An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

Awakening to Questions Dian

Waking from the Joining was always a cold experience, at least for Dian. When he finally opened his eyes, his entire body was shivering, despite having rested under a layer of thick blankets. He knew all the theory about the transference of consciousness that took place between a person and their totem, but Dian preferred to blame the cold on the Citadel itself. He had always held the opinion that the League of the Stone had taken itself far too literally when they first built the structure—which had since grown and sprawled through the heart of Zayen itself. Even in the depth of summer, the Citadel’s grey, rocky bones were incapable of retaining any sort of heat.

Dian dosed in bed for a few more minutes, until at least some of the warmth had returned to his body, then pushed his coverings off and rose from his low, hard cot. Stretching the stiffness from his muscles, he quickly dressed himself in the colourless, League-issued jerkin, pants and boots that formed his daily attire. A splash of water on his face—also cold—helped to chase the last vestiges of the Joining sleep from his mind, while a well-aged looking glass allowed him to straighten the tangled shock of black hair that always wanted to fall over this eyes. Lastly, he adjusted the thin leather strap from which his totemstone always hung.

Azental, he thought.

Yes, I’m here.

Good. Do you have any idea what happened out there? After the fall and subsequent disappearance of the strange darkness, the raven had been too battered to take to her wings again, so Dian had simply watched for a few moments longer as the man called Kelven continue west. Then he had severed the Joining, allowing his mind to return here, to his room in the Citadel. Still, he remained deeply troubled by the shadow, and was uncertain as to how he would explain it when the clerk came by to collect his daily report.

I don’t know, the raven replied. I have no memory of any such experience.

None at all? Azental’s response was perhaps more worrying than anything. As the only human to have ever been Joined to a raven, Dian had discovered some previously unknown truths about the black feathered avians, not the least of which was their remarkable, ancestral memory. A single raven could call on the recollections of many generations past, and Azental’s ancestors had been living near the Fellwood for hundreds of years. If there was no memory of the strange shadow, it likely meant that it had never been seen there before.

In other words, it was something new.

And something dangerous, added Azental. There was more than just darkness and cold at work there. What type of shadow steals away human flesh?

That was the real question, and one for which he had no answer. The League would have little interest in the fate of one vanished Relenian girl, but they most certainly would be interested in the nature of her disappearance, and how it related to the mysterious shadow. Where had it come from? Would it return and spread beyond the Fellwood? Was there any danger to Zayen or the clanholds?

Sitting at the end of his cot, the young man and his totem continued to puzzle through all of those questions for the better part of an hour before the customary knock sounded at his door. Still answerless, Dian rose to open the door. As expected, one of the League’s clerks stood waiting on the other side. Clad in her long blue robes, she held her iron quill just above a thin ledger of parchment.

“Watcher Obsidan,” she said in a bored voice. If she noticed Dian flinch at the mention of his full name, she gave no indication. “Anything to report?”

“Actually, yes.”

“Very good. Thank you…” She appeared ready to move on before his words registered in her mind. Her eyes snapped back to him. “Wait, you do have something to report?”

“Yes.”

“My apologies,” she said. “It’s just that…”

“I never have anything to report? I know. One of the joys of patrolling an empty forest full or petrified trees, I suppose.

“Yes. Ummm…Please report, Watcher.”

“This is going to sound crazy, but here it is…” As slowly and methodically as possible, Dian began to describe everything that had occured, from when he first spotted the three Relenians, to the violent death of the larger man, through the appearance of the strange shadow and the subsequent disappearance of the girl. “And the man called Kelven continues to come this way. I do not know his intentions.”

“Your report is troubling, Watcher Obsidian,” said the clerk. “And somewhat difficult to fathom.”

“I’ve been trying to bend my mind around it ever since I woke, but I swear to you, every word is true.”

“Then I will make arrangements for you to stand before the Stone Seat. Be ready to share your report again this afternoon. A messenger will be sent with the appointed time for your audience.”

“I will,” replied Dian. “Thank you.”

“Good day, Watcher,” said the clerk, who quickly continued down the hall to the door toward her next assignment. For his part, Dian returned to his cot, laid back and stewed. In all the time since his appointment as a Watcher, he had never once had the honour of standing before the Stone Seat. He had only ever met a handful of the Magi themselves, and he doubted that any of the others knew him as anything but the boy who had been Joined to a raven. What if they did not believe him?

There is a dead Relenian lying in the Fellwood, Azental reminded him, and another making his way towards us, even as we speak. They will believe you, at least on those counts. The far bigger question is what are they going to do about it?

Like every other question he was faced with, Dian had no answer to that either. It was just one more thing to trouble his thoughts, along with the beautiful, pale-skinned face that he could not seem to banish from his mind.

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