Visions of the Dead
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The first experience I felt was a lurching sensation followed by horrible vertigo. It felt like falling but in no discernible direction. The experience lasted for what seemed like eternity but it was part of a gradual transition. My mind became slowly aware of locations and places adjacent to the world we know but imperceptible by normal means. Then, consciousness returned and I found myself in the place where I died, the cistern reservoir beneath Dashport. There was something wrong; I could perceive everything but it was out of sync. Like seeing and hearing the world displaced, as if through water. I was also aware of space and things beyond my field of vision and hearing as if there were an entire world within the periphery. I realized suddenly that I was inside the Veil. I did not see my friends or my body, but I did see a large amorphous form bobbing in the water, it was the albino crocodile which killed me. Also, what sounded like hundreds of gibbering voices floated to my ears from a long distance. I could not possibly describe from where the voices issued, not ahead or behind, not to the sides, above, nor below, simply…beyond, and what’s more is that I began to think that I could find the voices and travel to them if need be.
However, I had always been told that souls severed from their bodies shined with a light in the afterlife and the brother of Tyr, Necros came to collect them if he saw that light; otherwise they fall prey to the demons and evil spirits which lurk beyond the Veil. I had no way of knowing how to find my way back to this place, or even this world if I strayed after these voices. They seemed to be a crowd involved in every sort of interaction possible, conversation, weeping, cries of anguish, anger, despair, exaltations of joy, and triumph. Some were paired, some grouped, and still others solitary. Some echoed as if within a hall or cathedral, some sounded as if spoken against a wall, and others sounded as if they were flat, featureless, as though they were standing upon a still plain.
I stood on one side of the chamber. The ladder was on another. I could not feel the floor beneath me, nor did I feel myself standing upon a surface, I only remembered standing there and it was that memory which held me to that place. I attempted to move from where I was but found that walking was not known to me anymore. I existed apart from ideas such as locomotion. I attempted to focus upon the ladder, but the harder I concentrated on my surroundings, the more flimsy and ephemeral it all seemed. The reality lay in the Beyond, in that place just outside of my normal perceptions. As I concentrated on reaching the ladder, with those distant cacophonous voices constantly murmuring amongst themselves, my perceptions gradually shifted. I’d been going about it all wrong. The ladder was in another place in the physical realm; to me, it might as well have been right before me. I did not move, I had no arms with which to reach out and grasp, but I did not need them. The memory of climbing ladders in these sewers was still strong and it was this memory which I bent to my will.
I found myself climbing a cistern ladder, but I could not be sure which one I was climbing: the one where I died or the one from my memory. I remember thinking “Perhaps they are the same.” Or, perhaps I was in another part of the tunnels. I could observe my surroundings but I could not be sure that what I saw was in fact where my spirit was in relation to the physical realm, or if it was just a memory of where I had been. So, I conjured the memory of being on the streets of Dashport and thus I was there. I knew where I was, before the gates of Kenneth Mansion. It was midday but the skies were dark, and rain fell upon the cobbles. The gates swung in the storm but I could tell that the mansion had been completely burnt to the ground. No one walked the streets. The rain did not fall upon me, not unless I remembered how rain felt, and that was becoming harder. The weather felt more like illusion than reality, and it is difficult to believe in illusion once glimpsed behind the curtain. The task at hand, though was not remembrance but of deliberation. I knew that I must go to the Arcane Order, but I was not sure how.
I focused on the streets and alleys of the hazy, indistinct city. I remembered the route to the towers but not the journey, not entirely. After much difficulty I refocused on the image. I accepted that the city was not real to me, but it did have dimension, and I could trace the lines and contours of its dimension as one traces his finger upon the canvas of a painting, concentrating on one point at a time. At first it was slow and difficult, frustrating when the infinite points of view seemed to bleed together as one. Also, I was trying to be careful not to slip from my vantage in the physical realm. The more I focused on it the smaller it seemed, like a parchment floating aloft in the air with an infinite expanse on all sides into which I might have tumbled. To remain close enough to navigate the physical realm required the same focus as walking a narrow beam, or following a light trail through a thick wood, I knew I must not move even an inch without fixing the next in my perception lest I wander into the Beyond. Finally, I was standing at the courtyard.
There was no angry mob there like there was before, which was how I knew it was no memory, but there were men, and horses, and their spirits. I perceived their spirits as distinct and clear entities, unlike the rest of the physical world, but they were intangible, removed from me. All that I felt was the dull sensation of their ambient emotions emitting from them like faint odors upon a light breeze. All except for one of them, who moved within a group of men that were carrying my body. His mind and feelings spilled forth like a font. They were emotions felt and remembered, memories of people: me, my friends, strangers, his mother and sister, places and experiences shared and foreign to me. All these things came forth like blood from an open wound, leaving a rapidly fading trail behind. He was Teldar, and he was trying to restore my life, and he was afraid. Another of the men was not like the others; his spirit was like a fierce blaze sending glowing embers spiraling out in all directions, especially into the Beyond. His spirit had a familiar identity, for he was Sylvnan, but the nature of his spirit was alien, not of the same stuff as mine or the other men…and it was powerful.
They moved into the towers; I tried to follow but there were entities lurking within the courtyard. Entities which were distinct and tangible to me, they glared at me and moved to bar my way as I attempted to follow my friends. They had form, huge bestial forms with talons and teeth, and keen eyes. They had thought and emotion, and they warned me that I may not enter without the Right of Passage. They were not hostile, but they were tenacious. The creatures said that they were the wards of this place; they were bound by honor to keep out the uninvited. They communicated freely with me, but they would not allow me past.
I communicated my desires and the importance of them to the great creatures. I knew that it was of the utmost importance that I retain my sense of Self. The Wardens immediately cautioned me not to cling to the affairs of the earthly realm too tightly. They said that such obsessions bring many souls to ruin and corruption. Nevertheless, they said that it was not within their domain to grant entrance to the premises. The Wardens were cold and unsympathetic, “Only the living may call upon spirits, spirits do not summon the living.” If I wished entrance to the outpost I needed the Right of Passage; I must be summoned from within. If I were bidden by the magi I would be allowed past. Many spirits had sought entry and always with a need; some sought to be returned to life, others sought only mischief. Demons had come in disguise to invade by deception, or by force and all had been repelled. They were bound by honor not to allow me within, and they hadn’t the ability to speak with the magi unless called upon, even if they did I doubted that they would bother unless instructed to by the magi. In an uncharacteristic gesture of altruism the Wardens suggested that I might find a benefactor, an entity who could travel to the physical realm or somehow contact the magi within, and who would be willing to aid me or with whom I could barter. They hadn’t the power to repel those in the physical realm, and there were certain entities which possess the ability to communicate from afar.
I spoke to them, “I do seek to deliver a message. Where might I find such a medium?”
They replied, “There was a time when such entities roamed freely in this realm. Most were opportunists without honor, seeking to exploit naive mortals who did not understand their power. The Faerie have many who travel between the worlds, and magicks that could help you, but they seem to have retreated from this part of the world into their own kingdom. A short time ago some creatures sought entry to the towers and were denied. They also enjoyed talking. They were attempting to enter the physical world and wished a sorcerer to conjure them. These beings said that they had attempted visiting the Faerie but were denied. The Faerie did not want these beings to know why, but the fickle and aloof Fey tend to speak idly when they believe none are listening. The Fey said that their Queen was ill and all of Faerie was in danger and so, in a panic, all of Faerie has retreated out of the lands of men.”
“Joram Param,” I asserted, “and if not he, then Methos Shane. They could aid me, if I can only find one of them. Is it possible to locate specific living beings, and then go to where they are in the physical realm without being summoned to them?” The wardens seemed perplexed by my question. They did not know of whom I was speaking but they said that if they were known to me, then I had a connection to them only as strong as my memory. “You have but to ‘remember’ these men and your memory will be manifest. Be warned little spirit, be mindful and wary. If you can trust these men, then they may aid you. Also child, you must take care to manifest your memories in such a way as to be with these men now and not as they once were. Do not become obsessed, for the erring soul which cannot let go of its past shall be doomed to walk this realm in torment. The next task before you shall be to communicate with the living; no easy feat, we assure you. You haven’t the power to affect the physical realm unless you steal it. There is power to be had, but it is infectious. Souls trifling with such forces can be overcome and corrupted into abominations which seek only to destroy the living. If you must, draw on this power only as a last resort. We urge you to find some other power source.”
They went on, “There may be men who might be able to help. Some men use magicks to be aware of spirits near to them and may wish to help. Beware soul, some men seek to capture spirits and use them for dark purpose. Alas, there are few options in this time for you. A long time ago, spirits such as yours who had been recently disembodied might petition the Keeper, who is known as Abaddon in the Netherrealm and Necros to mortals in this part of the world. The magi call him Azag-Tot but he was called away some time ago when the troubles started and no longer performs that function. Abaddon left the Elohim to protect and shepherd souls but they have dwindled so much that the last left this realm soon before the Emissary arrived. They too have been called back to the Netherrealm and so the spirits of mortals are left to wander and dispair.”
“Abaddon is bound by a Pact more ancient than this world to keep the Key of the Black Earth. This is the key to the Seven Gates of Ereshkigal, Queen of the Damned. Since the time of the Annunaki, the Elder Gods, the Gates have been locked. When the troubles started, Abaddon immediately took up his Key and left to stand by his post in the heart of the Great Spire, that link between the Netherrealm and the dark realm of Shol where the Sea of the Absu dwells. What happened was this, somehow one of the gates had been unsealed and the children of the Ancient Ones, who are called Demons by men may now enter the Netherrealm and may now walk, crawl, slither, and fly freely. More of the Gates have unsealed since then and given more and more of the Absulu’s children access to the Netherrealm. With the opening of each Gate, the Elohim retreat from this world to battle the onslaught of the Demonic Horde. The Sixth was opened a short time ago, it was foreseen and a tremendous battle ensued between the Elohim and the Demons. Most of the Infernals were driven back under the Great Spire to Shol but in the confusion, one of the surviving Absulu got out and made it to this realm, the Emmissary. With that, all of the Elohim and the other children of the Annunaki have been called to the Gates to battle the Demons and try to subdue them or at least slow down their emigration. The battle has become one of attrition and the Elohim know that soon the Seventh Gate will be unbarred; then, and only then, may Abaddon relock the Seven Gates, these are the terms of the Pact.”
I paled a bit (if such a thing is possible for a spirit) after their description of the state of the Netherrealm. “So Necros is complying with the terms of the Pact by waiting until the Seventh Gate of Erishkigal is unbarred, at which point he will relock them all with the Key of the Black Earth.”
“That is correct. Abaddon, or Necros if you will, does not have leave to relock the Gates until the Seventh is unbarred. He awaits this time at the Great Spire.”
“Is this place also known as the Axis Mundi?” I asked.
“Yes soul, the magi call it thus. Your ancestors called it Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Others here have called it the Cinvat Bridge.”
“Are the Gates of Erishkigal all located at the Great Spire?”
“The Seven Gates are all to be found in the land of the Black Earth where Ishtar set her mind, to ’...the Land of No Return, to the Land of Queen Ereshkigal, the Land of Kutha forever unlit. Where bowls of clay are heaped upon the altar, and where bowls of dust are food of residents clothed only in wings.’ The realm of Shol is deep beneath the Mount of the Axis Mundi and it is there that our ancestor, the plumed serpent, Ninnghizhidda once stood as Watcher.”
I continued to ask questions, “What do you know of the manifestations of the soul among the men who came here recently, particularly, the…different one? I sensed power in it that I do not understand.”
“We come from the line of the Watchers, creations of the Annunaki. We are young and it has been four generations since the original Watchers were brought forth from the Ether and the Annunaki vanished long before our First Wake. All who entered were men, except for one. The powerful one is in the form of a man but is unlike you and the others, it is unlike us, it is unique. It is fashioned from a part of something greater, something that pulls its energy back. You must have perceived this, the pull. We do not know what it is. It feels older than even we. We have known other beings which have similar origins; the Elohim, for example. All have been fashioned by the First Power, the power of the First of the Annunaki, our grandfather, Enki. It likely is not aware of itself, yet. It has been through more than one Wake and is freshly incarnate.”
Curious, I asked them, “If you please, what is this ‘Wake’ of which you speak?”
“Our kind does not always see and walk. When our function is fulfilled we sleep until called back into form. When we are once again given form we Wake. Our last Wake was some time ago, after the troubles began. We shall not speak of when next we shall sleep, that is our mystery.”
I continued to probe, “Do you know of the group known as Equitis de Acontia, and what role they play in all of this?” They replied, “We know them not.” I provided what little I knew, “They are completing a ceremony…soon, that we believe has something to do with the Seventh Seal. Perhaps they will even accomplish its sundering.”
They replied, saying, “We know not of ceremony or Seals; nor of their sundering. If you mean that this Seal is connected to the Seven Gates then its sundering would mark the fulfillment of the Pact and would grant Abaddon permission to once again relock the Gates, ending this turmoil in the Netherrealm and trapping the children of Absu in their dark prison.”
“We do not envy you, soul. The Netherrealm is not a safe place for spirit or creature in this time. Something horrible has happened, and the Netherrealm is in turmoil. Travel carefully, and be wary.” Just then, the Wardens were startled by something. I was also aware of the presence of three new entities moving through the Veil from the Beyond. They were not spirits; they had indistinct forms and moved freely between the realms. They moved within the towers and were beyond your perceptions. The Wardens say that they were called the Ushers. “They have other names on your world, but they are the stewards of all places between. On occasion they are summoned by the magi; recently they have been summoned quite frequently. They are ambivalent and only perform the functions they are bound by. You will have no way of reasoning with the likes of them.” This was all that they had to tell me at that moment. They remained at their posts and were more than willing to speak with me, because they rarely got visitors who were so skilled at “conversation.”
However, I decided that I really needed try to contact Methos. Since Param believed he was heading towards Dashport in the near future, I concentrated on Methos as I knew him, the insatiably curious investigator, and tried to link that with the physical manifestation of his shop there in Dashport. I looked to see if the letter from Param was undisturbed (beyond our own meddling). I tried to “feel” for any manifestations left by Methos intending to follow them if they lead me away from the shop. If they did not, I was willing to patiently await his arrival.
As we had visited Shane Antiquities just the day before, the memory was still fresh in my mind. It had not changed since, and so I found myself there, standing before the storefront. The rain had intensified and a bitter wind had come in from the coast. The shingle bucked and clattered on its hinges and rain trickled down in rivulets over the tiny sections of window glass. I observed the storefront and noticed how much less formidable it seemed since last I was there. The walls were thin and did not extend far; they only existed in the physical plane. I could get around them if I concentrated. I had never been inside the shop, and so I could not manifest myself there, but as with moving in the city, if I focused on the facade and did not shift my perception, I could move into the Beyond and use this particular “point” in the physical realm for orientation, much like backing up to get a better view.
Then, remaining just at the Edge of the Veil, where the Netherrealm meets the physical realm, I might attempt to move “around” the walls. I had infinitely more points of view from which to observe, and I could easily have forgotten where the store was had I taken my “eye” off of it, like a needle in a cosmically huge haystack. I did so, focusing on that place in the physical realm, summoning up all of my concentration to maintain a belief in the ‘reality’ of its existence. The storefront was not “real” to me, but like the rest of the world it had form and dimension. By keeping it in the center of my perception I slowly “backed away” from it; I retreated in tiny increments away from the physical world, constantly retaining my focus.
The Beyond called to me the closer I moved into it, the cacophony of voices grew louder and I was subtly aware of beings and movement there “behind” me. Inching through the haze of the Veil I felt the Netherrealm grow closer and closer until I suddenly experienced an onslaught of sensations: a warm, dry breeze, the smell of ozone with occasional wafts of brimstone, formaldehyde, and rich soil. I heard the whistling of what sounded like wind rushing over the top of a large chimney, ambient rose-colored light seemed to issue from the Beyond but not into the Veil and its source was outside my perception so long as I remained focused on the physical. I halted immediately, knowing that if I withdrew any more from the physical I would become immersed in the Netherrealm.
I blocked out all other perceptions except those focused on the storefront and then I saw it for what it really was, a composite. I perceived the storefront as many individual pieces instead of one great shape; from that vantage I could perceive all three dimensions of each brick, glass pane, grain of mortar, wooden plank, iron fitting, nail, and mote of dust simultaneously. Observing them I saw that while in the physical realm there was no perceivable space between all of these elements, beings in the spirit realm may observe that each brick had infinite space between it and the mortar which seemed to bind them together. By tracing the contours of these objects I could focus on the opposite sides of them, the sides facing the interior of the store and then, with this new point of view in focus I once again moved within the Veil drawing closer to the physical realm. Then I was inside the store; I perceived the interior, the table, chairs, bottle of wine (it was Kent burgundy, a good year too), and the letter, it had not been moved since Sylvnan replaced it.
I extended my perceptions to the rest of the premises. Using the same methods as before for tracing the dimensions of the physical realm and observing the space between I moved through the building; there was a back space for storage of things, crates and boxes full of all manner of exotic and some arcane items. Books were predominant there, and there was a concealed back door to the alley as well as a hatch in the floor leading down into a subterranean chamber. This chamber connected to a part of the sewer which was unfamiliar to me; in here there were great monolithic slabs of marble upon which was carved writing I could not bring into focus, because the haze of the Veil was too murky.
There were also object of great Power on display within magical barriers, barriers which extended into the Veil so that I could not circumvent them. I observed the upper floors and found a small but lavish apartment. There was a writing desk whose drawers I could not penetrate because of the same enchantments as before. Also, there appeared to be a small being which existed in the Veil much as the Wardens did. It had form and dimension and appeared as a small serpent of living flame. It was unintelligent and appeared bound to the drawers of the desk. It hissed and spat at me as I drew close. Another of these creatures was bound to a footlocker by the bed which was also warded against observation from the Veil. I could not sense Methos, however, only the two feisty flame serpents who grew calm when I obviously meant them no harm. So, there I waited.
After what seemed like another eternity, I heard a call that I could not resist. Answering the call, I found myself alive and in your company once again.