1. Freedom Dreamer
I never looked forward to waking up.
The morning air hummed with the noise of indistinct chatter. Groaning sleepily, I pulled the thin sheets over my head to muffle the buzz. I knew what would happen; the same thing happened everyday. I didn't like it, but there was nothing I could do about it. Yawning beneath the white blanket, I tried to fall back asleep, knowing it wouldn't do me any good. Now that I'd shifted, they knew I was awake, and that would lead to only one thing.
Laughter buzzed through the air, muffled by the sheets. Several hands roughly grabbed me and the light covers over my body. As always, I struggled, trapped in a tight bundle of blankets, but my resistance was as futile. Then came the drop from the top bunk to the solid tiled floor. The blanket was worn thin and provided very little cushioning from the fall. My right shoulder throbbed as it struck the floor's hard surface. Tears threatened to escape me as the pain stung my arm. Sometimes they decided to throw me off the bunk while I was still asleep, and I'd wake up on the floor confused, but at least I hardly felt the pain when I was sleeping.
I felt my body being lifted and winced, bracing myself for what would come next. Sure enough, I was slammed into the frame of the bunk bed opposite mine. My head pounded violently, and my back ached where I had collided with the relentless steel frame. It looked like I'd have even more bruises when I woke up tomorrow. I scrambled around on the floor, trying to free myself from the snare of the sheet. Apparently the others felt like playing with me a little more before breakfast today; one of them pinned me down against the icy tiles while another pulled the blanket over my head. I couldn't see or hear anything, and the material was pressed right up against my nose and mouth. I couldn't breathe.
My heart drummed violently against my ribs as I struggled to free myself from their grasp. But they were all much bigger and stronger than me; I was of a very small build, and even with every ounce of strength I could muster, I could only twitch weakly under their powerful arms.
I can't see anything. I can't hear anything. I'm suffocating. I'm going to die.
After about thirty seconds, they let go of me to go to breakfast. I wrenched the blanket off my head, gasping for breath as soon as my mouth was unobstructed. The sudden rush of air to my lungs burned my chest, but at least I was breathing now. My whole body shuddered as I sat on the floor, just breathing.
As usual, I skipped breakfast to avoid the others. Once I'd changed out of my pyjamas and kicked on my trainers, I was out into the winter morning beyond the walls of the building. I walked for about five minutes, coming to the mouth of the woods nearby. Settling under a large pine tree, I leaned back against its large trunk and sighed, watching my breath turn into white mist. I wasn't sure why, but the others just didn't seem to like me. I didn't seem all that different from them; we all had the same dark hair, the same brown eyes, the same pale skin. As much as I didn't want to consider it, it could've been because I didn't have a name.
I spent all of my early childhood in the orphanage where I still resided. The careworkers had told me I couldn't have been more than a day old when I'd been left on the doorstep thirteen years ago. It was unknown what had happened to my family; I'd simply turned up at the front door that day. I'd spent thirteen years without knowing who I was or where I came from, and it unsettled me. I didn't know if my namelessness was really the source of so much hostility towards me, but if it was, then why? It wasn't my fault I knew nothing about myself. The others made up unpleasant stories about my origins, and they upset me so much I wanted nothing more than to run away from it all. But I had nowhere to go, and even if they were mean to me, I couldn't help feeling uneasy when I was alone. It was something else I couldn't figure out about myself; I didn't know why I seemed so dependent on the presence of others, no matter who they were.
A crisp breeze blew into my face. I shivered and glanced up at the grey winter sky, peering from beneath the branches of the tree. It looked like it would rain, probably even snow. Although I liked snow, my immune system was terrible and I knew I'd be sick in no time. I didn't want to cause more trouble for the careworkers, so it was a good idea to go back inside and avoid the snow. Just as I began to stand again, I heard a strange fluttering noise.
I'd barely even glanced upwards when something forcefully collided with my stomach. A strangled gasp escaped my lips as I staggered backwards. Upon looking down to see what had hit me, I glimpsed a mass of black feathers. A crow. I liked birds, so I hardly hesitated to kneel down, pick it up and cradle it gently. It was fairly large but not very heavy. It cawed softly as I carefully sat down, taking care not to hurt it. For a minute, I just sat there, gently stroking its feathers. Then as I pulled my hand away from its wing, I realised my fingers were stained with its blood.
"You're injured!" I gasped.
The crow made a noise that sounded almost like a human groaning. It attempted to move its wing but winced sharply as it did. I suddenly felt helpless; I didn't know how to take care of it.
Then unexpectedly, the bird spoke. "It's you…" He sounded somewhat relieved.
"Me?" I asked confusedly. "What's me?"
He tried to move his wing once more and groaned again. "You really do look like her," he muttered. He didn't seem to realise I could hear him.
I shook my head. I could hear him, but why was a bird able to talk in the first place? Maybe I'd fallen asleep under the tree and had started dreaming. Talking birds sounded like the kind of silly things I'd dream of. I placed him on the grass for a moment while I pulled off my jacket. I was going to freeze, but I probably wouldn't die. Judging from the amount of blood that had leaked onto my fingers, this bird didn't look like he had much of a chance. But I was going to try anyway. I laid my jacket across my lap, cautiously picked him up again and wrapped the folds of cloth around his body.
"Have I gone mad?" I mumbled to myself.
"No, you haven't," he answered.
I sighed in disbelief. "You're a talking crow. I must be mad."
"I'm human, like you. In fact, we're more similar than you realise." He seemed to regret having said that as soon as he stopped speaking.
So apparently I was very similar to a crow who claimed to be human. This was just confusing. "What do you mean by that?"
Now he seemed a little more careful with what he chose to say. "Well, we both belong to a group of people who are a little… different."
"Different how?" A thought struck me. Could he explain my namelessness or why the others seemed to hate me so much?
He seemed uneasy as he spoke. "We're more in touch with our souls than ordinary people. This closer contact gives us the ability to access unseen forces in and around ourselves."
I considered this carefully. "You mean like magic or something?" I questioned. It was a little hard to believe, since I'd always been told such a thing didn't exist. But I'd always hoped it did.
"Precisely," he answered with a slight tip of the head. "And because we have this power, there are others who want it for the wrong reasons. But because it's an innate ability, they're not able to get it. They're hunters, and they attack us either out of jealousy or because they see us as a threat. They've also captured many of our people for scientific research." His voice grew bitter.
So he was telling me we were both from this group of people who could use magic and were being hunted for it. Even if it were true, things still didn't quite add up. I'd never displayed any sort of special power, and that didn't really explain why he was a bird. I asked.
"With our powers, many sorcerers, like myself, can assume the forms of animals," he explained.
I nodded, thinking. "But if we're both sorcerers, why can't I use magic?"
"It's something you're born with, but it's also something you need to find within yourself and learn to control."
That would explain it. Having spent my life so far in an orphanage, I wouldn't have had an opportunity to discover or learn to control my own magic. Then another thought struck me.
"Karasu… if we're from the same group of sorcerers… did you know my parents?"
After a short pause, he replied. "I did. I knew them well. That's how I recognised you. You look very much like your mother, but I can see your father in you as well." His voice trailed off thoughtfully.
Now I had a source of information. "What happened to them?"
His voice became grave. "Your mother died in childbirth. Your father tried to fight off the hunters pursuing them. He never even saw you, because… they got him."
I failed to suppress a stunned gasp. All this time I'd assumed both my parents either dead or missing, but I'd never given much consideration as to how. Death in childbirth might have been a possibility, but I'd hardly given murder a thought. It came as a shock to me.
He continued softly. "I took you so you wouldn't get tangled up with the hunters. I would've taken care of you myself, but you were better off away from all that, so I brought you there." He waved his wing in the direction of the orphanage and winced again.
I stayed silent for several minutes. "Maybe I'll see them again, someday," I finally said at last.
"I'm sure we will."
"What were their names?" I asked, out of curiosity.
For some reason, he hesitated before answering. "Kurogi… Yotaka, and Suzume."
"And yours was?"
I smiled at his response. Despite him actually being human, the name suited his current form too well. My parents and Karasu had been named after birds, I noticed. Were all sorcerers named after birds? Was I meant to be named after a bird too? "Say, Karasu-san… did I ever have a name?"
His reply was slow and thoughtful. "I mentioned your family name was Kurogi, but neither of your parents were able to name you, and as far as I'm aware, no one else ever did." He paused. "Wait, you mean to tell me you've spent all this time without a name?" I nodded. "You could have chosen one for yourself."
I gazed down at the grass. "I know, but I've never really… found one that I liked. I guess I'll keep looking for a name that suits me."
There was silence for a few minutes. Then Karasu gasped sharply as he tried to move his wing again.
"Take it easy," I told him. Then a little more anxiously, I asked, "How did you get injured?"
Karasu's voice sounded grim. "Not long ago, the hunters came after us again. I know only a few of the other sorcers survived this time. Somehow, they develop so many ways to effectively counter our magic. I took this form and escaped, but one of them hit me with near the wing with an arrow."
"Oh." I absentmindedly stroked his feathers again. "Wouldn't it be easier to treat you if you were in your human form?"
"A smaller form consumes less energy, and I currently have hardly any of that." It was only then that I realised he sounded rather faint. "In fact, I have barely any to keep me alive. Soon I'll lie at rest."
That stunned me, but it wasn't as shocking as the fact that he didn't seem afraid of death. If anything, he sounded like he welcomed it. Well, after all he'd been through, maybe it was what he wanted. But I didn't want to be left alone again. Who knew how long it would be until I found someone else who cared for me? And even though I'd only known Karasu for ten minutes, he'd given me more than I'd received in the last thirteen years. I was indebted to him.
"Karasu… I want to help you."
He glanced up at me. "Then promise me you'll help the remaining sorcerers."
I nodded. "Okay, but how? I've never learnt to use magic."
"I'll help you awaken it. Take us deeper into these trees or we'll be noticed."
I stood up and cautiously carried Karasu further into the forest. It became darker and harder to see, but he told me not to worry. I started to feel a little uneasy. We were almost in total blackness, and it felt like the trees were closing in around me. The shadows danced around me, whispering threats to strangle me. I gulped. "Is this far enough yet?"
He seemed to sense my tension. "It'll do. Hold out your right arm." I obliged, stretching out the arm with which I was carrying him.
He began speaking in an archaic tongue. All of a sudden, a bright blue glow surrounded him and spread up my arm. I flinched, not knowing what to expect, but it turned out to be a pleasant sensation, a gentle wave of heat washing over me. The brightness grew intense, it blinded me and I shut my eyes tightly. I thought I felt a hand close around mine, but I couldn't open my eyes to look.
Then every ounce of strength left my body and everything became black as I fell to the ground.
I woke up and looked around, disoriented. My body felt strangely light, but I wasn't hungry. What had happened? Had I wandered into the forest and somehow lost consciousness? There was nobody else around; I was on my own. Maybe I'd just strolled in here and fallen asleep and started dreaming. But it had felt so real.
An icy gust of wind passed through where I was sitting. I shivered, wishing I had something to keep me warm. Just as I thought of it, something large, warm and soft from behind me wrapped around me. I stroked it for a moment before realising it felt feathery. I looked at it; it was a black wing, exactly like a raven's, but much bigger. It was large enough to have been mine. With a jolt, I realised it was mine. It was attached to my back, near my shoulders. I moved them away from my body, still trying to get used to them. I have wings. Had Karasu done this to me?
Another gust of wind blew through the trees. "It's already cold enough, leave me alone," I mumbled. To my surprise, it stopped and travelled the opposite direction. Could I really control the wind? Had Karasu given me that kind of power too? Where was he now? I'd never even thanked him for all he'd done for me.
Sighing, I followed a winding path through the woods, knowing I couldn't go back to the orphanage like this. They'd treat me with even more hostility. You came back with wings, but still no name? It sounded like the kind of thing they'd say.
After another half an hour of wandering through the shadowy trees, I stepped of the forest and into the gentle sunlight. There was a wide, spacious meadow before me. I'd never seen so much space without boundaries before. I was a little nervous about going off on my own, but I knew I couldn't turn back. The only thing I could do was go forward. I spread out my wings and took flight into the sky.
With this new freedom came a new adventure.
A/N: Origin story of Raven, a character I created for the story 'Calling All Heroes!' by Blade100.
Initially a one-shot. It's only a minor project so I haven't done as much with it as I have with some of my other work.
If you have suggestions for improvement I would love to hear them. Thanks =)