Ryan Lockhart did not feel well. During the meeting, while he was giving a security briefing, he felt power coil around him. Now that he was finally alone in his office, he was able to examine what was affecting him. He quickly identified the spell as having some sort of transmutation effect, which was his particular specialty. The aura of the spell resembled Michelle's, but something about it was off. Michelle was his fiancée and quite the hedge witch herself. He grabbed his carved staff and hit the stairwell to the roof.
Halfway to the roof, a wave of pain ripped through him, which caused him to double over and struggle to catch his breath. He felt the currents of power constrict around him and watched as the features of his left hand melted into a raven's claw. Realization cut through the pain, bringing with it a feeling of horror. This was Nefertiri's doing.
Nefertiri was a sorceress of overwhelming, nefarious power. She had a group of minions, called Ravened Hunters that followed her every whim. Members of the group were imbued with a power known as the Raven and it gave them various powers, one of them being the ability to shape change into a human-raven hybrid. Ryan was quite familiar with them, having confronted a few of Nefertiri's schemes throughout St. Louis. Now he was turning into one.
He began taking the steps two at a time, grateful now for his daily morning run. He soon arrived on the roof. He went to a spot where he was shielded from sight and began drawing power to himself. He created a ward to stave off the transformation, and then wove power to shield himself from sight and to allow him to fly. He needed to find Michelle. He placed his foot into a loop near the bottom of the staff and took off. He navigated the currents of power around the Arch and flew on.
He arrived at Michelle's mother's home. The air seemed oppressive, thick. A neighbor watered his plants desultorily. It felt as though time slowed here. Ryan knew this was not a good sign and rushed inside.
In the house he called out to Michelle. He heard her chanting somewhere in the back of the house. He found her standing over an unconscious man lying on her altar. She was wearing an elaborate, sheer ritual gown and raised an athame over the man's chest. He called out for her to stop. She turned towards him, tears streaking down her face. Ryan's feeling of realization sunk deeper, ripping its claws through his soul.
Because Ryan had confronted Nefertiri several times, he knew she wanted him dead. He and Michelle had spoken at length about it. The last attempt had pushed Michelle past worry into action. She must have contacted Nefertiri and agreed to become one of her Hags. This would allow Michelle to save Ryan by transforming him into a Ravened Hunter. Ryan knew from experience the only way to undo the transformation was to kill the Hag over the Hunter. He knew it was a set up by Nefertiri; she had found another way to kill him.
Michelle watched his expression as the horror dawned on his face. She lifted her chin and her eyes pleaded with him. She knew she had chosen the wrong path.
Ryan stared at his newly acquired claw. He wondered if he could do it. If he could kill her, his beloved. He decided he would not do it, but knew he could not let her finish the transformation either. The Raven could commit the deed, though.
With tears forming in his eyes, he dropped his ward. The Raven, no longer held at bay, rushed inside. A feathery darkness filled him. He poured all his will into a single command as it overcame his consciousness. Kill her.
Michelle watched Ryan slash three fingers through the air in a dismissive gesture. She watched shadowy wings form behind him and his eyes became like black gems set into his face. He blurred through the space between them. Searing pain flashed across her neck and hot fluid ran down her chest. He caught her as she collapsed.
Kneeling on the floor, Ryan came back to himself as she bled out in his arms. Looking into her beautiful green eyes, he thought of their time together. The first time they met. .. her smile as they gathered wild berries ... the look of wonder as they overlooked St. Louis from the Arch ... her face glowing with ecstasy as she straddled him in lovemaking ... the way she curled up on the loveseat to read.
As the blood flowed, her right hand moved weakly over her chest, marking something there on the exposed skin. Within minutes, the blood slowed, her body cooled, yet her sightless eyes continued to shine. Ryan felt the oppressive air disperse and the Raven leave him. His hand was his own. Now he could make out what she marked in blood on her chest it was runes.
I love you.
His heart became steel encased in ice. Ryan swore Nefertiri would bum.