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Monday, 8 August 2022

Nauthiz

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes


     It was an entity of its own; a colossal, infernal force screaming its way up from the centre of her soul, roaring louder with every rattle of the shackles and brush of the cold bars. It breathed. It lived. It destroyed. Its very pulse was like thunder, its aura like decay. The iron ceiling collapsed, though it didn't fall. The ground split open, though it didn't crack. The sky blackened, though the sun shone on.
    And inside, she was aflame.

    The aurochs' fingers wrapped tighter around the bars. For the moment, there were no eyes to see her tremble, nor to watch her thrash inside her lifelong cage, screaming and raging while desperation sank its claws deeper into her heart. The bars were rusting; her hands and horns were already stained red. But for all her wild force, they didn't give way. The iron was still too strong - or she was growing weak.
    She grit her teeth tighter; her jaw already ached.
    Weak.
    Weak.
    Weak...
    Her mind unhinged that little bit more.
    Wide-eyed and tear-streaked, she shook the bars even harder and slammed her horns against them, as though she honestly believed that this time they might finally break. But they didn't. Of course they didn't. And she felt the pressure build even higher in that blinding disappointment.
    She was going to explode. She could feel it, as yet more of the world crumbled away around her. Something was going to rip itself free, and she had no control over it at all. It was already eroding her, and its strength was overwhelming. As stifling as fire wind. The urgency it forged was almost tangible, grasping her firmly by the throat and squeezing until she could barely gasp through the tears.
    'Out. Out. Out...'
    It was all her mind could offer. She had to get out. She had to escape. She couldn't stay here, not with this hunting her. She wanted. She needed. But the doom that straddled her shoulders, poking her eyes and tugging at her lips like wretched little gremlins, was paralysing. Her thoughts didn't move, they just looped back and tangled within themselves while she fought and wore herself down. Over and over and over they knotted, for days, maybe weeks, offering nothing and subduing only when her master returned from his work - but in that numbness, everything else of her died along with it.
    It never stopped. And she doubted she had the strength to last it out. Her freedom was still too far out of reach; the entity would win before then. She was sure it would win. And she'd begun to wonder if it might not be easier to just...let it. Give in. Stop fighting and rest, at last...
    She was so tired...
    In that faltering moment, the relentless pounding in her skull finally took over, and her tears stopped as she released the bars and slumped against the cold metal, glad for the relief. A cool breeze swept through her shadowed cage, tugging her long, knotted mane over her eyes. She breathed deep of it, smelling phantoms; the trees and the grass she could barely remember and wanted, despite her growing defeat, to know again.
    Hysterics, peace, hysterics. This was how it went. It was a cycle of minutes. But as frantic and helpless as the hysterics were, it was the peaceful moments she feared the most. Because it was then that the entity began to whisper through the roar.
    And so she sat there, heavy and defeated, listening to those whispers, too tired to do anything else. And just like every time before, whatever corner of her mind still worked took this moment of calm to snatch at ideas, to grasp and rationalise any and every option to give her as many routes as possible, laying obscene beside ordinary until they all took on the same shape and cast the same shadow. Until every idea belonged. Until every idea was reasonable.
    Hysteria had warped everything into a world of black and white. Wants and Needs became blurred, and no option was good or bad; they were either conceived, or not. And with that freedom of open thought came a silence that deafened and split an abyss open beneath her. It was only ever then that the entity showed itself, writhing in the thick, black depths.
    She stared into that abyss increasingly often. She'd become familiar with it; she listened to it and agreed with it. Took comfort from it.
    But it hadn't pulled her in. And neither had she pushed herself away.
    The release it offered, the rest...she knew it wasn't the right path, but it had been conceived, it had been rationalised, and now it remained. One path, of many. One option, of many.
    She inched that little bit closer to it now, curious as it whispered its white noise through the breeze, like a discordant lullaby. Her hand reached through the bars towards it, fingers swirling through the empty space while she wondered if that suddenly gentle entity might just reach back.
    Then, with another crack of thunder, the world jolted.
    A deafening roar shook her bones and ripped a scream from her throat. Her hand snatched back to cover her ears, but it was futile. The roar came from within her, and its fury was devastating.
    And...familiar...immensely... A sound, she realised, she'd been hearing all along...
    Her guard dropped and the power immediately swelled again - but from everywhere but that abyss. And the roar followed, from everywhere but that abyss.
    Then, dazed, in that chilling, peaceful place in the centre of her mind, understanding tolled.
    The grip around her throat. The urgency. The desperation...
    That strength, and that abyss...they were not One. They were battling within her. And her life was the prize.
    The overwhelming power was her own. It yearned to carry her to freedom, and the Wild itself called to her upon its untameable roar.
    But the whispers, the darkness, the strangling aura of decay...they yearned to rule her, and to end her. They were not her own. Not in any lasting way. They could never have been. They were something else. A poison. An infection. One more thing she had to fight.
    Yet the two argued in harmony. Without focus, they appeared as one. How easy it would be to misunderstand them, to hear the inescapable lure of the whispers boomed in the roaring voice, to see the urgency of her power's desire to envelop her and flee from it instead, to feel the very strength of her blazing soul and attribute it to the abyss itself...
    It would be her biggest mistake.
    The aurochs' furious tears hadn't returned. The clarity was there, and this time, her eyes were open.
    She pulled herself away from the bars and sat, centred within her cage, breathing deep.
    Hold on. Wait. Find patience. Don't look into the black, and contain that screaming, blazing power. She'd kept it under control for this long, and she was so nearly there.
    Everything felt out of her hands - but her survival was not.
    She had a choice.
    And that choice hinged fully on the difference between Want and Need.



 
This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock



Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Hagalaz

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes


    Lightning ripped the void-black sky. Hail thundered. Fate's frozen spears pierced the sea, deafening, shredding the dark, roiling waters while the crashing waves fought amongst themselves like wolves, stirred up by the Serpent.
    The sun already hung dead in the sky.
    On the trembling cliff between endless winter and total ruin, she stood, drenched and paralysed, staring out over the seething ocean and the patiently gathering storm. Her heart was consumed by what she knew was coming. Consumed by the Inevitable. Consumed by the Inescapable. All else, however vital, was lost.
    Thunder pummelled her, the war drum of giants. Her muscles were too frozen to flinch. An eagle screamed in the distance.
    She'd seen the storm coming; it had been forming since the Beginning. She'd hoped it would dissipate, that it might never reach her...but that had been a fool's hope. A blind hope. She understood that now, as she watched it gather its final crackling threads of strength beneath its shackles in the distance. She understood it sorely. And in that understanding's wake, paralysis set only deeper. An immense sense of destruction rooted her raw, bare feet to the shuddering ground, a sense of complete and utter extinction. It was the certainty that everything she knew, and every plan she'd laid, was going to burst into a raging inferno from which she could never rebuild.
    Wind whipped and lashed her skin. Panic closed her throat and seized her lungs. The ice within her muscles and heart grew thicker. An incoherent screaming filled her mind while her tongue lay still and numb.
    And hail continued to fall. Stinging, freezing, cutting hail.
    The screaming moved into her bones before she could make any sense of it, so loud that they trembled inside her skin, shaking themselves to dust. And then, while she stared, inert, useless, desperate despite her leaden feet for any kind of escape, the storm finally broke free.
    Everything within and around her flashed white as a godly crash filled the air; lightning rushed across the sky, waves launched themselves against the cliff, and gales thrashed ice harder and sharper into her face.
    The earth itself sank into the sea.
    And she watched it all happen, mute and motionless, while the voice screamed on in her bones.
    'Stop it, somehow! Push it back!'
    Dread squeezed a whimper from her throat as the water lashed around her ankles.
    'Sabotage it! Somehow! Trick it!'
    The water rushed around her knees.
    'Kill it! End it!'
    It crashed around her waist.
    'Run...'
    But it had already stolen the ground.
    Her wide stare twitched up towards the jet-black heavens as the water flooded through her lips, and she watched the stars vanish from the sky.
    'What...do I do...?'
    The world turned, the water twisted, swirling and raging around her. It took a long, disconnected moment before she discovered her body fighting.
     Futile or not, instinct moved her like a puppet; choking and struggling against the waves, her body battled both to return her head above water and plant her feet back on the ground, in spite of the exhaustion already crushing her. But she fought on anyway, alarm dragging her mind back to herself, thrashing against the indifferent storm, the force of nature, the force of Fate, a thing with neither malice nor intent yet that would steal absolutely everything away from her anyway.
    And it was already beginning.
    The violent churning of the water shredded her dress from her body. The hail and breakers cut her face whenever she surfaced. The thunder ripped her muscles from her bones, disarming and dissolving her struggle. The current drank away her lifeblood. The lightning smothered her breath.
    Her raging mind was clouded and disconnected when adrenaline fully took over, empowering her body and mind, hazy but allied against the threat to her world, screaming back in the face of it with absolute conviction. But it could only last so long, and Fate's movement was stronger. While she wore down, the waves, the wind, the thunder and hail grew only more violent.
    Steam rose from the furious waters around her.
    Questions half-formed in her mind as the water boiled, blinding her with their power, and though their answers didn't exist, the wind howled them anyway. And through the chaos, fragments of images and sensations began flashing by - familiarity; distraction. But though some part of her relished them and another searched them in desperation, there was nothing at all in those pictures of the Past. No solution; no solace. There was no order, no plan, no understanding, not while everything crumbled. And now, she realised, her mind was barely her own. Fragments of Self were being torn away. Everything that had made sense, or seemed sure, was breaking apart inside her.
    The water closed over her head again and again, more often now, higher, and invaded her lungs with increasingly mistimed gasps. Then she didn't surface at all.
    Air was out of reach. Ground was out of reach. And the black sky far above, the heavens now suddenly aflame, covered a world she would never see again.
    And, as she sank into the sudden stillness, silence set in.
    ...There was no more screaming...
    Clarity, or insanity. One or the other. Or both, or neither.
    But everything was falling into some kind of place.
    She watched the surface drift away with wide, stunned eyes.
    'What...if...'
    What if...she let go? What if she stopped fighting and let the water take over? Would she sink? Or would she float?
    Would she be carried into what she dreaded, into the Inevitable, into the Inescapable, with some kind of composure? Some kind of control? Would a clearer head even yield opportunity? Perhaps even advantage?
    What if she gave up stubbornness and gave into the uncontrollable?
    What lay on the other side?

    Her veins ignited.

    Air seared her lungs as she broke the surface, gasping, gulping, hacking and choking, numb to the cold, to the heat, to the pain as she flailed for equilibrium; to anything but the single need to breathe. And then, while her heart lurched and mind spun, she forced her legs to stop kicking, forced her eyes to close, and forced herself to relax. In the brutal grip of the waves, she abandoned her fight, abandoned instinct, and allowed the motion to carry her away.
    It felt wrong to let the waves crash over her head, to avoid flinching against the lightning, to listen to the thunder rather than shrink from it and let the hail pummel her face. But it was her only choice. To give in and let the worst happen would yield a stronger future. A stronger self.
    A storm was beyond control. It couldn't be stopped. It couldn't be harnessed. It could only be survived.
    It could only be survived.


With breath, hail numbs;
With belief, hail dies.
Strength of aurochs, suffuse me.
With guidance of bear,
With guise of doe,
I am born of the bones of ruin.
I am born of the bones of Fate.


 
This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock



Sunday, 5 June 2022

Algiz

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes


     Thick, high walls protected the little house within from the biting, hilltop wind. The minuscule windows were shuttered and draped against the horrors of the world beyond, and the sturdy door locked tight against danger.
    It was a small bubble of safety in a terrifying world, impenetrable and unshakable by the darkest forces beyond. And the girl inside - beautiful, happy, with only the youngest growth of antlers sprouting through her thick, dark hair - was never bored despite the isolation. She cooked and baked, sewed and repaired, cleaned and painted, and when her chores were done and her master satisfied, she spent her free time left in peace, reading and creating, brightening her safe little world in a way she could control. She slept well; warm, safe and dry, and when she rose the next morning, all began again. Her world was predictable, her life steady. Always familiar, always stable. Forever unchanging.
    For a decade, the world aged gracefully around her, and she, preserved and protected, didn't age a day.
    But then, despite the walls, the curtains, the door, something did change.
    The old clay digger that lived nearby could no longer continue his trade, and with rising living costs, the girl was tasked by her reluctant master to dig the clay herself and deliver it to the potter in town.
    The idea of leaving the walls and stepping out into the wider world filled her with terror, but it excited her too. And so, with much worry, much preparation, and many warnings of safety from her master, she took a deep breath, left the walls, descended the hill, and gathered what she could before rigidly following the road towards town. Her eyes were wide along the way, and every twist and turn made her hesitate, sure she'd managed to get herself lost, would take too long and get home to a telling off for lingering in the dangerous world.
    But she hadn't gotten lost, and arrived in town while the sun was still high. There, she delivered the clay, turned around, and immediately followed the road back home, doing precisely as she'd been instructed. And she was glad to; the sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming, and she all but ran back to the high-walled hill, scared and exhausted. And yet, when she finally managed to get to sleep after her master's worried questions, her dreams were alight with new skies, walls and faces.
    Then, the next day, after hurrying through her chores, she dug and delivered clay again. And this time, the experience rejuvenated her.
    She grew efficient over time, both digging and travelling, and came to look forward to the fresh air and cheerful townspeople. She even began to take detours, leaving the road on the way back and daring to walk instead through the forest, following whim or butterfly. She didn't go far at first, but with every passing day she grew braver, and explored deeper and deeper between the trees. She discovered owl holes in tree trunks, stumps covered in orange toadstools, old carved stones half-eaten by roots, a clearing carpeted in spongy, comfy-looking moss, and a small, clear stream that giggled and gurgled as it cascaded over smooth pebbles. The world, she was learning, was beautiful.
    On one fair weather day, warm and clear, she warily followed a bear cub through the trees and onwards to the stream, where she watched it play on its own further down-water, swiping at the little fish that swam in a panic around it.
    Its grumbling joy was quickly infectious.
    Peering around again for its mother and finding still no sign, the girl nudged aside the elk-sedge that grew along the banks, stepped into the water herself and began playing among the tiny fish, sending them darting around in alarm as if she was a bear herself. When she stilled to better catch one, however, a gasp blustered from her lungs. As the surface settled, she found the rippling image of a huge-horned woman staring back at her from beneath the water, a sad, painful look twisting her face.
    The girl froze, blinked, then slowly bent down closer. An aurochs?
    The sorrowful woman moved as she watched her, and raised her hand towards the surface. And the girl found her own hand moving slowly to meet it.
    The contact was solid, but she didn't notice it. In that instant she was overwhelmed instead by information; images, words and emotions bombarded her mind like a hailstorm - images, words and emotions all playing as if from her own perspective. Even the brief but intense flash of hatred and disgust aimed entirely at her felt as though it had originated from her own heart.
    'It did. All of this...is mine...She...is...'
    She recoiled, deaf to her own shriek, and threw herself backwards, kicking the water, bank and elk-sedge away from her as she scrambled to find sense. But none came.
    So she ran home instead, heedless of the bear cub that stood up and watched her from the water, grunting and whining in concern. She had already descended into a dense fog of wretched, debilitating confusion.

     Thick, high walls hid the little house within from the bright, shining sun. The minuscule windows were shuttered and draped against the fascinations of the world beyond, and the sturdy door locked tight against freedom.
    It was a prison in a colourful world, impenetrable and unshakable by the brightest forces beyond. And the girl inside - scared, weak, with only the youngest growth of antlers sprouting through her knotted, dark hair - was broken. She barely slept, so cold, terrified and confused, and when she rose the next morning to tend to her chores, the cycle began again. Her world was predictable, her life steady. Always familiar, always stable. Forever unchanging.
    But now she saw the truth in it: the bars around her home, the careful watch she was subjected to, the permissions she had to ask and obscene questions she had to answer. She no longer read, no longer created. The world had become a numb haze while she sat obediently, eyes wide and haunted. Her voice silent.
    She saw now. She saw everything. And that shock, that fear, trampled her like a furious herd of horses. How many times had it paralysed her? How many times had she resolved to give up, lock herself in and stay within that simple, predictable world? It would be easier. It took less work, and the hurt that would come from it was familiar. Safer, in a way. And she certainly didn't have the strength to fight it.
    And yet, every day that she trudged, numb-hearted, to deliver the clay to the potter, she couldn't help but be drawn back to the forest. She fled to it now, though she was too scared to look back into the water, and tried to breathe away the shakes with lungfuls of fresh, woodland air. And when the sun betrayed her and twilight moved in, the silent, trembling girl reluctantly returned home.
    The shakes plagued her for weeks. She barely ate, barely slept, and became hyper-aware in her exhaustion, noting every word and movement her master made, flinching at every interaction. She heard and saw all of it for what it truly was: absolute control. Absolute control, over her.
    But even though, in some strange way, she feared the forest almost as much as home - that she might learn something more that would become the final strike her fragile world could take before its rubble was ground to sand - she fled back there again the next day. And the next. And the next. Until one day, sitting absently beside her stream, listening to its comforting gurgles, her gaze wandered and landed upon the prophetic water for the first time in a month.
    Her body moved on its own.
    Pushing aside the elk-sedge, she crawled over and peered down through the glittering surface, coming face-to-face with the aurochs woman again. She was already staring back, as if she'd been waiting for her, and carried no less sad a twist in her brow than she had the first time. But there was something else there this time, the girl realised. Something softer.
    The aurochs reached towards her again, and the girl's fingertips hesitantly met hers through the water.
    There was no information this time. Instead, the reflection shifted, and the girl looked down now at her own face. Only then did she realise the resemblance between herself and the woman. And as she marvelled at that, she watched the stumpy antlers on her head grow into the broad, plated antlers of an elk.
    Then the image of the aurochs was back, standing beside her, resting her hand upon the girl's shoulder. And she felt it.
    The smallest gasp leapt from her throat as she spun to her left and found the woman suddenly standing beside her, as solid and real and dry as herself, her huge horns as light as a feather upon her head. And now, she was smiling.
    "Keep going," the aurochs said, her voice as strong as her horns were threatening. "I'm here. I'll save us both. Just buy me time."
    "B-buy you time?" The girl stuttered, her own voice small and unused. But she knew, somehow, exactly what the woman wanted.
    Her eyes must have betrayed her growing horror, because the aurochs moved and knelt down in front of her, squeezing her shoulder while the girl's shakes grew worse beneath her hand. Her smile was sadder now, but unwavering. "I am so sorry, little elk. But you can do this." Then she wrapped her arms around her and faded away, melting into the girl.
    Or the girl melted into her.
    "And," her voice echoed, "I love you, dearly. And I will thank you for all this one day."
    Then the little elk girl was left alone, blinking into the trees, heart racing beneath her ribs, thundering in her ears. And her blood surged with such strength that tears of fury sprang into her eyes.
    For the first time in her life, she felt whole. The fear was still there - greater now, fighting to overwhelm her all over again - but she could do this. She had to do it. The aurochs was taking care of something, and she would protect the horned woman while she did. And, though the fear was incomprehensible, she knew that only in facing it, walking into the storm as it tore her skin apart, could it be finally conquered. And she wasn't alone. She never had been.
    When her hard, stony eyes eventually sank back to the water, the only image she saw was her own true reflection, crowned now with full, powerful antlers.
    She raised a hand, damp with wild water, and fingered the velvet tines as she turned and wandered thoughtfully back home, where she was duly and quietly expected.


 
This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock



Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Uruz, ├×ola

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes


     A bleak, grey spectre glared over the scrubland valley.
     Cold mountain wind howled low through the crevice, sending the dull, mournful rustle of the frozen brush murmuring through the shadow-gripped recesses, and the pummelling storm of rain and hail rumbling beneath it all like a wardrum. Neither light nor hope reached this spot, trapped in the darkness of the glacier-shorn cliffs, and the old, rusting iron cage stood in its thickest depths. And the woman inside it sat slumped, knees hugged close to her chest, clouds of breath steaming from her nose as the hail struck and bruised her bare skin.
     The aurochs' pale body trembled in the cold. Thick, dark hair tumbled in knots down her back. Huge horns projected out from either side of her head, dull, faded, their points filed down. And dim hazel eyes stared from over the top of her arms, fixed to her captor through the bars, the tall, thin man with even emptier eyes, staring at his inconsequential work only a few paces away. There was no passion in him, either, though he chose to be here. No life, no love. Nothing at all. Until he looked her way.
     Just as he did at that moment.
     She watched the light flicker into life inside his eyes. But it wasn't warmth. It was power. Possession. Supremacy. She knew the look well. She read more in it than he could conceive.
     But the aurochs didn't flinch back from it. She was dead to it by now. She'd seen it too much; experienced what came of it too often. And so she met his stare with her own empty gaze, and held it until he looked away again, distracted once more by his work, his prize forgotten.
     Only then did she breathe the faintest sigh into her knees.
     As the vapour gathered on her eyelashes, her stare wandered away, tracking out through the shade of her trophy prison and on towards the frosted grasslands beyond.
     Out there, the sun shone. Out there, far from her reach, golden light battled the scrubby landscape, even while the frozen rain continued to thunder through her bars in the dark. There was hope out there. Life, and freedom. And others of her kind; she could hear them bellowing beyond the man's range, could smell them on the wind. And the ache in her heart swelled almost to the point of bursting. Because she could not join them. She couldn't walk among them. The whole world was so far out of her reach, she didn't deign even to lift a futile hand towards it.
     But neither did she succumb to the melancholy.
     Instead, she moved. Releasing her knees, she sat straight, exposing herself to the elements, and breathed deep of the cold, clear air. She rode that breath inside of herself, followed it into her lungs, and as it invigorated her blood, she retreated into memory.
     The world around her shifted; the straw floor of her cage became rough ground beneath her hooves, and the shadow scattered and revealed harsh scrub and grazing. A hard life, unforgiving, cold and solitary - but there was no heavy, pinning weight of loneliness woven within it.
     It was freedom.
     As she eased herself into her breath, stamped her hooves against the earth and teased her fingers through the biting breeze, she felt what now seemed like ancient traces of strength and power moving through her muscles.
     It set a fire in her heart, a song into her soul, and she spun and laughed. Then, without thought of destination, she ran.
     Freedom.
     She stayed in that eternal place for some time before she found the strength to return to herself, yet still it felt her eyes had flickered open too soon, and her view was obscured again by the old, iron bars and the haze of frozen rain.
     Once again, the whole world remained out of her reach.
     And yet, she smiled.
     'For now.'
     Scars had formed on her body, lumps left in bone - but she had always healed. And her spirit hadn't been broken. Not yet. Not quite. The smallest flame still sputtered in her chest, she'd discovered, and every day that her captor reached through those bars to strike again at her defences, it only stoked it hotter. Even in the cold, dark shadows and the skin-piercing rain. Now she'd found it, it would not, could not, be extinguished.
     She would not be broken. Her kind was sturdy. It had taken her a decade to remember it, but now that she had, she held that fact, that assurance, closer than her own skin.
     And, as her eyes tracked back to her once-trusted captor, that faint smile flickered further across her lips.
     She was biding her time. Collecting her strength. Recalling freedom and all that had once breathed life into her soul. She was remembering her worth.
     Her hazel eyes closed, but the smile remained as she listened to her master mutter curses to himself as he worked, and she tilted her head from one side to the other, feeling the weight and power of her horns. They didn't need to be sharp to be devastating. If the fool had wanted to disarm her, he should have cut them off.
     He would be gored in the end.


 
This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock