The End is the Beginning is the End
I stood before a stone archway. It was impossibly ancient, with designs and pictograms showing things I could not even hope to decipher. Tendrils of darkness and shadow cloaked the opening like a thick black mist. I knew that this was it. After years of searching, after failures, successes, after travelling to places unknown and unheard of, after coming close to giving up more times than I could ever hope to count, I had finally reached this place.
The Raven Queen’s lair.
The dwelling place of the fabled Matron of Ravens, deep in the Shadowfell, was finally within my grasp. I had only to cross this threshold and I would be standing before her. I had lost so much, sacrificed almost everything, just for this one slim chance of returning Briar – my adopted sister – back to life. Without hesitating or looking back, I stepped through.
The chamber was vast, almost unreal. Great columns reached up to a point shrouded in night. The only light came from a dim grey glow that surrounded everything. It was almost graveyard-like in its atmosphere. Ahead of me stood a figure cloaked in shadows and feathers, her arms outstretched as if in greeting.
This was it. I still didn’t know exactly what I would say, but I was prepared to say anything, do anything, perform whatever task she asked of me, if she would only bring Briar…
“Well hello there, husband.”
It couldn’t be!
I looked up at her face. Instead of the porcelain mask told of in myth and legend, I saw the blue-skinned sneering face of my greatest enemy. One that I thought was gone forever.
Her mouth opened as she threw her head back and laughed. She raised her arms, as if to encompass the whole of creation. I stepped back, falling to the ground, my vision going black as her laughter filled my ears…
“No!” I shot bolt upright and looked around. I was in my bedroll at our small campsite. The last remaining embers of the campfire glowed dimly. I spent a few moments trying to steady my breathing. We were safe. We were on our way to Triboar, to an ancient library I had heard rumours of. Hopefully there was something there that would help us secure Briar’s soul. Lunar and her new companions were on the trail of Briar’s body and I knew I could trust her to see the task through successfully, but my quest was to ensure that there was a soul to return to the body.
Almost instantly, Galsori was at my side. I must have woken her up. “Talon! Are you okay?” she asked, gently resting a hand on my shoulder. Her eyes held a look of concern.
I buried my face in my hands. “I… I saw…” I stammered, “But no, it’s impossible! She’s dead! I killed her myself! I watched her die!”
Nixit also joined us, the look of worry on the kobold’s face mirroring Galsori’s. I took a deep breath, then another. Finally I turned to face Galsori.
“It’s nothing,” I said, in what I hoped was a reassuring voice, “Just a bad dream. I’m okay.”
“Are you sure?” Galsori asked, concern still obvious in her voice. I nodded in reply. “Okay then,” she said with a slight smile.
A sudden sharp gasp made both of us turn our heads. Nixit was staring up at the sky. She raised a clawed finger and pointed. Galsori and I followed her gaze upwards.
The sky was on fire.
Whereas mere moments ago it had been the darkness of midnight, now there was angry red from horizon to horizon. Clouds that appeared more like great fireballs rolled to and fro, streaks of vicious lightning arcing between them. The noise from above was louder than any thunderstorm I had ever experienced. It was as though the gods had decided to go to war with each other right above us. And there, right in the centre, the spiral we had seen for the past few days, now burning with diabolical flames, bigger and brighter than ever. It almost felt like it was looking down on us, like some great eye, immeasurably old and unimaginably evil.
“I have a very bad feeling about this.” Galsori said from next to me. I barely heard her.
All I could hear was Petrona’s laughter, still ringing in my ears.