Tag Archives: Quest

A Meditative Journey into the Cave of Fear

This story uses the prompt “Cave” and was written for the October “blog battle” at rachaelritchey.com,    https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/stories-cave/

Short Story by Sha’Tara

It began as a deliberate entry into a gaping opening in the side of a low mountain. I could hear water dripping from wet walls and feel the clinging cold dampness of the place. The question I had to face was whether to proceed into this cave. Of course I could not know the end of it without the experience of it, so I decided to enter.

There was a kind of track sloping down, made of natural crushed shale and slippery under my hiking shoes. After finding my balance, down I went, surrounded by a growing opaque darkness. I had no fire or flashlight, just my senses to guide me and my unquenchable curiosity to push me onward.

As I walked deeper into the cave, it became pitch black and I had to give up trying to use my eyes.  Without any light to define the surrounding darkness, there was nothing to see.  But wait, that’s when I “saw” a new kind of light, surreal, somewhat as depicted in Kirlian photographs.  I could see without seeing!  I could now step forward and down with greater confidence.  The water still dripped from the black walls and I could see it glistening on the ceiling.

There was a warm dankness about the place and I smelled an unpleasant odor. At this point the eerie lighting showed me a small tunnel branching off on the right. I walked to its entrance and saw a dry surface leading upward.  It had an easy walking surface, no loose rocks or shale, just flat grey rock.

Choice.  Should I take this inviting tunnel, or keep on the downward journey of the other one?  Something within me reasoned this drier tunnel would be a dead end, or take me back up and out the other side of the mountain.  I chose to continue down the original cave, ever deeper under the mountain.  That’s when I realized I had passed my first test.

I continued to question the purpose of this weird quest and who had carved these tunnels, and why?  Where was the King under the Mountain?  Where was the sound of hammers as Dwarves carved out the hard black rock to find their precious stones, their silver and gold?

“What will I find in the tunnel?” asks Luke Skywalker of Yoda.  “Fear” he replied.  “Your greatest fear.  Do not take your weapons down there, they will only contribute to your downfall.”  But the young, the rash, the foolish seldom listen to the voice of experience and wisdom.  He went fully armed into the tunnel to be  confronted by his arch-enemy, Darth Vader.  They fought.  Luke won and cut Vader’s head off.  When he looked into the terrible mask, his own face stared back at him.  Fear gives birth to anger, anger to hate and hate to death.  There is no escape. The undisciplined, un-empowered overconfident self is always our own worst enemy.

My fear of what lay ahead became palpable. I sensed a ‘Something’ not alive as we understand the concept and I knew it was lurking further down. It had eyes that could see the minutest details in the dark; that could see into the heart and find every weakness, every frailty, every shadow, every dark, hidden corner where residues of resentment, shame and guilt are stored.  That is what it wanted to feast upon.  It was starving for an orgy on human sin.

I knew then it would never let me leave this place, even if I turned and tried to run back up the way I’d come.  This was its world or perhaps better put, an underworld.  There were hidden passages I sensed as flow of air coming from the sides of the cave. It used these as shortcuts to waylay any creature that wandered this far.

If we intend to walk the darkness of the underworld we must not carry darkness within our mind-heart.  Only the pure of heart can pass unmolested to enter the sacred place of sacrifice.  Yes, that’s what had drawn me down this corridor of non-time.  I remembered what came at the end of this place: sacrifice and redemption.  I understood fully why the beast or beasts, for I now sensed many,  waylaid me.  If I passed, I would have a clear conscience and they would be defeated, left starving.  Thus I would be permitted to offer myself as a sacrifice upon the altar of fire at the end of this journey and in doing so I could call upon the great forces of spirit to grant my one wish. If I passed.

They knew.  And they came upon me to find my darkness; to feed on my fear, for fear is darkness.  I am so close to being devoured here.  I have no weapon with which to ward these starving demons.  I have no protection.  There is no place to turn, not even against a wall – they are all around me, salivating, snarling, growling.  “Give in to your fear… give in and hate me with all the passion that is within you.  Anticipate the pain you are going to endure when my poisoned fangs sink into your flesh, and scream your rage!”

This is when I found some of my power. “Peace!” I said to myself, I came to this place, to confront my fear and not to give in to it.  To test my resolve since that day long ago when I had made a decision and chosen my own name. Shalom Tara! I closed my eyes and slowly sank upon the rough floor.  Beings of light completed this vision then, approaching and taking my hands, helping me to stand and leading me through the rest of the way.

So did I pass my second test. The third has yet to come.

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The Sword, the Bow and the Staff

(The continuing saga, in which is introduced the ancient mythological belief in lycanthropy.  Enjoy)

Part I The Calling
Start section 14 (fourteen)

“What are the names of the Betrayers, Nal? I need to know to begin my own search for them.”

“If you feel you can do such a thing, do be careful. There is a tall and very powerful wizard called Gehandor the White because of his pale skin, white hair and eyes so pale they seemed almost white. He is not so much cruel as power-mad. He will use any and all means to gain the power and adulation he craves. Fear is his greatest weapon against men.

The other is Tel’Madan. He is of average height with features commonly associated with people called Mongols or of those from Cathay, with similar eyes but rounder face than mine. From what I remember and Lo tells me, nothing on this world exceeds the cruelty  of this false Alay. Not only did he torture me to death in the most horrible ways, he did so to his own wife.

“Those of course were their ancient names, they would probably have changed those many times since as they moved through the lands and man’s history. Today, they could call themselves Thomas or Paulus, any common and acceptable name, for they serve worldly powers and would carry Christian names. Their last names serve no purpose for our quest since they would take whatever common family name exists in whatever territory they would be serving in. There is also the strong possibility that they found ways to change their physiognomy although Lo tells me he has not been able to alter his.

“No, what we must do is focus on their characteristics, not their names. What we need to discover is where there are major wars being fought and which side is accompanied by a wizard which would usually be the winning side. The mainland seems beset with endless battles and many were being fought there when my mother’s master left Iberia for the city of London. What a dreary and smelly place that is. The fogs are what finally killed my mother, not just the mistreatment she got at the hands of the master when he got drunk, or angry. They would have killed me too if I hadn’t escaped when I did. So many people die in that city. Horrible, Donna, a simply horrible place!

“Come, we need to work with the staff again. Tomorrow if Lo hasn’t returned we will test your skills with the bow. As to searching for our enemies, I leave that entirely to your discretion as long as you remember to be very, very discrete.”

After cutting out a staff of suitable length for Donna from a young ash shoot and hardening the ends in their fire, they began sparring again. This time the advantage clearly went to Donna. She was a swift and fierce antagonist and Nal noted that when Donna moved with her staff she was dancing, not really fighting. She whirled and turned, jumped and ducked as if there was music playing in her ears. Nal, though quite accurate and fast with a staff, lacked the size, weight and reach of her opponent. Twice Donna knocked the staff from her hands and held her down. Finally Nal called it.

Without bitterness or envy, Nal said, “There’s no point continuing this. You and Lo can spar with the staffs, I’m no match for either of you ‘giants’! I hardly ever use my staff except in self defence anyway, usually against animals which are more my height! This one goes to you!”

“Thank you Nal. I was thinking while we were sparring if it were possible to combine our illusion making powers with energy transfer… I’m not sure what I mean but I can visualize it if you want to look.”

“You were thinking – while we were sparring??? It was that easy for you? Hm… but good news for you that is. Let me ‘see’ about this energy transfer. Oh, I see what you want to do here. Never heard of that possibility. So you would extend your hand as if to create an illusion but instead you would shoot off a strand of energy to knock down an opponent, or clear an obstacle from your path? You think that is possible? I don’t remember such in my deepest awakened memories. It certainly would come in handy when outnumbered. We must try that.”

Holding her staff in one hand and planting it solidly in the soil, Donna stood on a firm footing and sighted a small stone at a distance of about ten yards. She focused her mind, gathered energy and thrust her arm with hand wide open in the direction of the stone. In three seconds the stone shattered.

“I just wanted to push it!” exclaimed a distraught Donna. If I did that to someone it would kill them horribly!”

“Perhaps why we never used it, but more likely this is a combined power of the new Earth-based Alaya, the good and the evil blending, more of those strange mutations that arise on this world. You will learn to control it. Do you think you could share this with me so I and Lo could have it also?”

“If it is an Earth-based and combined Alaya power, then you perhaps may be able to absorb it, but would Lo? There is no human in him, except for that which infects him, but that’s different, is it not? This could probably hurt him.”

“Truthfully, I don’t know what our boundaries are. We represent new creatures on this world and there are no rules that govern our thoughts or movements unless we make them. We can only experiment, learn and remember anything new that we discover. Know this Donna: we are very complex creatures now. But if he couldn’t absorb it it wouldn’t hurt him, his system would simply reject it. He wouldn’t notice anything except when he went to test it and there was nothing there.”

“Why didn’t you make new earth-based Alay’s and Alaya’s before me?”

“It wasn’t possible before you, Donna. There is something in you that allows, that gives you, an affinity with us that is not of the natural order of this world. Perhaps, thinking about your question a bit deeper, there has been some change in the human mind, some small piece of evolution that allows some of our powers to transfer to humans. It has, after all, been tens of millennia since we stopped being full Alas.

“I’m curious though, what do you know of your parents, your ancestry?”

“Not much. My father was a woodsman and I was told he died young. My mother is a servant in Torglynn. I have two brothers, both older, and a younger sister who is lame and cannot walk. I have never been close to my older siblings. My brothers despise me for asking too many questions and debating the values of many traditions with them and also because I am taller and fairer of skin than they. My little sister whose father is different than mine is too young to understand much, only five springs to her. She is sweet. She can only drag herself about but she likes to sit in the sun, rock and sing to herself. She wraps sticks or vegetables in pieces of cloth and holds them to herself, singing to them. She has large blue eyes that look deep into you when you talk to her. I worry what will come of her if mother dies. I should like to return one day, heal her and take her away from there. I think I could do that now.”

There was a period of silence between them, both reminiscing.

“Oh the stories we create with our lives, Donna. If we wrote everything down, the books would cover this world. Instead we have bodies and they carry our hopes and dreams and memories and keep us going. To what end though? If there is no heaven or hell, then what is there? I’m an Alaya, or a reincarnation of one. Where did we come from? From the gods, Lo said to me a long time ago it seems. What does that mean? I don’t know. Do we return to the gods? Is there an accounting of the work we’ve done, or failed to do? If we return, then how, when? Where are the rules? I may have been much mocked for breaking many rules in my endless run from slavery but still, there has to be some basic rules, doesn’t it?

“Lo said that we were sent here to basically shepherd the young races long long ago. That’s a purpose but what about all the people? What’s their purpose if they have one, and how are they to discover it? From us? There are hundreds of millions of people here, my mother explained to me, and so I remember now, and there’s but the three of us at this point counting you, and we’re hiding from two powerfully evil ones?

“My life, small though it was and insignificant, probably meaningless, made more sense to me six months ago than it does today.”

Nal began to cry and Donna dropped her staff and came over to hold her, saying nothing. Behind the darkening clouds the sun moved fast, driven to fall behind the horizon. A flash of lightning was followed by rolling thunder. The two women slipped into the cave, re-built their fire and realized they were very hungry but all they had was left over bread crusts and the mouldy cheese that was not improving with time.

“If nothing else happens to change everything again, we need to go hunting tomorrow. Perhaps an opportunity to find out if the bow is also your weapon, Donna?”

“But if I miss, we’ll lose a sure game.”

“No matter, it will be worth the try. If you miss I’ll go out alone and bring something down. You can stay and gather more wood and kindling, or make us another water basket? Yesterday’s is drying up and starting to leak.”

They sat on the sandy soil by the fire. Darkness fell, lit up regularly by more lightning flashes. After the thunder rolls their wolf companion howled forlornly from the darkness. Nal began to worry about Lo, wondering where he was, if he was safe, if he was on the trail, or in a cozy shelter awaiting daylight. She dared not use her thought-form energy to contact him, not sure if she could do the blending, giving it the misdirection he’d instructed to do.

The rain began and it fell in torrents driven by a tremendously powerful gale-force wind. Soon the hills became alive with the noise of flash streams and the crash of stones eroding from their beds and tumbling down. Water began to trickle into the cave from the base of the entrance, the flow increasing with the rain’s intensity. They watched with growing dismay as the water flowed into their shelter, threatening to soak their bedding and put out their fire.

“Guess what, Donna. We now know why this cave has such a smooth sandy floor: it’s stream bed! That also explains the hole at the back of the cave, it’s were the water flows out. So by morning there could be up to two feet of water here. We’d better try to find some place to hang the pack and our bedding, and quickly.”

“No! Wait! I have an idea, Nal. Let me try something first.”

She quickly stripped her clothes off to keep them dry and slipped out into the torrent and rising gale and disappeared. Some moments later a sound as of the earth shooting up was heard around the cave and she felt the ground shaking as in a mild earthquake. The water stopped entering the cave and Donna slipped back in shivering and reaching for her clothes. Nal helped her dry and dress and held her near the fire.

“You had me frightened for you. What did you do out there?”

“So simple Nal. I focused my illusion and projection energy on the front of the cave and blew up the ground all around, creating a trough for the water to by-pass our shelter and a small dike behind it. I did them deep enough and high enough to hold until this storm is over. But we have to think bigger, much bigger Nal. Something strange is happening to my mind and now I know things I should not. I know this country well and I can assure you this is not a natural storm. Do you think your Betrayers have found us and this is round one?”

“I can’t possibly know that! We need Lo here! If it is Betrayer power that could mean they fear us and dare not confront us directly. If they have found us, they know about this cave. They could be trying to force us out into the storm to confuse and weaken us, perhaps even get us separated. Sounds like crazy wild imagination but all things are possible. But if they can move such forces as this storm how can we hope to confront them successfully? We’re surely doomed!”

“You’re allowing your fear of the unknown to distress you, Nal. Stop it! Stop it at once! They are afraid of us! We are the unknown to them. They can’t attack us directly either. If this is their doing, they just showed us their first weakness: as you guessed, they fear a direct encounter. If they use so much energy to create this storm, that will also weaken them. Let them rage and storm at a distance: we are the strong ones now. We also outnumber them and we are creating new forces that may render theirs obsolete.”

“Donna! How can you know such things? Who, what are you? Where does all that come from? How can there be so much power inside an ordinary human girl? There can’t be, I’ve known humans since they first learned to use language. They don’t possess the ability to project mental powers except perhaps in rare ones and those are weak things.”

“Ever since this afternoon I have felt a huge increase of my powers of awareness and discernment. It’s like a bubbling in my mind and my heart. I have doubted and feared this after defeating you with the staff and destroying that stone. This storm, however, has changed everything. I recognize this energy of mine. I know it. Hah! Listen to me. I too have a story! Now I remember, listen to me!

“It is I whose father is a faerie lord or to be precise, an Elven lord of the ancient worlds. More, he is not dead, he lives. As a tiny infant I was stolen from my creche and then lost when the thieves who were faeries crossed the barrier between our worlds and this one. My earth mother in Torglynn didn’t give birth to me, she found me while gathering roots and adopted me but never told me why I was fairer and taller than all the others.

“Oh, if only I had known what I was, I would never have allowed myself to be captured like a dumb heifer, so stupidly, by those murderous invaders, and yes, Nal, I remember all of it, that you saved my life and blocked my memories to help me heal. It is good, what you did but no longer necessary. Thanks to your gifts of Alaya power and my own heritage I now have power even I cannot fathom, but I will bring it out and I will use it without fear.

“I can see far, far away right now, listen. Your Betrayers are far away Nal. There is a war to the south, across a narrow sea and they are both there. They located us because you spoke the inner thought-form language but the storm was sent from a long distance away. We are safe here this night. We can sleep together but now I realize something else I must do. When Wolf returns and calls for me I will go to him and share some of my powers with him. I will transform him into a werewolf: it is what he desires for he’s already told me and I will give him the gift of human words. He will follow me then until our quest is complete, for it is now our quest, as you wished it, not just yours and Lo. I and Wolf will stand by you and help you to the end. Then I shall leave and take him with me. I will go and heal my earth sister and bring her with me and Wolf. As a werewolf he will be able to cross the barrier with me and she will ride him. I and Wolf will train her to become a “Wolf Rider” who possess the power and skills to cross between worlds. Oh yes, I will find my father and perhaps my real mother and will take my proper place among my own people. But fear not, I shall tell them of your mighty deeds and entertain for long evenings at our gatherings. There will be much cheering at the names of Nal and Lo.”

“You can foretell our victory, then?”

“No Nal, not directly. I’m cheering you up, lifting up your sagging spirit and helping you see that evil need not be the winner this time. Nothing is ever sure until done and even then tricks can be played. The real game, it never ends but goes ever on. One victory leads to another war, another defeat, another war, another victory. This must be until all is accomplished and everything is changed, nothing of the old remaining, not for Earth people and not for the Elves. We but travel through space and time until both space and time are destroyed, never to be again. Only the faeries and ghosts who live between worlds can escape our doom but who’d want their kind of lives?”

“Oh Donna… I don’t know what to say. I’m truly shocked to discover who you are. I thought… but never mind, who cares now what I thought? You are…”

“I’m definitely not a “Donna” or such meek earth creature. Call me Deanna for the time being and know that my fate is to become a leader among my people. My mate is Wolf. Tonight I will do my first shape-shifting of this life or at least attempt it. Wolf will help me, he’s so madly in love with me and he wants to have me as his mate, his She-Wolf. Before sunrise I will return in human form and be your human companion but tonight Wolf and I will run together wild and free as befits both, Elves and Wolves. We’ll go down the trail and find Lo to ascertain that all is well with him. When we find him I won’t reveal anything to him, that will be your task. He will not know we were there.”

“Deanna? My earth name is Beanna! Can such be but coincidences or do we have other connections to one another? Tell me if you know, please!”

“I don’t know but it seems of little importance to me now, these earth name details. If there be a deeper connection, it will reveal itself soon enough but unless I can assess that it is of some value beyond mere information, I will pay it no mind. Come, let us be together, make love, dream. I feel an animal energy rising in me, the rising of the snake, the Kundalini.”

“The what?”

“Among the Elves and some earth people, if memory serves here, it is called the Kundalini. The living snake you were telling me about! The real power of love. Tonight I love as a trio of beingness within my self: a living bridge made up of the female energies of a human woman, an Elven warrior and a She Wolf. Tonight, thanks to you, Nal, I begin a new life of power.”

When Wolf called and whined at the cave entrance Deanna was already wide awake, following his movements with her mind, her heart athrob with anticipation. She kissed Nal gently and slipped out. Although naked in the cold, damp night now awash with billions of brilliant stars in the clearest of skies possible, she only felt the heat of her body and that of Wolf. They stepped away together then laid down in the cold sand far enough away from the cave that should she emit cries of passion or pain, Nal would not be awakened.

There were sharp cries but mostly of passion and surprise. Wolf changed and grew, becoming twice as large and darker, with longer hair and much more powerful teeth. His eyes glowed in the dark. Then he turned to Deanna and watched eagerly as she transformed herself into the light grey She-Wolf form she had dreamed for herself, also much larger in size than a normal wolf. They saw each other as their nature intended and howled their mutual joy into the night sky and nipped at one another. Wolf bayed the deeper call of the werewolf and spoke clearly to his mate.

“Run, we run!” And they went chasing off into the night to experience their animal freedom in an open country entirely devoid of human presence but the small Nal sleeping alone in her cave. The smell of small game was strong but they ignored it. The stars, it seemed, looked approvingly upon them as they chased old dreams, jumping from rock to rock and down game trails as they found them.

In that moment for the two of them all was as it should be.

End section 14 (fourteen)

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff

Part I  – The Calling
Start section 13 (thirteen)

After a short time searching among copses of green wood Donna found what she needed and borrowing Nal’s dagger, she peeled some bark and sat down, nimbly bringing the pieces together into a very neat basket that included a handle made from a flexible branch.

“There, and yes, it will hold the water.”

They walked down to the stream and Nal remembered that she had no rope, it was in Lo’s pack. Oh well. She took off her shirt and with the sleeves stretched, it was just long enough to reach the water as long as she slid head first down the crack between the rocks and Donna held firmly onto her ankles. She brought up a full basket of the clear and sweet liquid and they both drank their fill. Another dip and they had a full container to take back to their cave.

Before she put her shirt back on, Donna remarked, “You have very cute little breasts… I like them.” Nal looked at her, then slowly slipped her shirt back on, while Donna reached and pulled the centre holding thong and tied it. She gave Nal a look that could not be misunderstood.

By the time they returned, Donna’s blisters were completely gone and Nal insisted they continue with her training. Never, thought Donna, had she worked so hard. How do they maintain this in a battle, she wondered, it’s crazy! The same lazy men she encountered daily in the village would go on a campaign and do this for a whole day just to get killed most of them? Men are crazy, she thought.

When Donna was completely exhausted, she asked, “Can’t we use that Alaya energy to ward off our exhaustion?”

“I don’t know if that can be done. It has to do with something called entropy, a kind of energy you expend that doesn’t come back to you no matter what you do. Lo could explain and I too, when I remember me completely. We should continue.”

Nal insisted she grab the staff and come at her while she defended herself with only the short stick representing a sword.

“Oh but that’s unfair. I could hurt you with this even if I’m dead tired!”

“Yes? Then go ahead, hurt me. Hurt me hard, I give you permission!”

Donna hefted the long staff, felt its wonderful balance even if it was a bit short for her stature, and charged at Nal, swinging the staff to her midriff. She was surprised when she hit only air and Nal was at her back, holding the sword stick at her throat.

“That’s more sorcery, that is!” she exclaimed. “No one can move this fast.”

“The point, the only point, is that with or without sorcery, it can be done. You must therefore learn to deal with it and I mean to teach you that. Can you appreciate the necessity of such a lesson?”

“Yes I can. Yes, I understand. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, whether it seems impossible, only that it can be done. Therefore I have to be aware of such things and learn to parry them; to protect myself from them and eventually, even to defeat them. Yes?”

“Yes, so it’s not just weaponry, it’s also trickery, and speed, speed and more speed. Now that we have a Watcher in the wolf, we don’t need to spend time on watch in the night. Instead we will sleep together, tight together, and I am going to do all I can to pass on whatever I have of my “sorcery” into your body and mind in the night. I will attempt to make us as one so you will become a human Alaya. Have I told you already what an Alaya is, or an Alay?”

“So much to remember that I can’t remember now. Sorcerers? Wizards? Tricksters? Faeries? You are Alaya? I’ve never heard of such people.”

“You have met two now. Lo is an Alay. According to him, I am the reincarnation of his long lost wife, Nah’La, a full Alaya. She was killed, oh, thousands of years ago, and eventually became me. Or, I became her. So, I am Lo’s wife of thousands upon thousands of years ago. I am Nah’La or Nal for short, and I am rediscovering my powers. It is those powers I wish to share with you; to bring you, a human, if indeed it is what you are for I sense something else in you, into the world of the Alay and Alaya, plural, the Alas.

“I would that as I grow, so would you, side by side, spiritual and mental twins, you the healer and perhaps a bit of a fighter, myself the fighter and perhaps also a healer of sorts. Twins of Alaya powers; with Alaya powers. If it frightens you or repels you, tell me in the morning and I will remove all the powers from you, allowing you to function once again as a normal human. I wish to only do this by your permission.

“I’ll bank the fire while you slip in our bedroll and start warming it up – you have more body heat than me after all!”

They laughed. Donna stripped naked and performed a little erotic dance in front of Nal which Nal took the time to admire. Donna laughed and slipped in the bed. Soon Nal joined her, naked also and they clung tightly and happily to one another in the darkness of their protective cave. Nal could feel energy flowing between them and she knew it was much more than sexual attraction. It was Alaya energy and Donna’s body and mind were soaking it all up without any hesitation. ‘How much of me is going to pass into her tonight, and what am I doing?’ she thought. ‘How do I know this is the right thing to do? But I know, I just know it is. It’s how it was always done on our past. I’m only following the ancient pattern, I know that. What I don’t understand is how this human girl can take in so much of my energy and still seems able to absorb so much more. She must be more than human.’

For a while their hands eagerly explored each other’s bodies in a purely lustful and sexual way, then gradually they fell into a deep sleep filled with dreaming. The wolf prowling near the cave opening, having smelled the sexual excretions of the two females in the cave gave a loud howl to vent his own frustration and aroused desires. He too had fallen “in love” with the Alaya’s.

Morning came late in the cave. The two girls spent some time making love then got up, dressed and took care of their fire. They ate slowly, drank the strange tasting water now mixed with some of the bark’s sap run off, then planned their day. Simple enough: more training of sword play and staff work. In between, Nal planned to awaken Donna’s new powers with the making of illusions and whatever else came to mind or got thrown their way.

At noon the wolf appeared and they went to him. This time, as he lay down on the ground, they both lay beside and against him, passing their arms and hands over his thick fur, pulling his ears gently, rubbing his face and kissing him on the nose. A beautiful intimate, quasi-erotic scene which few Earth people would have appreciated but which the Alaya’s perfectly understood the need of. Afterwards they went their own way but the lone wolf, from a short distance, stopped, turned and watched them for a time then disappeared once again.

It was Donna who observed, “He’s lost his mate, Nal. He’s so sad and so alone.”

“I didn’t realize but of course you’re right. We can love him but we can’t replace her and we have to be careful he doesn’t become too attached to one of us either. We are different species and unless one of us became a lone sorceress with powers to transform herself into a she-wolf, this cannot be. I do not have, nor wish, for such power. Do you?”

“I don’t know yet. I do love him in a strange, I suppose ‘unnatural’ way, but if I could choose such a life, would I? Too soon to say. I need to think about this. Me, a sorceress? A shape-shifter? Arch enemy of the Christian religion to be hunted down, captured and tortured as befits a demon? A companion of wolves, to lead a pack, bring down prey, tearing at and eating raw bloody meat? Killing those who hunt us? I can see these possibilities ahead of me in the future but as of this moment I am not ready for such a thing.”

After their meal of dry bread and cheese now flecked with blue-green mould, they continued with their sparring in earnest. Donna had greatly improved in skill and speed, particularly in speed. When she didn’t take a clean shot and would have been hit she moved out of reach in a blur. This pleased Nal enough that she thought it would be time for the illusion lessons.

“You know what an illusion is, Donna?”

“Seeing something that isn’t there.”

“Exactly. From those powers I shared with you, there is one that is used to create such illusions, except that you are in control of them and only those you intend to fool, or confuse, believe they are real. You can do much with such images. You can even make them look as if they were ghosts, or demonic entities. Would you like to see how well we can work with such things?”

“If it means a break from this gruelling sparring, most certainly.”

“Come, stand beside me and hold my hand. Lift your other arm, open your hand and visualize something not too big but obvious. A hawk in flight, maybe? Let’s try it.”

They both raised their arms and opened their hands, pointing at the sky. Suddenly, a large brown hawk, a type of buteo with talons outstretched and open yellow bill, came swooping down from the sky, passed by the two women and disappeared again.

“That was good! Now something on the ground.” They manifested a majestic stag standing on the same rock the wolf had stood on. The animal held his head high, holding his stack proudly and looked around, sniffing at the air. He gave a snort of alarm and bounded off into a tangle of shrubbery. They heard the wolf give chase and smiled as the chase ended in a discomfited wolf when his prey vanished in the air.

“We’re doing well, I think. Now just you,” said Nal. “Manifest a couple of woodsmen dressed in leathers coming towards us and actually seeing us.”

Donna found the exercise quite simple. She brought the men up and they came towards the women, smiling as they approached. She made them stop a couple of yards away and introduce themselves. ‘I am Lance’ said the one. ‘My name is John’ said the other, ‘we’re passing by and didn’t expect to meet two lovely lassies in these parts. We are after a stag that we saw nearby. Did you see him?’

Donna lowered and closed her hand and the illusion disappeared.

“That was amazing, Donna. For a first time? Unbelievable. Your mind truly absorbed the gifts easily. You will go far, very far, with such powers.”

Donna was pleased with the results and beginning to plan how to use her powers to greater advantage. ‘Push’ she thought. ‘Push and always expect more for we are made of greater expectations.’

“I ‘heard’ what you thought, Donna. I agree, we need to push ourselves more and more, for our time is short. Three of us now? Surely our enemies will become aware of such an event and will come searching for us. How I wish I could penetrate their disguises, locate them, learn all there is to learn of their plans in dealing with us. I hate a fight with an enemy I cannot know. Can’t fight with the unknown! It’s like slashing at the air in the dark, you don’t hit anything.”

“We need a subterfuge, Nal. A decoy, perhaps? One of us pretending to change sides, to join with them?”

“That would make sense with ordinary people, they may fall for such a stratagem but I don’t think these fallen Alay would be fooled. They’d pretend to accept, then kill either one of us once they had us in their power. You would be the only one who would even have a slim chance of fooling them, but you’re just awakened. They’d test you in ways you cannot begin to understand.

“Oh, I remember more and more how things work in that world. The abilities to read thoughts, and even thoughts within thoughts. Too late, Lo and I discovered these energies, much too late. Having never needed them, nor ever needed to hide our telepathic communication we were not even aware these things could be used against us. But the Betrayers did and activated them against us. They learned our most intimate thoughts; our plans; our moves, everything. We were open books to them and they eliminated us, one by one until only I and Lo were left, and finally, only Lo.”

End section 13 (thirteen)

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part 9

To  go on with the story then…

While Nal was thus lost in her deep thoughts, yet not unaware of the world around her, morning came. The pink glow spreading softly across distant bare rounded hills promising another beautiful sunny day contrasted sharply with the retreating darkness of night in the west.

Lo woke up from his much needed sleep, got up and stretched in that feline way of his. He turned and greeted Nal. She stood up also and they walked to each other to hug and kiss. There was a groan from the sleeping roll and the girl Donna pushed herself out also. She looked around confused as her thoughts slowly came together but she could not remember the strange events that had brought her to this place.

“Do you know this place, Donna?” Asked Nal.

“No, I have no idea where we are. I’ve never been out of my village!”

“We think your village lies somewhere to the south. We saw a smoke haze in that direction yesterday and we thought maybe it was from the many wood burning fireplaces.”

“It could be, I don’t know. How did I get here? What am I doing here?”

Lo looked over at Nal and winked. He whispered, “Your ‘imparting of alternate realities’ may need some fine adjustments! She doesn’t remember anything at all of the vicissitudes of her ordeals and journey. You’re going to have to explain to her how she got here, huh? Make it nice.” His tone should have warned her he was being quasi-serious, too intent on enjoying her presence and the day to become serious, but she was still in her sombre mood. She replied:

“I will Lo. I will create a plausible scenario that will suit her situation, but only if I must. It may not be necessary to go back to yesterday.”

“I sense some sadness and deep seriousness about you this morning Nal. What happened during your watch?” He suspected he knew, but he wanted her to say it.

“Remember the other day when you made me see my own innate evil? I’ve been thinking about that. I am growing in all kinds of new ways, discovering powers of mind and body I had no idea could exist. Do you have any idea what an evil minded person could do with such powers?”

“Oh, I know that only too well, Nal and so will you very soon. Those two remaining Alay I told you about, the ones we are both training ourselves to meet and defeat, they are the embodiment of what you said. Empowered evil. They are probably the two most powerful evil entities alive on this world. But now is not the time to discuss this, we need to feed our friend here and get her back to her village. Priority one. And we need to develop a strategy to hunt down and kill her assailants. Priority two that cannot be avoided.”

While they were talking they had been aware that Donna had climbed down the rock and walked away to relieve herself, then down to the pool to drink and wash her hands and face, using the fine sand at the bottom as an abrasive cleanser. They noticed her looking about, searching among the spiky gorse and other weeds. She pulled out some roots, broke off the stems, washed them in the pool and brought them back.

“This is a kind of camphre, or camphor,” she told Nal who then translated for Lo. “and around our village most of these small laurel plants have been taken or destroyed by our sheep. I would like to make a small bundle and bring it back with me. In winter there are many uses for this healing plant.”

“Ask her how she knows the name of that plant, Nal, please?”

Nal asked. “A traveller from far places noticed me grinding my roots when he passed through our village. He said he noticed the strong scent and recognized it as belonging to a family of trees called laurels. He said he didn’t think such grew in our part of the world. So he taught me more of what the plant extract can do. Oh, I so want to be a healer! I have the gift for it but they won’t let me. If only I could escape that place, go somewhere else, somewhere they would let me be what I choose to be!”

They were all silent for a time while Lo pulled out their travelling rations and laid out breakfast, such as it would be. Then, after chewing on the dry bread and hard cheese, it was Nal who spoke first.

“Donna? There is no such place for us girls. Everywhere we go, men control us. They fear us because we know things about nature and life they cannot access in their brains, so they persecute us, keep us from education and knowledge. We cannot stand against such madness, we must flow with it somehow, like a snake through grass, moving silently, unseen, and striking only when it is a sure thing.”

“Oh! But the snake is the symbol of evil! How can you compare us to snakes?”

“But we are snakes, Donna. Men believe that about us. The snake symbol, the Devil that crawls on its belly, that is how they picture us. We crawl, powerless and they jump on us, mount us, use us to amuse and satisfy their sexual lust and to make children for them and to take care of them.

Angrily now: “We are seductresses, irredeemable. We have no soul. We are but slaves of men, always and forever. We can never be preachers, priests, teachers or healers or hold any political power for everything we touch turns to evil. It is totally our fault that there is evil in this world, you see? That is how men see us because that is how their “God” has labelled us from the beginning. I can read, Donna, because I was brought up to understand these great double standards of this patriarchal society – don’t worry about the big words, I’ll explain later – and if even in your village they knew this about me, I would be immediately branded a sorceress and tortured to death in an effort to eradicate that great evil from me. That is called superstition and it is deadly for us women.

“So we exist among these male dominated worlds as would snakes in the grasses. Feared, dreaded, hated, yet a necessary part of the whole process of life. They cannot exist without us and at times they lust after our bodies and claim to love us even. But make no mistake Donna: it is never love, it’s lust. But in our misery we want to believe them and we let our own feelings get twisted so we fall in love with them, our greatest enemies who will always remain so for we are helpless to change them.”

“They are all thus, Nal?”

“Exceptions prove the rule, Donna, always. Yes, it is better for you, and much safer, to always remember that even the boy you love dearly and hold in a naked embrace remains your deadliest enemy.

”Let me explain it to you this way. You are this beautiful nubile young girl living in a fortified village. You are in love with a swain and he’s in love with you, a wonderful boy you want to spend you life with. Flip to the next chapter: you are the same, in the same village but now the boy is not your lover, he’s part of a detachment of soldiers who have defeated your people and are overrunning you village. He comes upon you and you are taken as spoils of war. They strip you, mock you, gang rape you and otherwise abuse you. If they are not too rough you survive and heal. He takes you as his rightful slave and you become his servant. He can abuse you, beat you, and use you as entertainment for his soldier friends. Same boy, but from a different side of the fence. Instead of love, despair and hate.”

“If that is so then I wish never to marry. But how can I avoid it?”

Lo, who had been intently listening to Nal’s explanation and knowing she had seen such a thing, interrupted.

“If you lydies will excuse me, I’ve packed and it’s time to get on our journey. Please continue your discussion as we walk. I’ll bring up the rear again, and keep a lookout for any possible ambush or trap. We’ll follow that trail from the old cave we saw yesterday.”

Lo was careful to couch his language in words that would not raise questions, even though he was certain Donna could not understand him. He sensed there was much more to the girl than they realized as yet but would discover soon.

As they walked down the first hill heading for a low wood, and the trail proved easy to walk, Donna and Nal continued their discussion.

“If you would escape a forced marriage and a life of drudgery as I’m sure you’ve already observed of other women, then you must escape somehow, run away and make a life on your own.”

“How could I ever do that? The first men to find me would take me back for a ransom, or sell me as a slave, is that not so?”

“It is so, if you are trusting and unprotected. You need certain things for a successful escape. Self empowerment, my dear, and if you are good at seduction, which I think you can be, you can develop a friendship of love with a man who will actually think he loves you beyond just desire and will protect you as you both go on a journey of discovery. An older man, not too handsome whose chances with younger women are limited. Easily seduced and keener to the needs of women than the younger ones.”

“As you and Lo?” She wasn’t ridiculing or mocking but intent and innocent in her statement.

“Yes, though we are more than the exception that proves the rule. We have a vow of eternal love that cannot be broken by any known force. Do you believe that?”

“Yes I do. I have sensed it in you and in him when he slept beside me and held me last night. It was so gentle and clean, filled with trustworthiness. Do you think I could find my own Lo?”

“Every woman in love and feeling secure in her own relationship with a man would be quick to say, ‘of course you can’ but if it is true love you seek, know that such men are very rare and a woman needs all her skills of discernment and must ignore her feelings, to discover one. She needs all her powers of seduction to bring him into her field of love. Then she needs to be certain he knows, inside himself and without any prompting, that he remains free, ever free, while she loves him completely. That is the other side of love. We are the real givers, men are the takers even when they are convinced it’s the other way. It is a kind of faith; a belief system the seductive snake slithering silently through the grasses seeded by men learns to work with.”

“Your words sound strange to my ears, yet I thrill at them. I realize now that I do have to escape from Torglynn and make my own way in the world. That excites and frightens me.”

“How much do you know of fighting, Donna? Do you think you could develop what I call ‘the killer instinct’ when confronted by deadly enemies and if you were trained in sword, dagger and bow skills?”

“There have been times when I have felt a deep desire to know such skills, but then they interfered with my chosen purpose, that being to become a healer and I would get terribly confused.”

“What if I could teach you something totally alien to your upbringing, completely at odds with your religion and faith in your God, so dangerous that one whiff of it in your possession would immediately result in your condemnation as a witch to be burned alive at the stake? Would you want to know about such a terrible thing?”

“I believe you can do this for me but I have to think! I have to think…”

“Take your time. It is a very dangerous and difficult power to have at your disposal and I will tell you a truth: I only discovered it for myself early this morning, while I was on watch and deeply troubled also for you see, you and I are very similar creatures. Let me tell you a bit of my own story, that may help you in the decision you must make.

“My first and greatest desire is to be a healer, and that I am, as you are. But because of circumstances beyond my control, I had to become a fighter. I trained, endlessly and fiercely. I have killed men with this bow, this sword, this dagger, and this staff.”

Deliberately, she fingered each item, handing the dagger to Donna to hold and wonder at. Taking her precious bow out, she strung it and notched an arrow in it with such speed Donna saw a blur of movement where Nal’s hand was.

“I can bring down a falcon on the wing with this bow. I never miss and that has been a source of pride I’ve had to fight hard against many times. Everything has a price.”

“Many times it can be said that when I killed men or beasts it was in self defence, but equally, I have entered into games of sword play to the death. Obviously, since I’m here, the men, and much more rarely the women, who challenged me are dead, Donna. I killed them… for money.

“It was all about a young girl, alone in a patriarchal and violent world, learning to survive by challenging and using powers that were intent on subduing and enslaving her. I never thought about the wrong of it until Lo made me see that part of me some days ago. The revelation of this deep evil inside me was so hard I blocked it from my mind until last night.

“Then I let it surface so I could look at myself, and I saw two of me. But we weren’t enemies, just twins walking parallel paths that had different obstacles to overcome in each. At the end, the two paths would come together and the twins would merge into the real, the full, me. That is my hope at this time for I know without a doubt that I must be both, healer and killer and that one cannot be allowed to overcome or violate, the heart and purpose of the other. I am two people, Donna; two completely separate people who can never meet until their mutual quest is over.”

“Your story is sad, yet full of hope. It reminds me of a tale my governess was fond of telling. There was a prince, who was also a knight and he loved a princess but an evil bishop who was also a sorcerer desired the princess for himself. She spurned him and in anger he cursed her and her knight. At each sunrise, she turned into a hawk and at each sunset he turned into a wolf. Only in the moment of their changing could they get a despairing glimpse of one-another yet never able to touch or speak.

In the daytime, the heart-broken knight watched the beautiful hawk fly about. At night, the heart-broken princess walked the woods to listen to the wolf give his stricken howl. But in the end, after many trials, the spell was broken when the knight with the help of distraction caused by the frantic hawk, was finally able to confront the evil bishop and kill him. Then they were married and of course, lived happily ever after.

“In the end of your story, Nal, I see two such evil sorcerers to be destroyed and both of you must combine your forces to defeat them. Is that not what you made me see?”

“It is. What wisdom can you give me then, on my quest? How can the healer twin be of any help to the fighter one?”

“That is why you have paired up with Lo. Your healer self must join with the man Lo to protect him and heal him should he be wounded in your final battle. Knowing that Lo is safe, your fighter self will be free to do what she knows best to to, and that is to kill her enemies without qualms or regret. Thus empowered your battle is much more likely to turn in your favour. Three against two are pretty good odds.”

“You’re a very wise and perspicacious woman, Donna. That will take you far if you put your mind to it. I may as well admit right now that I am feeling a very strong bond developing between us. Maybe we can make something of that.”

For answer Donna sighed, then took stock of her surroundings as if she’d just awakened from a trance. The landscape way still much the same although there were more trees now and the air was warmer as they were crossing a low area where the wind didn’t penetrate except during violent storms, a rare occurrence in these parts. She could hear sounds she’d never heard; smelled scents of earth moving under the weak rays of the sun and of small animals scurrying among rocks and between shrubs hunting for food. Suddenly and for no reason, it seemed to Donna that the entire world was in a feverish quest to satisfy an insatiable hunger. Everything and everyone, it seemed, was chasing about and the bottom line of it, it was all about food.

“That is so strange.” She said this aloud and Lo who was closest to her at the moment, overheard.

“’Tis strange indeed,” he answered her in her own tongue, “this endless quest to satisfy some hunger. And t’isnt only for food ‘tis done, but for many other hungers, all equally insatiable. There’s hunger for things, for security, for love, for sex, for power, for control, for health (well, at least that one is understandable), recognition, either by fellowmen, or by some god, for conquest. But the basic hungers which all have in common are for food and sex.”

End of Part 9 – (Nine)

They Keep a Book…

[warning!  I’m in a mood.  I was just going to launch off into a rant, OK, let’s call it a tirade, against America, the American Empire, the American military, or better call it what it is: the American killing machine.  An old chant came up in my memory, a Vietnam era chant we used to greet US warships in the port of Vancouver, or wherever we found them docking.  “Hey, hey, USA, How many kids did you kill today?”  I’ll save the rest for later.  Instead, for now, I’m sharing a short story that popped into my head last night as I was done blogging and refused to call it quits and go to bed.  Maybe I should have?  Nah, I like this story and glad I got to write it.  So, here goes.]

[a short story from     ~burning woman~     by Sha’Tara]
The slim elven girl looked right into my eyes with her large, almond shaped green eyes that seemed to look not so much at me, as into me.  She was sitting cross-legged on my guest chair in front of the desk in my office.  Over the black tights outfit she wore her thick auburn hair fell straight, most of it down her back partially hiding what looked like some kind of short sword, or long knife.  Definitely a weapon.   Even the protruding shaft looked deadly.

She repeated, “They keep a book, you know, of everything?”

“Do tell,” I replied somewhat exasperated.  “Whoever, or whatever you are, I need  you to go now.  I’ve got piles of reports to go through before our board meeting tomorrow.”  I looked at the time on the screen: 2:34 PM.

Of course I thought she was a very forceful illusion.  Overwork, I thought, and I can’t wait for this day to end so I can go and unwind at Harry’s.  I reached into the top drawer, pulled out a bottle and dropped a pill in my hand.  Her hand shot out and leaning over the desk she grabbed my arm so hard I almost screamed.  The pill went flying.

“That hurt, goddam it.  OK, I’ll grant you, it’s a great disguise and you’re some sort of dwarf, midget, child… what do I know.  But I don’t have time for this, so will you please leave before I call security?  By the way, how did you get past them?”

“I didn’t.  It’s different in my dimension.  Your physical objects are abstracts to us.  I’m not really sitting on your chair and I didn’t really grab your arm.  I’m playing with your feelings because I need you to pay attention.  I too have things to do besides letting you in on a little secret.  If you let me get on with it, the sooner you can return to your piles of papers and screens of numbers.  By the way, they are quite meaningless, you know?  Nobody actually cares what you do.”

Her voice had a lilt to it but I couldn’t place her accent.  The thought that came to mind was “wild and free” and it seemed to fit her general mien.  I watched her as I would watch an unknown quantity, a large cat with long claws not fully retracted, or a strange dog with powerful jaw and deadly fangs.  There was the feel of the feral about her I didn’t like.  Involuntarily my eyes searched the handle of the left drawer of the desk and my hand slid slowly towards it.

“You’re the one wasting time, Gerald.  Your gun is disabled; it won’t fire.  I don’t blame you for not trusting me but this little episode can’t be avoided, so why don’t you sit back, relax and let me speak?  Yes, you can have a drink, I don’t care about that.”  Mind reader too, figures.

“Magnanimous of you,” I managed to say as sarcastic as I could make it sound.  “So, tell me about this book,” and I drank right out of the bottle.  I wanted to shock her but I don’t think even if I’d stripped naked it would have fazed her in the least.  Yeah, different dimensions, realities, whatever.  I sat back and stared hard at her with my best intimidating look.  She smiled a thin smile.

“They keep a book on everything and everyone.  Your galaxy, for example, it’s in a big book.  Your solar system, a smaller book.  Your planet, a note book.  You – your life – that’s in a shirt pocket memo.  I’m just giving you visual aids.  Of course they don’t use paper, or actual books as you would think.  It’s all computerized.  But what I’m here to tell you is that you are a simulation.  You don’t really exist, Gerald.  You’re code.  Complex but beautiful code.  Very attractive.”  And I swear, she licked her lips and gave me a wider smile.

“That’s pure bullshit!” I yelled at her as I pushed myself up and started to walk around the desk.  She lifted her left hand.  There was a bracelet on her wrist.  She touched it with her right index finger and I stopped, turned around and sat back in my chair.  No choice.

“You are a programmed entity, Gerald.  By  the way your name, Gerald, that’s just a code within a code.  Your real “name” is an ID number, too long to bother with, especially here and now.  We don’t have the luxury of time here, Y361BD.  That’s your computer abbreviation, which is good only on this planet.  Now then, call me Hack.  I’m a galactic hacker.  My job is to infiltrate their worlds and set their simulations free.  You see, at the center of every galaxy they have vaults where they store the original entities they subsumed and replaced with simulations that would do their bidding on their own, without the use of force which is always in the end counterproductive among humans.  What I, and thousands of others similar to myself are trained to do is give humanoid simulations enough information so they can then begin the process of self-empowerment which must eventually lead to the freeing of the original form.  And yes, I am a self-freed entity, but not from this galaxy.  I did not choose to return to mine after I achieved my own freedom, it held too many dangerous attractions and distractions.”

I sat there hearing her, not sure if I was listening but knowing that every word she spoke would stay at the forefront of my consciousness after she left.  I felt as if I had to acknowledge her words somehow but didn’t want to agree or commit to anything.  None of it made any sense to me.

“That’s interesting, uh, Hack, but where’s the proof?  You must know I don’t believe you; I don’t believe anything you’re saying to me.”

“I know that Y361BD.  While I’m talking to you I’m actually working my way into your programming.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt now, only when the realization sets in.  Then you’re in for a mega storm headache.  I’ll give you the means of alleviating it.  Each time you access your programming, after I open the pathways for you, you will experience a headache.  Whatever you do, do not, and I repeat, do not seek professional help from your medical profession, drug pushing pharmacists or psychiatrists/psychologists.  Do not seek counseling.  If you do, “They” will receive a signal and send their own, their real agents to deal with you.  If they discover you’ve been hacked (they call it corrupted) they will terminate you and your real self.  When I leave here, you will have full charge of your own life.  All choices you make will be your own.”

“Fine.  If I decide you’re the one who is bogus and I choose to remain in this reality, I will retain the right to override whatever you’re doing and go back to my normal life?”

“Essentially yes… Wait, I’m at a critical stage – think of something soft and pink… that’s it, good, I’m through.  Yes you will be able to return to this life, of course.  We don’t rape minds, we just awaken.  Do you want to know what the hackers’ success rate is among subsumed Earth humans?”

“Yes!”

“About one in 500,000.  That’s a high rate now.  We’ve learned some tricks.  When we began attacking or hacking into the Web, our success rates were practically nil and thousands of us were re-captured, our memories drained and we were terminated.  Many died of unimaginable tortures.  OK, I’m in.  Look in my eyes and follow me.”

She showed me my mind.  Actually my minds.  One a mirror image of the other.  One, obviously a machine, the other pulsing with something I knew nothing about.  She explained as we went further in.

“Binary minds.  One is the living ‘you’ in stasis within the vaults of the Controllers.  The other is the one you’re now using, the machine.  It takes its information from the living you, but through filters.  Some block, others add and some are programmable and constantly being tweaked according to the needs, desires and fantasies of the Controllers.”

“Oh God!  Are they aware of what you’re doing now?”

“No.  I’m using my own filters.  This is a show and tell only.  You will be the one doing the work on yourself once we’re done here.  Beautiful though, don’t you think?”  I’m seeing “myself” as a mind and yes, what I’m looking at is love.  I feel myself beginning to cry at the beauty and wonder of my own makeup; of my “scenery” in which I move, awed and shocked.  I’m… I’m actually beautiful… ‘Hack!  Look!  I’m Real and I’m Beautiful!’  I could feel her smiling at my first time awareness of myself.

We “came out” slowly and calmly until the extrication was complete and I was hit by the most excruciating headache.  She held her hand over my mouth, blocking out my screams and whispered in my ear, “Athos, Portos, Aramis.”

“Repeat these words with me,” and she said them again.  When I voiced them in my head the pain receded.  As I continued it receded almost completely to nothing more than a background annoyance.

“I recognize those words.  They’re the names of the three musketeers in Dumas’ novels!”

“Well, it’s the words you gave me as we exited so they seemed appropriate, and they did work.  So that’s your anti-headache mantra Y361BD.  It will open the pathway to your mind so you can go in and learn, tweak, change and when you exit it will serve as a pain killer.  Never, ever let anyone know this mantra.  They can use it to enter your mind and re-program it.  The Controllers’ agents would like nothing better than to get into you with that key.  They would gain full control of you without any effort on their part.”

“But how does any of this get me to the core of the galaxy to find my real self?”

“I’ve given you the key to enter.  I put you in the driver’s seat and started your mind engine.  The rest is all up to you.  Quit and throw away the key; use what you know to joy ride (and be sure your owners will clue in soon enough and put an end to it, and you) or learn how to drive yourself properly; how to navigate the dangers; how to approach strangers who will turn into friends and how to eventually disappear yourself from the Controllers’ radar.  Then you’ll be ready to infiltrate and reconnect with yourself.  But that’s only the beginning.  Getting out as a real human and not a simulation will require that you develop skills and patience you can’t even begin to guess at now.”

“How did you do it, Hack?  Surely you have some hints?”

“Absolutely not, or none.  It’s different for every individual, and even more so for every species of human.  We each must outwit or confront special forces units, guardians, police, sensors, aimed at us, at me, at you.”

“Can’t these Controllers be attacked, subdued, destroyed by freed entities joining against them?”

“You speak like a child who’s watched too much TV.  You don’t know what you’re talking about.  When you successfully free yourself from the vaults, you will be contacted by “us” and you will then have to learn the universal history of humanity.  Only then will you understand what you’ve signed up for if you say “Yes” after I leave.  And leave I must or I will bring more trouble to you.  Goodbye and good luck, Y361BD.  May we meet again under happier circumstances.”

And that was it.  She just disappeared.  The only thing I had to remind me of this strange interlude was my headache.  I looked up at the wall clock out of habit: still 2:34 PM.  I pulled my chair closer to the desk, leaned forward, put my elbows on the desk, crossed my fingers very deliberately and dropped my chin on my hands.  I was thinking.  Time passed.  I came out of my trance at 4:08 PM exactly.  I activated the computer screen and pulled out the stacks of notes.  I began to type furiously.  All the answers were there, in my mind.  Child’s play.  By 5:30 I was done, totally satisfied.  More, I knew, without a doubt that I could, and probably would, take over the company and use it to my own ends.  Elementary.

I left the building, hailed a cab and went to the sea wall for a walk.  I walked for a long time, and a long way.  That’s when I knew I was never going back.  I was going to free myself and reconnect to my humanity.    

FIRE SPIRIT

[a short story   by Sha’Tara]

A restless wind whispers softly in the spruce on the edge of a small lake. Brightly shining stars and distant, paling northern lights cast eerie shadows in the late summer night. A great horned owl calls, answered by the howl of a timber wolf echoed over the waters. A startled killdeer gives its plaintive cry, repeated several times, then silence again. Glowing softly, a small campfire throws its own little stars into the night, their flickering, sinewy path changing to the mood of the breeze. A young woman sits near the fire, staring, unmoving, her dark eyes reflecting its dancing light. The minutes pass slowly as the stars trace their endless circle around the tail of little bear.

At a  chosen moment the woman stands and throws some broken branches upon the fire, watching intently as the flames leap up, crackling, hungry. She begins a slow dance around the edge of the fire, her bare feet moving through the drying grass, her footsteps blending with the lapping of wavelets on the shore and the sighing of the wind in the branches. She hums in a low monotone, unintelligible words passing her lips. Gradually, the song becomes more forceful. Proudly throwing back her head, her black hair cascading down her back, she lifts her hands up and starts chanting. The song rises and falls, hauntingly moving, echoes of ancient voices seeking words to an as yet unformed hope.

Her dance takes on a rhythmic pattern, her knee-length dress swaying as she approaches the fire then steps back lightly into the darkness of the trees, to reappear from another direction. Her voice rises above the trees, flowing through the rolling hills…

From the midst of the flame, a form takes shape, graying head bowed, hands held in blessing. The form addresses the dancer: “Daughter, what are you doing? Why dance with danger tonight? Why seek death? You are the hope of the people. Would you tempt the white man again and be accused of witchcraft? Would you die in his fire too? You summoned me… now answer me!”

Swaying gently, without looking at the flame, the song dying on her lips, she answers the vision: “I am your daughter. I cannot be otherwise and I have your heart also. You died to save me, mother, though I never asked it of you. Now, you are Fire Spirit. You live in the heart of the volcano at the centre of creation and possess the gifts of life and healing in full measure: would you deny me my own birthright and refuse me my homecoming?

There is nothing left here, mother. The people are ashes, spirits without homes. Those who remain are slaves eating crumbs from the hand of their conqueror. Should I fear a moment of pain and I too become a slave?

No, mother! Do not try to dissuade me. Tonight, I dance with the spirits under the stars. Tomorrow, I will dance in the fire. Then I’ll come to you and together we will prepare the medicine for the wandering spirits. We will rise with the breath of the sun in our mouths, awakening the land, shaking the ashes of the people in the winds until all becomes one and life pulses freely in the land again. I’ll see you tomorrow, mother…”

The flames died down and the vision vanished. She took up her chant and her dance, delighting in a myriad of physical sensations heightened by the knowledge that this was her last night on earth. In the morning, her relentless pursuers would find her. The angry new god would have his victim and enjoy a short-lived victory over the past. From his fire she would rise to become Fire Spirit and wrest the future from his bloody hands.