While preparations for the night were being completed, the sun descended further on the horizon causing the growing red sky to be reflected in the snowy tundra making giving the entire area a certain reddish/orange hue.
The cold air had taken on a certain damp sharpness that suggested the possibility of a storm coming in. Atop the way hill people busied themselves preparing for nightfall. The stone shelter at the top of the hill now had heavy blankets covering the mouth to block harsh winds. A fire was growing in the fire pit and the Dove and Crow were going over final preparations for the night’s journey. Aanu, BrownFox, Ganji, and Ja’Kolimaq sat in a circle discussing the nature of the journey at hand.
Brownfox was coming to the end of her explanation of things.
“And so it was after grandmother Sesse awakened from her dream that she called me and sent me north to walk the Line and ensure we were prepared. Her vision in dream was so filled with sorrow and chaos that she felt the only way to get at its source was to walk Dream as close to the Line as possible before the Long Night commenced.”
“I still don’t see what this has to do with me.” Aanu protested disinterestedly. “I’ve never met this grandmother Sesse. Why would she tell you to seek me out?”
“True you’ve never met Sesse, but you have met her mother. You served with her in the Winter of Crying Leaves.”
“What?” Exclaimed Sinnik’tok. “You’ve got the wrong person. Uncle is barely fifty winters in the world. Crying Leaves is well known in the White. It was one of the hardest of long nights but it was over a hundred winters ago. You should ask the elders council in town where to find the grave of this warrior you seek.”
BrownFox looked over at the confused young man. “Those are astute observations my maker friend, but we have who we came to see. Perhaps you should see to the threshold while we elders speak further. Our conversation will most likely be confusing to you and bring frustration were you to continue among us. If you seek further clarification I’d advise you to seek answers from Aanu at a later time. A time AFTER we are done with our business here.”
Her tone made it clear that the suggestion was no suggestion. Even if he were unsure about the tone, the look she now gave him, like a grandparent waiting for a troublesome child to go to sleep, cleared any possible doubt.
“My apologies grandmother. I’ll. . . We’ll tend to it at once.” Sinnik’tok said while motioning for Makkitu’q to follow him down the hill.
Once they were out of earshot Makkitu’q spoke up in an excited hushed voice. “Heeeey! I can’t believe it! Uncle is ancient!”
“He isn’t ancient.” Sinnik’tok countered. “There is something else going on here. We’ll ask uncle later when we have a chance.”
“And. . “ prodded Makkitu’q.
“And what?” Sinnik’tok responded. Rolling his eyes with impatience.
“What if he says he’s ancient?”
“Pshhh!” exclaimed her brother.
Sinnik’tok and Makkitu’q walked the ring of boulders at the base of the hill which marked the threshold, the perimeter of the protective area cast by the way tower which they had spent all day fixing. It was important that the boulder ring matched up with the extent of the threshold so that guests on the mound would know what was the safest extent they could move about the mound and be safe from shivers.
They were already attuned to the tower from working on it so marking the threshold pretty much came down to walking and scattering a dust made of tobacco, white willow bark, and yarrow where they thought the threshold should be. These cleansing herbs, in their hands, would be attracted to the clearing energies of the threshold and would fall along it, forming a line as though they were drawing with chalk.
As they walked the threshold three of the warriors from Ja’qolimaq’s party of BearWalkers came down to help them. They introduced themselves as Tu’Urok, Dal, and Nergui.
Tu’Urok was a large Urali, built solid like a northern pine and had walked the line four times.
Dal looked to be possibly Ge-Al. The heavy sarong that he wore over his pants had one of the patterns that marked a Ga-Al clanmember as did the way he wore the his hair in dreads. There was a duskiness to his skin, and darkness to his eyes and hair, that spoke of a possible mix with perhaps one of the Barata tribes which were just south of Ge-Al territory. He had walked the Line twice.
Nergui was Batu from Glass Lake which was due south of High Spire in the White Rim Mountains. She was square and powerful like a boulder with eyes as dark as garnets and sun weathered skin like dark honey. She wore her oily black hair in long thin braids that were wrapped around her head multiple times like a crown. She’d been in the White for years now and had walked the Line twice already. All had taken the path of the Bear. Sinnik’tok was always surprised how little Bearwalkers wore in the White compared to other people. They had a high tolerance for the cold.
After the first pass they found that the threshold had actually receded about four paces. That was normal, when a way-tower is badly damaged it takes some time for its flow of mysteries to expand the threshold fully. Even then, it would expand at night and recede during the day like a tide.
“Well. . “ Began Makkitu’q as she watched the stain of the powder spread into the snow at their feet. “Its a few paces. It’ll probably be back to normal tomorrow night after a full day in the sun. Should we bother? It’s a lot of work to move all these rocks and we don’t have much light left.”
“Absolutely,” offered Tu’Urok. “We’re already in Red Sky and Ganji-CutsMany says a storm is coming. We may not get enough sun to strengthen the tower and it may still be at this range after we leave. It is best to be safe.”
So they commenced the work of shifting the boulders. Luckily the BearWalkers training included developing skill with the mysteries of Body and Earth. Calling on the strength of Mahto the great bear they moved boulders weighing two or three hundred pounds as fast as farmers might moves small bales of hay. Sinnik’tok directed his own skill in the earth to cause the great stones to roll about like tumble weeds in a strong breeze.
As they worked Makkitu’q kept a sharp eye on the goings on atop the mound. There was a lot of hushed but heated discussion. She could see that both BrownFox and Aanu were sketching out plans in the snow and dirt at the top of the mound. What she would give to know what was being said. She fancied that this would be a time to know how to “make” in the way the Salduun do down south of The Divide with their strange contraptions. She’d heard tales about delicate things that look like dragonflies but made of gears and wood and could convey images back to the owner. Her skill was in the Principles and symbols though so there was little opportunity for eavesdropping with that. At least not yet. Old Kiirsi says there all things knew stories and had honor, even the stones. She said that are way to make the stones and trees speak what they’ve seen but she hadn’t taught Makkitu’q that skill yet.
The sun was just beginning to dip beyond the horizon, turning the red sky to deep shades of purple and indigo, when they got the last boulder in place.
“That wasn’t so bad was it?” Tu’Urok asked Sinnik’tok with a friendly pat on the shoulder. All the BearWalkers were sweaty and they seemed to be steaming in the cool air. Working the mystery of Body often raised the practitioner’s body temperature severely as a side effect of all of the strain they put their bodies under. One had to be careful for mishaps could leave a body harmed, twisted, or burnt out.
“We’re lucky we had you all to help,” returned Sinnik’tok. “And we’re done just in time. Look we’re being summoned.”
There was another warrior atop the mound beckoning for them to ascend. Sinnik’tok and the others climbed the mound. Once at the summit they could see that all the animals and all the packs had already been brought up, tethered, and camp had been prepared. The wind had picked up and a gentle flurry of snow was beginning to fall.
BrownFox was finishing the preparations on some sort of ritual area. Makkitu’q took careful stock of the markings. Since much of her connection to the Mysteries was connected to her ability to make and create, seeing how people in some of the orders and other mystical traditions did things, gave her new ideas on how and what to paint or make to get different effects.
This layout was an interesting combination of traditions she had seen used before. There was a circle painted in red paint on the snow and marked at the four cardinal directions with colored tobacco ties. These were just tobacco wrapped in different colored cloth. The tobacco ties which were common down south in the Shil when people were setting intentions or trying to cleanse an area.
In addition to the ties, there were some symbols used more often by the Ge-Al and the D’zul in their preparations for certain types of rituals that try to manipulate the Essences. The symbols invited assistance from the spirits of ancestors. In the D’zul territory they were often referred to as “kachiin” and the Ge-Al called them “sidhe gede.” Every Cailleach in Kaylt had an assembly of sidhe gede that helped them in matters relating to the traveling lands, the other realms beyond the “waking lands” which was the name used for the reality that most people used.
These particular symbols also opened the way to powerful Iktom, the spirits of creation that maintained the Weave within the Great Hoop. They were considered relatives of a sort, though very distant and very powerful. Most actually overlooked humans. Some pay attention because we are part of the threads they must weave. Others, if they give you their attention, are most likely using you as part of a greater weaving. It is wise to be very careful when dealing with Iktom, they operate from a set of rules very foreign to humans and the really powerful ones can change the rules outright.
Usually people seeking a little extra help with the mysteries might try to get the attention of the Graces instead of Iktom. The Graces were made of substance and spirit they were the closest spiritual relatives to humans and fought for them against the dark spirits called Sorrows. They taught us the ways of the Great Societies. If not the Graces, then the Songs who were the parents of the Graces and ancient greatest of grandparents for the people.
The problem with reaching out to the Songs and Graces is that the mysteries necessary for doing so were detectable by the Sorrows who might move to interfere. So risking the Iktom suggested that there was an attempt to do this thing relatively unseen. Going through all that trouble also suggested that someone thought there was an actual chance encounter with a Sorrow.
These symbols invited E’lgwa who was belived to be something of a trickster Iktom (then again all Iktom are tricksters of a sort) and a creator of doorways and Yema’la who is know to weave the space of shores and shoals. That let the participants know that they were about to do some sort of “Traveling” where they move from one realm to another.
Normally people would focus some portion of their “self of intent” and let that piece of their self “Flow” to the Traveling land where they would have a “Waking” and their conscious would walk in the new realm while the true body remained here in the so called “Waking Lands” or the “real world” to some. The presence of these support requests to Yema’la suggested that there would be an attempt to enter the traveling land known as Dream.
That was a called a “Stepping” where a doorway was created and one physically stepped into the other realm.
Opening doorways is always dangerous work. This actually looked like it was intended to be some weird combination of the two modes of travel. But for the life of her, Makkitu’q couldn’t tell what was supposed to open the doorway. This looked like it was made with the presumption that a doorway already existed and she saw none. Was the mound itself some sort of natural pathway between worlds? No, Makkitu’q was sure she would have noticed that earlier.
Makkitu’q’s analysis was cut short as everyone gathered close, Ganji-CutsMany addressed the group. “I hope you’re prepared for an intense night. Most of us will be entering Dream to seek consultation with MahtoWakan.”
“The rest of you,” he said gesturing to the group who had just come back from the Threshhold. “The rest of you will hold this way-mound, and the way-tower, and protect the passage that we create when we step to Dream.”
“We will anchor ourselves here with a medicine drum that will be played for the length of our excursion by M’nwtsa. He gestured to the other warrior who had remained on the hill with wicate-wa and the supplies. This warrior was about average height but had a certain burly thickness to them. There was a certain androgynous quality to M’nwtsa that Makkitu’q hadn’t noticed before. Then she saw the markings on the back of the warrior’s hands. M’nwtsa was neither man nor woman. They were both – two-spirited.
The marks were symbols of an order that some two-spirits seek out in the north. There is a mystic named Ayalo who gathers two-spirits and teaches them a path of mystery where they claim two-spirit as their nature and eschew the influence of male and female, opting to live as neither man or woman. It’s a powerful path that leads to great connections with the Principles and Essences but at the expense of the social trappings of normal gender activities. Makkitu’q made a mental note to get to know M’nwtsa when this was over. She would like to meet Ayalo.
“M’nwtsa will maintain a traveling song on the drum.” Cutsmany continued. “When you are not watching or fighting, help them sing. It will help us to find our way back should we get lost.”
“A doorway into Dream will be opened here.” He said, pointing at the ritual circle. “Myself and BrownFox will go through the doorway first to scout the Dreamside of this mound. You other five. . .” CutsMany gestured to Ja’qolimaq and the remaining four warriors will sleep and Flow into dream with the help of M’nwtsa’s medicine drum. Sinnik’tok and Makkitu’q, you and the other 3 will defend the hill.”
“What about Aanu?” asked Siniktok. “Where does he fit in all this?”
Brownfox, gave him that look again. “Aanu will open the doorway, of course, and lead us on the other side.”
Both Sinnik’tok and Makkitu’q looked to Aanu with surprise. “How? Aanu isn’t a caller. . .” offered Makkitu’q. “Are you?”
“No,” offered Aanu with a heavy breath. “I’m something else. I’ve got a talent that allows me to easily do something that’s hard with the Mysteries for most people but it comes as a second nature to me. It’s a bit like how it can be difficult to use the mysteries of the Body to make oneself able to breath water but a fish can do it with ease. In my case it’s stepping. Moving between the traveling lands is as easy for me as it is for you to leave your lodge and go outside. Dream in particular.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell us?” asked Sinnik’tok.
“The talent caused complications and I’ve made a lot of enemies over the years. It’s in your blood as well and I thought it best left alone in my descendants and not to draw attention to you.”
“And this stuff about being 100 years old?” asked Makkitu’q.
“That is incorrect. . .”
“That’s what I thought,” Sinnik’tok exclaimed with some satisfaction.
“I’m actually over 300 winters in this world.” Aanu offered in a matter of fact tone.
Sinnik’tok and Makkitu’q stood with eyes wide and mouth agape.
“There’s more,” Aaanu continued as he rose to take his place beside the Crow and the Dove. “I’m not your uncle. I’m your great grandfather, thrice over. I am your ancestor and tonight will most likely be our last night together as family so you will have to pay careful attention to what you learn before the sun rises.”