The Ravine

  And so I sat, there under that tree, waiting for my fever to break, so I could wake up and leave that infernal place. Waiting, I hated few things more than waiting. And yes, I hate a lot of things. But not only was I waiting under this damn tree, I waited with bated breath as I expected to be attacked at any moment.

  Yet, time passed, and I simply stopped counting the green and blue streaks of light that frequently flashed across the dreamscape’s ootherwise raven skies. Death. This place just stunk of death, it hung in the air, and the feel of this place, the uneasiness began to affect me - despite my efforts to resist it. I became twitchy, warm and cold, at the same time. Perhaps my fever was not only affecting me physically, but spiritually as well. Crap. I must be in the throes of death, if even my astral projection was becoming ill. Well, if someone were going to spring a trap on me, this would definitely be the opportune moment. Great, now I was becoming delusional paranoid, too. I was in serious trouble, I thought, as I pushed my back a little harder into my tree of solitude.

  The next few hours passed very slowly, but the ennui suddenly broke when I saw a rupture form a few hundred yards from my tree, in fact, not too far from where I first appeared on this dreamscape. Anticipating a confrontation, I drew my twin desert eagles, Wrath and Justice. Forged of diamond and obsidian, the black Wrath and the white Justice were the ultimate long range weapons, and more than a match for most of the foes that I had encountered on the dreamscape up until that time. Since my close combat skills were still a bit underdeveloped, I tended to avoid intimate combat with my enemies, as close combat required either sword play, which I lacked a suitable waepon, or hand to hand, or more accurately, hand to whatever combat, wherein, again, I was sorely inept.

  So, um, yes, guns drawn, and knees knocking, I got up and slowly made my way toward the rupture. Seeing a nearby boulder, I slid behind it, about a click away from the rupture, and training my cannons on the lip of the rupture, I hunkered down to wait. Whatever came through that rupture would receive a healthy dose of Wrath and Justice. And true to the old wild, wild west clique, shooting first and asking questions later was a tried and true philosophy on the dreamscape.

  But as my fear gradually abated while waiting for someone or something to emerge from the rupture, I finally regained enough composure to notice that something was definitely wrong with the rupture. The scintillations of light from the rupture, the patterns of which normally hinted at who or what was coming through the rupture – seemed unusually random. Perhaps it was a broken “end point” from a battle elsewhere. I observed the rupture intently for a few tense minutes longer, and still no pattern and no emergence. A few tense moments later, reason again gained sway over paranoia, and I noticed that the rupture was way too small for anything too terribly menacing to emerge. Now feeling thoroughly embarrased, I holstered Wrath and Justice. But for some reason, I could not turn away from the rupture. Surely, this was a very well thought out trap or scheme.

  Paranoid delusions aside, apparently, the trap was designed to misdirect my attention toward the patternless emanations from the rupture, and then signing no signs of danger, I would let down my guard, and once I turned my back, boom! All hell was going to break loose. So I stared at the rupture as long as my patience allowed, but eventually, I just wanted to fight, so I purposely turned around and began to walk back toward my tree. And before I had taken a score of steps, something tumbled out of the rupture. I rolled on to my back, cannons drawn, prepared to fire away, when I realized that my opponent had no claws, talons or any recognizable weapon of any kind. A little white baby in nothing but a diaper had tumbled into my nightmare.

  Well, I thought to myself, that explained a lot - the small rupture, the lack of a pattern, and the delayed entry. Because while babies dream too, they lack the spiritual cohesion to actually control a rupture and give it form. And apparently, this baby was very young, because his dream manifestation appeared more wispy than solid. Huh, this was no trap after all, but now the question became, what to do with the rug rat? I shrugged and sat next to the baby, who just stared at me rather blankly. I sighed. I didn’t have time for this, nor did I have much of an inclination to spend quality time with a baby.

  Sensing my indecisiveness, the baby looked at me (I could have sworn that I saw contempt in his eyes, but a baby can't do that!), and began to crawl toward my tree. Smart baby, if nothing else. "Wait", I said aloud. Company, even that of a baby, was preferred to no company, and I leaned over to pick up the baby. The baby gurgled in delight. "Didnt want to crawl that far huh?" He laughed and threw his arms up in glee. Now, I was also a taxi service. "What's your name little white baby?" Again, the baby just gurgled and cooed. "Not much of a talker? I like that." But what I didnt like was the dampness on my arm from the baby's bottom. Moreover, upon closer inspection, it appeared that my little friend had had an accident of the creamy and chunky variety. All I could do was laugh. I turned baby over to take a whiff of the diaper and whew, he stunk to high heaven, and for the life of me, I couldnt figure out how I hadnt noticed that stench before now. "Stinky! That is definitely your name. Stinky the White Baby!"

 So, I shifted my grip on the baby so that I wasnt craddling him, but holding him out in front of me, at a safe distance. And apparently, Stinky found the situation funny too, because he started to poot, over and over again. Nasty little bastard. Anyway, Stinky and I began the trek back to the only defensible position on the entire dreamscape, my tree. However, unfortunately for me and Stinky, I failed to notice that Stinky's rupture had not closed with his emergence. In fact, the lights of the rupture rotated into a particular pattern of pulses, a very ominous pattern.

  Nevertheless, my foolish inattentiveness was promptly redressed as a blast of hellfire shot through the rupture and almost burned off my left shoulder. I dropped Stinky, whom the blast had missed by mere inches, and howled in pain. Luckily, I maintained enough sense to roll to my left and shield Stinky. Wrath hung limply at my side, as the hellfire had partially melted its harness. Fool. I had let my guard down and got my just reward. And now I had no options. I psychically drew Wrath, and used what was left of the harness to tie the baby to my chest. With my remaining good hand, I drew Justice and leapt off the edge of the ravine.

  I didnt know what was coming through the rupture and didnt really care, my luck had run out, and all at once; moreover, from the pain that still lingered through my astral form, I would not wake up from this dream for some time still. Excellent, I thought, as my controlled tumble down the side of the ravine turned out to be neither controlled nor graceful. In fact, once I landed on the ledge below the top of the ravine, I promptly realized that I had done enough damage to my good shoulder trying to keep Stinky from cracking his head on a wayward stone, that I was now hurting on both sides.

  Nevertheless, my lackluster efforts notwithstanding, Stinky had only taken a bump or two more than he would have liked, yet there was no mistaking the look of disapporval on his face. Coughing up dust, I barely managed a "dude, I am sorry." However, I was in pretty bad shape myself, so my apology seemed less than genuine. However, bumps and bruises aside, my leap of faith had been rewarded, for as I glanced back up to the top of the ravine, I saw the telltale signs of "demon light" irradiating from the rupture. Flash after flash shone out from above, and I reckoned that almost an entire legion had emerged from the rupture. Turning to my little friend, I frowned, “I see you neglected to mention a few things when you arrived." Stinky looked at me in earnest, if a baby can do anything earnestly, and burped right in my face. And if the smell was any indication, that gurgling wasn’t even a response to my question. “Well, I guess I got your name right.”

 I briefly wondered what Stinky’s real name was, and who he is, was, and will be, and equally important, when he was from. To have an entire legion hunting him as a baby meant that either he was really unlucky, or he had to be of some import. Then it occurred to for the first time that a baby didn't possess the power to open a rupture to escape enemies, I mean, it took me months to learn to open ruptures between dreams. Yet here sat Stinky the Baby Rupture Opener. Great, I was now sure that Stinky was a liability that I was in no position to handle. A random group of demons chasing a random baby through a dream, fine, I could handle that, but this was obviously much, much more. Furthermore, it was relatively obvious to me that any good deed performed here would surely bring me misery tenfold at some point in the very near future.

  I looked again at Stinky and wondered what he would do for me if our roles were reversed. Or if he encountered me in the real world, and he held the power to help me - "would you help me Stinky?" Stinky, being Stinky, gave his normal reply. And somewhat mockingly I interpreted the fact that Stinky's last fart was slightly less pungent as a definitive “Yes, Magnus, I would save your black arse.” Liar. You would leave me on this ledge to die, to be another unfortunate SIDS statistic. But hearing more rustling above, I quickly realized that I was not Stinky, and that I could not allow him to die here as a defenseless child. Stinky clearly deserved better, well, that word does not mean much, but help is what I would want for myself in Stinky's position, and so, I felt honor bound to help him.

  Fuck, so now I had to save this baby. Looking around, I took off the outer coat of my chang po, and wrapped Stinky gently in it. I then dug a hole in the ledge, and making a sort of cave for Stinky, I buried him alive. If I did not survive this encounter, at least Stinky should be well hidden enough to perhaps wake up before the demons found him, or worse case, he suffocated, but that outcome was still preffered to the alternative of being found by the demons. And as for me, luck would play no part in my survival or death. Skill alone would carry the day. And I was going to have to earn my right to life today.

  I sighed again and looked at Wrath in my right hand and Justice hanging in the air to my right. I had never challenged an entire legion before, and I was admittedly afraid. But I didn’t have to win the fight, just survive long enough for both Stinky and myself to wake up. Besides, at least the legion did not have a noble or officer demon with them, and as soon as I finished the thought, a crushing dread drenched my entire being. Something very old and very powerful had come through the rupture.

  I really needed to learn to just shut the fuck up.

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