By Jayroop Ramesh
Grog raised his hands to stop himself from being blinded by the light as he stepped out of the cave, carrying his large club and his spear fashioned from a tree branch and a strange glowing rock he had found in the cave the night before. He had seen images of animals in his sleep, and he knew those would come to him once he woke if he kept looking. He saw movement in the bushes, probably a fleshy bird like the one he sees when resting and thought himself lucky for finding food without even trying too hard. No need to hunt now, only eat. He jumped into the bushes with his club ready to strike at his prey. It was a good lunch indeed…for the sabretooth who was prowling in the foliage. His blood seeped into the ground and copious amounts of it was absorbed the tip of his spear which began to pulsate intermittently with a faint light.
Ammon snapped out of his reverie and found himself resting on the banks of the Nile, and his eyes traced Ra waning in radiance and luminance as the sun began to sink below the horizon, heralding the cycle of daily demise and leaving behind only the promise of his rebirth. What if he never reincarnates again? What would happen to our crops, our sight and our souls? Will we be consumed by the endless night that is Apophis? Ammon longed to see what lay beyond the desert sands, beyond the river and beyond the horizon. He wanted to spend every day witnessing something new. It really can't just be pushing and carrying blocks of stone around, can it? These thoughts usually found their way into Ammon's mind after a long day of labor at the Pharaoh's construction sites. Ammon was considered a lost cause among his peers because of his tendency to daydream and make grand, unrealistic plans. Unlike his friends, Ammon felt that building giant stone structures was merely an exercise in vanity for the king, despite the proclamations of the High Priests as to their divine role in rituals. The old fool probably just wants a big funeral mound to take as much as possible of his wealth in his journey to the afterlife. And for this, hundreds of us slave day in and day out in the scorching heat. A rustle in the reeds near him made Ammon turn sharply, and he saw a jackal staring back at him. "Hey there, Anubis, how's life in the land of the dead?" Ammon chuckled as he said so, but he almost choked when he received a reply in a low, rumbling voice, "It could be better I'll be honest, but you'll see for yourself soon."
"The voices of those who have been, and the echoes of those who will be, converge to form the collective unconscious of our race, and these shape our dreams."
Before Ammon could recover from the shock, the ground split open in front of him, and he was swallowed whole by the earth. He fell into a void, and though he contemplated turning around so he could see the abyss staring back at him, an experience he had heard to be profound, his nerves got the better of him.
When he awoke, he felt a comfortable warmth, yet a feeling of emptiness washed over him. He couldn't move, but he just attributed that to numbness. It's really dark in here, I wonder if I've been bound, gagged and shoved into a well. Suddenly, he felt himself be pulled roughly, much like how horses pulled the Pharaoh’s prisoners in different directions, yet his body felt nothing. A torrent of emotions washed over him as he found himself staring at a mummified body, which he instinctively knew was his. Alongside his mummified body, were laid to rest his unfulfilled dreams, his hopes to see the world, and unlike the sun deity, he was well aware that no reincarnation waited for him.
Ragnar Ljongnamme woke up startled and sweating. He had one of those cryptic dreams again, in the name of the All-Father, he wished those would come to an end. Ragnar had performed the sacrifices at the gallows as dictated by his Wise One. It wasn't easy finding many volunteers in his kingdom as his kinsmen would rather fall in bloody battle and be escorted by Valkyries to Valhalla than be subject to shamanic practices. The winter sun was veiled by the Northern Lights, the cascading ballad of green and blue hues made the snow-covered landscapes come alive and made his spirit rise after the nightmares. He was suddenly reminded of his true purpose, to conquer all the lands from here to the ends of the world, so that all beauty in the world belonged to him, and him alone. His armor thirsted for blood, and his sword hungered to shed it. His fathers and forefathers raided and plundered villages, but aspired to little more than guarding what they had. Not Ragnar, he would be the storm that takes the world. He shouted, "I have a dream!" to no one in particular, desiring to embolden himself with his resolve. The raven perched on his window sill quothed, "Yeah? So does everyone, dream in silence like we all do, and let them remain fancies forevermore". Ragnar thought, "I must still be dreaming", shaking his head and stroking his bearded chin. Another raven who sat on the foot of his bed chimed, "Don't assume you're still in sleepsgard just because your thinking out loud got a response, oh king". Seeing the confusion on Ragnar's face, the two ravens spoke in unison,"We are Huginn and Munnin, the eyes and ears of Odin, and we have a proposition for you this fine morning, would you care to listen?".
"For Odin!" The clash of steel and the cries of warrior coalesced together in a crescendo, before crashing down in incoherent cacophony. Ragnar still held to an impressive army, and he knew that their bloodlust grew only stronger as the battle raged on against the enemies. It had been twenty years since the day he made a blood pact with the ravens, and he no longer knew with certainty how close he was to fulfilling it. Most of his ministers and his shamans had succumbed to disease, old age or an arrow in the dark, yet he had gained new companions during his journey. It did not matter to him, as long as he kept going, and he was sure he could go another twenty years. While gray tinged his hair, his heart was still young. He would not be another speck in Midgard, cursed to a forgotten existence. He charged at an enemy in front of him, the enemy swung a second earlier than he, and the snow under Ragnar Ljongnamme turned crimson as he fell. The enemy, justifiably thinking he won that duel turned his back only to receive a blade through his back. Ragnar pulled out his sword and brushed off death as a mere inconvenience. In exchange for a place in his dreams and a part of his soul each time, the ravens gave him the boon of rising again even after grave injuries. He let out a guttural scream, full of triumphant fervor and lament for his sanity.
Decades later, the ravens returned to Ragnar at the midnight of his being. All he saw and heard in every dream now were the flapping of dark wings and never-ending cawing. In his blind pursuit of worldly dreams, he sacrificed one of the very things that made him human. Ragnar closed his eyes and vanished into oblivion in a puff of black feathers.
Veni Vedici was being chased by two grotesque creatures through a dark alleyway. Their black hoods flared to the sides, as they gained momentum and she was sure they'd dig their claws into her at any moment now. One of them almost reached her, but she vaulted over a railing and climbed to the roof of a building at the very last second. Lacking the flexibility and nimble feet required to perform such a feat, the two creatures settled for a loud, furious announcement.
"Vedici, the masters expect the money back with interest soon, or else we'll be paying you a visit again, this time with sharp objects."
Ugh, hired thugs by the loan sharks, the absolute worst.
Veni ignored their threats and made her way through the labyrinth of water canals, cathedrals and traveling troupes in the city, hoping across rooftops and sneaking onto lovesick couples' boats when they weren't looking, which was easy considering they were lost in each other. She finally reached home, and after quickly scanning the area for signs of possible waiting goons, went inside. Her unfinished magnum opus greeted her almost once. Or at least, she thought it would be her masterpiece. She had borrowed so much money from so many people to afford the tools necessary for her creation. She knew what she wanted to sculpt, yet was uncertain how to start. She was going to immortalize her husband in stone and dedicate the work to his loving memory. Tears stained her cheeks as she recalled their brief time together. The first song he wrote for and sang to her, the countless others he had to conjure before he finally won her over, their promise to move to Florence and live as artists (once they found patrons of course) all the while competing with his childhood rival who worked on mostly Chapel ceilings, and their long debates over which stories from antiquity were worth their time arguing. She was there for him, as he got worse, and she was there, when he could barely lift his paintbrush at all, and she is there when only his lingering presence remains. Veni could not remember how many times she commanded, bartered and pleaded with fate to spare him, and take her in lieu of him. She could only feel so much before she let the dreams take her. In them, after all, she could hear him, and be with him again. It did not matter to her that these moments were as ephemeral as a mayfly's life.
Mira Juno was one of the last Earth-born left on the spaceship Selenos. She awoke from one of the falling dreams again, but she was happy to have dreams at all. She was a 120 years old, yet she was a lively and cheerful soul. She reveled in telling stories of a bygone world to the young ones, those who were born on the ship, and cared after by nursing droids. Today, she told them about the unseen world, the world where your thoughts and memory intertwine, with some imagination, to form a reality that could have been, could still be, or could very well be. The children nowadays were engineered before birth to reach maximum potential of human genetics, and conditioned to be efficient and to fulfil a specific task in the wheel of society. After all, colonizing and terraforming Prometheia required people who knew what they were doing, there was no need to make it more difficult with natural selection. Mira recounted to the kids, what her grandmother had told her when she was a child.
Since dawn of the 31st century, the people began developing and perfecting technological marvels, "magic" boxes for almost everything, a single touch could manifest almost any dream into tangible product which could satiate any needs almost instantaneously. Eventually, the home-world began to show signs of decay, a steady decline in resources, and the changing of breathing air to one that burns and suffocates well before she was born. Mira remembered the chaos, the panic, and the desperate need for a forgotten, primal talent. When humanity had finally been elevated to a state of ideological harmony, the threat of survival of the race, a primitive fear, loomed over them again, but this time an inherent, enabling and coping mechanism was almost lost to all, along with the reassurance brought by belief in higher powers.
Dreams, Mira told the kids, were to the subconscious what hope is to the conscious, and the faith that things would get better. "Dreams, were a creative cornucopia, where you could be inspired or face your worst fears. People used to dream of power, of freedom, of grandeur, of glory, of love, and desires, but the dream everyone dreamed was for a meaning. Even with dreams alike, the who, what, why, made each one different, and unique. The voices of those who have been, and the echoes of those who will be, converge to form the collective unconscious of our race, and these shape our dreams. Now, at the twilight of our story, the gates of horn and ivory have become one, and Morpheus only sings a song of survival". Mira took a deep breath, intending a dramatic pause, but unfortunately, it was to be her last.
"Who told you that you were dead?" asked Anubis, now standing imposingly tall in his hieroglyphic-ally depicted jackal headed but human form. "As long as someone breathes your name in thought or memory up there, you are always somewhere." Ammon still had not forgotten the fact that he was in the underworld and doing menial chores for the deities here. He thought, "Why was it my time this soon? I had so many things I wanted to do... there's nothing to even look forward to anymore..."
Anubis replied in his usual deadpan voice, "The whole reason we can torment the condemned here in Duat, is because they all desired for something, and they still do, even if in most cases it has been reduced to hoping for an end to the suffering".
Ammon fingered the strange, intricately carved stone that hung around his neck, as he mused how life would be if he could have been a legendary king, or if he had a soulmate, or if he were among the stars. Perhaps in another life… one can always dream.
"Boy, get back to cleaning on aisle Osiris, his methods tend to leave a mark".