The Long Journey.

©2021 Michael Raven

The pools were not made for enjoyment. Not deep enough to swim in, too somber to splash in. Yet, the lack of frolic confused one of the attendants.

“Why do none play in the water?”

I respond. “These are to wash away the dust of the world, not for play.”

Having thus announced their purpose, I waded into the waters, clothed, as made sure to soak myself before exiting the pools and letting myself into the rune-covered halls of the ancients. I was dry before I passed the first arch. Such is the manner of those pools.

The attendant watched as I entered, both in awe at my audacity, and in shock because I had not been stopped either at the pools or the threshold, as had so many other pilgrims who had came and been turned away at the gates.

The ancients like to see gaudy trappings, to remind them of who they once were. We humor them; they’d be content with rough-hewn cabins and furniture, if only we quit spoiling them. They’d be happy knowing we were keeping them alive — the grandiose nature of their dwelling is just icing on a dry, crumbling cake.

I entered the great hall and there stood Old Grim, with his wolves, his birds, and his spear. He could find use for thrones when it suited, but he knew such glamours were unimpressive to me. “You finally found your way here,” he said without a hint of surprise.

“It was only a matter of time,” I replied.

“It won’t last,” he informed me, deadpan. Information only, and mostly useless knowledge at that. “You’ll have to find this place again. It will not be in the place you found it before.”

“Such is the ways of the dreaming,” I replied with a shrug, and he nodded.

“You are finally catching on,” he replied. One bird, then the second, laughed. It was meant to humble me, mock me, but I’ve grown used to their laughter and I smiled. My smile cut them off, as they quickly saw there would be no sport with me at this time.

“Here,” he said, handling me his spear. “You’ll need this. There will be eyes you must pierce before you can see.” He grinned. “Just don’t pierce the wrong eyes, boy, or you might be apt to walk off the edge of the precipice.”

His laughter filled the air, wolves joining in with loud howls at they took to nipping my heels and the birds exploded in a flurry of feathers. Somewhere in the chaos, I’d lost sight of Grim and his companions, and found myself teetering on the edge of a cliff. Wind-milling my arms, one holding a spear, I stumbled back away from the edge and landing on my ass in the dirt.

The pools and the temple were gone, as was Old Grim, his companions and the spear, save for the fading remnants of his laughter and a warmth in my hand where I’d recently held the wood shaft.

I stood up, brushed myself off and peered over the edge. Below was the city I’d come from with a disused path leading to it. I walked the path downwards, knowing the hill I’d just been on was fading behind me. The warmth grew in my palm and I found myself curious as to what talisman would appear there once it had set.

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