I knew I was asleep the moment I opened my eyes in the darkness. I did not go gently into the Dreaming, it was quite the tumultuous ride. I was wary but did not feel I could force myself awake right away. I knew I had to wait it out. The floor beneath me was solid darkness. I was illuminated by a spotlight overhead, but the source itself was beyond my vision. Outside of the cone of light, was impenetrable darkness.
I was dressed in the same clothes I had laid down in. A voice out of the darkness complimented my choice of fabrics. A tall, thin man stepped forward. At first he seemed quite familiar. I was relieved to not be alone. But the more he spoke to me, the more I questioned who he was. He was dressed to resemble a person I often encounter in Dreaming. He had the right tone of voice, manner of dress, physical appearance. So why was I refusing to allow him to touch me?
The large helmet on his head may have something to do with it. I’ve seen many a horned visage before, so the near vertical spikes were not alarming. The helmet itself was of a dull beaten metal. It had been shaped, reshaped, and repaired so much any original adornment or engraving was lost. The two horns were attached to the forehead of the helmet, and reminded me of Marvel Comic’s portrayal of Loki. About 18 inches in length, mostly vertical with a slight curve to the final 5 inches.
Flower, or so I often call him much to his bemused annoyance, usually appears in “casual clothing”. If he is armored, it is the Rogue’s Leathers at the very most. The person that has stepped out of the shadows, looks like Flower, sounds like Flower, is dressed in leathers like Flower, but has no scent and is hiding what would be one of Flower’s endearments. I see no hint of Flower’s great lengths of flowing hair. All is tucked under that outlandish helmet.
The man loses his patience with me. He grabs at me roughly. He declares his intent to have his way with me and take what he considers his. I jerk away from him and note the light source does not move with me. He starts to follow my action, bringing himself further into the cone of light. The helmet obscures his face entirely from sight. Instead, the light amplifies the putrid scent of rotting flesh coming from his mouth. This is definitely not Flower.
The sudden scent takes him by surprise. He retreats from the light and circles the cone towards me. He roars that he has been ill treated by others, and in need of my help to be restored. Why won’t I hold still, and trust him? I question my appraisal now. Flower can be a bastard at times. What if…?
I cannot risk him not being Flower. I raise my left hand and call on the rune Isa. A gauntlet of ice encloses hand and wrist. I raise my right hand and call on Kenaz. The flames envelop my hand yet does not burn me. He sees this and charges at me.
If this is Flower, then all my might will do me no good. He will be able to shatter the ice as easily as crushing a child’s dream. The fire will only fuel him, enrage him. Flower would turn the flame against me and char my arm at will. I ready for the assault, ready for the swing. He aims for my face. The ice-hand diverts the momentum as I bring the fire-hand forward for a facial assault in turn.
The hulk has more speed to him than I thought. He dodges my swing, but the flames ignite his breath. He staggers backwards in pain for a moment, then hurls a great fireball roar towards me. I didn’t think, I just reacted. I brought my ice-hand up, but not in a blocking move. I threw a spray of ice that took most of the heat out of the fireball as the ice sublimated. What reached me was only hot air. I nearly gagged on the smell, but it was only hot air.
He charges at me again, it is clear he intends to tackle me. The ice morphs again over my hand. Instead of soft human flesh, he slams into a left handed swung buckler made of ice. The ice cracks from the impact but I’m only shifted a few inches. He bounces off several feet. The impact was jarring, I know I won’t be able to handle any more direct impacts.
I shift battle tactics. Somewhat surprised at the malleability of the Isa fueled gauntlet, I call on Isa and Kenaz again. Flicking my hands outward, I shift the form of my weapons. I now wield an ice sword in my left hand, and a fire sword in my right hand. My assailant recovers from his cold-clocking and returns anew.
The dance is brief and intense. The blades keep him at bay. But his resolve is firm. He swears at me. Threatens me. Hurls promises that make me even more determined not to fall. I am still lucid through all this. With every stolen moment I try to will myself back to the Waking, to leave this Dream state. With every try I am prevented.
Finally, a stalemate. He is unable to proceed past the runeblades. I am unable to cause damage to him. This now becomes a battle of attrition. Whoever tires first, is lost. A long pause. We stare at each other. I am still unable to see under the helmet. He derides me. “Is this how you treat your friend and master?!”
“If you were my friend and master, the one whose appearance you mock, you would have bested me with only a sideways glance. But you are neither friend, nor master. As you have given me, so will I give back and more!” I lunge forward with the fireblade. He dodges it easily, laughing. But my intent was not to skewer him. I had learned his dodging behaviour enough to bet on him leaning a certain way and exposing the helmet’s strap.
The iceblade catches the inch of exposed leather and slices it with ease. His backwards momentum does the rest, flinging the horned monstrosity off his head. I hear it crumple as it hits the pitch black ground behind him.
The wave of stench that envelops me would have brought me to my knees had I not smelled it before. Several years ago, I had the “pleasure” of helping a friend deal with an animal hoarding situation. The animals inside the house were in different states of dying, death, and putrescence. The scent of my assailant was all the stages of putrescence combined in one warm animated and sloshy presence.
I didn’t look up at his face. I didn’t have the bravery to do so. My ears told me what I was missing. The sound of crawling things is audibly wet and sticky. How I heard what I presume to be maggots over the sound of his screaming, I am not sure. “You ripped off my face! My face! My beautiful face! I was only going to use you, but now I will rip your spirit from your flesh and wear YOUR face instead!”
There was enough light reflecting off me to highlight his feet. Despite his words, his feet are moving in a random and staggered pattern. If I could only keep my gorge down, I could rush forward and end this. I pause too long and my assailant staggers off into the darkness. His promises of getting revenge shake me. I realize how exposed I really am.
I call on other runes for protection. Elhaz. Naudhiz. Tiwaz to keep my strikes true. I see shimmers of their power surround and encase me. But I know, it won’t be enough if my assailant brings reinforcements. Again and again, I try to leave the Dream. To return to the Waking world and the dishes that are waiting for me. No matter how great my lucidity, I am unable to wake up.
A great shaking and rumbling in the distance. I set my jaw and call on Thurisaz. I am reminded of forms I have taken on when traveling about. I shift into such a form now. Two feet taller than I started, thicker, denser, and better prepared for bone jarring blows. This form should be able to see without light, but instead I blind myself. The cone of light that was barely visible to my human eyes are now halogen bright to this Dark-lover form.
In the warding of my space, I make a fortuitous mistake. I forget to ward the very ground under my feet. I feel the dirt shifting from underground burrowing. Before I can react, the ground gives way and I fall into a small chamber. The runeblades retract into gauntlets as I prepare for the next round of fighting.
“Hey! HEY! Watch where you swing that!” My eyes adjust to the complete darkness of the chamber. In my seven foot tall form, the small man is even smaller. Flinty eyes glitter at me. I know him. Don’t know his name, but THIS man, I know. He is the one that helped me through the migraine. Who taught me how to Sleep. “Good. You’re not bleeding. That will make this easier.”
“Make what easier?” The shaking and rumbling is quite closer. I hear shouts along with it. My assailant has brought others and they are bellowing my fate at their hands. “Did I bring this on my head?”
He is sealing the ground above our heads. Being careful not to disturb the wards protecting the space. “You did, and you didn’t. Don’t worry about that now.” He finishes and looks at me. “Too big. Get smaller.”
I return to my human size and form. I am still unable to stand up in the chamber. He holds his hand out about a foot apart. “This much smaller.”
I have never tried to shift into anything that small. The rumbling directly overhead encourage me to try. Closing my eyes, I try to call up a small form, but nothing clear comes to mind. My fear overwhelms me and I panic for a few seconds. I feel a sensation and interpret it to be my assailant reaching down to pull me out of the hole. I dart around my friend’s feet looking for a way out, any way out. Only to realize, I’m darting around the small man’s feet.
He has been trying to catch me but the rodent mind had taken hold during the panic. He picks up the grey mouse I have become and holds me gently and firmly in his arms. He chuckles for a moment, then to my horror starts digging out the roof of the chamber. I struggle and struggle but he holds me fast in position and form.
As the roof collapse, the assailant and his associates peer into the hole. My stone friend exclaims, “AHA! I have you, my pet! Naughty Mousey, to run away from me like that!” He holds me at arms length, turning my mouse form this way and that way. He peers up back at the ghoulish form above us. “I caught her! I caught her! No mouse can outrun me!”
The men above us look at me. I express my annoyance with squeaks and attempted writhing. They laugh gruffly. “Give us the mouse! Our fun ran away and we can play with the mouse instead!” Others join in with demands and cries.
The stone man holds me close to his chest. “No. This is my pet and I’m keeping her.” He turns to go down the passage he has dug. The men above howl in further displeasure.
“Why play with a mouse, when we can play with you! Come here, you! Let’s see if you can play with larger things!” They start to dig into the chamber, but the wards I had placed is slowing them down. My stone friend sees clearly the danger he is in and races down the passage.
“I should teach you how to move through rock sometime. We would make better time.” Behind us, I hear less shaking and feel more rumbling. I know they are trying to dig their way in. But my friend places a great distance between us and them. “They are trying to dig after you. Good.” I squeak in question to his statement. “I can not outrace them above ground. But underground, even hobbled by carrying you, they are more stone than I am. To get you to safety, they must be occupied underground so they do not see your rescuer.”
The passage is rising now, and soon we are back on the surface. I try to shift out of the mouse form, only to find I am stuck hard and well. “We will speak later, my friend.” His final words as he lifts me up into the air, where I balance on his hand. I am filled with rodent fear. Fully exposed to the air. Why, some avian could swoop down and… uhoh…
The eagle did not pierce me with its talons when it snatched me from my friend’s hand. It did grip me quite securely as it flew higher and higher into the night sky. Where before, I was only able to see a few feet around me, now I am able to sense trees, hills, streams, and forest wildlife. Far, far off in the distance I heard the bellows of my assailant and his fellows, realizing they have been duped and deprived of all their targets.
I try to thank the eagle, but stuck in mouse form, I can only squeak. I feel the eagle’s laughter at my predicament. I have never been more relieved to hear such derisive and haughty laughter. “Now, how did you manage to pick that fight?” His lilting voice fills my mind. I try to answer in kind.
“He was trying to masquerade as you.” The eagle’s cry pierces the sky, full of laughter.
“How well did he do?” I was embarrassed to admit I was greatly confused at first. But Flower reads my pause and understands what I don’t want to speak. “You confuse me with a walking corpse? Me? With that? How dare you!”
The talons tighten even more around me.
“I’ll get you out of here, but it won’t be a pleasant experience!” The eagle suddenly starts climbing. Higher and higher he flies. After a great while, the eagle allows his wings to collapse, and we begin to plummet out of the sky. He allows me to struggle in rodent panic, then calmly reaches over and rips my mouse head off. My last recollection is him swallowing my mouse head, and the sensation of my mouse body following soon after.
I wake with a shout and jerk in my bed. I had the sensation of still falling and not quite fitting well in my own flesh. Flower’s laughter was fading in my ears.
As I lay still, collecting my wits, Flower whispers the last words into my ear. “You brought this on yourself, by not educating yourself fully. You learned just enough to start shit. Not enough to get out of it.”
I nodded in agreement.
I wasn’t going to write this down for public view, but yet once again, it is rattling me and won’t leave me until it is written. So, now it is written. Take of it what you may.