III – Gratitude

[Pt. 1 & 2]

The woman had of course been right. I died again, but this time, in the blink of an all seeing eye. I felt her arms around me, cradling me like a child. She whispered something into my ear as she lowered me down, but all I heard was the low whistle of the wind, a banshee from the very depths of Hel. My eyes fluttered open, they felt lighter than before, and I noticed the dark frilled lashes framing my paper thin lids. After centuries of mastering the bird’s eye view, I glanced down instinctively. The pale appendages, my hands were still attached.

I had not died, but merely slept. Though in my experience, it can be hard to differentiate the two. The deepest sleep can border on divine death.

But let’s not focus on that just yet. I had escaped death. My master was dead, my Gods were dead.

I was alive. Surely I should be grateful?

But there was no one to thank. The woman was gone and I was alone, the wind was still riding low and it was making my eyes water. She told me I had inherited some kind of power, but at that moment, gazing at the desolation around me, I felt absolutely powerless.

Without my wings I might as well have been, but I decided that sitting there on the hard earth with short, sharp blades of yellowing crabgrass pricking me from all angles, I wasn’t doing much to empower myself. I had to do something. Surely I had been sent here for a reason.

You’re alive. I reminded myself. Do not waste this opportunity. It could even lead you back.

I got to my feet, my spine unravelling with a clack. There was a dull ache, the blood rushed to my head and swam there like the last draught of wine at the bottom of a chalice. The air here was sobering and I followed its dusky scent with my nose until I was facing north. I realised then that I was standing on a mound, not so steep so as to be considered a hill but still elevated enough that I could see for miles around. Like this dry heap of earth, most of the landmass was barren, fading into the blue-grey of the sky. But the more I stared north, the more convinced I was that I could see something moving. A thick plume of smoke was rising into the atmosphere, its tail curling like a beckoning finger. I decided that the best decision – the only decision really – was to head towards the slow spiral of smoke until I found its source.

I started walking. It was a world away from the small skip I was used to. My feet rarely touched the ground when I was in my true form, but now I no longer had the option of flight. Still, at least my feet were covered. I had awoken fully dressed which for most people would come as a comfort, but for me was a complete shock. I’d seen Gods and mortals alike dressed in both plain and extravagant garb, but not once had I envied them. Although it was strange not to see the webs between my toes or the downy tuft of my breast, I was more than grateful for the layer of shelter they provided me.

My feet were bound in calf skin and above my ankle, a pair of woollen breeches. My shirt was ten sizes too large and billowed out at the chest like a mainsail. The wind cut right through me, and at several points on my journey as I caught myself standing stock still, my eyes shut and my arms spread wide, I was forced to remind myself that I could not fly and to stop trying. I had come from a place where anything was possible, but here it seemed, there were limitations to my every notion. Something in me slackened as it dawned on me; if there were no Gods here, then there was no magic either.