by Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik
I remember that night.
The night I arrived at Ravenoak. It was mid November and cold and a strange mist hung in the air. It was like rain but not quite rain. It was a chilled dew that lingered upon the lips and around the eyes and seemed to confound the senses until as darkness had drawn in, my senses had been completely overcome and I was not able to comprehend my task or how I could hope to achieve it.
I had left London in the mid afternoon and taken a train to the south which had been hot and sticky, despite the month. The clouds of steam had bellowed from the train as it pulled out of the station and I stared blankly out of the window, attempting to see between the whispers of vapor what would be perhaps the last glimpse I would ever receive of my home station. Farewell London. The train chugged further from the city and into remote fields and winding country tracks, towered over my leafless crooked branched trees. It was when we stopped in a small town which had what seemed to have a main population of farm animals, I first noticed the chill. It was very cold. And it only grew colder as the train worked its way further and further from the confines of the city. As we moved away from London, I also noticed that fewer and fewer people were boarding the train and fewer and fewer people were getting off. Where had the passengers gone? The train was packed when we had left, the carriage I was in was standing room only. Had everyone had the sense to get off while we were still in civilized lands? Was it just me who was stupid enough to chug alone this far? Oh God. I should have gotten off this awful mechanism in the suburbs and had a nice quiet holiday with my cousins instead.
But no. I stayed on the train for miles and miles until we (if there were at this point any other passengers aboard) arrived at a small rundown station baring an ancient sign with thick brassy letter spelling the words Ravenoak Crescent Hill. The dew in the air was much thicker now. I could even feel it inside the carriage. It crawled up the single glazed windowpanes, starting from a frozen epicenter in the corners of the glass. I stared out of the window for a while. Was this my stop? There seemed to be nothing but the station for miles around. I had been told there was a room for me at the local inn but there certainly wasn’t an inn to be seen anywhere nearby. Was I expected to walk along the craggy autumn marshland until I found something to show me where Ravenoak Village was? Thinking about it, I wasn’t even sure that my destination was Ravenoak Village. I checked a yellowing piece of parchment I had been given on the case prior to my departure entitled The Mystery of Ravenoak. Pretty dramatic. I mean, a couple of deaths out on the moors must happen all the time. Accidents happen. Don’t they?
I stopped pondering my thoughts with a start as a cockney man with a harsh gravelly low voice banged on the glass of the carriage door with the outer side of his large ham-like fist. “Miss! Miss! This is the end of the line. You’ll have to get off now Miss.” What? Where was I supposed to go? Smiling gingerly, I removed my brown leather suitcase from its previous position under the opposite bench and stood to face the man. “Excuse me, sir, I’ve been sent by the metropolitan constabulary… I am supposed to be in a village called Ravenoak… I’ve got a reservation at The Raven Inn… if that means anything…” my voice grew quieter and trailed off as I finished. “I know, Miss, I’ve been told to help you get yourself and your luggage to the carriage. The carriage will take you onward.” He finished in a proud manor. “Oh,” I said in surprise, stopping from my walk toward the door “is the line to the village out of service?” “Oh no, Miss,” the attendant said with a hearty chuckle “This is the closest stop to Ravenoak. It's not exactly a tourist destination… it’s a perfectly nice place, but… you’ll see when you get there.” That was all he said on the matter. He took my case from me and led me from the train to a small unsteady looking black carriage. The door was open. I stepped in, carefully positioning my boot so as I’d be able to move quickly if the whole vehicle should tip towards me. With a hasty pull, I planted myself in the carriage to find I was sharing it with a young man. The man from the train pushed my bag in behind me and slammed the door shut.
“Good evening.” The man said in a surprisingly respectable sounding accent, sensing my surprise, he continued “I’ve been sent to meet you by The District Association of Old Raven’s County for Safety and Crime Prevention.” He stopped for breath “I understand you’ve come to assist with the recent issues were had. The unpleasantries. Etcetera.” He paused once more and smiled at me. It was a genuine, rare smile. The kind purely intended to welcome and provide comfort. I needed comfort. With a jolt, the carriage began to move. “
Um, yes. I’ve been sent by the London Metropolitan Constabulary to help.”
“Police? How fancy!” he said with a smirk. “I’m Prior Meredith, by the way. You’ve got a room at the inn. It’s my parents’ inn. We’ll be there soon.”
“The Raven Inn?”
He nodded .
“Thank goodness. I was beginning to think the gentlemen of the constabulary were having me on and that were was no case and no room and… well I thought they just wanted to get rid of me until I noticed. Wait.” I stopped noticing his surprise that I was from the police “How many visits have you had from the constabulary? I haven’t got all the papers for the case because apparently some are lost or on a Need to Know Basis… I mean, you’d think as the chief investigator I would need to know but… the papers allude me.”
“We’ve had no visits from the police, ” he said in an official matter of fact sort of way. “But I was told they’d been lots but none of them could stay because their work in London needed them. Am I the first official to come?”
Prior nodded. The carriage continued down its rough rocky course, stopping now and again as the rain grew thicker. “I’m sorry… but with the lack of details I’ve had on the case… I’m not entirely sure of its nature… I know three are dead –"
He cut me off “No. Five are dead.” He said calmly.
“What? I was told three.”
“Oh, well, alright. Um, and they were all… well the three I know of, were all married women between 16 and 25. And each of the three I know about was killed by a single slash to the throat. A very clean cut. The sort that’d require a most acurate blade… perhaps a surgical one.”
This last statement made my skin crawl.
He nodded and removed one of his brown curls from his line of sight “Yes. Even with the victims you didn’t know about they were still all married women under 25. Have you heard about the other part?”
“What other part?” I eyes.
“Their eyes.” I was confused “Their eyes were all black. We assumed poison in the veins prior to death but that’s why we contacted London. We have no way of testing for poison in the blood.”
The thought of this disgusted me. I had never heard of such a poison that could turn eyes blacks and, in any case, why would a murderer kill with poison and a blade. Surely one would be enough. “Mr. Meredith, have you or anyone else taken a sample of the blood from the victims?”
“I have. He nodded. “With Dr. Laureston’s help… But he insists he doesn’t possess the expertise to test the samples for poison effectively.”
“I’m not a scientist. But I have some fluids which will indicate acidity but…” I stopped “why didn’t they tell me?”. This bothered me. They didn’t think it remotely important to tell me what I had to do. I decided not to tell Prior Meredith of my post in the constabulary. I mean, Senior Crime and Mystery Writer in charge of writing and publishing the details of previous cases doesn’t sound very qualified to deal with murders.
As the carriage arrived at its destination, I started to wonder – Why had I been sent to Ravenoak? Was it a joke? If it was, it wasn’t remotely funny to me, though I’m sure back at the headquarters they were finding it hilarious. The warm snuggly headquarters. In the winter there was a fire in every room. As the carriage came to a final stop, I realized that at some point along our journey, the sea had come into view. An angry tempest tossing rock and ships and breaking up the cliff side that separated Ravenoak from the waves. Once the giant had broken up cliff sides, he then preceded to gobble the rock in his huge unholy mouth and placed the village of Ravenoak a little closer to falling off the edge of the world and into the sea.
Ravenoak was cold.
The rain had passed now, but the thick mist still remained. The place was silent. The wind, even though it was still blowing harshly from the look of the white horses galloping in the sea, was silent. It seemed as if the village was deserted. Prior opened the carriage door and climbed out. He took my suitcase behind him and then preceded to take my gloved hand to help me remove myself from the confines of the vehicle. His hands were large and strong. Prior picked up my bag and indicated for me to follow him with a subtle wave of his left hand. I did so carefully, for the ground was wet despite the fact that sickly grass grew from in patches and tufts as if the land was devoid of water. But it was not. This land was farming land. The soil was rich in nutrients and the land regularly saw rain. It was as if something had disrupted the growth of the grass. It was odd. I continued behind him as a soft melodic sound emanated all around. Its source was close by. The noise was coming from a large structure just ahead of me with many windows and twinkly golden lights with a huge black door and a warm scent of hot food and cool larger. It reminded me of the tavern on the corner of the street with the headquarters on it. When I was the only one there last Christmas Eve, I went there in the evening. I hadn’t finished my writing but that could wait until morning. I’d snuck out and the snow had fallen from the rooftop of the building onto my back, but I’d had my black coat on, so I barely felt it. I ate at the tavern and the man at the bar said he hadn’t seen me around and asked if I was a tourist here for Christmas. I’d nodded, not wanting to tell him that I’d worked with the Metropolitan for the past six months and lived in a flat not a mile away.
Prior opened the black door and ushered me inside.
It was lovely inside. The gloomy exterior of the village didn’t do this wonderful lively place justice. Cheerful music poured from the band in the corner and out in to the room as an avalanche of hot buttery happiness. Prior called to a plump smiling lady with old twinkly eyes behind the bar who quickly came towards me, laying down a glass she had been cleaning. Prior disappeared up a wide shallow stairway with my bag. “Hello!” she said as she waddled towards me “I hope the journey up here wasn’t too bad, with the weather and all… the paths can be a menace in the rain.” She held out a wrinkled hand for me to shake as she stopped “I’m Mrs. Meredith, Prior’s mother. So good to have some police presence here with all that’s been going on. I’ve got your room all stoked up and I’ve got pie and mash left for you if you want me to warm it up while you change.” She handed me a large coppery key from her apron “your room is up the stairs and the third door on the left.” Smiling again, she indicated the stairs Prior had just ascended. I nudged past the bustling people with drinks and meals that stood and sat around the room. The steps creaked a little as I ascended and the third room on the left’s door was slightly ajar.; Prior was inside. Stoking the fire and trying to dry my case. He left promptly and closed the door so I could change. All my things were wet. I placed my gloves and coat and hat to dry and changed into a light blue day dress from my annoyingly wet case. The room was surprisingly large with a window by the bed and an old wooden desk and large oak wardrobe. There was a book on the bed; A Comprehensive Guide to Mythics and Magiks of Old Raven’s County.
As I returned back downstairs to find the warm glow of the burning hearth and a meal, a soft boom emanated from the center of the room. Prior was playing a game with the children. He as blind folded and reaching out to them and saying some sort of rhyme. I couldn’t help but laugh. In a time of such danger and horror with death all around, a man such as Prior was in the hours of daylight solely concerned with his business and protecting the village of Ravenoak from further attack and in the evening, devoted his whole heart and efforts to this.
I found an old battered armchair and sat by the fire. Mrs. Meredith soon beckoned me over to give me a cup of ale which I excepted gladly and thanked her readily for. Taking the cup, I walked through Prior’s gathering towards my chair until I found a hand on my waist. I switched around to see the blindfolded Prior. “Oh… Mr. Meredith…”. His face turned to shock horror and he quickly removed his blindfold “I’m so sorry miss! I didn’t mean to… anyway,” he removed his hand slowly “I think we should dispense with this ‘Mr. Meredith’ stuff now. Mr. Meredith is my father. Call me Prior.” I smiled at him and said in a rather hushed tone “I’ll let you get back to your gathering, Prior.” He smiled back and blushed a little then, pulling his blindfold back over his eyes, he started his rhyme again. I took my seat and drunk deeply.
As I ate, my mind turned to the murders. The people that’d lost their lives. I didn’t even know their names. Not in my memory. As the hours grew later, the inn began to quieten down. One a handful of people remained in the hall and the children Prior had been entertaining had all long gone to bed. Nobody dared remain outside in the hours of pure darkness. That was when all the murders had been. When it was dark. No one was around. There were never any witnesses. Never anything left behind. No weapon. Nothing. Mrs. Meredith came to speak to me as the hall lost almost all its occupants “Hello miss, how was your meal?”
I told her it was good and thanked her again for her hospitality. “Miss, Prior has told me there’s a lot you didn’t know about the murders…”
“Mrs. Meredith, please don’t begin to tell me you doubt me for I doubt myself and…”
“No. I wanted to tell you a little about the history of this place. And a little about what makes the murders so irregular.”
I listened for a long time as she told me of Old Raven’s County and that the first murder had taken place not a month ago. I had no idea the murders had all been so close together. “Now there’s been some speculation that the murderer is out on the moors. All around this place are the moors other than to the east with the cliffs. All the murder spots have been easily accessible by the moors and that just reminds me of the things I used to read about as a child. You know, in folk law there has been many a dark occurrence here from tales of the sirens dragging sailors into the sea to the old myths of The Raven King to the goblins that lurk in the marshes. We're full of dark stuff in this little corner of England. But all the tales were written years ago. Almost in a time of the Golden Age Magiks.” Her voice trailed off
“I’m sorry Mrs. Meredith, but it sounds almost as if you’re suggesting that goblins and mermaids are responsible for the murders.”
“No, I’m not.” She said abruptly “I’m simply telling you about the history of this place and whether that may be interlinked with this case I do not know. Good night to you” as she finished, she turned on her heel and walked away. I hadn’t meant to upset her. The prospect that the killer was some sort of fairytale being was too much for me.
Nonetheless, as I went to bed that night, I locked the door and hid the large key inside the pillowcase. As I changed and got into the small warm bed, I noticed the little book that’d been left for me again. As I opened it there was a knock at the door. I froze. Taking the key out of its position, I crept towards the door. “Who’s there?” I said in a shaky voice.
“Its Prior, Miss.”
I breathed a heady sigh of relief and unlocked the door.
“I’ve just brought these.” He held up a few candles, a dream catcher and some incense sticks.
“Oh Prior, thank you.” He lit up the candles and the incense and hung the dream catcher on a little hook above the bed. The candles were welcome as the darkness wasn’t something I was fond of at the best of times and this was not the best of times. The incense smelt lovely. “Prior, is this to ward of all the goblins and fairies and such?” I said with a slightly derogatory giggle.
“Well… who knows?”
“You don’t genuinely think that it’s the mythical beings your mother was telling me about do you?” He shook his head a little and said “Well, just in case. You have nothing to lose if were wrong and we have all the incense and the dream catcher and the candles but perhaps you have everything to gain. Goodnight Miss.” “Goodnight Prior…”. He left the room and bolted the door. I re-hid the key and reopened the book.
The candlelight flickered and danced, casting a soft shadow which seemed to float upon the wooden floor. I read the soft swirly lettering of the contents page: The Mythics of Crescent; The Sirens of Islan; Cove Goblins; all magical and mythical things of no importance that never existed either in the Golden Age or the present. I flicked through the pages of yellowing parchment, unsure of what I should read first, it all being nonsense. As I began to glance my eyes over a page on the goblins, I realized I was wasting my time. Snapping the leather-bound book shut, I preceded to put it down on the small nightstand beside the bed. I noticed a strip of paper protruding from between two pages. Opening it to the page marked, the place holder fell on my lap and I glimpsed the scrawled words Watch the Shadows.
As my eyes read the words, I found an odd sense of fear in the pit of my stomach. Fear is an awfully strange emotion; its not like loneliness which can easily be forgotten and its not like melancholia which can be painted over like an artists blank canvas with tasks to do, fear is an emotion I had never learnt to control. What could it mean? Had Mrs. Meredith left the paper inside the manuscript? I permissively ran my index finger over the letters. They were quite recently inscribed; the black ink appeared almost wet upon the parchment as it gleamed in the subtle candlelight and the harsh flick at the conclusions of the words were sharp and un-smudged. What a strange phrase to write in a book. I looked over the page that it had dutifully marked. Magick Gaveildoft. I began to ran my eyes over the first few lines but remembered that this whole thing was stupid and stopped. Magick did not esist in the Golden Age or the present.
I put the book down and sleep, thankfully, took me quickly.
I awoke the next morning with the cold which hadn’t been vanquished by the now ember-less hearth. It took me a few moments to remember the events of the previous day and then to remember where I was. After wrapping myself in my dressing gown, I tiptoed to the crystalline window pane, unsure of the hour and anxious not the wake anyone. It was a murky grey shade outside. The sea was blackened and crashing in the distance and the unfeeling sky was of such a similar colour to the waters that they almost seemed to merge into one. That same dew that’d crawled up the windows of the train carriage adorned the window this morning, except, the epicenter seemed to form from buds in the centre of the glass, which was odd, I had never seen water act in such a manor before. The moon was gone from the sky. As I remembered the words that’d been inscribed on the place marker, I found myself looking around the room, searching for shadows. I was happy to find there were none. I breathed heavily as I sat upon the bed, looking for the key I had hidden. No sooner had I found it that I once again heard Prior’s knock at the door. I quietly allowed him entry, forgetting my state of undress. He wasted no time in telling me that Dr. Laureston was ready to assist me in testing the acidity of the blood samples as the men had agreed that the testing should take place in the small hours, prior to most rising for the day, so as not to cause alarm. I dressed quickly and took my case of instruments out from under the bed and carefully carried them downstairs. Dr. Laureston was awaiting my presence just outside The Raven Inn.
He was a tall man in his sixties with thinning grey hair and a large girth, encompassed by a tweed country waistcoat with four small brown disc buttons which appeared as if they would ping from their place at any moment. I braced myself. He spoke in a low husky voice which seemed somewhat effective by overconsumption of alcohol, a hypothesis which was backed up byu the ruddy redness in his wrinkled cheeks. He mumbled “Good morning” with scarcely so much as a smile as he indicated with a large wrinkled hand to a small barn.
“Dr. Laureston, it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir. Prior." I coughed. “Mr. Meredith informs me that your hypothesis on the blackness of the victims’ eyes is poison present in the blood but feel you lack the skills to form a conclusion.”
He nodded heartily “I must admit, I did not expect the constabulary to send a person of your gender to assist with such a serious situation.”
“Didn’t you?” I said rather taken aback by his words.
Shaking his head, he lead myself and Prior to the doorway of the barn and held the door open for me. I entered to see the five samples in tubes before me. That same sense of fear in my stomach wriggled. Such a large amount of human blood gave off a sickening stench. Blinking to adjust myself to the situation, I placed myself by the sample table and placed my case on a nearby stool. “Dr. Laureston, given your years of experience and of course your gender, would you do the honor of placing a small amount of the blood into the tubes with this instrument?”
He looked perplexed.
“It's called a syringe, if you’re not familiar with it.” I smirked. I passed him the instrument and watched him gingerly inject the samples into smaller beakers. I removed a few small strips of paper from my case and gloved my hands in rubber, concerned of possible disease contraction. I clenched my core and dipped each strip in the blood and left it to rest on the side. Dr. Laureston watched me with some interest. “And?” he said impatiently. I cast my eyes over the blood-soaked paper strips once more and found them to all be green. There was no acid in the blood. I reported this to Dr. Laureston, who’s first response was the snigger and say that I obviously had done the test wrong to which I assured him of my skills. Prior then questioned if there was in fact any poison that would turn eyes black to which I responded that I had never heard of such a poison but that certainly did not mean it did not exist. It was then I thought to ask. “Dr. Laureston. Mr. Meredith. Do you believe that there could be anything else? Is there anything you haven’t told me?” the men shook their heads in synchronization. It was then that Prior’s eyes struck me. They were the brightest blue with tiny flecks of deepest grey. Unlike any I had ever seen before. I felt that he was hiding something from me.
He took a sip from a small silver flask in his pocket. “I feel my skills would be best used elsewhere.”
Dr. Laureston said abruptly “Let me know if I am required again. Winter is coming on fast and my patients all over Old Ravens’ County need me.” He left.
“Don’t let him bother you, Miss.” Prior smiled “By all accounts, he was born into a world which still allowed slavery.” He said with a laugh. This made me happy. It was rare for such comfort to fall on me. It occurred to me to mention the note in the book to Prior. But I thought better of it. He and I walked for while around the moors. It was then that he made me promise that I would not return to the moors after dark. I agreed to this and once again asked if he had any idea about what might have caused the blackness of the eyes. He told me to read the book he had left on the bed. As we walked to the door of the inn, he left me with the words “I know you don’t believe in fairy stories, but perhaps you should.” and gave me his silver flask.
I felt deeply uneasy at his words. Had Prior left the note? What was happening? I immediately found the book and found the page on Magick Gaveildoft.
"Many evils have cursed our world but none more so than the spirit of The Raven King. A being of unknown origin, he was once believed to be the first Magick in the world, who ruled Old Ravens’ County with fist, but with no son or daughter to succeed him, the line died with him on Hallows’ Eve with only the ravens mourning the loss. He was summoned from the world of the dead to Old Ravens’ County in the Golden Age by Magick Gaveildoft. A man of extortionary power, the spirit is believed to have possessed him until the murderous work of The Raven King was complete and an heir would be born. It is rumored that shadows herald his presence. Magick Gaveildoft passed from this world on Hallows Eve not long after he became possessed. The Raven victims were laid to rest in the water, their blsckneded eyes doomed to curse Old Raven’s County forever. Without an heir, The Raven King will rise again."
I gulped. This could not be true. The Raven King had risen again. But it was not possible. And how do you stop a man – a spirit- that had already died? And how could I tell the constabulary that an ancient evil spirit was running about killing people? How did Prior know? My mind became overcome.
It was dark again when I next saw Prior. I wanted to tell him everything, but he already knew. The chill grew in the air. I could tell that something was going to happen. The leaves on the evergreen trees seemed to whisper it into the night and the wind seemed to hiss it up between the wooden floorboards. It was this time that Prior told me that he suspected a small cabin out on the moors to be intertwined in the murders. I did not ask why. I trusted him. Prior was the sort of person that could be honest eternally. To me, Prior was one who was an embodiment of all that was pure in the time. He did not engage in the lies or the falseness of the world I found myself in and he did not judge me by my gender or my skills or the fact that I often preferred silence to the hustle and bustle of the hours of the day.
Though it terrified me, it was now clear that I had to go out to the moors alone tonight. I could feel that something was going to happen. I promised Prior that I would return before too long, though we both knew my words to be lies. I departed Ravenoak Village with Mrs. Meredith promising if I stayed, she’d make hot chocolate. I left on foot, not wishing to attract any attention. As night drew closer over the moors, it came to me that I would either something needed to happen in the next few minutes or return to my room at The Raven Inn for the night. I had to find the cabin soon. All the maps I had been presented with suggested that the it was around here, but it’d be very hard to see once the darkness of the autumn night had completed corrupted this place. A harsh cry of a Raven emanated all around, ricocheting against the hard stone of the rocky surrounding mountainsides. Darkness was drawing in closer as the wind began to die down and the copper leaves on the trees grew still with no breeze to move them. There was something unsettling about the moors as a strange cry seemed to hang on in the air, though there was no sound other than that of the bird.
Perhaps it was that the silence was uncomfortable. By now, the sun disappeared completely behind the hills and the clouds vanished, though no stars corrupting the darkness of the sky. The call of the bird sounded again. Splitting the air as a mirror shattering upon the floor. I didn’t like this place. Nothing good could come of my being here and I could barely seem anything. But all the murders had happened in the hours of darkness, if there was going to be any movement from the cabin, it would be as midnight approached. A final call sounded as the white moon emerged from behind the mountainside and held itself proudly in the inky blackness of the sky. The call seemed to die away before it was complete. And then there was nothing. Simple silence. Undisrupted and pure. It was as if the sound had shattered against the lake ahead of me and become the tiniest ripple upon the dark opaque surface of the large body of water. The lake seemed to stop in motion, as if caught in time, as the pure light of the full noon shone upon the facet. The water appeared endlessly deep with a thick black swirling mist swimming a few meters down. The mist seemed to move as smoke in the inky darkness until it diffused throughout the lake. The blackness of the lake could easy swallow any unfortunate swimmer deep into its unfeeling depths.
Preceding the lake, the plane of land which I was standing upon seemed to almost rock as force came upon it. Sickly sticklike brownish grass grew in little tufts from the cracked dry earth underfoot, small weeds seemed to sprout from between the tufts with darkened discoloured petals. Nothing good could grow here. A long wooden planked deck stretched out from the small island over the waters to the centre of the lake. The wood was dark in colour and seemed almost completely untouched, other than one small footprint deeply intrenched in the pine. The wood had not rotted, though it was obviously used. I stepped on it gingerly, well aware it could collapse at any moment. The deck stretched to another tiny island in the lake; no more than a few square meters in size. A small wooden structure stood proudly in its centre with a ramshackle roof, topped with protruding nails and small circular windows, partly obscured with little red drapes within the cabin’s walls. A faint light sprung on behind the red door of the cabin. This was the cabin on the map. A soft sound of whispering emanated. I stopped. Tiptoeing now, I slowly came closer to the door. This was a stupid thing to do. Why hadn’t I just accepted Mrs. Meredith’s offer of hot chocolate? It was cold. I wanted a blanket. I reached into my pocket and took out my silver flask. Damn. It was empty. Even a drop would have made this situation more pleasant. Slipping it back into my pocket, I noticed the door was open slightly. I reached to knock. Reaching. Reaching. I knocked once and immediately wished I hadn’t. A deafening scream came from within. Without thought, I shoved the heavy door ajar with both hands. There was silence inside the cabin. “Hello…” I gulped “is anyone here?”. There was no answer. The cabin was completely silent. Until an old sound of thick liquid in motion sounded very softly beneath my feet. I looked down with a start. The sight shocked me. A body. The throat slit. Convulsing its last on the red carpet. I gasped and dropped to my knees. The body spoke with a thick stammer as the blood gushed out onto the floor; “Tell them it’s… it’s…”. The body’s cold pale hand clutched my forearm harshly as it attempted to speak. I was lost for what to say. The hand relinquished its hold on me. The person had died. Murdered upon the moors. A found a hot tear come from the corner of my eye. I looked down at the body’s eyes, intending to close them. They shocked me. They were totally black. Soulless. Lifeless. I gasped again, believing my own eyes were deceiving me. The Raven King was here. The tear fell upon my left hand, which it came to my attention was covered in blood. I stood up and ran from the cabin, my heart beating as a drum. But there was nothing. No murderer. No Raven King was not there, though I did not know what a spirt man looked like. There was total silence. The call of the raven sounded once more.
I swore never to return to that place again in darkness.
The next thing I knew I was in my bed in the inn. I told Prior all that happened, and he looked at me at first as if he didn’t believe me. I understood. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. It was then that he told me of his intentions. He wished to summon The Raven King and vanquish him forever. He was trying to be brave and noble, but he was terrified. He told me that we must go to the grave of The Raven King and summon him to that spot. So we knew where he was.
We left the village on a steed to find The Raven Selechre. The wing whipped my hair into my eyes and the horse stumbled on the thick crawling vines that grew along the floor. The night was black now. The horse stopped dead as we reached a corridor of many great trees towered to the heavens creating an archway. Motionless despite the slight wind. Obscuring the starless sky. At the end of the tunnel, a gateway with twisted iron forming its body. Beyond that all that could be seen is a collection of grey stone, eroded somewhat by time. The trunks of the trees twisted and spiraled like the iron of the gate – as if formed of cotton. The trees all thrive here. Nothing else lives. Beneath the trees; a dead bark. No footprints lined this pathway. No human visitor had walked this path in many a moon though the thick bark was disturbed; by the light wind perhaps? Some of the browned bark appeared somewhat out of place in this untouched labyrinth.
Preceding the path of oak stood a sepulchre protruding from the earth. The grey stone that constituted its body was worn away and scuffed yet its essence; its many angles and vertices remained strong and unmarred. The entrance, an arch formed in the rock. Nothing could be seen through the doorway. A void was formed from which no light dared to emit. The columns either side of the entrance were slightly cracked in place yet still stood proud as if marking a shrine. The step leading to the tomb was clearly marked and used. A raven watched over the scene.
Prior got to work quickly, laying stones on the step and muttering words in another language. He could tell that I was shaking and kindly held my hand in the phantasmal darkness. The moon shone down. As he finished, a great crack split the earth with a cry. We were knocked off our feet and onto the grown. A man stepped out of the grave.
He was the tallest man I had ever seen. His dark hair grew back in light waves out of his fringe and seemed to almost become one with black cloak which trailed behind him, disrupting the leaves. His blue eyes were unlike almost any I had seen before. They were brightest blue with flecks of deepest grey. They struck me. I struggled to recall where I had seen such eyes before. His face was waxy and angular with protruding cheek bones and cold pale thin lips. Those thin lips curled as he fixed his eyes on us. “Madam” he tilted his head in some sickening form of mocking respect “Mr. Prior Meredith.” He walked towards us “Do not fear me. I do not harm those who summon me. I am so sorry for all the trouble I have caused you.” He smirked he reached out a pale long fingered hand for us to shake. Oddly, he indicated for me to shake first. A gentleman should not shake the hand of a lady. “You, like so many before you, wish to stop me. And you will. Your task now, Miss, is simple. Kill Mr. Prior Meredith. He has summoned me. He, like Gaveildoft all those years ago, will embody me. Then he will pass, like all of my victims, into my world. The Raven World.”. His utterance did not seem as if it was from the human world. The words were cold and lacked feeling. “Oh, but you do not want to, Miss.” He smiled “Prior will never be like you. He is loved and you will never be loved. No matter how many you kill, they will never love you. You may take their hearts to your world, but their hearts do not find a home with yours, if you have one.”
“Who loves Mr. Prior Meredith?” He smirked “You do, Miss?”
I gulped “Prove it. Prove it to save him from the Raven’s wing.” There was nothing left to do. I walked to Prior, my legs shaking. My lips met his and everything went black. My head spun and spun. Had I died?
Then my vision swam back, and I saw the room clearly before me. Where was I?
A wash of ebony and ivory marble cracked with streaks of pure gold; lightening across a darkened sky. The floor was unstained and unmarked despite its many occupants. No scuff or scratch was embedded into it flesh despite its obvious age. The ballroom was huge with crimson and violet hangings suspended all around the towering walls. At the opposite end of the ballroom to the small oaken door sits a long rectangular dining table. Empty. Clean. No food resting upon it.
Pale. Cold. The dance floor was occupied by many people: They stepped in time, as one. In partners, seemingly glued together, a perfect number of the sexes for everyone to have a waltzing partner. I stood alone. The ladies were all dressed in elaborate gowns of crinoline and satin and velvet in shades of opulent red and blue and purple and black with fastenings of gold and silver; chains, charms, all swaying and swooning of their own accord seemingly as their wearers danced. No face could be seen. Everyone had a white mask with swirly patterns in colours matching their clothes. All that could be scene was their flashing ruby red eyes in the low light.
Dressed head to toe in mundane shades of crushed white, I stepped through the old oak doorway in ruby red slippers into the ballroom floor, my hair down and sweeping low to my waist in chestnut curls. My glassy blue eyes reflected the scene before me. Before me, a man. The tallest in the ballroom stepping silently towards me. He too was unaccompanied. Dressed similar to the others in deep shades of sliver, grey and scarlet with a white mask embraided with bloodred silken threads. He too had a small cold chain suspended from a square breast pocket.
A waltz. Gentle. Yet loud in the otherwise silent room, a room where no words were said; no human sound emanated. No breath. No cough. No stammer. The crowd danced perfectly in the silence only broken by music; piano, harp and violin. Above us, a bright crystal chandelier with the luminance of a thousand candles.
He was there. The Raven King stood before me. Was this his world? A strange hiss of words slithered around the room;
Mr. Prior Meredith could never be The Raven King. He is loved and will be eternally. You have taken the Ravens’ power now. You shall be my heir. You too are nameless. You too are lonely. Does the man you love know your name? The only names you’ve ever had are the ones you haven’t given yourself. Take my name. Become my heir. Magick Gaveildoft was not worthy. Mr. Prior Meredith was not worthy. But you are. Miss. I am sorry, but you cannot stay. You must return and rule Old Ravens County with a fist.
Then the vision was gone. Prior was before me and I was laying on the mossy forest floor. I told him what I had seen. And he kissed me. Prior Meredith loved me. I was not alone anymore. The Raven King was gone. He had an heir. Me. The Queen of Ravens. And Prior could be my prince. I could be happy. I had a name.
When we returned home that night, I wrote a letter to The Metropolitan Constabulary informing them of my findings and of my resignation. I also requested they send the reminder of my belonging from my London flat to The Raven Inn, where I would be staying until further notice. They obliged over the next week and I unpicked my badge from my coat. I didn’t tell the others of my new identity. It was only important that I had one now. I was so very happy in Ravenoak. I lived there for the rest of my life as a writer. Myself and Prior got married the following October. On Hallows Eve.
He told me October suited a girl with a name such as Raven.
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