As I said previously, this is probably going to become more of a regular thing, as short fiction is something that I want to practice (I got some really helpful feedback on last week’s piece) and Chuck often sets slightly more unusual challenges. This week he went onto a website and generated 10 book titles, thus our challenge is to pick one and write 2,000 words on it. Long one this week! The title I choose is:

The Crow of Nine-World

He preened a couple of feathers with his beak, as he waited for the people to comes over the crest of the hill. Whilst waiting here in the sun wasn’t particularly unpleasant, they were taking far longer than they should have done to walk a simple mile.

It was the strains of an argument that reached his ears that warned him of what had been delaying the pair, and indeed, as they came into view, the older gentleman in robes whacked the young lad he was travelling with around the back of the head, “You’ll do it when I tell you to do it, because I tell you to do it.”

Malkencia thought that this was not an entirely inappropriate way to treat a chosen one as sometimes they really did deserve a slap or two, although quite a lot of the terran species would have disagreed with him.

The boy was looking surly, and kicking his feet as they walked along the path. It was always the farm boys, really, why choose someone who was young, and had no experience, when there were far more suitable candidate for this sort of thing out there? Not that it was his job to choose them, no, that was fate. His job was now.

He spread his wings and cawed, the unusual deep tones echoing round the side of the hill. The two people stopped suddenly, attention drawn to the mystic bird. The older man waved the boy forward, and after a grumble, a small scuffle, and another swot to the head he stepped forward and the two of them bowed to Malkencia, “Oh mysterious and magical creature of fate, please, grant us your wisdom and guidance on this, the most important of quests that has ever been set upon.”

A little over the top, but then again, these things usually were. He kept his wings spread, and his eyes glowed with an amethyst glow, “The suns move towards the zenith, and time marches onwards. By the time the stars are in alignment, the chosen one must be ready and present to face his destiny, for in the light of Zethrustra, the world may be saved, or dammed,” he puffed out his breast even further, and the purple glow grew overwhelmingly, until the two questers had to look away. By the time they could look back, it would appear that he had vanished.

Of course, in reality, he was just a fast, and fairly quiet flier, and could watch the pair of them form up on high, coasting on a thermal. They really did need to stop arguing so much, and start walking if they wanted to make it to the ruins on time. Although, he’d seen this happen before, and as of yet, no one had ever been late, fast was pretty good at arranging things like that. Usually they would get there in the nick of time, that was generally how it worked.

Satisfied that his little intervention had started to produce the desired effect, Malkencia beat his wings, taking the thermals higher and higher, until the ground before was nothing more than a child’s play map. His eyes could see what others could not, and he swept along the edge of this realm, gently lifting himself through and slipping out into the Aether. Space warped around him, and no longer was he flying just above Dehover, but far above it, the bubble that denoted the edge of the realm blurring into the Aether. He could see the other realms, some far below, some above, touching against each other in places. Every time the cycle repeated the realms shifted slightly, so the scape that he saw today, was not the one that he had first laid eyes upon, all those forgotten millennia ago.

Nestled in a small corner above the highest realm was a roiling storm, or that was what it appeared to be. Melkencia beat his wings, thoughts more than physical movement, powering his flight as he swerved around Janorion. Nice realm, he hoped that it would survive this cycle, they had gotten quite civilised and educated this time round, and he enjoyed visiting with the mages down there. But not today.

His eyes pierced through the eddies and swirls of the storm, guiding him on a path through to the airy towers that floating on the topic of magic undefined. His claws clacked against the railing of a balcony on one of the high towers.

“Afternoon Malk, I’ve been watching you lately. You’ve been a busy bird.”

“You know what point in the cycle it is,” he checked some of his feathers, smoothing them down after his time in the raw Aether, “If I don’t keep things moving then who knows what those mortals down there will get up to.”

The women flicked a finger over her table, pictures upon pictures, of people, singular or grouped, sun or snow, fighting or sleeping sprawled out, overlapping as the realms did, all nine of them, “Quite a lot, from what I’ve seen. But, mostly in the direction that they should be heading. Especially with your interventions. What have you got this time round?”

“Five chosen ones, two bearers, one Messiah, and unusually one chooser themselves.”

“Interesting. Is the Messiah light or dark?”

Malkencia shrugged a wing, “Hard to tell, and not just because light and dark are fairly defunct terms when you get up this high. I honestly think they could go either way.”

“And the chooser?”

“Apparently decided that they couldn’t find anyone that they deemed suitable enough for the task, so decided to take it up themselves. Given that they are an oracle of note in the world, and have quite a bit of experience themselves, I would say it’s not a bad choice.”

“Is it allowed?”

“It counts as a choice.”

“Interesting,” Erryn flicked a hand over the table, changing the focus of some of the pictures, “I’d love to meet her.”

Malkencia gave her a steely look with his glassy eyes, “No.”

“But why ever not?”

“You know damn well why Erryn. You choose to take yourself out of the realms and what comes with them in exchange for this, you can’t go wandering back in whenever you choose to.”

“I’m rather sure I can.”

“Shouldn’t, then, if you want to be pedantic. Fate might let you get away with it at other times, but if you go down there now, you will be noticed, and it will not be impressed.”

“Spoilsport.”

“You have more agency and freedom than anyone else that was born of a realm, it’s not a large price to pay.”

Erryn sighed, “I suppose. But sometimes it just seems so much more exciting down there,” she waved a hand, playing around with the scrying windows, the sizes changing, the pictures flicking around in between each other.

He turned on his feet so that he wouldn’t have to look directly at the table, “Is this hindsight coming back to bite you in the ass?”

“Oh, this is nothing new, I just despise being told what to do.”

“Take it as friendly advice then. I think you’d rather be alive than not.”

“True,” She looked over at him, flicking her silver hair back over her shoulder, “Are you not interested in seeing what your little groups are up to?”

“That thing gives me a headache.”

“You can see in the past, present and future, but looking at my scrying window gives you a headache?”

“It the picture in picture thing, makes my eyes hurt.”

Erryn flicked a hand at the map and the pictures split out into nine separate viewing windows, “Happy now?”

He ruffled his feathers as he cast one beady eye back down over it, “Better.”

She made a noise, and then leaned over the table, playing around with one window that drew her attention, “Where are you bound next, sprouting more of your ‘wisdom’. I mean really, some of the things you come out with.”

“I’ve always found that the less sense you make, the more seriously people take you. People are idiots like that.”

“I will not disagree with that. So, where to next for you?”

“For now? Nowhere. Everything is in motion, I shouldn’t need to go back down into a realm unless someone starts screwing up.”

“Is that likely?”

“Always possible.”

“So are you going to be staying around here then?”

“Might as well. Your table may give me a headache, but it’s easier than my methods.”

Erryn held out her arm, and he stepped onto her wrist, claws gently grasping the flesh, but not breaking it, “It’ll be my pleasure to entertain you for a while. I think I have some bird seed somewhere.”

“Erryn,” his voice was low with disapproval.

She laughed, and carefully carried him out of the tower.

Diving out of the Aether always felt like he was doing somersaults, even though it was supposed to be a gentle descent. The air was hot and dry as he came out into the crossways. The bridges over to the other realms shimmered, slight variations in colours and textures through each road, and he could see most of the groups making the transition over to this in between space. Right on time then.

Five chosen ones, some alone, some with groups, two bearers, he could see the spear and the bow this time around, the Messiah seemed to have a lot of people behind them, but as they came through to this realm, they all faded away, and the chooser was by herself. It was certainly a little bit of an interesting collection this cycle.

The stone gates into the partially ruined arena rumbled open as the light of the nine suns bathed the arena, causing Malkencia’s black feathers to heat up almost instantly. As the people, all kinds of races from all of the realms, edged in, some cautiously, others striding in with confidence. Or arrogance, it was hard to tell sometimes.

He spread his wings, and the arena was bathed in his amethyst light, “The light of Zethrustra comes! Champions of the realms, your time is now. Come, your realms fate is in your hands!”

“What is the meaning of this daemon?” One of them called out to him, “What is this talk of realms?”

“The tenth sun Zethrustra is rising, and in it’s heat come death and destruction. Each of the nine realms possesses part of the power to halt it’s light, and that power manifests in you, the champion of the realm,” He flapped his wings, and a layer of reality peeled away from the crossways, illuminating gem-like objects, embedded in each of the people, or objects, that were gathered in front of him, “To save the realms, all nine are needed. The power is in your hands, champions,” He folded his wings back, and the amethyst light died from the arena, instead replaced with a burning bright light, all nine suns from the realms visible in the sky.

His beady eyes watched all of them, and for a split second, there was a profound silence. A shout, anger, and then three people keeled over, feathered shafts penetrating their chests, as a full scale melee broke out.

Malkencia watched the entire proceeding without stirring a feather. One of these cycles they might actually realise that cooperation between all nine of them was a valid method, and that no death was needed. That would be a novelty, and secretly, deep down in his breast, he looked forward to the day that might happen.

However, that was not this cycle, as the bearer of the bow shot one last arrow, and the spell aimed at him fizzled out of control, exploding against a wall, harmless to him. The man, tall and slender, with the pointed ears typical of his realm, looked up at him.

“Take up the power Saelethil, and save your realm.”

He gathered up all eight of the other gems, blood drops splattering on the ground, and as the tenth sun rose over the horizon, burning white, and held them up.

From up on high in the Aether, Malkencia watched, as eight of the realms were washed away, the light of Zethrustra burning all that it touched, apart from Ivmar, which shimmered with a light of it own, tiny sparks flying of as the two titan forces meet, and the realm was spared.

It would take a while for the new realms to form out of the ash and dust from these remains. And it would be even longer before he was required to give out the guidance of fate again. For now, he was looking forward to a nice, long period of quiet. Maybe he could even have a nap.

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