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Jennifer N. Morton
His footsteps were silent in the cavernous chamber as he steadily marched
forward. The trailing edge of his robe dusted silently behind him along the
burnished marble floor. Silence echoed around the room.
The chamber was built into the walls of an underground cavern. Corinthian
columns were etched from the naturally rough surface of the cave itself, and
fine crystal or reflective glass hung suspended from stalactites in the
chamber's ceiling. The great length of the hall was nearly bare except for the
black robed figure walking silently to the single adornment on the smooth marble
floor. A gray stone basin appeared to rise from the marble, growing straight
from the stone beneath the floor, as much a natural formation of the cave as the
But like everything else in the room, it had been
molded, changed, and transformed until it barely resembled its previous natural
order. Clouds curled around its pedestal, etched in relief from the stone, their
wispy shapes curling lazily around the base while carven rays of light drifted
lazily down from the circular basin of water, a magnificent sun depicted along
the bottom of the bowl.
Then, stretched in carefully carven relief until they appeared to drift through the clouds, were divine angels.
Details worked so finely into their face that their heavenly beauty appeared
nearly lifelike, if not for its perfection. Expansive wings with detailed
feathers stretched their tips along the wisps of clouds, and the carven figures
appeared float through their stone heaven.
An odd silence blanketed the room even as the lone figure slowed his pace
towards the basin. His walking had made no sound along the floor, nor the gentle
swish of his robes with movement, and the glass and crystal above was soundless
as they shifted and spun to reflect the minimal light of the room in all
directions. A bluish-green glow diffused throughout the room, shadows flickering
and wavering in the soft light.
The light fell on the figure cloaked in black robes and created flickering
flames along his clothes, dancing with the smooth movements of his body as
though a ballet of lights. He came to a halt beside the stone basin, and the
blue-green glow lit his face from below.
The air became thicker and pressed more heavily on his tall frame, covering the
room with an oppressive still as he stood beside the basin of glowing water,
and, for several moments, he stood as motionless as the air within the chamber.
The sudden shifting of the long sleeves of his robe first seemed like the
beginning of a chill within the cavern, but the movement was transmuted into the
slow raising of the man's hand, the gesture like the slow progress of time to
nature, where eons pass and mountains grow or crumble but only with the long
passage of time, when in the interim these great forces are overlooked or
With deliberate care, he dipped a pale, elegant hand into the liquid.
Droplets of now clear water trailed down his palm and hand, falling into
obscurity within the sleeves of his robe. A single tear pearled along one
skeletal finger, sliding down to its very tip. He raised his hand above the
center of the pool of water, and the room watched with bated breath as the drop
slowly fell away from his hand. Falling straight through the air with the
slowness of a feather, but without the erratic drifting as though air no longer
had any bearing and time was meaningless..
The first noise in the chamber since the man had stepped within was his sudden
rapid, rattling intake of breath just as the droplet hit the water with a soft
ping. The quiet sound echoed like an explosion around the room, and suddenly the
crystal and glass was stirred by an unseen wind into a chorus of tinkling
voices. Ripples spread out rapidly from the point of impact, and the cloaked
figure leaned over the basin, the glow dimming until the light barely reached
beyond the man's face. The soprano tinkling of glass still drifted from an
unseen source in the background.
A distorted shape was forming from the ripples of the watery basin, and as the
water stilled, a reflected face appeared. Kind, warm brown eyes stared back with
small crinkles spreading from a smile. Cheeks were ruddy with warmth and life as
the face suddenly turned, and the cloaked man stood watching the reflection of a
worn face from his vantage point above the pool.
The young woman, lines of age and hardship morphing into smiling wrinkles, ran
carefree through a hazy world where glowing jellyfish lit the blue night with
the soft light of floating stars and drifted lazily through the air.
The man touched the water briefly and the ripples shifted the image.
A group of children were laughing, their mouths moving with the familiar shape,
but no sound escaping the dimly glowing water of the basin. He dipped his finger
into the water once again and watched the ripples swirl away.
Another young woman was now within the bowl, the image of her fading into a
blue-green glow around the edges of the circular basin. Her face was young and
glowing, and her features were rounded, childlike, but she carried herself with
the bearing of a proud, confident woman. Her hair fell in waves of black down
her back, contrasting sharply to the pale color of her skin. Her eyes were dark
as well, a deep, nearly violet, blue. Her body was tall, but unnaturally thin
and she looked trapped at the cusp of adulthood despite her obvious maturity.
She was dancing, twirling within a myriad of people in elegant gowns and masks.
Her own was remarkably simple next to the extravagance of the other couples, yet
beautiful in its simplicity. The dark violet of her dress made the darkness in
her eyes more pronounced, and against the paleness of her skin, a slight, pale
flush of pink along her cheeks gave her whole face a glowing color.
black hair was left to hang in rolling waves on her shoulders and the mask was
as alluring as it was mysterious. Dark, glossy feathers swept back from her eyes
in the semblance of a pair of wings and a single crystal diamond glittered from
the center of her masked forehead, laying fragile and breathtaking from its nest
of black feathers. Her dark eyes were lined in silver color and a dark wine
color dusted her lips. She appeared every inch the raven.
The dim glow revealed a small uplifting of pale lips on the man's face, a ghost
of a smile. He leaned forward briefly, and the curtain of his hair fell forward
to frame his face and shield it from view. The blue-green glow backlit the
glossy black sheen on his hair as he leaned more fully on the stone basin. His
robes fell forward, cloaking the basin and shielding its etched carvings from
A sudden crack echoed around the chamber, filling the silence with noise
and fear. The robed figure was gone before the basin had hit the floor, a clean
crack running diagonally through the pedestal where the angels flitted
oblivious. Water rushed across the marble floor and the glow died with the
endless sound of stone cracking and breaking upon stone.
She stepped onto the marbled dance floor just as she had done for night upon
night. Couples glided past her, lost in one another, and she drifted among them,
watching and waiting. She was not disappointed when she saw his familiar form
moving towards her effortlessly through the crowd that parted unconsciously for
His hand reached up to caress her bare cheek. Unlike the other occupants of the
room, bedecked in cascades of glittering jewels and sequins with full face
masks, the young woman's gown was one of simplicity and beauty. A single gem
stone reflected light from her feathered mask, covering only her eyes and
sweeping elegantly back over her dark hair, until glossy feathers blended
seamlessly with black tresses.
A dark, clear amethyst lay alone and in stark
contrast against the white of her chest. The gown, strapless, did not have an
immodest neckline, but opened beneath the empire waist hemming of the material,
showing a diamond shaped expanse of milky white skin just under her bosom. The
silk hung tight to her figure, following the curve of her hips until it flared
outwards slightly mid-thigh, coming to rest in a swirling storm of iridescent
She sighed into his palm, leaning into the touch, and he smiled gently,
breathing her name, "Keaira."
"You're the only one who calls me by my full name." She said, eyes fluttering as
though in sleep with a slightly sad, wistful smile.
"It fits you better than Kera," he told her, voice low and yet not quite a
whisper. "Come, Keaira. Let's dance." And he grabbed her hand, pulling her
towards the floor in a series of twists and spins. She laughed gaily, hair
flowing out behind her.
"My beautiful raven," he whispered into her ear as he dipped her, and Kera felt
herself falling. Darkness rushed up to meet her, and the last image in her mind
was that of a white mask, obscuring features behind its thin and drawn smooth
porcelain. A face smiling longingly down on her.
She turned lazily over, suppressing a groan as she replaced the pillow she had
been hugging to the other side of the bed. Kera stood slowly, stretching
languidly, before turning to pull the covers up over her bed. She stared
longingly at the warmth her body still left on the sheets before moving out her
bedroom door. Her hand trailed longer than necessary on the empty side of the
"Ashling," she called out in a singsong voice. A groan met her call. "Come on,
Ash. Time to get up. You've got school, and I've got to get to work. Your
grandma is going to be picking you up later, and you'll spend the night there,
so you need to make sure you've got all your things."
"But Mama," the small child begged piteously, "What about my game. You said
you'd come see me play this time."
The mother sighed tiredly, and her childlike face aged thirty years with the
outpouring of air. "I'm sorry, baby. But I've got to work late tonight.
Something came up, and I had-"
"Something always comes up!" He yelled angrily, sleep still clouding his eyes.
Then he seemed to awake completely and realize what he had said. "Oh... oh
Mama... I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
The mother's shoulder's slumped further, as though breaking under the strain,
and her eyes darkened further with emotion as she looked at the small boy who
she could not find it in her heart to reprimand. "No Ash. Don't worry about it.
Just... just go get ready for school, hm? I need to be on my way to work soon."
The mother turned then, closing her boy's door quietly as she went into the
bathroom to wipe the tears from her eyes.
"Korbin!" She cried out in surprise, a smile lighting her entire face with a
rosy hue of color. "You're early tonight," she cried out again, joyously.
He chuckled lightly, the sound sending enjoyable chills down her spine, and took
her small hand in his long one, easily wrapping the thin fingers around hers.
"Come Keaira. I have a surprise for you."
The two swept from the room, though Kera never noticed the pause in the music as
they moved beneath the archway. Korbin's robe adding to his mystery as it
snapped noisily behind him in the silence.
A storm was brewing in the sky beyond the arched entrance and rows of stairs
trailing down from the ballroom. Columns upon either side of the staircase
supported a canopy of black sky and burning stars. The clouds beyond rumbled
briefly in disquiet as a fork of blue lightning sparkled through the dark gray
sky. Kera smiled at the beauty in awe. Korbin chuckled lightly again.
"I've always liked the storms too." He told her quietly, the wind stealing his
words as it whipped her hair around her like a cloak. But she heard him anyway.
"I don't always like storms... but this one." He smiled again at her wondrous
"Yes. I see what you mean." And they stood for a brief second beneath the awning
of stars, watching the roiling, seething, living mass of clouds belch forth
bolts of lightning and thunder like an aerial volcano. "But come, Keaira. You'll
love what I have to show you as well."
Kera followed, mouth slightly gaping, and allowing Korbin to lead her as her
eyes remained riveted on the sky. "Come now, Keaira. You'll have to close your
eyes for me now. But I promise it will be worth it." Kera's eyes fluttered close
obediently, letting herself be led blindly, trustingly. "You can open them now."
She gasped sharply at the sight that met her eyes. Blue green light danced
around the room, reflected from countless crystals hanging from the ceiling like
a gorged chandelier.
Korbin smirked slightly before the smile morphed again and his expression lost
the previous irony he had found. "You haven't seen the best part yet."
They walked to the center of the chamber, footsteps echoing loudly on the stone
and bouncing and reverberating from the walls like drums, a steady, dull tempo.
Korbin brought her to rest beside a basin of water where the blue-green glow was
shining. The room reminded her eerily of an underwater grotto with its
reflecting, wavering light.
"Watch," he said simply as he dipped a hand into the bowl's center before
raising it above the water and letting a drop fall soundlessly to the surface.
The soft ping drowned in the vastness of the cavern. Ripples spread and Kera
watched as her reflection shifted transforming into a young boy with soft brown
hair and dark blue eyes. His creamy skin was flushed with color as he raced
along in a grassy knoll, hands clasped within a taller man's as he was spun in
"Ash..." Kera gasped the word in surprise, before her mind recognized the man
twirling his son. "Craig... oh God... What- what is this? Why are you me this?
"This is your son's dream, Keaira. While you dance and simply escape into the
crowd in your dreams... he is with his father again, as though your husband
never left." An unidentifiable note of bitter emotion slightly tainted the
softly spoken words.
"Dream? His dream... but how?" And Korbin laughed at her confused voice.
"Do you not get it yet, Keaira? Have you not figured it out? You are dreaming.
This is a dream."
Kera's eyes widened at the sudden, horrible understanding. "Then... this..." she
said gesturing expansively, and it was obvious from her movement that she did
not mean surrounding alone, "All of this. You and me. None of it has been real.
You're only just my dream."
Korbin laughed once again, and the sound echoed disjointedly off columns and
uneven walls. "I said that you were dreaming, Keaira. I did not say you dreamed
me. How else would I be able to show you what your son dreams of at night?"
"But," she began desperately, fear and a profound sadness that comes from loss
filling her eyes. "But what if I'm just dreaming of you saying these things.
Dreaming that you're showing me my son's dreams."
Korbin looked down on her once again, saw the emotion swirling and darkening her
eyes until they were nearly the color of the glossy feathers framing her face.
"You won't know until you ask him... or you won't believe me until you do. I'm
sorry that I could not make this dream happier for you, Keaira... You may go
back to the ball now if you wish."
Kera watched the unmoving profile of his mask for several moments before turning
and taking a few steps towards the door. When she did not hear him following,
she turned and looked back. He had not moved from his previous position. "Aren't
He stood, staring at the flickering lights and shadows dancing along the wall
and across the columns before answering. "No. Not yet at any rate. I'll see you
tomorrow night, Keaira."
"But..." And she paused again, not sure what kind of protest she wished to make.
"... Alright, Korbin. I... I guess I'll see you tomorrow." Her footsteps faded
the closer she came to the door, until they were just barely a whisper in the
large carven. And as she stepped into the dark entrance and blackness swallowed
her, she heard Korbin's final parting words.
"... Don't forget to ask your son..."
Kera started awake, jumping immediately from a deep sleep into alarmed
awareness. She leapt from her bed, not even casting an eye on the empty side,
and rushed to her son's room. He stirred blearily in the semi-dark of the room.
"Wha-za matta?" The words were slurred and heavy with sleep.
"Ash... Ashling, listen to me. You have to answer me, do you understand?"
"Mom?" He asked drowsily, swaying drunkenly with sleep. "Wha-"
"What did you dream about? Who did you dream about? You must tell me Ashling.
You have to tell me!"
Ash shook his head slightly, as though trying to throw the sleepy confusion from
his mind. "Dream?" He asked, already grasping onto the fading tendrils at the
command. A wistful smile crossed his face suddenly as his lids came to rest low
across his eyes. "Daddy was there. We were running and laughing and spinning...
and it was great." And in the dark of night with sleep dragging down his body,
he shrunk before her sight. Something remarkably close to lucidity entered his
eyes even as they softened with the innocence of a younger age. "Daddy's not
here anymore, is he?" And the words were that of a young child.
Kera felt something in her break at the plaintive tone. "No, baby. No he's not.
Lay down, Ash. That's it. Now go back to sleep. Get your rest. You need to
sleep." She stood by his bed, stroking his hair until his breaths evened out.
Then she turned and returned to her own room. She did not sleep for the rest of
the night, but dreams of what might have been plagued her mind.
She was in the same ballroom again, but her posture had lost its confidence. Her
hands were fisted in the material of her gown, twisting and pulling at the
fabric in her nervous wringing. Then she saw the crowd part and knew that he was
walking towards her. Without a word, he took up her hands, one of his own
ensnaring her waist, and lead her onto the dance floor.
Neither said a word for most of the night, content just to dance beneath the
arched ceilings of the ballroom. Kera laid her head gently on Korbin's shoulder
and allowed him to lead her blindly from the hall. Still swirling and dancing in
time with the faint chords of music drifting outside, the couple came to a stop
beneath the starry canopy, another storm presenting a smouldering backdrop
behind the black, starred awning.
"Shh." He whispered softly, bringing his fingers to her lips and shushing her
with a soft croon. "No need to say anything. I understand."
"Oh Korbin, what am I going to do? Ash was asking for his father again today.
Asking why he had to go. He just doesn't understand, and I don't know what to
"Then just give him what he wants." Kera's head jerked up as he said that, eyes
"Wha-what? Don't even joke about that Korbin."
"I'm not joking," and she could tell from the seriousness of his voice that he
was not. "I could give him his dreams... if you'll give me mine."
"Korbin... I... what are your dreams, Korbin?" A mixture of emotions clouded her
face, moving from sad to confused to just plain tired and weary. All worn
expressions etched into a young face.
"Stay with me, Keaira. Stay with me here. Never wake up, never die, never grow
old. Just stay with me, and never return to that world that has hurt you so
much. Live your dreams, Keaira, and live them with me."
"I... I can't. Not forever... Korbin, that's so... so long. I couldn't leave
everyone, everything I've ever known for forever, not eternity. Even if it made
all my dreams come true."
"Think about it, Keaira," he said softly as he pressed the cold lips of his
white porcelain mask on her closed eyelids. When she opened her eyes once again,
she was staring up at the ceiling of her room, a warm body curled in her side.
She jolted at first, a tremor of fear running down her nerves until she saw the
small, familiar shape of her boy. Dried tracks of tears ran down his ruddy
She wiped sadly at the traces of his tears, her hand lingering on his cheek. She
stood quietly from the bed, carefully shifting her son until he lay curled about
her pillow and then walking to the kitchen. A cold mug of coffee lay on the
counter, and she wrapped her own frigid hands around it, eyes staring blankly
and sightlessly into the darkness outside their window.
She was rocking Ash, smooth back and forth motions as she rubbed his back in
soothing circles until his sobs died into gasping hiccups which then eventually
subsided into shallow, measured breaths. Kera carried her son carefully to her
own bed, laying him in the spot his father once occupied.
Craig had come by that day, collected the things he still had in the house, and
left. Kera did not blame him for wanting to leave as quickly as possible. She
herself had felt uncomfortable with the feelings rushing between them, an
emotion still disguised as love, a drowning sadness, but most of the feelings
were still wavering, unsure, and unstable. Craig left too quickly in fear of the
emotions Kera knew she stirred within him. And Ash watched as his father turned
his back, the man never seeing his son watching wide-eyed from the shadows.
Kera cried with him that night, not so much for losing Craig as for Ash losing
his father, and as she clutched Ash tighter to her body, she welcomed the dreams
for the first night in days.
The ballroom was back, filled with people, light, and music, and Kera remembered
why it had been so hard to forget this room, this dream. For days she had gone
without, and she had missed it horribly.
A hand snaked around her waist, and Kera jumped straight up and stiff until the
other hand began to caress her cheek in an oddly familiar yet now strangely
"Ash will be happy?" Her voice resigned, defeated, hoping.
"He will always have his dreams."
"Yes." The word both an acknowledgment and an answer.
Korbin nodded and held her closer. Nothing more needed to be said, and for a
brief moment, Kera felt a dizzying nausea grip her.
Then slowly the tension melted from her frame, dissolving with the slow mincing
steps she felt her body automatically taking as she began to follow Korbin who
led her gently and mindlessly out the arched doorway. The sound of her son's
laughter was the sensation that brought her back from the newly descended fog
obscuring her mind, and Kera stared wide eyed into the basin of glowing water.
She could hear noise and sound emitting from the bowl now, and watched as her
son lived another happy moment from younger ages, further embellishing the tale
with each new dream.
Kera sighed happily at the smile on her son's face, a burden finally lifting
from her small, tired shoulders. Korbin stepped forward to replace it with his
Kera's hand hovered over the water, the appendage mimicking the movement of a
gentle caress through the boy's hair. "When can I see him again?" She asked in a
low, sad voice.
With a hard jerk, Kera tore from his arms to stare at him in horror. "What...
what do you mean?"
"He's dreaming now, a perpetual, endless dream. And while I can travel through
dreams. You cannot."
"Why not?! Why can't I go see my son?!"
"Silly mortal," Korbin whispered fondly, the endearment rolling off his tongue
sweetly, a succulent, tasty word. "Have you not figured it out. You were marked.
You were to be taken, and yet when I saw you dance, and you turned your raven
mask to me, I knew I could not... not kill you at any rate. I fell in love with
you Keaira, my Little Dark One, my beautiful little raven."
"I don't... I don't understand. Marked? Killed?! Why me? Korbin?"
Kera shuddered violently, taking a halting step backwards in fear and revulsion
as he slowly removed the full face mask of blank white that had obscured his
face until then. And she found herself immobile as she stared at the sunken eyes
of black fire and prominent cheekbones jutting from his face of tightly pulled
skin. The flesh stretched more like bone across his face.
"Korbin isn't my only name, you understand. I've been called other names in the
past, but Korbin is my favorite. It means 'raven,' you see, and I have always
held a soft spot for my beautiful ravens, my lovely harbingers of death."
"Other names... what other names?"
The man smiled down on Kera, and she trembled visibly beneath the mockery of a
human smile. His skin was stretched thinly across his mouth, showing the expanse
of his teeth in more of a snarl, though she knew he was truly attempting to
smile, truly attempting to express his happiness, and somehow, that thought only
frightened her more. "I have been called many things. An angel, a reaper, a
demon, a devil... but those are only titles, not names. I won't list them all,
but I will give you the one that will make most sense to you. You Keaira, you
call me Korbin, but to most... they know me as Death."
Kera inhaled sharply, and swayed dangerously on her feet, but Korbin reached out
a skeletal hand, pale and bonelike, to steady her.
"You have nothing to fear from me," he told her gently. "When I said that I had
fallen in love with you... I meant it. I would never hurt you nor your son.
Because I know to hurt him would kill you as well, and if I could not kill you
in your sleep as I had been ordered to, you have no reason to fear that I would
do so now."
"I... I was supposed to die... Death," a shudder racked her frame as though the
revelation only now was being fully absorbed, "YOU," she did not spit the word,
but all her anger, all her spite, all her fear transformed the sound of her
voice. "You..." only a whisper now, "were supposed to take me... but..."
"I couldn't take your life." Korbin supplied gently, no condemnation, no anger,
merely the infinite patience that comes with age, that comes from watching
eternity pass by and knowing that eternity still lies ahead. And he continued in
the same impossibly patient, gentle voice. A voice she had never imagined
belonging to Death. "I couldn't kill you, not when I knew it would force your
eyes to close and that dark, raven colored passion to dim. I don't expect you to
love me, Keaira.
You are young after all. But you will come to respect me and
love will follow eventually. We have all the time in the world you see. I can't
kill you, but I can't really let you live forever, either. It would destroy too
many laws, the laws of Natural Order, and then 'They' would kill you anyway
because your existence could threaten Nature itself. Life requires Death. And
there are ways for mortals to die that do not involve Death's -- my -- hands or
my scythe. But if you sleep, if you stay with me!
in your dreams, I won't have to kill you because you won't truly live, and if
you are neither alive nor dead,
'They' have no control over you. Just as 'They'
have no control over me. I will continue to do my duty, but now... oh now I will
not be alone, and we can be together for all eternity. Always together, always
loving, and always dreaming. Keaira, my beautiful raven, my beautiful goddess of
The sound of Korbin's voice seemed distant to her now, as though she were
hearing the words from behind a curtain, and she knew that someone was speaking
these words but she could neither see them nor understand what was being said.
And yet in some small, unreachable corner of her mind, Keira understood all too
plainly, exactly what Korbin had said to her, all his truths and misdirections
and hidden meanings, and she lost herself until all conscious thought had fled
to be replaced by a protective haze.
But in that small region, that closed area
of her mind where all was heard and understood, Keaira could not help but think
when she heard Korbin's final words that she was not dreaming anymore.
Somewhere, she had crossed an indefinable line, and dreams or hopes for
happiness had changed. Keaira was no longer in a dream. Death had stolen her
soul and captured her within a never-ending nightmare, an incubus of the night
that had drawn her in, and now would never let her go.
Korbin reached forward and caressed her face in a parody of love and caring.
Keaira trembled one last time before stilling, and an oppressive silence
descended on the natural form of the now tainted cave.
Keaira slumped slightly against the stone bowl and let a single, bitter tear
fall unchecked onto the shimmering surface where her son was laughing happily
and carefree. An explosion of sound reverberated endlessly on the walls as the
drop hit the center of the basin until the noise morphed into the same roar of
silence that had always pervaded the chamber.
She imagined she heard the call of
a raven in the distance, the cawing, screeching death knell of the dark bird,
and she imagined she heard Korbin answer with the same inhuman cry in the
silence. And Keaira's body shook with soundless sobs that seemed to form from
beneath the mask of raven feathers she still wore, the droplets of salty sadness
now falling silently onto the frozen surface of the water.
Korbin came to stand beside her, drying her hopeless tears of mourning with his
skeletal hand, and the silence stretched on forever.
Meanings of the Names (Korbin - Raven)
(Keaira - Little Dark One) (Kera - Pure) (Ashling - Dream, Vision)
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