So hard, falling asleep. Perhaps it is from the past several weeks of too damn early mornings, and too damn late evenings. Even my nonsense dream count has faded. So trying to fall asleep, maybe I’m trying too hard. Because of the tensions in my house, I don’t feel safe. So I’m always on guard. Always keeping an ear out for sounds of trouble. As such, the normally very comfortable bed feels more to me like a pallet of concrete. The soft sheets feeling more like steel wool.
If only I had someone that would be alert for me. Someone at hand that I could give my trust to. Someone to watch over me.
Bah. It’s useless. I might as well get up and do something else for a while. I stretch and shift position, only for my bed to shift position under me. I open my eyes in surprise and look at the canopy above me. Seven graceful arcs bend at my movement, curving downward in swoops and arcs. At the end of each arc is a hooded snake head. Each snake head is identical to the head of my snake companion. As seven sets of eyes watch me, and seven tongues flick about me, I trace the heads and bodies back. Just above my head, I see the seven separate bodies merge into one large snake. I realize then, I’m laying on the snake’s body.
The impossibility of what I’m seeing confuses me. As I furrow my brow, one of the snake heads move close enough to touch. It flicks its tongue at me, teasing my nose.
“Eh, so now you have another trick up your sleeve, eh? Seven hooded heads, really? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you can be any snake, physical or mythological. Hello, my friend. Thank you for watching over me.” The snake again flicks at my nose, then brings all seven heads upright. I note the spread hoods of each individual head combine with its neighbor, creating a scaled scallop that is beautiful to look at.
I know I am dreaming, that I am sleeping, but I do not feel rested. The snake shifts under me slightly, shifting my body’s pose into one more comfortable. Six heads look in six different directions. The seventh looks at me briefly, as if chiding me to relax, then move to watch in a seventh direction. A deep desire for rest overtakes me. Smiling slightly, I relax fully into the coils of the watchful snake, and fall into a deeper sleep.
Just before the dream deepened, I heard a disembodied voice ask the snake, “Has the dreamer awoken?”. But I was too far gone to answer.
I felt a shift in awareness. I tried to open my eyes, but I had no eyes to open. I tried to lift my hand, but I had no hand to move. I just was. I willed then, to see, and I saw. My vantage point was in the depths of space, but still within the heliosphere. I was so far from the sun, it appeared more like a large star, than the gravitational dominator of the planetary system. Despite the distance, I saw the sun and the planets with sharp clarity. I identified each planet with ease. As if in recognition, each planet glowed brightly in response.
In the most furthest of reaches, I felt the echoes of someone laying asleep in the coils of a seven-headed snake. A man’s voice, asked, “Has the dreamer awoken?”. But there was no response. And the dreamer smiled faintly in her sleep.
Within the heliosphere, the sun and the planets were now glowing with unbelievable light. Without the heliosphere, the stars, nebulae, and galaxies echoed, mirrored, and added to the gleam by glowing with the light of their own innate existence. As the light combined to overwhelm my vantage point, I heard a woman’s voice say, “Your initiation, it has already begun.”
As she spoke those words, the dreamer held in the snake’s embrace smiled strangely in her sleep. She shifted position so that she was laying on her left side, propped up somewhat on her left elbow. She laid her left hand over her heart, and raised her right hand as if in a gesture of blessing (or invocation). When the words faded, she allowed her right hand to rest on her hip, and moved her left hand so that her head was propped on it.
When the dreamer settled back down into deepest sleep, again the man asked, “Has the dreamer awoken?”. Again, there was no response from the dreamer or the snake that watched over her.
In the depths of space, darkness was banished by the light. But I knew, even as I watched, the light was actually the darkness. The two were the same. The acceptance of all things as they are was what changed the darkness into light. What appeared dark, only did so, because mortal man did not have the eyes to see what was there. I accepted this, and a mystery spoke in the depths of me. But it is a mystery I am unable to place into words. Again the woman spoke, “Your initiation, it has already begun.” I yielded to the unviewable light, and was removed from that place.
I woke up, in the seven headed snake’s embrace. All seven heads looked down on me with patience. As we observed each other, I knew I had been changed. My right eye and my right hand were marked. Or rather, the mark that had always been there, was now visible. I wanted to remain here a little longer, but in the distance, I heard the sounds of alarm. An invasion had begun. A call to all able to hear the klaxon. A call to arms.
I leap from the snake, fully awake. Before my feet have touched the marble tile floor, I have called to myself my “magic clothes”. Another step forward, I reach out with my right hand and call the cane to hand. Yet another step forward, I reach out with my left hand and call the longbow into my grip.
But I hear a disembodied voice say, “Has the dreamer awoken?”. I turn to look back at the snake, and see I am still sleeping in the snake’s embrace. I am still on my left side, still propped up on the left hand. And still the strangest of smiles on my face. I note the “dreamer” has not woken yet, but the klaxons are still sounding. I turn away from the snake and run into the enveloping light.
I continue running. Marble floor gives way to hard dirt. The light lifts off me and I find myself in a great plain. It is morning, and the sun shines brightly in the cloudless sky. I know behind me is a sacred place, a holy place, and is where the call to arms originated from. Far in the distance, far to the south, I see advancing hordes of people and beasts. This is why the call was given. Marauders cry intimidations and promises of plunder.
There is nothing between them and the sacred place behind me. Nothing, except me. I call on the runes, chanting and invoking them. A thick field of grass like plants erupt in the space between me and the marauders. They appear to be blades of stiff grass, but they will slice at any foolish to charge through it like blades of surgical scalpels.
I plant the cane into the ground beside me, and raise my bow. By my will, something like an arrow appears docked in the bow, ready for me to pull and aim. I aim, and wait. Gauging the enemy’s advancement, I release the first arrow to time with the enemy arriving too many paces into my field of fire.
As the first foe falls, I hear a cheer off to my side. Another has answered the call to arms, and is slinging projectiles of his own. We smile at each other and resume our assault on the common enemy. Soon, the field is filled with other protectors. None of us spoke the same language, or even used the same type of weapons. Some were long range assault, and some had waded into the elkgrass to take up infantry positions. A few, I noted, were not attacking at all, but were providing support to those that were. We all were united in the defense of the sacred space, and were working united from a deep, unspeakable instinct. There were no gloryhounds, no great heroes to lead and inspire us. Individually, we didn’t matter much to the field of war. But collectively, we were destroying the enemy.
The enemy changed tactics as the land assault was failing under our collective defense. Many of the land attackers began to retreat as airborne weaponry was engaged. I watched as something like a cannon was pointed in my general direction. I knew I was being targeted, but I did not run. My place was to attack, and as long as I was able to use my longbow, I intended to continue firing arrows. To reach me, meant being in range of my longbow. I was able to cripple the cannon, but not before it launched a volley against me.
I knew running would be useless at this point. There was magic at play here. The volley would come to me. So I sought to take out as many of the enemy as I could. Just before the volley reached me, a large man carrying a shield wider than he was tall ran up to me. I pulled down my bow as he stood over me and shielded us both. The volley bounced against his shield, rattling noisily as it broke into pieces and crumbled onto the ground around us.
My ears are ringing from the sound, but I am unharmed. He lowers the shield as I stand to face him. He looks me over, seeing I am unhurt, and smiles broadly. I return the smile and nod in thanks. He bows slightly in return. He looks about, sees another volley launched against another defender, and rushes off to shield him. No words were spoken between us, but no words were needed. We each have our part.
After some times had passed, we defenders were victorious. The marauders suffered critical losses in their attempt to sack the sacred place. For every 1000 men that had entered the field of battle, maybe 2 or 3 struggled to flee. As they retreated into the distance, I and my fellow defenders cheered in a multitude of languages. One by one, the defenders left the field. Many of them that had set up defensive positions or magic left the defenses in place. I pluck my cane from the ground, allowing it and the bow to return to my innermost parts. I turn to leave, but leave the elkgrass and the runic magics I had used behind. As long as the sacred place was whole, the elkgrass would remain green and the runic magics would remain strong.
As I begin to step away from the sunny plain, I hear a man’s voice say again, “Has the dreamer awoken?”. But this time, instead of a disembodied voice, floating on the barest of breezes, the voice comes from a distinct direction. From within the sacred place. That the speaker is present causes me to pause. “Come, Kerian. Come here, girl.” I feel the words more than I hear them, and I follow them. To the interior of the sacred place, I go, where I am surrounded by shifting mists that close behind me.
Here, in the middle of the sacred place, is a priest of a different pantheon. Those that he serve are those I have been warned away from. I am to be wary of Them, because of my personal makeup, I would easily be lost in Their embrace. I am warned not to approach Them on my own, but to wait for Them to call me forward instead. The priest holds his hands out to me, and bids me to take them. But I hesitate. “Come girl, They have things for you.”
I do not move to take his hands. “I’m sorry, Sir. I can’t. I am beholden to Loki, I can not take what you offer. I can only watch from afar.” I do regret not being able to step forward, but I do not want to risk being in the position of having to choose who to serve, and who to anger. Suddenly, I feel hot hands resting on my shoulders. I look behind me, to see who is holding me. Loki himself stands there, his grip on my shoulders unrelenting.
“Did you think I would hold you captive, like a prize bird in a lovely cage? You travel more than I do, why begrudge you this as well?” He looks at me with the greenest eyes I ever did see, and smiles a sly and toothy grin. “Go wander about, girl. Go where you need to go, learn what you need to learn, and do what you need to do.” He touches my cheek, gently. “That you remember my mastery of you is touching.” He grips my jaw with a unnaturally hot grip. I do not flinch from the action, nor pull away. “But remember, girl, in your travels, you belong to me.”
Loki laughs, spins me around to face the priest, and pushes me roughly forward. I do not have to turn around to know he has left me alone with the priest. “So, girl, do you see me?” I look at the man, there is a cloud of smoke surrounding him.
“No, I don’t see you.” I try to peer through the cloud.
“Ah, no mind. You will soon enough.” The priest has a handdrum in his left hand. With his right, he begins drumming a strange and complex beat. The sound catches me and the rhythm ensnares me. My will is made subservient to the drum and I start dancing in place. Just as I thought I could handle no more, the priest places a djembe and a pair of congas in front of me. Unbidden, I switch from dancing to drumming, and am caught up even further into the maddening rhythm.
As I play, I hear music and sounds from many different cultures from all over the world, and from many different times. I hear didgeridoos and kotos playing the same melody. Field made panpipes and electric guitars playing call and answer. I am overwhelmed in the scent of flowers and fruits, of volcanic dirt and swampy marshes. I stop trying to fight against the rhythms I am playing and surrender to the ecstatic drumming. I do not know when I stop. Or when the drums are removed from me.
I know I am suddenly on my knees, head bowed slightly as the woman’s voice intones for the last time, “Your initiation, it has already begun.”. My left hand is over my heart. My right hand is raised, palm forward, beside my head as if in blessing (or invocation). And I am smiling such a strange, petite smile.
The woman’s voice fades, and I open my eyes to see the priest standing in front of me. I realize my knowledge of the pantheon he represents is sorely lacking. As I see him in a stereotypical, and most likely offensive, portrayal of his office. It pains me to see it. “So, girl, do you see me?” The paint on his face moves with his skin, giving the appearance he is tattooed.
“Yes, Priest. I see you.”
“Are you still fearful of me?” He tilts his head teasingly.
“No, I’m not afraid of you. But I respect you, and Those on you.” He laughs and bows. I smile at the gesture. He steps close to me, and suddenly blows a bitter and acrid powder in my face. My senses are overwhelmed and I feel myself spiraling upward with great speed.
I wake up in my bed, feeling like I’ve just stepped off a roller-coaster. I feel the marks as if they were newly imprinted on my flesh even though nothing new shows in my reflection. For some time after I woke up, my left eye felt clouded and twitched annoyingly. My right eye was clear. My left hand tingled and itched. My right hand was strong.
Make of that, what you may.