The Raven's Tale
'So, why have you come?'
High above the streets of London, two ravens perched. One was larger, with a mottled scar over one eye giving the appearance of a star. The other bore nothing to distinguish it from the unkindness roosting at the Tower.
'You know that, surely Sparkles told you?'
'Yeah, but I want to hear it from you. Call it getting pedantic in my old age.'
'Fifteen isn't old...'
'Not from a human perspective. For me, it's old.' The larger bird preened slightly. This conversation was beginning to get on his nerves.
'Yeah, okay. But I know I saw a ghost and I wanted to know what was going on? I thought you of all people would know...'
'Why? Because I'm so old? Or just because of the reputation? Don't believe everything you hear, Jen.'
'I just thought... anyway, I wanted to know and I'm asking you.' The smaller bird's tone carried an air of sullen defiance, like a sulking teenager.
'All right, all right. And yes, I have had some truck with ghosts in the past. Not many, mind, so this ain't gospel for them. But it's all I know,'
Two sets of claws tightened on the pseudo-Gothic arches. 'Right, well. The ones that have the most truck with us, or even the living in general, they're some kind of criminals down there. I never did get too much of the politics. Seems that there's two kinds of ghost, the ones that abide by the laws that they have down there and the ones that don't.
'The ones that do go by the laws, they're all ruled from some place called Stygia. And no, I ain't going to explain any of the old names, go look the bloody things up. But anyhow, the lawmakers are ruled from this place, a Strider I knew once said it was like a Realm out in the Umbra that these guys inhabit. If that was true or not, I dunno, but he knows more than I do. Or did, the bugger only went and died a couple of years ago. But anyway, these law-abiding ones have gone and carved themselves an empire out in the lands of the Dead. Remember the old Victorian English Empire? History like that you can't afford to let it pass you by. So there's this big empire, and the Grand Poo-Bah sees what's happening with all these ghosts running around, scaring the shit out of people.
'Needless to say, this ain't the best of things. So he comes down from high and says "No talking with the living. We're all safer if you don't." Makes sense to me, kinda like how we maintain the Veil.'
'But that doesn't explain what I saw!' The petulance came through loud and clear through the clicks and caws of the bird's language.
'Look, I'm getting to that, all right?' The larger Corax chided himself for snapping, but Jen's tone was getting to him. He was silently glad that ravens had no such problems with their young.
'So, they pass this big law, saying that all of this talking with the living is illegal and such.'
'What are they going to do to someone that breaks a law? You can't lock a ghost up, the one I saw could just fizzle away!' A slight twinge of fear mixed in with the excitement in Jen's voice. The old bird cut short a sigh. Typical English teenager.
'No, but according to one ghost, they can melt these ghosts down and make things out of them. Swords, armor, everything from bricks to ashtrays.'
'So if they have this law and stuff and people get melted down for breaking it, why do they come back? I don't understand.'
'From what I heard, all these ghosts are like spirits. You figured that out already, yeah? Well, think about what you know,' The bird's head tilted, watching Jen. 'Every spirit has a function. So, what's the function of a dead guy that hasn't passed around the Cycle yet?'
'Hey! You never said there'd be a quiz,' fortunately, Jen's tone betrayed her rising interest. 'Ummm... To work their way around the cycle?'
'Half marks. Think further on. They have to have had something holding them back to stop them moving on, yeah?'
'Yeah... so they're hanging around to finish what they wanted to do so they can pass on?'
'I can understand the law about not interfering with living people, but if they have to do something before they could go on, like, say, apologize to their husband, they'd have to cross back over and say it... that's not fair!' Jen's feathers slicked down in righteous indignation.
The old bird sighed. 'Life's not fair, but Death ain't either.'
'So this one I saw was just trying to sort out something from when he was still alive?'
'Yeah. Got it in one, and for that he'll be smelted down into a house brick or something like that.'
'Huh. That's just... wrong,' Jen tucked her beak down close to her chest, visions of the ghost she had seen replaying in her mind.
'Cheer up. At least we don't spend any time as one of them. Gaia has a special deal with us, remember? And besides, these criminal guys ain't too bad. Hell, from what I heard the whole establishment's corrupt, breaking the rule left right and center, but we don't hear about it. Well...' the grizzled old bird conceded himself a bit of pride, 'most of us don't.'
'But what could come up with a system like that? Where the ones enforcing the laws are just as guilty of breaking them? It doesn't sound like the Weaver or the Wyrm.'
Another sigh. He'd been answering a fair few of Jen's questions these past few days, a brief holiday turned into a question and answer session with him dead in the spotlight. Figuratively speaking, of course. 'It's neither. Or both. Or just bloody minded human nature. I ain't sure that the big three work the same in the Dark Umbra as they do up here. But the Wyrm's all twisted in on itself into something they call Oblivion. You know how the Wyrm seeks to destroy everything?'
'Well, this Oblivion ain't like that. Oh, it is big and scary and evil, beyond even my grasp of words. But it knows that everything does in the end, and it's waiting to eat them all up when they do.'
'But...' the frustrated tone was back in her voice, 'but why don't we do anything about it?'
'Look around you. How many of the people down there are like us? Hell, Jen, we have maybe twenty of us covering Britain, and that's just because it's home. And before you think of dragging the wolves into this, just remember that they're tied up fighting the Wyrm. Fer Helios' sakes, us and them and all that there, we're the only thing stopping the Wyrm from breaking through. And you just want to take a few people on a merry jaunt to a place even I don't know how to get to and try fighting something that might well be as big as the Wyrm? Splitting up like that was the reason Hitler fell, it was the reason too many other generals lost. We simply cannot afford it.'
A note of kindness crept into his tone as he continued. 'besides which, it ain't like the ghosts don't know about it. And some of them are hanging on because now they're too balls-out involved in making sure that everything they have left doesn't fall. They'll do as well as they can, just as we will.'
Whether that would be enough was not a question the older bird was willing to answer.