Three By Shadow

Act III.X: Initiation - Scene 1

The Dweller on the Threshold

Player:

Moonclaw drops through the skylight of her apartment and pulls the latch closed, pausing to listen for the lock to click into place before relaxing in the safe haven of her apartment. She hangs up her equipment and changes into a traditional Sioux dress, a light fabric woven with geometric patterns and streaming with tassels from the sleeves and waist. She curls up in a large leather chair and reflects on recent events. The shaman’s chest swells with pride as she remembers her triumphs in combat—the mighty glasswalker tossing about Wuxing thugs like they were playthings, the mangled corpse of the ghoul she had struck down with spell and bullet. She could not remember the last time she had faced her opponent in open combat, let alone a creature as fearsome as the ghoul, especially with the pack of zombies closing quickly behind it. Yet she had faced them all, and emerged victorious, unscathed even. The ork and the elf had been shot at, stabbed, their mechanical bodies riddled with enemy fire, yet where Moonclaw tread there was only death without reproach.

She felt as if she had passed some threshold, crossed the line between a mere Awakened thief and something more, a force in her own right, a shaman to be feared. Something within moved her to get up from the chair and enter the meditation room, a voice telling her it was time for the next step. The cat shaman listens, and obeys.

Moonclaw places her shamanic mask on the ebony statue in the corner of the room. The wooden fetish’s emerald eyes seem to make the feline figure come to life. She kneels opposite her deity, makes offerings of meat and incense to the White Buffalo, Wophe, and Cat in turn, then takes a pull of her ceremonial pipe before offering it as well to her idols, the embers still burning brightly.

She shifts onto the astral plane and bows until her forehead brushes the floor, then begins to pray.

O’ Tunkasila Wakantanka,
Ho naho tuwa mis tate el kin, naho mis!
Wophe, comet-rider, who taught us the tongue of spirits and the way of man!
Cat, deep are your secrets, quieter your steps!
Gaia, whose voice I hear in the winds and whose breath gives life to all the world,
Hear me, naho mis!
I am small and weak—I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands supple to send the arrow true, my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every stone and leaf.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my sister, but to fight my greatest enemy—myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and eyes unclouded,
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

Gamemaster:

Her prayer is said, and cannot be undone.

For an hour, or two, or six, there is darkness, and quiet. Moonclaw sits in meditative silence, and time and space drop away from her. Slowly, she feels herself pulled, and her astral form takes on shape and weight alien to this realm; consumed by the presence of a great eye watching over her, she raises her head from the floor.

An enormous cloud consumes her vision, clear and stormy and gentle and billowing all at once, it swirls and swells and coalesces into the head of a great white bison. The broad mouth and wide forehead fold and change and become the face of a Sioux chief, now shifting between the two, never forming a complete picture of either. Cat sits below the face, seemingly calm and reassuring. It looks at her, the very picture of feline ambiguity, and cocks its head as if to say, what is next, shaman?

With her totem standing apart, separated from her by the power of the deity, she is afraid; the bison’s voice is deep and fearsome. It speaks into her mind.

Hau kola, igmu’ wathogla.
You have tread a long path, beset on all sides by enemy, and war.
Your heart, cante, and head, nata, know the truth of these things. Better than you know.
You seek strength! You are weak.
You seek wisdom! You know folly.
These things are not mine to bestow, but yours to earn by walking.
You have asked for a gift. It is given. Attend carefully your own words, and know the path you must tread!
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every stone and leaf.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my sister, but to fight my greatest enemy—

Myself.

The word booms out and tears the very fabric of space around her. The bison/man’s mouth yawns wide, Moonclaw plummets toward its maw, and is crushed and gnashed in the great teeth. With a giant gulp, the avatar of Wophe swallows her whole, and she is utterly destroyed.

~ ~ ~

I awaken.

Cold and damp greet my skin and I pull my arms closer, shivering at the harshness of it. I look down and I am naked, hanging in endless darkness like a newborn in the womb; I pull my knees to my chest and wrap my long black hair around my neck for warmth. Reaching out into space, I long to touch something—anything—to feel the assurance of reality, of matter and gravity. I find nothing.

The only light comes from my skin, beating with the steady glow of a candle in time to my heart. I still my thoughts and wait. Is this life or Heaven or Nirvana or Araboth? Is this death or Hell or Naraka or Gehenna? It doesn’t matter. I am here, and that is the only truth in this place.

Years pass all in darkness. I drift in and out of sleep more times than I dare to count, yet I can somehow sense the ebb of time as Gaia cycles herself through the seasons of Death, Birth, Youth, and Age. Old gods are consumed by new and the world turns, one atom at a time.

A presence awakens beside me.

I turn to it, and it turns to me. It has not form nor essence nor soul. But those on the planes of my old life knew it, as do I now. This is the Dweller on the Threshold.

It waits for me to act, I know. It wants to use my weakness against me, but I must not show it weakness. I must overcome its challenge, lest I be trapped here. Forever.

[ Expose an Attribute to the Dweller. ]

Player:

I lock my gaze on the presence of the Dweller, unwilling to show my own fear, even here, naked, floating in the emptiness of the metaplanes. I already know what my response to its unspoken challenge must be. I close my eyes, confronting the dizzying kaleidoscope which comes with introspection during astral projection. I calm the madness through force of will alone, smoothing the cacophony of sensation until it is clear I am in control. I tap into my intellect, unlocking the tiny box which holds all of my cunning, my intuition, my understanding. It blossoms out from my skull in oscillating patterns of violet and crimson, first a blooming rose, then a spider’s web, splitting and intertwining with purpose until it resembles a knitter’s crochet dyed with wine.

I open my eyes back onto whatever world I have entered, fixing the Dweller on the Threshold with my attention, my chosen aspect billowing about to cloak me with its knowing, like the shawl of a spinster on a windy day.

[ Moonclaw exposes her Intelligence to the Dweller. ]

Gamemaster:

The Dweller sighs, Aaaahhhhh, as if being immersed in a cleansing bath. It wriggles and struggles and pops into being beside me, a single mote of white light next to the looming, colorful nexus of my inner mind. It hesitates, vibrating in the air for a second before growing in size, until it is a ball the size of my fist. There are smaller lights within, swimming just under the surface like a school of fish, pushing at the shape from the inside. A darker line grows down the middle of the Dweller, and it elongates into the size of a football before growing tiny crevasses and striations along its surface. Next it resolves into a brain, and a shortened brainstem and cerebellum emerge from the underside of it, squirming with their own power.
I am drawn in by the wonder and natural beauty of this otherworldly being, until eight evil black eyes open along the frontal lobe, staring back at me with alien malice. Eight glistening black spider’s legs sprout from the underside of it, and fangs glow with red venom in a mouth lined with tearing, horrible teeth. The grotesque legs grab at the web of my mind and it begins climbing rapidly down the delicate strands, each turning black and rotting away where the Dweller touches them.
I can feel my thoughts unraveling, and I instinctively take flight, now able to flee on unseen wings from the terror behind me. My intelligence flaps behind me like a cape, surrounding us both, but the vile thing holds on, inching closer with each moment. The pain of it is immense, and I pause in my flight, some part of me realizing that I must face this challenge head-on; I turn and there it is, looming before me, so close I can see the ichor pumping in the knuckled limbs and taste the hunger with which it pursues me.
Gathering my mind in my hands, I cast it as a net around the monstrous brain, and draw it tight, retching at the thought of enveloping such a thing in so intimate an embrace. I squeeze, and squeeze, and the awful legs writhe and claw at my breasts and stomach, gouging me, and I squeeze harder still…
With a sickening crunch, the brain collapses and the legs cease their scrabbling, and the blackness which surrounds me collapses in on itself. Where it was, it pulls into shape the reality I had so longed for in my time here, bringing with it air, gravity, light and warmth.
[ I gain 2 dice to my karma pool for use during this astral quest. ]

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