I'm actually surprised that I'm writing fanfiction for CBBC's Raven. I mean, it's an adventure based TV game show for ten to fourteen year olds... Meh. As the old saying goes, "if it exists, there is fanfiction for it". Plus, Raven actually has some kind of a Plot, particularly in the spin-off series', and when you expose my brain to that much Celtic imagery and kids triumphing against odds that would make adults falter, something is guaranteed to happen. Of course, while nobody over the age of, say, about six is going to believe this is all real... it's still fun to speculate. ;P So here we are. If this gets any (positive) attention I shall be very surprised.
NB: While some of the characters within this story are inspired by real-life counterparts (there was indeed a real victor of the Dragon's Eye, and she did use the onscreen name of "Arkyl") that is all they are – inspired. No Real Person Fanfiction for me, thanks. The main character within this story is not intended to be the actual winner of the series (who is a real person –under-aged, at that– with a right to privacy and a personality that probably differs hugely from the version in this 'fic; I didn't know the kid beyond what I saw on TV, so I couldn't portray her accurately even if I wanted to). Any similarities are purely coincidental or circumstantial. Raven himself, however, is entirely fictional and is therefore fair game ;). Also, due to the age of its real life contestants, the rating of any Raven fanfiction I write will never exceed a PG-12 rating. That is all.
It takes a couple of moments (during which Raven stops dead in his tracks and gives her a frankly bewildered look) for her to realise that yes, she did just say that aloud. Out of all the things he might have expected her to come out with after her victory within the Castle of Shadows, that probably hadn't been one of them.
'I just realised. When Hanso and I were inside the Castle of Shadows, inside of those cages... There were these boxes filled with... with whatever they were filled with, insects or something. We had to reach inside of them to find the key...'
'I recall.' One last attempt at picking off the warriors. It had seemed a pretty weak line of defence, actually, compared to what they'd already gone through. 'What about this bothers you? You have overcome far greater perils.'
'Well, yeah, but... You were talking in our heads at the time, remember?' (Actually she's getting used to that; these days, the sound of his voice echoing in the back of her mind is almost comforting). 'And you said that the things in those boxes would be "the most abominable of creatures", and for the first two they seemed to be, but in the third one... there were these spiky things; they hurt when I touched them, and we were too scared to know at the time, so I couldn't tell, but now I realise what they must've been.' She stops walking again. 'I've held hedgehogs before, and there were definitely hedgehogs in that box! Hedgehogs, Raven! What's so abominable about hedgehogs?!'
He's smiling when she looks at him.
'They frightened you at the time, did they not?'
'Well, yeah, but in that Castle everything was frightening. Anywhere else... I mean, normally hedgehogs are really kind of... sweet.'
Arkyl knows that Raven laughs, sometimes. She's never seen him herself, but she'd heard that Ottca (don't think about him, don't think about any of them...) saw him laughing once, and that it reminded him of a bird's cry. Which makes sense, she supposes. He looks pretty close to laughing now, actually. 'The strength of the imagination should never be underestimated, Warrior. It can conjure up demons easily as deadly as the ones we encountered here.'
'...I suppose.' She thinks about this for a moment, about how ridiculous it is. Hedgehogs... for goodness sakes, who on earth would be afraid of them?
'May I ask a question?'
Arkyl shuffles uncomfortably.' How much of what happened in there was all our imagination, anyway?' The demons... They were all real, weren't they? I saw them, I felt them. And I saw all the other warriors... They just... I saw them disappear.' She feels herself pausing and shuddering against her will. There had been sixteen of them at the start of this quest. Sixteen. Relatively, that was about half a classroom full of people. And she had watched them falling into demon traps, falling from cliff faces, and being engulfed by flames and darkness... gone; vaporised, just like that.
And none of that had been fair, she realised, allowing the frustration and disappointment bubble to the surface (something she'd sworn she wouldn't let happen until they had left the Forbidden Kingdom and were back in a world where she wasn't surrounded by creatures that actually fed on bad thoughts).
'I understand that you mourn the loss of your comrades, Arkyl, but you should feel no guilt... They will return.'
Arkyl stops, hearing that, tripping over an exposed tree root and only just keeping her balance. 'What? Wait, you mean...'
'The laws of this land are complicated.' Raven says calmly, and there isn't even a trace of humour in his voice now. 'To put it simply, I have found ways of... compensating for the loss of a warrior during these quests. There are alternative ways of paying the spirit lords besides with the lives of children.'
Arkyl s gawking by this point. Not meaning to, but gawking nonetheless. And no wonder. She'd watched them disappear. She remembers Artim and Harel and Lyra and Ottca... Out of all of them, she was the only one to make it to the Dragon's Eye.
...That was going to take some getting used to. 'But—but I don't get it, how— I mean —I saw them vanish!'
'Yes, you did. And perish they did indeed. But their imprint upon existence, their spirits, do not vanish as easily as their bodies.'
'More specifically, their souls. Do humans still believe in such things?' he sounds genuinely curious. Which is... weird. She's never known him look uncertain about anything.
'Well, yeah. Some of us do.'
Raven nods. 'Then you have not entirely forgotten the way in which magic works. From the moment you entered this realm, you became bound by a contract I forged with the spirit lord.'
'Yes. One created in accordance with the laws of Old Magic. These are incredibly powerful bindings, greater than any magic that can be yielded by one person, or indeed by a whole army. These contracts have been the basis for many magical societies. They are part of the harmony of the universe. The deals are millennia old, and we immortals are able to bend the laws of reality to our wills – albeit not without a price.'
'Right...' Arkyl thinks about this for a long moment. '...It's the same with Nevar, right? You said you've taken people through... games before, not like this one. Just games, to find more warriors for your army, and Nevar had to let you. He couldn't just attack you or the warriors and put a stop to it, because that was against the magical laws and even he wasn't powerful enough to break those. Is Nevar bound by those contracts too?'
'He is. Not that he doesn't try to find loopholes them at every turn.' Raven smiles wryly, and Arkyl decides not to mention the fact that she noticed his use of present tense there: "doesn't" rather than "didn't". "Try" instead of "tried". She is sure she saw Nevar destroyed back in the Castle but... maybe her eyes are not as reliable as she thinks they are. She doesn't want to even think about a thing like Nevar still being around. Facing him the once was bad enough. 'An exchange was necessary to ensure your comrades survival in this quest. And survive they shall.'
Arkyl pointedly does not ask exactly what this "exchange" entails. 'Raven, I have no idea what you just meant.'
'In time you shall understand. For now know only this: the warriors who were lost from this quest were lost only from the quest. They will continue with the lives they had before their journey began, never knowing of what has, and what might have, been.'
'So... They'll be alive.' She pauses, briefly elated, before realising that there must be a catch; there has to be. 'They're not...'
'They will have no memory of this quest. No recollection of their shared victories as allies. They will not remember being Wolves, Otters, Bears, or Eagles. This was part of the deal I made, Arkyl.' Raven says, calmly. 'The same deal I have made to ensure the continued existence of every warrior I have ever summoned: Their lives and my feathers in exchange for their memories.'
Yeah, that was a pretty big catch. 'So they won't remember... anything? Not even their other names?'
'Most likely not. I am sorry.'
Then... They've forgotten me. They've forgotten each other. All of it... all of us...
Shapes flicker amongst the trees as they walk, and Arkyl thinks she spies the shadow of a demon passing amongst the tangled undergrowth. Then she turns away and tells herself she must have imagined it. 'So none of them will ever know what they did here, will they?' She says after a few more minutes of walking in silence. 'They'll never know how much they went through or... or how brave they all were, or what they've learned out here. They won't know if anyone ever succeeded and destroyed the Dragon's Eye... They won't know there was a quest in the first place. They won't remember me.' She looks up, feeling the same anger she felt inside of the Castle of Shadows, when Ervan smiled at them and extended a hand to take the Dragon's Eye for himself. 'That means that everything they went through was for nothing, Raven!'
Not so, Warrior. You shall remember them, and so shall I. and perhaps... something of the experience shall remain with them. Experiences can never be fully erased, after all.'
Arkyl... doesn't know quite what to say to that. It doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel like enough. They were all great warriors who deserved to keep the knowledge of their accomplishments, and be changed by that knowledge. And then she wonders whether or not it was a fair choice –life in exchange for your memories. Would she have made that decision gladly, if it were left up to her?
Maybe Raven just couldn't stand to see children die because of what he pushed them into. But at least they're alive. And who knows? Maybe someday...
She thinks, maybe, that this should all feel less real to her now. After all, knowing that nobody actually died (except Ervan, and Nevar... hopefully) is a bit of a weight off her mind. Except that now, as she walks slowly through the forest at the side of a warlord, everything seems to feel stronger and brighter than it ever has before. Right now, the comforting, familiar world that she grew up in, the world of electric heating and MP3 players and motor vehicles and TV shows feels like nothing more than an old, half forgotten memory. It feels unreal.
...Not that she wouldn't really love access to an electric heater right about now. Or an extra coat or something. Considering the huge darkness they just lifted from the land, it's still absolutely freezing out here.
Arkyl ponders this as she walks. These last few weeks in the northern Lands... however dangerous it had been, however much had been at stake, it had still felt very much like a game. Only now it doesn't feel like a game at all. The situation is becoming clearer and clearer to Arkyl with every step they take towards the edge of the Forbidden Kingdom (which she supposes isn't all that forbidden anymore... She finds herself wondering what has happened to the feral children. What will become of them now? She catches sight of one or two, peering at them through the trees, but flickering away before she can get a proper look.)
'Raven? I think... I have a problem.'
'Yeah. I'm having difficulty working out what's real and what isn't...'
'You doubt your senses, then.' He looks almost amused, as if he's thinking "funny that you should come up with this now, after everything we've been through"
'Well... I'm not sure. I mean, all of those demons are pretty weird, when you think about it. And you say that everyone else will just be sent home, and they won't have any memories of any of this every happening. So how do I know it really did?'
Raven seems puzzled by her remarks. She isn't surprised, but they make sense to her. Nobody else would remember this, Arkyl thinks. To them none of this was real. It's real now only to her, and Arkyl considers for a moment that maybe she's crazy and all of this is in happening her head and that she's walking through a freezing cold forest in the middle of nowhere talking to herself, and imagining demons jumping through the trees. And then decides that no, she can't be imagining all of this. Nobody could imagine the awful stench of evil about the Castle of Shadows. Nobody could imagine running from demons, clutching a new friends hand tightly as they did so.
After all, if this is all just one big illusion, then it's a highly persistent one. And Raven is right there, smiling in a half amused, half bewildered way. She's pretty sure that she isn't imagining him. Nor is she imagining the heavy staff she carries in her hands.
And if all of that was real; the demons, the magic, the darkness outside of men's souls, as well as within... then what else must be real?
'Humans have a very peculiar sense of reality and space, Arkyl... though youngsters, like you, are less averse to looking beyond what they believe to be the truth.'
Arkyl frowns. 'What do you mean?'
'Well, this is why we have always chosen children as Warriors.' Raven says, as if it should be obvious. 'You are less likely to disbelieve something just because you have never seen it before. You can believe in the existence of evil without having to look it in the eye... so to speak.'
Oh, good grief, did he just tell a joke? Arkyl shakes that thought away, suddenly realising what Raven just said to her. '...Wait, we?'
'You don't believe I am the only warlord in existence, do you?' Raven pauses for a moment, as if working out which way to go next. When he starts walking again it's in a completely different direction, and Arkyl follows, feeling relieved that they seem to be leaving the woods behind them and stepping out into open grassland.
Still very cold grassland, but oh well...
'I am afraid there is little I can do to convince you that everything you see and feel here is real. You are human. Within your mind are limits which you will have great difficulty in overcoming. I can only ask you to trust me, and believe that it is so. Your triumphs are as real as you are, Arkyl.'
Arkyl sighs, and for the first time since leaving the Castle, feels as tired as she is. 'I don't know. Maybe I don't want them to be real.'
'Well, because if my triumph is real and, you're real... and if Nevar was real... I have to accept a lot of really dangerous things that are really there and not just in my imagination.'
She shudders again. She fears the fate of her fellows just as she fears the reality of the demons, and she carries her staff just that little bit closer now, as if understanding her need for it, more than ever. She remembers the greed on Ervan's face... the bitter cruelty of Nevar's... The look in Raven's eyes when he held the Dragon's Eye in his hand for just a few moments...
Arkyl took a deep breath and steeled herself to ask another very difficult question.
'So the look on your face, when you were holding the Eye, that moment before you destroyed it... I wasn't imagining that either, was I?'
...That has to be the shortest answer he's ever given her in his life. And the scariest.
Normally the way he speaks is so... fancy. He talksjust like you'd expect someone to talk if they were born long before most people could read, and grew up with Celtic folklore as their basis for reality. Maybe there were advantages to having lived for as long as Raven had. You started to realise what truly mattered. You learned to grasp what is real at any given moment, and what is real eternally. Perhaps, Raven's grasp of reality is far wider than her own.
Part of that grasp of reality must surely be knowing the extent of your own powers. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and for all his strengths, Raven is not pure of heart. He couldn't touch the Dragon's Eye without being affected by its power.
Only she could do that.
'So that's why you didn't just take this quest yourself... I wondered about that.'
'I am Raven, Arkyl. It is more than simply my name.'
'I know. It's what you are, too.'
'More even than that. It is a symbol. There are others like myself in this world. Beings that symbolise great aspects of humanity. The Forest Lord, of course, symbolised the power of the forests; I have a friend in the East who was fashioned from the sand itself... Do you know what the Raven symbolises?'
She knows. She heard it once, in school. 'Death... wisdom, too, but... mostly death.'
Raven nods slightly. 'Indeed. I was not born as such, but over the years that is what I have become. A symbol to humanity. Becoming that symbol means I was unworthy to touch the Dragon's Eye. But you, Arkyl... you are life, in all its glory. And you especially so. Your heart is pure. Few mortals could claim as such. And if you are to accept these demons and terrors of evil as real... then perhaps too, you shall accept the responsibility granted to you by the staff you hold.' He pauses, smiling ironically before adding. 'It is you who Nevar should truly fear, Arkyl, not I. Nevar and I are... too alike.'
If he had said that to her yesterday, Arkyl would never have believed it. But she had seen his face when he gazed into the Dragon's eye, and knew now that he spoke the truth. And she was beginning to understand now, the many choices Raven has been forced to make. She had found it easy to look into the Dragon's Eye and not think once about power, control and glory. But it had taken every ounce of Raven's will to turn away from it.
That choice is what makes him who he is, though. And Arkyl trusts that person more than anyone. She glimpses at the golden staff she carries, hesitates, and slowly begins to realise exactly what Raven means to ask her. 'You mean you want me to join do all this permanently, don't you? You want me to join your army.'
'Yes.' He shrugs, gesturing ahead, across the greenness of the fields, and now, Arkyl can see it: the portal that brought them into this world, to meet the feral children. 'But it is not compulsory. If you wish you can end your journey here. You will be returned home to become Kylie once again, instead of Arkyl. And given time to think about it... who knows? When I call again, perhaps you shall agree to join us.'
For a moment, Arkyl is silent. And in her surprise, she realises that it is not because she is considering saying "no", but because she is wondering what happens next. Where they go from here?
'If I just skip the whole going back thing, and say yes right here and now...' she says. 'Where will we go?'
'On another quest.' Raven answers. 'One much larger than that one, and more dangerous. There are other warriors for us to find. Other battles to be fought. And I doubt that we have seen the end of Nevar... he will always continue to return, so long as I survive.' He continues talking without giving her a chance to ask him what this means. 'As you have learned on this quest, there is more to a warrior than just a sword or battle cry. Perhaps we both have much to learn in the journey that lies before us.'
'Yeah, perhaps.' She hesitates... and then she smiles; her first genuine, feeing smile since the Spirit Lord thanked her at the gateway to the Castle of Shadows.
The world before her now is made out of real demons and genuine magic, sand things that older, smarter human beings than her could only dream about. It's terrifying and dangerous, but it's also bigger and more exciting than anything she would ever find back home.
And more to the point, she is needed. There are things that only human warriors can do.
She misses home, but she wouldn't go back to her safe, modern reality now. Not for all the Golden Staffs in the world.
Speaking of which: 'Raven? If I'm a real warrior now, then does that mean I get to shoot energy bolts with this thing?'
'Perhaps, as soon as you have had sufficient training.'
'More training? Oh come on, the Spirit Lord just called me the Hero of the Forbidden Kingdom! Why do I need more training?'
'Because if you still cannot shoot an arrow in a straight line for the life of you, then how do you expect to control a Staff of Power?'
'I can so shoot straight! It was cold the last time we had to shoot at anything! My fingers were shaking!'
Raven does not look convinced. 'You have a bad eye for aiming.'
'You try shooting straight when your fingers are numb and there are demons coming after you!'
'I have done exactly that, many times.'
'Yeah... well... you're Raven. I'm just a kid who got lucky.' She held her Staff out before her, balancing it on the palm of her hand, admiring its delicate details and the way it shimmers in the light of a cold sun.
'I think we both know how untrue that description of your success is.' Raven frowns for just a second, then smiles, as if realising something important. 'Our first disagreement, Arkyl... I believe that makes us friends.'
Arkyl opens her mouth to answer, then realises she doesn't know how to respond to that, because the thought of being friends with a three thousand year old warlord who can turn into a bird is simultaneously bewildering and... Actually, it's kind of nice. Maybe she'll get along with him as a friend, instead of worrying about his disapproval as a student from now on.
Well. Maybe not completely... Not yet.
She realises, as they walk on, that she still doesn't understand any of this, or anything about the world that awaits her. But then she realises that maybe he doesn't understand her anymore than she understands him, and they have all eternity to figure each other out.
Arkyl keeps her staff held close the rest of the way out of the Forbidden Kingdom, and back into the light.