Aphelion Issue 296, Volume 28
July 2024 --
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A Raven's Kiss

by Richard D. Asplund Jr.

Farrin gasped in pain as the world came back to him. Acrid smoke burned his throat and lungs with each breath. Heat washed over him. Lumber and rubble pinned him in the hold of the airship. He couldn’t think clearly enough to remember what happened. Last he knew the airship was sailing along five thousand feet in the air, and the next thing he knew he was choking on smoke with enough rubble on his chest to give an ogre pause. Considering he was pinned to the ceiling of the hold rather than plastered to it with acceleration Farrin guessed they crashed upside down while he was out cold. Farrin tried to move pain took the wind from his sails, his ribs felt like he had made a crude remark about a troll's mama within earshot of a troll that particularly loved his mama. Struggling to free himself he realized it was getting hotter, he looked around and noticed flames slowly creeping towards him across the now ceiling of the hold. Farrin knew death probably wasn't far off. Farrin closed his eyes and prayed to every god, goddess, and fairy with an ego problem he could think of to get him out of this mess. Explosions started to rock the weapons deck which was now below instead of above him as the fires on that deck started to cook off the powder kegs. Farrin continued his frantic prayers as he tried to shift the rubble off him so he could move. With only one arm free it was nigh impossible to get anything in the mountain of detritus to shift enough for him to get his other arm free.

Right then hell opened up and spat out a hero… well—rather, it spat out a heroine.

A woman's voice rang through the hold "Farrin Half-Blood you have been claimed but your time is not nigh!" The voice caused the hairs on the back of Farrin's neck rise. Something about that voice was familiar, Farrin wracked his brain but couldn't put his finger on it.

Timbers screamed as planks from the bulkhead were torn away. The mixture of the smoke from the fires and explosions and the sudden glaring light in Farrin's eyes made it hard to see more than a silhouette. With a hole torn in the hull the smoke started to clear. Farrin could hear her getting closer. Unease rose in Farrin. It sounded like a single person stomping through the hold flinging crates and cargo out of the way as if they were nothing but children's toys. Farrin pushed impotently at the rubble still holding him down as if his prayers would grant him a sudden rush of strength that would allow him to free himself and escape. While he was able to shift some of the rubble all it netted him was a face full of ash and dust and another coughing fit and narrowly avoiding being brained by a toolbox. For the love of all that is holy please whoever is listening get me out of this. Farrin thought to himself. The last thing I need is to be indebted to a Jotun.

The smoke was still thick enough to make it hard to see her clearly, but she was tall. Inhumanly tall. Dad's side of the family tall. Things did not work out the way that Farrin had planned.

Farrin's blood ran cold. He had just at that moment realized that she had called him by name. His actual name, not the name he signed into the logs when he came to crew on the ship. Family had found him. She loomed closer still, and he still couldn't make her out in the smoke, and ash with her back to the only other light source that wasn't hungrily eating its way trying to consume Farrin before the ungodly tall woman could free him. Farrin tried to fight down the terror threatening to turn his bowels to water. Who from his monstrous side of the family was coming to claim him. Bring him back to his father's throne. Farrin tried to lay still and play dead hoping to fool whoever this was looking for him. His eyes started to adjust to the weird light, and he was able to make out red hair. Please by all the gods in Asgard, please by Loki's third nipple, please don't let her have green skin. Farrin prayed the hardest he'd ever prayed in his life.

The green skinned face he had been fearing leaned in. "Baby brother, Daddy's been looking for you. He's not happy."

"Dammit all to Hel and her blighted bits!" Farrin thought to himself. Braca, his eldest sister, found him. The one person in all of Jotunheim Farrin knew he couldn't fast talk out of going back to his father's throne. "Braca, sweetest of my sisters, how are you?" Farrin said.

"Keep the silver off thine tongue lest I remove it, tongue and all." Braca grabbed Farrin by the front of his work shirt and easily pulled him out of the debris as if he were no more than a stick in some mud.

"Double damn." Farrin thought. He began to cycle through his litany of prayers once again it worked once to get him out of the frying pan, sadly it only landed him in the fire.

Braca lifted Farrin so she could look him in the eye. Farrin hung there in his sister's grip his boots dangling feet off the ground. "Get this straight little brother. This time I will make sure you arrive at Father's court. You have too often eluded me; I can't go back until I have brought you in myself. You will get there one way or another if I have to knock you unconscious and drag you back in a sack."

"Got it." Farrin squeaked, "No funny business."

Braca slapped a ring around Farrin's neck. As soon as it clicked home Farrin felt ill. Farrin couldn't catch his breath, and his vision started to fade to black. "Shift back fool. The ring will harm you as long as you try to use your powers. Father had the dwarves make it special for you."

"I'll strangle." Farrin pulled futilely at the ring that now felt like a solid piece, he couldn't feel any hinge or latch. He flailed wildly in Braca's grasp, trying to get free and get some air.

Braca laughed. "It's magic, you fool, it will allow you to resume your true form. Father wants you alive."

Farrin let his magic drain away. The form he had assumed, that of a human he'd met on a previous voyage, began to melt away. Bones twisted and cracked as Farrin grew to his true size. His feet touched the ground and he continued to grow. Farrin hated this part the most. Changing faces didn't hurt, that was the easy part. Changing size hurt, but the most painful part was about to come. Farrin braced himself, it didn't help. He screamed in agony, his voice going from something human to something animalistic. Wings grew from Farrin's shoulders. More magic trying to flood into Farrin being blocked by the magic of the ring.

Braca released her "little" brother when his true size outstripped her own. "You'll do your part and come home to meet your betrothed. Marry and increase Father's influence."

Farrin fell to his hands and knees trying to catch his breath. He was too tall now for the hold anyway and would need to crawl his way out. Half frost troll, half Valkyrie as a male he would never be accepted among his mother's sisterhood, and in his father's court he was nothing but a tool. Farrin crawled to the hole his sister made in the hull. He lay on the rocky ground in the sunlight. Farrin sneezed as something brushed his nose. Farrin looked up and black feathers were drifting down. Braca's back was to him as she was pulling her spear from the aether converter she'd pierced to bring the ship down.

"Father will remove the ring when I return to the court?" Farrin coughed the air still burned in his throat.

"No." Braca turned to look back at her brother. "You are too cagy to allow your powers before you're married off properly. Only the touch of your betrothed can remove it."

"Kraa." A raven's throaty call rung through the air, far louder than it had any right to be. Both Farrin and Braca looked around searching for the source. A streak of black flashed by Braca's face causing her to step back.

Braca turned to follow the path of the streak. Her eyes locked on to a raven sitting on Farrin's shoulder.

The raven almost seemed to smile at Braca. It pecked at the ring around Farrin's neck. The metal went from silver and cold, to golden. The CLICK of the ring opening caused Braca's jaw to drop.

Magic flowed through Farrin. Instead of taking time to shapeshift, he immediately spread his great wings and flapped, the wind from the force of the wing clap knocked Braca from her feet. Farrin took to the sky.

The raven swooped down to take the ring from where it fell and followed Farrin's path across the heavens. It followed the clumsy flight of the half troll.

Farrin landed some miles away his strength spent from using muscles far too long untapped. The raven dropped the ring at his feet and perched back on his shoulder. Farrin began to shift back down to normal human size. The raven took flight at the start of the change. Farrin's gray-blue skin brightened to a peachy pink, bones broke and melted. The fires of Muspelheim were nothing compared to the fires coursing through his bones. Once he had changed back to something less obvious. Farrin lay panting, recovering from the change. The raven landed on his chest. "That was far too opportune little friend. What manner of worse situation are you dragging me into?" Farrin asked.

The raven seemed to smile, and dread grew in Farrin's gut. The raven's beak began to shorten, and the black bird grew in size. Black feathers melting way to smooth tanned skin. The muscled woman straddled Farrin's chest. She leaned in close, her blond wind-tousled hair tickling Farrin's nose. "I'd like to think our wedding would be a better situation lover. Your mother agrees." She leaned down and kissed Farrin's forehead.

"Triple damn!"

The End… or is it?

2024 Richard D. Asplund Jr.

Bio: Rich is a lifelong storyteller who spends his 9 to 5 working as a Trainer in the IT Department for a law firm. When not working or building worlds and stories, Rich likes to muck about with tons of various hobbies to keep his ADD brain occupied...

E-mail: Richard D. Asplund Jr.

Website: Some of Rich's previous work can be found in the Podcast Every Photo Tells

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