In the cool evening breeze, the blood felt warm on my hand.
Tyrel had gathered enough firewood for me to build one if I needed to, and I was grateful to him now for doing it, as the night promised to be long and difficult. I’d forgotten how quickly the weather changes in the high places, but I’d have to wait now until the ritual was done.
I comforted Zephyr with my other hand, stroking his molting feathers as his bloated body gradually regained its shape as he rested on my lap. His beak stayed open, but his eyes were closed as his life faded.
My throat grew tight, but I had to steel myself for what was to come. “Thank you, Zephyr.”
He was beyond responding now, but the tension went out of him as he shifted his body to seek what warmth was left in me against his own gathering night.
The cut in my palm began to tingle, and a deeper heat suffused my body as Abdiel began the transfer. There was a constant, subtle pressure against the cut as if another hand was pressed against mine.
Both sensations grew stronger.
I’m here, Tina. They are eager to leave, but I can’t let them overwhelm you. There won’t be enough of the raven to bury.
I looked back at Zephyr. He was deflating, his eyes sunken, his beak working, though he wasn’t trying to speak.
“I don’t know that he cares about that, Abdiel.”
No, but you do.
I kept silent, somewhat surprised at his insight; though his own nature was dark and prone to harm others, he couldn’t override my own. Gran would not have passed her lore and power to me if he could. It was good to know she’d put something in place so there would be no possession of my character.
And he had the right of it; I would not leave Zephyr to the elements and scavengers.
“Thank you for that, Abdiel.”
I shrugged the tension out of my shoulders and rolled my neck, took a couple of deep breaths, and braced myself as best I could under the circumstances.
The heat was pleasant, the tingling not so much, but the whole of it carried an undercurrent of power, and I realized now why Zephyr had swollen; they’d grown in power while they were inside him. In fact, it likely consumed him.
I was supposed to incubate them, but I hadn’t. His death would be a problem because there’d be no way to get in to the Cancelers Palace undetected. I was getting all of them back, but stronger. If I couldn’t control them, they’d go out into the world if the Cancelers didn’t stop them.
Tempted as I was to voice my concern to Abdiel, the others would hear, and I didn’t know if they’d submit to him after that; his authority depended on our working together, and if I expressed doubt in my ability, I’d put doubt in them about his.
I took the pain. If they started to rebel, I’d go in further toward the wards, but so far it was going well.
It took hours, and by the end of it I was too hot and sweaty to need a fire. and Zephyr’s cooling corpse was flat and stiffening as I saw his own spirit leave.
We are all here now, Tina.
“I know,” I told him, as I wiped the latest round of retching from my lips, shaking and sick.
I took Zephyr’s body off my lap. I’d bury him tomorrow.
I was also losing the fight against sleep as my body had gone way past its limits.
“Guard me, Abdiel.” I stretched out on the ground itself, my pack for a pillow, and sleep came like an invading army.
Always, little mother.
Little Mother? Zephyr had called me that…