The umbral throng crowned Giana’s apartment building, eclipsing the sky. The shrieking trill of caws reached a near-deafening level. Those people who had gathered outside now scrambled for cover as birds broke away from the rest and descended toward them with furious intent.

“That’s weird. Crows aren’t normally so violent toward humans,” Giana worried. “What in the world is going on here?”

Three crows made a beeline straight for her window. One crow, larger than the other two, fought its nemeses violently. The woman gasped, startled by the sight. Crows were known to fight off owls and other predatory birds, but this was unlike anything she’d ever seen. The victor landed on the outer sill and fixed its obsidian gaze upon Giana.

“What are you doing here?” Giana asked. “What’s going on with you guys? What are you running from?” The crow merely tilted its head slightly and pecked at her window. Giana waved her hand trying to shoo it away, but the bird ignored her. “Go along now. There’s nothing for you here, my lovely.”

She stood and walked away from the window, assuming the bird would fly away once the target of its attention left. The ambient lighting in the room shifted as the crows overhead departed and the sun shone in once more. Giana grabbed her purse and opened the front door, assuming her car would be soiled by the passing birds. She almost tripped over a crow standing in her doorway. She glanced over her shoulder at the window. The crow was gone from the sill. How had it known to come to her door?

“Go on. Fly away with your friends.” She waved her hand dismissively.

The crow hopped past her, into her apartment.

“You sneaky bugger!” Sidestepping the audacious corvidae, Giana tried to maneuver around it to chase it back out the door without harming the creature. “Shoo! Scram!”

The bird’s body began to morph and grow before her eyes. Giana’s heart nearly stopped. Its wings became arms, complete with hands and fingers. The beak shortened to a set of thin lips and pointed nose. In a matter of a few seconds, the creature was no longer a bird at all. Instead, a man stood before her. His stringy black hair hung limply, like it hadn’t been washed in ages.

“Who the hell are you?” Her words blurted out before she thought of something more polite to say.

The man stood silently for a long moment, his dark gaze filled with scrutiny.

“Ashtalon,” he replied.

“How do you spell that?” Giana boggled. Where the hell did that thought come from? A crow changes into a man in my living room, and I ask him how his name is spelled?

“Put together the words Ash and Talon, but pronounce it Ashta-lawn,” the man answered without batting an eye. “Who the hell are you?” The corners of his lips rose with a tiny hint of amusement.

“Giana, the person who lives here.” She didn’t bother to veil the sarcasm.

“Greetings, Giana the Person Who Lives Here. You are the one I have come for.”

“What? This isn’t happening. Crows don’t shape shift into men.” Giana wrinkled her nose at Ashtalon’s rumpled, dirty clothes. His body reeked with foul odor. His pallid skin appeared cadaverous.

“Crows do not shape shift into human men,” he corrected.

“Are you saying that you are not human?”

“I did not say it, but that would be correct.” His tone remained calm, even.

“This isn’t happening,” Giana repeated. “I’ve lost it. I’ve completely lost it.”

“I do not know what you have lost.”

“I’ve lost my mind. You can’t be real. You’re some weird nightmare. This whole day has to be some bizarre dream. First the crows, now you…it has to be in my head. I don’t believe any of this.” She paced in a circle.

“Just because you do not believe it does not make it any less real. I am here, Giana.”

“Okay, I’ll humor you for a minute. If you are not human, what are you?”

“I am sluagh.”

Giana stopped. “Sluagh? Are you shitting me?”

“I assure you that I am not.” Ashtalon shook his head.

Giana was glad he didn’t make a smart-ass comment. He seemed to take things so literally. “Sluagh are restless dead.”

“That is not entirely correct.”

“I don’t understand. What are sluagh if not the wandering spirits of dead sinners?”

“We are faerie in origin.”

“Unseelie, I would assume?” Giana raised an eyebrow.

“Quite so,” Ashtalon agreed. “Sluagh are thought to be dead, but in fact, we are only transmogrified after our original fae bodies died. Faeries are thought to be immortal, and most are. It is not an easy thing to kill a faerie, though it is not impossible. When a faerie dies, particularly an Unseelie faerie, sometimes the spirit does not pass on. Instead it warps and manifests into form again. This is how sluagh are created.”

“Are you going to kill me?”

“Why would you ask that?”

“I’m not completely dumb to mythology and lore. People always underestimate the Goths, thinking we’re drugged-out idiots.” She looked at him pointedly. “Sluagh try to take the souls of people who are about to die.”

“Mythology, lore….” He chuckled softly. “Humans always underestimate the fae.”

“Why are you here? Why is a stinking sluagh standing in my living room?”

“Do you not realize, Giana?” His voice deepened as he stated each word slowly, deliberately. “I have come for you.”

©2008 - Desirée Lee
Currently unavailable due to the closure of Freya's Bower.

Last Chance upon a Murder

An ancient rite performed in modern times. A lone woman unaware of her destiny. A preternatural creature hunts for one soul to claim for his own. What havoc will be wrought when the three intertwine? Can two beings from vastly different worlds find peace together, or are they doomed to walk between worlds forever?
Content and design © Copyright 2006-2016 Desirée Lee. All Rights Reserved.
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