Who taught me to embrace my imagination.
The massive stone platform lowered slowly, ancient gears grinding as we moved into the black cavern below. Torchlight flickered against the cave walls, casting faint illumination on the grave faces of the those gathered to watch my Descent. They observed impassively, all save one, whose anguish shone clearly, even in the shadowy corridor.
I turned away, swallowing the fear that threatened to overwhelm my senses. It must be, I told myself. Else all is lost.
The widin beside me gestured towards the center of the platform, where a woven mat had been prepared. On it rested a stone bowl, centuries old, filled with the black, sacred liquid they called hoheni. Beside it, a leather pouch contained what I knew to be a sharpened bone needle, which had been boiled in the spring waters of the very mountain in which we now descended. I knew it, for I had hunted the animal, and taken his bone. It was I who crafted it into the hollow point, and said the ritual words of thanks. It was I, the first outsider known to these people, who crossed the swollen rapids, to the Starting Rock, and dipped my water pouch in it’s cold, icy depths. Of my own two hands, I coaxed the fire and boiled the needle in the mountain’s snowy tears. I had devised the tool of my own marking, but what that meant, I could not yet comprehend.
What else the widin required for my Descent was known only to him. The way of the widin were mysterious, even to the people who followed him. He signed for me to sit, for no human words could pierce the silence of these depths. I knelt upon my knees, and waited, feeling the rock moving steadily down, the light of the torches growing fainter above us. Soon, we would be cast into the void, a place of impenetrable night. A mammalian fear quivered through me, and my heart pounded out the panicked staccato of prey. I would not succumb to that instinct, not now. I steadied myself, and the widin nodded.
He knelt behind me, and we both looked up. The last flicker of the torches twinkled like stars. My eyes burned hot as I gazed upwards, but I would not blink. I knew that when I did, the last vestige of light would be gone. I would not accede the last glimpse of life until it was taken forcibly by the darkness, for I did not know if it would be restored.
At last, the blackness came, slipping in with the sighing of the moving rock. All knowledge of the earth around me ceased. Time passed, unmarkable by the human mind. All I knew was the breath past my lips, the hard rock under my knees. And then, I knew the pricking of the bone needle. The biting pain on the left side of my shoulder became the only existance I understood. It was endless, immeasurable, until it wasn’t a pain, it was only part of me. It traveled the width of my back, up and down, in a pattern I couldn’t decipher, but knew intimately as my own. I felt as if I were being restitched, reformed, here in the belly of the earth. The widin worked rhythmically, and the hoheni mingled into my blood, an unseen stain upon my back. The ink etched into my skin, but something else slipped past the flesh, some tingling current moved beyond the widin’s marks and into my soul. It swept along my nerves, settled into my bones, weaving itself into the fabric of my body. The tears on my cheeks, the sweat of my brow, the blood on my back- I was washed in the Descent and the darkness.
I was undone, and reborn, into something I couldn’t begin to understand.
Then came the moment, when my heart stopped beating. I was not afraid, because I knew I had become more than a heart beating in skin. But no, I was wrong. I had not slipped this mortal form, it was not my heart that had ceased. It was the ending of the needle, which had become an eternal rhythm in my body. The marking was finished, the stone had stopped. The widin was silent as ever, gone maybe, to that inbetween place of the old ones.
There was no way up, no rise to the earth I knew. I had Descended. What lay ahead was unknown. I lay cloaked in darkness, in ignorance. I clung only to the task given to me. Find the Dramen, break the Rording. Else all is lost.
I stepped off the platform, into the darkest hour of mankind, and knew not the light.
To Be Continued.