Quiet. Serene. A lake in winter, the surface a mirror of the sky. Mist hung in the air, shrouding the distance in mystery. There was no bank, no end, just mirrors and mists. He stood in the centre, the only body for miles. No, the only body in existence. He could not move but that did not matter. He was not here to travel.
At first there was silence, not even an echo, or the sound of his breath. Then from the mists came a whisper, and a reply, and another. The lake began to ripple, and the voices whispered their way closer. No single voice could be determined. No voice rose above the rest. The whispers turned to murmurs, and when he looked down he saw them. Faces without features. Misty apparitions under his feet.
They milled under his feet, circling aimlessly, a dozen or so. He watched, entranced, and reached for one.
Screaming, suddenly, all of them. A dozen became a score and then there were hundreds. Churning the boundary between them, reaching desperately for him, chilling whatever part of him they could touch at the barrier. Hungry, desperate they were. Pushing and fighting and straining to be the one. To be let out. To be free. To go with him. To take him.
They needed him. And they would do anything. They would trade his soul for theirs.
He shied away from the barrier, and they fell silent. What had been a serene lake was now a sea of faces. A thousand face watching him, silently pleading. He couldn’t tell them apart. They all looked the same. All lonely, all desperate, all dead.
He turned away, trying to ignore the whispers and the calls. Fighting to ignore the voices as they became shouts and screams. They said no words but he knew what they were saying.
Don’t leave us.
Ivan, don’t leave us.
“Ivan, come back to us.”
His eyes opened in an instant, to darkness and cold. The damp ground was uncomfortable under his haunches, and his ears itched with the irritating sounds of insects. He sighed in contentment and lay back on the ground.
“You went too close, didn’t you? I told you not to,” the warm voice of his mother childed. “Reaching for a spirit to bring into this world is a dangerous thing. Úir does not release her children lightly. You must never immerse yourself, because Úir may decide to keep you.”
The brown-pelted buck simply nodded, his energy waning by the second.
“Sleep, my son. We’ll try again on the morrow,” she said, and melted away into the deep dark forest.
Sleep came quickly, bringing the only darkness deeper than that of the Blackwood.
No Ivan, don’t leave me.
Don’t leave me here Ivan.
He smiled, the memory of one of those thousand faces coming to the forefront of his mind. The most beautiful. The loneliest. The most desperate.
Don’t forget me Ivan.
“I won’t forget you,” he murmured, succumbing to sleep, and dreams of a doe long dead.