of a deep wood where the trees loomed like ghosts
and the night was blinding in its starkness
lightened by the full moon so grandiose
a cold wind brushed against me so harshly
I gasped aloud and fell to my bruised knees
my clothes only shielding me partially
shaking as the weather dropped in degrees
So I began to walk that cobbled road
having no goal but to rest my laurels
having no idea what my journey bode
or that it would force me into quarrels
while below me the earth's heart kept beating
as if it waited for me in greeting.
A wise and strong woman found me sleeping
under the hut that she had made of stone
in such a state that I felt like weeping
If not for the terror down to my bones
"I am Tootega," said she, "now get up."
This wise woman wasn't ordinary
I could tell this as she gave me a cup
The brew giving me sight visionary
But I didn't drink for what seemed like days
Instead I watched Tootega make some food
Waiting for the sun to send us its rays
And attempting to calm my anxious mood
Only then did she decide to sit down
Then on her head I saw she had a crown.
"I've been told you're to go on a mission."
I said nothing and watched her eat seal meat
although to me she gave no nutrition
and her little stove didn't give much heat
"now listen to me," she said, "You can't fail."
When my lips parted she held up a hand
"I know you worship the One pierced by nails."
Tootega gave me a map marred with sand
Surprised ruled though when someone joined us there
"Why hello Saraswati. You're early."
The visitor was as tall as a bear
Her presence made my eyes go quite blurry
"I'm here to help you prepare for your trip"
With that, she nodded and I took a sip.
Finally the only things left were dregs
both goddesses bid me to look within
and in them I saw of time's very threads
tiny clocks constantly ticking therein
cogs and wheels both dancing with each other
in an endless rhythm of back and forth
and time stared back at me like a father
causing my very soul to change henceforth
timelines flowed behind my eyes like rivers
each colored thread the life of a person
lives passing by me so quickly made me shiver
and their fading away made my shivers worsen
the sight of which made me cry many tears
which in turn rippled, smudging all those years.
For awhile all I felt was nothing
everything became painful as I woke
the air was cold nad heavy with something
while my voice echoed every time I spoke
opening my eyes I could see so much
knowing unseen colors and unheard sounds
and life growing under my very touch
I smiled as if the lost had been found
Tootega and Saraswati were there
and I saw we were underneath the sky
with the wind blowing through all of our hair
but my being there I didn't ask why
dreamily I knew that I wasn't me
drugged or drunk I just let the matter be.
I awoke in an ivory chapel
surrounded by faces both old and new
An old man with a sagging face clapped-
In my stomach.
"What the fuck???"
"I had to break the pattern, the old man said somberly, "I'm sorry."
I gasped. Fell onto my back, cradling my abdomen.
"You better not have hit my ovaries...I still want to reproduce one day...fucking fuck..."
I found an altar and crawled to it. It was solid and I leaned against it. Tootega and Saraswati were there, as was the old man who'd stabbed me like a little shit.
My vision was swimming now not from a foreign tea, but from pain. My blood smelled like copper.
"I am Omoitane," said the old man who stabbed me, "the deity of knowledge in shintoism..."
I knew he was still talking. I knew Saraswati was a Hindu goddess of wisdom, and Tootega was an Inuit goddess of the same attribute. I heard footsteps from nearby.
"Saga, you're here," Saraswati was saying, "Now we just have to wait for..."
My pain throbbed even as I noticed that Omoitane's hands weren't stained at all. But...he stabbed me, didn't he? I looked down. I was the one holding the knife.
"What in the fuck..."
At this realization I slumped down onto the floor. Above me the ceiling was decorated with...was that me? Drinking a tea and...
"I stabbed myself...?"
A wave of long blonde hair entered my vision as a woman in armor knelt by my side and took the bloodied knife away to bandage my wounds. I wanted to ask what the hell was going on and who was this woman-clearly a goddess, why would anyone else join us besides another deity?-but I felt too weak. Instead I listened.
"I'm Saga," the blonde whispered, "Let me help you."
"...tea I gave zir works in funny ways. I suppose zir body didn't react properly...?"
"Well," Saraswati said from somewhere far away, "In my tradition suffering for a higher purpose is seen as a good thing. You know, for entering your next life or attaining freedom from the cycle of reincarnation."
"But zie doesn't even believe in reincarnation!"
Tootega, Saraswati and Omoitane began to talk over each other, and I heard more than saw Saga stand up to join them. Finally, a new presence knelt besides me.
I forced myself to open my eyes and look at who was with me now.
He was hot.
He was a literally gorgeous black man with eyes like silver coins. Or maybe platinum. They weren't human though. He had weird wire things around his neck and his wrists while his waist had a silver cloth...skirt...thing. He was barefoot.
I suppose he saw the question in my eyes though glazed over as they were from pain.
"I'm Orunmila. Yoruba orisha of divination, wisdom and foresight."
I wondered if everyone was going to introduce themselves in order to inform my readers, and Orunmila laughed and shook his head.
"Eshu has already given his permission for you to take this journey," Orunmila told me as he washed his hands of my blood. I wasn't even aware enough to wonder where he had gotten the water, though later I'd learn he'd had a waterskin tied to his waist, "So we can save a trip to his house."
"Oh, zie's up!"
By the time Orunmila had gotten me standing, Saraswati, Tootega, Omoitane and Saga were done arguing and were waiting patiently for us to finish. Whatever Orunmila had put on my bandages was working. I could feel my body rapidly healing due to...whatever funny smelling ointment he'd put on it.
"Thank Erinle for that. He and Ixchel worked on that all last night. You humans won't discover it for a few more centuries though."
I was pretty sure that Erinle and Ixchel were from two completely different pantheons. Now that I was on my feet and not drugged or bleeding out, I could see where I was properly.
We were in a giant cathedral, with stained glass windows depicting scenes of various myths and legends, including both ones I was familiar with and others that I had yet to read about. Across from me was a picture of Saga sitting with Odin and writing down while he was talking.
"...where am I...?"
Saraswati used one of her many arms to point up towards the altar, which was behind me. I turned. Above the altar-which seemed to pay homage to all kinds of beliefs-was an inscription. The words were foreign but as I stared at them, they changed like murky water suddenly becoming clear.
"'Your journey will start in the evening. Pace yourself and don't give up.'...I don't get it."
"It's different for each person that reads it," Omoitane piped up from where he was standing. Now that I wasn't angry at him due to thinking he stabbed me, he seemed pretty kind. Like a cute wrinkly old guy that you hated to see cry.
Finally I saw that behind the altar was a huge set of wooden doors. I took a step towards them-
"To keep warm."
Omoitane's cloak went over my shoulders.
"To open your eyes."
Tootega gave me a teapot with her strange hallucinogenic tea.
"To keep your belly from complaining!"
Saraswati smiled as she handed me a boxed lunch. I was about to ask why only one lunch when Saga gave me a dagger to defend myself with, should I need it.
I wondered if Orunmila would give me one of those wire-like bracelets, or maybe some of those pretty cowire shells that danced at the end of his skirt, but I got neither.
Instead he gave me his own waterskin.
"You can't learn if you die from dehydration."
With that everything turned dark, and all I could see were the doors opening ahead of me.