Prologue

Now let me tell you a different sort of story. This is not so grand a tale, where heroes triumph over evil or gods create worlds. No. This is merely a story of how a bird became a man.

I like to believe it started with a sky as white as the falling snow. Though below was a mess of colors. There the banner of a fallen lord in royal blue and gold embroidery. Here a lady's pink favor clutched in a frozen hand. But above all, the earth was red and black. The battle had churned the ground until it had become muddy, the dead leaving pieces and trails of themselves wherever they fell or struggled.

This was not a place for living man, yet there was still life. Scavengers were brought by the stench on the wind and swarmed over the feast, leaving their tracks in the quickly falling snow. A great many were as black as the earth: the ravens.

Giving rise to a new sort of battle, they fought amongst each other and over how exactly to peel back the armor and cloth to get the choice bits beneath. One in particular managed just such a feat. Pecking and pulling at battered rings until the cool, red flesh was right before him.

He puffed out his feathers against a sudden gust of snow before gorging. In time he made his way to the man's heart. That was when something strange occurred. The raven began to think, not in the simple way birds do, but as does a man.

When his brethren saw night coming and returned to roost, he remained. There was so much thinking to be done. The entire night he shivered and thought, a bright half moon and the gentle shush of snow his only companions. By the time dawn arrived he was blanketed in white, half dead, but he knew what had to be done.

This bird now thought like a man, but was in the body of a bird. It was not right. He needed a man's body for a man's mind.

With a great cry, he stretched aching wings and thrust himself into the air in a spray of snow. Following several streams of smoke, he came to a small village and circled around it.

Then he hopped onto a rooftop and listened in to the conversation below. Here a rowdy argument, there soft giggles. They were not what he was looking for. Dark was coming again and just as he had given up hope he heard the cry of a baby.

In excitement, he glided down onto the windowsill and peered through the warped glass. A human woman nursed a baby as a man sharpened one of his knives and angrily told her a story. She nodded at the appropriate parts and made small noises in agreement, but her attention was all on the baby. As was the raven's. Almost hungrily he stared at it, but then his man's mind started.

He couldn't kill it; that was…wrong?

Why was it wrong?

Yet he turned away from the warm light, and flew to a stable and squeezed himself in next to the pigeons.

The next day he searched again, finding more houses with babes. Yet still he was unable to act on the compulsion. More and more he became weak with hunger, hunger both physical and mental. After days and days he was on the brink of starvation, and there was nothing left but base need. This would be what drove him.

To the first house he went, wedging himself under rafters and roof, staring down at the family. The adults went to another room, leaving the baby swaddled in cloth and gurgling happily at some dangling charms above its head.

The raven waited only one moment before pouncing onto the edge of its crib. The baby nearly started to cry, but when the raven did nothing it giggled. Another pang went through the bird, but it was ignored as the need surged in him again.

He hopped on the baby, and with great effort lifted it up to then crash through the window. The snow pillowed the fall, but the parents had already heard the sound and the baby's shrieks.

Desperately, the raven flapped his wings to make flying hops through the streets, awakening the people as he went by. Yet somehow he made it to a quiet part of town, where a screaming baby would go unnoticed.

The raven panted on top of his prize, watching the sluggish river carry chunks of ice past him. Then he stared at the distorted, wailing face, and suddenly only wished for silence.

Viciously, the raven stabbed his beak into the baby's chest, and all was quiet. Then he ate, as he had eaten the man, choking down the steaming flesh until he reached the heart. Here was what he needed. The heart of a child so he could be born a man.

Finished, he backed away in disgust from the bloody corpse and waited as his body began to shudder.

Then in a rush, the bird body stretched to be that of a tall, thin man, skin as white as a corpse and hair and eyes as dark as shadow. He was naked save for a cloak of dark feathers, his only protection against the cold.

With a shivering hand, the man wiped at the blood coating his thin lips and beaked nose before staring at the smears in his palm.

Than he began to grimace. It was full of joy, pain, despair, rage and exhaustion, all warring with the others for supremacy over his face. In the end exhaustion won, and he limped away through the falling snow, pulling the cloak tighter around himself.

This is how I imagine it all began.