We gathered together. The Regent. Tane. Teri. Jay. Quen. Myself. A few others, names I’d never known, but they greeted each other like old friends.
Something deep inside of me told me that we needed more than just those few Crows, but we were out of time, out of resources, and out of options altogether.
“In the center,” I told Jay. He cautiously stepped in the middle of us. Distantly, another mortar. This time, so close that the Kind Lord didn’t quite shake so much as faintly quiver. I stared up at the reinforced flesh ceiling, watching a great spur of bone prop up the muscular interior.
“Isn’t it so strange?” The Regent asked, dimly. Others turned to look at her. “That at the end of the day, the very god that fell from the sky was nothing more than a spaceship? A long dead spaceship, crewed by nothing more than memories?”
“A suicidal spaceship,” I added. The eyes were back onto me, and one of my crows gave a nervous twittered from behind my eyes. “The Kind Lord died because it wanted to die. I just gave it what it needed to do the job.”
Even as I said it, that felt false. The Kind Lord was an immaculately polished organism. If it had wanted to die it could’ve thrown itself on any number of planets. I frowned, shaking my head. I was still missing a piece. Even in the moment of our last desperate hope, I didn’t understand something vital, something important.
Isaac stepped inside. He’d changed out of military clothes to something that I’d’ve seen on the streets of the old dying world; a t-shirt with a faded logo, and sweat pants. He carried with him a massive sketch book. All eyes on him.
“Well,” he smiled.
“What’s with the clothes?” Quen asked, annoyed. “We’re all here for a ritual at the end of the world, and you look like you’re here to sleep on a couch.”
“Before I was a highly decorated end of the world scientist,” he said. “I was an author. I was an author who had been contacted by Lord Death, and told about a certain ritual.”
I gave him a look. “This ritual,” I said. “You received this ritual from Lord Death.” I… had known that. With my full memories, I had known that, but there were over a decade’s worth of classified secrets to sort through. But I didn’t understand the particulars.
“Where else would you source a narrative like this one?” he said. “But from the lord of them himself? Just a warning,” he said, mildly. “Before we begin. I’m dressed like I used to before things went downhill. It makes me feel less scientific, and more artistic.”
“Will it work?” Tane cut him off. Isaac’s gleaming eyes cut over to her.
“If it doesn’t work,” Isaac smiled. “I’ll be too dead to know otherwise. All ready for this?”
Jay clicked his beak, shaking his head. “If this is Lord Death’s work-”
“Lord Death is the principle god of your world,” Isaac said. “But not of the world Jess and I came from. We are as safe with this ritual, safer still, than any number of Words that have been thrown around since the war began.”
I gave him a slow nod, and he ambled forward, pulling out a golden pen from absolutely nowhere. He spun it between his fingers for a moment, and the air filled with a trail of neon gold.
“We are at the end of a great metanarrative arc,” Isaac said. “The entire history of Crows has led to this very moment. First, there was the Call. The end of the world, the death of all things. The reason for the adventure. The Morrigan did not reject the Call. Then, the Aid. The agent who bestowed supernatural aid upon the crows. The transformation; The Kindling. The First Crow, at the end of the world. The Morrigan.”
He drew a symbol on my hand that was absolutely ice cold, and then drifted around, looping the ink.
“You are all extensions of the First Crow,” he said, and he put the same symbol on each of them. “You are all forks, carrying that moment, the ignition point, and you still remember the moment the journey started. The shame of being unable to help, the power of a brief passing kindness, and the sadness of the death of a world you were born into so very late. You are all the hero. But we need The Hero.”
He stepped over to Tane and the Regent and Teri, who were clustered on their side of the circle. “A secondary spiral, a fork of the first. The end of Crowkind came pretending to be humanity, didn’t they? And what did you decide when the time came? You flew to The Capital, and you held there for decades. Then, with your friends, you delved into the forbidden deep magics. That is your transformation. The challenges and temptations of a dozen moments you should’ve stopped, a dozen deaths. Before me I see the two paths you could’ve taken. Tane, the pure, who did not partake in your path, and you, The Regent, who did.” He anointed them with the golden ink. “And in the end, when all was lost, you made Him. You were cast into the darkness of the abyss and you made The King in those dark places, when all hope had been lost. Death. Rebirth. These too are part of the Hero’s Journey.”
“But you, Jay. You are a fork of a fork of a fork, and your death and rebirth came at the end of the King’s life. When all hope was lost, you clung to him, and took him deep inside of you, made him a part of you, part of the very person you were.”
“What does any of this mean?” Jay asked, as ink was placed upon his beak. “I don’t, I don’t understand.”
“You were transformed by that act in the great abyss, and the end of the old King’s journey,” Isaac continued, and the air thrummed with power. Now he began to trace through the air, golden chains lingering in their path, and I could see the great many forks that made up Crow-Kind. Dozens of them, quivering in the air around us.
They were all the same person. They had been once. They were all different paths, different contexts, different beauties and different minds, but they had all been the Morrigan once.
“Now,” Isaac said. “You stand here, asking for me to transform you. To finish the journey that was started so very long ago by the Morrigan, who was transformed by an act of kindness!” He raised his arms into the air and the entire building shook. Teri let out a squeal of fright and stared upward.
I looked up and froze. A single gleaming eye rested there, twisting and twitching to follow the paths.
“This great narrative of five thousand years represents the last and most powerful hope for humanity, Lord Death!” Isaac said, staring at the eye. “Do you not agree? Do you not wish to see the battle for the end of the world? The culmination of every narrative that humanity has ever yet conjured? ARE YOU HERE FOR THE FINAL ATONEMENT FOR THE SIN OF THEIR CREATION?!”
The eye latched onto him and nobody else. A bead of sweat rolled down his face and hit the ground. It sizzled like acid. “Of course you are,” he whispered. “I knew you would be. So bored, trapped here like a bear in a cage, howling for someone to save you, but nobody ever will. You have made enemies of the other lords, torturing and tormenting everyone who once cared for you. I understand that.”
“The narratives,” I said.
“We are now in the moment of atonement, oh great Watcher!” Isaac howled at the eye. “Will you grant us this last passage before we return to the world we once lived in?”
My eyes twitched over to Isaac. He did not look away from the presence of the Lord in front of him.
The eye blinked once, a secondary and third eyelid passing over the burning pupil, and the chains in the air turned to literal chains, drawing everyone together, everyone at once and I-
I felt the minds press against me, dozens of them, memories flooding and roiling atop and cross each other and I-
Jay placed hands upon me and shoved me out, letting me hit the ground. I stared at the bundle of crows, and then down at myself. I was scarred. The body I lay in was scarred, hunks taken out of it as if by knives and surgery, and I tore my shirt to the side and stared at the massive wound that curled in my chest, where Bismarck had killed me and I realized, I realized that I had been rejected from the ritual.
Isaac walked over to my side, averting his eyes from my chest, and I buttoned up the lab coat, shaking my head. “I don’t understand,” I said.
“We’re making The King,” he said. “Your mind was never a part of that, Jess. This is their narrative, not yours.”
I hesitated, bizarrely unnerved at possessing flesh instead of the meld of the crows, and from the mass of birds hovering in the center of the room, transfixed and staring with dozens of eyes, a few of which were red, I realized something was changing.
Their flesh rippled like ink on a lake, mildewing and mouldering, running together, and then the red spread across their eyes. Talons grew wicked and sharp. The corruption at the core of Jay jumped from bird to bird, rapidly, with the same ease that the crows had always been terrified they might, until a single bird with green eyes remained at the very center.
The Morrigan stared back at me from the very center of the merging mass, and nodded once. I nodded back, my head curiously empty of The First Memories. I had a recollection of how great and wonderful they had been, and nothing else, nothing else at all.
I swallowed, and the mass merged together. Isaac’s eyes went wide. “Back!” He said, and threw himself away. I was slower, numb, and my dead body unnervingly cold and hard to move, so it was only natural that I was struck. A great mass of feathers pinned me in place, feathers that consolidated into fingers, long talons, parting to give space for my head.
I was not crushed, as eyes built themselves out of the mess of feathers, and a form appeared with many legs and many arms. The eyes were larger than my fists, larger than my head, but I knew, looking into them, that The King recognized me.
“I don’t know how long we have,” Isaac said.
“How long?” I asked. “What do you mean how long?!”
“The King was damaged last time it was around,” Isaac replied. “And corrupted beyond anything that he should’ve been exposed.” he pointed at the corner. “Your Sword, my liege,” he said, bowing.
“I should be a part of that,” I whispered. “I’m supposed to be a part of that,” I said. “I’m not supposed to be alive-”
Isaac slapped me. His nails dug furrows in the soft rot of my skin, and I felt it as they bled sluggishly. He stared at the wounds, going rather pale. “S-sorry,” he apologized. The King ignored us both, seizing his sword, and then lumbered off through the rite chamber. The doors of the ship opened for them. Then they closed, leaving me stunned, breathless, left behind and…
I couldn’t help but think that it was wrong.