The first moments of an Earth dive kicked ass compared to any rodeo bull ride. All tingling rush and alive, nerve-popping symphonies and color. Full dissolution into the body of the Earth was a potent, verdant, breakneck speed descent, except done in exquisite slow motion.
Being ripped out of an Earth dive? That sucked worse than unexpected jalapeño bits in your breakfast cereal.
My point of comparison came from spending the last twenty-nine years running arms-open through the hills, towns, forests, farms and urban decay of the North American continent to suck the marrow of its Stories.
Stories of playgrounds, picnics, schools and religion. Corporate Stories, homestead Stories, political Stories, military Stories. Stories of sunsets and wildlife, National Parks and natural disasters. Of pawn shops and unemployment, of illicit drugs and of the sex trade. The tragic romance Stories, and, most miraculously, the birth Stories.
Also the death Stories. So many death Stories. More now than ever.
I’d run and run and still couldn’t find a comparison to this kind of dive—the addictive rush of being enveloped by the pulsing Earth as it whispered the Long Story, wrapping me in its arms.
The Long Story called me. I was a Story whisperer, and my magic, my Crita, was of The People of the Story—the Rawiya as we called ourselves. Clans of Rawiya wandered the world, populating the various continents. Our clan, settled in North America, called ourselves the Rawiya-Kun. We existed, thank Muse, successfully hidden away in the midst of ordinary humans living their twenty-first century iPhone and YouTube lives, supplemented by sugar sodas, fad diets and Netflix.
I fancied some amorphous Muse as the divine that inspired my use of Story magic; or at least the little girl version of myself had fancied the idea, even though there was no such divinity in the Rawiya creation lore. Our myths provided no particular answers to the ultimate force of creation. They just spoke of the Guardians to watch over it all.
Amthorn scolded me for trekking to California for my dive, its voice a familiar presence echoing inside my head.
*Kavi, your purpose is not to fix. Your purpose is balance. The Earth is simply changing. If humanity suffers then it is only the Long Story unfolding. You are more than this mission you have foolishly undertaken. You are heir to my Guardianship. Do not debase that with stubborn idiocy.*
Sweet Muse, I refused to reply. There was no winning arguments with Amthorn. Its biting criticisms were nothing new. Neither was the scorn of my clan, who, ironically and unknowingly, agreed with the Guardian, although for different reasons. But their attitude was a familiar soundtrack, and I’d learned long ago to turn down the volume. I had a job to do. The role of Guardian implied protecting, and that’s what I planned to do.
So I’d donned my gear and started the journey into the mountains of the Calaveras Big Trees State Park to visit the sequoias. There had to be an answer, and if I only listened deeply enough I might catch the thread and spin out a new Story.
Shoes off, my go bag placed on my hiking pants and tee piled neatly beside me, I folded down naked beneath a grandmother tree, its two thousand five hundred years a gift to understanding the Long Story. I savored the luxury of bare skin against the earth, the direct contact making the transition easier and more pleasurable. The cold never bothered me once I made the dive. Or much at all if I whispered my cells a Story of heat and light. My gold wire-wrapped pendant rested between my breasts, perpetually warm against my skin. My fist encircled it, the scale within the wrap a touchstone, the promise of my destiny.
I closed my eyes, breathed into my body, and imagined the string of sparkling nerve endings trailing down my brain and spine, connecting to the Earth where skin touched soil. With another deep breath… I jumped.
The Earth caught me.
The chatter of the top layers always held allure. Top roots, moss, and fungi trading tales of conditions, and recent disturbance to their kin; parasites, frost, foragers. Of confused birds in branches and strange temperatures for the seasons. Of sleep disturbed. Of soil shifting to disagreeable flavor. For moments that old familiar high of fascination, joy, flooded through me; the revel in their Stories. Then, I remembered my purpose. Passing them by I caught the murmurs about human interlopers told in increments of years and decades.
Their Stories paused as they noticed my shadow-self appear. I whispered back calm, peace, reassurance, and their chatter returned. Interesting as it was to listen, I dove deeper. I wanted more. I wanted to catch a truer narrative. The deep roots gossiped of pain and sister trees cut off from community, ripped from their beds or severed from the body that soared above ground. Sadness. Of a new wildfire threat miles away in the south of the state.
They spoke a flavor of agitation I’d tasted more often through my travels these years. No source, no clear Storyline, but ever present and seeping upward and into humanity at a growing pace.
Deeper. The granite and less dense rock spoke in fits and starts, slower than its organic neighbors, as I kept down the miles of the Earth’s crust. The temperature rose the closer I got to the mantle, where the Story had a darker flavor and spoke of mining and seismic change. The seeds of earthquake, and ocean beds stirring to launch storms. Of roiling, building magma. The Earth ratcheting into activity, more every day. Still, nothing new, and nothing I could use. I’d heard those stirrings before and knew the low reaches were awake, but they gave no hint of the meaning. There had to be something. The heat melted through my essence and I panicked for a moment, worried about breathing, then soothed my nerves with reassurance that I had no need of air in this state.
I reached for my Crita to whisper peace to the lower crust and listen for an echo back, a shift in the Story. But nothing returned. The Earth this low did not curve to my Storytelling, although the usual discomfort, a tug of my Story losing cohesion, waved over me from the effort, as it had further up with whispers to the top layers.
There was a cost to using Crita. Although from my seat, everything in life came with costs. The question was whether you were willing to bear them.
As the rock around me turned liquid, my vision caught in the patterns of energy and the rolling waves of molten conversation. Hypnotic.
*What do you hope to find, Kavi Kindra? What business of humanity are the deeper reaches of Earth?*
I struggled to pay attention to the voice as the lapping mantle waved past me.
*Leave me alone, Amthorn.*
*I only speak to warn you.*
*The clan. They are here.*
A wrenching touch tore me from my journey. No! I gasped, my body seizing as I sped upwards and was thrown back into myself. Searing heat, then cold. Nerves, raw and open, revolted against the air. My heart galloped a marathon, chemicals of threat and vigilance coursing through my bloodstream. Disoriented. Danger.
A foreign grasp caught my arm. I grabbed the limb at the wrist and forearm and twisted as I stood, throwing the figure to the ground, pressing the heel of my palm against the bare throat of the body pinned beneath me. I heard the rolling growl from my own throat.
Long seconds. My vision focused. Lily. Her eyes wide as I cut her breath and threatened to crush her windpipe, yet she still managed to send me a message of hate with her panicked glare. My foster sister had no love to spare me.
“Kavi, stop,” another familiar voice pleaded. And then Tess, my usually light-hearted friend, grabbed my shoulders and pulled. I recognized her strength, her touch. Blessed with a strong, fast body and a joyous spirit, Tess was one of the best of the clan, with blonde, pixie cut hair and sharp features, as if she was a faerie.
Hesitating for shorter than I wanted, but longer than Tess no doubt preferred, I finally removed my hand from Lily’s throat and let Tess pull me up and into her embrace.
Lily rolled to her side, coughing, and Mollina knelt down by her, checking her health. Dependable Mollina, steadfast, serious, and of course rounding out the threesome who traveled and worked and went wild together on the moon’s embrace. Lily waved away the concern and sat up, fingers rubbing her neck, her glare firmly in place.
I shrugged out of Tess’s now gentle hold, and spun to face her.
“What are you doing here?”
My nerves continued to chafe against the open sky. I wanted to scream. I wanted to lunge back at the woman recovering on the ground.
“You need a sweet kiss, and a fast fuck, my friend,” Tess answered.
Her wink did nothing to uncoil the tension gripping my body, although her wide smile made her hard to resist. From a sling across her side, two small heads peeked out. Her ferrets, Benedick and Beatrice, chattering and squeaking their opinions. Sometimes I didn’t know which of the three of them was the more playful, or the more devoted.
“Tess,” Mollina chastised, “leave her be. Not everything can be fixed with flirtatious jollies.”
The ferrets raced out of the sling, jumping to Mollina and back to Tess, then back and forth again, maintaining their complaint.
Only then did I notice the last woman standing off at a distance, her silver hair glinting under moonlight. Dalilah. Mother. Or so went the honorific if she had her way. Next to her stood a stranger, a man.
Dalilah’s eyes shifted a darker hue in their frigid examination, visible even between the night’s shadows wrapping the group. “Run,” Dalilah intoned. An even, cool order.
The last thing I wanted was to obey, but my body needed it. I’d come up from the dive too quickly and the energy popped through cells and tissue, making me crazy with its intensity. Too crazy to coax it calm with my own whispered Story. As tired as I was from reading the Earth, my nerves kept firing, the pattern out of control.
Dalilah knew the effect from coming up suddenly from a dive. She did it to punish me, the way she’d been doing since my birth.
Not bothering to answer her, I turned and ran.
The cool night air whipped by and finally ended its assault, starting the work of cooling my taxed body.
Over uneven ground, protruding roots, debris, tangled vines and plant life, I ran.
One mile, two, five, and slowing by eight.
I panted as I slowed to stop, walking in the moonlight to find my pace and place again in the mundane world. Stretching up to the waxing moon, arms lifted in supplication, I released the ragged sobs. Here I was again. Caught. Still, I hadn’t found answers. Still, it wasn’t enough. The chaos spread throughout my country, throughout the world. Tearing it apart.
After long minutes, I dropped my arms. Exhausted, I wiped the last of the useless, wet tracks from my cheeks and started the slow jog back to my clan mates, to find out why they’d followed me here.