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The stone I stood before was sickly green, securely fastened to the pedestal it rested upon. The inscription beneath it read "The Messenger."
As I closed my eyes, I felt the skin along my arms become numb, as if all sensation was being bled from them. Tired... so tired. I tried and blinked, yet the darkness remained; my lids felt soft and sluggish, unresponsive. I was sitting on what felt to be a dirt floor, and around me, was the smell of coppery blood and... herbs? Why was I here? I came here to - what? My memory failed me, but I felt a growing panic beginning to well up within me...
"Ah... awake now, are you? A-questioning all-a-done?" The voice was an old woman's, thick and scratchy, as if it was trying to force its way past a thick layer of dust. Try as I might, I could not open my eyes and see the woman, but I felt a shiver of fear. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. I tried to respond, but all I could manage was a ragged *croak.* I couldn't feel my tongue... and my eyes? What was wrong with my eyes?
"Now, a-see me you did, a-spoke you did and *poorly,* so the price have you paid, hmnnn?" The crone sounded amused, then her tone dropped sharply. "No more of your questions; now you will LISTEN, and you will a-member my words, for in minding me, you shall *live.*" She hissed. "Nod if you hear me, or ANOTHER bit shall I a-take." I hesitantly nodded.
"A-member me, traveler. A-member me to a stone, one of the pretty glimmers in your Festive hall - use it like a cup, pour what you *feel* into it, and know this: A-member me to a man who wears a skin of scars n' tattoos, who seeks memories but has miss-placed them; if smart he is, he will know the knowing of ME. Tell him to find me - or if I am not to be found, tell him to come to the glimmer-stone, and we shall speak, my precious man and I." The woman paused, then hissed again. "NOD if you a-hear me, ragged thing!" I hurriedly nodded.
"Ah... pretty, polite to a-listen so long... when he comes to the glimmer-stone, tell the man to speak my *name,* and your pain shall not have been in vain..." The crone's voice trailed off, as if distracted.
I tried to speak again, but there was only a sick gurgling noise. What happened? Who was this person? Why were I... and I began to feel myself slip into unconsciousness...
"Ravel! Ravel, it is I!" I cried, suddenly regaining some volition. There was a long moment of silence.
"Ahhh... my precious man." There was the slow shuffling of feet, and I *felt* a sharp pinprick in my left eye; I gasped, and suddenly, barely, I could SEE - with my one and only eye. I lay in a gray hut, upon a dirty floor, where blood, my bright-red blood had seeped into the surrounding gray dust. My arms were gone, my legs had been hacked off at the knees. Yet... I felt numbed, and there was no pain... only fear. There was someone above me, someone looking down on me... I looked up.
As I looked up through my bloody, blurred vision, I saw a horrid bluish gray face, grinning with yellowed tusks. "Ravel is *pleased* - a-wondering I was if this messenger would make it, for *weak* he was when his bits were placed on my plate..." She held up a talon in front of me, and impaled on the tip of it was an eyeball - the right one. "Yet to the Festive hall he returned it a-seems, and our time two-together has he shared. And now you have come... success!" If I truly was speaking to Ravel, there was so much I wanted to know.
"Ravel... I have many questions for you."
The crone shook her head, my blurred vision seeing three images
at once; her grayish hair was like brambles, drifting down her
shoulders. "No, only time for answers does Ravel have, and
she has no time to a-waste with your guess-questions. Know this,
and in the knowing grow strong: you must FIND me, my precious
man." I was already trying to do exactly that.
"But how? I do not know --"
"Tchhh! I am beyond knowing, in a Lady's place. Now shhh-and-a-listen to Ravel, for there is much you must do - to find me, a-three things must you do: find the door, know the key, then *unlock* the key." I stammered out a question, asking about the door.
"The door is not a finished thing... at least, when I last gazed upon it, hmnnn? But in the passing of time, perhaps now well-wrought it is. Go to the place of forges and steel; perhaps there you will find the door that takes one to me..." I knew the key was a piece of her, involved her daughter, but how to unlock it?
"Unlock the key? What do you mean?"
"A-knowing the key is NOT enough, so Ravel thinks. Knowing it and unlocking it, two tasks that must be joined... for at times, a thing knows not its nature... but you are no stranger to that..." Ravel cackled, a long, hideous cry that filled my ears with pain...
"Ravel... how am I talking to you, if this is someone else's experience?"
"Of stones and experiences and telling will Ravel do, but not the telling of how she speaks to you now." She spoke soothingly. "Many are the branchings and twistings of Ravel, and many are her *secrets.* I need you, and I need you knowing of this." I sensed she had given me all the help she considered sufficient, and would share no more. As I started to will myself to end the exeperience, she surprised me by making a final offer.
"Return - I will give what help I can..." Ravel gave a final smile, a horrible, yellow fanged grin; a blackish tongue darted from her lips and lingered at the edge, teasing. "But in the end, only the one question remains..."
"What do you mean, Ravel?"
"Only one question, this I ask..." Ravel's eyes blazed like fires, the red light turning her face blood-red. "What can change the nature of a man?"
At the question, I felt a tremor pass through, like thunder, and I felt myself *burn*... I quickly forced myself from the stone. My vision cleared, until I was standing once again before the hideously green stone...it looked different than before, more... horrid, somehow.
This time I had had enough. I left the Festhall, to find a
place to sleep for the night.
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