[size=9]One year ago - WestEnd[/size]
The place was a mess.
It wasn't much to begin with, the guardsman could see - just a simple four-room loft, not including the bathroom. Spacious but cozy.
Laid out on the floor - which looked as if it had once been painfully maintained hardwood but now more closely resembled the floor of an abattoir - were two adult and one adolescent female bodies.
The smell of blood was thick and cloying, but that's not what bothered him.
It was the bodies.
Stripped naked, beaten, stabbed, raped, and stabbed again...in a place decidedly not intended to stand up to the penetration of hard sharpened steel.
His eyes moved in that direction again, drawn as if by some perverse form of magnetism to those broken, savaged figures. Just the sight was enough to make his stomach twist and turn in a horrible mixture of pity and nausea.
Forcing his gaze away, he looked around the loft again. Pictures and posters torn from the walls. Tables and chairs smashed and splintered, couches slashed to ribbons. Bits of glass crushed into powdery fragments that crunched under the boots of crime scene investigators as they went about their work. Holes punched in the walls, looking like they had been kicked or perhaps hammered.
To his eyes, it looked like someone had come in here looking for blood and had vented every bit of violence they could dole out...and then kept right on going.
He was sure there had to be more than one...probably as many as four assailants.
None of it made sense. And canvassing had revealed nothing - the other residents were terrified.
It was several hours before the crime scene unit wrapped up, and after they did the three bodies were carried out in anonymous black bags shrouding their features.
None of the guardsmen or other investigators noticed the large, ink-black crow watching over this affair in silent vigil....and as the last body was carted away, the bird spread its wings and took to the air, flapping in silence off into the night.
[size=9]Last night, Rhy'din Cemetery[/size]
The air was cold, crisp, frosty. The moons overhead spilled their ghostly, silvery white light down between fluffy puffs of cloud as they drifted by on an unfelt breeze far overhead.
This night, though, the cemetery was not going to be a place of total peace.
Several people had seen the crow already, though none seemed to have guessed its true nature.
One person was about to find out...but she wasn't going to be inclined to tell anyone.
As the ink-black shadow of a bird floated into the graveyard, a rumble sounded, as of distant thunder, though there was no lightning to be seen.
Red-rimmed golden eyes easily picked out its goal - three small headstones, bathed in moonlight. Like the shadow it so resembled, the crow glided over to the leftmost stone and settled on it, looking down upon the ground below the grave whose name read simply 'ALEXA.'
A raucous cry came from the bird, loud and harsh, its wings fluttering a bit before it started tapping on the stone with its beak.It's dark.
For the moment, that's all she knows.
It's dark. And it's cold. That's new.
What is she doing here? Where is she?
She screams, and the sound is terrifyingly close. And even more, it's galvanizing.
It started so subtly at first...as if the earth before the grave had suddenly taken the shallowest of breaths.
The crow stopped tapping, its eyes wide, bright and alert as it watched the ground intently.
There is no movement for a long moment...and then suddenly the earth began surging upward.Instinct has taken over at this point. First a shove with her arms, the shocking crash of adrenaline setting fire to deadened limbs.
There is a bit of give, and she draws her legs up and pushes harder, the strength of desperation powering her efforts.
Whatever it is above her swings upwards like a door, and as fresh earth begins pattering down on her face, she sees a sudden flaring of brilliant, silver-white light...
The bird watched as the earth was pushed upwards, silent, its eyes bright and alert, far too intelligent for any mere avian.
Out of that deep, dark hole crawled a feminine figure, her long, lean shape wrapped in black that flared out past the hips in a gauzy flow, a funeral dress that Death's bride would have been proud to wear.
And as she crawled out onto the cold ground of the Rhy'din cemetery, she turned her face to the cloudy sky and shrieked, a bloodcurdling cry that rent the night like a dull blade.She doesn't understand.
It's cold, and dark...she understands that. She can see gravestones, and earth, and flowers. She knows where she is.
But why? And how?
Despite the fiery coursing of adrenaline she can still feel in her blood, her limbs feel...clumsy. Slow, deadened...like she hasn't used them in a long time. Still, she manages to get to her feet and walks, stumbling and slow, towards the gate and pushes it open. As she's about to step out, though, she hears it.
Alexa. Your name is Alexa.
It's not her voice, or any voice she's heard before, and it brings her to a halt.
The crow watched the woman as she pulled herself from the earth.
Born anew, the earth her womb, gestating a restless and troubled soul until finally it had to give up the prize given to it...if only for a short time.
Those bright golden eyes watched as she got to her feet slowly, carefully, stumbling as she walked towards the gates...and then he called her back.
She didn't hear the raucous cry of the crow, however...Her name is Alexa.
Funny that she'd forgotten that until she'd heard it.
But who had told her?
That voice again, louder. Masculine and yet feminine...familiar and yet strange.
But with it - just under it, blended with it - she hears the cry of the crow.
Turning, she sees it. A large, black shape that glides towards her like a ghost on eddying air currents.
And yet, she is not afraid, does not shy back as the black bird settles onto the fence next to her and looks up at her with large, bright eyes.
Come with me, Alexa. Come with me, and remember.
With another raucous cry the crow took flight, and the woman draped in black followed after...[size=9]((Continued in WestEnd))