"Don't worry, Raef, I'll be right back -"

Raef had been lazing, supine, against a tree trunk. He was tired, and had fallen asleep. The fire had burned down low, and Arianwen and Jeremi had disappeared.

He was scared. The shadows stretched ominiously around the embers, flickering and dancing like possessed spirits. He had been awoken by a disturbance. Brine had leapt to his feet and ran off, obviously to examine the disturbance. Raef hated it when he did that - he couldn't shout him and his Gift wasn't that developed when it came to soulreading over long distances.

Not wanting to be alone, Raef scrambled to his feet, chasing after the near-silent footsteps of Brine and tracing the slight frissons Brine's watery form caused in the half-darkness.

Raef caught up in a clearing dimly lit with the pale light of dawn. Brine had jumped into the air, seemingly fighting with a spiky black shadow. He landed with a muted splash on the crisp leaves and turned to face him.

What are you doing? said Raef quietly.

"There was some sort of - of bird, Raef, it swooped into the camp and grabbed Jeremi's pack, and I only just managed to catch up with it -"

We better get back to camp to tell them what's happened, said Raef. It might be important.

They came back into camp to hear Arianwen and Jeremi in the surrounding trees, calling out their names.

"Hey - where have you been?" said Arianwen reproachfully.

"Where have you been?" Brine returned.

"Don't answer a question with a question, it might be important."

Brine related the recent events to the girls, and Raef was concerned to see Arianwen's face slowly becoming horrified. When Raef produced an image of the bird he'd seen attempting to steal Jeremi's pack, Arianwen clapped a hand to her mouth.

"So ... so it was a rook or something?" said Jeremi.

"I think it was a raven," said Brine, looking blankly at Arianwen. "Either way it was pretty intelligent, it knew exactly what it was looking -"

"Come on," said Arianwen. "We've been compromised. We need to get to the next settlement as quickly as possible."

"What do you mean?"

"That bird - wasn't just any old bird. A creature that intelligent is surely here for a reason. And I have suspicions that it might be -"

But she stuttered as a sharp shape drifted across the moon. A massive, jet black bird was circling the clearing, its feathers angular against the stars. It alighted on a branch and ruffled its feathers.

"Was that it?" said Arianwen, watching it beadily.

"Yes," said Brine.

Arianwen shot a quick blast of fire at the raven, but it leapt from the tree and landed spread-eagled in the middle of the clearing.

Vollomeer lowered his hood.

"Hello, my lovely," he said - and he wasn't addressing Arianwen. He dived forwards, quick as a snake, and snatched the Lance that Arianwen was still holding out of her hands.

"Hey!" yelled Brine. He dived forwards and caught Vollomeer off guard, knocking him to the floor. Jeremi kicked him hard in the head and Arianwen shot a Stun at his chest, he deflected it and rolled back onto his feet - the Lance was in his hand, and was readying to strike Arianwen with its deadly tip -

- but Raef had sprung into action. No-one was going to hurt He ran across the clearing, ramming hard into Vollomeer's shoulder, knocking his aim awry - and the shining boss on the end of the weapon pierced the meniscus of Brine's skin, slowly yet violently parting the water of his essence -

- and Brine burst into a thousand droplets, each a myriad of facets in the half-light, pattering dismally into nothingness.

Vollomeer was still in motion. In one smooth movement he had taken flight, the steely weapon clasped in his talons. The menacing, knife-edged shadow of the Raven slipped into the canopy and out of sight, leaving a sweep of solid silence in its wake.

The End

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