My training began in earnest this week with what Jennings referred to as “the fundamentals”. How I breathe, he assured me, is just as important as whether I breathe. At first I thought this folly and another of his jokes at my expense but after the few days I have spent under his tutelage, I must confess to noticing many changes.
Early on the first morning he had me follow him outside and adopt a stance as if I were sitting astride a horse. I felt foolish at first but then he stood facing me and adopted the self same stance. At his instruction I was to take a deep breath in through my nose. I did so, and he told me I was wrong. He had me to do it again, this time placing his hand on my chest. I took a deep breath and, as I did, he told me to freeze and hold it. Leaving his hand in place he said,
“When you breathe, I should not feel your chest move”
He instructed me to try again but this time my chest should stay steady and I should allow my abdomen to extend. Certainly I have run or ridden until I was fighting to catch my breath on many occasions but I had never had cause to pay attention to my breathing in this manner. As I did, I was surprised by the change I felt. We stood facing each other in this way as we breathed deeply and steadily, in unison, for quite some time. I was to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, not stopping or pausing as I did. My breath should be a continuous cycle, round and flawless as a pearl. Once he was satisfied that I had grasped the understanding of this he moved on.
He had me take note of the sharp sensation in my nasal passage as I breathed in the cold winter air. I was to try and imagine this sensation in different parts of my body as I breathed, starting with an area in the middle of my hips which he called the “sacrum”. The purpose of this was to illustrate the power of thought and how the conscious mind can be manipulated through visualisation. Also, that the brain and the conscious mind were two separate things. Just because my brain was between my ears, it did not mean my soul was. After doing this for some time I started to notice a strange sensation throughout my entire body. When I relayed this information to Jennings he seemed a little taken aback. These techniques, he told me, were of Asian origin and have existed for centuries. What I was experiencing was something called “Kundalini” energy. Transferring my conscious mind to the point where I had placed that sensation was known as “being in the fullness of oneself” and people rarely experienced it so quickly.
Over the course of the following days Jennings had me stand like this for some time each morning so that I might fix the sensation in my mind. Each day he would have me shift my awareness to a different part of my body. When he was happy with my progress he would call an end to our meditations and we would set about helping Nathaniel in the cottage or around the grounds with all the various jobs that needed doing. Jennings would be close by at all times and, should he catch me breathing improperly, he would strike me in the chest with whatever he had to hand (in one instance, this was a shovel), and command me to breath in the manner he had instructed. He would also wait until I was in the middle of tasks and shout parts of the body at me. This was my instruction to take my awareness to that corresponding location whilst I carry on with the task in hand. This I found incredibly difficult to begin with but, with practice I am steadily improving.
It was after several days of this that Jennings raised the subject of the Soul Stone around my neck. He had me take it out of my shirt and inspect it. I have to confess that by this time, I had spent a great deal of time inspecting it in private but I did as he asked all the same. His explanation of the artefact was thus. The stone was not actually stone at all but Amber, the fossilized sap of a tree. It was a strange substance that allowed the storage of certain energies. He went on to say that, through proper use, it would not only protect my soul from dark entities that would wish to drain it from me, but was also a means of storing it should one of those dark spirits succeed in killing me. This last comment brought home the severity of my situation for the first time. I had not previously thought of such an eventuality. I had faced death on a daily basis in the Sudan, but the thought of an enemy that sought to steal my very soul was a sobering one indeed. I feel that Jennings could sense my concerns in this and so pressed on with his tuition. It was a very rare occasion that this came to pass, he assured me, but on those rare occasions it is possible to retrieve the soul and lay it to rest.
Bidding me put the pendant back in my shirt he had me take up the breathing exercises and visualisations I had been training in. He asked me to shift my awareness to the point where I felt the thing resting against my chest. I did as he asked. Next he asked me to picture in my minds eye, a place from my past where I had felt safe and happy. It must be a place where I spent a lot of time in comfort with nothing but good memories. That was easy, for every time I had inspected my Soul Stone its foggy complexion had reminded me of the early mornings I spent fishing on the banks of the river Nar. Many nights I had camped out on those banks and woken in the early morning mist. Sometimes the mist was so thick I could not see the opposite bank, and even though I knew I could see towns 30 miles away on a clear day, I felt as if I was in my own little cocoon. I was separated from the world and all its woes and my only concern was the arc of my line into the calm waters.
This began the next stage of my training. Keeping in mind all that I had learned so far, I was also to bring this new place into my meditations. To breathe as I had been shown, to centre my awareness where I felt it against my chest and to keep that place fixed in my mind as I did so. This has been the new focus over the remainder of this week. Jennings has taken to throwing things at me when he feels I least expect it. Every time I am struck by his missiles I am instructed to focus my awareness on the stone. It has got the point now that it almost the first thing that springs to my mind.
This evening after dinner Jennings asked that I help bring some logs in for the fire. We made our way out to the wood store and the bright light of the full moon over head made the carpet of snow sparkle like a sea of diamonds at our feet. I took this opportunity to ask Jennings a little more about the S.P.R. He seemed reluctant at first but only for a moment.
As he had already told me, the society was founded by a handful of very wealthy British Lords and gentlemen who held high positions in most areas of society. Their collective goal was to study the world of the supernatural and paranormal with every asset at their disposal. They would employ certain people, such as Jennings, to investigate the cases that were brought to light. It was made apparent that there are many different areas to be taken into consideration and for each of these areas there are a handful of specialist investigators. Jennings area of expertise, and the area in which he was to train me, was that of magical creatures and entities, or what some in the S.P.R. referred to as “monsters”. Jennings disliked this term and branded it racist, as it was his opinion that the term “monster” is a purely subjective one. Many of the entities he has investigated are no more monstrous than a Tiger or Shark. A Tiger kills to survive but you would not call it evil. It simply does not conform to the rules of etiquette, or the moral sensibilities that man has forced upon himself in an attempt to appear civilised. A Tiger is merely amoral and does what it needs to survive. The same can be said for the world of magical creatures, there are only a very few truly malicious entities. It was Jennings’ opinion that the true problems arise when man finds himself in conflict or competition with the natural order, whether through design or circumstance.
The S.P.R. is not the only society of its kind. There are in fact several organisations around the world that have devoted their time and resources to better understanding the domain of the paranormal. For the most part there is a mutual respect amongst them and they are all too happy to share their findings. However, there are some who believe that all knowledge is power and should be kept secret and sacred. They believe that certain artefacts and entities hold the key to ultimate power over the earth and their fellow man. They will stop at nothing to ensure their place in history. On the rare occasion that agents from these societies have been encountered the situation has quickly become violent and hostile. Several times these encounters have almost brought harm to members of the public, or almost made the efforts of the society news worthy and therefore known to all. Neither outcome would be acceptable.
The next move of the society was an odd one. To counter the possibility of their investigations becoming the focus of the public, they gave the society a public front. By making the presence of the organisation known to all and inviting people with an interest in the unexplained to join, they created a smoke screen behind which they could operate in relative safety. Should anyone come forward with an outlandish tale of the exploits of an agent they could be waved away as a product of the over active imagination of a society member, and so, in 1882 the “Society for Psychical Research” was born. As the popularity of the society grew it fired the imaginations of such people as Mr Stoker, Lady Cottingley and the Baron Lytton. Their works of fiction, although they all had a basis in reality, served only to add fuel to the flames of the over active imagination of the people and, in turn, the smoke screen grew even thicker.
Jennings decided that he would draw our brief history lesson to a close with this and we made our way back to the house. There was just one thing that had been troubling me however, and I wanted to address it rather than let it fester in my heart. The prospect of losing my soul was one that drove a shiver of terror though me. I drew Jennings’ attention once more but found it hard to convey my feelings on the matter. After watching me fumble around the point for a while to satisfy his own amusement, he put me out of my misery. He had guessed correctly that I sought his council in this and these were his words to me.
“Listen to me very closely as this is the only advice I will ever offer you. There will be moments when you feel all is lost. When there is nothing left but terror and uncertainty. Your heart will be beating so hard you feel it wants to leave your chest and you will be so petrified you lack the capacity for rational thought. You will be alone, in the dark, facing a nameless ancient evil that wants nothing more than to steal your very soul. When you find yourself in that place, and you will. There is one thing you must remember above all else. One thing that will bring comfort and strength when all hope is gone, and it is this…”
His advice came with a broad smile.
“Try to maintain a good sense of humour at all times“.
With that he clapped his hand on my shoulder so hard that I almost dropped the logs I carried, turned and walked back into the house.
The rest of this evening was spent as every other has been, with merry tales, light hearted trickery and the occasional missile and prompting from Jennings to stay mindful of my breathing. As I lay here making note of it all my life in the lancers seems like a distant memory. I could never have dreamed that my future would hold such wonder.
Additional
I am in Southport once more. It was the early hours of this morning when Jennings burst into my room and shook me awake as he ordered me to pack my kit and make ready to leave immediately. In an instant I was back in the army. I was on my feet, dressed, with my meagre possessions packed and ready to go within moments. I made my way into the main room of the house to find Nathaniel sitting at the dining table. His face was ashen and he bore the expression of a very troubled man. Jennings entered from his room and he, like I, was packed and ready to move. As soon as Nathaniel saw him, his anguish was all too clear.
“You must hurry Alfred. The candle is out and you must make Wittlich before the others. You must get there first”.
What he meant by this is still a mystery to me. Jennings led me through the forest at such a pace, down paths he obviously knew very well. Within an hour we were at Southport docks and I write this short entry as we wait to board a steamer heading for Germany. This is all the information I have managed to obtain from Jennings. He is obviously very troubled by whatever has necessitated our hasty departure.
On a personal note, I cannot help noticing how things have changed. This is the very same Southport I returned to just over a month ago, and yet it feels so different. I am seeing my old world through new eyes and its complexion has changed in astounding ways.soul stone resize

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