against the stars.
Chariots of metal and birds of steel wafted before her mind. She saw things that carried men as though horses invisible to the eye, dragged them forwards faster than any horse could run; strange caterpillars that spouted smoke running faster than the horseless vehicles, and still faster ones that made no sound, nor any disturbance of the air.
She saw men fly as a bird does; and men in a blackness pricked by a myriad lights, clad in strange armour, creating cities of shining steel that hung in nothingness.
She saw fountains of fire and mushrooms of smoke. Holes gaping into hell with skeletal faces grinning out. She saw swords that spat and killed, and stranger weapons that seemed to glow, their light withering flesh from bone, bone from marrow.
Strange machines traversed a landscape she had never seen, spitting things that killed. And she saw men give up their lives for others in many ways. A very old man turned on a bed and died in his age; another screamed in a jungle as the strange weapons plucked away his life; yet another hung from wooden poles with blood on his body; a fourth opened startled eyes as his brains spread down his face; one died with a smile as blood flecked his lips within a curious tent of some transparent material. And there were others; many others...
Her mind reeled beneath the impact, for she knew she saw a vision of things to come, things that might be, things that could be. And knew, at the same time, that she was a part of it. And then a voice came into her mind. It was a voice that was not human, yet more than human, terrifying as it was comforting; a voice that brooked no defying, but was accustomed to being defied.
The sound of her name, spoken by that voice was both commanding and comforting, the reassurance of a guardian spirit strong in her defence whilst still dependant upon her goodwill. It lulled her, it washed around her, wrapping her in tones of strength, resonances of subtle will.
‘Raven, there is a thing you must do.’
‘What?’ Her reaction was instinctive, born of the need inculcated by the sonorous voice. ‘Tell me.’
‘The world turns, Raven, though its spin may end at any point. A brake is required, a pivot point, a place, a being, at which things rest in readiness to be shaped. You, Raven, are that focus. You are the axis of this world. Upon you depends the world.’
She shook her head, the enormity of the words striking through the mesmerisation: ‘No!’
‘How say you: no?’
‘It is too much. How can I be the turner of a world? Slaveborn, I. Now what? An outlaw, no more. This thing you speak of is too great: I want it not.’
‘You have it.’
‘No! You—whatever you are—cannot force it upon me. No. No. Choose someone else.’
‘It is not a question of choosing, Raven. It is a question of being. There are those who seek such a mantle of destiny; and those upon whom the mantle falls because destiny wills it so. You, for good or for ill, are one of the chosen. You cannot refuse the task, for the task will force itself upon you. We seek only to ease the burden.’
‘We?’ Raven asked, her voice tremulous with a mixture of fear and curiosity. ‘How say you “we”?’
‘All existence intermingles. A man crushes a beetle and a fledgling bird starves; because the bird ceases to exist, a flower is not pollinated. Because there are thus fewer flowers, a certain kind of insect breeds less young; those young would have fed fishes: their absence results in fewer fishes. A man who lives upon those fishes cannot find sufficient food: his child dies, hungry. Life is a circle, all things joining together in the great chain of existence. Within that circle, death is as necessary as life. Thus it is that we are you, and you us, mingled forever, some to act, others to plan. You, Raven, are of the former.’
‘This focus,’ she said, ‘how is it that I am it?’
‘Each being is a part of it. Worlds are shaped by the