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Summer, Part Six
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
The dreams were familiar, and desperate. Brutal.
Nothing noble lay beneath him, though the songs and stories had made it seem so. No beginnings, no continuity, only death and endings, blood spilled and bone exposed to the uncaring eyes of the wide and wondering sky. So many bones - their jagged edges, sheaves standing within their fields of flesh, never to nurture a mortal child but a marrowfeast to those who circled overhead.
She rode alongside him, hair as dark and wild as the wings on which he soared. She laughed to hear the screams, echoing the wind which tore and clutched at his feathers, threatening to send him spiraling into the fray and the fires. Her chariot was the wind which blew the pennons, the last breath of the dying souls below, the driving horses of death itself.
The Morrigan screamed, her features dark and blazing as spent coals within a pyre, and Crow kept the pace, announcing her presence secreted within the vast unnumbered murder soaring over the plains. There was no name to this field—no name to the battle—one more among a thousand endless raids that history had known, mourned, and forgotten, the victors dying in their turn and leaving behind no trace save some blue-eyed child of war's spoils, a finn gall or dubh gall, to be drowned within the river or dashed against the trees, or to be raised despite his hateful seed, and to pass those eyes to the child he would one day leave to die in battle himself.
Death, death, a small and meaningless knot within the frame of green and gorgeous fields. So it seemed from above, each battle, each war, each petty murder behind some nameless furrow. They were mad, all of them, landbound and maddened by concerns the Crow would never understand, laughing overhead as he watched glorious life surround and encompass the death which fed him alone; which pleased his mistress…the Morrigan.
Lifting his wings, he landed on the scalp of a fair-haired fallen soldier, helm thrown to the side and neck twisted in the steps of the endless and eternal dances. Despite the broken bone and bleeding scalp, his eyes moved, pumping tears of pain and suffering into the ground below, watching helpless as the soot-black beak of Crow cocked itself to one side, considering which of those bonny blue treats first to pluck from living flesh.
What was fear to one who flew? Death and flesh, feast and flight and the strength to raise his chicks, to lead his murder, to answer his mistress' call. As he bobbed to tear away the eye, drawing forth the delicious flesh and piercing out the helpless scream. What was death to Crow?
Corbin woke as the hardwood floor rose to meet him in the darkness. Uncertain and unsure, half a second's plummet to land hard upon his side, temple bouncing once against the floor.
"Fuck!" His hands shot forth, grabbed the wooden supports of his bed, clutched them in trembling hands as a sign of solidity, of earth, of mortal reality and mortal life. "Fuck," he took deep breaths against the floor, willing his heart rate to slow, palms slick with sweat and terror. "Fucking dreams ..."
"So?" Sherriff MacIntyre leaned both heavy arms on the counter, lifted a finger for more coffee.
"What, you don't have them?"
"Sure. Don't we all?"
"Not for years. Hell, maybe lifetimes."
"Guilty consciences, maybe."
"I said I hadn't had any for years."
"Years since you had a conscience."
Corbin sighed, looked to his untouched plate. Eggs had been a terrible idea. They reminded him of the gelatinous humor of the eye in his dream. "Are you going to be any help, or are you happy to just have someone to punch around again?"
"Help?" She looked at him. "With what?"
"... talking, Stephanie."
"I am talking."
"You're not taking it very seriously."
"Now I'm supposed to take you serious?"
"Hard to tell."
He rubbed his temples. "This was a mistake, wasn't it?"
MacIntyre sipped at her coffee, looking out the window. A corner of her mouth twitched, and she snorted at the pigeons gathering outside. "Listen. I dream. I see trees and nooses. Purses of weregild changing hands. I see the banished riding for their lives. And I sleep well, because they deserved it. They were outlaws, paying their price. I sleep fine, because I've always been in the right.
"Long sleeps fine because he doesn't care. Figured the same for you." She shrugged. "So. Suddenly, guilty conscience. What's brought it?"
He stared at the plate. "I don't know. That's the problem."
He'd been cautious to remain flying above the frays that might lead to such a relapse, soaring over such concerns - or, he thought, caged by his own devices, captured in his choices.
"I've been trying to work out this Cary Schilling for you. His game."
"... failing," he admitted. "It shouldn't be so difficult, but I got clumsy and sidetracked. I took the first hint and started running. It was ... it's ridiculous. He leaves behind trails that make it look as if you have something, but when you run them down far enough, there's nothing there but smoke."
"You've covered tracks."
"I've covered them, yeah. I don't go to elaborate lengths specifically to lead people astray."
She laughed, a harsh barking sound in the café. "Really. Think back. Think of Kim. Think of Alice before her. Fallon. You forgot?"
A frown crossed his face. "That's different, though. There were reasons for all of them."
"Can do this all day, Corbin."
"When I do it, it's for something. It's not for me."
"You don't love it?"
"I ... "
"You love it. I love being in charge, too. Long for sure. Vulcan keeps trying. Bacchus lost himself trying not to be in control." She wasn't smiling now, just stating facts. "We're freaks, Corbin. All of us. We were something, now ... what? Just people." She practically spat the last word.
"We're all still manipulating things. Still, and forever. You've just been lying to yourself, making it a game. It's no game. It's mortal lives. Always has been."
He thought back to his meeting with Cary at the riverbank, under Stephanie's careful eyes. They were grey, river-colored, the color of fate. They were tired, and older than she. He cocked his head to one side, considering.
"It is a game."
"Maybe for you, it was. Now it's life. It's skin. It's your neck and choices."
"No ... you don't understand," his smile returned, eyes beginning to dance. "Or you do, and tried to show me. Now I get it."
"What do you get?" Her voice remained mild.
"I get by. Just like everybody else." He stood. "I'd kiss you if you weren't armed."
She patted her holster and took another sip of coffee. "Love my job."
"Then it can buy our breakfast. I'm off, Sherriff. You'll hear something more by Friday."
"You buy Friday."
"I'll be flush with victory ... thanks."
She shook her head, watching pigeons take flight as Corbin left the café.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010