Through the wood.

©2022 Michael Raven

The moon casts cool light to etch colder shadows as stars rain across the canopy of sky. I could enjoy the view at any other time, but I find myself drawn along the path, the scent of apple cloying and pulling me along the narrow path leading away from the water’s edge. A flutter of wings, invisible in the night forest beat at the air around me and I feel talons finding purchase on my right shoulder. The weight is insubstantial, almost too light, and soon it is gone.

“I surprised,” I say. “I expected someone else before I suspected you might arrive.”

A snort of derision.

“What kind of terrible logic lead you down that sorry path of expectation that has turned out to be so tragically flawed?”

I shrug, more to annoy the stow-away next to my head than to express any outward physical gesture of my unknowing.

“No logic, just a poor guess. I may have been thinking too much.”

“That’s what you get for thinking,” Raven admonished. “I recommend against thinking in general, and especially against thinking too hard or too much.”

I shrug again. “It is a disease, I expect.”

“Worse,” Raven replies. “Thinking is overrated and is the general core cause of all the problems in many of the worlds today.”

I cannot find a counter argument, so I let it be.

“You know that, should the Lady of Shadows deign to meet with you, she is not She.”

“I know. And the Lady will meet with me.”

“Pfft.” Raven follows this with the sound of a very wet raspberry. Raven is quite talented in making such noises. “What makes you so certain She will see you?”

“Sometimes Fox. She spoke as if it was a certainty, provided I made it to the shore.”

“That weasel has been wrong before, you know.”

“So have you.”

Raven chews on that one and is silent for a spell, leaving us to the the sounds of chirping frogs and the hum of insects exploring the night air.

“I’m usually wrong after I’ve been thinking too hard,” Raven says, interrupting the gentle music of the night.

The climb has been steady this whole time, just enough to wear out muscles in my lower legs, but not enough to make me gasp for breath or to feel more than a slight burning within my body in muscles spoiled by the horizontal planes of my everyday bith. I reflect that I need to get out of buildings more often, but now is not the time for such considerations.

The night mists have gathered like ghosts in the trees, tendrils reaching out and tasting my skin, my clothes, and my face. The sloping evens out and the narrow, lean trail opens up at the hill’s crest into a wide clearing.

“I guess Sometimes Fox was right,” says Raven.

In the middle of the clearing stands a woman dressed in black. Whereas the mists clung to to the trunks of oak, hazel, birch, apple, and ash — the essence of the night clings to the woman standing with her back to me, wisps of dark snaking around her legs, arms and waist. She holds in on hand a spear half as tall as she, and her shoulders are covered in jet feathers, opalescent and oily in the light of the mood, as if light is afraid to touch her mantle.

“You came,” she says in a low voice, deeper than I expected it to be. “The question is… are you here to die? Or are you here to fly?”

“This is one of those times where thinking hard before you speak might be worthwhile,” points out Raven in his usually helpful manner.

“Shut up, carrion,” the Lady of Shadows says. It is not a request.

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