The Gathering: Nights 3 & 4

May 10th:

I was late arriving to the Building. Drama in the Waking kept me from going to bed at my originally planned hour. A sudden revolution in my gut from my poor choice of lunch added to my discomfort. Walking into a dark and empty lobby completed the sensation.

I was too physically ill to change form to the dark visioned dokkalfar form. I couldn’t see if the table, and the Resting Man, was there or not. As I peered into the formidable darkness, with one hand still on the lobby doors, a gravelly voice echoed in the chamber.

“They’ve gone off for the night.” A very low pitched voice, with harsh overtones of decades of use and abuse. I wasn’t able to tell if the speaker was even human.

“I’m too late, aren’t I?” My abdomen started letting me know there were other things to worry about.

“Heh. Yea. Everyone has gone off doing whatever. But, I’m glad you weren’t caught up in the argument tonight. So, yea, you missed out, but for the better, I think. Between you and me, there’s something just rotten here, but I can’t see it yet.”

The revolution escalated from sound to action. The first cramps caught me off guard, causing me to double over in pain and catch my breath. I note I will have to be waking up very soon, lest I make another kind of mess. The speaker waits for me to be somewhat coherent before continuing. “Eh? Yea, if you’re ill, it’s definitely good that you’re late. I’ll let the HBIC know when he comes back. Go home. Take care of yourself. There’s more than enough helpers here.” I nod, still doubled over in pain. Once I’m able to move, I stand up, wave farewell to the warm darkness, and leave the lobby.

I wake up at once, and finish being chastised by my lunch.

May 11th:

When I came through the main doors of the Building, the sun had barely set in that dreamscape. I didn’t want to miss out on anything. I fully expected the lobby to be filled with folk and loud with murmurs.

The lights are bright, as expected. But there is only the HBIC. Not even the table and the Resting Guy are present. Just the HBIC, some chairs and a few end-tables.

“Where’s the table? And the man resting on it? Did you finish?” I look around for signs of other folk.

“No.” He sighs tiredly. “Just… a change in plans. Listen, I’m expecting certain other folk to show up tonight, and I need to have a talk with them. Alone. Would you come back later tonight?” I look back at him, and note he looks far more tired than his voice betrays. He also has a sense of sadness about him. He was about to perform that job function that he really hates. I was expecting him at any moment to start the “I’m too old for this shit.” soliloquy.

“Yea. Sure. No problem. How will I know when it’s safe for me to come back?”

“You’ll know. You’re starting to get the hang of coming here.” He manages a genuine smile.

I nod, and leave the Building.

I decide to not be so serious for a while, and indulge myself in the pure silliness of dreaming. True flights of fancy, I jumped from one Monty Pythonesque scene to another. Ridiculous scenes that could have come from a Michael Bay brainstorming session. Because they were “normal” dreams, I forgot the previous scene by the time I started a new one.

But playtime comes to an end eventually. I found myself suddenly lucid once more and out of phase with the last nonsense dream. While anthropomorphic gumballs did battle with floating USB drives, I felt a sudden pull of my spirit. It was time to return to the Building.

I stepped forward, reaching out. At once my hand was on the door. Entering the lobby, I find the lights are still bright, but the assembled crowd is noticeably thinned. I note many of the vocal opponents that had accosted him the other night are not present. Some faces are eager. Some faces are tight. Everyone is tired. The HBIC sees me entering the lobby and stands to gain everyone’s attention.

“Looks like we’re going to miss the first window of opportunity. Not all of those that came to help, helped. Some of them successfully stalled us long enough to miss out on finishing this quickly.” A series of groans and mumblings swirled around the lobby. The HBIC waited for the swelling to subside before continuing.

“A second window will be opening up soon. I want to be ready for it before it opens. Once it appears, I want to complete this at once. I’ve asked a lot of you all so far. I’m asking again. Will you help me?” The crowd may be thinned, but the excitement rumbles the furniture. I don’t say anything, but silently observe all present. Most are genuinely excited to help the HBIC. Some smile, but are wary in their response. I still don’t know what’s going on, but I did commit to helping. So I guess, I’m still in.

The HBIC works through the crowd, handing out assignments in pairs and triads. I note, once again, I am the Odd Man Out.

“Keri, I have nothing for you right now. But I may call on you later. That is, if you’re still interested in helping.” The Building still accepts him. I tell him I’m interested. He sends me back home as everyone else disperses.

I find myself in dokkalfar form. Wandering that area I was sent to in TG:2. There is something about this place that is very familiar. I can feel some thing and somethings in the distance, but again they are not threatening. They know I can sense them, and they are maintaining a crucial distance. Close enough that I know they are there. Far enough that I can’t see them clearly. After wandering around and finding nothing of interest, I leave. But not without acknowledging them.

I’m supposed to be resting up. But I’m curious about something. I make my way back to the darkened area I was sent to by the HBIC before. I feel like I’ve been here before, but I can’t place it, in Waking, Dreaming, or Myth. Completely blinded in my human form, I switch to the dokkalfar form to regain my night-vision. There is the desert like dirt. There is the sparse trees of a forest. Or rather, of a former forest. This area has undergone a sudden shift in habitats. The trees are still alive, but struggling. The current climate is not the one they sprouted in. It’s possible the piece I retrieved was once hidden in a thick grove, that depended on the boulders as markers. Instead of being lying out for all to spy even at a distance.

Speaking of distances, I am being watched again. The same “some thing and somethings” that had watched me before. That they are aware of my, and my limitations, is clear. They move as I move, always maintaining a crucial distance from me. Close enough that I know they are there. But far enough that I can’t see them clearly.

I wander past the boulders, and move somewhat aimlessly past them. There is nothing that catches my interest, nothing that reminds me of anything. Only desert dirt, and dying trees. Understanding that I’m not going to solve this puzzle tonight, I turn and head for home. But not before facing the some thing and somethings, and bowing in acknowledgement.

I wake up for a bit. Turn over to see the time. Contemplate throwing the clock against the wall. Realize good clocks are hard to come by. Turn over and go back to sleep.

The HBIC did indeed call on me later. A major piece had been found, but of all that were helping him, only I could go where the piece was hidden. He was not happy. I had suspected the pieces we had been sent to retrieve had been intentionally scattered for malicious intent. When he told me the location of the last piece, I was sure of it.

“Come on. You have to be bullshitting me. The Boneyard is a figment of my dreaming.” We were sitting side by side in the Building’s lobby. Only the Resting Guy accompanied us.

“Is that what you call it? And for someone that has walked in as many worlds as you have, and with as many people as you have, you should know the boundaries are fluid.”

“Not that long ago, I got to watch what happens to intruders to Ravenwoman’s Boneyard. How could someone sneak something in there? The ravens are always watching. Always.”

He rubbed his temples gently. “I agree, the question of how it came to be there is disturbing. But now comes a harder problem. Retrieving it.”

“How important is it?”

“How much do you remember of yourself before this life?”

I wrinkle my face at the implication. “Okay, that important. Is it tangible, like the bundle I retrieved earlier?”

He is still rubbing his face. “No. Which is why you never saw it when you were at the Boneyard. It’s not so much a bone, as it is the shadow of a bone.”

I sit back and think. “Good. This works in our favor.” He stops rubbing his face and faces me quizzically.

“How so?”

“Because I can pull it into myself and carry it out that way.”

He starts shaking his head. “You can do many things, Keri. But carrying a piece like that isn’t one of them. For that to work, you need to be in two places at once.”

I grin. “How about three?”

“Go on.”

“One shard of my mind in a secure location, as an anchor. One shard in the Boneyard. One shard here, with you. As my awareness bounces between the three locations, whatever I’m carrying comes with.”

He stares at me intently. “That’s risky, and you’re still the novice. I will not ask this of you.”

“How important is this, again?”

He sighs in defeat. “Okay. But there are others I want with me when you do this. And the shard that stays with me, will not be here in the Building. It won’t work. Give me some time to secure a place elsewhere and get the required attendants. And try not to get on Ravenwoman’s nerves with this. I know how territorial she is about the Boneyard. When she finds out someone snuck something in, she’s going to be quite upset.”

We both left the lobby, but I emerged onto the dark city street alone. A few more steps and I was at my lair. As I explained the plan to Snake, he glowered fiercely in response. “You sure you know what you’re doing?”, he hissed at me.

“No.”

“You sure you’re working to benefit someone?”

“No.”

“You sure this HBIC knows what he’s doing?”

“No.”

“Then why are you trying to kill yourself with this! For once, I’d like you to listen to me before you start shit and not after!”

“Because. The building accepts him.”

“You’re being played again.” “Yea.”

“You’re going to go through with this, with my help or without.” “Pretty much.”

“Tell me why I shouldn’t go Anaconda on your ass and bind your ass down.” “Because you know I can get out of it, and I will. So your interaction with me is best spent helping me than hindering me.”

“You’re going to give me a seven-fold headache.” “Love you, too.”

“You better break the news to Ravenwoman while you’re still in one piece. Or all hell will break loose.” He pulls the bedding to the center of the lair. “I reserve the right to call your pieces back together if I feel I need to.”

“I know. That’s why you’re anchoring me.” I walked out the lair, took flight at once, and jumped to the Boneyard with ease.

To say Ravenwoman would be upset was an understatement. There was a lot of shrieking involved. She told me to find the stowed piece, and remove it. But make sure no bones left with it. As I looked about the expanse, my heart dropped a bit. How was I going to find a non-thing?

By ignoring all the things, that’s how. I know what the bones feel like to my senses, both the wet and the dry. I’m not looking for a particular bone, I’m looking for that which is not a bone. By ignoring my familiarity with the Boneyard, sense by sense, it began to disappear from my awareness.

The hidden piece was bright to my eyes, almost glowing in all the ways it didn’t belong here. I had been walking past it many times in the past few weeks. But because it was not a tangible thing in this world, I overlooked it. I suspect that is how Ravenwoman overlooked it as well. I still had no answers how it came to be here. But here it is. And because it is not tangible, I can remove it.

I still asked for formal permission from Ravenwoman to take it away. The glare she pierced me with would have killed me if I was physically present. “Make it go away.” Well then, that settles that.

I called out to Snake and felt him entwining about me. I released myself into his grip, and found my awareness split in two. Part of me was still in the Boneyard, at the noncorporeal piece. Part of me was in his coils in the lair. Soon after, I could feel the HBIC calling for me. It took a little effort, but I was able to step away from myself again. But the second splitting was not as clean as the first. I found myself in the HBIC’s presence, but I could not see beyond my nose.

I heard him speak, but the words made no sense. I was at my limit. I felt myself being posed into a kneeling position. A shallow bowl was placed in my hands. Something weighed the bowl down. I knew the piece I would retrieve from the Boneyard, would go into the bowl’s object. I nodded and shifted awareness to the Boneyard.

Ravenwoman was glaring at me, while we both were surrounded by ravens. I was quite glad I had informed her of what I was doing before actually starting to do it. I felt quite vulnerable. “Get rid of it!” She squawked at me, gesturing fiercely. I nodded and reached forward with my hands and mind. My gesture was more habit than effective, but it did put my spirit next to the piece. Enveloping it, I absorbed it into me without consuming it.

Having pulled it into myself, I felt a sudden heaviness and weariness. The desire to sleep that first overcame me the first time I came to the Boneyard returned with intensity. I just wanted to lay down and cease existing. Ravenwoman’s chuckles snapped me back to the task at hand.

It took intense concentration, but I was able to shift my awareness from the Boneyard, to the lair. Then from the lair, to the HBIC. I couldn’t sense him anymore. The weight of what I was carrying was too great. I was not prepared for the exhaustion to drain not only my physical stores, but my mental ability as well. I knew the bowl was still in my hands. I knew the object that was in the bowl would absorb the noncorporeal piece. I just had to eject it from the pocket of self I had formed around it.

But I was losing coherence. The boundary between me and it was dissolving. If I didn’t expel it soon, it would become a part of me instead. I still had a shard of myself in the Boneyard. I considered retracting it into myself, but thought that would double the enveloping layer of myself around the piece. The three shards fought for my full awareness. I wound up battling not only the piece, but my own disparate selves. Maddening.

I grip the object in the bowl. I can feel its emptiness. I try to shift the piece from within me, to the rock-like object. It moves, a little. All else around me fades, until there is only myself, the noncorporeal piece, and the waiting rock. Trying to shift it was like trying to give birth. I feel like I’m being smothered, like I am dying. A pain seizes me and I buck away, crying out. At once, a multitude of hands push me back forward, placing my hands on the empty rock. More voices, but I do not understand them, still.

I don’t know if the process was fast or slow. I only know the smothering, the call of some place Dark, the grip of an Underworld. A part of me wants to escape this dreaming and race back to the Waking. A part of me wants to complete the descent.

I feel something snap within me. The noncorporeal piece suddenly shifts into the rock in the bowl. In the collapsing void it left within me, I can feel a link to that Dark place. There are other things that want to come out as well, that want to pour through me like an open door. I know the longer I am held in this disparate state, the easier they will be able to come through, the harder it will be for me to put my selves back together.

I am gripped by the strong hands, and pulled up into a seated position. The shallow bowl is removed, and a smaller bowl is placed in my hands. I can suddenly understand those around me. “Drink! All of it!”

I can’t bring my hands up to my face. The bowl is removed, placed at my lips, and tilted back. Some of the salty fluid manages to get in my mouth. I almost spit it out in reflex, but my mouth is covered. I swallow instead.

I start to tremble and whimper. I had forgotten why I had split myself for a moment. I suddenly see the HBIC looming over me, his face almost touching mine. I recognize him. “You’ve done more than enough for me, for him. You don’t have to come to the building tonight. Go home. Get rest.”

I wasn’t able to answer him. The strain was too much, and all my shards snapped back together in a rush of sound and sensation. I found myself, whole, in Snake’s coils, as I started the trembling that precedes a fit. He rested his head on mine to comfort me. “I hope it was worth it, my friend. You had me worried for a while. You’ll definitely be feeling the backlash during the day in the Waking.”

I struggle to speak. “I didn’t get to tell him. I want to be there tonight. I want to see this through and find out what’s going on.”

Snake sighs deeply. “Keri. You are one of the most hardheaded, stubborn, ass-determined people I have ever met.” I try to laugh, but I pass out instead.

~~~

I wake up more tired than when I went to bed. I try to go about my day, and find I’m strangely hyper-emotional. Struggling to hold myself together, and stay away from the Pit. It wasn’t until I started typing this full rendition that I put two and two together.

I know I was told I didn’t have to help any further. But I’m curious now.

Make of that, what you may.

This is Part 2 of 3 telling the story of “The Gathering”.
Read Part 1 at The Gathering. (2,377 words)
Read Part 3 at The Gathering – Finale. (2,101 words)

 

The Presentation

It was a lazy weekend. No chores to do. Nothing pressing to attend to. We would normally be in pajamas, but today I dressed for work. Dter teased me about this. That I was such a businesswoman, I don’t allow myself to relax. Red blouse, black knee-length skirt. I had even donned my jewelry and brushed my hair. I smiled and laughed, but felt an instinctual pull. However, to make her feel better, I did start to remove the jewelry. Continue reading “The Presentation”

Desert Blood & Cold Sweats

My first awareness is the sharp press of cracked pebbles pushed into my face. I move my arms in vain and random movement and scratch my hands against the rough dirt. Lifting my head free of the dry ground, the pebbles wound me anew as I grimace. The facial movement nudges them free from my pocked face and they fall back to the ground.

Once more into the salt flats, I think to myself. But as I get up to my knees, I note the complete absence of the scent of salt. No, this isn’t there, but it’s just as dry. I look around carefully, trying to orientate myself. Continue reading “Desert Blood & Cold Sweats”

Skin Deep

We were sitting side by side, my friend and I, watching the campfire outside my lair in silent contentment. He was playing around with his latest trick, and unnerving me completely in the process. He teased me about it, noting that only his appearance had changed, so why was I upset? I turned to try to explain my weaknesses, and found myself staring into a bleached white skull with a feathered headdress. I tumbled away from him in shock. Continue reading “Skin Deep”

Moving On

Set off to pitch a fire, instead found a new home. The svartalf helped me find this place, but only after days of purgings and purifications at his insistence, and by his hand. The cave didn’t look like a natural formation to me, there were too many inconsistencies given the dark granite that formed it. Continue reading “Moving On”