Starling didn't remember most of last night. She remembered that she'd been woken up by someone humming at the foot of her bed.
The thing barely held a humanoid form, nightmarish appearances held back behind a mask. but it hadn't scared her, somehow, the air in her room calm and at a standstill.
They had talked, she remembered that much, and then it had made some kind of offer. The haze got worse right around there. A lump of something was given to her, and she got to work, making something… she'd finished it and put it on and then… her head hurt to try and remember, especially her face for some reason, like ants were biting it.
Standing up on shaky legs, Starling felt a weight to her head and her hand reached for her face. Instead of her face, her fingers brushed against something firm and smooth.
She was pulled out of her thoughts as a voice spoke up
"Hello? Raven, is that you?"
Starling was taken aback by the familiar voice, taking up a defensive stance towards the voice.
A tall man with messy greying-black hair and wearing a pale grey suit worn in a 'dressed down' manner with no tie, no vest, and a perpetually open jacket, a dark-grey shirt, and black pants, and with a tattered black cape with a red underside hung over his shoulders
In his hands was the biggest sword Starling had ever seen… which wasn't saying much, but it was nearly as big as the man himself.
Starling had a sudden urge to be anywhere but here.
"Raven? Did something happen?"
Starling stared at him like a deer in the headlights before trying to run, and stumbling, falling over and landing in the snow.
It became apparent to Starling that she was currently standing in a snowy forest. Grumbling, Starling pulled herself to her feet, and tried to figure out what was going on.
A soft voice whispered "here" into her ears, seemingly originating from the mask itself and the world went blurry and was swallowed up by large coal-black feathers.
Qrow cursed as who he thought was his sister disappeared in a puff of black feathers, before transforming himself and looking around, using the crow's better eyes to see if he could spot her somewhere.
She had clearly been injured, and quite badly if her stumbling like a newbie was any indication. She couldn't have gotten far, and yet Qrow couldn't find anything. Not a single trace of her was to be found anywhere, like she'd just up and vanished.
Qrow cursed her hiding skills before giving up to report to Ozpin. If there was something out there attacking the maidens that could defeat Raven, Ozpin needed to know.
Starling gasped and heaved through the mask as she prepared to pull on it again, but try as she might, attempting to remove the mask only brought pain, and lots of it, and she was starting to doubt it would ever come off.
"We tried to tell you: It won't come off. You're stuck with it." the feathered girl with wings for arms said
"Tha- that's not true." Starling denied
"The mask is your face now. You chose to have it melded with your flesh when Father helped you make it." the red-haired girl with green skin and a branch growing out of her forehead like a horn told her "It is the final resting place for many spirits, who can grant you power through the mask."
Starling had begun to see these two… people, who had promptly informed her that only she could see them, as they were wilful spirits inhabiting the mask she was wearing.
After she had been done freaking out, the winged girl had introduced herself as Jaliette, the harpie, and the other as Maple who was some sort of forest fey. Maple had used her power to draw Starling into a small forest pocket realm, which was how she'd gotten away from the man who'd called her Raven.
There was a small stream gently babbling away as it flowed across the small realm, and Starling leaned over once again to look at her reflection.
The mask was made of bleached white bone, and was covered in ridges and spines, seemingly made of several plates layered over one another, with a large black 'mane' of feathers stretching down to her lower back. It was vaguely tribal with a monstrous avian theme. The 'beak' was more of a ridge running down from her forehead, and hooking down to form a 'nose', between the mask's four eyes.
She watched as all four blinked, one after the other. Starling tried to push the panic building in her out to the side for a small moment. The mask possessed a smooth plate for a mouth, with no visible way for her to eat when the time came for that. That only made her panic worse.
Maple apparently noticed her distress and decided to help her out. "Your mask should sustain you… though, if you wish to, the plants in your 'mane' can respond to water and sunlight"
That reassured Starling somewhat, knowing that. It still didn't completely ease her fears.
She scooted away from the stream, trying to gather her chaotic thoughts as she sat down and wrapped her arms around her legs. She had a lot to think about.
Ozpin frowned over his coffee as Qrow flew in through the open window. He only did that when he had urgent news.
Ozpin waited as Qrow landed in his office and transformed out of his bird form.
"What is it?"
"The maidens are under attack!" Qrow said hurriedly
Ozpin froze, his heart icing over. "What happened?"
"I don't know, but Raven appeared suddenly, looking like she had barely escaped whatever had attacked her." Qrow said, taking a sip from his hip flask to calm himself.
Ozpin frowned, repressing his urge to curse. "Anyone who can bypass the Branwen clan to injure Raven is a threat we cannot abide. Where is Raven and her charge now?"
"Don't know about the maiden. Raven ran off before I could talk or really do anything. I'd say whoever it is spooked her badly... My guess is they tipped their hand gloating; Were gonna need to move our network around: we don't know who or what's compromised." Qrow said.
Ozpin nodded "We've got Autumn heading to Vale through the countryside. It was deemed that smaller numbers would make her less visible; She's practically undefended. I will inform the other headmasters of this development, I need you to provide backup, in case this is an organised attack."
Qrow nodded and changed to bird form, flying out of the window he entered through as fast as humanly possible.
Starling stood facing the tree and stared intently. The feeling was unnerving but she was slowly getting herself used to it. Her mane was starting to thin out too, so she'd have to stop for a while to let the quills grow back.
Starling's man quivered and each individual feather rattled violently until a quill rushed past her head with a deft 'thwip!' and embedded itself with into a target that had been scratched into the bark of a nearby tree. The other two had gone wide, but at least these ones had hit the right tree.
A shake of Starling's hair as she fired the next volley sent the quil arcing around instead of upwards. The quill grazed the target tree and when whizzing into the forest like a black dart. The trajectories of the quills didn't make much sense, but she was thankful for whatever force let feathers perform 180 degree turns in midair like a small guided missile.
Deciding that she'd had enough archery practice, Starling decided to try something else, and slowly but surely coaxed the many vines interwoven with her hair out. These were also taking some getting used to, but as she began to carefully remove the feathers one by one from the trees, causing the bark to ooze red sap like blood, she thought she was getting better. Eventually she'd be able to use more than just a few as her multitasking got better.
Once she had gathered up all her misses, Starling noted that the ends were cut like proper quill pens, and giggled at the thought of being her own walking stationary kit.
"What are you going to do once you leave here?" Jaliette asked
"I think… that I should go looking for some sort of civilisation… That man was Qrow, yeah?" Starling asked
"That's what you tell us." Jaliette replied
"If he isn't he's a dead ringer for Qrow… Oh my god…" Starling said, interrupting herself
Starling rushed back over to the stream to look at her mask again. "That's why he called me Raven! I made my mask look like Raven- effing- Branwen!"
"You did? Why?" Maple asked
"I wanted voodoo powers and most tribal masks are… well, kinda on the creepy side. I thought Raven's mask looked cool while still looking tribal-ish." Starling explained
"So you think he's the actual character?" Jaliette asked
"Or a very convincing cosplayer with an actual sword-scythe made from real metal."
"Oh… Why? It seems… impractical..."
"Rule of cool mostly… It was a fantasy world, things in it can not work in real life like they're supposed to, and people will just pass it off it it's cool or funny enough, or there's a bunch of magic involved." Starling explained for the spirits inhabiting her mask
"So, what do you plan to do?" Maple asked
"Go looking for human civilisation. I can't stay here forever, and Grimm are no laughing matter, sadly." Starling replied "I designed the mask a particular way that makes me think it might be very useful for certain professions… now, how was it I can grow plants?"
Qrow flew as fast as he could, frantically searching for Amber. She was supposed to have taken this route, all he had to do was follow it to find her. The giant vortex however, clued him in right away where there might be a Maiden. Angling himself, Qrow quickly found somewhere to land and transform.
Amber, for her part, was struggling. These 'bandits' had lured her into a trap, had proven themselves more than capable combatants, and forced her to draw on her powers as a maiden. The winds picked up and formed a swirling vortex as the surrounding grass caught fire and lightning began to strike at her foes. Most would have run, but these three stuck around.
Qrow cursed and pushed his body faster, close enough to barely see three figures attacking Amber. He saw the one hanging back summon a black bow and take aim. Qrow wasn't going to make it, and Amber was too busy with the other two to properly strike at the last one.
The arrow streaked out as a black blur appeared from one side and snatched Amber out the air, spoiling the shot and sending the arrow whistling down the path. Amber was now well out of range of all three bandits as she and the streak sailed across the plains to either side.
When they landed at last, it was in a painful-looking crash that sent two figures rolling and tumbling over one another.
Cinder scowled at the intruder. Her plan was to quickly overwhelm the fall maiden, now she had to deal with two members of the brotherhood, and she had no doubt that at least one more was on the way. The intruder recovered quicker than the maiden, and Cinder scowled harder, recognising that mask. Raven Branwen was here, and she didn't know if her two pawns would survive in a fight with the leader of the Branwen clan.
She didn't recognise whatever it was that made her hair squirm like that, like something was moving just under the surface, but she did recognise the shaking as a warning. Cinder leapt backwards as several feathers whistled through the air where Cinder had just been, like she'd been attacked by a nevermore. Each feather glistened at the base, leading Cinder to conclude that being hit even once would spell the end for her.
Despite her caution, Cinder didn't see the last one as it moved almsot silently through the air, and she recoiled at it impacted on her mask, shattering it. Cinder looked up to find herself almost face to face with Qrow Branwen, and she knew her plan had well and truly had the last nail put in its coffin.
Cinder sounded a retreat as she threw dust in Qrow's face, forcing him to stop as he choked on the dirt that the sudden gust of wind had kicked up. When Qrow finally cleared the mud from his eyes, the leader was long gone. Qrow cursed, before going to see if Amber was okay.
Amber looked up at the woman who had saved her, if a bit roughly, holding her ribs in case one was broken, and watched as the woman nodded in her direction and disappeared in a puff of black feathers.
Qrow Jogged over and extended a hand to help Amber up. "Don't worry about Raven. She's not big on the whole people thing."
Amber nodded and said "Tell her I said thanks" before wincing. She'd have bruises for sure after that, but it was probably leagues better than whatever they had had planned for her.
"Who was she anyway?"
"Someone I need to have a nice long chat with." Qrow said.
So, one of us happened to stumble across the 'Mask Maker' CYOA and showed it to the other. When Saraphima said she wanted her mask to be tribal so she could do the voodoo doll thing, I naturally went looking for tribal masks for some reference what an animal-nosed tribal-mask with four eyes looks like…
Then realised Raven's mask was 'close enough'... and we loved the idea so much, it served as inspiration.
And thus, we have a magic plant girl who can shoot feathers from her hair a pull voodoo tricks. Yay!
We had some troubles deciding what to call Starling at first, until I decided to google Grackles on wikipedia, since Sara was being insistent and I'd never heard of one (funny thing about being from Australia, you never really hear about American ornithology)
For context, Grackles are the third member of the Raven and Crow family of birds. Thought it was appropriate given the Branwen naming convention.
Anywho, I was doing some research and found "Tristram's Starling" which supposedly is often confused for a Grackle, and is in fact often called Tristram's Grackle. I felt it amusing and it fit that Starling is always being mistaken for a member of the Corvus family, and figured starling was a far more likely modern name for someone than Grackle
And this this story was born. Enjoy!
"The more you knooooooooow!"
also to those demanding more: if the muse ever decides that yes, we're interested again there will be more, but we flipped a coin and either you get the 'interstory drabbles' which are all good ideas and potential plotbunnies for others to flesh out (feel free, no, really. Open invite to copy as much or as little as you want), or you get nothing but months, if not years of silence as we work up the willpower to keep writing something, or a collection of somethings.
we've just hit a degree of burnout and disinterest. GfG is/was more or less a 'fey mood' style production inspired by a complete lack of knowing what I was doing coupled with a bullish want to just get stuff on paper like a NaNoWriMo entry. the obvious solution is oneshots, but all that come to us are big serial ideas.