Chapter 2: Bones upon bones

As she descended the steps into the well, Lisbet could smell the damp earth. Pungent and persistent smells became stronger the lower she descended into the gloom. Another elusive odour then caused her to take in her breath in a short sharp gasp, it was of something long dead. Trembling, she felt along the knubbly walls to steady her steps and with another sharp intake, she drew back her fingers. There was a different surface here now, smooth in places yet familiar shapes jumbled together. She looked and saw that the walls were inlaid with bones.

She stopped at the base of the steps and lit her torch of reeds, just as she had been instructed to do. She fumbled with the flint; it was a new skill for her and it took a little time before she could coax a spark from it by striking the flint hard against the stone of the floor beneath her. She held the reed torch closer with one hand as she tried again to make a spark – then gradually a small wisp of smoke arose as she sparked the reeds of the torch. Carefully she blew on the reeds and a flame was born – the torch was alight. Lisbet held her firebrand high above her head as she peered into the cavernous space at the bottom of the well. She gasped again as she realised that the walls of the circular cavern were all lined with human bones, as far as she could see.

At head height, perhaps a foot or two above her own head, the walls were studded with human skulls, each one angled just enough to appear as though looking down upon her gazing from below. Countless bones, arms, ribs, legs, the remains of thousands of people long dead adorned the walls from the skulls to the ground. They were not arranged as if whole skeletons, just a jumble of various bones. The foot bones of the dead, at the lowest point, were all pointing in one direction down the long corridor leading away from the chamber. As she moved forward, the light from the torch flames cast eerie shadows on the bones, and she sneezed in the thick dusty air, undisturbed for decades.

She looked down to see her own footprints in the dust, trailing back to the stone steps, where she could just see the last rays of the setting sun from the world above. A low scraping noise  sounded again, stone on stone, made her shiver and turn towards her target as the opening to the Faery well closed, shutting out the light and hiding her from sight.

Lisbet counted her steps calling each one out loudly and listened to her own voice echo over and over again, 100, … 500, …1000. Nothing else could be heard, nothing else moved, nothing else could be seen. Her own heart beat was drumming in her ears as she carefully made her way through the outer chamber of the Otherworld. At 1000 steps she saw that the chamber narrowed to a thin wedge shaped opening in the far wall. Above this niche she saw the rune sign Thurisaz, the Gateway, the first of the twelve etched into the stone wall – and knew she was on the right track. Above her were iron sprial railings and stone spiral stairs leading upward again. She repeated the sign in the dirt at her feet, drawing it firmly in the damp earth with her free hand.

She now peered upward into this strange entrance to the Otherworld, chanting to herself: “One thousand steps”, and bravely began her ascent. Bone walls were now left behind, the spiral stairway was hewn from the rock itself, and led her on for another thousand steps. At each 100 steps she found ancient torches in sconces attached to the rock with iron rings. She touched her own torch to these as she went, and created an illuminated pathway, noting the ancient runes etched into the rock beside each torch – ten more messages from the ancient ones.

She drew her cloak closely around her as the air began to get colder and colder. She knew that the twelfth rune would announce her arrival in the Otherworld.


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