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Heartbeats of a Day

Heartbeats of a Day

Under the sharp blade of moonlight, Za’darius Marquez Serenus rolled the five small stones into the circle he’d etched in the dirt. A pentagram. His fierce howl sent the ravens screaming from the gnarled and twisted branches of the trees deep in the forest.

Satisfied with his answer, Za’darius gathered up the stones, dropped them into the leather pouch, and set off in the direction of his small hut on the edge of the forest. His pace was hurried, looking over his shoulder at the shadows cut by the slice of moon. The ravens followed frantically, dipping their wings toward the ground, and then rising quickly to skip over the tangled treetops.

Through the gloom, Za’darius moved without hesitation down the narrow path toward his small hut, quickening his pace when it finally came into view, the ravens screaming above the treetops. Ducking inside, he hurriedly lit the candle on the lone table, casting a long shadow against the opposite wall of the small room. Picking up the candle, he moved quietly back to the entrance and listened to the frenzied screams outside.

This is the work of the witch, he thought, no question about it, and her threats require my immediate response. Holding the candle in front of him, he moved cautiously back to the table and took down the heavy book from the bookshelf above the table. Opening it up, he sat down. He moved the candle closer, carefully turning the ancient pages of The Sacred Grimoire and Instructions of Vulnerable the Silent.

Za’darius had first been introduced to the teachings of Vulnerable the Silent when he apprenticed under Rubio Lasarus.  Rubio had ordered Za’darius to study the writings of Vulnerable the Silent in order to understand the dark side. While Rubio practiced and taught only the magic of love, Rubio insisted that Za’darius understand that a darker side existed in the universe, and a shaman must remain vigilant. With Rubio’s constant admonishment, Za’darius learned the practice of black magic, but only as a precaution. Za’darius thought back on Rubio’s counsel, “When confronted by evil, one must resort to evil, but only when one has no other recourse. Black magic should never be practiced as a means of attack for black magic can turn against those who practice it.”

This was one of those times, Za’darius now understood. Rachel Ravensong, her heart darkened by evil, had sent forth the challenge, and Za’darius had heard many stories of Rachel’s mastery of her craft. She had studied for years under Livio Prosaltyk, a sorcerer of great prominence. In her haughty and aloof manner, Rachel Ravensong was amused by the way the villagers looked the other way whenever she approached, and even Za’darius himself looked down at his feet whenever she passed.

Now he was confronted by a different puzzle, a direct challenge that he must see through to the end.

Studying the pages of The Sacred Grimoire and Instructions of Vulnerable the Silent, Za’darius’s attention was disturbed by the clamor outside his window. The ruckus ringing in his ears, Za’darius stood up and walked to the door. Outside a conspiracy of ravens had crowded into a nearby tree, squawking and carrying on in such a frenzy as to wake the dead. Peering into the deep silence of night, Za’darius turned back to fetch the candle from the table before stepping outside.

Above the clamor from the ravens, Za’darius perceived a slight rustle from the underbrush. He peered into the darkness, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was there, but the darkness was impenetrable. His imagination told him, however, that whenever mischief was astir, the little people were close by. Their presence gave him solace against the mysteries of the dark. Turning his attention back to the angry screams, he shivered against the cold thought that Rachel lurked nearby.

Za’darius hurried back inside and crossed the small space to the open grimoire on the table. Turning the pages frantically, he came to the chapter entitled “The Vulnerable Operation.” The elaborate ritual used to converse with and gain the insight of his guardian angel was described in detail.

Your guardian angel is near, but you must be able to reveal her essence by offering a concoction of equal parts virgin soil and guano mixed together in spring water. Za’darius looked up from the ancient text. Equal parts virgin soil and guano mixed with spring water? Virgin soil? Had he come across this before? Virgin soil must be soil undefiled by human contact. Deep in the forest, he would find the soil of a hundred years of decay, untouched by human contact.

The cacophony from the ravens broke his concentration. He must act. Trusting on the company of the little people, he would venture deep into the forest to shovel the rich, virgin soil into a bucket he would carry with him. Guano he would find in the Cave of a Thousand Terrors.

Burdened by tangled nerves and shivering against the cold, his heavy overcoat buttoned to the neck, his thick scarf wrapped tightly around his mouth and nose, Za’darius opened the door cautiously to peer out into the darkness. Fearing the dark, he turned back for the lantern hanging in the corner above the table. His courage restored, he stepped out into the thick night, listening for the whispers of the little people. They were shy, but he sensed their presence as he ventured deeper into the dark forest.

As a young child his grandfather had told him stories about the little people and how, when we lived in harmony with our environment, the little people would always bring us comfort in times of despair.

Shivering against the bone-chilling cold, Za’darius held the lantern out to guide his footsteps, the bucket and spade held in his other hand. Cautiously he made his way through the thick undergrowth, peering into the heavy darkness, his breath a fog around his head, listening for the footsteps of the little people. Overhead, the ravens quarreled.

When he reached an opening in the dark forest, he paused, looking around for a rock on which to set the lantern. With the light from the lantern illuminating the area in front of him, he set about digging and scooping the rich soil into the bucket. The aroma of the rich soil inspired him to dig deeper, unearthing hundreds of years of decay. He sorted through the moist, fragrant soil, returning the eager earthworms back to the earth.

When his bucket was full, he took up the lantern and held it skyward. His bones shuddering against the grip of cold, muscles trembling uncontrollably from weariness and affliction, and his shirt clutched in the grim claws of sweat, he hurried back toward his cottage. Under the shroud of night, listening for the comforting footsteps of the little people, he felt the harsh cries from above clutching at his coattails.

From the cacophony, one voice stood out, a shriek of such a distinguishable and perturbing nature that it could not be ignored. Za’darius looked up, hoping to identify the source of this piercing shriek. Before Za’darius could grasp what was happening, a lone raven swooped downward in a fury of outstretched claws and screams. Cringing in horror, Za’darius dropped the lantern, along with the spade and bucket, virgin soil spilling out on the ground. After a stunned moment, he looked up in time to see the raven soar skyward, which gave him just enough time to scoop the virgin soil back into the bucket and take cover under the thick canopy of forest.

Realizing that he’d left his lantern behind in the meadow, Za’darius peered out from the snarl of tree limbs, hoping to catch a glimpse of the angry raven. What had he done to rouse its wrath? Through the sliver of light from the moon, Za’darius strained to see across the small meadow, finally spotting the solitary raven in the crown of a tall tree. There was no chance to retrieve his lantern without risking another attack. Frightened, he moved farther back into the labyrinth of trees.

Looking around, Za’darius knew he couldn’t spend the night here, shivering against the bone-chilling cold. Where were the little people? As loneliness and fear crept into his soul, he knew that, as a shaman, he should be fearless, but, as a human being, he felt the grip of the cold darkness. Having no other choice, he gathered up his courage, along with the bucket of virgin soil and the spade, and started off toward his cottage, looking anxiously over his shoulder.

With a great sigh of relief, he finally reached the front door of the cottage and hurried inside, slamming the door behind him. When the door was latched, he went immediately to the small table and lit the candle. The Sacred Grimoire and Instructions of Vulnerable the Silent lay open on the small table and Za’darius sat down to read. Flipping furiously through the text, he came to the chapter entitled Transmogrification.

It was Raven who stole the sun from a monster who wanted to keep the world in darkness…Raven is about shapeshifting and mysticism, one who knows that this Earth walk is an illusion and one can travel through space and time in the blink of an eye. Za’darius read, his lips moving silently, pausing occasionally to look around at the shadow on the wall behind him, blowing hot breath into his cupped hands, shuddering against the icy chill from the cold air that seeped into the small hut. Za’darius stepped to the door to listen, the silent cold outside calling to him. Curious, he unlocked and opened the door to peer into the darkness.

Through the heavy veil of darkness, a faint silhouette against the sliver of moonlight, the raven appeared in the crown of a nearby tree. Repeating, over and over, “Ravens are clairvoyant and carry messages from Spirit to those who are willing to hear and follow through on what they are shown,” he stepped out into the darkness, knowing that he was sending an invitation to the raven.

If you look into the eyes of a Raven, you see the gateway between this world and the next, the place where all of your dreams live. Raven knows how to carry you there and show you the path to return so that you may manifest that which you have found in the void.

Za’darius looked up through the stir of branches.

“I watched Spirit create the entire Universe out of the void, thus, I was taught how to create Magic.” The whisper came to Za’darius from high up in the tree.

“Rachel?” he called out. In the silence, he heard the stirring of the little people. His grandfather had told him long ago that the little people guarded an ancient secret about the beginning of all things, told to them by a Raven who had traveled to the void and back.

Za’darius suddenly recalled the story his grandfather had told him, the meaning of which he was too young to grasp at the time: “Raven was flying along the edge of the ocean when she saw a Clamshell. Never having seen one before, Raven was curious, wondering what was inside. Raven flew down, trying to break open the Clamshell with her beak. To no avail. Finally, she took it up in her claws, flying high above the Earth, and dropped it on a rock. The Clamshell broke open and humans emerged, scattering to all corners of the Earth. Now, Raven feels such a heavy duty to Spirit to watch over those that she set free.”

Za’darius looked around. The silence pressing in on him, he looked up. She was gone. Stepping back inside the doorway, grasping the heavy door firmly in his hand, he listened.

“Are you there?” he asked into the darkness.

“Are you afraid?” a voice came to him.

Taking another step back, but before slamming the door shut, he hesitated.

“You needn’t be afraid,” the voice said.

“Who are you?” he asked. Feeling his courage rise inside him, Za’darius stepped outside. The darkness was heavy, broken only by the shimmer of candlelight from inside the small hut.

A figure, holding a lantern, emerged from the trees. As the figure approached, he could make out the image of a woman of spectacular beauty.

“Where did you come from?” he asked.

“From there,” she said, pointing to the treetops.

He looked up. Could this beautiful woman in front of him now be the raven he’d seen a moment before? As she stepped closer, he saw that it was Rachel. Torn between welcoming her into his cottage or slamming the door shut, he was unable to move.

“You found my lantern,” he said.

“You dropped it in the meadow,” she said. “It is such a dark night, I thought you might need it.”

“Thank you,” he said. “It is kind of you. Won’t you come in?”

Holding the lantern out to Za’darius, Rachel followed him inside. He pulled out the chair for her and hung the lantern in the corner. Kneeling in front of the small woodburning stove, he looked over his shoulder. “I should have a fire going in no time,” he said. “It is a cold, damp night and you must be near frozen.”

“I am quite comfortable, but a fire will be nice,” Rachel said.

“Can I offer you something to drink? I can put the teakettle on once the fire is going. I have tea.”

“I would love some tea, thank you.”

Za’darius lit the fire, fanning the flames with a bellows. Once the fire raged inside the stove, he took up the teakettle to fill from the well outside but hesitated, frozen for a moment in time. Realizing that he was staring into Rachel’s dark eyes, he turned quickly and left, leaving the door open behind him. Rachel moved closer to the fire.

When he returned, Za’darius placed the teakettle on top of the stove. His back turned to Rachel, he prepared the tea, suddenly feeling a tingling in his heart. What was happening? There was no question about what the five stones had revealed: Rachel was a threat to him and he needed to remain wary of her guile.

All of a sudden, he realized that The Sacred Grimoire and Instructions of Vulnerable the Silent lay open on the small table. Rachel must have noticed it. Nothing could be done now, so he forced himself to act as if it meant nothing. Besides, she might not be familiar with the book, but he doubted this.

When the kettle whistled, he poured the steaming water into the teapot, glancing over at Rachel for any signs. What was she thinking? How would she respond? Did she see The Sacred Grimoire as a warning in the same way he saw the pentagon of the five stones as a warning of her challenge to him?  

“Here you go,” Za’darius said, handing a cup of tea to Rachel. “Sugar and milk?” he asked, pulling a pitcher of milk from the icebox and holding out the sugar bowl to Rachel. She took two spoonfuls of sugar and poured milk into her cup, stirring it carefully, looking up at Za’darius.

“Thank you,” she said, the sweet tea on her lips.

“I’m glad you like it,” he said, spooning sugar and milk into his cup. There was only one chair in the small cottage, so he remained standing, leaning against the cupboard. When Rachel looked over at the table, he felt he owed her an explanation.

“You’ve noticed The Sacred Grimoire?” he said.

“Yes, I find the fact that it is lying open on your table interesting,” she said, leaning over the table. “Hmmm…Transmogrification. What do you think?”

“Are you familiar with the text?”

“I am familiar with it,” Rachel said. “I have studied it with great intention, believing that it might be useful to me.”

“I had studied it in my youth but hadn’t found the need to refer to it in many years,” Za’darius said.

“And now you return to it?” she asked.

“Yes and no,” he said. “I am mostly taking up empty time.”

“Empty time? Do you mean boredom?”

“Boredom? Perhaps but not exactly. A way to fill the long nights, I think is more accurate.”

“Yet I am curious why you choose to refer to The Sacred Grimoire at this time,” she said. “Could it have anything to do with the throwing of the stones?”

Za’darius paused, unsure of how she knew of the stones. “The five stones told me that you had set down a challenge,” he said finally. “But now, overpowered by your beauty, I believe they were wrong.”

“I am flattered,” she said. “And now, do you see me as a threat?’

“No, not at all,” he said. “I see a beautiful woman in front of me, a woman who holds the promise of love.”

“Yet you are there and I am here. We live in two different worlds.”

“But we don’t. You are here, in my cottage, deep in the woods. You are right here, nowhere else. How can you say that we live in two different worlds?”

“Because we do,” she said. “It is true that you see me now as a woman, but in your heart, you know that I am a raven. My appearance here is an illusion. By the time the crescent of moon slips below the western edge of the world, I will have faded away.”

“I don’t understand,” he said. “You are leaving?”

“My image is leaving – forever.”

“But how can that be possible?”

“I am a raven, not a woman,” she said.

“But I have seen you before, on many occasions, in the village,” he said. “You appeared to me as a woman then, and you appear to me as a woman now. It is true that I have seen a raven high in the treetops, but how do I know that that wasn’t just a trick?”

“No, my appearance as a raven is no trick, I can assure you,” she said.

“But what about all the times you had appeared to me in the village? And to others as well. That can’t be a trick.”

“No, that was not a trick. It was a dream. Your dream. And like heartbeats of the day, dreams come to us only once.”

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“You dreamed me into existence,” she said.

“And now? Why can I see you now?”

“As I have explained, this is an illusion that will soon be gone,” she said.

“You have just now come into my life, and now you say that you will soon be gone,” he said. “I don’t understand. How can it be? And what can be done about it?”

“Only one thing,” she said. “If you want to be with me, then you have to enter my world.”

Za’darius stepped back, not grasping what Rachel was saying to him. “Become a raven?” he asked.

“You have to enter my world, this is the only way. I have come to you now because a strong force pulled me here. I have no choice, when the remnant of moon slips below the western edge of the world, I will be gone, never to return, in life or in a dream.”

“But how? How do I enter your world?”

“You have the formula. There, right in front of you,” she said, pointing to The Sacred Grimoire and Instructions of Venerable the Silent.

“To become a raven?”

“That is the only way,” she said.

“Through metamorphosis?”

“Yes, through the transformation of your spirit.”

Za’darius stepped to the table and looked down at the text. Was it possible? And what did this mean? To become a raven? To leave the world he knew, everything with which he was familiar, behind forever?

Rachel sat still. Her dark eyes pierced his soul, her beauty irresistible. And love? What did love look like to a raven? He needed to know, yet her spirit called to his. Love would surely take care of itself. Love knew no boundaries. No shapes or sizes. No limits. Love was boundless.

“How do I know that what is happening to me now is not a dream?” he asked.

Rachel reached out her hand and pulled him to her. Za’darius bent down and kissed her. The fire in his heart engulfed him, and Za’darius staggered backward, striking the table.

“You must decide soon,” she said, standing up and walking to the door. The fine crescent of moon slipped steadily downward. She turned back to Za’darius, and in her eyes, he saw a passion that he’d never seen before, and his heart beat wildly. The choice was his, and only his. He looked around the small room and then back to Rachel.

A dream? Was that possible? She had come to him in a dream. And now? Was she something else? A woman? A raven? Love perhaps? And like heartbeats of a day, does love come to us only once?

Za’darius stared at the tea leaves in the bottom of his cup, hoping to find an answer there. All of a sudden, a blast of cold air shook him out of his stupor and he looked up, his cup shattering on the hard tile floor. Rachel was gone. He rushed to the open door and looked out. The brittle tip of the moon had slipped into the well of darkness, not even a silhouette remained.

 

 

 

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