Staring into the Abyss
Her bare feet knotted as she stood upon the cold, hard surface. She settled her balance a little lower, sliding her feet farther apart, centering herself, preparing for a blow that could come from any quarter. There was no apparent light in view, nothing to see, no sense that there even was something there that could be seen, no horizon between sky and ground, no sense of distance, no echoes, no feeling of wind in the air or vibration through the ground. Just a surface she stood upon in the darkness.
For a moment, she felt dizzy, and found it hard to tell if she was standing straight, or if she was swaying or leaning to one side or the other. Her sense of balance, usually nearly perfect in any situation, seemed to desert her for a moment as she stood in the ultimate darkness.
She had time to wonder at whether she truly relied on sight to maintain part of her balance, or whether her momentary dizzyness was from some innate property of where she now was.
She squatted down, keeping her back straight as a rod, knees flexed in tune with her hips, to place the flat of her left hand upon the surface of the floor.
“Like glass”, she mused, “Smooth and cold and hard, without marring or feel of tool.”
She stood up once more, and found herself concentrating, trying to hear anything, see anything around herself, but the pounding of the blood in her ears and her own hard breathing seemed to drown out any sound. Spots danced across her vision, and she knew that it was false movement, her own eyes’ darting against the dark showing against the window of her mind, betraying her senses. She closed her eyes, and focused on listening, trying to make anything out, distinguish a true sound from the rhythm of her pulse, and soon was rewarded when she began to recognize faint noises, and the sounds grew distinct enough that she thought she could make out a tune, music, a song that she almost felt she should know.
Several minutes passed, as she waited for the sound of the faintly heard tune to become clearer, before she realized that her impression of music was false, created from her own effort to piece together order out of nothing but the rushing of her own blood, her own breathing, the pounding of her heart in the dark. There was nothing in this place but herself, and the glassiness of the smooth hard floor.
She had a moment where she knew, if she was at all prone to panic, that now was the perfect time to do so.
She watched herself, as if standing within her own mind, curious to see if she would panic or not. When she realized what she was doing, she could feel her cheeks blush with her own foolishness.
“It’s a good thing there be nothing and no one to be watching me play the fool. So, here I stand. But where the bloody hell be here?”
As Jessie worked her way through the problem of what to do next, she decided to ignore anything which she felt she could do nothing whatsoever to change. She could not change the ground upon which she stood, she could not cause a light to send the darkness fleeing, and she could not affect anything which was currently out of her reach.
What she could do, however, was regain control of herself, calm down, find her center once more, and be prepared in body and spirit for whatever might happen next.
It was only when she finally stopped trying to perceive anything outside herself, and relaxed, that she realized that she was naked, and knew then all in a rush that this was all just a dream.
All of the events of the night before came rushing back to her, her awakening in a strange place, her surreal conversation with the elven woman who asked Jessie to name her Bane. “To have died? How could that be? If my soul were stolen by the axe, then was I really and truly dead? I never went to the place where Fergus lay, where my brother rests, where my mother…”
“But no. I was not truly dead. My soul was ripped from my body, sure, I can buy that. But I didn’t die, I was just trapped, imprisoned by the axe, waiting to be set free. If I were really dead, I wouldn’t have come back. If I was back with my family, I wouldn’t have wanted to. No, enough of that. I was supposed to be in a place with the other victims of the axe. Heroes and champions of the light. Does that mean that I’m a champion of the light? I sure don’t think so.”
“Maybe if I’m here, and I’m not a champion of hero, then that means that the other victims have as much chance of being heroes as I did. And I know now that I didn’t feel the presence of my family, but wherever I was, I think I felt safe there, warm and welcome, and if it’s the ones that made me feel so are now a part of me, then I have nothing to fear. Right?”
“The elf, to ask to be called Bane, was that a sign? Is she trying to warn me of what kind of person she really is, or is she trying to be cute, and just thinks that I’m too young or ignorant to know what the word means? Or was it just coincidence? A Bane is supposed to be something that is destined to be your death, or your doom, or one of those things, I think. It sure isn’t good, though. Of course, she said her name is supposed to describe what her experience is, what her skills are. Maybe she means that she is planning to be the dryads’ doom. Oh yeah, I can sure get behind that idea. And Far Dreamer, she wanted to be called Far Dreamer when she joined the Orcs. So, yeah, I can almost see it, if you are dreaming of following a long, pain in the ass path that you hope will lead you to your goal, sure. But what kind of person can just set herself on a course she knows is gonna take such a long time, and still have the brass ones to name herself something like that? Might as well call yerself ‘A snowballs chance in hell’ and be done with it.”
“Course, I guess I know I’ll be fighting my way through for a long damn time if I’m ever gonna see a day where these lands are MacQuarrie lands again. And I’ll have to live as Lauchlin for… no, no I guess Bane’s choice isn’t so stupid, now, is it. It does help to have a constant reminder of what yer after doin’ doesn’t it? It just seems like a hard thing, changing yer name to fit what yer after doin’. Seems like, after you’d been doing it long enough, you’d lose a sense of who you really are.”
Jessie suddenly noticed something had changed in her surroundings, as she stood patiently in the darkness, her thoughts turned within.
A light was rising, a light that had no source, a light that revealed the smooth floor as a black plane of glass, unmarked and unadorned with edges or features. The light continued to rise until Jessie stood revealed on the black glassy floor, under a featureless dark sky that had neither star nor moon to reassure her. The glassy expanse seemed to extend, visible in all directions, for miles, without evidence of the gradual curve that natural ground would have. This was flat, truly flat, and the resulting horizon was unnatural and alien, frightening her at her heart, gripping her in a chill where the dark had failed to touch her.
As she turned her head from the left side to her right, scanning her surroundings, she was startled to see a large person standing almost within arms reach of her at her right shoulder, just standing there, without sense of movement, just standing calmly, arms folded across his chest. She whipped her head back to the left and there was another being, suddenly appeared there in the flicker of time since the spot was out of her field of view. She backed up, still in control enough to be wary of her footing on the glass surface, trying to keep them both in view at once, when the one to her left moved closer to the one on her right, making it easy on her to keep them both in sight. A quick glance around again reassured her fragile nerves that no more strangers had ‘popped’ into view. She wished like hell that she had her sword, and suddenly felt the smooth, worn grip of her own sword in her hand. She gripped the hilt, grinned at the way the two figures froze just the slightest bit, and immediately felt better. Naked she may be, but with a sword in her hand there was no chance she’d be taken without a fight to remember.
She had just enough time to notice that, when she needed a weapon in her hand, it was her own honest sword that had appeared, and not the axe, and to be glad about it.
The two figures were certainly strange to the eyes, each quite different from each other.
The first one she had noticed, the one closest to her right, was to her eyes a very tall, very wide shouldered human man of at least middle age, maybe even older. His hair was still jet black and very full, falling ragged to his shoulders, and his eyes were a startling blue, clear and cold as the valley lake, a color that Jessie had never seen among any Borderlander kin, or ever heard tell of. He was standing there as naked as she, but without a sword, and it was clear to see that he had been a fighting man in life, and had borne many a scar that yet marked his flesh, even in this dreamlike afterlife.
The thought shook her, as she realized she had been eyeing the men as though they were indeed ghosts of the dead.
She shook it off, and narrowed her eyes as she saw the inevitable signs of a man who lived by the sword; the scars, the flat muscles, the signs of training for endurance and speed of arm and shoulder, of legs that can shift and hold in any terrain. She also couldn’t help but notice that, the longer she looked him over in silence, the bigger his grin grew.
The other one, however, was a hard and frightening contrast. For one thing, the figure looked to be a man, or at least man-shaped, but every visible inch of him was covered in a strange, bluish-black steel. It was fashioned as armor, in a very ornate style that seemed impractical to Jessie, with ornamentation, scrollwork and engravings that would be sure to catch the point of a blade or lance. Aside from the visor, from which an eerie blue flame burned, there were no other openings or cracks visible. When the figure moved its’ arms from its’ sides to fold them across his chest, the steel armor didn’t fold or crease or bunch up like she would have thought, but merely rippled and stretched like skin would’ve. The armored figure was also very tall, but thinly built, as if he prized speed more than muscle mass, a strange contrast to go with the heavy armor.
Somehow, Jessie didn’t really feel afraid of either of them, as though she were getting feelings of peace and acceptance from them, but the very strangeness of the moment was unquestionably frightening. Nothing in her experience had led her to expect to see this in one of her dreams, and she knew, with stark conviction, that she was not imaging this in a fantasy that would disappear with morning.
The man with the cold blue eyes drew her attention back to him when he spoke, in an iron hard voice. What he said didn’t register at first, as the strength and timber of his voice made its’ first impression upon her.
Jessie had always known in her heart that her father was the strongest, most commanding leader that there could ever be, a man with an amazing ability to inspire and lead his people with his courage, his charm and his unflagging drive to succeed. But this voice, this voice that she heard for the first time, carried with it the sound of a hundred battlefields, a man a thousand times the victor of an endless struggle to see his people free, and possessed a strength and power that she suddenly knew was a direct read on his soul. This was a voice that did not demand respect or devotion, indeed she felt the tone of the voice itself was pleasant and kind, but she was pulling in a kind of echo of his soul that overlapped with his words that was telling her a great deal about the man before her.
Her nakedness embarrassed her even more strongly, but she refused to relax her control, and let some stupid slip of thought clothe her in imagined garments and embarrass her even worse. No matter who the man might be, she’d be damned if she’d look like a frightened or flustered farmwife!
The meaning of what he was actually saying finally caught up with her overloaded senses.
The blue eyed man was saying, “I’m very sorry that things have come to this pass for you, young woman. I understand that you didn’t ask for this, and I want you to know that I am impressed with the way you have handled the revelations you have seen thus far. Before we proceed any further, though, I wanted to ease your mind a little by introducing myself and my companion, we who are too… independent to be subsumed within your soul.”
“Yes, Jessie MacQuarrie, there are indeed other beings, beings whose souls are now inextricably tied to your own. Your friend Far Dreamer told you a great deal before you slept, but one thing she did not say was that, after she brought our souls back from the abyss, she worked to heal yours and strengthen it, and then let you try to work out any conflicts on your own.”
“She tried her best to give you every fighting advantage she could against whoever else was now entwined with you. It was a good thought, but I do not think she knew just how different some of us who have been trapped here have become. She thought that, at the worst, you would only have to deal with the shattered fragments and half remembered lives of past soldiers long dead, whisps of memory and perhaps longing or rage.”
“There are two of us here, two of us that are almost completely whole, in our own ways, here and a part of you. There were also several others who were too wounded and fractured to ever be able to heal. We two have been working together, while you have perceived yourself to be standing here upon this black plain, to integrate those other lost souls into your own.”
“It has taken us much longer than I think you would suspect, while you have been lost in thought, but your acting to calm yourself and regain your center helped us immensely. We have finally succeeded, and it should have strengthened you enough that you may endure dealing with having us here within your thoughts until we can sort this out in a more permanent way.”
The naked man waved his arm in the direction of the being apparently made of living armor, and said, “The figure beside me is, as you might have guessed, not a human born, and to my knowledge he had been in the abyss longer than any other I know of aside from myself.”
“I know that his form seems very strange and threatening, but, and pardon me if I am sharing my impressions of another with you when you know nothing of me, but he has seemed to me to be as fine and good a spirit as I could ever hope to meet.”
“He has told me in the past that he is of a race far removed from our world, a race of beings formed of energy, like a kind of living lightning, or spirit of flame. He had come here to our world because of some kind of terrible accident upon his own homeworld, an event he described as so destructive in it’s potential conclusion that he and six others of his worlds’ finest champions traveled through I know not what to come here and try to aid our own world should such an event ever begin to grow here as well.”
“Whatever happened, I know that it must have been a very long time ago, and certainly none of our concern anymore. He has told me that he may be called by the name Katarese.”
“For myself, I doubt me that you would recognize my name, or have any knowledge of my story at all, but my name is Gavin, known in my time as Gavin the Hammer, and I had the privilege to serve my lord Tyr the Just as Paladine Primus until I fell in battle in the 35th year of the reign of Emperor Ricardo of the newly-forged Fellarian Empire.”
The blue eyed man, who called himself Gavin the Hammer, paused and Jessie continued to look both figures over as she tried to decide how best to answer him. He certainly looked the part of a man that warriors would call ‘The Hammer’, she thought.