RAVENFALL excerpt: Chapter 1

RavenfallCover

As promised, here’s the first chapter of Ravenfall, free to read.

The Story So Far, by way of the back cover blurb:

In exile from her home and her people, Turn – once Crow and psychopomp-in-training – is living among the mysterious Ravens, a people steeped in magic and forgotten history. Despite a period of relative peace, Turn is restless and struggling to find her place among her adopted tribe. Complicating things are her feelings for her friend and companion Ava, which are both changing and intensifying. And of course, peace can’t last. Unexpectedly, an old friend appears bearing bad tidings, and the Ravens are faced with a choice between fight or flight. But the choice may not be as clear as it appears, and Turn suspects it may be informed by an influence that means to destroy them.

The lost tribe of the Moravici, supposedly stripped of power, are not as dead as they seemed, and are extending tentacles of control and dark coercion into places Turn didn’t believe possible. The Crows, convinced that the Ravens pose a lethal threat, are preparing to make war. In Sol, the world of the living, the dead are rising, and they have an appetite for flesh. The Ravens are arguing among themselves, unable to take action. Despairing, Turn sees little hope of saving anyone.

But of course, help can come from the unlikeliest of places. The question is what price it will demand.

Click the cut for excerpty goodness. And if you like what you read, please add on Goodreads. And buy. And if you buy, it’s always amazing if you review anywhere you like. I pretty much depend on word-of-mouth, so any help there is so appreciated.

 

Chapter 1

No more dark dreams. Not of rising powers, not of threatening forces. There were, in fact, hardly any dreams at all these days. Turn would never have believed that she would miss them.

But now she was beginning to understand they had served a purpose. One that went beyond getting her attention.

She sat on the edge of a low rise, legs crossed, hands idle at her sides, her eyes slightly unfocused. Before, she would have called a whirlwind and traveled in its arms, or perhaps she would have sent her attention to one of the stunted trees a little way below her and cast it in flame. Perhaps she would have combined the two, or cut her arm with a thumbnail and invoked the rune for water, bringing a flash flood to the dry creek bed a quarter mile away and carving it a little deeper. But now she did none of those things.

She was simply listening. Listening to the Shadowlands.

It was something she had been doing more and more lately, after she had gotten all she could out of practicing her Raven powers. No one had suggested it to her; no one had needed to. It had asserted itself in its own time, something proper and appropriate, something that could serve her. It could certainly serve her better than the spurts of argument that were cropping up more frequently in the Ravens’ encampment, rising every time they settled, fading again when they moved on, then rising once more as soon as people had the time to devote attention to it. In Turn’s early days with them, they had seemed so united, so smoothly harmonious in their dealings with each other, even with the other groups they occasionally met as they traveled.

Now that was changing.

And she couldn’t escape the feeling it was, to some degree, her fault.

Turn sighed and scrubbed a hand back through her hair. It was getting longer than she liked. She would have to find someone willing to hack it short. That, at least, was something she could do something about.

She took a deep, slow breath and sent her attention back out into the Shadowlands.

It whispered to her. It had since she began to listen to it. Sometimes the whispers were loud, sometimes they were almost too soft to hear, and always they were too muffled and jumbled to make out exactly what they were saying; the Shadowlands didn’t speak with only one voice but with many, some agreeing with each other and some vaguely contradictory. If she couldn’t make out specifics, Turn could at least get the faintest of senses about it all. So she listened, gleaning what she could, trusting that someday, as her hearing improved, she might make out the words themselves.

In its way, it was better than casting the bones, which she still did, though rarely. The Shadowlands were the oldest things in Nicht. They were so far outside of time that time itself meant nothing to them. They might bring her hints of the future.

Any hints of the future would be welcome. Any guidance at all. Because the dreams no longer came.

She didn’t want to think the goddess Atropos had abandoned her, after naming her a champion. But sometimes it felt like that.

Anyway, the voices. Though she knew she was getting better at hearing them, they had changed in the last week or so: darker ones now entering the chorus, beginning to drown others out with their noise. Turn knew the origin, and—knowing it—she also knew there wasn’t much to be done about them.

Without meaning to, she turned her head to the west, toward the source of the dark sound. The Mountains of Madness rose up in front of her like a wall, massive to the point of incomprehensibility, jagged and horrible and, in their way, very beautiful as the moon cast milky light across them, throwing their peaks and crags and chasms into sharper relief.

She didn’t like the mountains, but she knew they were trustworthy. They didn’t need to lie about what they were.

A presence behind her, silent, suddenly there as if materialized from the air itself. Turn smiled faintly, though she didn’t look around. “Ava.”

The Raven moved closer, paused, and then sat down beside her, feathered cloak rustling. They—Turn had finally begun to think of the Raven as neither “he” nor “she,” but “they”—didn’t speak, and Turn wasn’t bothered by it. Ava rarely spoke unless they felt a specific need to do so, and that lent all the more weight to whatever was said. So for a few moments Turn and the Raven simply sat there, regarding the mountains together, and Turn sensed that, as it frequently went, her thoughts and Ava’s were moving in similar directions.

At last Ava shifted, feathers whispering again. “The others speak of moving on at moonset.”

Turn nodded. It wasn’t surprising. When she had first come to them, they had stayed in one place for several weeks, but she was now understanding that such a lengthy sedentary period was not normal for them. She suspected it had probably been for her benefit, to help her get used to so much newness without forcing more of it on her. Since she had returned, they were almost always moving. As if the Ravens were afraid to remain still.

Fear was too present now.

“Closer to the mountains?”

Ava nodded. “They say other caravans are congregating in the foothills. That we will have a meeting the likes of which we have not seen since the destruction of the city.”

Turn looked sharply at Ava. She had heard murmurings along those lines, but hadn’t connected the disparate pieces in her head, and now the idea was difficult to get her mind around. Ravens, congregating: the very thing that their own esoteric and unwritten laws forbade. They would not do it unless a great need was felt, one that extended far outside the bounds of their own group.

“An Unkindness,” Ava said quietly. “Mori is not pleased. But I think he feels he has no choice. So many of them are pressing for it.”

Turn cocked her head. Unkindness. She had never heard the term, not among the Ravens themselves or in the unflattering descriptions she had read about them—written from a Crow’s perspective—while still studying in Lune. “Why do they call it that?”

Ava shifted, looking faintly uncomfortable. “In the past, such a gathering led to unfortunate things. Pride. Cruelty. Even while we stood for what we believed was right. We no longer do well together. We are no longer kind, to each other or to others.”

“So no one really wants this.”

“No one would have suggested it if no one felt it was necessary.”

“I see.” As she had guessed. Turn fell silent again, staring up at the mountains, at the Shadowlands, at the great sweeping flatnesses and the little rises, the piles of standing stones that might have been natural or might be the last ruins of much more ancient structures. It was impossible to say.

Ava laid a gentle, slender hand on her shoulder. “We should go back. Prepare.”

Turn sighed and nodded, pushing herself slowly to her feet. She stretched her stiff legs and reached a hand down for Ava, who took it and rose. Standing, they were a head taller than Turn, but Turn had long since stopped noticing the disparity. Ava was so slight, even though tall; as slender as one of the pale, spindly branches of the dead trees that clustered about the lands.

Together the two turned and began to walk down the little slope. Before them, about half a mile away, the lights of the Raven camp burned. And for the first time in months, they didn’t look entirely welcoming.

#

Turn had adjusted to the Ravens’ way of life on her return to the Shadowlands. It had taken some time, and for the first few weeks she had been prone to frequent and lengthy stretches of solitary meditation, shifting either to Nicht or its sun-drenched sister world of Sol. There she would perch on rooftops and in trees, in human or in crow form, watching the people pass. Watching the fragments of their little lives, and occasionally watching them die. Children run over by carriages in the street. Old men and women lying in sickbeds. Young men and women lying in sickbeds. Murders in dark alleyways. Suicides, by knife or poison or the heavy, clumsy, loud things that they called guns. Twice by jumping, their arms spread as if seeking to take flight. Those she watched and wondered whether their last seconds had been happy ones.

She watched the crows that had once been her brothers and sisters collecting the souls of the dead and only occasionally felt a pang of loss.

She had to let go, she knew. She had to give up what couldn’t be hers.

And yet.

Very occasionally, Ava came with her, and then there was the oddity of a Raven and a Crow sitting together, regarding the world through cool black eyes. Ava said little. Turn got the sense that they were struggling to understand something, but she didn’t feel it was her place to ask. She and Ava had been close, were growing closer all the time, but there was much about Ava that remained mysterious.

Turn knew enough to let some mysteries remain mysteries.

But most of the time she was alone, and she preferred it that way. In the Raven camp, everything was communal. Everyone lived on top of each other, sharing the large skin tents, sharing everything: beds, food, games and songs and stories, rest and work. Turn knew most of them by name, and all of them knew her—Turn the Three-Faced, the Crow girl who had fought off the ruler of Lune and restored the river of souls to its proper flow, who had directly served the will of Atropos, who had even taken wing in Lune and flown from the highest tower as a crow, though Turn hadn’t done any such thing since. Turn didn’t especially mind being known in this way, but she also didn’t encourage it. She kept to herself, remaining within the circle of the few friends she had already made; she assisted Sol when the woman needed assisting, she sometimes practiced her magic with Yavon, and occasionally Mori would come to her and they would talk about nothing of consequence.

In other words, her life remained uneventful. Which was not what she had expected, but she would take it as it came. She had had her fill of soul-shattering events for a time. Betrayal, exile, battle. More than she had ever expected she might be faced with.

But now things were changing.

The entire camp was already in a state of preparation for moving when Ava and Turn reentered it, tents being pulled off their bone frames and wrapped into long rolls, supplies loaded onto wooden carts, fires extinguished. Some of the magical fires—those not used for work or cooking but instead for conjuring and various forms of divination—were being slid onto flat stones and loaded into carts set aside especially for that purpose. And in the center of the camp was the singular great fire, the one that had been the source of all the others. The first time Turn had seen the camp move, she had been struck by this: the carrying of the fire. It still interested her, and she slowed to watch three Ravens as they worked to prepare it for travel, their hands unburned by its flames.

A shape emerged from the shadows and moved to intercept them. Turn shook herself, only then realizing the reverie she had fallen into.

It was Mori, looking grave.

“We have a three cycles’ journey from here,” he said. “Gather what you can as fast as you can. We received word only an hour ago that the other caravans are already assembled and waiting for us.”

“Already,” Ava echoed softly. Their dark eyes were locked on the flames of the great fire; they sounded thoughtful, but beyond that Turn could read nothing in Ava’s voice.

“Apparently necessity now includes speed.” He was more than grave, Turn realized. Mori was unhappy. He doesn’t like this. Looking around at the faces of the other Ravens, she saw similar expressions. No one liked it. Maybe even those who had been pressing for it. “Whether a new shipment of rumors has come in or it’s something else… Who’s to say? We must pick our fights. You should hurry now.”

Ava touched Turn’s shoulder. “Come.”

Turn had few possessions, even after months with the Ravens. A pot of ink with which to write the runes of the Elder Futhark. A few blankets, some bundles of herbs. A leather bag of casting bones from the feet and hands of a great Raven seer, given as a gift by Yavon a few weeks before. The truth was that, with how the Ravens shared so many things, she hadn’t needed to accumulate much. It only took a few minutes to put everything into a sack and sling it over her back. What she owned, though, was precious. She would carry her possessions herself.

Ava and Turn shared the same tent, and when Turn lifted her head, Ava was there with their own pack, inclining their head toward the tent’s opening. Behind them a few other Ravens were beginning to pull the tent down, two young children helping to roll up bedding.

“We should join the carts.”

Turn followed Ava out of the tent and toward the carts. A few people spoke to her, inquired how she was doing, but when she stopped by the line of carts she barely heard them anymore. Her attention was once again caught and held by the mountains, their crags and peaks sharp as knives, their chasms like wounds left by the same. They were savage mountains, utterly merciless. And they looked hungry, like an insane, self-wounding beast that would leap at the chance to injure someone else. As the moon began to sink behind them, it looked as if it was being eaten by inches.

They were the threat.

She wondered how many of the Ravens saw them the same way.

“Don’t look too long at them,” Ava murmured in her ear. “They’re bad for the senses. They entrance.”

Turn shook herself lightly and turned her gaze away.

The camp dissolved like a dust storm falling to pieces in a chaotic wind. In a startlingly short time, the last of the tents were packed onto carts, and the very young and old, pregnant women and those ill or otherwise unable to walk long distances had climbed onto the carts. Stronger Ravens were harnessing themselves between the carts’ traces. The entire caravan had taken on a slightly carnival atmosphere, laughing and joking, but there was a tension still simmering beneath the lighthearted surface. A reluctance to leave, peculiar in a people usually so driven to keep moving.

“Go,” Turn whispered, shifting her feet restlessly, and as if at her command, the caravan began to move.

They headed west, following the mountains’ foothills. The ground became slightly more uneven, rockier, and the carts bumped over the ground. The Ravens tasked with pulling them grunted and groaned at the little rises they were required to trudge up and over, but otherwise no one complained. They had dealt with worse. It was the way of things.

Ava walked alongside Turn, but didn’t try to make conversation. Some of it might have been that they sensed Turn didn’t feel much like talking; some of it might have been that Ava was never very inclined to make idle conversation anyway. The last of the moonlight faded, and the Ravens produced lanterns from their packs, some lit with blue and purple fire and some pale like the moonlight itself, as if they contained tiny versions of the only great light that illuminated Nicht. A little trail of lights, moving across the Shadowlands, one half of a massive sphere of darkness, the other half the sky.

Once, in Sol during its night cycle, Turn had spent hours staring up at the tiny pinpricks of light glittering in the night sky. There was little in Sol that Turn truly desired; it was simply a different world, one with its own rules and ways—pieces of it would fit poorly in Nicht. But those tiny lights…

Those, Turn would not have minded.

It was unusual for the caravan to travel through moonless dark, but not unheard of. When the moon began to show its pale face in the east, they stopped for an hour to give people a chance to rest and eat. A few sat against the carts and slept. Turn sat cross-legged a little apart, eating a piece of tough, flat bread and still keeping her silence. Ava had gone elsewhere, keeping their own council, but Turn never minded being solitary.

At length she dug into her pack, down beneath everything else she had brought with her, and pulled out a folded scrap of paper. Its creases were deep and worn, as if it had been unfolded and refolded many times. She looked down at the few lines written across it in a neat, elegant hand and read them over, though by now she knew them by heart. Sometimes she saw them in her dreams, and more rarely she heard them spoken in a voice that was deeply and awfully known to her. A wind had carried the message to her, which meant that its author had somehow gained access to magics like her own. That alone would have troubled her terribly if she allowed herself to think too much about it.

No one else had seen it. Not even Ava.

She closed her eyes and refolded the paper.

Turn,

I’m sorry. They blame you. Be careful. I love you.

Sene.

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