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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 21

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

I wait until the sky is dark and the fire high to try the Shaman’s potion. The idea of severe introspection isn’t troublesome, but I can’t imagine that the answers I seek are somehow inside me. How would I know how to appease the Spirit of the Great Mountain? I don’t like wasting time.

I can’t forget my strange experience on the night I met Rhiannon, however. Either the woods are haunted, and I have to admit there are forces at work I don’t comprehend, or I’m prone to hallucinations. And what about the sudden appearance and strange behavior of Shadow? Maybe Yorilis does know something about how the unseen realm functions.

Rhiannon sits cross-legged by the fire, staring into it for all I can tell, but it’s impossible to determine whether she’s awake without invading her space. She hasn’t responded to any questions in a while, so I stop trying.

“Go ahead, Brahkis,” my Spirit Shaman urges me. The concoction he’s mixed doesn’t smell half-bad, a steaming blend of herbs and who-knows-what? I’m not asking.

I sigh. If I’m doing this, there is no point in further delay. I bring the cup to my lips and tilt my head back, looking up at the stars as the warm liquid washes down my throat. Not bad –
a little tangy, but the aftertaste is sweet. As soon as my face is upright again, Shadow’s warm tongue douses my cheek with saliva. I shoo him away, then peer across the fire at Yorilis.

Vertigo seizes me and I almost roll onto my side. The fire and my Shaman were only a body length or two away when I drank, and now they’ve receded another five broad paces. “What are you doing over there?” I can hear myself think the words, but they come out of my mouth slow and stretched like they’ve been encased in tree sap.

Something’s not right. The world is spinning, and I squeeze my eyes shut to make it stop. “What have you done to me?” I ask, only this time I can’t be sure I’ve actually spoken at all. I’m leaning back, my joints unhinging until I feel the heel of my head press against some combination of soft grass and hard stone. I concentrate on breathing, the feel of my chest expanding with the intake of air, the heavy sound as I release it through my mouth.

I decide to give opening my eyes another try. Doing so, I’m grateful that the black sky above me is still. The stars shine but don’t move, which is a welcome start. I hear the panting of Shadow nearby and fully intend to ask Yorilis what he put in his potion to make me so dizzy – only when I sit up again, I’m not on the same hillside, and neither the Spirit Shaman nor the eladrin girl are anywhere to be seen.

“By the Founder’s Blade …” I’m still at the top of a hill, and the same chilly night air surrounds me, but there is no campfire. Only the soft light of moons and stars above allow me to see. I’m seated on a flat cairn of broad, stacked stones, and looking around, I see it’s not the only one raised upon the rolling summit of this hill.

I slide off to stand on firm ground. A cool breeze passes over the hilltop, causing the hairs across my forearms to stand on end. I listen to what it might tell me, but all I hear is the stillness of dead ancestors. “I must be dreaming,” I say aloud, hoping that if I speak the truth, the words will manifest into some show of proof.

I hear panting again and Shadow brushes past my leg, heading for what looks like a monolith, different from the numerous stacks of smaller rocks. Would I be able to feel the wolf if I was dreaming? I can’t be sure, but my feet move and I follow him, regardless.

Shadow squats on his haunches in front of the huge stone. It’s easily twice my height and a width similar to my shoulders. Reaching my furry companion, I drop to a knee and run my hand over the space between his ears. It feels comfortable, but I think it’s the first time I’ve ever initiated contact between us. He doesn’t seem to mind but continues staring into the blank surface of the stone.

It’s so dark in the shadow of the stone that the rock seems as black as the wolf’s pelt. I know he’s only a beast, but I can’t help looking to discover what he finds so mesmerizing. To my surprise, the lower portion of what looked like rough stone when I approached, now appears polished and reflective. Shadow is staring at his own image, and I see mine as well.

With so little starlight, not much detail can be gleaned, but I study my reflection momentarily, noting that my hair has grown longer than usual for the summer. I glance over to Shadow’s double, but all I can really see are the shape of his nose and his yellow eyes. Ready to move on and learn what else I can from my mysterious surroundings, I turn back toward the smooth stone as I start to rise, but my body freezes, mid-crouch.

The face reflected in the stone is no longer mine, but another wolf’s. I look over and Shadow is still there. He turns to me as I stare and licks his lips, unconcerned by what he sees. I turn back to the monolith and there is no mistaking it – I am no longer casting the reflection of a man.

I look down at my own body and it remains human – the curve of my half-squatting knees lie beneath my broad torso. Unsure of what it means, I stand, then look behind me to see if somehow a second canine has snuck up to play tricks with my head, knowing full well Shadow and I are alone on this hill.

Or are we? Looking back toward the cairn I found myself on just a few moments ago, I see the slightest glint of metal in the turquoise glow of the twin moons. I look both ways across the hilltop as I approach, wondering if I’ve missed something. Shadow gets up and follows me, but I forget all about him when I draw near enough to see what is waiting atop the pile of carefully stacked stones …

A curved, silver falchion, hilt bound with black leather, rests across the length of the cairn. I know in my blood that this is supposed to be the weapon of Yorrick, founder of the Shadowwolf Clan, whether conjured by my subconscious or some sort of magic. I reach down to touch the smooth metal of the blade, and I hear the sound of my fingertip contacting the sword like the low ring of a bell. Take it, a voice tells me, though I cannot discern if it is my own or one born on the night wind. Surely, this is proof that I’m dreaming.

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