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The Raven

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Waves cradled the wooden craft, as if it were a child in the arms of a loving mother. Awake. Andrim sat up and immediately wished she hadn't. Pain surged up her spine and settled in the back of her head, becoming a painful migraine. Vague memories of a large sailing ship plagued her mind.

"Raiders..." she trailed off. She remembered what had happened. Raiders attacked the ship that was heading to the city of Auckbluff. She was on that ship. Where was she? She looked around slowly. Endless ocean wherever she looked, except for a tiny black speck in the distance. Land! But it was so far away. Surely Andrim would starve before the sea carried her to it. She reached longingly towards it before passing out from nausea.

... Andrim awakened once again to the sound of a beach, and was met with a miraculous sight -- The boat had reached land! Andrim eagerly hopped out of the boat and onto the shoreline, ignoring the pain. There were towering trees that would put even the Watch Towers of Arkstead to shame. A dock, a gravel trail, and yes! Even a few houses scattered just a few dozen paces from the beach. Mountains sat in the distance, a small volcano resting at the highest peak.

Andrim speedily limped along the trail to the nearest building, a tavern built into a wall of rock near the beach. She called out, expecting locals to exit their homes to see who was the source of the shouting in the midst of the night. None came. As Andrim neared the tavern, she noted that the doors had been left slightly ajar. She thought nothing of it and quickly scanned the premises. A sign with the words Keluwind Tavern, an empty wicker basket, and a few scattered broken planks of wood.

"Keluwind Tavern..." Andrim spoke the words with wonder. It had a nice, calming ring to it. Keluwind must be the name of the town, she decided. Either way, she couldn't wait to head in. It seemed like ages since she last had a good brandy.

The tavern was empty. It appeared as if no one had been present for weeks. But all of the oil lamps and candles were still lit. How could that be, with no one to tend to them? Not a single wine sat on the shelves, but there were bread and apples. The bread looked freshly baked, and the apple seemed to have been picked just minutes ago. Cautiously, Andrim took a bite of an apple. An impossibly sweet taste overtook her mouth, so sweet that she gagged slightly, but so delicious that she kept going back for more.

A small juke box resided in the corner, a box of discs sitting next to it. Mind empty, she drifted to the juke box and inserted a disc with a red band around the center into the machine. There were some loud ker-chunking sounds and then a beautiful tune played from the box. A tune so incomprehensibly beautiful that it brought her to the brink of tears. Not at the beauty of the harmonious tune, but at the heart-breaking realization that neither she nor any other could ever recreate such a wonderful thing.

Abruptly the sound stopped, and was replaced by a staticky sound. Andrim felt completely replenished now, after eating but one apple and hearing lovely music. Even her headache had seemingly drifted away. She gazed out the front window of the tavern and met the gaze of a large, malevolent raven. In the land where Andrim came from, ravens were harbingers of misfortune and death, and should be avoided at all costs.

She stamped back outside to scare the raven away, only to see that it was no longer there. Something wasn't right here. Where were all of the people? Where did the bread and apples come from? These questions and many more ran through her mind, all racing for answers. She looked toward the sea. Not a single sign of life.

Andrim turned back toward the tavern, only to see it in ruin. Lanterns were broken, candles melted to pitiful stumps, cobwebs, overturned tables. The apples that once sat piled in a basket were now rotted to the point of being nearly unrecognizable. The bread was plastered with mold and the juke box in the corner sat in disrepair.

"How?!" Andrim managed to choke out before coughing up the remains of a rotten apple. Horrified, she fled the tavern and into the long-destroyed village. The towering trees that once grew near the beach were now deader than dead could possibly be. The very bark on the trees was grey and lifeless. All was cold and dead save for a single raven resting peacefully in Andrim's wooden craft.

Suddenly all of the pain returned, but a dozen times worse. She collapsed in the sand, clutching her head. The raven cawed loudly before everything went dark.

Andrim awoke with a gasp. A dream. It was just a dream. She walked to the deck of the ship, the Blessed Solstice, saw an island in the distance. One with towering trees and a small, old village.

"That island is uncharted," began a crewman, "shall we dock there?"

Andrim smiled.

"No need," she began. "I've already been there."

The look on the crewman's face was one of bewilderment.

"As you wish, madam." he said sheepishly before clambering below deck.

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