A Road into Darkness

The Starchild Prophecy, Part II

by Raven Blackmane

April 5, 707 CR.


The eyes of Raven hin'Elric, Lothanasa of Metamor Keep, shot wide open. Holding her breath, she silently lifted her head from her pillow. Her wolfish ears flicked back and forth, searching for the slightest hint of sound. But she could hear nothing save the nervous pounding of her own heart.

With a final suspicious glare in the direction of the window, she lowered her head once more and closed her eyes.


There was no doubt about it this time -- though her eyes were no longer attentive, the same could not be said of Raven's ears. Someone was calling to her.

And, more significantly, that someone was using the pet-name of Raven's childhood, an intimate and affectionate name that no living mortal, save Wanderer, would know about. And this was not Wanderer; the voice was female.

Which meant that the list of possible callers was a very short and disturbing one. Slowly, Raven climbed out of bed and rose to her feet. She could not sense any hint of divine presence -- save the ever-present aura of Kyia herself -- but the gods could mask those auras if it suited their purposes.

"Who speaks my name?" she asked, putting both strength and respect into her voice.

"Help me," the voice called back, its sorrowful and desperate tones echoing all around her. "Please help me, Karenna!"

"Who are you? What do you want?" Raven demanded, fighting to keep the quaver out of her voice. She stood her ground, but her blood ran cold: she knew that voice. A voice she had not heard in nearly seven years, but which she remembered as clearly as her own reflection. That she should hear it now, here...

"Please, Karenna!" the voice begged. Raven could imagine tears in the eyes that went with that voice... "I need your help! Hurry!"

The priestess hesitated no longer; bolting from her private chambers, she dashed through the temple hall, out into the entry corridor, through the door to her left, and down the spiral staircase that led to the Lightbringer Archives. Halfway down the stairs she jumped off and hit the floor running, absorbing the shock of her fall with a little protective trick her mother had taught her. As quickly as her legs could carry her she ran to the next downward staircase, then the next, and the next, continuing her reckless descent into the very bowels of the Keep. At last, she came to the bottom-most level of the Archives, with its smooth floor of polished black stone. In the middle of that floor was a pedestal, a uniform black cylinder with a single hole at the center. Not a single grain of dust rested on the pedestal's surface.

Pulling up the hem of her nightgown, Raven drew Elemacil from its sheath on her left leg. She wore the holy sword of the Metamor Lightbringers everywhere save the bath, and over time she had learned to find its presence a comfort rather than a distraction. But now her hands trembled, ever so slightly, as she held the blade over the cylinder and lowered it into the open channel.

There was a quiet scraping of metal against stone, as the kryss-bladed sword slid into the pedestal up to its hilt. Still gripping the sword with both hands, Raven swallowed once, then spoke.

"Edra," she commanded softly.

There was a low, ponderous sound of grinding stone, and a six-foot wide circle of floor immediately surrounding the pedestal began sinking slowly downward. Raven held tight to the sword as the platform descended, passing through more than ten feet of solid rock before it opened to cold, dark, and stale air. Another fifteen feet later the platform hit bottom and ground to a halt. Lifting her right hand from the hilt of Elemacil, Raven summoned a ball of cool blue light to her fingertips.

And gazed into the ominous gloom of the Vault of the Lightbringers.

Like Raven's childhood name, it was something few mortals had any knowledge of. Raven alone had walked within this deepest and darkest of chambers. Lord Thomas, Merai, and a handful of the older acolytes knew of its existence and location, but not how to access it. Rumors of the Vault were present throughout the Order, and even among the secular mages of the Keep, but solid information was hard to come by. This was largely by design; for the Vault was the repository of the Order's greatest secrets -- and its darkest fears.

It was not an overly large room -- circular, with perhaps a twenty-foot radius the last time Raven had measured it out -- but that was of no concern, for it had never been meant to hold vast troves of wealth. Most of the Vault's floor space was filled with storage cabinets, shelves and tables radiating away from the platform at the center of the circle; all were secured with the most powerful of Kyia's magical wards. Similar shelves lined the walls, with a display case or other special mount or stand here and there for especially unique items in the collection.

And a dark and sinister collection it was. The Vault had been created to store, secure for all time, those artifacts which the Lothanasi deemed too dangerous for any mortal to have possession of: Daedric censer-pots. Amulets of power. Necromancer spell-books. The heart of Carcaroth, greatest of the Dragon Kings.

But even these were not the most dangerous treasures in the Vault. The most important objects here, those which Kyia herself risked her existence to hide, were those unholy artifacts of the deities themselves: The Ankh of Lilith. The Deathblade of Revonos. The Gauntlet of Mephisto. Even the seemingly innocuous Storm-Jewel of Wvelkim. These had been crafted by the deities for their servants' use, but over the ages the Lothanasi had captured and hidden them so that their destructive power might be contained. Kyia shielded the Vault from mortal and immortal beings alike, allowing all to believe these artifacts had been lost forever ... but there was ever the danger that one day some god or daedra might discover her deception. And what would happen in that event, no one truly knew... At the moment, though, none of these unspeakably powerful objects held Raven's attention. She stepped off the platform and strode quickly to the eastern side of the room, where three very special items were kept.

"Karenna..." the voice echoed eerily about the chamber. Raven quickened her pace, stepping up to one of the three white sarcophagi resting in a row on pedestals of white marble. She gripped the edges of the lid, opened the latches, and pulled it quickly open. And looked down at the form of her sister Talia.


Not precisely dead, but no nearer to being alive than the stones themselves. Talia's body was still medically living -- when not held in this magical state of suspended animation, the heart would beat, the lungs would breathe, the brain would carry out the ordinary functions of body maintenance. But this body had no spark of life, no aura, no consciousness. Talia's very soul had somehow been stolen from her, and only a shell, an automaton, remained.

Raven's brother, Aramis, and her mother, Anya, were in the same state. During the Battle of the Three Gates Raven had saved their bodies, healing their injuries and restoring flesh and bone to normal working order. But somehow, in the chaos of that conflict, their very spirits had been carried away. How, or whither, she did not know.

The priestess knelt at the edge of the pedestal and cried, a soft and lonely sound. When she had heard Talia's voice cry out to her, she had thought that somehow, at last, her sister had returned to life -- that her spirit had escaped both the hells and magical imprisonment and returned to her by sheer force of will. But every Lightbringer inwardly knew that such things were impossible, mere fairy stories. Despite her hallucinations on this night, Talia was gone.

And Raven was alone.

"Karenna!" A strong hand gripped her shoulder. Raven looked up, blinking tears from her eyes--

And saw Talia leaning halfway out of her casket, holding her fixedly in place. The not- quite-dead woman's eyes glowed an unearthly yellow...

"Aaagh!" Raven cried out in fright, sitting bolt upright in bed. Her breathing was panicked, and her heart thudded loudly in her ears. Through the window she could make out the song of the lark, carried on the cool spring breeze.

"A dream," she whispered, as if saying it would help convince her of the fact. She reached beneath her covers, felt Elemacil still in its sheath -- yes, a dream. And yet, it had all felt so real...

Climbing out of bed for what felt like the second time, Raven retrieved her robe from its hanger and put it on. Going over to the window, she sat on the edge and looked out at the clear morning sky.

"A dream ... or something more?" she mused.

"At a guess, I'd say something more," came Merai's voice from behind her.

Raven turned to see the young cat-woman leaning against the doorframe, a troubled expression on her face. Raven had been so distracted that she hadn't even noticed the younger priestess's entrance.

"Tell me how near the mark I come," Merai said. "You dreamed that someone you cared for was in trouble and calling to you for help. When you arrived, he or she was gone ... only to suddenly reappear and continue pleading with you."

The wolf-woman nodded, once. "That's ... near enough to the mark, yes," she said, an uneasy feeling playing around the corners of her mind. "I take it that you had a similar dream?"

Merai nodded. "What do you suppose it means, Lothanasa?"

Raven looked out at the sky again. "I am not certain," she said slowly. "On the face of it, the message is obvious. But whence it comes, and whether it was meant for us specifically, I cannot say." She rose to her feet. "But methinks we should do well to seek interpretation from Lord Samekkh."

The feline priestess frowned. "But Samekkh hasn't been speaking to us since--"

"Since that incident with Rickkter, aye, I know," Raven finished with a touch of annoyance, mostly directed at herself. Her arrogance and stubborn persistence in that sorry episode seemed as though they would cause her no end of troubles. "But fortunately, a summons is not the only way approach the Master of Light. After breakfast, we shall speak with Saroth and Cerulean."

Merai was silent for a moment. "What," she finally asked, "do our dreams have to do with two dragons?"

Raven smiled tightly. "We need mounts," she said. "And where we are going, only a dragon will serve. Come, we have preparations to make."

Merai clenched her hands more tightly around the soft purple dorsal fin in front of her, resisting the urge to dig her claws into Cerulean's scaled hide. She was strapped into a harness of sorts that had been tailor-made for the dragon a good many years ago, but somehow she found the feel of actual dragon-flesh under her palms more reassuring than the leather handgrip at the front of her "seat". Cerulean was so large that she couldn't even have the satisfaction of digging her heels into his flanks; instead she was forced to lie prone, legs and tail stretched out behind her, secured by a half-dozen different straps to the cured leather platform that Cerulean wore between his wings like a back-satchel. Riding dragonback was a unique and utterly terrifying experience.

And utterly awe-inspiring, as well. Merai gazed out with stunned amazement as they passed over the untamed majesty of the Dragon Mountains.

"Well, Saroth!" Cerulean called out to his companion. "What think you of this land?"

The smaller bronze-skinned dragon let out a telepathic laugh, a sensation of joy mixed with wonder. {{What can I say? 'Tis glorious!}} he exclaimed, nearly performing an artful loop before he suddenly remembered his passenger. The net result was a sharp bob upwards and then downwards again that left Raven with her arms wrapped tightly around his neck -- unlike Cerulean, Saroth was slender enough for Raven to ride at his "shoulders" in a seated position.

Saroth was right -- it was glorious. Evergreen forests covered the lower portions of the slopes and filled some of the valleys, while the higher peaks rose past the treeline in jagged silver-white majesty. Rivers and streams flowed through the valleys, turning many of them into lush green havens of untouched beauty. Here and there wider valleys were flanked by foothills, and these were often crowned with beautiful spring wildflowers of pink, orange, purple and gold. In one place they flew past a waterfall that seemed to pour from the mountains as if they held the ocean itself, a towering cascade that fell for what looked like miles before landing in the gully below. "The Weeping Prophet," Cerulean said, pointing out the waterfall and its mountain with a nod of his head. "It has flowed for a thousand years, perhaps even longer. This was a favorite spot of mine when I was a young drake, still finding my way in the world."

"'Tis beautiful," Merai said, at a loss for any other words.

Saroth looked over at Cerulean. {{How far are we from Seer's Peak?}}

"Not far," the blue-scaled dragon replied. "Come, if we get a little higher we shall see it from here."

They rose out of the gully into the open sky, and beyond a low ridge they saw Seer's Peak rise up to greet them. It was a strange mountain: Rising in sheer cliffs that were utterly impassable, it leveled off at perhaps five hundred feet into a broad mesa, watered by natural (or perhaps magical) springs within the mountain and covered with rich plant growth. At one end of this isolated paradise the mountain rose up further in a jagged peak, its unreachable summit roughly a thousand feet above the mesa. This portion of the mountain, which was in itself the true and proper "Seer's Peak", was craggy and full of caves, one of which was home to the Oracle of Samekkh. According to the books in the Lightbringer Archives, the Oracle tended gardens and a herd of cattle on the fertile plain of the mesa, and these provided for all her needs of sustenance. With the exception of the occasional visitor seeking wisdom, or the dragons who sometimes shared her company, the seeress was utterly alone -- free to devote all her energies to communion with the god of prophecy and light.

Idly, Merai wondered if she would be friendly.

The dragons flew over fields, gardens, and the aforementioned cattle before finally setting down in front of a cave entrance to which Raven directed them. After dismounting, Raven unstrapped Merai from her harness; Saroth then helped them off Cerulean's back to the earth below, which felt wonderfully solid to Merai after this latest adventure.

"Thank you, friends, both of you," Raven said to their reptilian companions. "Unfortunately, only the faithful may enter the Oracle's chambers."

Saroth seemed to smile somewhat ironically at the Lothanasa's mention of faith -- not that Merai could truly blame him, considering the nature of the Lightbringers' relationship with the gods. He held his metaphorical tongue, though, and it was Cerulean who nodded in acknowledgment to Raven. "Understood, Madam Lightbringer," he said. "While we're waiting for you, I'll show Saroth around the area."

{{Would you?}} the weather dragon asked with a smile. {{I've been wanting very much to see the Dragon Mountains, after all that you've told me about them.}}

"My pleasure," Cerulean replied, his dark purple eyes glittering. "By your leave, Madam?"

"By all means," Raven answered, and the two dragons leapt into the air and flew off. When they had disappeared behind the mountain, she turned to Merai.

"It will probably be best if you remain quiet and observe, Merai," she said. "Decorum is important to the Oracle, and it is considered improper for one of your youth and inexperience to address her."

"I understand," the feline girl nodded, casting a glance at the cave's entrance. Some sort of light -- steady, not flickering like a torch -- glowed a short distance inside, its radiance spilling into view from around a corner.

Raven put a hand on her shoulder. "Come, then. Let us find the answers we both seek."

The cave's interior was just as the books of lore in the Archives had promised: smooth- polished rock walls swept up on either side into seamless arched ceilings, making the passageways look as if they were something that had been grown rather than built. The rock itself was a miraculous thing, white stone that glowed from within: a steady, cool light that filled the halls and chambers and reminded the visitor that it was, indeed, the god of light that they were visiting. Perhaps fifty yards past the entrance, the narrow corridor opened up into a receiving hall. A walkway down the center of the hall was lined with decorative columns and large potted plants. The air was humid and fairly warm, but not suffocating, and a fog or mist hung in the room, obscuring anything more than a few feet past the edges of the path. At the far end of the hall, Merai could see the shadow of some sort of raised platform. And though she could not be certain, it seemed almost as if this platform's edges ... were moving ...

The cause of the illusion was clear as they drew closer and the fog dispersed: Snakes. Dozens of snakes crawled all over and around the white marble platform, which rose from a wide base to a smaller summit with flat sloping sides. From each of the platform's four corners rose a golden pole, with the image of a snake wrapped around it and a simple golden sphere at the top. A sloping walkway took the place of steps, rising gradually up from the path to the top of the platform. In the middle of that summit was a long, wide, elaborately carved couch in the Classical Suielman style; and lying on that couch, her right elbow leaning on its gold-plated arm, was the Oracle herself.

Merai's first impression of her was of ageless beauty: long, flowing blonde hair, fair and flawless skin, eyes that seemed deep and wise and unfathomable. Her appearance did not give the impression of youth, nor did it show any sign of aging; it looked simply as if she had always been as she was, and ever would be so. She wore a simple white shirt that looked to be made of silk, and whose hemline fell just above her midriff. Her legs--

The young Lightbringer's mind skidded abruptly to a halt. The Oracle had no legs. At her waistline, the contours of her body flared out again in the suggestion of hips, but it remained fused into a single unit, which tapered gradually into a long, serpent-like tail. As she looked closer, Merai saw that what she had first thought to be a shimmering dress was, in fact, a reptilian hide that met her human flesh at the waist, and whose scales glittered in the cool white light of the stones around them. She could see that the scales in the front of the Oracle's body were wide and thick, like the plates of a serpent's underbelly; to either side, these plates were flanked by a hide of small, smooth, glistening emerald scales. All in all, the image was rather like that of Quiz, the messenger woman Merai had seen here and there around Metamor -- that is, if Quiz could somehow have become a demigoddess.

The Oracle smiled at them, as Raven and Merai came to a halt at the foot of the platform. "Welcome," she said, her voice sounding rich and wise and, much like the rest of her, timeless. "I have been expecting you."

"I bid you greetings, wise Oracle," Raven said, lowering her eyes and nodding slowly in deference to the prophetess. "We are honored to stand before your presence."

The Oracle allowed her tail to slip off of the couch, and after a moment of fluid motion she "stood" -- if that was the proper word -- upright in front of it. As she crawled down the ramp of the platform, the serpent-woman's eyes fell on Merai. Quickly lowering her eyes in wordless submission, Merai nonetheless felt the Oracle's warm gaze upon her.

"You may lift up your heads," she said. "The Lothanasi are honored guests in the House of Samekkh."

Merai looked up to find the seeress still looking at her. She felt her eyes widen just a little in a wordless question.

The Oracle smiled again. "This is a strong one you have here, Raven," she said, not taking her eyes off of the feline girl. "She is coming along well."

"Aye, that was my thought, as well," Raven agreed. "Can you yet see any of what awaits her, wise Oracle?"

"Of course," the prophetess replied smoothly. She gave Merai a discerning look, and it felt to the young priestess as if the serpent-woman's eyes were boring into her spirit. "But it is not yet time to speak of such things. Live your life, Merai hin'Dana, and allow the future to attend to itself."

Merai nodded. "As you say, Madam Seeress."

The Oracle turned her attention back to Raven. "You have had a dream, Lightbringer," she said after a moment's pause. "Both of you have, if I am not mistaken. And now you have come to the holy mountain."

"Aye, Madam Seeress -- it is as you say," Raven acknowledged. "We seek the meaning of the dream, and whatever instruction the god of light wishes to extend on us." The Oracle knew all of this, of course, but it was considered proper decorum that the supplicant state his or her petition aloud.

The ageless woman nodded thoughtfully, making her way back up to the top of the platform. Once there, she turned and faced them again, standing between the two nearer poles with her hands stretched out toward the golden spheres.

"You will receive the interpretation that you seek," she announced. "Prepare yourselves." Raven lowered herself to her knees, and Merai quickly followed her example. Up on the platform, the Oracle turned her face upwards, speaking something unintelligible in a low voice...

There was a flash of light, and what looked like bolts of lightning arced out from the golden spheres and connected with the palms of the seeress. The eerie link did not dissipate, but continued to flow, the bolts writhing like snakes and snapping and humming like one of Master Bryan's contraptions. The air smelt faintly of ozone.

Cool white light flowed out from the Oracle's palms and over her body. As the prophetess lowered her face toward them, Merai could see that her eyes glowed like white-hot coals. When she spoke, her voice was echoed, almost as if there were two people speaking in unison.

"The dream is a cry for help, as you already know," she said. "It falls to you to answer that call. You must travel toward the lands of the sun's rising, following the southern edge of the mountains, until you find the one who has summoned you."

Raven's ears twitched. "Exalted Oracle ... how can I help them when I know neither who they are nor what they need?"

"You will find help where you least expect it, and allies where you do not seek them," the seeress replied. Her glowing eyes narrowed a little, and her dual voice became more stern. "Be careful in the utmost, Raven. Remember your place at all times. Your fiery tongue may well consume you if you do not."

Raven lowered her head, the chastening words stinging even in Merai's ears. Indeed, Samekkh had not forgotten the episode with Rickkter.

"Great Seeress," Raven asked after a moment, "can you give me some vision of what trials I shall face? Some glimpse of what to prepare for?"

The Oracle was silent for a few seconds, apparently searching for the answer. "Expect to travel far and long," she said at last. "You will spend much time in the wilderlands, far from the touch of civil folk. You will travel to places you have never seen with your eyes, and lands you know only from history and legend. You will need to fend for yourselves much of the time -- but as you hunt, beware of the hunters." She paused again before continuing. "And you will face a great and terrible darkness ... but there awaits a great and radiant light, a shining new hope, if you succeed."

The prophetess lowered her hands, and the radiant link abruptly closed. The glow faded from her eyes and skin, and when next she spoke it was only her voice that could be heard. "I can see no more," she said, approaching them again. "May the light go with you on your journey."

Raven nodded once, rising again to her feet. She hesitated for a moment, as if debating whether they had been dismissed -- then she came to a decision, and spoke. "Madam Oracle," she asked, "what of the vision of Talia? Does it mean anything at all?" She almost looked as if she were pleading, Merai thought; her eyes held the glimmer of some fragile and tenuous hope.

The Oracle put a comforting hand on the wolf-woman's shoulder. "I would say that it says a great deal about you, Raven hin'Elric. But in regards to your real question: Samekkh has not seen your sister enter the lands of the dead." Her eyes widened somewhat, in an expression equivalent to a shrug. "That is not to say that her spirit's presence in this world is certain, for there are things that occur in the hells that Samekkh does not see -- but there is still hope that Talia lives on this plane of existence." She lowered her hand, and smiled sadly. "Nonetheless, you should be under no illusions: your sister was not directly responsible for this dream of yours. The vision you experienced originated with a soul far older than Talia's."

Raven nodded. "I understand. Thank you, Seeress."

The serpent-woman moved away from her. As Merai watched her High Priestess discreetly wipe a tear from her eye, she suddenly became aware that the Oracle was looking at her again. She turned, perhaps a bit abruptly, to meet the woman's face.

"You have a question, my child?" the Oracle asked, her eyebrows raised.

Merai swallowed. Even without the direct link to Samekkh, the prophetess was disturbingly perceptive. "Aye, Madam Seeress," she said. "What must I do in regard to this prophecy? Shall I go with the Lothanasa, or remain at Metamor and tend to the daily sacrifice?"

"A thoughtful question," the Oracle replied soberly. "Your concern for the proper observance of ritual is admirable, Merai -- but in this case you are called to a higher and nobler duty. Do not worry about the sacrifice, for you will be sacrificing of yourselves by carrying out this mission."

"Obedience is better than sacrifice, Merai," Raven noted, her voice sounding subdued. "That saying comes from far to the south, but it is quite true all the same."

"Very true," the seeress agreed. "Go with Raven, my child. But bring no one else, for this task requires the utmost discretion. You will find all the help that you need in due course."

"As you say, wise Oracle," Merai nodded.

"By your leave, Great Prophetess, we will now depart from you," Raven said.

"It is granted," the Oracle replied, smiling once more. "May the blessings of the gods fall tenfold upon your heads."

"Long life and health to you, Majestic Lady," Raven replied. The two Lightbringers bowed, then turned and made their way out of the audience chamber.

"I know not what I expected," Merai said softly, as they drew near the cave's entrance. "But that certainly was not it."

Raven smiled a little. "The Oracle has a way of taking one by surprise," she said. "She was certainly far warmer with you than I had expected, considering your youth. You should consider it a compliment."

Merai blushed. "She did say some rather peculiar things about me," she admitted. "I suppose I shall have to trust that she sees me more clearly than I do."

The older priestess chuckled. "That is almost always the case."

"What I don't understand, though, is her appearance," Merai said, an odd thought striking her. "She seems ageless ... and yet she has clearly fallen prey to the curse of Metamor, so she cannot have been at this mountain for long. Who was she when she lived at the Keep?"

Strangely, Raven laughed. "Your thoughts are misdirected, Merai," she chided her gently. "The Oracle has been changed, true, but not by the curse. Do you remember the chosen animal of Samekkh?"

After their recent encounter, the answer was obvious. "Of course: the serpent. 'Tis considered the wisest of all creatures."

"Precisely," Raven said. "Now, consider this: the Oracle is indeed nearly ageless, as you have said. This particular Oracle has served in that station for over two hundred years, her life prolonged by divine energy. Tell me, Merai: do you not suppose that constant exposure to a power such as Samekkh's might carry with it certain ... ancillary effects?"

In what seemed to be a frequent pattern in her life as a priestess, Merai felt herself gasp. "You mean that the Oracle was transformed into ... that ... simply by letting Samekkh's power flow through her?"

"Aye," the Lothanasa replied. "It was a gradual process, of course, but no doubt inevitable when one is exposed for so long to such energies."

Merai thought about that for a moment. "Has any Lightbringer ever been changed thus by such exposure?"

Raven's mind abruptly darkened. "It ... has been known to happen, aye," she said, her voice sounding strange. "Though not always by exposure to the gods of heaven."

She fell silent, and Merai thought it wise not to press what was clearly a sensitive point. It came to her memory, now, that Celine had once warned her about the Dark Forests of Lilith -- evil lands, such as Elderwood, each of which grew from an unholy place called a Nexus. The acolyte had said that these forests were imbued with the power of the Vampire Queen, and that anyone who dwelt too long within their shadow was doomed to become a slave to the dark mistress.

A number of horrifying possibilities stirred to life in her mind -- transformations of body, as well as mind, which prolonged exposure to such a forest might bring about. As it turned out, her dreams would be haunted by such creatures for a long time to come.

The flight home was quiet and subdued. Saroth looked delighted upon returning from his tour of the mountains, but both he and Cerulean fell into a polite silence when they sensed the Lightbringer's mood. Raven's presence had a way of stilling conversation when something heavy rested on her mind.

Nevertheless, when they were nearly halfway to Metamor the bronze-skinned dragon ventured to speak. {{You seem troubled, Lightbringer,}} he sent, his telepathic voice gentle in her mind. {{Did the prophetess bring you ill news?}}

After a moment, Raven shook herself out of her private reverie and replied. "'Ill news' is not quite the term," she said thoughtfully, gazing out at the eastern horizon. "Disturbing news, perhaps. Difficult news, certainly." She sighed. "However, the truth is that the Oracle could not share all the news I had hoped for."

Saroth seemed to smile inwardly. {{'Tis said that 'no news' is good news, my lady.}} The Lothanasa bit her lip. "Not always, Saroth," she said, blinking back a lone tear. "Sometimes 'no news' is the worst kind of torture there is."

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