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7: Birds of a Feather

Larke, 1182

We entered a dark room with melting candles supplying the meager lighting, shadows dancing along the walls. At the end of a long table, a tall chair made of what appeared to be human bones stood watch. Somebody stood behind the chair, their face obscured in the insufficient candlelight. Dean looked at me and gave a crooked half smile. I must have looked so confused – and I was. What was this place? Why did the illusion look so familiar on the outside? It almost reminded me of my childhood home, yet not quite. The door was on the opposite side, a small, extra window where there wasn’t one on mine, but otherwise the same size, shape, and colors. I suppose a cottage is a cottage, and to a certain point, they all look the same. That was the only reasonable explanation.

I couldn’t think about the external illusion anymore, because the person behind the chair slid it out from the table, slowly, the bones screeching on the floor. They heard a sickening clinking sound that, after further examination, appeared to be a necklace or two made of finger bones draped across the chair’s corner.

They sat on the gruesome piece of furniture, leaned forward, and said, “Welcome.”

At this first word, it was clear that it was a woman speaking. She reached across the table and lit a candle. This additional light revealed bleached hair, gleaming white, with roots as black as night. Her hair was long – so long that it piled on the table when she had leaned towards the candle. Her face was painted in two colors, split halfway down the middle. Her right side was covered in smears of dark crimson, and her left with a deep blue. It was a reference to the Serra religion; this woman must be a Follower of Serra. I felt like I’d seen enough of red and blue by now, bombarded by the colors in the round church earlier.

Dean stood tall, apparently unconcerned with her ominous appearance.

“May I present to you, The Raven,” he said somberly, gesturing grandly towards the woman across from us.

Uncertain, I bowed my head. The woman called The Raven didn’t move a muscle, and instead just kept staring ahead at me. Dean huffed with amusement.

“Raven, don’t be rude! First impressions are everything,” he laughed.

I looked around the room, feeling uncomfortable. This woman, The Raven, didn’t look amused. But that didn’t seem to bother him a bit. He must be quite familiar with her.

“Well anyway, this is Larke Fields,” Dean said, gesturing in my direction as we introduced me. “She’s come looking for help. Apparently, her husband, skyward may his soul be, had racked up quite the gambling debt. Still wants the money, I suppose. Ms. Fields is looking for work, or so she says.” He lightly smacked my shoulder, as if he had been introducing me to a group of friends and not the leader of highly dangerous gang.

“Um, yes, that’s true.” I said, looking into The Raven’s eyes.

Her irises were almost as dark as her pupils, almost giving the impression that she had large black spheres in her head instead of human eyes. They revealed nothing. It reminded me of my sister’s eyes – hers had been as dark as our mother’s had been, unlike mine, which were hazel, just like our father’s. Their dark eyes were a common feature of the Rynish people.

“What can you do?” she croaked.

Dean answered before I could gather my wits to produce an effective answer. The Raven had thrown me off; she was so intimidating. I wasn’t used to feeling this way.

“She looks strong, used to be a farmer after all. I’m sure we could find something for her to do.”

The Raven tilted her head to the side, thinking. She looked me up and down closer. “Bring her over here,” she whispered, “and let me get a look at her.” She crooked her finger in my direction, beckoning me.

I walked over hesitantly. She stood, revealing that she was very tall, as tall as I was, in fact, shoving the creaking bone chair out of the way to approach me. She circled me, pausing to touch my dress. I shivered. She stopped behind my right shoulder.

“Allow her to follow you on your errands, Dean. See that she doesn’t leave your sight.”

Dean nodded in acquiescence, then turned his head to watch my reaction. I met his gaze and nodded in agreement. I would do whatever it takes to gather my intel and achieve my mission goals. Then, The Raven turned and walked towards a door at the end of the room that I hadn’t noticed. She opened it and paused.

“Dean, you may proceed with the initiation. And, meet with me later; we have much more to discuss. Alone.”

The Raven exited the room completely, shutting the door loudly.

“That went better than I expected. She’s been known to kill people and ask questions later,” Dean said, all humor gone.

I stared incredulously at him.

“What? She didn’t. You’re fine!” he insisted. Dean turned towards the door, gesturing that I follow with a swift nod of his head.

I didn’t comply immediately. Instead, I asked, “What’s the test I have to do?”

Whatever hazing ritual they had come up with, it surely couldn’t be any worse than anything I’d already done.

“Um, don’t worry about that right now,” he said, ruffling the back of his hair with a nervous hand. “First, let’s get you cleaned up, find you a room.”

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