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by JYT Kennedy
Category: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Description: "The first time I entered the dreamworld--the world of the dead, the underworld, the world from which I speak to you now--I was not quite twenty years old. I had prepared the materials myself, according to the ancient recipes, and had done my best to understand my teacher's cryptic instructions. When he decided that I was ready, he took me to a cave in the mountains at dusk, and led me down a winding tunnel, until the only light was the red glow of the incense in my hand. Then he left me to find my own way. He waited for me outside, and less than a quarter of the night was gone when he heard me screaming." So begins an exciting tale told by a perfumer in an ancient culture devastated by plague and conquered by barbarian warriors.
eBook Publisher: Dragon Moon Press/Dragon Moon Press, 2005 Tradepaper
eBookwise Release Date: September 2006
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [264 KB]
Reading time: 184-258 min.
The first time I entered the dreamworld-the world of the dead, the underworld, the world from which I speak to you now-I was not quite twenty years old. I had prepared the materials myself, according to the ancient recipes, and had done my best to understand my teacher's cryptic instructions. When he decided that I was ready, he took me to a cave in the mountains at dusk, and led me down a winding tunnel, until the only light was the red glow of the incense in my hand. Then he left me to find my own way.
He waited for me outside, and less than a quarter of the night was gone when he heard me screaming.
He searched for me all night and finally found me unconscious in a corner. He performed a ceremony to recall my dreamspirit, and eventually, I began to stir. I opened my eyes a little, and murmured, "I destroyed it."
"Destroyed what, Gilna?"
"The future," I replied, and fell back into a deep slumber.
When I awoke once more, I was outside the cave, stretched out in warm afternoon sunlight. I watched my teacher sitting nearby for a while. He was an old man, Terion by name. I had worked as his apprentice since I was a young girl. For years I learned from him the uses of plant and mineral, and the ways of preparing them. I had learned little of the dreamworld, except that Terion visited it at times when his worldly knowledge did not suffice to cure an ill. When it was time for me to attempt a similar journey, I had listened to his instructions but I did not really know what to expect. He showed me how to prepare the incense which I would require and I made it with my own hands according to the ancient traditions. He said that when we reached the entrance to the dreamworld, the incense would guide me, and visions would come. I was frightened at the thought but also excited, for I had heard stories of such visions. Sometimes they were said to be indescribably wonderful, and sometimes abominably horrible. Sometimes the past was revealed, and sometimes the future.
I tried to remember what had happened to me in the previous night. I could recall standing outside a cave in the mountains. It was dusk, and all was silent save one night bird away in a valley below us. I took a handful of dirt, and rubbed it around my nostrils, between my eyes and ears, and on my feet and the backs of my hands. It was damp and had the rich smell of rotten leaves. It would help to keep me connected to the physical world. I lit a stick of incense; Terion lit a lamp. Together we stepped into the gloom of the cave mouth and on down a winding tunnel. After a while we began to pass pictures painted on the wall, most very simple, but some highly elaborate. These were the spirit marks of others who had used this cave in the past. There were many animals, and also spirals with rays around them representing the sun. At length Terion stopped and told me to draw my own spirit mark on the wall. I had brought a stick of charcoal and some small pots of ochre, and I used these to create a picture of the first thing which came into my mind: a tree with fruit growing on it. This mark would help me to find my way back out if I wandered far into the dreamworld.
When I had finished, Terion extinguished the lamp and we walked on down the dark, winding tunnel. Soon he turned back, leaving me to find my own way. I continued on, holding my incense before me. I could smell the smoke of it only faintly, for although the effects of this perfume were strong, it had scarcely any distinct aroma. I went on, nervous yet eager, trying to open my senses to whatever might be around me.
I lost track of how long I wandered. My incense burnt low and then was gone, and at length I came into passages with smooth walls and floors. Here and there were wooden doors, but most were sealed shut. One opened, however. I felt my way in and along the wall until my foot tipped over the edge of a rough crevice. I froze for a moment, fearful of falling. As I backed cautiously away, I felt the foot farther from the wall brush against a mat. I knelt down and felt across it, and came upon something like a piece of dry wood sticking up. There was another beside it, and two sticks laying along the floor beyond that with old, thin cloth laid over top of them.
I felt along the cloth, and it was not until I came to a desiccated hand that I realized what I was feeling. It was a human body, long dead, but somehow preserved so that the flesh had tightened about the bones and still held them together. I pulled my hands back in horror, but the hand of the dead thing was somehow entangled with mine, for it came away with me and there was a dreadful snap as the arm broke like a rotten branch. The hand fell down to the floor. I rushed backwards into the wall, and lost no time in finding my way back out of the doorway.
I was in such a panic that I could not remember from which way I had come. I chose a direction and felt my way on along the passage until I reached stairs leading up. The very thought of going upward seemed hopeful and so I followed them. I had to stop and rest twice before I came to the top and found a door before me. I opened it, revealing a night sky adorned with stars and a shining moon. Beneath my feet was a narrow ledge which skirted around to either side above a yawning precipice. The pale glow of a crescent moon lit the scene, revealing neither plants nor animals, only snow-dusted rock edging the darkness.
The ledge curved off to either side so that I could not see where it led. For a long while I hesitated between the darkness behind me and the doubtful paths to either side. At last I pressed my back to the wall and began to follow the ledge to the right. My footsteps shuffled and grated on the thin layer of crusty snow. My breath was shallow; some irrational part of me was convinced that a deep inhalation would send me hurtling into the black depths below.
To my relief once I passed around the curve the ledge widened dramatically, and joined a gentle path leading up to the very peak of the mountain. There was a sort of platform there, and upon it was something, but there my memory stopped. I felt that whatever I had seen there had been terrible, too terrible for me to remember. I no longer tried to remember more, indeed I tried not to think even of what I had remembered, and after a few days I had forgotten almost everything beyond entering the cave. I did not try to enter the dreamworld again, and since that time I have always been afraid of the dark.