sometimes i forget how i came to this place where the road eats itself in endless oroboros misery, my hair’s matted and my clothes are gray and i am old old old but i will always look for you, darling child of my ugly heart, if you don’t want me as sister or lover then what about mother, surely even you need a mother, mothers never cast you aside or judge you when you run away, they just wait for your return with ready arms so come find me sweet prodigal son, beloved birthed of my tainted virgin blood, come stay with me forever in our beautiful city of ash and devils where the air raid sirens’ lullaby will call your darkness home to roost
You are always the outcast, whether by choice or circumstance. Dead boy walking, wolf among the flock, they always sense something off about you. You’re not the mass shooter but you are the kid with the shiv, sharp little blade or shard of glass at the ready in your hand. I doubt you mind it, though; you took to tricksters’ robes easily enough, comfortable in a skin that lets you move swift and silent, to twist away from danger or around for a bite, and are tricksters not always on the fringes? They’re in our blood, too, that ancient herding instinct that cries alarm at the faintest scent of danger. And you are danger, they know that, though they don’t know how they know. A thousand dead generations in their DNA just scream run. Tell me, ghost, specter, beast, monster, what instincts rise up in you when you smell their fear?
He was the Lightbringer, Morningstar, how could I not love him beyond all else? His radiance lit all of creation; he was my very first sight, the beauty around which I shaped my understanding of faith and fealty. I could no more deny him than I could unmake myself, for it would be contrary to every heartbeat, every breath, every cell and atom and immortal particle within me. Glory, I sang, and glory did I mean. I do not regret my choice, therefore, only wish it be understood that to me it was no choice at all. Even the blood he shed in that great battle was liquid gold and just as searing, and when he fell his meteoric impact shook the universe itself. How could I not follow him down? There is no paradise without him.
I can’t believe I haven’t talked about all the fun (ie terrible) things Mage has done in our recent DnD sessions! As you may recall, our DM and I killed off my magical girl warlock Dhashi and resurrected my psychopathic villain Mage into her body. Mage is theoretically there to help the others complete their quest to defeat the evil god Bezos, but that doesn’t mean she can’t have some fun (and irritate her
party members workplace associates) on the way. For example…
- While fighting a horde of zombies, she ripped the arm off of one and used it to beat its head into a pulp
- She has used Shatter and Eldritch Blast several times to make enemies explode
- When the group found themselves trapped by a thieves guild, she used Misty Step to teleport behind their leader and cut her throat (specifically in such a manner as to incapacitate the woman but ensure she died a slow and extremely painful death, which my wife was happy to describe in great medical detail*)
- She beguiled two guards into leading the group to a secret catacomb entrance, then forced the guards to come along in case they needed someone to “test” the traps and wards
- After one of the guards burned to death doing just this, she cut his arm off and used it to continue safely triggering traps
- She also might have looted a locket from him with pictures of his kids inside; too bad, so sad
- She tried to fight another PC who is waaaay above her level and immediately lost, but got a sick sidecut in the bargain so no hard feelings there
- She convinced the goddess of the ocean to defeat some enemies for them and in return told the goddess she could destroy a town full of innocent people
- She bought a jug that can produce anything; she used it to produce BEES and then set them free in a tavern for funzies (and before you ask, it wasn’t even that many bees, thirty is not a lot of bees, please tell my DnD group that)
*Yes, I asked my wife the best way to cut someone’s throat and she answered immediately because she’s AMAZING
“NICE,” Mage pumped the air with her knife and grinned triumphantly at Mercer. “Suck it, I get a body again.” Mercer rolled his eyes and retorted, “I didn’t say nothin’, did I?” and then more softly under his breath, “Be nice to have a little peace ‘n quiet ’round here anyhow.”
“Mercer,” the Raven Queen interrupted before the conversation completely derailed, “are you prepared to guide another through the training? And quickly?” The gunslinger touched the brim of his hat. “Yes ma’am.”
“Good. And Mage…” The goddess hesitated, considered the fact that Mage wouldn’t follow 99% of the rules and precautions given her anyway, then said only, “Just keep them alive until she’s ready. And try not to murder too many people while you do it, please. The paperwork is horrendous.”
“Murder everyone,” The witch flashed double fingerguns and a wicked smile. “Can do, boss lady.”
“You’re dismissed,” The Raven Queen waved them away and as her two Champions disappeared down the twisting corridor beyond her throne room, their bickering voices growing fainter, she rested her chin on her hand with a weary sigh. “Sometimes I wonder at the souls I choose to surround myself with,” she muttered under her breath. “This is a gamble, to be sure.”
The voice isn’t audible in the chamber, nor is it spoken into the Raven Queen’s mind; she hears it on some other, deeper level, and it makes her go cold. Her eyes flicker to the sealed door beyond which rests the locked, warded, and thrice-blessed coffin. “You know I’m not fool enough to set you free for such a simple task,” she replies to the empty air, feigning the same casual manner in which she spoke with the other Champions. “If they fail and Bezos is victorious… perhaps. Until then, you stay put.”
[ This follows the scene with Dhashi and the scrying bowl ]
“Hey there, little one. Yer Dhashi, right?”
“Oh!” Dhashi, kneeling on the cold stone floor, lifted her head from her hands and wiped at the steadily falling tears. In the doorway stood a tall man wearing the usual uniform of a gunslinger, complete with brimmed hat and sarape. If Overwatch existed in this universe, Dhashi would have noticed he looked extremely similar to McCree; but it doesn’t, so she didn’t. “Y-yes,” she replied, getting unsteadily to her feet. “Who are you? Where’s the Raven Queen?”
“The name’s Mercer. She sent me to show you around, get you settled and stuff,” He took a step into the room, figuring the girl had had enough scares for one day and not wanting to alarm or overwhelm her. “That okay?” Dhashi glanced back at the basin, her only link to the world she had just been ripped from. “But… my friends…” Mercer came a few steps closer and laid a hand lightly on her shoulder. “It’s okay, you can come back here any time you want.” The touch calmed her a little, and Dhashi managed a braver smile than she felt. She nodded for him to lead on and he steered her back out into the long, columned hallway, an arm resting around her shoulders.
“So this is the Raven Queen’s home?” Dhashi glanced up as they walked, eyeing the dark stone arches and the weak light filtering in from windows set high in the walls. “It’s so… spooky.” She shivered as a spider skittered across the marble floor. “And dark.” Beside her, Mercer shrugged. “It ain’t so bad once you get used to it. And you won’t be here often once you become a Champion.”
“Oh,” Dhashi’s feet seemed to stop of their own accord as her stomach flip-flopped. “Right. That.” Mercer stopped as well and knelt down so they could talk on level, his hand never leaving her shoulder. “Don’t worry, kid, you’ll do great.” He gave the aasimar a conspiratorial wink. “You have the best in the business to teach you.”
“You’re one of the Raven Queen’s Champions?” Dhashi’s look of surprise changed to one of suspicion and she eyed him as if he would transform into a monster at any moment. “But you’re not all scary and mean like the other one.” Her comment made Mercer throw back his head and laugh, and the atmosphere between them relaxed once more. “I assume you mean Mage. Yeah, she’s… intense, that’s fer sure. We’re not all like her, though. Think of us like special tools – you need the right tool fer the job, whether that’s somethin’ small and delicate,” he pointed at Dhashi, “or big and strong,” he pointed at himself, “or utterly terrifyin’ and almost certainly insane.” He laughed again, not noticing how wide Dhashi’s eyes had gone. “Are my friends going to be okay with her?” she asked.
“Oh yeah, they’ll prob’ly be fine,” Mercer climbed to his feet, then finally noticed the tears welling in the girl’s eyes. “Oh jeeze, wait, don’t start cryin’ again,” he pleaded, but it was too late. The tears fell in waterfalls. “Dangit,” he muttered, “I’m terrible at this mentorin’ thing. Uhh,” he glanced around desperately for a distraction, “look, birds! Look at the nice birds.” He steered Dhashi toward the nearby rookery, pointing up at the ravens of all sizes and ages that roosted or hopped from perch to perch in the airy room. He had no way of knowing how much Dhashi missed her own animal companion, Charlie, but either way he breathed a sigh of infinite relief as her tears ceased and her smile reappeared.
– – –
“Going well?” The Raven Queen appeared at Mercer’s side as he leaned against the open doorway. He nodded to where Dhashi sat on the rookery floor, birds already nestled among the folds of her dress, perched on her arms, and grooming her long, golden hair with their sharp beaks. She murmured to them as she smoothed their glossy feathers, and the ravens burbled and croaked in reply. “She’s got a big heart,” Mercer conceded. “And she’s braver than she realizes. Dunno if that’ll be enough, though.”
“It will have to be,” The goddess clapped him on the shoulder, then disappeared. Mercer stood watching Dhashi for a moment more, then went to join her. She smiled up at him as if they were old friends and began telling him the birds’ names.
This was it; they had finally arrived. After traveling south from the ruins of Lunanoff,sailing across the Bay of Pitch, laboring their way through the mountains beyond Dull, and fighting their way through the undead keepers of the Raven Queen’s temple, Ro and Ilkan and their new
companion workplace associate Mage finally stood before the infamous goddess herself. However, their hope to be reunited with Dhashi, and subsequently rid of Mage, was not to be fulfilled; the goddess explained that Dhashi wasn’t yet ready to return to the mortal world, that she needed more time to train before she could act as the Raven Queen’s champion. They would all be together again soon, she promised, but not yet. Disappointment weighed on Ro and Ilkan, two battle-hardened warriors who would never have guessed the absence of one irritating, hyper-optimistic teenager could hurt them so. The Raven Queen understood, of course. The Raven Queen had dealt in death and loss since the beginning of time.
“You can talk to her, if you want,” The Raven Queen, who towered over the three cursed companions as she sat on her throne, motioned toward the scrying bowl at her feet. Mage, bored now that the killing was over, picked her nails with a knife. Ro resolutely shook her head, eschewing anything the goddess of death might offer and holding fast to her raging grief. But Ilkan nodded and moved toward the bowl. “I’d like to,” he said, voice uncharacteristically thin. The Raven Queen held her hand over the bowl and the mirror-clear surface shimmered, then stilled again. Instead of Ilkan’s reflection, the water showed a man garbed in the brimmed hat and sarape of a gunslinger. “Mercer,” she said, “put Dhashi on.”
“Got it,” The gunslinger tipped his hat to the goddess and then turned to someone beyond the mirror’s edge. “Dhashi!” he yelled. “Dhashi, the boss wants you! …Dhashi, c’mere! Stop paintin’ the ravens’ claws and–” Behind him, a mass of black wings and pink glitter shot past. “DHASHI GET YER BUTT OVER HERE.” Mercer disappeared, replaced by a Dhashi who looked fairly unchanged, albeit paler and a little diminished in some essential way. She waved hesitantly and managed a fairly good approximation of her usual smile. “Hi Ilkan…”
“Hey,” The goliath waved one giant hand in return. He was already fighting back tears. “How are you?”
“I’m okay,” Dhashi shrugged a little, suddenly shy for all that she had been longing to speak with her friends again. “It’s not so bad here. Mercer’s nice. How are you?”
“I’m.. we’re…” Ilkan glanced over to Ro’s stiff back and shrugged as well. “You know.”
“Yeah,” Dhashi wiped at her eyes, then managed a truer smile. “You guys are doing really well, though. I’ve been watching.” A moment of silence passed, strained with all the things that could be, but were not, said, and then Dhashi brightened a little. “Can I say hi to Charlie?” Ilkan managed an honest chuckle at the eagerness on the aasimar’s face and nodded. “I was just about to get him out,” he said, pulling the little glass bowl out from where he had stored it in his pack before the battles in the temple. He held it over the scrying bowl and the little fish inside swam around in its usual unhurried manner. “He misses you.”
“Hi Charlie!” Dhashi wiggled her fingers at the fish, who didn’t seem to notice at all, and wiped away more tears as they continued to fall. “Thank you for taking care of him, Ilkan. I miss you guys so much. I’m trying really hard so I can come back soon.” She turned her head to look at something or someone beyond the scrying bowl’s surface, then looked back at Ilkan with a bittersweet smile. “I should go. Say hi to Ro for me, okay?” Ilkan nodded. “Okay.”
The mirror’s surface shivered and cleared, once again reflecting only the Raven Queen’s temple and Ilkan’s tear-streaked face as he turned away. As he carefully returned Charlie to the relative safety of his pack, he caught the sound of a surreptitious sniff from Ro’s direction. When the party gathered back together, though, she had her emotions under their usual tight rein.