Part 1

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"Never forget that you must die; that death will come sooner than you expect...
God has written the letters of death upon your hands.  In the inside of your hands you will see the letters M.M. 
It means "Memento Mori" - remember you must die." 
~J. Furniss, Tracts for Spiritual Reading

Chapter 1

      There are tales that men like to tell, and there are those that are seldom told. Tales that originate deep within the bowels of the earth. Formative stories. Foundational truths that must be passed down if they are to survive.

      The silence seemed to stretch for miles, but the images were fuzzy and distorted like looking through a window in a rainstorm.

      Language is weak. You must disconnect from my words if you have any hope of understanding. Come with me. Let us journey together, and I will show you the truth, so that your eyes will see and your ears will hear and your heart will come home to the deep.

      Ryden woke in a pool of sweat, her hair matted to the side of her face and stuck to the pillowcase in thin, sticky strands that reeked of too much garlic and last night's alcohol. It was a dream. She was sure of it.
      The faceless man in the long gray robes had been a figment of her imagination, fueled by pizza and too much cheap wine. She'd never done well with alcohol, and wine in particular always gave her strange dreams, which was ironic, since she only ever drank to try to calm the voices and squelch the visions. Unfortunately, it hardly ever worked.
      She tried to pull her fingers through her tangled hair, but her hands were burning. Not just hot, but a sudden, searing pain, and when she looked down there was a glowing letter "M" etched by charred flesh into each of her palms. She started to shake, and the man's voice began again.

     You must not be afraid of the deep. For the ancients knew that to come to true knowledge and understanding, one must no longer fear death.

      Ryden's eyes darted around the still darkened room, the soft glow of moonlight coming through the backs of the curtains. There was no one there. No one she could see with her eyes, anyway. 
      "What does death have to do with it?" She spoke into the darkness.
Nothing. That is why you must remember.
      "Remember what?"
      Memento Mori....

      Ryden shut her eyes tight and shook her head, trying to break free of the vision. When she opened them the room was light again, the sun was up and the curtains blew gently with the wind from the slightly cracked window. Her hair was still matted but there were no marks on her hands. Just the faint tracing of the lines that had always been there. Hadn't they?
       Her aunt came walking through the door just then carrying a basket full of laundry and set it on the end of the bed, smiling.
      "Well, hello there sleepy head. It's almost ten you know!"
Ryden pawed at her hair.
      "I was in here earlier to gather the laundry and I saw how sweaty you were so I opened the window a bit. It was awfully stuffy in here. Are you all right? You're not sick, are you?"
      "No. No I'm...I'm fine."
      "Well you'd best get a shower then, because your ride's gonna be here in about fifteen minutes."
      "My ride?"
      "Sweetheart are you still asleep in there? You came into my room in the middle of the night, frantic to remind me that you had to be up by ten because some boy was giving you a ride to the field trip."
      "What field trip? It's Saturday."
      "Well hell if I know, you said it was to some state park to visit the caves and take samples and such." The older woman furrowed her brow and came to Ryden, placing a hand on her forehead.     "Are you sure you're feeling all right? You're not making any sense."
      Ryden stared at her aunt. Stared at her hands. She remembered the dream, but not going into her aunt's room, and certainly not that she was being picked up for a field trip. She climbed out of bed and yawned. "Well then, I'm going to go take that shower."
      "All right." Aunt Alice started making the bed just as soon as her feet hit the floor. "Breakfast is ready downstairs."
      "Ok."
      Ryden stood in the shower trying desperately to remember the details of the dream. If she was going to conquer her fear of death it would definitely have to start in a cave. She hated caves even more than circus clowns, although the former had virtually no basis and there were a slew of scary movies to blame for the latter.
    She looked out the window of the bathroom as she was drying her hair and sure enough, a car pulled into the driveway. She recognized the guy in the driver's seat. He went to her school, but she couldn't remember making plans with him, or any cave exploring field trip that would be school-sanctioned and happening on a Saturday. Still, if she'd gone to all that trouble to wake her aunt up in the middle of the night, then she guessed she'd better get on with it.
      Once again she looked down at a burning sensation in her palms and ever so faintly she could make out the glow of the two letters, but they dissipated just as quickly. She threw her hair up in a ponytail, donned some hiking boots and a flannel, then grabbed a flashlight and shoved it into her backpack with a water bottle and a couple of protein bars before heading for the door.
      "See you later I guess!" She called out.
      "Don't you mean tomorrow night?"
      Ryden stopped. "Pardon?"
      Aunt Alice stuck her head around the corner, a mixture of annoyance and concern on her face. "You told me you'd be spending the night at Amanda's after the field trip to put together the report and wouldn't be back till Sunday evening. Seriously Ryden, were you sleepwalking when we talked last night?"
       Ryden tried to fake a laugh. "Must have been. Sorry I'm a dope. Yeah, I guess I'll see you tomorrow night."
      "Well did you at least bring a change of clothes and a toothbrush?"
      Ryden looked at her backpack, then back at aunt Alice, then raced up the stairs to grab the essentials.
      "I swear to goodness young lady you would lose your head if it wasn't stuck on those pretty little shoulders of yours!"
      While she was upstairs she picked through the pile of hiking gear that lived in the corner of her room and grabbed a knife, a can of mace, a packable rain coat and some waterproof matches as well. If this was an overnight with caves involved there was no telling what might come in handy.
      She couldn't remember the boy in the car's name, so when she got in she just said "Hey."
      He smiled and looked at her with a strange expression. "You ready?"
      Ryden looked straight ahead and nodded. "Ready as I'll ever be."

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