The Dark Womb

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The Dark Womb

Postby neildarkstar » Sun Jan 29, 2012 3:29 pm

This story is intended as a sequel to "Summoning the Spirit", but can get by as a stand-alone.

The Dark Womb
by Neil Darkstar

After defeating the Demon Boar, I had wandered in the desert, unsure where I was and even more uncertain as to where I was going. I had heard the message of Grandfather Crow, and so I had embarked on a Spirit Quest, led only by the voices of Mother Earth and Brother Wind.

Trudging through deep sand, I wore the boots I had made from the hide of the boar, and my heavy staff was now topped by a sharp tusk from the Demon, and now as much spear as staff. Unfortunately, I could not hear the voice of Mother Earth clearly while wearing the boots, so I wore them tied by a leather thong about my neck. While I could hear Mother Earth better, that provided little comfort for my tortured feet.

I had been without water for a day now, and in the heat, my thirst was becoming a thing of nightmare. Again, I placed my old turquoise water pebble beneath my tongue, and tried to ignore the mirages formed by the heat of the desert. I knew with each step that I was closer to my destination, but I was afraid that I would not arrive before thirst weakened me beyond my limits. My spirit knew that such things must be taken with faith, that I would not be led on such a quest only to die before it truly began, but my mind said it would be a near thing.

My mind wandered for a while, and I found myself walking in a narrow valley, with hills of sand rising above me on either side. There were scattered remnants of dead brush here and there, but no signs of water, or life, be it plant or animal. I could see that the valley ended up ahead, and faced the prospect of climbing out of the valley with dread. I was afraid it might not be possible at all, in my current weakened condition.

As I neared the end of the valley, I could see that it narrowed, and that in the crotch where the two hillsides met was two tall formations of stone. Theses columns were perhaps forty feet tall, and leaned together forming an archway of sorts over a narrow dark slit that lay between them where they did not touch at the bottom. As I got closer, I could see the slit formed an entrance way some five feet wide at the bottom, and closing at about thirty feet high.

It struck me then that I had a view that would be similar to what I would see if I were very small and standing between the legs of a woman. With a start, I realized then that I very likely stood at the birthplace of all living things because I had been guided here by Earth Mother.

I slowly approached that opening, and the cool dark interior looked inviting. I couldn't resist moving to just outside that darkness, and I was rewarded with the sound of dripping water from somewhere within. So inviting, but I knew also, so dangerous. Brother Wind whispered softly in my ear, a murmured warning urging caution, and prudence in the vicinity of great power.

I carefully backed away from that doorway a few paces and gathered dead brush to lay a small fire that I would light at dusk, and then I sat by it staring into the slit of darkness where cool water was waiting. I understood that waiting was a test of my will, and that to rush inside was to fail and die. My thirst and discomfort was a sacrifice to the Spirit of that sacred place, and failing to offer it would mean failing the quest.

When the sun finally sank and Father Sky donned his cloak of diamond-speckled ebony, I lit my fire. though my body was weak, I stood and offered greetings to the Spirits of that vale, and thanks to Father Sky and Mother Earth for another day of opportunity to serve their will. With my staff, i drew the Sacred Symbol and the Sacred Sign of my people.

Sitting again by the fire, I burned special roots and plants, bathing myself in the smoke to purify myself. As I sang my songs of Power, I gazed longingly into the darkness that lay before me. I wondered...

If a man returns to his mother's womb, does his life then become as if he was never born? Do his works on the Land persist while he is forgotten, even as he forgets himself?

I took the Sacred herb from my pouch, and again I stood offering my pipe to Father Sky and the Four directions and the Four Elements, then sat beside my fire and lit the pipe. Aromatic clouds of smoke came forth forth, but rather than disperse, they wreathed me in smoke and surrounded me in a blue-gray haze.

When the last of the herb was burned from the pipe, I carefully wrapped and replaced it in my gear. I could feel the familiar effects, and I drew closer to the Spirit World while moving farther from the living world.

Now that I had been purified and prepared, I turned and drew nearer to the entrance. I could hear the sound of the water, and the urge to run inside was almost overwhelming. My throat was burned from the hot air of the day, and the rough smoke from the pipe, and my tongue was swollen so that I almost felt there was no room for it in my mouth, but I knew that I must move carefully.

Moving into the dark opening, I found myself in a tunnel that moved into the hillside for a short distance, and then turned toward the right as it sloped downward. I had not gone far when I realized that there was no light whatsoever in this place, the flickering firelight was lost, and I was blind.

I used my staff, and tapped against the right wall of the tunnel and tested the floor as i continued on toward the sound of the water. I wondered at the fleeting visions that came and went in my blindness, and I thought perhaps that only the blind could truly see things of importance in total darkness.

I had continued in this fashion for perhaps fifteen minutes, moving slowly and carefully, when my left foot brushed some small object. I felt it roll away from me, and then I heard its clattering fall as it rolled faster down some step slope. The clatter turned to silence, and I thought it had stopped rolling, when I heard a dim echo of the object striking some far-away floor after a long, long drop. I knelt down to see what these objects might be, and I discovered they were bones. Whether man or beast, I still don't know... and I really didn't want to know, at the time.

Eventually, I came to a room that apparently widened out, but the slope grew even steeper in its downward angle. I cautiously moved about, testing the floor with my staff, and found that I was in a large room that apparently sloped down to water someplace at the far end.

I could smell the water, and hear the drip loudly, so I started in its direction, when a ghastly light began to grow in the darkness around me. Before long, I could see the light came from the spirits of dead men whose bodies littered the floor.

A voice spoke from the inky blackness of the water "You stand in the womb of Earth Mother... Why are you here?"

I thought to answer in a strong voice, but only a croaking whisper emerged form my parched throat. "Earth Mother, I am here to be judged."

That came as a surprise to me, but even as I said it, I recognized it for truth. I wondered why it had taken me so long to know that simple fact, and then I wondered at the manner of the test I would face.

Again the voice spoke. "These others who lay about you were judged and found lacking. Their spirits now languish here unable to move on until they know release. That is the price of failure. Men must fight for life, first to be born, then to live each day, and then finally to die in a fitting manner."

I found I was now surrounded by an army of ghosts, as the spirits of those who had failed were now standing beside me. Their faces were filled with pain and despair, and the misery of their bondage was clear to me.

The voice continued, "They will join you in this fight for honorable death, and if victory is yours they will be free. If not, you will join their ranks."

The silence grew ever more intense, then from far away I heard the pound of war drums, and the warriors singing their battle songs as if from a far away place. My ghostly companions drew their weapons and stood ready, but I could see that they had done this many times before and had no hope of victory in their hearts.

From the now-bright dark water strode three Spirits of Death. Each one bearing his weapons with open anticipation and blood lust in their undead eyes.

I moved to the front of my party, and stood with staff ready, then swung it with all of my might as the first one reached me. There was a lightning flare as my staff passed through the Spirit's head, and my hands were frozen to a tingling numbness as the staff dropped from my lifeless hands. Unbothered, he swung at me with his stone war ax, and I barely managed to avoid its deadly sweep. I felt the unnaturally cold rush of air as it narrowly missed my face, and I was suddenly certain that any touch of those Spirit weapons was instant death.

I rolled across the floor, grabbing my fallen staff, and came to my feet singing the battle cry of my people as I again faced my opponent. From the corners of my eyes, I could see my own small army being swept into pieces, like rows of ripe grain at harvest. They fell by twos and threes, many without offering a defense at all. I could not say whether I was more full of pity or disgust at their performance, but my own fear was growing beyond my ability to control.

Again I swung my staff, but this time I did not drop it as the pain of contact was now anticipated. The blow was as futile as before, but this time I used it as a distraction more than as an attack, and I pulled a small pouch containing a special powder from my belt with the time gained. With a sweeping motion of my arm, I filled the air with aromatic powder, and the spirits screamed in agony as they disintegrated into formless blobs of glowing ectoplasm on the floor.

None of my companions remained standing either, and I was alone in the near total darkness. then I watched in horror as the blobs of glowing ectoplasm merged together on the floor, and morphed into a single large Spirit standing before me.

The voice I had earlier heard spoke again. "Well done. You have done better than any other in recent history, but the trial is not yet over."

The deadly Spirit raised a huge war club, and I retreated slightly as I uttered a spell of summoning, calling my shield maiden to aid me.

The Spirit strode forward, and began his fatal swing, but my shield maiden appeared between us and his blow glanced off of the shield she held. Lightning flashed at the contact, and I was blown off of my feet by the blast, landing ingloriously on my backside on the far side of the room. Stars filled my vision, but I saw my maiden strike with the edge of her shield, and the specter staggered backward, no doubt unused to feeling the pain of a blow. He was obviously confused, and continued backing away, fading into the black water.

My shield maiden reached my side, and spoke to me with soft tones. "He is not defeated, he will be back. You must beat him, I cannot do it for you, else you will not pass judgment."

As she spoke, she opened a flask of some potion, and poured a portion into my parched mouth. "This is nourishment for your spirit, but it will not help your body. Your body is not the object of the test in any case."

Her hands felt like a cool night breeze as she rubbed feeling back into my hands, and her lips were like a drink of cool water as she softly kissed mine. "I leave you my shield, and the blessing of my heart. use both well, warrior."

As she faded away into nothingness, I wondered for the hundredth time who she was and what her connection to me might be. I wished I knew her name.

The water regained some of its earlier glow, and the Spirit of Death again emerged from black depths bringing an eldrich light with him. I noted that he seemed to be dry, and I wondered how that could be, and if he wished he could feel the water's cool touch as much as I did...

He raised his weapon in a timeless salute of one warrior to another, and I returned it as best I could. My Spirit was strong from the maiden's potion, but my body was weak as a new-born kitten. I realized that his next attack would likely be the last, and I glanced sadly around at what would likely be my new home for the next few centuries. I decided it was going to take more than a little redecorating to make it seem like home.

When we both seemed ready, he sprang at me with club raised, and I raised my shield to take the blow, while sounding my battle cry and readying my staff for a response. When his club hit my shield, it knocked me to my knees, and instead of my planned swinging response, I thrust at the Spirit's mid-section with the demon-tusked end of my staff, and was amazed to hear his cry of pain.

He staggered backward, and I rose to my feet with the shield again in position and the staff at the ready for a thrust. Oddly, he did not attack again, but simply stood waiting for the death blow from the demon tusk that would surely follow.

I approached him cautiously, and seeing the defeat in his eyes, I lowered my shield and leaned heavily on my staff without moving to deliver a blow. I have to tell you that if the Spirit of Death ever smiles at you, it is perhaps more frightening than combat with him.

Yes, he smiled at me, and then moved back into the water leaving me to stare stupidly as my fallen army again rose around me. One by one, they then vanished into the Spirit World where they belonged, and finally I was alone again. I staggered to the water's edge, and drank my fill while splashing gleefully in the water. It was very hard and acidic, but at that moment it was better than any wine I've ever tasted.

One last time I heard the voice of Earth Mother in that cave. "Your quest is ended, warrior. You have freed the lost souls of the vanquished, and granted mercy to Death. By so doing, you have passed judgment on yourself. You have always been yours to judge, no other can."

With the effects of the pipe wearing off, I fille my water skin, and with a new perspective on life, death, and judgment, began the trek back through the desert.

It seems to me that any quest that gives new perspective on life is a success, no matter how it comes out in the end. I think perhaps my shield maiden might be worthy of a quest all her own...
"If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." - Movie "Flypaper"
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Re: The Dark Womb

Postby DARoot » Sun Jan 29, 2012 11:03 pm

Good Job, Neildarkstar!
Thank you!
I have NEVER, in all my days, read something (metaphorically-speaking) that so aptly described a man's first "intimate" encounter with a "new" woman. Congratulations!

And, yes, do another story with the "Shield Maiden" as the protagonist.

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