RP:Thy Life's a Miracle

From HollowWiki

Part of the What Dreams May Come Arc

Summary: After a final visit to Lionel, Valrae's dying spirit floats in the space between life and death. Astrid, called to the dark power of her amethyst skull, uses the ancient artifact to travel through the astral plane and into Valrae's limbo. She pulls the ghost away from her final rest, both of them falling back into the land of the living though her mind, and passes out from her efforts.

As the weather began turning the tide to march on toward warmer days, Cenril’s humidity had peaked for this time of year; though a cool breeze flirted through the streets, denizens glistened with a dewy sweat. Through an open window of Astrid’s rented loft, the voices of women passing below were carried up on the sticky wind.

“I swear it was cold this mornin’. If I’d’a known it was gonna get this warm, I wouldn’t have worn my wool stockin’s.”

“You were complain’ about the holes in those things just last week. I thought you threw’em out?”

“Nah, I patched’em up. Richard’s been needin’-,” Their conversation was soon swallowed up by the raucous chorus from the stall-keeps braying their goods and prices while a paper boy’s sweet voice occasionally shot through the dissonance, calling out that a local thief had finally been caught, and a woman found the likeness of Sven in a piece of toast.

The lively din usually called to Astrid, and were it any other day, she might be down below, peddling hair tonics, and face creams. But, the amethyst skull she had risked her life for demanded her attention and time. After her first experience with its power, she hadn’t gone to Uma like she had originally intended. Instead, she hunted down a elderly witch she had known in Larket- Goody Sarah. She had been a sweet, elderly woman who had been betrayed by her neighbor during the madness, and the internment camp had done much to her soul. Where she was once a kind, and patient woman, she was now mean, and short tempered. But Astrid had burrowed into a place of affection with the woman before her imprisonment, and had lingered there after. Astrid had gone to Goody Sarah in hopes of understanding just what had happened to her, but was unwilling to delve into the details of how she achieved her out of body experience; she was unwilling to prematurely depart from her skull, a fear born from the thought that it would be stolen from her should anyone understand what exactly lay within.

‘Astral projection,’ she had said. ‘It also sounds like your witch’s eye had been opened as well. You saw the colors, child? The threads that bind us to this world? I can’t say I’m not envious. I’ve achieved such a state only once before. Be careful you do not meddle with powers you do not understand.’ A simple grounding spell had been provided so that if Astrid ever achieved a state of astral projection again, she could return to her body with ease, and they finished their afternoon peeling apples for pies.

Now, Astrid sat in the center of her room, dressed down into a pair of mens trousers that had been cut to a scandalous length, and a damp white tunic whose sleeves had been torn away. Her legs were sprawled before her, bare toes wiggling in excitement and trepidation. “‘Kay, don’t be mean and throw me out again. It didn’t feel too good last time,” she murmured to the skull who sat between her knees. She wanted to reach that vast pool of knowledge and power encased within the crystal again. The lull of it haunted her dreams, and made her itch like an addict for another taste. She reached out tentatively to stroke the short bridge of its nose, and as soon as the pad of her finger met the smooth crystal, her world changed again.

The sounds around her were the first to greet her, and agitated bird song seemed to reverberate around her and within her. It made up her bones, and filled her thoughts until she forgot what she had sought. Initially, she turned to flee the cacophony, and fought through what felt to be spider webs that clung to her skin and hair, trying to pull her back, to keep her there.

You want this, you came for this. Stay. Stay. Stay little Sparrow. Voices crooned in sickly sweet notes on repeat, promising her the answers and knowledge and power she sought if only she stayed. And the temptation was there, but the screeching of birds deafened her, and she felt herself call out for help. She felt the shape of her mouth as it formed the word, but couldn’t hear the sound of her own voice. Harder she fought through the constrictive webbings, swatting and ripping at the sticky strands that clung fast. Was this her punishment? To be caught in the webs of spiders, and deafened by birds? Surely not. The harder she fought, the further she managed to move, the more the bird song seemed to calm. What was once a continuous screech turned to words, and those words turned into demands. Fly little Sparrow. Find her. Find her. She is breath, and life, and smoke, and ash. She is dead but not, alive but not; a miracle. Do not linger here. You made a promise. The words admonished her, and cut at her as if she were a petulant school child who had done wrong.

“Who do I find?” She asked, and as the answer rumbled through her, she was cast out of the skull once more, but not back into her body. Around her, things glowed too brightly, but still shadows stretched and yawned before her. Unlike the time on the beach, where she could see all, now she could see nothing but light and dark, and rather than call upon the grounding spell that lingered just beyond her cognition, she shouted across the expansive void, “Valrae!”

Sometimes floating the spaces inbetween felt like being a tiny little speck of dust dancing in a beam of golden afternoon sunlight. Floating, floating… It could be peace and bliss and quiet reflection if you only never stopped to consider what happens when you eventually float all the way down.

In the everchanging in between places of the dead and the living Valrae sometimes retreated. Where lights and shapes were meaningless and the world carried no sound. The void of midnight black pressed ever closer, boiling with the rage of those dead and already taken by it, but did not reach her here yet. She could see the hungry eyes and all but feel the cold hands dragging her down… But not yet. Life pulsed father beyond her reach. Light and sound and motion that called to her and filled her with such bitter longing that it was easier to gaze into the darkness.

The journey to the Shadow Plane and back again had nearly sent her into it. Pulling herself back together afterward had felt like trying to stitch together a pair of ancient threadbare stockings. Keeping guard over Lionel as he warred with the poison inside him had been a lesson in misery like no other. So she retreated.

The small space that separates life and death was never meant to be a place for souls. It wore against them like the ocean does the shore. It erodes the soul slowly, carrying pieces of it away with the tide of time. Valrae’s struggle to keep her sanity and her force of will was a never ending war that she lost ground in with every passing hour. The more energy she used, the harder it was to find it again. She didn’t know how many hours, days even, she spent floating. She didn’t know how close she was to floating toward the bottom.

Astrid’s voice shatters the soundlessness of her floating dream. Valrae struggles to stitch consciousness together and face the newness of sound. It was agonizingly slow, smoke rolling into the image of a woman not unlike the living one that had bodly stepped beyond time. “I am here.” She answers, the sound far away and filled with both sorrow and caution. “Why are you?”

The words of the bird-women echoed through her as she called for the woman who so many worked to bring back. She is breath and life. In the seconds that spanned between the syllables of Valrae’s name, the light and shadows began to undulate around her, dancing and melding together. A distant sound of waves washing along a shoreline crept into her consciousness and color seeped back into her surroundings, bleeding through the bright light and dark shadows, until the hazey construct of a continuous beach sprawled before her.

The simple question of why she found herself in this inbetween existence lent itself as the final puzzle piece of her awareness, and with a blink of her eyes, the cloudy veil lifted. She had never met Valrae, had never seen the woman- they had walked separate paths in life, but ones that had been long destined to join together. Logic and reason birthed her hesitation, and Astrid waited for the feelings of webs about her person to register once more, and the odious yet lyrical words of temptation to whisper past her ear. She stepped back from the figure of Valrae.

But perhaps it had been the sorrow that threaded through her words that stilled her retreat, and realization was born from an warmth that bloomed in her chest. She is smoke, and ash. “I-” Astrid started, and then stopped as words fumbled on her tongue, warring for seniority. Her mouth closed, her brows furrowed, and her gaze dropped to the granules of sand that her bare toes dug into; she couldn’t feel the sensation, or smell the scent of the ocean, and her hair didn’t dance in a breeze. The innate truth that flooded through her, that this place was not a place for life or death, but a limbo that stretched for eons, solidified her answer, and she looked up at the spirit of the woman with a warm smile and extended her hand. “I’m here for you.”

Valrae watched the nameless light and dark around them rearrange and transform. As the sand poured underfoot and the waves crashed into play without sound or scent of salt and sea, Valrae felt as if she were stepping into the sun very suddenly after an eternity in the darkness. In the beginning, the spaces inbetween would change for her too. A shallow and empty vision of her home, a beach not dissimilar to this one, Larket. Something familiar and not, much like the woman before her now. But time ebbed on around the witch she slowly grew more accustomed to the indescribable, shapelessness of her own limbo. She no longer felt a part of breath or life.

The spirit did not hear the whispering words of the bird women but could feel the brush of magic from the amethyst skull as clearly as if she’d walked through a curtain of silk. Astrid and her astral form were steeped in the intoxicating call of its power. Ash and smoke, though, Valrae could not deny.

As the other witch steps away from her a flash of pain crosses the spirit‘s face. Astrid was a familiar stranger. The words she’d spoken to Lionel echo where a heart once rested. The restless dead were bound to bear witness. And witness Valrae has. As time ran like water over a river bed and the rest of the living world coursed on, the spirit moved through it without changing and without sleep, without peace or calm. She observed and she listened. Other spirits, other beings of power whispered. They always whispered. Of those that took it upon themselves to search for the skulls, of those that have already gathered them now. They spoke of Astrid and they taunted her with the similarities between them. She saw them now as they stood across from each other. She had seen them before, when her curiosity could no longer be denied and she’d gone to see for herself. Though neither of the women have formally met, to Valrae it was like looking at someone who was once a friend.

A change shifts over the other witch and suddenly she is taking a step forward now. Without hesitation Valrae reaches out to take the offered hand. “You’re in danger,” She warns. Though the power Astrid carried with her washed over her dying spirit like healing rain, there were dark undercurrents that were waiting to drag them both into the black. The sense of danger sounded like an alarm in her mind. “The skulls, Astrid, they’re dangerous.” Artifacts with so much power couldn’t be anything less. The magic that witches traversed in always demanded something in return. Real magic always expected you give something back.

Although Valrae’s spirit lack tangible weight, Astrid felt the solidity of it as it settled into her waiting hand, and her fingers curled around the other witch’s with a soft squeeze. Whether it was her mind aiding her senses, or the magic of this place of inbetween, she held a solid grasp on Valrae. The warning of danger brought back the residual feelings of spider webs and grasping hands, and a chill raced along her spine. “There are things in this skull,” she murmured in mild agreement, casting a careful glance over her shoulder as if the Spider Weavers lingered just behind her. The Bird Women hadn’t seemed dangerous, and had, in fact, cast her from that pool of endless temptation and power that lurked within the skull- but she had only crossed paths with them twice; who knew what fate she tempted with her growing obsession.

“They told me to find you,” She said at last, her gaze returning to the ghost of the woman before her, and a small smile played in the corners of her mouth. “Can’t be too bad then?” A wishful tone tinted her words, betraying an underlying desire to return to the skull for the wealth of knowledge and power it held. Now was not that time however, and she curled her hand tighter around Valrae’s. “Come with me.”

She didn’t wait for Valrae to acknowledge her words, or agree to her intentions before calling on the grounding spell that had been shared with her. There were no words that activated the magic, and so there was no warning to herald the sudden fall through time and space. Goody Sarah had described the spell as memories and impressions of life, and had promised that it was a benign source of magic that gave little room for error. However, Astrid hadn’t known what to expect, and despite the lack of a physical body to accurately experience the sensations that flooded her being, the memory and phantom feeling of butterflies swarming in her stomach at the sudden drop from the beachy limbo echoed in her center. Around her, glimpses of memories flashed past; a stilted home nestled in a swamp, surrounded by similar structures. A stretch of destroyed houses that had been claimed by that same swamp. The laughter and faces of children who she had taught for years. A young, grubby faced boy. The melodic song from a violin. The memories of her life continued, but none seemed to be in order, and she whipped her head around to steal every moment replayed. The impressions of life that squeezed her soul: love, vitality, depression, and anger slowly began to overwhelm the beauty that sped past, and she shut her eyes tight against the whirling colors.

And with a sudden stop, she found herself back within her body, in the sticky heat of her loft room, along Merchant street in Cenril. The sounds of life outside continued, and a raucous laugh easily distinguishable from the crowds below helped draw Astrid back to the present. Despite having been seated on her floor prior to the adventure, she had listed sideways and the abrupt halt of her free-falling spirit had knocked her prone. She remained in the position she found herself in, panting hard against the headache that drummed through her head, while her eyes remained screw shut. She wasn’t sure if the grounding spell she had used to return had managed to bring the spirit of the witch with her, nor was she sure if Valrae had witnessed the highs and lows, or the private moments of her life, just as she had.

“Are you still here?” She whispered.

Shock crossed the spirit’s face like a dark cloud as Astrid’s fingers intertwined with hers instead of merely passing through. Her eyes are pulled to where their hands met, palm to palm. “How…” The question dies on her lips. Her eyes follow the other witches instinctively, looking beyond her just as she had and anticipating danger. She blinks to see there is none but doesn’t doubt the validity of other woman’s statement. The dead were fond of secrets. Sharing them, learning them. The living could scarce make a movement without the ever watchful eye of those that have gone but could not move on. The location of the skulls, even their inception and convoluted history were whispered to her as she moved through the sea of others like her and listened. They were steeped in a past as dark as the power that they offered. Astrid’s wistful tone sends the sensation of shuddering through her. “They lie,” She answers. “And they take as much as they give,”

But Astrid is moving forward. Valrae makes no move to pull away, she’s caught in the golden witch’s gravitational pull. She could deny her nothing at this moment and so she follows.

The free fall was blinding. She held tight to Astrid as they fell through her memories. If spirits could weep, and they can not, she would have. The images rushed by in brilliant color. Sounds, scents, sights all flooded her in a way that had been deprived in death. The earthy scents rolling off of a swamp. The bright melody of a child’s laughter. The haunting notes of music from a violin. For the heartbeat in time that they fell, Valrae was almost alive again.

It wasn’t until it was all over, when the images were spinning away and Astrid’s loft was blurring into focus around her that the spirit realized how near the void she had been. If Astrid had never slipped into the in between space and pulled her here, would she have ever found her own way back? She wouldn’t have. The truth of this runs over her like freezing rain. It’s followed by a strange feeling of guilt for having witnessed so much of Astrid so intimately.

“I’m here,” Valrae whispers back. She doesn’t know why they’re whispering. The spirit has materialized beside the living witch, their hands still near though her own was little more than a brush of cold air again. The sounds of Cenril, familiar and vital to the witch, rising from beyond the walls are muted and pale in comparison to the memories she had just fallen through. She turns her head, looking to Astrid without attempting to move away from her just yet. There is a vulnerability in the image of her old features. Her eyes are filled with tanged emotions that swim beneath the emerald surface. “Thank you,”

Astrid had grown used to the headaches that plagued her after each astral trip into the skull, and she had also grown used to the nosebleeds that frequently accompanied said headaches- but she was pleased to learn that not a single drop of blood had puddled on her floorboards; it was a small victory that chimed in the distant and foggy recesses of her thoughts. The majority of her attention had been fixed to the silence of her room, and her breath hitched with a pregnant pause as she waited for ‘I’m here’. The sound of those two words filled her with an unexplainable elation and tears sprang to her eyes. She allowed then the bone-deep exhaustion to settle over her like a heavy blanket.

She didn’t move from the prone position she had awoken into, but she did reach for the spirits hand again. Despite passing through it this time, and the chill of the air that lifted the small hairs on the back of her hand, Astrid’s fingers curled to mimic the physical connect they had held in the inbetween. “Anything for you,” she promised on a whisper of a breath, before succumbing to the inevitable darkness of unconsciousness that had loomed.