by M.D Schultz
Death isn't final to those who cling; to those who gather on the shores of Babel Tower.
Alice was only a child when she passed away. Life is often cruel and ironic, you see, she was the daughter of a sorceress bred to inherit the dark arts, but she was unwanted. The tower of magi was unwelcome to all who lacked the arcane talent. That poor girl couldn't conjure a spark, nor a drop of water, let alone communicate with the elder seeth, and so she was banished and left to wander hungry and alone.
Off the shores of the western sea, facing Charybdis's eye, lies Annuavera, a small fishing village home to the most daring whalers. There on the street vertigo, Alice lay in the mud, hugging her feet to her chest, begging for scraps. Sometimes she found generous souls, but not on this day. No, today, she was left hungry, and the skies opened up as if an ocean came crashing down. Alice hated the rain because nobody could see or hear her cry and cry she did. She wept to match the sky, and when the tears no longer came, the girl would sleep, even in the mud, even in the rain.
That night she dreamt of her father. Such a doting bear, oh, she loved riding on his shoulders and forcing him to play house. His smile was like the sunrise, and he could tell stories to fill her heart with joy or make her cheeks red as cherries. Alice loved that man; she missed that man. What was the name of the place where she was born? What was the name of the forest with the small cabin she called home? The place where her dad was laid to rest before her mother spirited her away. What was it, she said? Tragedy breeds magic; no such luck for Alice.
"Hey, You! Get out of the street!" A passing merchant said, kicking her feet until she stirred. Alice rubbed the sleep from her eyes, so dizzy it was like she had spun for hours. Though the sun rose high into the sky, she hadn't the strength to walk a straight line. You see, a fever had taken hold of her, an illness that would be nary a bother to a healthy child. However, for a malnourished girl in rags, it was a battle for her life. Yet, it wasn't the illness that claimed her, but a disgruntled mule that she tumbled upon. With a high pitched squeal, it kicked her in the head, and all went black.
This is the point of no return for most people. The black either that forms the bridge into the next life has no entrance to turn back, nor does it wait for those unwilling to walk forward. You will be taken, even kicking and screaming, for the soul is too buoyant without an anchor. However, this was not the place that Alice awoke. Her soul was tethered, so the black bridge of Natica spat her out like a tasteless meal.
She stirred upon the beaches of Spiritus mundi, confused; this place was not like the world she left. There were lights in the sky that outshone even the brightest stars, waving like soft velvet in the wind, and purple and white grasses grew into tangled yarn that felt like soft rubber. In the distance, across waters as black as night, she could see an enormous tower with a spinning light at the top. A building that floated across the sea made of stone blackened near the peak from heat, so furious even shadows were scorched into the walls; shadows of things taller than men.
"I, I remember this place." She whispered, wobbling to her feet.
It was hard to think here like her mind was trudging through a thick bog without direction.
"Where have I? Where am I?"
She stumbled about the empty shoreline until the rotating torch came to rest at her feet. She squinted in the light, which followed her as if Alice were the main actor on a vast stage.
"This place, it's like one of dad's stories." She suddenly remembered. "I've found the tower of babel."
"Now listen to me, sweety." She heard her father's words again. "In a place far from here, lies a glowing tower on an island in water so dark and deep there is no bottom. No soul can cross the shores for an unseen storm rages beneath the surface. Any mortal who steps into the still waters' mask shall vanish beneath, never to be seen again."
She heard his voice as clear as day, and Alice reached out towards the light as her eyes adjusted, catching movement upon the water's surface.
"But, but how can you get to the tower?" A young Alice asked, cheeks still peppered red.
"Oh, honey, you cannot go to the tower." He patted her head. "The tower was not built for us; it was built for them."
Suddenly, something rose out of the water as if climbing a stairway, the rippling surface as solid as stone beneath its feet. It stood seven feet tall and wore loose rags across its waist, with skin pulled tight against pronounced ribs. As it hobbled towards Alice, she caught a glimpse of a long beak and feral eyes; it wasn't human.
"The Ravens of Babel tower can cross the waters unharmed; they are drawn to the lost who gather on the shores looking for what they have forgotten.
Alice stood frozen, the voices in her head were like an unstoppable dancing troupe as the Raven slowly approached the beaches, its movements haggard and body so frail in appearance a wind might blow it away. However, like the raging waters beneath the calm ripples, Alice could sense a terrible storm howling under its breast.
"Daddy, what are they? What do they do to the lost?" Little Alice hugged a pillow hiding in the corner of her bed.
"I've heard stories that the Ravens steal mortals into the sea, but this is a lie. No, they come to trade with man."
There were more of them, rising out of the waters like before, some with feathered necks that stretched like snakes, and others with orange beaks, spotted manes, and heads that met her gaze even with their backs turned. They were numerous, limping across the water as if it were cobblestone.
"To trade? What for?" The little girl asked.
"They trade for something precious, something that everyone who wakes upon those shores has in their possession; a sliver of life that prevents the soul from moving on."
There cupped in Alice's hands, was a glass orb with a white flame flickering inside. The fire wasn't normal as it seemed to burn without fuel or air. That's what they gathered for; the Ravens surrounded her on sandy shores with beady eyes and beaks. She dropped to her knees, covering her head and screaming; there was no way out. However, nothing happened.
After a time, even as her shoulders shook, Alice peaked from around her arms, and she saw them. The Ravens stood all around her with the bodies of men and women and the heads of feathered beasts. Though their eyes were fixed upon her, they didn't take a step closer. Instead, the crane necked man standing in front of her, dropped to his knees with a hand outstretched.
Alice slowly uncovered her face, still shaking, their presence was unnerving, but none moved to harm her.
"Who are you?" She asked.
The raven cocked its head with a quick motion that reminded her of a pigeon.
"Is this what you want?" Alice revealed the glass orb in her hands.
Suddenly the crowd jerked forward, and she yelped, covering her face again until the quiet returned.
"I don't want to be here." Alice cried. "I want to go home."
What was the name of the place where she was born? What was the name of the forest with the small cabin she called home? The place where her dad was laid to rest before her mother spirited her away.
"I want to go home." She said over and over, thinking of her dad, thinking of what it was like to be happy again. She was helpless, and when those hands took hold of her and lifted her into the air with ease, she could do nothing but tremble.
Yet, after a time, the fear subsided, and a warmth kindled within her.
"I will take you home, little one." Came a voice in her head. A voice so much like her fathers.
Alice found herself cradled in the crane necked man's arms when she opened her eyes, who took her away from the beaches and the glowing tower.
"Thank you." She whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck, its feathers like soft pillows. "Thank you."
Together, with Ravens' hoards, they traveled away from the dark sea and purple and white grasses. They passed mountains floating without roots, Tundra's of snow and ice as warm as the summer's sun, and oceans that flowed above them like clouds in the sky. This was a world of dreams, a world of fantastical dreams. Yet, even in this place, Alice found a familiar forest. She could see the trees' bows where she had once carved her name and tasted honeyed sap in the distance. She was almost home.
With a great big yawn, Alice buried her head in the Raven's shoulder. Her eyes felt so heavy now as the tiny flame in that glass bauble began to flicker and fade.
"Thank you, daddy." She whispered with another yawn, the curtains falling before her eyes. "It's... Time... Go."
Her soul was free for the briefest of moments, and the darkness moved in around her, but it was not to be. Suddenly, terrible pain in her chest shook her awake, and she cried out, grabbing at her heart. The Ravens heads craned upward towards the sky, hissing at phantoms she couldn't see. The creature dropped the girl, and she tumbled to the grasses below as the pain kept pounding like a hammer and nail.
Alice screamed as her body shook, and the flame, once on the verge of exhaustion, now roared to life, shattering the glass orb and covering her body.
"Come on! Wake up!" She heard a voice as the flames consumed her, the wind carrying her far from that place, until finally.
"Wake up!" With a final thud, Alice gasped for air, jumping upwards from a bed. She clutched at her chest, beads of sweat running down her face as men in white coats gathered around supporting her.
"Where? What's happening?" She coughed, head dashing from one man to the other.
"Welcome back to the living child."
Next "A Raven's Touch"