Nineteen Years Ago — September 1997
Half a day later, I sat on the world’s most massive fluffiest bed, watching TV and eating the juiciest burger in the world along with Grump who was cuddled up with me. I had managed to get the Raven to let him come along, although he hadn’t really protested the least bit. Unlike the previous night both Grump and I were clean, having taken the longest shower in history in the Raven’s hotel.
Sure, following a stranger in a dingbat costume in a bedroom was normally a horrible idea for someone like me, but there wasn’t anything he could have done to me there that he couldn’t have done in the warehouse.
The Raven had even given me my own room, complete with room service at will, where he wanted me to wait for his return as he finished some otherwise non-specified superhero business in town.
Midway through the morning, one of the hotel employee had come over to deliver a bag full of newly bought clothes, not seemingly weirded out by the tween sitting on the bed of a luxury hotel wearing nothing but a bathrobe.
Once he left I opened the bag and thankfully found gender neutral clothing along with some simple briefs. There were a few tees, a pair of jeans, a hoodie and a windbreaker. It was all slightly larger than I was, but I didn’t complain. Ill fitted or not, it was better than the rags I’d been wearing. Thankfully it also included a belt so I wouldn’t lose my pants when walking.
Around sunset, the Raven walked back into my room, dressed in another expensive business suit. I knew his name was John, but Raven was catchier.
“Are you ready to go?”
He took out a leash, a harness and a collar from a bag he was carrying and gave it to me. Grump didn’t resist when I put it around him, in fact presenting his neck to make it easier, making me think he was or had been someone’s dog, but in months I’d only ever seen him alone, often standing on the same street corner, as if waiting for someone… I tried not to think about what had happened to his owner. Or what his owner might have done to him.
The Raven took off and I followed him, carrying the bag with my new clothes in one hand and Grump’s leash in the other. I’d left all of my belongings behind except for my handheld and one pendant my mom had given me. Unlike my dad, she’d always been a little more understanding toward me…
We rode the elevator down and sat down in a small limousine that was waiting for us on the curb. The Raven sat at the back and I joined him. I looked at the driver’s seat for a moment and nodded toward him. Thankfully the Raven understood my gesture.
“You can talk freely, my personal entourage are in the know and have my trust.”
“Alright… Say, how did you even find me? Did you like Sherlock Holmes my trail?”
“I could have, but no, I just have a tracking device in my wallet.”
“Oh.” Suddenly I felt dumb for keeping the wallets I’d stolen as some misguided source of pride in my skills.
“First Lesson; if you don’t have to do things the complicated way, then don’t.” He said seriously.
“So, there’s going to be a lot of these lessons? Do I have to take notes? If I do, I’m screwed, you haven’t seen true horror until you’ve seen my handwriting.”
In answer, the Raven chuckled. “For someone who’s had their world rocked a few hours ago, you seem to be handling it well.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m kind of not sure if this is real or not.”
“I assure you, this is a hundred percent real.”
There was a moment of silence as I thought everything over.
“So, do you have a name?” The Raven asked, interrupting my train of thought. At no point had I introduced myself.
“It’s Maggie…” I said. Technically it had been Margarett but nobody called me that. “But I really hate it…”
“Alright, what should I call you then?”
I opened my mouth but shut it up before a sound made it out. I’d spent a lot of time thinking about what I’d want to be called as but had never settled on anything.
“Maggie’s fine, I guess…”
“If you say so.” He answered neutrally.
“So, where are we going?” I asked, changing the subject to something more relevant than my hatred for my birth name.
“Well, first to the airport. Then to Priest Island.”
“My home, it’s not too far off the coast of Maine.”
“Oh.” Was all I answered. I hadn’t ever heard of it.
“It’s not too terribly noteworthy outside of people who are really into early settlement of New England. My father however decided to build his private estate there after the old family mansion burned decades ago. He then bought most of the island.”
“So you have a big a–” I stopped myself, he’d already scolded me for swearing about a dozen times… “A huge mansion?”
“No, I’ve sold the place years ago, it’s now a hotel.”
“I do have a very modern villa. A lot less trouble to maintain, much less dark and a easier to heat in the winter.”
As the car pulled into the airport’s private hangar, I felt a bit of panic overcame me. Sure I’d been with the Raven for a few hours, but the moment I’d get on that plane, there was no turning back. Grump, who sat on my lap seemed to notice as he licked my fingers.
After a moment of hesitation, I got out of the car and walked over to the plane. Most of it was occupied by a private cabin, with the staff having their own at the back. A nice dinner was even waiting for us.
“So… you seem pretty cool with how I am…” I said after a moment. “Most people are more questioning…”
“Well, let’s just say you’re not the first like you I’ve come across.” He said.
“You want to be a boy, right?” He asked me.
The question took me by surprise. All I could do was slowly nod after a moment. Ever since I’d been little it was all that I’d wanted, but my parents had always brushed me off until they’d found me cutting at my growing chest… A few days later, I’d heard them talk about a camp to ‘fix’ me when they thought I was asleep. I’d researched it on my father’s computer… What I had seen had scared me… So I had ran away… Smuggling myself on the back of a truck that had by luck taken me to New York.
“Well, I know someone who’s like you, just the opposite way.” The Raven said.
“Who is it?”
“It wouldn’t be polite to tell you who she is. At least not without asking her permission.”
“Oh alright.” I said with a shrug. “So, what’s going to happen in whatever island?”
“Well, you’ll live with me as my adopted child and I’ll teach you my art.”
“Aren’t people going to get suspicious that you’ve just brought some random kid back?”
“You’re not the only one, there’s Michael who’s been with me for three years.”
“Is he a Raven?”
“No, his name is Rook.”
“Can I ask you something? Why birds, well not birds but why crows and not eagles or falcons, those are strong and cool.”
“Sure, Corvids aren’t know for their strength but they have something more important.”
“What is it?”
“Their minds. Parahumans are like Eagles and Hawks, we’re never going to beat them in a contest of strength. But we can be smarter than them, fool them, have more tricks up our sleeves than we do and just as crows blend in the dark, we can use surprise to our advantage.”
I processed the information in my head for a minute. “That does make sense.”
“Now, I’m not going to lie; The next few years are going to be crazy. They’re going to demand more than you thought you could possible have and it’ll be painful. But if you persevere and you do it right, you will be able to stand head to head with giants. Do you think you can handle that?”
The thought was scary, but I had nothing else left in my life.
“I’ll have to.” I said solemnly.