There were wolf-skins on the wall. Some of them still had heads attached, and one of them was drooling. As he looked at it, he saw yellow eyes barely filmed over, and they rolled slowly in his direction. He looked away, discomforted.
On the other side of the room was a low square wooden table at which a woman sat cross-legged. She was watching him with squinted eyes, as though suspicious of what he might do. He pulled his wrists gently apart, and the rope binding them resisted strongly. He didn’t bother testing the rope at his ankles, but he did wonder what she thought he might do. Then he let his head sink down onto his chest as though he were falling asleep, and let his eyelids descend equally slowly over his eyes. As the room vanished into a pinkish darkness he projected himself outwards in a way that only made sense inside his head, and then looked around him.
In spirit form he was still sat in this cold, earthen room, and there was a woman sat cross-legged across the floor from him. She appeared cold and still; not active in this realm. Then a scratching noise to his left made him turn his head, and he saw that the wolf skins here were spirit wolves, and they were prowling about. They looked hungry.
“Do you guard?” he signed. There were no sounds in the spirit plane, so no spoken language. Everything was signed, and there were several varieties of sign language. He was relieved that the wolves responded to his first attempt; a head ducked, a paw scratching. We hunt.
So, caught in both realms. He relaxed, letting himself fall somehow inwards and opened his eyes to the earthen room once more. The woman was still squinting at him.
“How long are you going to keep me here?” he asked. His voice was scratchy, and he wondered how long it was since he’d last spoken. The woman started when he spoke, pushing herself backwards and backing into the table, nearly coming to her feet in her anxiety. She huddled up against the table, pulling her knees into her chest so that her feet barely poked out from beneath her long, dirty, green skirt, and wrapping her skinny, liver-spotted arms around them. She made a murmuring sound that he recognised immediately; she’d had her tongue pulled out.
A hand fell on his shoulder, and he wondered immediately that he’d not heard the approach of this newcomer.
“Not long,” said a voice behind him. It was a woman’s voice he decided, it had a chiming quality about it and a softness that you rarely found in a man. “Just until I’ve let the light in.”
His stomach tightened into a knot.
“Trepanation?” he asked, though he already knew what the answer would be. “That’s illegal.”
“I don’t see any enforcers here, do you?” There was the sound of something soft shuffling across the floor, and a figure dressed in the robes of the Sisters of Eternal Distance crossed his vision. The woman by the table whimpered again and cringed, as though expecting to be struck. “If there is no-one to enforce what you believe to be legal, is it really legal?”
“That’s a question for the Sophists,” he said. “I would like to think that you respect that notion.”
The figure laughed, her voice echoing around the room and seeming to be an entire choir of people. It took moments for the laughter to die away after she stopped, and he wondered at that. The room was completely the wrong shape for those kind of acoustics. He let his eyes close again and pushed outwards.
There was a tall, elegant woman with long blonde hair and eyes like tiny stars looking at him. The spirit-wolves were sitting at her feet. She raised her hands, and he saw that she had snakes tattooed along her wrists and forearms, ending with their heads at her elbows.
I’m here too, she signed, and she smiled. As her lips parted though, there was only darkness behind them.
Oh good, he signed back, tapping his hand back against his wrist-bones to indicate sarcasm. I was missing you already.
Sit tight, she signed, and the wolves all lifted their heads and looked at him now. It’s time to let the light in.