I had fallen asleep with my headphones on. Intentionally. I had trouble falling asleep lately and using music as a backdrop for light meditation was very helpful in downshifting my mental gears. The plan was to focus on the music until I had gotten my wandering thoughts into a single force of will, then turning off the music and turning over to go to sleep.
We all know what happens to the best laid plans, now don’t we.
I don’t remember when I stopped listening to the music. I only remember having a single minded determination to focus my thoughts and awareness on one spot. The spot really wasn’t a “spot”. Not a physical location, not a mental mantra. I was focused on not focusing on anything at all.
I think I succeeded. For a brief moment anyways. There was a flash of Nothing. A Nothing so truly devoid of Thing, that to call it No-thing would be a misnomer because there is no “Not” there. But the Nothing was so profound, so overwhelming, I physically reacted with an intense trembling.
The physical reaction was more than I could stand, so I tried to sit up, to bring myself away from the Nothing, and into Something, whatever I could find. All I succeeded in doing was moaning softly and lifting an arm.
A small hand quickly took the raised arm. Cold, solid hands that felt like polished marble tucked my arm under the thin blanket that covered me. Thinking my daughter had heard me and had come to investigate, I opened my eyes to talk to her.
The trembling was now an intense shivering from head to toe. I looked to my right, where she would be standing, and saw a dirt wall. Confused, I looked to my left, and found myself looking into eyes as black as coal and as bright as struck flint.
“You’re okay. I have you, Soft-Skin.” The svartalf patted my shoulder as another tremor overtook my body. “You’re not done yet, Soft-Skin. Go ahead, go. I have you here with me. No one will take your body while your soul travels.”
“My… soul?” It was hard to speak. I struggled to move my mouth to form words. I didn’t feel connected to my body. I felt a pulling, downward. As if something under the earth was tugging on my soul. But I didn’t want to go. I didn’t know what was happening. Wasn’t I in my bed? Why was I in the svartalf’s chamber?
The trembling increased, I began to lose voluntary muscle control. He laid a hand on my chest and leaned close to me. “Soft-Skin. Where you are going, I can not help you. But I promise you this, your body will not be stolen. Let go, Soft-Skin. Let go of your flesh. Entrust it to me.” He presses firmly on my chest. The trembling suddenly increases in intensity as the chthonic pull begins to wrench my awareness downward. I am unable to resist the call any longer. The svartalf leans over me as my body contorts in a sudden fit and I lose consciousness.
The hard dirt is loose and crumbly under my face. I move my arms and legs randomly as I gather my wits on the cold ground. There is a smell of dirt here. This is not the sweet damp earth of the svartalf’s chambers. This is the cloying bitter scent of decaying plants. A sharp smell, that reminds me of stagnant marshes.
I push myself off the ground and stumble to my feet. As I brush the dirt off my clothes, I note I am wearing an assembly that I do not own in the Waking. I am in boots, black slacks, white long sleeve button down blouse, and long black coat. Stuffed in the coat’s pockets are a pair of black leather gloves. The outfit is one I take on explicitly for working magic in the Dream worlds. I realize that I am still dreaming and look around.
All about me is darkness except for one direction. I have no connection to the compass points here. I can’t tell if I’m facing North or South. Hell, I can’t tell if I’m facing Up or Down! In that direction, about twenty feet away, is a raging fire. Larger than a campfire, smaller than a bonfire, the flames dance among themselves with abandon. Enticed, I start for the flames, when a figure shuffles from behind the fire.
The figure is moving strangely. Short jerky steps, followed by long strides. Sometimes huddled under, sometimes arms waving outstretched. Between the body shape hinted at by the clothes, and the high pitched shrieking and keening, I surmise the figure is female. But I’m not entirely sure a female of what species.
As I watch her carefully, I note with horror the fuel the dancing fire is consuming. In between the flames, I can make out the rounded ends of long bones. I study the bones for a moment, and realize the fuel source for the fire is all human bones. I see the long bones of the legs and arms, but tucked in between are ribs, vertebrae, and the occasional skull, as well as many smaller pieces that could be wrist bones or the remnants of the first bones that fueled the fire. The sight unnerves me completely so I return my sight to the strange woman, studying her to see if she is friend or foe.
I continue to keep my distance, watching her dance and move around the fire widdershins. In her right hand, she carried what at first appeared to be a club. Then it appeared to be the thigh bone of some large creature. When she held it aloft, I saw it for what it was, part of a large staff, broken off at one end. Wrapped around the knob of the staff was a construct of braided cords, meshed together in some manner, containing bone fragments, pieced of carved wood, and bound stones. As the construct rattled in her movements, it gave off the sound of dried bones being thrown against each other.
The moaning woman was covered in layers of heavy cloth. As I noted what she was wearing, I felt the chill of the place settle onto me. I am reminded briefly of a walk-in refrigerator, where foodstuffs were being kept for later processing. I felt naked and exposed to the environment. An involuntary shudder shook me through to the bones, causing me to fall to one knee as I wait for the tremor to pass over me. My awareness flashed back to the svartalf’s chamber, where it lingered just long enough to see he had taken me to a different chamber, one I had not been in before. Instead of laying me in a dirt formed alcove bed, I was laying on a table that stood in the middle of the chamber. I could feel protective runes engraved into the walls of the chamber. He stood over me, holding his magic blade in his right hand, over my head. He held a large bowl in his left hand, and held that over my stomach. His eyes were closed and his face deeply marked with fervor. I could barely hear his voice as he spoke galdr and magic over me. I wanted to reach out to him, but the act of wanting movement threw my body into chattering shivers. The chthonic pull again pulled me out of myself and I left my body behind, in the svartalf’s care.
I returned to the firelit darkness of the dancing woman. Nothing had changed in my brief absence. I found myself still on one knee in the near darkness at the edge of the fire’s light. I stood and looked carefully at the unintelligible woman. She could have been around my height. The skirts of her clothing concealed her feet from me, so I could not tell if she wore heels or flat shoes, if she wore shoes at all! Her robes were dark brown in color. Over her clothing she wore a large cloak. From the waist down, the cloak was made of furs of many animals. The color of the furs were near uniform, of a darker, more intense brown than the fibers of her clothing. They had been crudely sown together, but effectively sown together. From the waist up, the cloak was covered in feathers. Shiny, blue-black feathers, that I somehow knew to be all from ravens. They were mounted onto the cloak to give the appearance the cloak wearer was a giant bird.
When she spread her arms, the cloak would fall away from her hands. I saw that the sleeves of her clothing extended to the elbow, and possibly further. But I could not tell because the gloves she wore were elbow length, and also covered in raven feathers. The fingertips of the gloves were capped with bone fragments, giving the impression her hands were the feathered talons of some monster creature.
She gave no indication she knew of my presence. Or that she even gave a shit about my presence.
She continued her sometimes jerking, sometimes smooth dance widdershins around the fire. I tried to leave, to return to the Waking, or at least, just back to the svartalf’s chambers, but each attempt would cause me to shiver violently as if I was wracked with fever. Finally, the cold of the area was too much to bear, and the warmth of the fire too tempting. I took a step forward.
She stopped and turned to me at once. When she faced me, the shock of what I saw overwhelmed me and I collapsed on the cold dirt in violent shivers.
She wore the deathmask the svartalf had made. And I knew, on the moment she turned to face me, the raven feathered woman also wore my face underneath the mask. She moved quickly from the fire to loom over me. I was twitching too violently to attempt to move away from her. She turned me over, onto my back, and peered at me from behind the mask. The braided cords, the same type that covered the head of the broken staff, covered her hair completely, creating a knotted headdress decorated with fragments of bones. She turned her head one way, then another as she looked at me. As if she were truly were a giant bird, looking over her dying prey.
For truly, I felt as if I were dying. The shudders and trembles continued to wrack me on the cold ground. Far away, I could feel my body laying on the table, also trembling and shaking. Despite the many blankets the svartalf had covered me with, my body was very cold. Too cold. I could feel him getting under the covers with me, his granite body warmed with runespells. My last fleeting sensations was his unusually warm arms wrapping around my shivering cold body. He was trying to keep me warm.
My awareness again returned to the raven feathered woman. She had grabbed me by the collar of my coat and was dragging me closer to the fire. My head was bounced to the side, where I was able to look closer at the ground. I saw more bone fragments, embedded in the dirt. I realized then, I was at a graveyard of some kind. I was in the midst of rot and decay, the forces of which was being held back by the Ravenwoman’s fire.
A darkness, blacker than anything I had ever felt, began to seep over my mind. I had stopped shivering, and was now resolved to whatever fate had brought me to. A strange desire wafted up into me from the ground. Not sleep nor rest, but nonexistence. I wanted to be part of the dirt below me, to no longer live as Keri, or as any sentient thing.
She shrieks in defiance. Strange cries of drawn out vowels. Her voice is what mine will be in twenty years. Somehow, I turn my head to look up at her. And to the fire so very close to my head. I do not fear her, but the fire, I dread. I wanted to run into the surrounding darkness, but my body was completely sapped of energy. Ravenwoman reached down, grabbed me with both hands, and deftly threw me into the fire.
I lurch forward, breaking the svartalf’s embrace. Crying out in shock and pain, I sit up in anguish. Before I can collect my wits, another set of trembling overtakes me. My eyes roll up in my head, and I fall backwards crashing into his chest as he was sitting up to take me into his arms once more. As my arms flail about, I note we are now laying on the floor. He buries his face in my back as he holds on to me. I barely hear his reassurances. The fit now passed, I sag in his arms completely lifeless. My awareness loses hold and returns to the Ravenwoman.
I am sitting on my knees beside the fire. My clothes are slightly disheveled. She is using one taloned hand to keep me upright, the other taloned hand is randomly tapping me on the head. With each tap, I feel more anchored here than I do in the svartalf’s chambers. She continues tapping me until I shake my head to be free of the annoyance. She pulls me to my feet and holds me tightly by the hand. She resumes her strange dancing widdershins around the fire, leading me to follow in her wake.
I didn’t know what she expected of me, so I merely made sure to step where she stepped. Letting my left foot fall where her left foot just raised, and doing the same with my right. Soon she dropped my hands and was content to allow me to follow along.
The more we danced, the less I felt of myself again. I began to feel the Nothing state fall over me again. Just before it dissolved me from the Ravenwoman’s presence, she stopped and faced me again. She waved her broken staff in my face. Shaking it over my head so the bones and wood pieces would rattle against the wood. The sound brought me away from the Nothing and forced me to concentrate on her. She stared deeply into my eyes from behind the deathmask. Her gaze fixed me fast and I felt another trembling starting deep in my bones. Just when I thought I could not bear any more of her examination, she darted forward, kissing me on the lips.
With the briefest of touches, she sucked all the warmth out of me. I suddenly felt as cold as the dirt we danced upon. I thought I had been kissed by Death as my body collapsed, crumpled from the kiss. She knelt over me, keening intensely. I saw briefly, she held her broken staff over me, much like how the svartalf held his magic blade over me. She touched the head of the broken staff to my chest, and I regained strength, warmth, and fortitude. I noted I had been changed slightly. She took something more than just warmth with her kiss, and left me with something more with her restoration. But what these things were, I could not tell.
She pulled me to my feet, then began her widdershins dance again. Pulling me after her, I was compelled to dance as well. The events repeated themselves often. I lost count of how many times she killed me with a kiss, only to revive me shortly afterward. Sometimes, instead of the Nothing coming over me, I would awake with a jerk and a start in the svartalf’s chambers. Each time, I find him holding on to me in some manner. A few times, I thought I saw concern and regret cross his face. But each time, the chthonic pull would wrench my awareness from his sanctuary again and again.
I had become lost to the cycle, and had forgotten all else. My black clothes were filthy and tattered from the repeated falling and restorations. Suddenly she stopped fast in her tracks. She lifted her head and cried out with a piercing shriek. At the sound of her voice, the fire we had been dancing around extinguished, plunging us into the devouring darkness. I lost the ability to see, but I knew she didn’t since she wore the deathmask. I felt a sharp pointed hand grab my blouse. The rustle of feathers told me it was her. She cried out again and her broken staff glowed with a strange energy I could feel but not see.
She reached up, and made a stabbing motion with the broken end of the staff. In doing so, she pierced not only the darkness above her, but the very sky above this world. The assault continued through all the worlds between this one and the Waking until she had pierced to expose the sun, itself!
Far above me, I could see the light of the Noon Sun in the great hole the Ravenwoman had created. But the different worlds began to heal themselves of the assault, filtering the light that shone down. Layer by layer, the glorious and majestic sunlight was filtered and altered until all what descended into the darkness of this chthonic world was like the settling of fine powdered gold dust, glinting as it descended.
I had hoped to see sunlight as light, but was not surprised to see the light expressing itself as gold dust. I did hope to see more quantities of it. I reached for the gold dust sunlight, but her grip on me was relentless. I could not move from where I stood. I reached for the remnants of sunlight, but she pulled me further away from the glittering dust.
I heard a slight chuckle from the direction of the dust. As I watched, I realized the dust was settling on something directly underneath the hole. I continued watching and the outline of the embroidered man was shown. I could barely see him, the light from the hole was that dim, but I knew this was the same man I call the Lord of my Kaaba. He stood in the dusting of sunlight, bracing himself with a cane. I had seen this cane before and had identified it with a particular person. For him to have that cane, meant many of my assumptions about him, and about the ravenwoman, were drastically wrong. He nodded at my realization, confirming what I had learned.
Without warning, the ravenwoman whirled me around to her, and kissed me again. Once again, I fell at her feet as if dead. The embroidered man watched on, a barely detectable smirk on his face. Ravenwoman looked up at him, he merely nodded in approval. She restored me with her staff one last time.
I noted the holes were almost healed between worlds. With the amount of gold dust sunlight being reduced, the embroidered man was not able to continue manifesting in this dead world. Just before his appearance faded entirely, Ravenwoman kissed me again. This time, a long intense kiss that pushed me to the edge of the Nothing. My body crumpled again before her. She knelt over me, removed the braided cords from her broken staff, and entwined my right hand in the knotwork and webbing so that I did not need to grip the cords to keep from losing them. She removed the deathmask from her face (which looked like mine!) and fitted it over mine. The deathmask fit perfectly. She took her broken staff, raised it above her head like a kris, and shoved the pointed broken end into my heart, driving it through my flesh into the ground underneath me.
I wake up in the svartalf’s chamber, the one with the table. But I’m on the floor, and he is holding on to my body. I jerk around, finding myself unable to breathe, twitching in memory of the impalement. The svartalf tells me to hold still so he can remove the deathmask. Indeed, I am now wearing it. I wonder if I brought it back with me from the dead world, or did he put on the version of the mask that exists in his world. Either way, he is now telling me to hold still so he can remove it.
I comply, barely. He lifts the mask off my face with ease and places it on a table behind him. “Time for you to go, Soft-Skin. You need to return to your world, at once.” He starts to carry me, but another vicious trembling overwhelms my body and I begin to suffer a fit. He places me down on the ground, where I see in the distance, a slowly narrowing beam of sunlight. “I need to get you into that sunlight, Soft-Skin. You need to leave here, now.” He drags me, moving forward at a good clip until his momentum is enough to drag me into the beam of sunlight.
The sunlight pierces me where the Ravenwoman impaled me. The light overwhelms me and I wake in my bed, in the Waking, with a start. I gulp for air as if I had been held underwater. I wrench the now quiet headphones off my head and struggle to breathe. Finally, I am able to take stock of my surroundings. Noting I am truly home, I reach for the first note-taking implement that falls under my fingers and summarize the experience on Twitter.
Of note: Several years ago, I managed to develop a spirit familiar. A rattlesnake spirit has been a helpful ally in many an escapade. I never wrote of him, because he is very personal and private to me. I just want to note, that throughout this entire event, he was present. He had curled around my neck, biting his tail like an ouroboros. When I was in the dead world with the ravenwoman, he no longer appeared as a living thing, instead he appeared around my neck like a closed gold torc.
Three years ago, I first encountered Ravenwoman. She didn’t have feathers or furs on her cloak then. But it is undoubtedly, the same person. She kicked my ass on that occasion, too.
Make of that, what you may.