I was woken by two things – an annoying tingling numbness in my right hand and arm, and an equally irritating dripping noise. As I blinked my eyes I realized I was not where I had fallen asleep. It was very dark, but I could tell I was in a large, cavernous room. Large brickwork columns supported the ceiling, and I could make out a large trench in the middle of the floor, running side to side and out of range of my vision (the source of the dripping, from what I could tell) and filled to the brim with a slow-moving liquid. Farther away, I could make out what looked like the bottom of a large set of stairs. The air held the sharp tang of iron.
I realized that my arm wasn’t tied or bound or anything, it was simply resting upon the wall – door, on further inspection – that I sat leaning against. As I thought to move it to a more comfortable position, I realized there was another person there.
Quill sat next to me, entirely too close. He perked up when I awoke, clearly waiting for me.
Asking him where I was didn’t reveal any useful information, and the exchange asking why we were there was equally cryptic:
“I was sent to talk to you.”
“The Keeper of the Door.”
We circled through a long, tangled conversation. He talked, at times, about how he had come to serve Her (the capitalization emphasized and clear from his speech). He contrasted his search for a being with whom to make a pact with my situation, more of a “recruitment” as he put it.
He remarked that I’d had a hard couple days, intimated that his mistress was interested in our – my – activities. The reason we were there, then; She was prepared to offer me power. Power to keep my friends standing, power beyond the “paltry” (Quill’s words… at my sharp look he added a very non-apologetic “though efficacious”) powers I possessed naturally.
There was, of course, a cost. I would have to give myself to Her, devote my life to her goals. My choices would no longer be made based just on my own moral compass, but on Her teachings.
My attention was again brought to the Door (I realized my hand still was still resting on it – curious, I thought, but Quill again distracted me from my thoughts of moving it). He explained that She guards the Door, the passage where we all must go. That She abhors those that draw spirits back across the threshold, that try to break the natural course of life and death.
He went on: “The Door is about Fate. The Dragons and their Queen are going to break a lot of people’s Fates. Even the “helpful” ones can interfere. Things that break the course of events must be dealt with… sometimes the choices aren’t easy, but if you put your Faith in her, it will end the way it is supposed to.” He paused a moment to stress that it wouldn’t necessarily be happy.
It was terribly tempting. I knew we were in trouble, and if what Quill said was true, outside forces were running out of ways to intervene on our behalf. I had a chance, here, to improve our chances in a potentially significant way. I was, as Quill pointed out, the one with my hand on the Door (which reminded me that my hand was still numb, and I still hadn’t moved it). I was closest to her, and I was worthy of the power, in a way (he implied), that not all of my friends would be.
But she would require a lot from me - everything, in fact. I would lose the power of my forefathers, and I would shatter that lens that I was used to seeing the world through.
It was a scary thought, and I said as much. Trying to verbalize my feelings, I expressed that my powers were the tools I used to manipulate the world around me, that they were the way I interacted with the world. Quill’s eyes lit up as he discovered a way to potentially help me see his perspective, and he asked if I still used my beginning crafting tools. I shook my head, and while I said that it had been scary to lose those, and that I had questioned at that time whether I was worthy of the next thing, I also understood was he was driving at. Was her offer the next step for me? Had I achieved all that I was meant to with the current tools I had at hand?
We sat in silence for a long while as I contemplated my feelings, and tried my best to overcome my fear.
“Alright. I accept.”
“Ah, ah, it’s not that easy. Now we go to see Her.”
He asked me to strip down, which I did, with some trepidation. Likewise unclad, he led me to the channel in the floor. “I’m going to follow you partway, but you need to swim to the bottom.”
I nodded nervously, and asked “Is there anything I should know?”
In response, he simply held up a witchlight, and in revealing the liquid to be blood, confirmed my horrible suspicions.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and began to swim. He held my hand at the beginning, and I was now glad to have him so close. At some point a little ways into our swim, I felt him squeeze my hand twice, firmly, and then I felt a shove on my back, pushing me further down.
Alone now, I swam.
My muscles burned, my lungs ached, but still I swam.
I was sure I was going to lose consciousness. My arms were weak, my entire body screamed that I needed air.
And then, through my eyelids, light shone. And a voice.
“Open your eyes, and come to me, child.”
I obeyed Her.
A huge masked figure held her hands to me, and I found a little more strength to push forward. A little voice inside insisted that it would be easier if I could breathe, but I ignored it, continued swimming through my pain.
I felt pieces of me fall away, things that I now saw were unimportant, mere peripheral bits to my true self. Everything tied to my flesh, rather than my soul, simply washed away. The trappings of my former power were left behind me as I struggled towards the light. The thunder under my skin quieted for the first time in my life. The lightning in my muscles, which had accompanied every step I had ever taken, ceased.
All of it was stripped away as I swam to Her. I was Aideen and nothing more. Empty and alone I approached, and I began to feel flooded with a new strength, a new certainty.
I am Aideen, and that is all that matters. She accepts me as “just” Aideen.
There was a pang of loss as I thought about the forces I would never touch again, the powers I had shared with my brother, the connection broken to my mysterious ancestors. That ache was soothed, however, the hole filled with the confidence that this was the Correct decision.
I was ready to be Her Raven.
My hand reached towards Her, closed on Her merest fingertip. She gathered me up, and I felt power nestle within me, as ready for me as I was for it.
I broke the surface.
Quill (now clothed and clean of blood) held his hand out for me, and I desperately grabbed for it, accepting his help to climb back out into the chamber (I noted abstractly that the Door was now gone, but that fact felt so minor it was swept away in the maelstrom of my emotions). The air stung as I took in deep, gasping breaths. I sobbed with both anguish and joy, tears burning tracks of white through the blood on my face. He placed a hesitant hand on my naked shoulder as I cried myself out and calmed myself down, as I searched within to discover what I had lost and gained.
It felt as if my journey had taken an eternity, and at the same time no time at all. I was sure that by the time I returned to my friends, that they would have solved all of our problems (although a new, more confident voice within me answered that they couldn't do so without me, and thus they must still be waiting).
Quill broke into my thoughts. “So, you're going to be waking up soon. Things are going to be different.”
“But I’m Aideen.” I answered automatically, echoing the thoughts I had had when I was swimming.
“They'll be suspicious,” he said quickly, but with understanding. “You tell Iluvere and Simbar you are The Raven’s Champion, they’ll accept it.”
I nodded as he continued, “She’s given you more than this power, certain gifts, things you were carrying will be gone, replaced.”
I was about to respond when I felt the world start to rush away, replaced by Gareth’s concerned face, and I found myself once again gasping for air.