If I hold still, maybe they won’t see me. I already knew that was a false hope, but until I could get my wits about me, I’ll take any hope I could get.
All I cognitively knew was that I wasn’t in my room anymore, I wasn’t in my body anymore, I was surrounded by spirits of the dead and I wasn’t sure I wasn’t one of them.
My living eye saw people of various appearances, of various shades of gray, shuffling their way through a pitch black world that shouldn’t be viewable. My dead eye saw clusters of something like mist that took on a shape something like people that were slowly being revealed as the sole light source remained warm in the deadened environment.
I had a inkling of how reptiles sensed their environment. Nothing on my body was emitting light, but I could still feel a glow from my flesh that betrayed I was still a viable warm-bodied creature on some level of existence. My living eye did not see this glow, but somehow saw the reflection off the dead around me. My dead eye did not see the glow from most of my flesh, but the heat from my supernatural heart made tracking me by sight irrelevant.
One of the dead stopped shuffling. It turned its head and was surprised it remembered the motion. As its head continued to face me, its surprise turned to wonder, and its wonder turned to passion. Whether it hated me or desired me for the spark of life I had failed to conceal, I don’t know.
I do know it turned its whole body towards me and remembered how to reach.
Others saw its pause and turned towards it at first, then towards what seized their attention. As more of the dead saw me, they began to move towards me.
Well, look at the time. Time to get the fuck outta here.
Except I couldn’t.
The cloak would not transform into feathers to allow me flight. The feathersword would not come to my hand to allow me to cut between worlds. None of my calls were answered. There was only the dead pressing towards me, and me surrounded completely.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t afraid. The longer I stood in place, the longer I waited for them to seize me, the more I felt I was more dead than alive. As if just by being here, some portion of my will had ceased. I had some instinct not to allow them to touch me, but without any of my otherworld abilities, there was nothing I could do to prevent them. The closer they came to me, the more my inherent warmth fed them, and the faster they moved towards me.
I braced for the unnatural chill to strike me and closed my eyes.
A cool mist surrounded my feet, but nothing happened. I opened my eyes and saw the dead had come almost within arm’s reach of me, but not quite. Something held them at bay just enough so that they clustered in a tight group around me, pressing against an undrawn and unconquerable line.
Without warning, a single shaft of searing sunlight appeared on me. I could not tell if it descended from far above the midnight world, or from far below it. One moment nothing was there. Another moment a column of sunlight just wide enough to encompass me extended into infinite heights and infinite depths causing the dead to fall away as if blown back. And then the shaft of gold toned light was gone.
It left something at my feet.
I looked down at a small, straight, double-edged, glowing dagger. As the dead recovered and raised, I lowered myself to kneel. At first I thought the dagger to be hot iron still glowing from the forging, or glowing gold delivered by the sunlight. I picked up the very warm dagger and saw that it was translucent as if crystal but the light that danced within it swirled and flowed as I turned it over for inspection.
It felt the way sunlight does on my palm and smelled of warmth in a way that probably only makes sense to a synesthete. I licked the blade and tasted happiness and joy and relief and determination and worry and anger and contentment.
I looked up and saw the dead had made an even tighter cluster around me. Their attention was no longer focused on my heart, but on the dagger. They wanted to get closer but something continued to prevent them.
The handle of the dagger felt comfortable in my hand, but I felt a tug as the blade was pulled to point in a certain direction. I allowed the blade to lead my motions and found the point of the blade pointing at my chest.
I placed the tip of the solidified sunlight dagger at the worst place on my chest to rest it, to my left of my sternum, between the third and fourth ribs. I could feel my heartbeat transmitted through the skin, through the dagger, into my hand holding it securely.
Closing my eyes, I surrendered to the moment. Listening with more than my ears and feeling with more than my skin, I waited for some communication from beyond me.
Sound shifted slightly and a bright light source flared in front of my eyelids briefly before being obscured by something dense that came before me. Something cold and sharp and eager was placed against my chest in the same place where I held the sunlight dagger.
“Good. You listened.” Mxtl’s brusque voice focused my attention. “You’re split, if you haven’t figured that out already. Your job is to get the restless dead from where they are to me. Your job is also not to question what I’m going to do with them. You already know what to do there. I’ll do the same here. And the bridge will be made.”
I could not see her clearly as the main focus of my attention was in the dark realm with the gathered dead. I knew I was standing in the same position as I was in the dark realm, but she held the obsidian blade while my hands remained limp.
For a moment I considered not doing what was the next logical step.
Oh well, how many times could a person die anyway?
In the dark realm, I pushed the sunlight dagger into my chest. The pierced heart protested the assault with a stream of blood that burst into flame upon exposure.
Mxtl gripped my shoulder with one hand and pushed her obsidian blade into my chest with the other.
The sunlight dagger brightened and pushed back against the flow of blood with a directed beam of sunlight. It staunched the flow and began to fill me from within.
Mxtl held the blade in my chest with one hand while she reached down and picked up my left hand with hers. She wrapped my hand around the leather-wrapped handle and twisted the blade slightly to enlarge the hole in my flesh before releasing my restrained form.
A beam of liquid sunlight flowed from the bloodless wound into a large woven basket she quickly moved into place to catch it. The flow of light evaporated into the nothing that filled the basket.
In the dark realm, I shuddered and sunk to my knees. Whatever barrier kept the dead at bay fell with me and they suddenly fell inward. I was no longer afraid of their seeking touch. They crawled over me and reached for the solidified sunlight transmitting itself into my heart.
One of the dead touched the dagger. With terrifying quickness, the light of the dagger seized the spirit and pulled it into the flow beaming into my heart.
My heart quivered before ejecting the intruding spirit with its next heartbeat. It rode the stream of liquid sunlight into the waiting basket. As soon as the sunlight had left the solidified human-appearing spirit, Mxtl was seizing it out of the basket.
My sight became clearer then, and I watched her immediately cut off the feet of the spirit with another obsidian blade. The spirit now unable to escape, she held it over a boiling cauldron and dismembered it quickly at the joints. She cut away the head to the side, then cracked open the torso to remove the liver as well before dropping the remains into the cauldron.
The partially dissected torso reminded me of the remnants of a cooked crab after pulling it apart for meat. It’s going to be a while before I have crab on the menu again.
The feet were thrown into the hungry fire heating the cauldron. The head and liver were thrown into yet another wicker basket for a purpose I was not given leave to understand. I was considering asking Mxtl about it when another spirit touched the dagger in the dark realm and was transported into Mxtl’s waiting clutches again.
It felt like passing clots.
In the dark realm, the spirits were completely covering me. Now each one struggled to be the next to touch the sunlight dagger and pass through the split shards of my spiritual body. I quickly lost count of the number of dead.
As if the dead could be counted anyway.
After a passing of time that was shorter than a while and longer than some time, there was no more dead to pass through. In the dark realm, I remained kneeling alone on something that passed for the ground with a dagger of solidified sunlight held tight in my quivering heart.
Mxtl patted me on the cheek. “Good bitch. Stay.” She took hold of her obsidian dagger and tilted it back into the angle it first entered my chest. But instead of pulling it out, she pushed even harder with the blade.
Pushed and dug as if trying to fish something out.
I felt something snag the sunlight dagger.
Mxtl pulled violently. In the dark realm, my body turned inside out and passed through the same hole in my heart that the other spirits had traversed. I had the sense of being turned into a gorey torus before being winked out of existence there.
The union of my split awareness was not comfortable. I shouted in pain and anger as Mxtl pulled the sunlight dagger out of my body. A burst of inflamed blood punctuated the expletives before my spirit body self-healed the wound.
Now united, I could confront Mxtl about her handling of me. I could also lie down and go to sleep. I knew that she wouldn’t give me a straight answer anyway so I aimed for a middle (middling?) achievement.
“What’s with the gifts?” I nodded towards the smaller woven basket that appeared to hold only one head and one human liver, but I knew contained all the heads and all the livers she had removed.
“They are as requested.”
“Why not the feet?”
“As opposed to the genitalia?”
“They’re good eats.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes as I sat down on a chunk of exposed granite. “Don’t ever talk shit about American cuisine again.”
She grunted and stirred the pieces of flesh cooking in the cauldron. I watched for a bit before realizing the full implications of what she said.
“You’re cooking the meat off the bones.”
“… Is that really fucking necessary?”
“Sometimes the dead need help letting go of shit. How different is this from your precious Boneyard and the fires?”
“Yea… well… I’m not serving up the dead with a side of fava beans or some shit.”
She stopped stirring the cauldron and looked dead at me. I was reminded her aspect is modeled after a snake by the unblinkingly and uncomfortably black eyed stare she answered me with.
“Tell me, what did the Ravens allot to you as your punishment for allowing Nathan to bully you for so long?”
The memory of his rotting flesh in my mouth removed my ability to speak.
“Tell me, what did the Ravens and Boneburners do to the betrayers after the fall of the Bonetemple?”
I’m still not sure if I joined the purging hunt in the Boneyard. I am sure that those who were found were torn to pieces still aware and feeling.
“Tell me, what did you eat when [the Death God] served you?”
I didn’t want to confirm my suspicions of that moment, dammit. Now I have no other choice. I did not answer any of her questions. I had lost enough pride already.
“You have your ways, Boneburner, I have mine. And until we achieve union and our soul is whole again, we’ll continue to have our separate ways. Now lie down and get some rest. There will be enough dourness to distract you come the morn.”
I looked down at my feet and saw a woven mat with a simple blanket. I accepted the offer and laid down mutely. As I drifted into a deeper sleep, I saw a black dog pull bones from the fire under the cauldron as a black robed messenger fetched the cooked meat from within it.