“Have you ever seen anything like it before?” Chardra swung the beam of light at the grass, and it fell away in a sheet that smoked momentarily. An old woman sat next to her atop the hill. Graying blonde eyebrows rose in surprise, but her features remained otherwise impassive as she stared across the strange landscape. Snow drifted across sandy desert plains, and a rainbow-hued herd of horses appeared on the horizon.
“It’s incredible,” she breathed into the sky. The precipice dropped away into the distance below her toes. She’d been terrified when the idea had first occurred to her weeks ago; as the time had grown nearer, she hadn’t been sure what she’d do once she made it here. But with the world laid out before her, stretching toward infinity, and breezes playing through her hair, the fear seeped away.
“No turning back now.” She closed her eyes and spread her arms in silent salute to the sun, a blaze of fiery color on the western horizon. Taking several paces back from the brink, she knelt and pressed her lips to the stone under her feet. “See ya,” she said to the earth with a smile, as she stood up into a sprint.
The world disappeared into mist below her, and she reached for the clouds.
She had been ill, Tressa remembered, recalling in that distant, fuzzy sort of way you do halfway between dreaming and waking. The winds that blew in from the wylds had brought the Icewalker village ghostly voices and an ague that mysteriously affected only those with the Sight. She’d lain shaking from fever and chills for a week, but now found herself walking alone outside in the moonlight, expectation hanging in the air like the world holding its breath.
The dials rolled slowly under Starkov’s fingers, alternating static and dead air. It’d been two weeks with no contact. Shut away in their dimly-lit listening post, reports from HQ were the only indication that the outside world still existed at all. Manning his station had become reflexive: turn two degrees; stop; two degrees; static; pause; nothing; continue two degrees. Day after day, it’d become easy to convince himself that the enemy might be gone for good, but he kept his ear to the air. There was no telling when a signal might pop up again.
“Don’t go,” she said quietly, and the rain pounded away the tears, leaving trails of it’s own.
He took her face in his hands and kissed her softly, a bittersweet sensation prickling where his lips brushed the corner of her own. The best and worst kiss she had ever been given. Then he turned and walked away, and she could do nothing but stand in the puddles and watch his back fade into the storm.
I met Death on the way home from work last night. And why not? He was standing on the corner in the same place he always was. I walked right up and asked for a light. Same as always.
I puffed on my cig for a second then asked, “So how’s work been going, man?”
He shrugged almost imperceptibly. “Same old. I’ve been gettin’ around.” He exhaled a spiral of smoke in my direction and leaned on the light post. “Lots of people dying lately.” There was no black hood or scythe, but in the dim glow of the streetlight, you’d almost expect him to look up at you with piercing red eyes. He wasn’t called Death for nothing.
He pulled his handgun out of its holster and fiddled with it a little. I don’t know a thing about weapons; just the sight of them makes me uneasy. I knew I wouldn’t see it coming — the day he got the word to use the damned thing. I flinched as it flashed in the light.
I kind of half-laughed. “Big Man keeping you on your toes, huh? How’s about we go grab a drink? Take a load off?”
That shrug again, and he finished off his cigarette, flicking the butt into the gutter. “The Boss…he knows what you’re doing…He always knows…” I eyed him nervously. It was just a matter of time until the Big Man pulled my number from his rolodex o’ destiny.
He paused to stare at the gun for a second, then quickly tucked it back into the holster. “So how’ve the days been for you? Usin’ ‘em wisely, I hope. Well…other than the obvious.” I nodded, shaken. But same as always, he straightened up and started walking. “So, how ’bout that drink?”