead. I understood now how carefully crafted that ward had been. How precise and effective it was.
It had been created specifically to capture me. A ward woven by all 7 Orders of magic, with each one adding in the essence of Calling. A ward designed to Call, to ensnare, anyone who carried all 7 Orders.
I remembered seeing that ward as the faintest flash of golden yellow. And now, as I sorted through these memories, I remembered seeing that flash one other time. The day Genevieve had so suddenly joined the Council. That flash in her eyes as she had turned on me, almost like a rabid, red-haired wolf.
My snarl shook the woods, a terrible sound, the sound of lethal rage, as I understood how the Council had captured her. How they had used her against me, trying to force me to do their bidding.
I turned and ran. I hurled myself through the woods, my power burning bright in my minds eye, a beacon of fire that swallowed light instead of creating it, radiating frigid cold instead of comforting warmth. My instincts guided me past and over any obstacle, as I flickered through the woods far faster than even the fastest creature I had ever heard of.
I darted into camp, making my way directly to Tads wagon, where I kept my meager supplies. I knew I would need them if I were to make the four day trek alone back to the city.
"And where do you think you're going?"
I turned, not surprised to find Tad standing by. I was, however, surprised to see he had Jewel, Keira, and Rhonda with him. I knew the dark, vicious ward that Tad wore would have alerted him to my presence. And even possibly alerted him to my intent.
"I'm going back. I'm going to free Genevieve. And I'm going to destroy the Council."
Rhonda gasped and Tads blue eyes became like two ice chips.
"Do you have any idea what would happen if you could actually do that?" His voice was quiet, so at odds with his usual walrus roar that it caught my attention fully.
"Yes. Every single nation, and all of their cities, would finally be free of the merciless control of the Council and their vampire ways."
Tad shook his head slowly, his entire posture and presence absolutely seething with barely repressed violence. I knew he was truly ready to attack me with everything he had, if he felt like he had to. Which I knew depended on how I answered him in these next few moments.
"No. The Council exists to maintain balance between our realm, and The Other. They have always maintained this order, this balance. If the Council were to fall, it would open the rift between the two realms. There would be war beyond imagination."
I thought about the raven. I thought about the shadow of the life essence of the 7 different creatures it had been made of. I thought about how my own power seemed comprised of all seven Orders of magic. Just like the ravens. I thought about how my power was able to sweep aside the touch of any of the seven Orders, as if they were little more than clinging cobwebs. It had always been that way, except for that singular Calling ward the Council had woven of all 7 Orders to try capture me. To capture Genevieve.
"The Council killed my mother. They tried to enslave me. They captured Genevieve and used her against me. To try to force me to do their will, since they couldn't control me."
"Killing the Council is not an option, even if you could. Do you have any idea what they are?"
When I said nothing, Tad continued.
"They are the direct link between the people and all magic. The Council must exist, without it there would be chaos."
I thought about the warm connection I felt to the different creatures inside of the raven. I thought about the peace inside of them. They felt exactly like the birds and the rabbits and the wolves and all other animals I had ever encountered. I thought about the faintest aftershocks of their death I had felt in them. The fangs of the Council.
"They lie. The Council exists to use the people. They exist to make the nations dance on their puppet strings, they feed off of both this realm and the other. They are slavers who have successfully slaved two entire worlds."
I narrowed my eyes as I saw Keira, Jewel, and Rhonda edge out away from me, forming into a half-circle around me. Surrounding me. It made my battle instincts rear up and bare their teeth.
"What is this?" I growled.
"We can't let you go, Rahvin. We can't let you harm the Council in any way."
At that moment, with my instincts seeing them all as a potential threat, my power responded by flickering once in my eyes. Allowing me to see the tiniest of threads that connected all four of them together. Connecting them all to Jewel.
"You commanded them!"
"You left me no choice."
Jewels voice was quiet, steady, with a diamond-hard undertone. It was a bit baffling, this tiny, frail-looking pixie with such pretty eyes so full of steel-hard conviction and fire.
"How did you go against your blood vow to never use this power unless your life or the lives of your loved ones was at stake?"
Her level gaze did not falter. "I didn't."
I blinked at that. "You truly believe that if you don't stop me from attacking the Council, your life is in danger?"
She said nothing. Just continued to stand in front of me, to hold herself strong and proud and rigid. Trying to use her presence, her force of will, to get me to submit.
"Rahvin...we want to help you." Keira's voice was soft, barely more than a whisper on the breeze.
I spun to face her, feeling a wildness rising up inside. I wanted to explain it to myself as the touch of the cat. I wanted to hold it as something outside of me. But the raven had shown me so much more than just how I was connected to it.
I had seen how I was connected to that great cat. The world walker, Rhonda had called it. Now, looking at Keira, seeing the concern and caring in her, I pulled deep at those connections.
Everyone twitched in one rippling, synchronized movement as seven black cats came darting into our midst.
"You can help me. Keep these cats safe. Keep them here. Where I'm going, they must not follow."
All seven cats immediately sat down and fixed me with such glares of disapproval that Keira burst out laughing.
"I don't think they like that idea!"
I glared back at them. "I don't care. They don't have a choice. They're not coming with me."
"Where you go, I must follow." Jewel stated.
She waved her hand at the others. "And they're linked to me. So you can either stay here, or we'll all come with you."
I thought about Genevieve's command to Jewel. To bring me back to her. I knew that Jewel had to obey it. If she were somehow detained from following me back to the city, the command would kill her. And if she died, so would Rhonda, Tad, and Keira.
I growled at her. It was a vocalization of the sheer frustration and fury in me, at how she was attempting to manipulate me, or control me. She folded her arms and glared at me so fiercely I wondered why my hair didn't catch on fire.
"Growl all you want, but we're all coming with you! Or we're all staying here!"
I looked at Tad. He was calm, his eyes distant as he pondered something. I wondered if he was trying to figure out how to alert the Council of my plans. He seemed entirely convinced they were necessary.
"Let's all go. I think it's time Rahvin and Genevieve have a little talk, anyway." He said suddenly, brightly.
Rhonda nodded, Jewel shrugged, and Keira looked to me. I walked away from the group, motioning her to follow me.
"Hey! Where do you think you're going?!" Jewel called indignantly after us.
"We're going to talk. Alone." I yelled back.
I heard Jewels footsteps following us and gritted my teeth. This girl was going to drive me insane! Just as I was about to spin and send her away with a few vicious words, Keira placed one hand on my forearm and quietly said she would handle it.
I waited in the darkness by a wagon at the edge of the camp, wondering what the two of them were talking about for so long. Wondering why Keira was being so kind to Genevieve's enforcer, who had used her power to mentally enslave her.
"She is far away from home. She doesn't know what to do and she doesn't understand anything of what's happening, or why your power was so easily able to sweep aside hers. Her confidence is shaken."
Keira's voice was filled with compassion as she explained Jewel. I found it so contrary to how I would have reacted were I in her shoes that I simply shook my head.
"You should try being kind to her. She's not so bad once you get to know her."
I snorted. "You mean once she has her power embedded into your mind through her command, she doesn't seem so bad."
Keira stopped, her lips thin and her back stiff.
"I befriended her before she used her power to keep us all safe. Which, as you made her swear to that blood vow, you should understand. Why are you so convinced she's your enemy?"
I didn't answer her right away. Thinking about her question made me examine if I really was reacting to her like she was my enemy. And I knew I had been, but to me it was clearly justified.
"Within the first five minutes of meeting her she tried to command me!"
Keira scowled at me, her sandy blonde hair partially obscuring her face. I felt a sudden temptation to reach out and brush her hair back so I could better see her eyes and thankfully fought it back before my hand had done more than twitched towards her.
"She is under Genevieve's command herself! So you know it wasn't her will, her choice, to try to command you! And what, exactly, was that little twitch?"
I sighed. She was entirely too observant. At the reminder that Jewel was herself under Genevieve's command, I felt like a jerk for treating her the way I had. It made me defensive, and so I did what I always do whenever I feel defensive. I go on the offense.
"I was just going to reach up to brush your hair back." I said quietly, slowly lifting one hand to brush her hair back even as I stepped closer. "Like this."
She stared up at me with big eyes and I could feel my heart pounding like it was trying to thrash itself out of my ribcage and hurl itself at her. I swallowed when she didn't step away as my hand traced through the soft strands of her hair.
"Stop! You belong to Genevieve!"
I jumped away from Keira and she yelped in shock at Jewel's loud demand.
"He what!" Keira snapped.
I stood next to her, facing Jewel, feeling my hands curl into fists at my side at the untimely interruption and the invasion of my personal life.
"Jewel, if you don't get lost in the next three seconds you're going to regret ever meeting me!"
Jewel put her hands on her hips and settled her stance, her entire body language bristling with determination and anger.
"I will not. She needs you. Your power is the stabilizer for hers. I will not let her die due to your stubbornness."
I opened my mouth to argue, then the words shriveled up in my throat as I saw a great, black cat step into the meager firelight behind Jewel.
"Listen to her. She speaks wisdom."
The cat’s voice rippled across the surface of my mind.