Deirdre flew west as fast as she could. She was a large sleek bird and she made good time. She passed over the meadowlands with their patches of woods, their now stagnant ponds and lakes, and the swamp which stretched to the Swollen River. She flew so high the air was very thin, and she breathed steadily and deeply to keep from tiring.
Far behind her lay the cliffs where she had been born, the coast against which the sea no longer pounded. Earlier this morning, the beach had stretched below her like a tan bondage, its stillness interrupted only by the occasional flopping of a fish come on shore to die. Not a ripple was in sight; no whitecaps flecking the ocean's surface with foam, no crash of waves upon the beach. All the aeries were empty and crumbling. She had seen no other bird.
She flew over the Swollen River, its turbid width troubled by rocks, and over the Plain of Desiccation. Before her, the Mountains of No Return rose, blocking all view of the Deadwood Forest beyond.
She climbed higher to crest the mountains and then swooped down into the forest. Deirdre landed on a branch, immediately folded her wings, and stuck her head beneath one as if she were asleep. Furtively she glanced around to see if any creature had seen her land, but saw nothing in the gathering darkness. She had arrived in time. Light was leaving the thick branches of the forest.
She thought how like a net the trees looked, how like a web. It was as though a spider had knitted the forest and moved on to another uninhabitable place to wield his malevolent magic. She imagined the light being held there against its will, trapped in the crisscross of twigs, but slowly it seeped upward and faded to the west, not with any fanfare or splendor, but with the tiredness of animals who lay themselves on the forest floor, breathe their last, and by morning are indistinguishable from the refuse of the woods.
And then the light was gone. Thick inky night filled all the branches and dripped from the heavens down, down until it seeped into her feathers, turning them a darker black. From beyond the grove of trees before her, the first hoarse guttural croak of the other ravens filtered back. She answered wearily—crauk, cr-r-cruk—and went to join the others.
* * *
It was full night, though much too early, when Derin heard a rustling in the bushes behind the ledge. The sudden noise jolted him from his reverie. He jumped to his feet, his hand instinctively went to his belt and tightened around the knife's handle. Out of the gloom Matthew emerged, carrying a leather sack. Without a word, without even a nod of acknowledgement, the satyr went to the overhang and began to take apples and nuts and stuff them into his own knapsack. "Are you ready?" Matthew asked. "Have you packed?"
"Yes," the boy said. "I've been waiting for you. You startled me."
"I had a few things to think over," the satyr said. "I went for a run. It's like that cheeky bird said. Everything's changed. Didn't see even a wood beetle." He turned and looked at the boy. "Put that knife away."
"I wasn't sure it was you," Derin said.
"Of course it was me. Who else would it be?"
"I guess I;m a little on edge," the boy said.
"Either give me the knife or put it away in your pack. I can't have you grabbing it every time you hear a noise in the underbrush." Derin placed the knife back in its sheath but made no move to take off his belt. "When do we leave?" he asked.
"You are not listening to me. Do you understand?"
"I understand," the boy said. In one swift motion, he unsnapped the sheath and hurled it to the ground.
"No, you don't," Matthew said, picking it up. "I don't think you understand at all. You are not as old as you wish you were, but nothing I could tell you would make you understand better, so you'll have to find out for yourself."
"I don't need a lecture," Derin said.
"Maybe not," the satyr said. "Maybe you do. Just remember one thing. On this trip you answer to me."
"That raven came to both of us," Derin said angrily. "I have as much right as you have."
"Damn you, boy," Matthew said.
"I'm not a boy," Derin said. "I'm not yours to boss around."
They stood facing each other like sparring partners, and Matthew glared at this other creature who looked so much like him. What the boy said was true; he'd grown up. His chest had broadened, his voice deepened. And he had long ago begun to make his own decisions, but now he fought back at every turn, wrestling his life free.
Derin's face was hard. Without thinking, he struck out at Matthew, but his fist hit nothing but air. The satyr dodged, grabbed the boy's wrist and twisted, and Derin found himself on his back, his head throbbing.
"How many times have I told you?" the satyr said. "You're learning, all right. You're quick, but not as quick as you'll need to be. So listen to me when I tell you something. We're leaving tomorrow."
* * *
It had been Sunday all day, but the sun had never appeared. And now no stars broke the dense oppression of the sky. Derin and Matthew lay under the granite overhang, dim in the glow of a fire which had long since burned itself to embers. The boy slept fitfully. It was close to what should have been midnight when he awoke with a start. Matthew was beside him, his head resting on the knapsack, deeply asleep.
Opposite him, the darkness took shape, two bright gold eyes on either side of a hooked beak. On enormous talons the think moved closer. "Matthew!" he yelled. "Wake up!" But the satyr slept peacefully to his right.
Derin rushed to the fire and stirred the embers. They scattered under his hand and slithered into the underbrush like snakes. He felt something in his hair and he recoiled in horror. He writhed, wailing, felt himself rising as if through layers of cold dark water. It was Matthew's hand in his hair, and when he opened his eyes, it was Matthew's face he saw. "So the hero has nightmares," the satyr said. "The hero is troubled by sleep."
And it was evening, and it was morning, one day.
End of chapter one. Chapter 2 coming... at a point in the future.