Gettin’ closer to thirty! Sorry I missed an update. Friday was busy- I just didn’t have the time.
Hope chapter twenty-three will make things better! Maybe this time Summer can catch a break.
Summer smacks into the gritty ground. She lies there only a few moments before she pushes herself to her feet. She’s abominably hungry, for some reason. From that she surmises she needs to draw energy from something to sustain her body. She summons the Rose, grasps it. The sting of its thorns remind her that she’s really, truly alive and in the present again.
She siphons some of the plant’s energy, then dismisses it. It disappears in a puff of smoke.
A familiar human groan sounds next to her. She looks around and spies a familiar human figure to go along with it. “Thomas?” She asks incredulously.
“Miss Summer? What’s happened?” Thomas asks blearily.
He hasn’t pushed himself to his feet yet- which doesn’t seem right. Had they both really arrived at the exact same time? That doesn’t even sound possible. But then, they shouldn’t have been able to get back in the first place, really.
“Have you heard the saying ‘you can’t cheat Fate’?” Summer murmurs, staring around at the Barrier. Nearby, a familiar scrap of paper tumbles off. On the horizon, a thunderous flash sends a shock of pain behind her eyes, and when she opens them again, the map is vanishing off into the distance.
There doesn’t seem to be much chance of catching it.
“Yes Miss,” Thomas replies warily. “What about it?”
“We’re being taught why you shouldn’t try.”
“Ah. Spring sent us back.”
Summer walks over to Thomas and helps him up one-handed. “Do you remember where we were- where we are?”
“Yes,” Thomas replies weakly. “Barrier, right next to the Line. In theory, all we have to do is cross it- though what lies beyond the Line is uncharted, I’ve heard tell from travelers that there are people there. And Miss, you might not be feeling it, but I’m tired and hungry to the point of delirium.”
Summer wouldn’t admit her own flaws to anyone if she could help it, but she gives Thomas a small nod anyway. He’s the only one who can help her out of here, after all.
He turns, squinting at the mess of black horizons and flashing lines of lightning in the blistering heat. The wind changes, and suddenly it’s freezing cold instead and Summer hugs herself, shivering, teeth chattering.
Thomas is silent for a while.
“Yes?” Summer prompts, feeling a bit impatient, and maybe testy thanks to the cold. “So?”
“We should try to find a crossing,” Thomas says suddenly. “Lord Autumn is looking for us, and so far seems to have found us everywhere we go. It may be that he can’t see us if we cross over. That and there’s sure to be settlements if we go far enough. I shouldn’t think there’s any way we’d make it to one in just one day, but there’s no point if we don’t even try.”
There’s an idea, Winter whispers.
“Mm,” Summer seems noncommittal. She nods, though, and Thomas starts a new path through the dust, along the edge of the Line. It seems like it just goes on forever- and it almost appears to be a simple line all the way into forever.
The voices- the whispers from the past- are gone. She wonders whether that’s because they did what they wanted, or because the one who sent the message was killed. In fact, who had sent the message?
“Who do you think told us to come here in the first place?” Summer asks. “Thomas, you seemed the most inclined to talk with them. What did they say?”
“They said they were the spirits of those who have died,” Thomas replies flatly. “I was inclined to believe them, Miss, just because they seemed pretty earnest about it.”
A hot desert wind washes over the pair of them. Thomas won’t look Summer in the eye. “They told me they could restore something to me.”
“Well, we know where at least one spirit of the dead is,” Summer says grimly.
“Your Servant?” Thomas asks sharply. “You said before that she was dead in this time.”
“Yes. But if we’re leaving it behind, it won’t matter,” Summer replies softly. “If it means we’re safe and out of this, maybe it doesn’t matter that she’s dead. She was doing what she wanted to do.”
There’s a heartbeat’s pause before Winter explodes.
Are you insane? Winter hisses. She’s the only reason we’re alive- we’re the only ones with the power to bring her back, and you say we should leave her?
“What happened last time, Winter?” Summer whispers hotly. “We almost died! You lost your way, without me to push you through, we all would have been dead! For good!”
“Er-” Thomas tries to cut in. Winter, oblivious, bowls right over him, drowning out his interruption and muddling Summer’s thoughts.
Don’t give me that bullshit! Don’t tell me you’re afraid! Winter snarls.
“Oh come on! She would have snapped us up at the first opportunity. We’ve saved her once already, the debt has been repaid!”
Winter goes silent after that, but Summer can feel the chill of her fury.
The sisters walk in silence for a while, following their human guide through the sand.
I hate you, She says eventually.
“We’re here,” Thomas says wearily. “And what great company the two of you have been, if I do say so myself.”
“Thomas,” Summer starts.
“Shut up already, Miss,” Thomas interrupts irritably. “The two of you arguing just isn’t my idea of fun. By my ancestors and parents both, I was raised with the fear of Gods in me, but from everything I’ve seen you’re just like normal people. Worse, you’ve got a spoiled attitude, Summer, and you’re far too soft, Winter, if you can even hear me.”
He pauses, then turns away again. “And we’ve arrived. Beyond this bridge there’s uncharted territory.”
The ‘bridge’ is hardly even a long, precarious ledge near two feet across, stretching on into dust and blowing grit, an invitation to the suicidal.
Summer stares at it, unbelieving, momentarily distracted from Thomas’s angry funk. “Bridge,” She says flatly. “I-”
“Look, just take what you get, and if you die at least you come back, alright?” Thomas snaps. “Sweet Cycle willing, we won’t cross this way again.”
The wind howls over the gorge, the only sound as the echoes of Thomas’s voice fade.
Summer, to her own surprise as much as to Thomas’s, shuts up.
Then, to her further surprise, she finds herself moving in front of Thomas. After all, if she dies than she does come back.
The same might not be true for Thomas, or for Jane.
As soon as she takes that first step onto the rock, she feels something must be wrong. A voice hisses in her head, and her heart pounds in her chest, bruising her ribs.
You dare to trespass on my territory?
She trembles on the rock bridge as the wind picks up again, blistering cold caressing her skin. Of course her shirt is no help. She shivers again, taking a long, shuddering breath before she takes another step forward.
A multitude of hissing voices now, dry and scaled. Summer shuts her eyes, and takes another step.
I will feast on your petrified corpse, mortal!
“The tales are true?” Thomas asks incredulously.
“Tales?” Summer asks weakly. “What tales?”
“The canyon hisses. The Line is filled with it.”
“You don’t understand what they’re saying?” She asks cautiously. Of course he can’t, Winter gripes. He’s human.
“Not a word, Miss. It’s just echoes anyway, it’s not like it’s actual speech. Snakes can’t talk.”
“Right,” Summer replies warily, edging forward and trying to ignore the dire warnings that follow her every movement.
“Sorry,” Summer whispers, trying to focus on not being blown off the edge. “There’s a man much scarier than a little hissing following me.”
We were going to go to Season’s Refuge, Winter notes.
“Plans change,” Summer mumbles. In this case, they change very quickly, Summer thinks to herself.
Your bones will fuel my furnace!
Summer pushes forward against a sudden furious burst of wind. The bridge disappears into fog ahead. Behind her, Thomas seems not to care about the fury of the sand and wind, nor that the canyon edge they left from has likewise disappeared into a cloud of stinging grit. The way he advances without a care in the world makes Summer grind her teeth.
“Nice view,” Thomas comments, looking over the edge.
“How the hell can you tell? I can’t see a damn thing!” Summer snarls.
“Over the edge, Miss. It’s clear all the way down to the bottom.”
Summer risks a glance, bites her lip, and keeps moving, trying hard to prevent her stomach from doing a somersault. It’s a long, long way down. She can see spikes of rock jutting upwards from the canyon floor. She might miss them if she falls.
It doesn’t seem to help.
After an eternity, with the voices hounding her every step of the way, Summer finds herself at the other end of the bridge. The edge is in sight, and finally she can take a shaking step onto the other side.
She takes a deep breath, brushing herself off. She turns and tugs Thomas up after her, and, perched on the edge of the canyon, she gestures expansively. Beyond is a wide wasteland. Desolate as the Barrier before.
“I can see why no one would want to cross,” Summer says dryly.
Thomas stares at it, then sighs. “Should we go back? I… could probably last a day or two. Could be that if we go back now and head back the way we came, we could find the edge of Barrier and be into open plains in no time at all.”
“Autumn has seen to it that we can’t go back,” Summer replies. “We have to keep going. I don’t know how far away he is, but knowing him it won’t take more than a week or so before he catches up with us. And in that time I want to be a long way away from here.”
“If you say so, Summer,” Thomas says easily. “Let’s go this way.”
The former gate guard starts off into the waste and, Summer, not knowing what else to do, follows after him.
They don’t have to walk far.
The air is cooler mere meters from the edge. Summer can feel a draft, pulling at her, tugging at her feet and calves. She shivers, despite herself, following bravely after Thomas anyway. But something is nibbling at her awareness.
After a while, she figures it out, noticing the sand near her feet being drawn… forward. With her.
“Thomas, the wind is pulling us towards something.”
“Yes,” is his reply. “Sure.”
She probably should have expected that. But something about his tone catches her a bit off guard. Feeling reproachful, she starts again.
“Look, miss, I’m sure this is fascinating and everything, but I’m trying to figure out where we are,” He says patiently. “If you have something relevant to add-”
Summer’s gaze falls on a patch of sand- which is swirling thickly around a central point. As they pass it, she feels a shift in the wind, and feels grains of grit scrape one leg. It seems to blow much harder, in a miniature cyclone, near this one little area. All of the wind is being drawn to this spot.
“That’s weird,” Thomas mutters.
Summer blinks and stares at him for a moment.
You should kill him, a part of her whispers.
It’s been doing that for a long time now. Summer grits her teeth, fighting it down for a few moments. But it’s quite strong, a part of her based heavily in habit and instinct.
He’s a connection to Spring, and through Spring, Autumn. You should kill him and leave him here to rot in the Barrier.
No one will miss him.
Summer’s gaze falls to her hands.
She’s grown weak over the years. Here, where practically no life lives, all she has is her strength. Her body’s strength. Her body, lithe and very strong even without life surrounding her. It would be simple enough to crush Thomas’s unsuspecting skull.
The thoughts are dark as they swirl in her head, and cloud over reason quickly.
When was the last time she’d killed? She feels hungry for it now.
She never told Winter that part. Sure the dark days are behind her. But that was because she was sure she’d have some opportunity to… well, to kill to maim to burn things later. Her self-control is really astounding, just like every other part of her.
Summer clenches her hands into fists and then looks up at Thomas, who is now a good twenty meters away and fading into the fog.
He turns suddenly, mouths something at her. Shouting at her, though she can’t hear it. Because of the wind? No, it shouldn’t be that strong…
She turns towards the patch of sand, swirling as it is. She just has this feeling….
She can always kill Thomas later, after all. The voice inside roars at the thought.
She beckons to him wordlessly, not trusting herself to speak without voicing a growl, and then takes a step towards the tiny sandstorm.
What are you doing?
She stops, one stride away, and glowers at Winter internally, but says nothing.
What’s happening to you, Summer? I can feel you, sort of, you’re not really acting…. uh… like you usually do, She finishes lamely. What’s going on?
“Gnn,” Summer manages, eyes half-closing, fighting back a literal killer instinct. “Ngh.”
That’s not helpful.
Neither is this stupid bitch, if you could kill her you would, dig your claws into her scalp and tug until her head just pops right off. Yes. That would be fun.
Summer grits her teeth and takes another step to drown out her own mind. She doesn’t think about it as her foot slips through the stinging sand and into nothing. Her heart pounds and her head aches, but she ignores it and forces herself forward.
Everything crackles. The world around her dissolves.
And she steps into another.