I spread my arms (wings) and took off, launching myself from the crest of the mountain, and soaring skywards on an updraft of warm air from the forested valley below. Laughing (cawing) out loud in delight, I reveled in the feel of rushing air across my skin (feathers) as I swooped and soared anew, playing among the breezes. My spirit, free of earthly bonds, felt lighter and happier than I ever had been.
One stray breeze brought a scent to my nose (beak) – a complex interplay of deliciousness. I could taste the direction it came from and I unconsciously turned my soaring towards it, gaining height and beginning to circle to pin down the exact location of that enticing smell. A combination, an interplay, of burning wood and cooked meat, of the coppery taste of blood of the darker, sharper scents of piss and shit. Oh, the taste/smell/sensation of charnel-house and battle, how it drew me unbidden and wanton to the place of slaughter!
There, my keen eyes pinning the clearing with its curling smoke to the grayscaled map of my vision like a worm to a log! I circled in, hearing the caws and croaks of my brethren as we gathered for the feast. I alighted on a part-burned wagon, drawn by oxen now dead in their tracks, hot blood a brighter gray to my sight as it washed the ground. The cover of the wagon was rent and torn, and I could see the cooling forms within it – one small and huddled under the larger. Two more bodies, alight with fast-fleeing warmth, lay on the ground by the wagon.
I had a moment to see these with my crow senses, then I rushed upwards, filling out a human form in the blink of an eye. The stench of death, repulsive now, assailed me, and I could see that while one of the men on the ground was Native American – Sioux by the looks of his decorations – the other was pale skinned and dark haired, clutching a rifle. The woman and child in the back of the covered wagon were of similar complexion.
A flutter of movement caught my eye, and I started as a large raven nearby jumped onto the Sioux’s body then blurred, stretching up and out into a human form not unlike the corpse. I jumped down from the wagon and bowed as he watched me with inhuman eyes.
“Brother Raven,” I told him, acknowledging his presence and paying my respects.
“You’re a long way from home.” He replied.
As I wondered how to answer him – I had come, after all, to ask a boon – there was another flurry, a great European carrion crow landing at the edge of the clearing. It too blurred into human form, a woman in a feathered cloak, with a crow-beaked helmet on her head and a sword of bright steel casually held in her hand.
“Piss off, Raven, he’s one of Mine” she said. “Born of my people, and drawn here to the place of the deaths of his cousins. I claim this man.”
My blood ran cold even as my mind exulted. To be claimed by the Crow-Woman, Morrighu of the battles!
Raven simply nodded and again blurred into bird form, then flew upwards to be lost in the smoke of the smoldering wagon and the bright sky above the trees. I turned and fell to my knees before my Patron.
“Whatever You wish of me, my Lady.” I murmured as she walked closer. “Yes, I know,” She replied. “You will be one of my storm-crows, bringers of strife and bloodshed, makers of war. Water the stale fields with blood, for blood will make the new crop grow.” Another great carrion crow flew down to alight on her outstretched arm, and she plucked a single feather from it’s tail. “Take this token, and when you need him my servant will come to your call.”
My heart soared – the very boon I had sought from this journey to the spirit world, and from the hand of my Goddess herself. Somehow I just knew the spirit-crow’s true name, although I was definitely going to tell him his worldly name was now Erasmus. One of the commune elders showed me that old movie once, to show me what folk thought magic would be like, back before the Awakening. I’d thought it was hilarious but the lead character was cool as all get out. I blurted out thanks, and she smiled.
“Do not thank Me yet, mortal, for you path is hard and bloody.”
The scene dissolved around me, Goddess, crow and clearing blurring into swirling colors which came back into focus as my own Lodge – a clearing in a small woodland, shielded from onlookers by a close-knit wall of alder, juniper and spruce, with a big old gnarled oak in the center. I was sitting cross-legged up against that oak, naked but for my necklace of teeth and feathers – to which one exceptionally large feather had been added. Hanging from the oak’s lower branches on braided cords were bird and small animal skulls, small chunks of amber and quartz in cradles of silver wire, and a fossil ammonite from the rocks of my native Somerset. A small bronze bowl with cooling charcoal and the remains of incense sat by my right elbow.
I levered myself up, aching and stiff from the astral travel I had just engaged in and picked up a small piece of black plastic that had been sitting beside me to my left the whole time, fitting it behind my ear. A press of the stud, and my contact lenses rebooted, restoring low-light and enhanced vision as well as my comms-link. Numbers and letters flashed in my field of view, telling me the time – only ten minutes had passed since I’d entered trance, although it felt far longer – and that I had two missed calls.
Leaving the grove, I quickly ran to another great oak nearby. It wouldn’t do to let any of the local Wild Dogs see me. I’d lose some credibility with the gang that were my landlords if they caught me butt-naked in the daylight. I shimmied up the rope ladder that led to my home, a small shack perched in the boughs of the tree, cunningly camouflaged with evergreen vines and mistletoe all year around, and began to get dressed. As I did so I called the first number on my comms back. A familiar Northern English voice answered right away.
“Hey, Corbie – how’d it go? Did you get what you were after? Did Raven turn up as Trickster or Warrior?”
“Great, Nick, I definitely did. I’ll give you the full story later but Raven got giving his marching orders by the Old Crow from across the water. She says I’m Hers.”
“Woooh, shit. That’s some heavy mojo, man. That one is not to be trifled with – She doesn’t do cute or tricksy, not ever. Yeah, come by the shop when you can and tell me the whole thing.”
“OK, talk to you later my friend. Out.”
I terminated the call as I finished dressing – armored duster coat over armored jeans and roll-neck sweater, all black, and with black British paratrooper boots to go with. I slid my revolver out of its holster and checked the smartgun link. A glowing reticule, edged by range, ammo count and wind values, appeared in my vision and moved as I moved the gun barrel. That checked green, so I slid the holster onto its belt-clips in the small of my back, along with some speed-loaders. Next, I slid an SAS-isue combat knife into its boot sheath and my telescoping bo-staff into the loops on the inside of the duster. I looked around my shack – an old bed with a musty mattress and a couple of silvered blankets, a small solar-powered cooking range (the panel was up at the top of the tree), an old moth-eaten couch. Home. Time to go out and make some moves.
I mentally commanded my comms unit to return the second missed call. The voice that answered was cultured, charismatic and utterly stoned.
“RW, I got your call.”
“Sure, dude, sure. I got your order.” Good, I’d used the last of my Zen, a psychoactive synthetic drug I was overly fond of, doing that spirit quest. “And I’ve heard about a job that might suit you. A bit bigger than your last couple of runs, but hey…movin’ on up, an’ all that jazz.” He chuckled.
“I’ll be right over.” I told him. It wasn’t too far to his crash-pad, in the heart of the worst part of Denver’s slums. He grunted and hung up.
So far, a good start to the day.