Line in the Snow: Part 4

The first thing worth noting when engaging in the practice of stepping is that it is a very rare ability possessed only by powerful wielders of the mysteries and not for the faint of heart. Most people have heard of stepping  but few have actually seen it done, and even fewer still ever experience it first hand.

Passing from one realm of existence to another exposes one to multitudes of moments where reality seems to just be awry. It’s hard for the traveler to stay focused because so many possibilities are glimpsed with every blink and it can severely disturb the mind. Those traditions that teach students how to step have all learned to give the steppers a focusing ritual, a song, or an object to help the stepper block out the intense distractions. All such thing are only partially successful and many a novice stepper goes mad and disappears careening into the spaces between, never to be seen or heard from again.

In all cases, no matter the focus, there is no way to prepare someone for the moment they are fully through, on the other side, in one of the traveling realms. While the travel certainly wears the mind it is no comparison to how immensely the arrival tugs on the heart.

It is said to be akin to being born.

All that you knew as comfort and surety is gone and you are suddenly in a place, in a body, that is alien, weird, and overwhelming carrying the pervasive sense that you did something wrong. That somehow the old world had abandoned you and the new place doesn’t want you. Even worse, sometimes the sensation is that the new space wants to consume or transform you.

The closer the traveling realm being entered is to the the so called “waking realm” the softer this effect is. It is easiest to step into the realm called the Road where traveling spirits go after death. It is right alongside and overlaps the waking realm at all times. Many are the stories of people who accidentally stumble into the Road under the right circumstances and the walls have grown thin. The Road tugs the heart and leaves a soft sensation of melancholy and loss.

Similarly the realm called Shadow is close and can be stumbled into. This has been known to happen in times of transition (dawn and dusk) when the shadows are longest. Shadow tugs at the heart leaving a strange sense of dread as well as a great curiosity, a hunger to know and be known.

In Dream the sensation is most intense. It is said to be both the closest and the furthest of traveling realms because it is in us all but we have to completely submit to access it. Stepping into dream is actually a deep journey within to arrive in forces that shape and direct the very essence of one’s heart. The steppers first exposure to dream is wild wonderful colors and lights and a wonderfully intense wave of joyousness and bliss and then it is gone, stolen. Not only do you feel out of place at that moment. You feel emptied. So much hope and wonder all around but you feel disconnected to it.

In most cases, even the stoutest warriors, are pulled to their knees and left shaking and sobbing. Tears flow freely as grief is purged. For some this lasts but moments, for others it can seem an eternity.

They call this experience “heart wracked.”

As the first three travelers emerged into dream the heart wrack took them and they lost their breath. Aanu quickly recovered his breath and stood by quietly and watch as Gangi and Brown Fox worked through the moment. Their struggle was severe. It seemed at first as though they’d be merely winded but all at once, with out warning, they collapsed into sobbing heaps. They seemed to glimmer and shimmer and bleed off wild colors from themselves, with every shuddering breath and every wail, spilling into the gentle iridescence of the world around them.

Alongside their sobbing could be heard the sound of M’nwtsa’s traveling song. It sounded as though it were drifting on the wind from far away. The song greatly helped the process.

As Ganji and BrownFox struggled to regained their composure the other warriors, the ones drifting into Dream from sleep, began to manifest. Led by Ja’qolimaq they slowly appeared like long forgotten memories suddenly realized.
While a stepper physically went from one realm to another, drifting was considerably more common. In drifting the traveler only extended a small portion of their essence into another realm and created a new form. Drifting was simultaneously similar to stepping and dreaming and dying. While your body lay in the waking realm in a trance maintained by the mind, the soul is released into the traveling land. The benefit was that it was a much more gentle process. It felt more like drifting off and awakening somewhere. None of the sudden harshness of stepping.
It did, however, require extensive ritual setup and left the body vulnerable. Also the form you had in the new realm was made of the stuff of that realm. This gave the energies of the realm a direct access to the travelers emotions. Staying too long would leave an effect on the drifter when they awakened. It was much like being drunk but the effects mirrored the nature of the realm. This effect is known as “drift bleed.”

The drift brought a brief period of disorientation for the manifesting warriors but they were soon composed and all turned their attention to Gangi and BrowFox.

“What has happened to them?” Ja’qolimaq asked with great concern as he stooped to peer at the heart wracked Crow.

“So many things are seen by those of the Great Societies in their lives in service of the peoples and they they hold so much of it inside.” Offered Aanu.

“Sorrow,” Aanu continued, “is forever a constant threat to them. Coming into Dream is cathartic but it physically upends them, letting all the trapped grief flow out. The pressure of containing everything is so great for them Dream flushes them.”

“What can we do for them?” asked M’saaw, one of the accompanying warriors.

“This is why I asked for the traveling song. We sing. We soothe them the same way we soothe a mother who’s child has gone too soon. We sing and we support them into stillness and quietude in the world. Like so. . “
Aanu knelt between the Crow and the Dove and begin to sing the traveling song, softly. It created a sort of conduit back to the waking lands and grounded them a bit. He placed a hand upon their backs, at their shoulders, and held it softly still. He continued the song.

After a moment, the other warriors followed suit. Placing hands on their shoulders and backs they attended them, singing the traveling song, until the two elders had quieted themselves and regained composure.

“Thanks to you my brothers,” Gangi expressed, his eyes still red with grief. “I’ve stepped before but had no idea this one would hit so hard.”

“It is because of Aanu,” BrownFox offered as she pulled her brown cloak up around her shoulders. “He is dreamborn. When he steps he doesn’t arrive on the shores of Dream like most mysteries would place you if you used them. When he steps he returns home, deep in the heart of Dream.”

“It is a bit more complicated than that.” Aanu said as he stood back up, absently smoothing his clothes which had been transformed to something considerably more colorful and not at all suiting the cold weather they came from.

“Yes I’m dreamborn but more importantly I’m a gatherer.” Looking around he could see the confusion forming on the faces of Ja’qolimaq and the other warriors.

“Most people come into the world as spirits via the Road, through the womb, and awaken as children at birth. Dream born actually get redirected and enter Dream first where their spirit grows. We later finds passage to the world and then are born into the world. We are liminal and belong to both realms. Our spirits never enter the world through the womb because of the time we spend in Dream. We just wake up one day after our bodies have been born. The bodies we awaken into are typically those of children who appear to have been still born.”

“Sometimes,” interjected BrownFox. “When you meet someone who is dreamborn they have terrible burn scars. That’s because the families had already begun a funerary pyre and were burning the baby when the spirit entered. It’s one of the reasons the Doves always advise waiting at least 4 days before placing a stillborn on a pyre.”

Aanu helped BrownFox up and continued his explanation. “While we live in the world like most people, our realm home is in Dream. Whenever a dreamborn returns to Dream we return to our own personal Dream heart. That central most sense of self and joy that connects to your great love in the world.

“Most dreamborn don’t realize that they are dreamborn, or the ability to return to dream, until they find a great love. That opens them up and dream floods into them and they get pulled back in the undertide of that dream flow. We become a breach into our own dreaming. A wonderful strange essential redundancy. For men, women and two-spirits that is a similar experience it’s a great joy. Really painful the first time, but a great joy.

For gatherers it’s different. Gatherers have a multitude of great loves, known and unknown. We can always feel them when in the waking lands. When we come to our dream heart the first time its as if you’re entering all of those hearts at once and, in truth, you are. A gatherer’s dream heart is made of the overlap of all of those they’re connected to. That first connection drops you into an explosion of dream. You’re realizing all of those possibilities at once. The longer you live, the greater and more intense it gets. And I’ve lived lifetimes. As a gatherer, everyday, there is a chance someone is born into the world who is part of your dream.

“It’s intense bliss for me but can be terrifying to others because they’re not use to being so open ended and having such a continuous flow coming end. It makes your heart feel like it’s going to explode and your head is full of noise and whispers. It’s how I feel all the time, everywhere I go. I can hear them inside me murmuring. Sometimes I am assailed by laughter or tears with no warning and it’s because of something one of them is experiencing. I can reach them in their dreams but, until I’ve met them in person, I’m just a notion.”

“Why didn’t you warn us about that?” demanded BrownFox.

Aanu turned to face her, looking deep into her root colored eyes and focused his gaze. “You came to me. You seemed to know everything about me. I thought you knew,” Aanu followed that with a wry smile. “Next time Grandmother Sesse gives you a mission, get the fine details before you run off.”

There was an uncomfortable silence between the two of them for a moment. BrownFox was not accustomed to being talked to like a child but she recognized the seniority of Aanu’s wisdom.

“As fascinating as all that is,” interrupted Ganji, “We did come here for a reason? Yes?” he asked casting a sideways look at BrownFox pulling her out of the moment.

“Um, yes. The great bear — Mahtowakan! Aanu, I need you to take us to the dreaming around the waytower. I can call to the Mahtowakan from there.”

Just as she finished the words the multicolored space around them melted away and they found themselves standing on the waymound, beside the waytower. In Dream it looked as though they were inside of a great painting of some sort of snow globe made of heavy swirling brush strokes. Small colorful ripples moved around them sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. At the center was a pulsing blast of color that spilled out and cascaded through the scene around them.

“What are those?” Ja’qolimaq inquired.

“Those are our companions guarding us. The rhythmic pulse is M’nwtsa’s drum as they play the traveling song for us. The shell you see surrounding us is the threshold of the Waytower.”

“It’s so colorful.” Ja’qolimaq observed. “It looks like we’re in some strange southern style sand painting.”

“We can admire the dream later. We must focus. Who knows what dangers our comrades must face while we sleep.” Cautioned BrownFox.

“Gather around me. I have a song to call the great bear. But we don’t know what else it may attract.”
The group circled up and Aanu produced a hand drum from seemingly nowhere and began to play a soft steady rhythm and BrownFox sang.

Grandfather bear come stand by my side.
I am small and the snow will engulf me.
Lend me your fat to warm my belly.
With warm belly I’ll stand through the night.

Grandfather bear come stand by my side.
I am small and the snow will engulf me.
Lend me your shirt to warm my body.
With a warm body I’ll stand through the night

Grandfather bear come stand by my side.
I am small and the snow will engulf me.
Lend me your claws to slash at the darkness
With claws I’ll slay shivers through the night.

Grandfather bear come stand by my side.
I am small and the snow will engulf me.
Lend me your strength to push through the snow.
With strength I’ll lead the people through the night.

Grandfather bear come stand by my side.
I am small and the snow will engulf me.
Lend me your rage to stand against evil.
With rage I’ll roar until the sun shines through.

She sang this song four times facing each direction ending with the fifth verse facing the direction she’s started in. Though it seemed impossible to tell north from south or east or west they were sure that the direction that was the coldest was a good starting point.

Her voice was fluid and strong like loons on a crisp autumn evening, and it carried far into the swirling iridescence of dream. When she was done the area seemed even more quiet.

“Now we announce with our spears and wait,” she instructed.

They all stood still and tall facing the cold and pounded the butts of their spears into the ground. Four strikes then pause then four strikes again. They maintained this rhythm over and over again for a time.

After a while there was a rumbling and the snow and earth before them began to rise up into what seemed to be a mass of roots and branches that pulsed like the belly of some sleeping beast.

The mound continued to grow and gain mass. When it was taller than the hill the travelers stood on, what appeared to  be great black branches began to erupt from the center of the mass, sending snow and earth swirling all about.
As they watched in awe, first one branch, then another unfolded and stretched out and began to obscure the sky. What was awakening before them was most certainly not the great bear.

This was altogether different. It was older and much grander. Its motion and growth seemed to tug at the very fabric of Dream itself causing the the world around it to warp and twist. The threads of the mysteries around them could be seen and seemed to loosen around the growing form. It didn’t take long for them to realize that spirit being revealed before them was an iktom — on of the first of the beings to walk in the world when it was born in ancient times. What appeared to be branches, blocking out the sky were its legs unfolding and manifesting in this reality.

The great spidery spirit continued to unfold and twist until a giant thing of legs and shadows loomed before them dwarfing the hill. Six powerful appendages held it high over them while two more pulled, twisted, and weaved at threads of stuff that looked like stars and night and fire which it seemed to be pulling from the very stuff of dreams all around the travelers.

The great spirit’s back was to the travelers. It appeared to be ignoring them as it continued the process of weaving and reweaving the dream around them all.

Suddenly a voice erupted from it like harsh wind through a hollow log. The sound was so powerful it vibrated through them and made their legs and arms ache.

“You waste your breath young ones.” It announced. “Mahtohwakan is no longer here.”

“Great grandfather,” began BrownFox, her voice unsteady. “We have nothing but gratitude that you come to help us.”

“Help you? Ha! You make so much noise with your singing and your thumping. I want to send you on your way so that I might go about my business. The little blood clot people always make so much noise.”

“We are sorry to disturb you. . .” BrownFox offered.

“Disturb me? Did I say you disturbed me? You are not so important as to disturb me. You merely have my attention as do myriad other things in existence. You have not yet seen me disturbed. I assure you it is something that you do not wish to experience.”

There was a tone in its voice that put everyone on edge. BrownFox was reminded that she must choose her words carefully when dealing with the iktom. They are mercurial at best and their interests are not those of humans. Though they are relatives, they see their human cousins as but more thread to be woven in the maintenance of existence.

“We are honored that you would acknowledge our call. . .” Brownfox offered but was interrupted.
“Enough of your niceties! I am E’legwa, opener of ways and revealer of possibilities. I see the paths the threads of existence lay out for you as the Great Hoop turns. There are paths that must be traveled and I would show you but you must decide which to walk.

“I have come because you named me in your ritual and gave me honor. Your songs, while not as complex as those of my people, are pleasant to listen to. I see the threads of mystery that are woven around you and know that you can be of service.

“But as I look upon you am find myself unimpressed. You wrote my symbol and called my name. Now that you see me your knees quake and you piss yourselves? Is this what the children of Myndil have come to? You once seemed so mighty and full of vigor. Can you be of service to me?”

There was silence among the lot. A nervous silence. That was a dangerous question. Iktom are crafty and full of tricks to achieve their weavings. Nothing is more important to them than a weaving they have undertaken.

“Yes, grandfather.” It was Aanu who finally spoke. “We come from the the many nations of the waking land to walk the line. We are stalwart and made of the proud stuff of our mothers and fathers and their mothers and fathers before them.”

The iktom turned and looked, considering Aanu for a moment. “I see you Aanu Who Dreams Himself. We have had dealings before. Will you vouch for these humans? These chattering clots of blood. Can they be of service to the turning of the hoop?”

“I am honored by your acknowledgment grandfather E’Legwa. Yes. These people have come a long way to solve a problem. They can be of service to the world if they can find the problem that will come to pass.”
The iktom considered Aanu once more. Only one eye actually gazed upon him but it brought a weight upon that made Aanu’s legs feel weak and caused the others to hold their breath. It considered Aanu for a long time, as though he had said something displeasing and the iktom was trying to decide to strike him down for it or maybe just to laugh.

“There are Sorrows moving about in the cold nights of the White. Three threads are woven against the waking lands. Winter after winter you little warriors have gathered to hold the line against the shiver hordes and to to protect

Dream Watching Temple beneath which lies the S’Ahmpho, Woe of Hungry Madness.

While the maidens of frost have maintained the temple well there is a stirring deep in the darkness of the earth. A curse has entered the world from beyond the Weave and bears a discordant song that resonates with the S’Ahmpho causing it to stir. Inciting it to bleed forth darker and stronger shivers from the depths of its madness.

One moon ago a manifestation of the curse crawled up from the deep dark ice. It began to hunt and feed upon the children of Mahtowakan, growing stronger as it bathed in their blood and wore their flesh. This has drawn the wrath of Mahtowakan who has gone to do battle with the source and save his children. Unfortunately Mahtowakan is blinded by his rage and is walking into a trap. His rage will feed the thing beneath making it stronger.

The dissonance of this curse also calls out to the Winter Crone Sorrow, awakening her from slumber in Hoary Witch Tower. She cannot yet escape but she calls to her servants who also sleep within the ice. They will move among the shivers but do not mistake them for such. They are far more dangerous.”

As E’Legwa spoke Ja’qolimaq noticed spots of darkness beginning to surround the mound. At first there were only one or two, like flickering shadows, but more were appearing by the dozens.

“What are these shadows?” he whispered to Aanu.

Aanu grimaced. “Shivers. Their perverseness disturbs Dream and makes the shadows you see. Let’s hope our friends are up to the fight. We should end this soon and return to help them.”

“Your companions will live or die on their own skill,” countered E’Legwa. “You gave them your trust, now leave it to them. You must pay heed to my instructions.”

“If you are to be of service then you must fulfill a great many things. First you must return to the Urali and send forth the call for the gathering of the line. The curse disturbs the weather and great storm is gathering. It will block out the sun for days and cause the long night to come early.

“Second you must prepare to fend off the servants of the crone. Even now, they gather, snaking across the White, drawn to the curse, and eventually, to the the crone herself. Once long ago she reveled in the beauty of her hair which she used to control and slay her enemies. When K’sa, the wise battled her it tore out her hair, casting the strands to the four directions. This severely reduced her power allowing for her to be contained. The strands of th witch’s hair are alive however and continue to haunt the world. It has been long enough since they were last seen that most have forgotten about them.

“The strands of the Winter Crone Sorrow are deadly and hard to overcome. However, because of connection to the Twisted One, the crone was never a maiden and was denied the power of the a woman’s moon. This makes the cleansing blood of a maiden dangerous to the strands and it burns them like the sun burns shivers. This is why the Frost Maidens are the only society of warriors to know her prison and keep it safe.

Like the BearWalkers of the north and the Red Pale of the south, these Frost Maidens draw strength from the fire of their blood and their moon traditions are exceptionally effective. Seek them out. They can help you to destroy the strands and calm the curse.

“Third, as I have mentioned before, you must find the curse and calm it and send it from this world. It will grow stronger as the long night progresses. The night will not end until this curse is removed. Find it and cast it out of the Weave. If you cannot, then call me to it and I will undo it myself.”

“How will we know the curse?” asked BrownFox.

“It has taken the form of a filthy shaggy bear-thing of shadows and rot. It is what Mahtohwakan has gone to fight. He cannot defeat it however, as he is. The great bear is useful but is also stubborn and willful. I wish that you keep it from being destroyed. If you should fail at that then you must at least acquire his heart and return it to me.

“Though I glimpse it, I cannot see the curse myself, because it comes from beyond the weave. I can, however, see the devastation it causes. I will gift you visions that you can lead you to its trail until you can see it for yourself. Open yourselves to me and receive my weavings”

With that E’Legwa peered into the dreamers and poured forth its seeings.

Allen Turner

Writer, Storyteller, Game designer, Teacher, Dad, Table-top RPG geek. I'm just a dude who likes to share my wild imaginings. Follow me on Twitter @CouncilOfFools

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