MAJOR SPOILER ALERT.===We arrived at the base of the northmost spire without incident, but overhead the crows kept circling, waiting for something to pass over that they might reap its remains. I couldn’t see anything, nor was anything moving on the spires, but there was no reason for this many crows to congregate unless there was something to scavenge. There was one shadow of a bird that seemed just a little different, just a little brighter, than the rest.
===“Eve.” I moved up next to her. “Can I fly up there and see what they’re waiting for?”
===She didn’t even turn around. “Make it quick. And don’t die on me.”
===A globule of the shroud peeled off with me as I flew through it, and it shimmered around me as I ascended, flickering white with every wingbeat. I realized halfway up the spire that it was nullifying the wind currents I was making; Eve clearly had practice with hiding pegasi.
=== I realized belatedly that finding the group again might be near impossible, but a glance downwards revealed that I could see them just fine, despite Eve’s shroud. At a guess it seemed likely that those inside one shroud could see into another, which made sense if she were part of a unit.
===As I drew level with the nearest spire’s tip, I scoured the flocks for the raven amongst the crows. I had had a sneaking suspicion when I had first noticed the outlier, that maybe, just maybe, beneath its feathers and wings lay a secret I already knew. The suspicion solidified when I found a pure-white raven hovering right behind me; albinoism aside, regular birds were not capable of that feat, save for hummingbirds and a select few birds of prey. It had bright red eyes—another distinguishing trait—and two red streaks running along its body right under its wings, both of which only furthered my suspicion.
===The raven was darting around me, looking right at me curiously. It couldn’t see me, I was certain, but it could sense my presence; that much was clear. More evidence. I hesitated, then floated towards it until the shroud encapsulated it, too, at which it gave a squawk of surprise and reeled back slightly.
===“It’s okay.” I held out a hoof as nonthreateningly as I could. “I know.”
===It cocked its head, stared at me, and—after an unmistakeable glance at my cutie mark—it gave off a brilliant blue-white starburst, and when the light faded, the raven was gone, and in its place was a faint-red pegasus. He had spiky, dark maroon hair, and the white silhouette of a raven sat on his flank, surrounded by tiny starlike runes and glowing softly in the aftermath of his metamorphosis. Perhaps the most alarming part of his appearance was two bright, blood-red eyes that seemed to lack the need to blink.
===“Hm.” He rubbed his chin. “Still finding Apollo?”
===Blood rushed to my face, and for a moment I lost focus. “No, still the Plea. You’re...” I breathed in sharply. “...not going to tell anyone, are you?”
===He just looked at me. “No.”
===An awkward silence followed. He didn’t seem to want to introduce himself—which was fine by me. It meant I neither had to play the Silhouette charade nor lie about my name.
===He did not seem surprised to see the phantom universe surrounding us or the other four looking up at us, far below. But then, I guess when you can shapeshift into a raven, there’s not much that can really surprise you. Or concern you.
===I ignored—not without difficulty—the growing, crushing sensation of utter hollowness that was slowly eating my insides. Not having eaten for a few hours wasn’t helping. “What’s with all the crows?”
===He gestured at the spire. “There’s a dying dragon inside. I’ve been trying to clear them out so she can die in peace, but I mean...” He shrugged. “It’s a dying dragon.”
===The phrase restored my usual state of mind; the wearing hollowness faded, the surging blood receded, the wind around me remembered to breathe, and all that was left was the frigid focus of objectivity. My home.
=== “Who is it?” It couldn’t be Timid Thunder unless there was some odd gender disparities.
===“Don’t know, haven’t seen her. The crows say she’s—” He paused for a moment, ear cocked. “She’s crying and wailing in pain. Trust me,” he added. “Crows know death when they hear it.”The ritual itself doesn't have a name, but those who complete it are known as the Eyrie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5jcSCDr2BM).
Stage one, Genesis, colloquially "drinking Artemis' Vein", involves being caught in and surviving any significantly catastrophic natural disaster (tornadoes/hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, avalanches, lightning storms). This disaster cannot be magically induced (except *cough* by dragons), and the pony who wants to complete stage one not only has to survive the disaster, but also come into direct contact with the disaster's element (you have to touch the lava, be struck by lightning, get caught in the tidal wave, etc.). Being caught by peripheral elements (touching the calm parts of the ocean during a tidal wave) doesn't count. This contact between the pony and the raw, primal magic of Earth causes a portion of Earth's magic to bond to them permanently. By itself this magic does nothing.
Stage two, Venari (Latin for hunt), colloquially "finding Apollo's spirit", requires a pony to find and befriend an animal. The bond cannot be merely one of convenience (i.e. falconry is based on teaching the bird that life with the keeper is easier than life without), and the animal must return the friendship for the bond to take. This bond colors and shapes the Earth magic that is bound to the pony, but still that magic does nothing until you finish.
Stage three, ???, colloquially "Gaia's Plea" (tentative). Once again the pony must brave and weather a natural disaster, but this time with their spirit animal also coming into direct contact with the elements. Same rules as stage one apply. Once this stage is complete, the Earth magic is refined and honed, and the pony gains the ability to shapeshift in and out of their animal's form. All knowledge is shared, but the pony (having the biologically stronger mind and soul) retains mental and spiritual control regardless of what form they're in.
There is no racial restrictions on the pony (Earth, pegasi, and unicorns can all perform it, provided they survive the disasters, which is quite rare) nor on the animal (a character I've already introduced can shapeshift into a firefly), with the exception of magical/mythological creatures (no gryphons, dragons, manticores, etc.).
More and more of my facebook friends became bronies.
Yay Quinn is live