The Hardest Journey
By: Thenidiel Posted on: January 07, 2006
She felt the scream pierce her, blunt metal against soft flesh, the wrenching of a thousand restless souls about her as she fell effortlessly into darkness. Her lungs and throat and mouth opened forth and the scream gushed out, unyielding and desperate, as if it were a strangled hope of resurrection. White-hot pain seared her every nerve, cold ice against sore flesh, hot fire against tender skin, the decay of a thousand venomous bites. There is no emotion, no feeling so strong as Death. She fell into the eternal spiral of silence and felt her soul weep, for the loss of the friends and the world she had held so dear.
A light appeared, so blindingly white that it could not be avoided at any turn. She glanced about, terrified, trying to work out where she could be. She had died, of that she was sure, and yet she stood here on this cold ground, naked as the day she was born but whole, her body pristine and free of the wounds that it had once been carelessly littered with. The accursed light disappeared, and she found herself in a long, seemingly never-ending tunnel. Her pointed ears twitched, as she looked about, suddenly afeared. There was a strange, eerie feeling about this place - a queer hissing sound that at close watch sounded like a thousand voices, whispering quiet prayers for salvation. She felt humbled, somehow, as if there were a great presence hanging over the air.
Taking a cautious step forward, she stepped under a great archway and into the tunnel. A sudden whooshing sound alerted her to some movement at her left, and she span round violently, almost falling over in her panic. To her left had appeared what she could only presume to be some sort of tear. The very wall had opened up into a gaping hole, the sides of the wall that remained almost fluttering like silken tatters. Almost a wormhole, but not quite - it was more like someone had punched through the very fabric of existence. She heard voices coming from the rip and cried out, recognising them at once, her father and mother and her two beautiful daughters.
'Tismia! Melsia!' she shrieked, voice hoarse, and dived towards the rip, as if she could fall through it and into the arms of her children. But as soon as she dived forward the rip disappeared, leaving her thrown headlong at the brick wall, wincing in pain as she connected with it. What was this place, this torturous teasing of Life? She was wracked with a dry sob, clattering to the floor in mourning of her two daughters that were lost to her. She recalled their births, that pain that was just like dying, the joy that was like no other as she held their fragile, bloody bodies to her heaving chest.
Some force guided her to stand up, walking again down the corridor, looking into the eternal tunnel of stone walls that lay ahead of her. She had not gone more than ten paces before that whooshing sound came again, and she let out a moan of pain, frustration and sadness. Hardly daring to cast her eyes upon this rip, she waited for the coming noise. But there was none - her curiosity piqued, coating her fear in inquisition, she lifted her head and looked to her right at the place where the rip should be. This time, however, it looked quite different - there was a great swirling whirlpool of colour, the waves of rainbow light slowly twisting round into what she could see was going to be a picture.
It formed, and was the most beautiful sight that she had ever laid her mortal eyes upon. Sunlight poured down through the tall, proud trees of the Aalen forest, and below the forest floor flourished in a cacophony of greens and the gleaming brown palette of mushrooms. Behind she saw the sparkling stream leading to the lake that she knew lay not far to the east. The ground was littered with the vibrant purple flowers of the Echinacea plant, tamed only by the unruly Myrrh bushes surrounding it. Her grove, in all its Springtime splendour, looked grander than she had ever seen it look. A tear ran down her cheek as she felt remorse for all the times she had ever taken her grove, that gift of unrivalled generosity from Lady Gaia, for granted.
The picture disappeared as quickly as it had come, falling into a weave of colour before melting back, leaving only the stone there once more. She stood there for a moment, wishing with all her heart that she could go home, back to her forest where she could lie amongst the flowers with her two daughters and be happy. Sighing, she turned away from the now blank wall and began to walk. Her feet dragged, her homesickness growing more and more, the thought that she would never see any of it again overpowering her.
Walking along, head hung low, counting the cracks in the wooden floor as she walked, she did not see the huge door that loomed before her. Instead, she felt it - a confused mixture of intense fear and comforting warmth. It was this strange feeling that bade her look up, and when she did she stepped back in shock, for looming up before her was a great mithril door, closed with a giant shimmering bar, which lifted up as she stepped back in surprise. Moving quickly to the side as the huge door creaked towards her, she looked in fear and amazement as she stepped into what could only be described as a huge room.
'Child of Mine, enter and approach Me,' boomed a voice that shook her very being to the core. Obeying at once, she stepped forth and looked on the overwhelmingly incredible presence of the Lady Maya. From here she could not see Her face, but felt that strange mixture of warmth and fear grow stronger as she looked upon Her. The Great Mother spoke to her, of knowing all, her every thought and action. She felt humbled, a mouse amongst dragons, a fish amongst eagles. Her nerves felt almost on fire with nervousness as they had with pain so recently.
Then the Mother spoke of Good and Evil, and she felt herself cower. In an abuse of power she had stolen to give her children the gifts they had wanted for Logomas - she had killed one who tried to attack her friend when in fact she should have negotiated. She had offended those who were higher than her. Most of all, she had neglected her grove. It was not truly as she had seen in the spiralling picture. It was overgrown, the plants bore no herbs and no animals would go near it for fear of her Golem, who had grown old and senile, preferring to attack anyone rather than only her enemies.
She sighed, and turned to leave, knowing that she did not deserve the blessing of Life. Yet even so the Lady Maya took her upon Her great hand and held her to Her gaze. She felt the dark gaze of the Great Mother sear through her soul like a Magi's staff and began silently to cry, out of gratitude and guilt, as the Lady softly intoned the word ‘Grow', and she felt herself ebb out of this being, all feeling and presence disappearing from her, almost as if she were turning to dust.
Her soul's hourglass existence rematerialised in what she saw to be a cave, with damp walls and only a single candle floating in the middle of the room. She took some cautious steps forward, and with breath held tense she stepped out into the glorious light of the Sun as its rays burst across the skies, splitting the clouds with streaks of gold. Elation surged through her - she almost leapt for joy, streaking out from the cave to the forest, where she hurled herself to the ground and fell through the rustling leaves to the gleaming redwoods of the Aalen forest. With new vigour, she gave her plants fertility, welcomed back the animals of the forest and tended to her overgrown trees. She summoned a comforting rain to make them glisten with water and watched as they became strong and tall, until the grove looked just like the swirling picture she had seen in the Halls of the Lady Maya.
It was to this Divine that she knelt and uttered a short prayer of thanks, and vowed to make it her duty to make sure that she made the most of her life, the greatest gift that she had ever been given. As she finished her prayer, blessing the ground before her, her pointed ears pricked up at the sound of two young voices coming from the stream. The rain that sat upon her cheeks like tears flew about her like a storm as she leapt up and ran to the silhouettes upon the horizon, replacing the rain with true tears. She threw her arms about her daughters and embraced them with more devotion than she had ever done before, her chest heaving with sobs as she stroked her hands across their heads.
'Promise me,' she said in a voice that was almost a hoarse whisper, 'promise me that you shall never take anything in this life for granted. For if we do, we are not worthy of it.'
With that, she pressed a kiss first to Tismia's forehead, and then Melsia's, before taking their hands and leading them home to their village in the treetops.