Katabasis, Part VI



Also Featuring:

eilean_icon.gif maes_icon.gif

Scene Title Katabasis, Part VI
Synopsis To find the end, we must first find the beginning.

“But the stars that marked our starting fall away.
We must go deeper into greater pain,
for it is not permitted that we stay.”
― Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Dry leaves crunch underfoot. The air feels at once cold and oppressively warm, like walking through fire into winter winds. And yet, there are no flames, only fog.

The heat on Nathalie’s cheeks fades as the crisp, damp cool of the graveyard soaks into her. Maes is still holding her hand when they emerge through a leafless thicket into a clearing filled with headstones and grave markers, back into the cemetery of what many call the Black Conduit.

Maes gently lets Nathalie’s hand go, turning to look back at her. Monuments to dead saints and former conduit bearers rise up in faint silhouette through the fog at his back, and the light snow that falls all around covers the ground in a thin carpet, leaving visible evidence of where they have been.

“How do you feel?” Maes asks, his concern very real.

When Maes lets go, Nathalie stumbles. Her hand reaches out to rest on a gravestone, the cold surface helping ground her head and ease her nerves. But not enough. She sits in the damp earth, fingers sliding into the dirt. Once her breathing evens out, she looks up at Maes.

"A little sick," she says before she glances around at the graveyard. Back where they started. "I'll be okay," she says, feeling her skin starting to cool and her breath steadying. Physically— if there is any physicality to her these days— she'll be fine. The state of her heart and her mind are another matter. "Why are we back here?"

“It was either here or somewhen else. There’s no, ah…” Maes looks around, “lobby for my side of things. Besides, I need to take you to someone who is going to bring you another stretch of the way where I can’t go.”

The sounds of crows rise up in the treeline in the distance. Fluttering wings amid the soft silence of snowfall. Maes steps closer to Nathalie and rests a hand on her back. “Where you need to go next, I can’t. But I’m going to take a shortcut and meet you on the other side to where you need to be. If that makes sense.”

There’s a silhouette in the fog—a woman—approaching Nathalie and Maes.

Calling this graveyard a lobby strikes Nat, in her current condition, as very funny. She laughs more than it calls for— much more— and grabs onto the headstone behind her to pull herself back to her feet. "Someday," she says to Maes, "I hope to see what there is on your side. Or hear about it." She had fleeting thoughts about the white side being calm, clear, warm… but after experiencing Boulle's version of the white conduit, she doubts very much that it's very comforting at all.

But maybe, just maybe, that also changes depending on the soul.

She looks at the silhouette, then back over at Maes. She grips his forearm, giving him a nod. "I'll look for you there." If I make it hangs in the air, but she doesn't speak it, just in case saying it out loud would make it real. "Any words of advice?"

“Just one,” Maes says as he sets a hand on top of Nathalie’s. “Be not afraid.

Letting his hand slip away from Nathalie’s, Maes takes a step away just as the woman emerging through the fog comes fully into view. She is a slip of a thing just a smidge taller than Nathalie, dressed in a lace-front bodice and peasant dress. Her hair is a wild mane of auburn curls, blue eyes intense and wild like a bird’s.

Maes retreats into the snow and fog as this woman approaches, no introductions, no words. The redhead stops her approach nearer to Nathalie than is conversational. Her bare feet are dirty, toes curled into the snow.

“You must be the needle n’thread,” the redhead says with a fond smile showing crooked teeth. She has one incisor that’s slightly bit more of a fang than the other. “I’m Eilean,” the woman says with a thick Irish accent. The name sounds identical to Eileen. With that, she offers a hand smudged with earth and grit.

For Nathalie, who spends plenty of time being afraid but reckless, it is good advice. She nods to Maes, giving his arm a quick squeeze as he pulls away. A silent goodbye. She doesn't watch as he steps back into the fog, as if a lingering goodbye might be bad luck. So instead, she turns her attention to Eilean, to the hints of a more feral nature. There's a beauty to it that takes Nat by surprise.

Nathalie has never felt like a wild creature, she spent most of her life holding her own reins tight. All of a sudden, she regrets it.

"Nathalie," she says, taking the woman's hand for a firm, but friendly shake. "Apparently that's me. We'll have to see how good a stitch I am." Sutures and mended seams. Patchwork. But she's seen patchwork hold true. What is she— what is anyone but patchwork? "I hope not to disappoint."

“I hope so too, or this’ll be a short trip.” Eilean admits, her smile wry and playful. “We’re goin’ t’go somewhere not many folk have ever been. A place only one person’s ever come from, an’ Mr. Maes is going to try and get you the rest of the way once we get there. But nothing like this’s ever been done before, so…”

Eilean reaches out and takes Nathalie’s hand again, as if she’d never intended for the girl to withdraw it. She laces her fingers with Nathalie’s, brows raised. “Long time ago, longer’n most people remember, this place was a lot different. No point in Catholic saints an’ their statues ‘fore they were even a thing, yeah?”

Eilean gently tugs Nathalie to follow. “See, when I was a sprout about half your height, a sickness came through my home.” She starts to walk, barefoot, back through the snowy ground between the headstones. “My mum, three sisters, and brother all died’f it. Stranger came through, lookin’ like no one we’d ever seen before. Came from far off, but he was a healer. A wound eater.”

Eilean looks side-long at Nathalie as they walk. “See, back then, before the worst of the wars, that’s what I was. We take injuries into ourselves; sicknesses, all the pain of the world. So that the world don’t need to suffer it.” The Black Conduit, as Nathalie had always imagined, wasn’t always so violent. Much as the White Conduit had not always been so benevolent.

Time changes even ghosts.

“The healer healed his last with me. Sickness had taken me and his gift decided it was time for new ownership. He gave his life so that I might live. Then it was my duty t’heal the world, best as I could.” Eilean explains, looking to Nathalie. “What was a wee one t’do with her whole life, when it’s burdened by something like this.” She lifts her and Nathalie’s joined hands, squeezing gently. She understands, empathizes.

Somehow, Nathalie feels as though Eilean may have been present more in her youth. Though not as obvious as a ghost, but a presence; calming, patient. An internal voice that begged for temperance when all others cried out. She had been there since the beginning, in her own way.

Fitting, then, that she’d be there at the end too.

Nathalie finds her eyes welling up during Eilean's story. How familiar it is, how heartbreaking. What is a little girl to do with such a gift? With such a weight. And just as she begins to topple into melancholy, into her own dark thoughts, she feels Eilean's fingers and her own mingled together and that, too, feels familiar. Nathalie was never alone, not with endless lives in her head. But she never felt understood. But here she is, completely understood. One other person with a story like her own exists, and the comfort found there makes her chest clench. She tightens her grip on Eilean's hand.

She was never alone. And now she knows, she never has to feel lonely.

"Survive," Nathalie says, as far as what a wee one was to do. That was her first priority, when it was her turn. "Try not to feel like every bad thing is yours to solve." She pauses there, frowning at her own answer. "Actually, I don't think that was the best answer. I wish I hadn't been so afraid. Were you? Afraid?" Did they make you afraid? Is that how it always is, witches burned and hanged until there aren't any witches left. Or no one left to hang them.

“A lot,” Eilean admits with a contrasting smile. “I was ‘fraid of everythin’, an’ then after seein’ the world… nothin’.” She shrugs, as if a lifetime could be so simple. “The old voices were different than the ones now, but they’re so far gone they don’t talk much anymore. But when I was you,” she says with an incline of her head to Nathalie, “they were all the company I had. They remembered things, that what most forgot.”

Reaching the border of the cemetery, Eilean leads Nathalie not onto one of the many winding trails like Maes, but straight into the dark forest. Leaves and branches crunch under her bare feet as she moves, fearless and heedless into the wilderness. “See, this place stretches on into forever… but only as far’s you’re willin’ t’look.”

The woods grow darker, deeper, the trees more ancient and moss-covered. Eilean continues, undeterred, and clear of direction.

"Rouen said that to me once, that we're a conduit to the past. Into the future. Those people are gone now, but they managed to whisper to you, and you to the others who came after you. All of eternity, present in every moment of time." Nathalie looked down at their hands, imagining the hands of endless souls linked together across history.

She looks up in time to see them heading into the forest, away from the paths. But Eilean seems to know the way, so Nat follows her lead and lets herself watch the moss— and the darkness— increase. "Makes sense. If the graves can grow catholic saints, then I'm sure it can grow with the curiosity around it. The determination." Eilean's specifically, in this case. And the other souls like her.

Or even those far, far older.

Eilean leads Nathalie to one such place, out the other side of the forest and into a snowy glade. There, rising up from the bare earth, is a symbol that evokes a bone-deep sense of dread in Nathalie the moment she lays eyes on it. A seven foot tall obelisk of night black stone, etched with Sumerian writing and pictograms.

Only then does Eilean purposefully release Nathalie’s hand from her own as she steps into the glade. “Nanaja,” Eilean says, and Nathalie understands it as a name. “The first.”

The obelisk. The Obelisk. Nathalie knows it from leaked project notes, knows the contents of each panel, she knows it from pictures and references. But more than that. She knows it. The dread, rather than driving her back, draws her forward. If there's a monster under the bed, she wants to know for certain instead of hiding under her blankets. If there's a trap laid for her, she prefers to spring it and handle what comes after.

Her fingers find the sun, tracing it around before she trails around to find the moon, and finally—

She pauses before touching the star. One power to oversee the other two was the thinking, but she wondered how true it was. The conduits were not so easily defined, as it has turned out. Shifting and changing as soon as someone tried to pin them down. For the first time, looking at that star, she feels pity instead of fear. The life of a slave, so early in their existence. What had that done to them? A conduit for experiences of the past has to carry the good and the bad. The trauma of centuries lingers as much as the expertise and knowledge. The scars of her own troubled beginnings still itch, even those from before she came to bear this particular burden. For the first time, she feels a kind of kinship with that star.

"I heard a lot of stories about this. About the people these carvings represent." She speaks mostly to herself, mostly to remind herself that she can speak. "I don't know how much of the myths are real, though."

“We’re all made up of the things about us that’re true, an’ the things about us that’re true to other people.” Eilean says, lingering on the edge of the obelisk’s glade, allowing Nathalie to approach alone. “Who we are winds up being somethin’ in the middle.”

As Nathalie approaches the obelisk, there is a sense of something watching her. The hairs on her arms and the back of her neck rise in response. Of the four panels on the obelisk, three are shattered except for the panel that is crowned with the symbol of a moon. The writing on it—cuneiform engravings—smudges like oil paint under Nathalie’s fingertips, twisting into something she can read.

But all she reads is the story of her own life, and at the bottom:

“She gave her life to save another.”

It isn’t her own internal voice she hears, but the voice of another speaking in her voice. It is externalized, emitting from all around Nathalie.

Nat pulls her hand away when the writing shifts, like she's afraid she ruined it. Her shoulders fall when she sees familiar details and names appear on the panel. She has no desire to see the events of her life laid out like a history book, horrors brushed over in clinical language. But then— like it knows— she hears her own voice speaking it out to her.

She looks over at Eilean, her arms folding in a protective gesture. "What is this?" she asks, her voice cutting in over her voice. Of all the things she's experienced here, this is the most unsettling. "Why is it doing that?" She jerks her head toward the obelisk rather than unfolding her arms and leaving herself feeling any more exposed than she has to be. Given all the givens.

Eilean says nothing, only watches with rapt curiosity. She doesn’t know.

“We know your story,” Nathalie’s own voice says around her. “We have been there for it, and we will be there when it ends.”

Eilean inches forward, eyes wide, looking around as if to hear what Nathalie is hearing but unable to. Her lips part in anticipation, fingers curl into small fists. She looks around the glade, at once cowed by the monolith’s presence and drawn to it. But she holds her ground, bare feet dug into the soft soil.

“So will you.” Nathalie’s voice adds. “Forever.”

Nathalie turns back toward the Obelisk, her brow furrowing as she listens. Is that a threat? is the first, kneejerk reaction to the word forever. But instead of speaking her worries outright, she focuses on relaxing her muscles, her face first but eventually her arms drop back to her sides.

She'd feel better if she had a gun, if only for the comfort of feeling one in her hand. Of not feeling so helpless.

"Who am I speaking to?" She addresses the obelisk, although the voice seems to be coming from everywhere. "And what do you mean, forever?" It's hard to keep accusation out of her tone, but she does her best.

Nanaja,” it says in Nathalie’s voice, “the beginning of the road.”

This is when Eilean steps in, hustling into the glade on bare feet. “We must petition her for aid,” Eilean explains, raising her voice for fear of being drowned out by the voices in Nathalie’s mind. “Maes taught you something, something that normally only his side can do. You are different, Nathalie. A bridge between worlds.”

Eilean’s eyes are wide as she reaches Nathalie, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You must go,” Eilean says, looking at the monolith sharply, then back to Nathalie, “back. Against the current of the river, to her.” She squeezes that grip. “She must show you. It is the way.”

Nathalie closes her eyes, her head shaking as she tries to recall things Richard told her about the creator and the warrior twins, every crazy thing Eve said about the dragon. She can't place the name Nanaja, though, can't guess at what such an ancient being's thoughts and motivations would be. Glancing over at Eilean, a frown tugs at the corners of her mouth. If it's down to petitioning and diplomacy, she's not sure she's the best choice they have here. But also, she's aware no one else here is linked to both sides of their coin like she is. So, in that regard, she's the only choice.

"Better not fuck it up then, huh?" she says, mostly to herself, and rubs a hand over her face for a moment. It's an odd sort of pep talk, perhaps, but it gets the job done. "I'll go. I'll see if she'll show me how to fix things here." Her hand reaches up to cover Eilean's, hanging tightly to her. "Shouldn't be too hard," she says, her tone lighter— a contrast to the desperation in her grip— "there are no straight lines. And that goes double for us here. All eternity in every moment…" Her attention shifts, looking over at the obelisk as a weight seems to settle in her gut. Better not fuck it up.

Eilean closes her hand tightly around Nathalie’s, laces their fingers together. “Do not fear on your journey,” the Irishwoman says with a fervent shake of her head. “Fear is for the living, fear is for the ephemeral.” She squeezes Nathalie’s hand, her eyes glowing a bright blue. “We are none of those things. We are the serpent…

…swallowing our own tail.

The night sky is a million, millions stars wrapped in a blanket of blue and green auroral lights.

Nathalie rises with a startle from the ground, her fingers digging into the soft batting of a bedroll at her back. She gasps, inhaling crisp and cool night air that contrasts with the warmth a crackling fire at her side provides. Her heart is racing, eyes fixed on the full moon staring down at her.

“«Wake up for seconds?»” A woman says in a language Nathalie has no knowledge of and yet feels as though it is in her blood. She sits across the fire from Nathalie, legs crossed and prodding the flames with a crooked stick. The horizon at her back is shrouded in auroras, the land flat and sandy.

There is a smell of food in the air. Something sizzling, bubbling fat, blackened skin. Nearby to Nathalie, a dark-haired man sits on his side, peeling flaky white meat away from a serpent coiled around a fire-blackened stick. He smiles to Nathalie with the warmest and most welcoming smile she has ever seen. His pale blue eyes are familiar. She has seen them in Abby’s face, Francois’ face, Maes’ face.

“«I told you one wasn’t enough,»” he jokes with a smile. Nathalie knows his name, as if she always had. Shara.


“«Don’t be a jerk,»” comes another voice from someone seated closer to Nathalie with short, curly dark hair and a copper torc around their neck. They look at Nathalie with dark eyes and a warm smile, offering a motion of their chin to her. “«If you are hungry though, I saved you some.»” They motion to a rectangular wooden plate at her feet with a skewer on it. This one has some of the snake, but also fire-blackened fruit.

And that is Inanna. They are family. They are all family. Which means…


“«Alright, everyone be kind to Nanaja. It was hard for all of you at first.»”The woman across the fire says as she stands up and walks over to Nathalie’s side. It is only then that Nathalie notices the color of her eyes. Gold.

This is Ninbanda.




Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License