From the moment she had returned from the stream, Yuki had been different. It was slight, but there, especially to her brother who noticed and admired her more than anyone. She had always been quiet in her own way, but now it was almost secretive, like she believe she had something to hide- she could talk like it could save her life, but even then she seemed to exclude certain peculiar things that Jio had noticed her doing in the forest, like talking to ravens. Once, on a particularly cold day, when the ravens had flown the nest and Yuki didn’t really have much of a reason to be in the forest, Jio had left her alone for a while to find particularly good sticks for sword fighting, under the instruction not to pull them off trees because ‘they’re important’. As he was returning, he heard an abundance of alarmed, angry twittering and cawing. As he rounded a tree into the small clearing Yuki and he had chosen for practice, he was alarmed by the sight of hundreds of different birds huddled into the trees surrounding it, screeching and diving through the air. Briefly, he noticed, there were no ravens in amongst the hoard. Suddenly, half a dozen falcons erupted ‘kee’-d and ruffled their feathers in agitation, and then erupted from the branches high up, diving quickly to the centre of the clearing. He followed them and gasped in horror - there, right where the falcons had targeted their dive, was his sister, staring up at the violent birds in pleading horror.
“I’m sorry!” She screamed suddenly, tears pouring down her cheeks,“I’m sorry! I don’t know how! I can’t! Please stop! I’m so sorry!”
The birds struck her with a heavy force, dragging their sharp talons across her skin - two hit the top of her arms, one struck her thigh, and the other raked it’s razor claws right along her side. She gasped and collapsed, clutching at the wound in her waist.
In a mass cloud, the birds dispersed, and Jio ran in, horrified. When he leant to help she twitched away from his touch, and met his gaze with despairing eyes.
“Don’t tell mother and father.” She begged, “Don’t tell mother and father.”
Yuki then refused to meet his gaze, and called into the trees in a sob. In a minute she was swarmed by beautiful black birds, who peered at Jio with wary black beads. Yuki muttered to them wearily, motioning to her wounds, and they studied them, before setting off back into the air. Jio couldn’t find the strength to move towards Yuki, and in sudden panic, he ran, calling for Fuuma.
Fuuma followed Jio under the pretence that the two boys were going to practice their swordplay with the sticks Jio was carrying, but in truth he had noticed the fear and worry in the clear blue eyes of his friend and the lack of the guardian’s presence by the other twin.
When they arrived back at the clearing, the ravens had also returned, and Yuki was attempting to drowsily apply wet bandages brought by the ravens to her wounds, barely conscious.
“What do we do?” Jio’s small voice trembled, “Madelli could help. We could take her back to Madelli.”
“No.” Fuuma replied firmly as the young guardian in the clearing met his eyes in fear. He picked up an order from that gaze - He mustn’t tell a soul, for the sake of the guardian. “Jio, go and get the lunch and bring it here. Get some water.”
Jio stood frozen in shock for a long moment whilst Fuuma crouched beside Yuki and let her rest her balmy forehead on his shoulder as he took over applying the bandages, before running off to ruefully do as he was told. He had been afraid when Yuki had called the ravens, but they had helped her; suddenly he had begun to believe that the rumours and myths about them couldn’t be true. But what if others found out? They did not know Yuki for her sweet personality. He never mentioned it, but Fuuma’s hands had been shaking in fear just as he noticed a swarm of ravens in the tree near the clearing, before they had even seen Yuki.
Would it set fear into the hearts of anyone who saw Yuki muttering to ‘omens of death’?
Would the village fear his sweet sister?
None of the children told anyone about the incident in the clearing. Yuki pretended that she wasn’t hurting due to her wounds, but Jio noticed her wince when she moved; at night, he heard her sobbing quietly to herself and muttering in pain.
He never asked what she had meant when she was crying apologies to the birds, but soon after she began to ignore many other birds. When she saw pictures of them or heard names, a look of heavy remorse crept into her features, slowly softening over months until, eventually, she managed to feign ignorance and remain blank to them.
It was a great relief to Jio that no one but Fuuma and himself witnessed Yuki finally fully grow into her guardian abilities.
It happened in a crop field; they weren’t supposed to be there, but the farmer was away at market, and the sky was clear and blue, the sun warm on their young skin, and they wanted something to do in the irritating hear.
Hide and seek amongst the tall corn plants was a perfect idea- it would give them shade and occupy their time.
During Yuki’s turn to seek, she was easily distracted by an old, chittering raven bouncing amongst the crops, and forgot that she had to find her brother and friend. Instead she beganchase the Raven, eager to talk, as no raven had even uttered a sound to her since she had called for their help to fix her wounds - now settling into scars. She called after it, asking it to stop, but the Raven wanted to play, and so she offered it a playmate in herself.
As she ran, she felt exhilaration rush down her spine, heat flushing through her. Her steps thumped heavily against the rich dark soil, and her swinging arms knocked seeds and fluff from the plants, leaving a cloud behind her. She nearly elbowed Fuuma and she hurried past, and her foot collided with Jio’s knee as he sat amongst the stalks of a thick bundle of corn plants. They jumped up in alarm and ran after her.
“Raven!” She called, “Raven, this isn’t fair!”
If you want us to accept you, it taunted, Then you must learn to fly with us.
“I am human, raven! I cannot fly! I have no wings!”
Not in this fake form, of course not, oh no.
“Oh, stop! I beg you! I don’t know what you mean!” She panted, pausing to suck in long, deep breaths, doubled over.
The raven swooped to land a few metres in front of her, eyeing her judgingly.
Yuki does not know...Yuki is a bird, Yuki is like me, Yuki is not like me. Yuki is a human, yes, and Yuki is a guardian.
It didn’t make sense to her at the time - A bird? A human? Like him and yet not like him?
“Stop, please. I don’t understand.” She wailed, but as she took a step closer it hopped backwards and threatened to set off again without her.
She only understood the last part of what he had said, for she was the guardian of birds.
At the beginning of the year the birds she was supposedly the guardian of had attacked and rejected her. For months she had been ignored by any bird, and so she had ignored them in return. It had been painful.
You must decide, Guardian: Who do you want to fly with? The sparrows, they wish you can forgive them for their harsh words - they are common, but admired greatly. They will lead you in peace, help your words be heard, but leave you vulnerable under attack. The falcons grieve for the pain they caused you, but boast on their strength and beauty- they are to birds as kings are to humans. They know you can help soon, they want you to fly with them, and let them guide you to an existence of power, where you are revered and loved. We ravens grieve for none of our ignorance and ask for no forgiveness for our sinful, scavenging existence- we are hated, abhorred, thought to be nothing but thieves and scavengers, the lowest. But we know who we are, we see our own beauty, and what they think means nothing to us. We could guide you as well as any other. Who will you fly with, young guardian?
Yuki was confused - the raven could ask her, but she felt it was obvious there should be no question: When all other birds had demanded more, the ravens demanded nothing. When the other birds attacked, the ravens waited to make it better. Yuki didn’t hate the birds for hurting her, because it helped her to understand how small she was - she was the guardian, yes, but she was not all powerful just by that.
She knew the answer.
“I want to fly with you, raven.”
The raven cawed and spread it’s wings.
Follow me. Spread your wings, my guardian.
It beat it’s feathers and hopped, lifting into the air, and swiftly swooped across the top of the corn.
“Raven!” Yuki cried, feeling betrayed, “I cannot run that fast!”
“Yuki! What are you doing?” Fuuma yelled, taking hold of Yuki’s arm as he caught up to her. Jio straggled a small way behind.
“I want to fly!” She pulled away and stomped her foot against the ground childishly, then pointed at the dark bird playing on the air. Fuuma froze at the sight of it. “I want to fly with the raven!”
She grit her teeth and began to run, squeezing her eyes shut, irritated.
Surely it was a trick! This raven was trying to trick her! It was a mean raven!
But she thought over what he said as she ran, and her arms drifted wide upon instinct as she thought strongly about lifting into the air.
“YUKI!” A strangled yell came from Fuuma, but it seemed so distant, as though it was below her.
Cool wind rolled loosely over her arms, and billowed up beneath her; her mind spun and her stomach dropped like she was rising and she opened her eyes to discover her skin shrouded in inky black feathers.
The raven chuckled, gliding and spinning around her.
Now we can play! It cawed in delight, Yuki is a bird! Yuki is like me! Yuki is raven!
Raven?! She thought, and tumbled in surprised, crashing hard into the ground, once more a little blonde girl.
“What did you do?” A small voice cried from a few metres away. Yuki turned to look.
Jio ran up behind her, smiling unsurely, closely followed by Fuuma, whose mouth was agape, and whose eyes swam with horror.
I shall see you again, my guardian. Farewell. With that the raven swooped away.
“Yuki, what did you do? How did you do that?” Jio pestered, trying to push down his excitement.
“You were a bird, Yuki... Y-you... you were a raven!” Fuuma added, hesitant to feel amazed for all his worry.
“I was a raven?” Yuki gasped, “I really was? I was flying! The raven told me so, too! I am raven!”
“That was amazing!” Jio cried, then scrunched up his hands in determination. “I want to do it.”
Fuuma’s feet backed away instinctively, only one or two steps. He forced a smile as Yuki turned to look at him with a face filled with innocent joy, flushed pink as pride warmed her cheeks, but his mind was on the curse that Madelli had told him of, and the myths.
Weren’t ravens omens of death? Yuki had always been so peaceful that Fuuma felt seeing her as a raven should make him believe the myths to be false, but something deep within him could not let go. He gritted his teeth and ran, not replying to the curious calls of the elated twins and not stopping until he crashed through the door of the wise-woman’s hovel.
“Madelli!” He cried, clearly upset, “Madelli!”
The wise-woman hurried to him, enquiring as to what was wrong, and he told her what had happened, what Yuki had said the raven had said.
When he finished Madelli looked, not at him, but past him with a deep-set terror, and collapsed into a chair.
“Raven...” She muttered distractedly, before setting a stern glare upon the young boy, “Fuuma, promise me that you will never utter that name to Yuki whilst in the presence of the curse’s victim. Never. If she ever learns to know of the true spelling... so be it.”
“What do you mean?” He asked, his voice small and exhausted.
“It is likely that what the raven called her was not the spelling for the bird. It probably meant ‘R-A-Y-V-’N.’ Of course... Of course the birds would know...”
Fuuma was confused, but promised the upset wise-woman all that she had asked, just before the twins burst through the door in a whirlwind of excitement and tiny black feathers.
The wise-woman and the young boy glanced at each other quickly - a sign. They would feign ignorance for the younger ones, and pretend that all was still the same as before.
Later, in the quiet of his room, Fuuma prayed; he prayed that it wasn’t a sign of a coming madness.
He feared the possibility of that happening to the cute little Yuki he had always known.
Something inside him whispered otherwise, though, questioning why he should keep those promises to Madelli.
In the quiet, as he began to doze, he wondered if he would still feel loyal to her if she was to become insane, like the guardian of the past.
Yes, he thought as his eyes fluttered to a tight close. Yes, of course.