“Outside of Merit is not of lands but oceans all joined to one and forever. Mind the waters that you sail.”
He held fast to the pulse. It was as rope within his rain-slick fingers. The way it thrummed was like a tentacle made of soundwaves. All the while, he could feel the pressure settling in upon his chest where the Fume built and bore down around him.
He focused his mind and grabbed for deserts. He found them far from off in the shards of some distant solace, but they were there. Where once were slipping feet were now the solid steps upon dry land.
He heard the sound of waves crashing like an echo when the shadow of vultures circled overhead. They carried his past moment with them like mosquitoes with malaria. This was the danger out of Merit where the Fume was never settled. He only hoped that nothing was poised upon the many webs, feeling for the vibrations of intrusion.
He walked with a simple gait while the landscape sped beneath him. He called to his destination in only whispers. Little breaths to seek out a lonely avenue. A simple house. A solid oak door, the one with symbols etched along the exterior and sealed off to the world against the door frame.
He always dreaded the day that he would look upon the door and finally see beyond it, the symbols broken. He knew what would be waiting for him then. He hoped today would not be this day.
When he felt the snow begin to fall around him, the sheen of the sky looking too much like a snowglobe, he knew that some Tracer had felt the web begin to shudder with his trespass.
He knew before he’d ever closed his eyes that it was madness, but the letter had pressed him to throw such caution to the wind.
Winter fell upon him with a fury then. Winds whipped and raged and lightning cracked the sky in black bolts that looked almost like liquid. He could hear the sound of terror. The Fume was growing thick again like a fog made out of iron.
He braced himself and kept moving. He knew not to look back, to risk either the time or the sanity. He’d looked upon shadow before and his mind still wore the scar of that dreadful day.
He called to someplace close but different. He called to icy caverns where snow banks were taller than he was. He stepped upon a glacier and then a vast lake that was frozen over with the dead stares of a million corpses lighting the hazy floor beneath – their eyes a strange hue of green.
When the Fume began to go thin, he dashed.
He called to a long stretch of highway, a big sign upon its edge to welcome those who entered.
He felt the tremors rise and knew his hunter was again upon him.
He called to Pasema Avenue and the Pharmacy on the corner that was always out of the gum that he liked to buy.
He called to the road and the house with the solid oak door when he felt the cold upon his back and a strange glow of green from where the Tracer cast its shadow upon the world around him.
He stepped through the Mire and into Merit as the chill rushed upon him like a wave of frostbite.
His lungs were heaving when he opened his eyes, his body slick with sweat. His feet were cold from the ice and his soul could still feel the Glare of where the Tracer had cast its shadow.
In his hand, he looked at the letter again.
He hadn’t seen her in years, and she’d not been glad when he came and knocked upon her Gate. She hadn’t cared that the letter was from Warren. She hadn’t cared that it was written recently. She pushed him out of her Echo and sealed her Gate anew.
He wasn’t sure what to do next.
Part of him wondered if it were merely a trap. But Warren would have come for him. He would have come for her. He would have tried to save any of them.
Didn’t he owe him the same?
This is a collaboration piece I’m working on with Tara at Caribou Crossing. She will be doing even-numbered parts and I’ll be doing odd-numbered parts.