Battle of Names
by Paige Duke
“You live up to your name, Dage,” Amarjaa shouted toward the fallen warrior, “you stood firm. Admirable. But even your might cannot alter the Vision. I have foreseen the end. If it’s to be a battle of names, yours is no match for mine.”
The priestess was closing in on the piled bodies, her armor scraping, catching on the refuse of battle. Her sword hung sheathed by her side, its case still wet with blood. In the predawn light, she saw Dage smirking at her with what little strength he had left to hold up his head. The insolent fool! “You wear the grimace of death, old man, can you not feel it?”
“Death, aye. He draws near. I smile not at death, but at your fate.”
Amarjaa’s laughter rang over the smoking ruins, rebounding off the cliffs that had trapped her enemies through the night, and rolled back to her in a wave of clanging mirth. “What do you know of my fate, Dage? Let me tell you what I have seen, lend me your dying ear. Let me tell of you how from your birth you were meant to die at my hand. Let me show you the futility of your life.”
“The Vision shows my frame rising gloriously forever, the victor over my enemies, drenched in their blood, the smoke of their defeat rising to greet the day. The world is mine. Who remains to parry my blow?”
She smiled her cruelty down upon Dage, the last and greatest of her foes. “Look about you, if you have sight left in those eyes. Is it not as I have foreseen? When you pass into death, it will come to be. Amarjaa, Forever.”
Now it was Dage who laughed. Long and ragged. The sound chilled Amarjaa and she resolved to hasten his end. But his words halted her,
“Pity you know not my true name. Then you would not have misread what you saw.”
“Fool. I know you. I have known you for all these ages past.” Her voice was unyielding as iron.
“Nay, you are the fool, Eternal One, you shall live forever, indeed, but mine is the name that triumphs. Turn your eyes upon me, gaze the rest of your days upon the Stone who has conquered you in his final hour—for it is I, Chimwala Dage!”
With the swift uncurling of his clenched fingers, Dage revealed a stone. It was smooth and white as milk, pulsing at the sound of its namesake. The laugh that was perched on Amarjaa’s tongue turned to a scream and she tried to flee, but her feet were already turning to rock, her knees were stiff and gray, the shining breastplate hardened, and her lips trembled as they whispered “the Stone.”
Then they too were cold stone and spake no more. Dage indeed wore the smile of death now, as he looked upon his final conquest for one glorious moment. His head dropped and the stone fell from his lifeless grasp. The sun peaked over the horizon, gilding the battlefield. A fearsome figure stood gazing out over the carnage. The statue of Amarjaa, the Eternal One.
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
– Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven
by Dani Nicole
She perches on a branch, just below the moonlight, scanning passers by. Some midnight visitors are drunk with moonshine, others drunk with sorrow. They rest flowers on tombstones and take away memories in the form of tears.
Her helm is heavy on her head; her neck tires of the burden. But still she perches, waiting for the one to end the curse.
“Is he coming tonight?” she asks No One.
“Indeed, he shall,” No One answers.
“And the curse will be forgotten?”
She can only wait. For people to pass by. For leaves to fall. For the sun to rise and end her reign.
Banished to the night,
delight in collected souls,
until you find the thread that binds,
to free you from your plight.
“Is it you?” She whispers in the direction of a man with stained pants and a ripped shirt. He sways when he walks and belches loudly. “I’ll take that as a no.” She scratches behind her ears as the raven rests upon her shoulder.
“I wish you would just tell me,” she says to No One.
“Better for you to see.”
She waits for hours as the dawn threatens to break. The graveyard is still and empty until, faintly, she hears the sound of gravel beneath shoes. She stands alert, leaning as far over the branch as possible without losing her balance.
A man stops at a marble stone, falls to the ground, and weeps.
She lands softly on the ground beside him, as gracefully as if she had wings. He doesn’t hear her approach.
“Tears do not resurrect the fallen,” she says.
The man jumps up and withdraws a knife from his pocket, wiping his tears with the back of his other hand.
“Who are you?” he asks.
She can hear panic in his voice. “They call me Raven Girl.”
His eyes widen. “That’s impossible.”
She twirls her blonde hair around her finger. “Not a fan of stories?”
“Those are fairy tales. The soul collector. The girl with a raven upon her shoulder that searches through souls.”
“And yet here I am, a girl, with a raven upon my shoulder,” she says.
“A cruel joke to a grieving man.”
She takes a step toward him and reaches for his hand. “On the contrary, I am here to comfort you. I watch many pass through these stones, and I have never seen a man weep as you. Tell me, who is the one you’ve lost?”
He retracts his hand so she cannot touch it. “My daughter, Avalyn.”
“Would you like to see her again?”
This does not seem to be the answer he expects. “Excuse me?”
“I can bring you back to her.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps I am telling the truth.”
He looks into her eyes, searching for sincerity. She can tell he does not trust her, but may be miserable enough to try anything.
“How can you do that?” he asks.
“Give me a drop of your blood. And I will carry your soul to the next world.”
“The beyond… where Avalyn rests. I am the only hope you have to find your daughter again.”
“And you know this will work?” he asks.
She hates that question. “I was supposed to meet the one who breaks my curse tonight. If the raven scans your soul and finds that you complete the thread of the curse, your soul will pass on to the next world.”
“And if I’m not?” he asks.
“Your soul will rest with the others until it is released.”
He stares, waits, thinks. She is patient. He is skeptical, but desperate. He will come to her in time.
“For your Avalyn, do this,” she says.
At last he takes his knife and opens a cut on his forearm. The raven on her shoulder begins to squawk.
“Never mind him, he doesn’t like the smell of blood. Come press your wound to my marking,” she says. She extends her arm tattooed by the dark silhouette of a raven.
He presses it against the ink, and is bound to her. He is immobile. As is she.
The world spins around them. A thin, golden thread appears before them, knotting itself into a braid. The raven on her shoulder begins to speak.
“The bond created never severed, for all the pain you both have weathered, a gift of the world beyond is given, for your soul the curse has striven,” says No One.
The man disappears, as does the raven tattoo.
“Where is he?” she asks No One.
“The world beyond,” he says. He flies from her shoulder for the first time in twenty years.