I knew I was somewhere underground, somewhere lost in a large cave system, but I did not know which cave system or why I was here. So I obeyed the first rule of realizing you’re lost.
I sat down.
There was no light, but I could see… barely. I saw the outline of my body and noted the plain “everyday” clothes that covered it. I saw the large damp rock I was seated on, and the uneven pebbly ground around it. I heard water running in the distance, deep-throated and unrelenting.
A being stepped within my reach of sight. I recognized him immediately even though his divine presence was emanating unlight and projecting shadows instead of the soft white glow he is usually portrayed with.
He nodded a silent welcome in return.
“Long time, no see. I hope I have not entered here in error. I wish to respect all the boundaries between us.”
“Including the artificial boundaries you have set?” An undesired departure from a deep hearted relationship led me to also distance myself from the god. I had no right to enter her lands, metaphorical or otherwise, and I wanted to avoid both raising his ire and harming her.
“Including the protective boundaries I have set.” I remained seated on the stone and tucked my fingers under my thighs. I knew where I was now, and that I had to be on my best behavior.
“I am not here for that.” The judgmental tone in his words contradicted the words themselves. I refrained from commenting.
The god stepped closer. He appears as a boy on the cusp of puberty, wearing only a plain chlamys pinned at his right shoulder. His petasus was pulled forward to obscure his eyes from me, an action that I knew was for my benefit and protection.
Now within arm’s reach of me, he extended his right hand to offer me a short baton capped at both ends with patina stained metal. The plain wood was unusually dark, though somehow I knew it was from ages of handling and not any particular type of wood or staining. I took it with my right hand and tried to look closer at it before remembering I am not physically here.
“You will be tasked for a duty. This will help you complete that duty. It should be familiar to you.” His voice sounded hollow, as if he were speaking in reverse. Considering where I was and which aspect of the god was before me, I should be thankful that is the only thing “off”.
I looked at roughly ten inch baton. I could not see color in this environment but I could smell the bronze capping the rod as it warmed in my hand. The thumb-thick rod felt comfortable to me, which alarmed me.
“Go on. Grip it.” His tone was one part encouragement and one part mocking. I know what the rod is, so why am I afraid of it? I raised my face to look at him. He lowered his face so that the petasus only allowed me to see his thin smirk of a mouth. Still facing him, I turned the rod so both ends pointed horizontally towards the darkness around us and gripped the rod as if to wield it.
The rod extended to a shaft longer than I was tall and I was forced to grab it with both hands to keep from dropping the suddenly unbalanced weight. On one end, the plain bronze cap had transformed into an attached pointed cone that reminded me of a brass plumb bob.
The cap on the other end popped into a small bronze orb that was somehow very much metal and very much translucent. A faint light emanated from it. A pair of feathered wings precipitated in the light around the orb and unfurled to rest horizontally in mid-air. The wings were as a hologram, without substance yet plainly visible. The tips of the feathers refracted the light from the orb, giving the appearance of the rainbow formed by ice crystal clouds in the sky.
The light revealed a helix pattern winding along the length of the shaft. The pattern was two snakes whose open mouths appeared to be holding the glowing orb. The bodies of the snakes wound along the full length of the shaft with their tails disappearing under the metal of the end point.
The weight of the duty I will be performing pulled my usual arrogance into maturity. There was no mistaking what I will be tasked to do. I lowered my face, bowed, and silently accepted what I felt to be a loan.
The god heard my thoughts. “This is yours. I suggest obtaining a physical duplicate of the inactive rod. It will serve you in other tasks. But this one, this one is yours. Wield it with care and solemnity. [There will be other times when you will need it.]”
I meant to leave the stone I was sitting on so I could properly bow before the god. The rod in my hands suddenly pressed against me, keeping me seated. I did not understand the warning, but heeded it just the same. I bowed as low in the seated position as I could. As I rose, I saw the god had already turned and was walking away.
Just before he left my field of view, he stopped and turned his head to throw words over his shoulder. “I know why you did as you did. I know your efforts to prevent it, and your sorrow at what you ultimately had to do to preserve yourself. I do not hold it against you. The path to me remains open if you are willing to walk it.” He turned forward and entered the damp darkness.
I waited until I could no longer sense the god’s presence before releasing my grip on the shaft. Without announcement, it retracted into the plain bronze capped rod that it was before. My fingers felt something had been worked into the surface of the rod, something that would be easy for a skilled craftsperson to duplicate.
A raven came from beyond my understanding to alight on my right shoulder. Its talons pierced both clothing and flesh to grate against my bones. Even though it hurt and I could feel blood lining my skin, I was neither afraid nor angered.
It has been a while, after all, since I was in the Boneyard. Sometimes the reminders have to be obvious to be recognized.