Gary Baker, October 2013
Sunlight searing, almost a sky-spanning white, with volumous realities criss-crossing in viewing rampart waves. Pines blurred, grasses as tall as homes turned to walls of color, stone fortifications melted in subsystomic bursts and a new world was borne from the last.
Eyes twinkling, always twinkling, she looked to the new skies, searching, wondering, hoping. Mascara drizzled over prim and proper painted cheeks, red hues tracing over her bones with a blushing intent, freckles opened into the night air, exposed like pebbles covered in mud in the rain.
Not here. It never was.
Maybe the next one. It always would be.
And blurs began again, smells coruscated into burning air, tastes of everything from sap to soil to saline droplets from the eye became metallic and raw, then nothing. Colors swept out, creeping like spiders in the mist, webs spearing the darkness with reflected tangibility, then connected and filled in to make the next in line what it was.
There was a fire, here. A burning orange stamping it’s way across and through, trees turned to coal nubs standing on end, grasses nothing but ashen memories. Again not here. Maybe the next.
The skies sparkled like idols of Halloween, then flicked out as color was lost and the harsh webbing of reality ceased to weave in such a pattern. Quickly a bright blue sky replaced the night, oceanic crashing waves stilled all thought, a not-too-chilly breeze struck up chords in the sheet music of hair lifted and frilly skirt-sleeves tugged as though by a child eager to show off.
She turned into the breeze, her eyes searching. Was this it? Was this the end to her tale? No. It never was. How much longer must she go on like this, always striving, always fighting, never happy, never sufficed? This felt like it, that much was certain.
But it was wrong.
It always was.
She closed her eyes, hands clenched into balls of putrid concentration, let the waves take over, her body a fissure between this and the next. She passed with a blink, toes free of sand for merely a second before landing again with a soft shush in bristly green grass, the sound of a waterfall echoing through thick-wooden giants and across a clearing to her exposed ears. Her hair fell around her shoulders, sifting over frills and folded fabric.
For once, she stepped forward, away from the safe and soundness of the lone space that she normally transferred from, into the unknown reality that this world might very well be the last she visited. Green petal-blades shushed under her bare feet, splaying to the side as though knights bowing to their most-noble queen and airy, dainty lady. She pushed through bristly pine branches at the end of the clearing, the ground cover turning sour again in a most-habitable way, through natural forces that wove the pattern from simple, soft velvet grass, into harsh, prickling pine decay.
Ahead loomed the drop from which the roaring waters came, her ears adjusting to the ways the rocks splished the topwaters and jutted to the sides to avoid the erosion of the more violent undercurrent. She perked her lips to the side, curiously splaying a grin as the thought occurred that she had been here before. So long ago, but certainly this must be it. It had to be.
But it never was.
She went to move on, instinctively flexing her thoughts to grasp the tidal flow between worlds, and caught the whiff, the intangible dark rustic plume, that spoke leagues in her flaring nostrils. Her blue skirt swayed, caught in a sudden breeze, and she tipped, almost fell, to catch herself on a needle-prone pine branch acting as a guard over the cliff-like canyon being made by the river below.
She kept there for several moments, peering into the fray of sunlight and day, looking deep into the eyes of woodlands and the wild. Nothing moved aside from the usual forestry activities, but it was there. It had to be.
This was it. It must be. Nothing else could draw her like this.
She moved back, into the underbrush, away from the canyon cliff and made her way down-slope to a point where the river could be crossed. Tall boulders sat like tortoise shells in the white waters, their peaks barely moist from the mist of splashes and crashes that would one day topple them completely, their bellies worn into the decay of erosion. She could almost see their slate-grey heads lift from the water, algae and plant life held in craggy beak-like mouths, to peer at the one to cross them with brave toe-tip leaps.
She landed on the other side quickly enough and continued up a path she somehow knew would be there, looking, searching, always searching.
More pines wove this way and that, her path now a winding deer trail that led high into another slope for several long moments. Sap filled her nostrils, a sharp but tangy yet wonderful combination of sugary sweetness and hard-condensed pine essence. Soil plushed under her feet, surging between her toes as she moved on, strawberries reaching out to cut her off, taking in the sunlight that seemed to follow her.
This had to be it.
It just had to be.
Finally her sight met the scent she had trekked this far for, and the still-warm gritty ashen blackness of a burned section of forest crushed through her toes as she stepped down. She couldn’t even look down at the silky velvet of the charcoal smearing over her heels and ankles, eyes fixed, so dearly fixed, on the tree standing ahead, chain lain around it’s base where a discarded wedge lay forgotten. Her eyes went wide in recognition.
This was it.
She just hoped she wasn't too late.
Picking up her pace, she darted like a songbird at play across the ashen land once standing as a private apple orchard, to the deer trail made wider through weeks of constant use by the man who had lived here -- who still did, if she wasn't too late. Here the soil turned sandy as she crested a thin saddle and lay eyes on the ocean up ahead. So blue, so very blue. But there were clouds hovering over, coming closer, ever closer, as though coming right for one thing, one point in space, summoned from the unknown with one task in mind.
She almost wept. This was going to be close, much too close.
Concentrating the mind, flexing her fists, she shot forward like a bolt loosed from a bow, using the steep slopes to the beach as a way to gain momentum as the storm picked up and grew dark, so very dark. A small canyon carved by a thin stream came into her path, easily leapt over with her nightingale pale.
She couldn't be late. Not this time.
The skies bellowed, rain suddenly smashing down like a barrier trying to keep her away, to keep her from the beach and thus away from her final end in this race. Nothing could stop her, though, not rain, not storm-surged gales careening into her like freight trains lost from their tracks, and certainly not the power of the one calling this pattern, weaving in the disproportionate reality that such energy loosed into this realm would cause.
Finally she crested the final rise between herself and the shoreline, spotting at once the scene she needed to see, the scene she needed to stop. There, at the tail end of the river as it swept out to sea, a gathering of men on horseback circled around a lone man with a templar blade, now lost as he knelt with a heavy gash in his chest, bleeding his life into the salty brine of saline ocean water as sharks circled in.
She stood in shock, knowing she was too late, forever to be lost at sea in the realms of realms, lost in the wake of such disaster that nothing could compare for all the lives she might live to see end. It wasn’t until the woman came walking out of the sea that the thought occurred that this could still be altered. Time may not have been on her side, but she could at least take back what was hers.
On her own terms would this end for him, the man in the water, weeping on the lap of the shark-woman, the one who would be telling him as he died that he once had been a king, a ruler of the sea, but it was a lie, a way to take him from her, to steal a piece of herself by the one being with whom she had mutual though not undeserved respect. Instantly she picked up her pace again and moved into the breakers just as the woman looked to the men who had done this to the man in the water.
She watched the men be torn to shreds in inhuman gore as the shark-woman reached out with her wrath. If only the shark knew what she did, that the man was yet to be gone, that there was hope.
Her hands grasped his temples quickly, blood now staining her blue skirt and blouse, and his eyes flickered open again, from the depths of death, almost taken by the one whom none of them could see, but whom all of them knew would be waiting.
His bloodshot eyes rolled around in exhaustion until at last he became able to bring her into view, and a smile lit upon his face. “Champagne,” he breathed, one hand lifting with the hesitation of one who’s lost control of his motor functions, “I thought I’d escaped you.”
Champagne scowled, her hands still on his temples, her mind still connected with the next realm and ready to snap them over, and hesitated. Was this the right thing, after all? For him?
The shark-woman slowed, her flailing blows of life-ending wrath falling to a lull, and she turned to lay eyes upon the fair-haired woman holding her prize, having somehow gotten passed her defenses without her so much as feeling her presence. The glare was a hailstorm of wrongness, of accusations left unspoken, of threats and respect as one declaring her need to confront, and finally faded into a thin smile of acknowledgement.
She nodded and turned her back once more, allowing Champagne that final moment, but the fair-haired woman wouldn't let g that easily. She grasped the man around his shoulders in a deep embrace, and together they flickered from one world as though never really there.
She would get him help, that much was certain. Whether or not he wanted that help was something else entirely, but she wouldn't just let him go because he was ready to. There was just too much to see, too much to know, too much for any one life to simply let go without so much as a blink.
This wasn't the end, she realized. It never was.