Misfortune had always followed Marshal Corvus like a faithful shadow. He had grown used to it, even welcomed it. At least he wouldn’t have a dull moment in his life.
Aeryn Corvus wasn’t born with that name. Aeryn Pavone. That was his name at birth. Pavone, not Corvus.
Children born of the union of parents with disparate bloodlines usually took after one or the other. On rare occasions, the child was a hybrid. The rarest case though, was when the blood of an ancestor awakened within the child and the child had traits of some other beast entirely.
Aeryn was a raven among peacocks.
Whipping his wings, he banked hard to the left into the shadow of a cloud. The shadows wrapped him in their embrace and when the balls of fire tore them to shreds, he was gone.
He reappeared in a shadow above his pursuer. Tucking in his wings, he dropped like a stone towards the back of the Tier 4 ant.
Shadows oozed out of his pores, radiating outwards in a sphere of darkness.
The ant, the only one of its kind that had managed to keep up with his speed in their aerial chase, vibrated its wings in agitation, sending waves of heat radiating outwards as it tried to locate him. Its antennae swung erratically trying to pick up traces of him as it hovered in place, unheeding of the silent sphere of darkness that was descending onto it.
The sphere began to morph, elongating into a cone of darkness. A beak formed, then two wings tucked close to the body, and finally, a tail. The shadow raven cut through the air faster, the rushing wind becoming unnaturally silent in its wake.
When the ant noticed, it was too late. Despite its attempts to evade, the raven hit it square on its side, sending it tumbling through the air with a bent wing. Screeching in anger and pain, it pumped mana into its wing, making it glow a bright red. The wing straightened out and with an explosive blast of mana, it stabilized itself in the air. Turning to the face the shadowy raven, it screeched out its challenge.
Merged with the darkness that made the raven, Aeryn Corvus’ expression grew grim. He had barely dealt any damage to the creature even in this form. He hadn’t expected for the blow to kill it. That just wasn’t possible. He was still at Tier 3, albeit at its peak, and the raven was just him shaping his domain into the form of his bloodline origin. He hadn’t managed to integrate his bloodline into it and reach true Bloodline Manifestation. When he did, he’d be at Tier 4.
So, the raven was a shadow without substance and expecting it to slay a beast at Tier 4 in a single blow was wishful thinking. Though he had hoped to damage its wing long enough for him to escape. Its near instantaneous recovery had scuppered that plan.
The only way he’d survive this was if he managed to advance his Tier before the Tier 3 ants that had been chasing him along with it finally caught up.
The information he had was crucial. If the squad tried to delve into the Forbidden Zone without it, their chances of success would dwindle to almost nothing.
He needed to get back to the camp. It would seem that he would have to rush his breakthrough.
An achromatic ripple spread out from him, dyeing the blue skies grey.
It carried his melancholy sigh. “How unfortunate.”
For a time, it went undetected. He hatched. He ate the shell of his egg. He crawled, he bawled and he sucked his mother’s teat. Things a normal Pluma baby would do. It was only when he began to shed his down and grow his feathers that his bloodline was discovered. The plumage of his similarly aged cousin was a beautiful greenish blue, his feathers were black. His cousin had long tail-feathers; a courtship fan of vivid greens and blues, subtle browns, and transfixing ‘eyes’. His were the colour of midnight.
Beautiful though his plumage was, Aeryn didn’t resent his cousin. At that age, he was too busy rejoicing that unlike his cousin, his wings were built to support flight much more intensive than just a hopping glide to the tops of trees.
He would fly circles around the courtyard, taunting the land-bound brat, sometimes even to the point of tears. That would teach the little show-off to not spread his tail at the mere hint of rain. Okay, maybe he was a little resentful of all the attention the brat got while all he got were indifference and disdain.
Still, his toothless smile could thaw the coldest of stares and make the most prejudiced of hearts waver. It was the happiest time of his life.
Shadows spread out from him in rings as he flapped his wings to stay aloft and the shadow raven formed out of his domain flapped its wings along with him. It fractured the sunlight like rippling surface seen from under water.
Letting the mana from his mindscape trickle down into his heart, every beat mixed the source of his magic into his bloodstream. The shadowy form of the raven began to coalesce, its details growing more defined with every passing moment.
The ant, despite its bestial nature wasn’t silly enough to wait for its opponent to promote his strength. With an enraged howl, it vibrated its wings till they were a blur, shooting through the air towards him.
Opening its mandibles wide, it spat out incandescent orbs of white flame that preceded it. The raven whipped its wings, rising above the orbs.
Tier 3 Flame Magic: Explosion.
The concentrated balls of flame exploded, knocking the raven off balance as it was battered by the complimentary waves of the explosion. Snapping his wings open, he caught the heated air and used it to gain more altitude before angling into a steep glide, eager to put some distance between himself and the ant.
Flowers of flame bloomed in his wake as the ant pursued, keeping up the relentless bombardment to knock him out of the sky.
His mother was a branch member of the family. Not too talented. Not too pretty. Peahens, unlike their male counterparts aren’t known for being eye-catching. Their plumage is as drab as they come.
She was an unremarkable woman. But she was compassionate to a fault and it was that compassion that earned her the heart of the second-born of the clan head as well as the affection of the common-born youth who later went on to found the Corvus clan. It is obvious who won in that contest for her hand in marriage, but the talent and charisma of the young Corvus had laid a deep shadow in the heart of Aeryn’s father.
Compared to his elder brother, Aeryn’s father’s talent was abysmal. The man had always wallowed in his inferiority and cursed his destiny. Unfortunately, destiny had played a cruel trick on him in retaliation. Aeryn.
Investigations were performed and blood was tested when Aeryn’s plumage finally revealed his bloodline. The reports confirmed the sanctity of Aeryn’s mother’s character but it couldn’t prevent the deep-seated antipathy his father held for him, or the discrimination against him by the clan.
Yet, with the endless affection his mother smothered him with, Aeryn never felt unloved.
The shockwaves from the narrowly avoided explosions battered the shadow raven, nearly knocking him out of the sky.
Tucking his wings close to his body, he dived, picking up speed rapidly. When the whistling of the wind in his ear had turned into a shrill shriek, he spread his wings. The strain nearly ripped his wings out of their sockets but he managed to clench his teeth and hold on, pulling out from the dive and flattening out.
The intense stimulation of wire-walking between life and death had sped up his heartbeat accelerating the infusion of his mana with every drop of his blood. The raven had congealed thoroughly. The flow of the wind through its feathers, the twitching of its tail as it corrected the direction of its flight; he could sense what it was sensing.
He could feel it. He was merely a step away from Tier 4.
It was his seventh name-day and his mother had baked a cake for him. It had his favourite cashew nuts kneaded into the dough and he was taking great delight in unearthing the nuts and filling his cheeks with them like he had seen a chipmunk do that day in preparation for the coming winter. His mother had looked on in quite amusement as she stroked his hair.
Their maid had burst into the room with a ghastly expression on her face. “Mistress, the Master… the Master, he’s in trouble!” she had gasped out.
“What happened!?” his mother had asked, standing up.
“He… B-baron Corvus… he’s d-ead.”
“Mama?” he had asked while swinging his legs on the chair, noting with displeasure that he wasn’t tall enough to reach the floor with his feet yet.
Aeryn had always liked Uncle Corvus. The man’s wings were just like his. Also, the man brought him treats and his mother smiled more when he was around. He liked him more than his father who grimaced whenever he saw him. His father always made his mother cry. He didn’t like that one bit.
His mother hadn’t answered him. She had just flopped down into her chair powerlessly and become silent. Then she stood up and walked into her room.
She hadn’t come out again.
He felt his blood seethe within his veins as his bloodline awakened. Scattered memories and instincts poured into his mind as he felt himself merge with and become the raven.
The influx gave him an instinctive ability to control the raven’s body. The memories spoke of spells, so significant that they had become a part of the blood of the ravens.
He had run away from home when he was fifteen. Awakening to the shadow element when the rest of the clan was focused on light was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. He had believed that he would be better off on his own, away from a clan that disdained his very existence, that considered him a shameful reminder of his convict father. A man that had let his jealousy guide him down the path of murder.
Aeryn, just Aeryn. No last name. That was his identity for the next six years as he lived hand to mouth, travelling by cart and boat, running from his past as if daemons were hot on his heels. Every night he woke to nightmares of his mother’s lifeless eyes, staring at him as she hung from the ceiling of her room.
The sixth year, he heard that a new Emperor had won the Swayamvar and taken the throne.
Eighty-seventh Emperor of Regiis: Cyn Pavone.
It seemed that his little cry-baby cousin had grown up.
With a raucous cry, the raven vanished in a whirl of shadow and appeared right above the ant. A swipe of its wings sent the monstrous insect tumbling out of the air.
He had broken through.
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