Netikka gazed across the room at the congregation. Anxiety weighed on her heart as she contemplated whether the final ritual would yield the desired results. It was necessary however, and to avoid it was to die miserably. Her eyes shifted to the windows; outside was pitch black. It was in the dead of a windless night, the air stale from parchment and a silence that overshadowed the waning hours. Rituals like this were redundant, especially when under the tutelage of the village shaman, but this was something else entirely, a feat known to a few of the elders, and it only fed into her paranoia thinking about it. She could feel it in the way she habitually rubbed the skin on her forearms, waiting for some answer that would never come until she found the strength to confront it.
Perhaps it was the medicant passed around to each clan member to assist with the ritual. If memory served correctly, it was an extract from a common mold growing in the shadows of the trees. The dose was increased on this special occasion, and she was going to need plenty of guidance in order to properly administer herself during the jaunt.
The sound of equally paced footsteps echoed in an empty clatter through the stone-faced walls of the community hovel. The cubical shape of the edifice lent to the ominous reverb, causing Netikka to shutter for a moment before remembering with relief it was just the clan chieftain. As he settled in front of the gathering, he wore a non-committal expression. Underneath, Netikka did not know what to think, whether he was feeling bold or dour in the homily he was about to deliver.
“Greetings,” he began. The tone was the same, but she felt her palms dampening with every word. “It is a blessing to be with all of you on this very last night, a night that will test our years of ascetic training. As we all know, the world has become deeply imperiled, I’m afraid, and no course of action can avert the cataclysm awaiting us. Some say it was due to a great war that reached the far corners of the world. Some even say it came from demons streaming from the heavens in plumes of fire and thunder. Regardless, the answer cannot heal the blight that has taken our water and desiccated the land into beds of withering dust. Hence, we’ve been forced into our commitment tonight, but rest assured it’s a decision we’ve been preparing for since the days of the ancients. The time has come that our fleshly forms can no longer serve us, and we bid such burdens farewell as the civilized man, or so they call themselves, have left us with no choice.”
His words grew more solemn as he continued to speak, and Netikka saw the omen becoming less and less welcoming.
“The time is upon us to escape from these mortal bonds and enter the realm of Rah-Nut who shall bless and protect us during our migration. Without His presence, we would be assured of perdition, but thank the stars for His mercy and provision with which we embrace all our reverence! Now, without squandering another fallen speck of sand, I ask that you leave everything behind except each other and the strength of your faith and focus deep within yourselves, visualize the astral tunnel to deliver us from our jars of clay, across space, across time…allow for Rah-Nut to have dominion over your souls…cast all your woes and free yourselves…free…” and the Chieftain began muttering incantations as the gathering immersed themselves in the trance; and the hovel, the dirt, the black of night began to fade, fade into a diaphanous glow that slowly ebbed into an ethereal backdrop of random shapes and colors…
Everything was shut out; there was no turning back. The physical reality that once defined their livelihood disappeared. Netikka committed to the motions, dead set on joining her clan, her family, however, she was stuck. Something kept dragging her back to the physical world, a place fastened between opacity and eternity, not enough to escape the impending fate that was sealing itself around the world. She bent her will towards that transcendental state, projecting herself from the doomed chrysalis into the wild black yonder where the next level of life was beaconing. She was desperate, scared, all too aware that her emotive states were hindering her ability to reach out into the spiritual realm and follow her kin through the migration. Demons grabbed at her legs and gnawed upon them as she tried to escape, dragging her back into the living hell that would see her suffer from endless torment, starvation, dehydration, and a longing to be ripped from her flesh, drowning in a misery prolonged by the herds of unclean spirits who wished nothing more but to impose the same plight afflicting them every passing minute. Emotions were always the unsavory vessel in which demons burrowed, as Netikka was taught since childhood, and it was no different than what must have been festering in the souls that led to the great cataclysm from which her clan fled, souls refusing to let go of their insatiable pride and jealousy, to rend anything they cannot wrestle under their own control, smashing everything around them into oblivion. Their desperation was unyielding, stuck in their volition and hoisting their own petard, a repeating cycle of a fool returning to his refuse and burning what’s wholesome in favor of an idolatrous mirage. Each act the demons committed threw sand into the mouth of others; the sand of a world entrenched in total famine.
It’s either she broke free of such ravenous spirits or cave into the demands of the flesh wallowing in its own filth. She had to concentrate, tune out the distractions and visualize images of Heaven.
There was still a vanguard of resistance. Fears of helplessness were taking hold once again. Snapshots of her life flashed through her consciousness, cornering her with incontrovertible shortcomings she had no way of solving in this latter part of her life. They clawed to her back with talons digging deeper into her flesh, rudely demanding her attention to memories that made her wince. Portraits of when she stole jewelry from her brother and pilfered the food of her neighbor began to overwhelm her; she remembered that time when she was barely past adolescence when she struck her father in a fit of rage…she began to wail, the cries of which aroused a few of her kin, whether they were stuck in the hovel or transcendent alongside with their elders, she did not know, but she was filled with apologies she wished to express. Images of the demons snickering and sneering at her shortcoming was rubbing salt in the wounds, and it began to play with her temperament as well as her nerves. The wicked refuse to let go, clasping onto their victims like ticks digging and sucking away the blood until they drained the host of all life; it is how the innocent die at the hands of evil while those of a black heart go unabated; it is how tribes and worlds collapse at the hands of those driven by narcissism and no sense of justice. Their taunts and teases resonated through Netikka, awakening her to the reality she was being toyed with, her commitment in the final litany being so implacably hampered. The barrage of inner voices, or were they invasive entities, needed to be silenced so she would be free to escape side by side with her family. Those memories were long gone, many of which were outright falsehoods meant to damn her, so it was impressed upon her to purge them from her will.
No! She forged forward, binding the spirits of dark thoughts and phony regrets and casting them to the wind, forever rejoining her loved ones and the angels who’ve rallied her good works, delivering her to salvation, running over the old fleshly ways and coming to terms with spiritual maturity. The demons were now desperate, gnashing their teeth as they barely held onto her soul, writhing and striving to rip away from their unholy clutches. Flashes of redemption, forgiveness, and confessions of her trespasses against her relatives blossomed, overwhelming the torrent of guilt trips that fed the demons plaguing her soul. Her brother, father and neighbor had long forgiven her, and she remembered when she reciprocated with acts of redemption and disciplined herself to never commit such violations again.
Low and behold, she never broke those vows, a testament the demons of redress overlooked. Distracted, their painful grips slackened, and Netikka snapped from their grasp and blasted off into the hereafter. The concrete world around her, the drying cracking landscape, the deadness reverberating through the air vanished, and replaced with the twisting wreathing patterns of subspace; shapes, colors and textures greeted her more violently than any astral projection done in her lifetime. The depth of the experience played with her nerves, her old life melting into visual chaos, meting itself into a transitory funnel the angels carried her through. Voices echoed. They must have been the angels allaying her fears, yet they sounded familiar…those of her clan from which she heard the words “Welcome, Tika!” She could have sworn the only one who called her by that diminutive was her father…it was her father; his presence was right beside her, and all was well! Besides her people, no other voice pierced the ether, not a peep from the civilized world. Visions overtook her. What looked like time-lapsed footage of destruction, decay and death scrolled through her vantage point. There were colossal movements of populations through the world seeking refuge, the disappearing supplies of water stirring the chaos. Violence and multiple skirmishes followed. Famine and starvation struck the inhabitants lucky enough to avoid the torrents of civil strife. Above, she saw what looked like flying fortresses hovering over the cities evacuating the higher echelons while the rest were left to the mercilessness of the elements. Giant buildings that were spared of the great fires from the sky were now unoccupied as they rusted out, the corrosion fast-forwarding as wear and verdigris enveloped each edifice, slowly falling back into the dirt reclaimed by a vengeful planet. No additional magic boats were seen, and she was certain those left behind met their doom, their rulers moving on without a care. Nothing could have survived for long in such a scenario. A momentary sadness overcame her, and she prayed for those souls damned to extinction, yet in spite of the loss, she knew her people would live on another day and reclaim the planet from those who destroyed it.
It was not long before a shroud of ecstasy washed over Netikka, healing her of the unsavory visions shown to her. She opened her eyes, or was it her mind? What lied in front, rather all around her, was Rah-Nut in all His…or Its nebulous glory. It was a feeling rather than a physical manifestation before her, but she still recognized the essence as the Lord of Creation, hallucination or otherwise, who watched over her and all her people throughout their generations. There was a slight change in decorum as she tried to take a bow, at least she sensed it, an act that she could only ascribe to her physical life just moments earlier. Yet her actions, if they could have been called that, were equally expressive, if not more so during this transitional period in the netherworld. Unbridled reverence for Rah-Nut was a blessing in any form, so long as it was genuine, and without expecting any reward in return. A deluge of glory overcame her again, only with more intensity; she found herself granted with an authority she lacked before, having full command of herself through the blessings of the Lord over her emotional travails that would have hindered her outward projection. The sojourn became easier and the trail in front of her smoothed out and she shut her proverbial eyes and dreamed…
The time and space she occupied stretched into a wall of quantum ubiquity. She was unaware of how much time had passed in their transitory phase, but the next moment she was tending crops next to her clan smiling away as they prepared the day’s meal. The tribe was back on the land where the world was restored, and the seas and water ways returned to their natural state. The geography was familiar, and the land was easier to till and forage. No one knew the amount of time that passed, the interval must have been inscrutably vast, but it was no less a divine miracle, and she thanked Rah-Nut for the grand renewal.
Part of her, though, wondered if she was dreaming, that the whole experience of the escape, the fortune of being granted a second life, was the figment of a dying brain before perpetual blackness took hold. Time was lost for a long duration. There was only one way to prove what had befallen them. She looked up into the sky. The sun, to her surprise, seemed brighter than usual, more vibrant, yet a tinge of orange; the sky was filled with a deeper blue infused with a layer of milkiness as the air was enriched to nourish the crops. The weather was strangely different, a shade damper than the sundry climate she was used to. A cosmic vision suddenly manifested into her mind she could not explain except by the tribal elders securing the esoteric keys to the cosmos. It could have been an illusion, or a faint ideation, but Netikka swore that a harrowing gulf of time had passed, and the sun underwent permutations during the time the world was healing. The difference was a stark reminder of the past, and that no one but themselves were left to inherit the world.