I exhaled harshly in an expression of unending exhaustion. Suddenly, my knees buckled and I was overcome with leaden heaviness weighing upon my shoulders. I slumped in position, my hands and knees coming to weary rest in the dirt. My ragged breath rattled in my chest and I heaved painfully. My entire body shuddered and seized, my knuckles white as I pushed my fingers painfully into the dirt. I struggled with the fury at my weakness, willing myself to stand with every fibre of my being.
“We don’t have to do this if you can’t handle it,” Rowan whispered a comforting hand accompanying her words rests on my shoulder, the sympathy in her voice makes the shame sting even worse. I shrug her away, rising shakily to my feet, my jaw clenched like a vice.
“I can do this Ro!”
“I know you can, Alice, but…” her voice trailed off, I took some energy from my friends inability to speak. I brushed my hair back and fixed my gaze towards the circle once more as I raised my staff in front of myself, it shook more violently than was comforting but I guess I looked strong enough to silence Ro’s objections as instead she started the incantation once more.
I closed my eyes and left the mantra guide my spirit enter into the trance. The empty mind came easier this time around. I didn’t take the time to question why this was, letting the gift-horse be when perhaps it deserved questioning.
Instead I focused on the task at hand.
As my spirit stepped free from the protection of my material form was cracked open and suffused with vibrancy and power, I shuddered. I was electricity and fire, like I was overfilled and set to burst. My senses expanded beyond comprehension, my identity swirling in chaotic tempest threatening to shatter my tenuous link with reality. My astral form pulsed in time with Ro’s chanting, her voice a pillar of familiarity I clung to allowing their realness to ground me.
I centred myself, my clarity growing stronger until at last I was confident enough to continue to navigate the pandemonium. As a column of light I arced across a kaleidoscopic realm, my form and momentum shifting with each alteration in the landscape. As I neared the border and colours paled into oblivion I experienced the coarse familiarity of my goal. At the edge of nothingness I pulled into myself and lunged.
White, blinding pain consumed everything. All of my senses and comprehension were banished in the raw unimaginable horror that restrained me. I may have drifted for eternity for that is what it felt like. Time is a less rigid concept between world but eventually it was over, I was in my body again.
My bones and muscle and skin all ached, but it was a healthy ache, a pain I could handle, that I could comprehend. Such sweet relief at the simplicity of the sensation that I wept. Laboured heavy sobs shook my pain-laden chest and filled my throat with the metallic taste of blood. I cried out as the hot searing touch of another human hand as it pressed against my arm, It was bliss and torment that I could not express in words. Voices and the sounds of people hurrying filled the air, the tumult of stimuli was too much and I retreated from consciousness once more.
The background buzzing was the first thing I noticed as I came to. The second thing I noticed was the absence of pain, a contented smile formed naturally and I cautiously stretched, noting the stiffness in my limbs from lack of use.
“Alice?” I let my eyes flicker open, my dopey tired eyes catching sight of Rowan standing over me in a white room. I noticed she had tears welling up in her eyes, her expression twisted up like she was trying not to cry. Never one to miss a cheesy moment I reach my hand up and wipe the tears away from one of her eyes under my thumb giving her my best grin,
“What’re you crying about, silly little girl?”
Ro squeezes my hand between her shoulder and cheek, angrily wiping the tears from her other eye and fixing me with her best attempt at a scolding glare, “You nearly died, you idiot! You scared me! Don’t ever do that to me, you jerk!”
I laughed once, before it caught in my chest. Through the weariness I defiantly met her gaze, “But did it work?”
She sobbed gently, purest happiness and gratitude pouring out of her and she nodded.
“Of course it did, you did it.”