Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Soul Chaser - Chapter Six - Trial of Water

Soul Chaser - Chapter 6 – Trial of Water – Draft one

I awoke to the world from dreams of starry skies, full moons and mountain tops. I regretted it with a loud groan, rubbing my eyes clear of the dreams still lingering in my mind like the fog of dawn. My entire body ached like I had done a four hundred kilometre run over and over again throughout the night. I was a good runner when I was mortal and lived as a human. It was my means of escape from the worries and troubles of everyday life. I wish my new life was so simple I could go for a jog and be care-free afterwards but my legs at that moment were protesting at the very thought of moving. Looking slowly around me I realised I was on a basic bed in a large roofed tent of leather and cloth. A table on the opposite side had a wax candle flickering its light over a wooden bowl of what smelled like stew. A smaller dish of bread was beside it.
    I lifted myself up on my arms, grimacing on clenched teeth at the tightness of my shoulder muscles. I knew they didn’t get this sore from a run. I staggered a few steps on my feet towards the table, snatching the bowl and plate and roughly sitting back onto the bed, before me and food landed on the floor. The food was as delicious as the mead of poetry and song in my mouth, I ate like a pig I admit, tearing huge chunks from the bread dunking it and my fingers into the warm stew and shoving it into my mouth. I groaned with the delight of it all for I was unexplainably ravenous. The meat was delicious pork just flaking away in my mouth, the gravy was proper meat gravy full of the tasty juices of the cooked flesh and the vegetables were soft and equally tasty.
The meal was gone in less than five minutes. It had given me new strength and awareness though but all I could remember was being taken from my duties at Odin’s hall. I stopped, the thought of poison clenching tight my stomach but in another breath I dismissed it. Surely if they wanted to kill me they would have done so by now? No, my kidnappers had other plans for me, they at least wanted me alive judging by the conditions of my capture. I heard voices and footsteps outside the tent so I urged my feet, one after the other, to lead me to the entrance and outside into the warmth of the morning sunshine.
    Before me gathered in a small circle around a dying fire were the nine Elder Valkyries and Freya herself. All looked up at me. Some with surprise, shock, curiosity, worry. The only smile I saw was from Freya herself.
    “Good morning Jennifer, did you enjoy your breakfast?”
    I stretched my arms as a yawn came upon me and as I did so I saw something large and white move at my left. I stopped. I saw feathers. White feathers yet the tips were dappled with gold and brown. I lowered my arm slowly wondering what creature was behind me and as I did so, so did the wings of the beast.
    “You can touch them, they won’t hurt you.” She said stepping forward a little, Mist rising to be beside her, a look of concern still on her face.
    I looked back from my leader to the mass of feathers. I leaned my right arm across and turned my head to identify this new friendly creature and did not like what I saw. There was no creature, no beast with its wings attempting to envelope me. There was only me. For that was where the wings ended, joined on my back between my shoulder blades. It was then that I noticed that the other wing had leaned over in parallel with my arm. My fingers touched the feathers. My feathers. My wings. I threw my gaze back at the Elders before me, Freya still stood smiling softly. Mist came closer, hands out in a beseeching manner.
    “But...but how?” Was all I could ask my mind struggling to explain what my I saw and touched.
    “Last night, your Ascension ceremony? Do you not remember?” She pleaded her worried voice making me even more alarmed.
    “Last night...last night...I don’t...” I didn’t get chance to add the word remember because in its place the memories did return. Of the kidnapping, the dark seas, the burning flames, the chill wind, the wet sand and the pain. The pain of feathers stabbed into my back like needles. My hot blood dripping down my back. I remembered the words I had spoken, the oath of allegiance and loyalty I had made to the gods and other spiritual forces beyond me, the names of each of the Valkyries before me spoke in full. I remembered Freya speaking beyond comprehension, a slash made into my already pierced and ruptured back and the full moon. I remembered my gaze forever fixed on the moon. I remembered my own voice, screaming into the night as if my voice itself was leaving my body to escape the burning pain. I remembered it all and fell once more into the blackness of my mind.

When I woke up again I was back on the bed in the tent but I was no longer alone. Mist, Hildr and Freya were in attendance. The latter stood leaning back on the desk, Mist was mopping a damp cloth on my forehead and Hildr was examining the mass of feathers I was lying on. Yet now I knew they weren’t there for the purposes of the bed. They were a part of me. I was a part of them. They were my wings.
    “How do you feel?” Mist asked, placing the cloth back into the bowl of sea water by her feet.
    “Numb,” Was all I could say for despite knowing the truth, like learning the event of my death and all the afterlife existed after it, this new truth was equally hard to swallow.
    “You will feel more yourself once you have moved around and gotten used to your wings. It’s like wearing new shoes; they just need a bit of use to be worn in.”
    I couldn’t not chuckle at such a modern phrase coming from a woman who had lived long before the idea of fashion had been conceived. “Feels more like they’ve worn me in.”
    “Your body will take a few days to regenerate from your transformation. It will adapt.”
    “Hummm.” I murmured sitting up with assistance from Mist at my arm. I glanced once more over my shoulder and saw the mass of white feathers neatly folded behind my back, like a pair of feathery arms overlapping each other. “Don’t know how I didn’t notice them earlier.”
    “The bones in your wings are light enough not to be cumbersome and as of yet you have yet to build strong flight muscles but once you are at your best again your new training will begin.”
    “Mist will teach you how to use them. Be proud of yourself for now, it takes a strong soul to survive the ceremony. You now have a fine pair of wings.” Hildr complimented me making me notice the unusual pattern on the tips of all my feathers, as if the entire edge of my wings had been dipped in molten gold and amber.
    “How come they are not totally white like your own?” I searched their faces for answers but Hildr looked at Mist, Mist looked at Hildr, both unsure what the answer was if any.
    “We cannot say. The Ascension ceremony you passed was performed no differently than what your Elders went through before you. Perhaps the Sun’s blessings came through a bit stronger to add colour to your wings.” Freya replied kneeling down beside me and admiring my back, she gave me a pleased smile. “Now come join us, enjoy the fresh morning breeze amongst your feathers.” With that she strode out of the tent.
    Mist helped me slowly walk out once again into the sunshine, dazzling me with its brightness. I had fainted for a few hours at least as it was slowly making its way above us again. I was lead gently to a space on an old weather beaten log by the fire. Some of the Elders shuffling silently without complaint to make room for me and my tender mood.
    As no one was forth right in creating a new conversation and some were still consuming their own stew breakfast I found I had opportunity to observe my mystery location. What I saw confirmed it was a beach, in a remarkably small cove, probably no more than a twenty minute sprint in either direction from where we sat before you met the rocks and white limestone cliffs tainted grey from the lashing sea. The sea had receded far back from where we were camped.
    “Where are we?”
    “South of Scarborough and east of Gristhorpe.” Göll answered blunt and simple.
    “Not Norway or Denmark then?” I was surprised such an important ceremony that required my kidnap wasn’t occurring in the ancestral lands of this divinity.
    “This is the land of your beginning; it had to be held here.”
    I gave her a quizzical look at the omission of the term ‘birth’ with ‘beginning’ which did make some sense as I am now aware of no ultimate end of life. On further thought I guess she was possibly referring to the beginning of my new life and not my old one.
    I felt a tickle up my back as the wind blew around us. It was unusually nice, like a cold shower after a tiring run. I stretched out my arms to flex my muscles and received some cries of surprise from the Elders to my left and right ducking or scrambling out of the way. I had unleashed my wings upon them unaware.
    “Ooops. Sorry.” I got a few angry glares but all faded upon the sight of my wings shining and glowing in the sunlight. I too couldn’t help but stare at them in wonder and amazement that they were actually mine. Judging what I saw each wing was just a forearm longer than my actual arm when outstretched so they would completely wrap me up if I tried. Subconsciously I lay my arms across myself and in doing so my wings came to rest one over the other before, an exact parallel with my usual limbs. “Nice.” I smiled to myself, lost in the wonder of what I possessed. I rested my hand onto the feathers that met my chin and murmured at the pleasure found in their softness.
    “They’re perfect on cold nights when you don’t have a place to rest your head.” Geirölul commented, prodding the embers of the fire beneath the cooking pot.
    “But most importantly they’re as strong as Thor’s hammer. Once you’re at full strength and have built up substantial muscle in them they can send an enemy flying through a brick wall if you hit them hard enough.” Freya added with a sense of pride in her voice as if she herself had crafted the very wings I bore. In a way I guess she had but there was more magic added to these wings then from her divine blood.
    “Much better than that flimsy swan cloak you had before, eh?”
    “Yes Hildr, much better. Will I have to give it back?” I looked up at Freya suddenly realising I’d be losing my favourite handbag.
    “No, you can keep it Jennifer, for despite learning to fly which will be its own challenge you must now become a master of guarding this secret. For none of your friends back at Shield Maiden Halls must learn of your new status and guardians. You are one of a chosen few and it must remain this way. Even wise old Odin doesn’t know the full extent of my powers and I would very much like to keep it that way.” Again her gaze had become that of a hawk upon its prey but it was down to me if I became prey or ally.
    “Won’t he have missed you all last night though? You were meant to be serving him and the other gods.”
    Freya’s gaze lingered on me before she turned to face the sea and the sun. “There is a matter of business I and Odin are dealing with at the present and it is that which I used to excuse me and the Elders from the feast.” Her voice was strong and serious but I sensed some sadness in it. Whatever this other business was it was causing her some great concern. I wondered if it was anything to do with why Skögull had gone off on her own that night I first saw the enemy I would be defending the twins from. “But think no more on it for the time being, as of this morning you are on leave from your duties at Asgard so your flight training can begin as soon as possible. You will be staying here, with Mist, until she has deemed your training complete.”
    “What will I tell my friends when I get back? They’ll ask why I would leave without saying goodbye or any notice.”
    “We will put the message out that you have been selected by Mist for advanced Runic Arts training which is partly true as she will teach you a few more tricks to add to your skills of defence and attack.”
    “Oh. OK.” Mist gave me a smile, seemingly not bothered about staying from the lights of Asgard with me. “Seems you have everything covered.”
    “You’re forgetting that you’re not the first person to undergo such training. We have our ways of acquiring the time and privacy needed for such things. Although it has been many centuries since anyone has joined our number as officially as you have.” Freya added ominously, surveying me with her eagle gaze.
    “It will be good to have some young blood to test ourselves against. You can only fight Hildr so many times before even she gets boring.” Göll received a tap on the back of the head from the offended party.
    “We shall see, come my battle maidens, let us leave our new recruit to her rest and trainer. We have other duties to perform before the Sun lies low for the rise of the Moon.” And as if to further show what a low rank I still was amongst these fine women or maybe to show what I had to look forward to, each unfurled their wings from behind their large purple cloaks once more. The effect was equally as awesome as it was in the darkness of the previous night. “I recommend discovering her power word first Mist; keep me up to date on progress. You have four weeks at the most before Odin demands further answers to our absence at his table.” Mist acknowledged her instructions with a nod. “We shall see you soon Jennifer, good luck.”
    And that was all Freya said before she lead her elite team at full sprint down the beach, cloaks and wings stretched out into the wind. I watched with interest and anticipation as those wings began to beat faster than their legs could run. Once more leading, Freya jumped high into the air and her wings carried her up, past the top of the cliffs bordering this small cove, the eight Elder Valkyries following her as a single flock. Nine large winged birds of the paranormal kind flying away up high and vanishing behind the wisps of cloud that sunny morning.
    “Did I ever tell you she was a show off?” Mist smirked with light laughter resting her arm around my shoulder as her companions for the past thousands of years left her alone with me.
    “I can see why you think that.”
    “Come on, we have a pot of morning stew to eat up and then I’ll start you with a few simple exercises to help your back and shoulder muscles gain strength for the new burden you carry.”
    “Burden?” I asked surprised at such an ill fitting word for what I could perceive as a genuine blessing.
    Mist just laughed harder at my reaction handing me another bowl full of steaming juices, meat and vegetables.

The simple exercises were in fact remarkably simple, just rolling each shoulder for cycles of thirty every half an hour or so. At first it was painful but once I focused on just getting one number higher my concentration blocked out most of the pain. Whilst I did this and ate the rest of the breakfast from the cooking pot Mist had gone foraging into the rock pools further down the northern side of the cove coming back with a handful of seaweed. She then ground it into a gritty green paste with pastel and mortar.
    “That’s not lunch is it?”
    “No, this to ease the pain in your back and reduce the swelling around your wing joints. Then by tomorrow you won’t look like a hunchback.” She stood up and came behind me before I could finish my mouthful to complain but humour twinkled in her eye. I was beginning to believe this was more of a holiday for Mist than a serious undertaking. “Just sit still whilst I rub some in.”
    My skin crawled with unpleasantness as its slimy, rough texture was spread with her fingers on my back.
    “Hey, don’t suppose Freya thought to bring any of my clothes to this camp did she? I can’t stay in this ripped and bloodied robe for a month.”
    “Yes our great and wise leader did indeed think of that occurring. You will find a selection in the large wooden chest at the back of your tent.” Even I couldn’t mistake the sarcasm woven in her tone.
    “Good, will that include wash stuff? I’m going to have a bath in the sea before I get changed.”
    “Fair enough, but you might as well change into some clothes you don’t mind getting a bit wet. The sea is a good place to begin some more exercises now that your back and shoulder are warmed up a bit. Plus the cold temperature will further aid your recovery.”
    “Thought Freya said I was meant to rest?”
    “She also wants you on the job as soon as possible so the sooner the better and you’re not dying are you?” She patted me on the back with her green fingers.
    I nearly threw my breakfast at her for such a bad joke but her gruesomely green fingers kept me at bay.
    Finding a set of rough everyday clothes was easy but putting them on was not, each time I stretched out my arms my wings did so in unison. After struggling for half an hour I managed to get a simple strap top down my arms to my shoulders but I had no idea how to fit them over my wings. Mist announced her presence by her laughter at my predicament.
    “Not as easy as it looks is it, getting dressed?”
    “Trying to but these wings won’t stay still.”
    “Adjustments will have to be made for the time being but it will get easier once we discover your power word so they are only out when needed. Give me your top.” I tossed it at her not liking the idea of adjustments which proved correct for she took a basic knife from her belt and slashed down the back of my top. “Here, it should wrap around you now. Put it on and I’ll fix it in place beneath your wings.”
    I held the top at my front across my chest with my arms and wings reaching forward whilst Mist rejoined the fabric with a few flashes of runic magic. “What’s the power word you and Freya speak of?”
    “It is a special word with special meaning and is unique to each individual soul. You heard Freya whisper hers when at the meeting.”
    “Hildr-watsit?”
    “Hildrhrafn is what she said and you pronounce it hild-her-raf-en. It means Battle-Raven.”
    “What’s yours?” I asked tentatively.
    “Mine is ... Vardrún it means Secret-Keeper.” As she said that special word I sensed a powerful burst of runic energy behind me as her wings were summoned but shielded by her long purple cloak. I knew if I said my special word then my wings would just burst out outstretched knocking something or someone over. Mist clearly had a lot of control over her wings.
    “How come my wings keep mimicking my arms?”
    “Because they are new and your mind still perceives them as one with your arms. Your wings have two major bone components just like your arms and the tip flexes as much as your fingers do. The majority of your training is teaching your mind to liberate its sub-conscious control over them so they can become an independent set of feathered arms. After all, you can’t fly well if you have to keep flapping your arms?”
    “No, I guess not.” I answered imagining myself flying over York flapping my arms continuously just to stay in the air.
    “There, it won’t fall off now. Time for a swim, are you ready?”
    “As I’ll ever be.” And followed her out into the September sunshine towards the distant surf of the North Sea. “Erm, Mist? How can I swim if my wings mimic my arms?”
    “Ah yes, well that is why we’re only going to be exercising in the shallow part of the tide today. So you’ll be sitting no more than a foot in the actual sea. You won’t be swimming for proper for a while yet. For today you’ll just be getting a bit wet.” She added picking up two large towels that were warming by the embers of the fire.
    I walked with her up towards the distant sea as it receded from the beach. Once we our feet were getting wet she told me to stop. The cold waters were already making my legs shiver and I wasn’t looking forward to getting any wetter than I already was.
    Mist laid out a towel upon the waterlogged sand. “Kneel down and then lay yourself face down upon it. Keep your arms straight by your sides as you do so.”
    I did with a bit of an unbalanced wobble and met the cold water seeping through the towel fabric. At least the sand wasn’t getting in between my bra. “Now what?” I mumbled turning my head a bit on the ground to see where she had gone and then I felt her kneel over my straight legs.
    “Don’t panic, I’m here to position and balance your body better. What I’m going to ask you to do will make your body wriggle a bit as we try to loosen your sub-conscience. Now here’s what I need you to do. Continue to keep your arms straight, they must not move, they must not lift up an inch. I want you to keep your entire body rigid and just focus on your wings and the new muscles you have. I want you to focus on them and try to get them to stretch out slowly and then collapse back on your back. It’s all about rewiring your mind and creating new nerve connections to these new limbs.”
    Now that sounded fairly simple but believe me your sub-conscience may be easy to trick when hypnotised but when it’s hypnotised itself into believing my two white limbs are the same as my arms, well, it’s like breaking the most unbreakable safe in the world and all you have is a hammer. I followed Mist’s instructions as best I could as I lay there cold and wet but all I could managed to shrugging shoulders a lot, tensing my shoulders, arching my back, upon thinking of outstretching my arms tried to move and Mist had to pin them down many times. I kept writhing about trying to do this simplest of actions for what felt like ages.
    “Aaaaaah! I give in! I can’t do it!” I had had enough salt water in my mouth during the struggle and I was getting more and more frustrated.
    “You’re not moving until you’ve stretched out one wing Jennifer. You can do this. It only seems hard because you’re trying to override an internal communication. You just need to focus more. Your mind and body act as if your wings are attached to your shoulders like your arms are but they’re not. Your wings are joined here. In the space of muscle between your shoulders and where your bra strap is.” She dug some fingers in to the small gap between my wing joints to emphasis the point. “Roll your shoulder backwards, slowly and you’ll see.”
     I lean in on m right so I could rotate my left shoulder and as I did so I felt something different, large, tense on my back.
    Mist must have seen the puzzlement on my face because she confirmed my suspicion. “Did you feel it? That’s your normal muscles tightening around the wing joint bone and the muscle anchoring it to your spine. That’s the joint you need to focus on and control.”
    “How come I didn’t feel it by the fire?”
    “You were doing the exercise fairly briskly and so were unaware of the contact between your back muscles and the wing joint. Do it slowly and you will notice the change in tension and where it occurs. Now you have to focus hard on that area, try and ignore all the other limbs of your body and try and move that joint, flex those muscles and stretch that wing. Once you’ve done one wing it will all become easier quickly.”
     “Ok.” I took a deep breath and let my body lay still. I relaxed my arms, my legs, trying to disconnect them from the will of my mind. Keeping my breathing steady and slow I let my mind wander through the feelings of muscle on my back, recalling the rough area where I felt something new in my body structure. I felt tension begin to build in the area I just had to unlock it into movement. I tried to imagine that tense areas of muscle on my back were my shoulders and the limb attached to it was my arm. I nearly lost the control when I became aware of the wind rustling the feathers on my back.
    “That’s it. Keep focusing.” Mist encouraged seeing that I had managed to keep my body entirely still.
    “Now that I was aware of joint and of the limb as separate from my arms I had to move it before I lost all control for it was starting to give me a headache. The wind in my feathers awoke my mind to how the wings were folded on my back and I began to imagine slowly unfolding those limbs, bringing the tip out away from my body then slowly pushing it further away taking the rest of the limb in its wake.
    “Open your eyes Jenny.” Mist said startling me out of my deep concentration and I gasped with delight at what I saw before it vanished. For a small part of time I had done it. I had outstretched my right wing independent of my arms. “That’s one small step towards flying but one big step for you, Miss Jennifer Wallace.” 
    “Great, can I get up now? All I can taste is salt.”
    “No, we strike whilst the iron is still hot. I want to see you stretch the left wing now and in half the time.”
    I groaned with a proud smile at the challenge, my dreams of starry skies and mountain tops set in my mind as the ultimate prize for my efforts.        

Click here to go on to read Soul Chaser - Chapter Seven - Secrets of Runes

3 comments:

  1. great descriptives about the workings of the wings. it made them as physical as magical.

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  2. Hey, thanks for the follow! I'll be snooping around your blog in the coming days.
    My WIP paranormal is a spooky ghost story with a twist that I hope a publisher will see as original. ;) One can hope, right?

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  3. At last - another Brit at the BBQ!

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