(c) Jodi Ralston
Key Plot Point One: Edit One
This key point has been divided into several parts for easier loading.
You can find Part One, Part Three, and Part Four here.
The schism spat me out, face first, onto a road. As I pushed myself quickly to my feet, I expected an audience and the need to explain matters when I really rather not at best. Or a group of people who cut and took first and asked questions later at worse.
Didn't get any of that. I must have grown too used to the Twin Lands, where the reality overlaps are so thin, you see the next reality's neighbors marching around like ghosts, untouchable, whispering voyeurs. It was weird not to see that. Here. In ironically named Paradise.
The hard-packed, dirt road looked well-maintained, not a single rut in sight; that was something going for it, even if I didn't like the taste of it. It stretched out far before me, without a single person in sight. That much the better for me. Name or no, this was a prison reality.
And speaking of which, sometimes they lay in wait, coming from behind you.
I looked back. Beyond the glimmer I knew. Nothing. No one. Perhaps there was no point hanging around here, after all--if you tried to escape, at best, the schism would shove me out the other side. At worse, pop me out somewhere else in this reality.
Anyway, I was well and truly alone. And standing here, by myself, waiting on a rescue that would surely come, would only wreck my nerves. After my first ever rescue, I had lost whatever patience I had for any subsequent others. That didn't stop me from landing in situations which called for them. I stuck my hands in my pockets and jingled some coins. They had given me some gold, a week's worth of food, and some advice--"Follow the road. Go to Queen City."
Follow the road.
Go to the metropolis.
But not. Because walking away from here, as stupid as the sentiment was, was walking away from everything and everyone I cared about. Better not to. Taking an experienced vampire's advice, it was better to focus on what lie ahead than what had left you behind. Funny, that advice was no more palatable now than before, when Tesha had sold me into his harem.
I jingled my coin. I shifted on my feet. And I fought and gave in to looking at the schism behind. I started to march off in anger, then remembered some better sense and a better palliative, and knelt where I was. Before I left this area, I had to leave a sign of where I was going, even if answer was clear. Because. Because someone from the more friendly Land would be coming after me and taking me home. But I wasn't leaving anything to chance.
I pulled out of my pocket a piece of chalk. When I had packed it on me, even this small thumb-sized piece, I knew the mehnsets would stir. Mehnsettirs frowned on people bearing magical items into their exile. But well worth the risk of its confiscation, since whatever you wrote with it, would last as long as you kept a piece of that chalk with you. Damn hard to erase, in other words. There also wasn't much of it. So better not make a mistake. Just wished I had something handier--like a nearby tree or a building--to write on than dirt. I saw both, but they were too distant to be of any use. Dirt would have to do.
And I wrote my destination down, a quaint little town numbering a million, if projections were correct. Queen City.
Then I tested my chalk out, scuffing it with my foot. It still shown, right on through. Good. As long as graffiti wasn't a crime here. Hate to break the law on my first day out.
I pocketed my chalk, and focused on my next step. That building. Although, there were no life-essences slurping keshets here--in fact, as far as I could recall, no such magical plague ever infected this reality, hence its name--but even so, I didn't like to remain where I was for long. And it would be easier to walk to that place, than all the way to the city. Who knows, maybe by the time I got there, the schism would open up and I would be home again.
I began walking.
With each step I took, that thought accompanied me like a faithful dog.
That was, until some uneasiness shooed it away. After a couple minutes, the uneasiness settled, however vaguely, upon a source that made me stop dead in the road. What was twigging me was under my feet. The road was magically maintained, in pristine but dusty condition, even though it had lost all interest in the ditches. But the magic behind that was not all powerful enough to erase evidence of your passing as you indeed did the passing. My abdominal scar had told me that much while laying facedown on it. But something, something I couldn't yet put in words, felt off about it. Off enough that I decided to walk along side it, in the rather poorly maintained and overgrown ditch, to my first destination. Which--I squinted at it--should just be a mile down the road.
Worth a try anyway, and so, I walked. And I walked.
I had walked an hour--the hour I estimated it would take--it still looked like, no matter how I squinted, I was about an hour from my destination. I looked behind myself to see how far I had made it. That was when I put words to what was bothering me, and added a few new ones.
I hadn't made it but fifty feet from the schism and the mark.
More than that, according to the road, I had walked on the road, in fact, crisscrossed it many times, in the end tramping about in the broken brush as often in the other ditch as I had on this side's one.
What the hell.
There could be only one answer. That mind-eye-trick wasn't me. Something had to be following me.
Fine time for my scar to remain still and silent.
Nonchalantly, I knelt. As I eased a knife out of my boot--one that tended to fly blade first and ask questions later--I hid my intention with picking up some road dust and letting it pour from my fist. My side stitched a little at that, and as I looked about for my pursuit, and from this angle, the building closer. Much closer, about fifty yards away. And there was movement. A horse, black, running in the corral. I stood and the vision retreated back into the non-telescopic distance. Wonderful.
At least that meant I could return my knife. There wasn't some mind-meddling follower. This was simply some sort of magic illusion gone haywire.
Might as well walk blind.
I closed my eyes and shook my head in disgust.
At that exact moment, my scar woke up with a kick, trying to pinch my side in half. Now it told me: something was off. Way off.
That was one strong illusion to screw up my best--and only--early warning system of all things odd by that much. They sent me off with provisions and advice, but this they didn't think to warn me about?
I opened my eyes and staggered as the lie settled back over my vision. My side squeezed once, like a heart palpitation, but it had wised up, and remained tense as I. I rubbed at my side. I needed to get somewhere, off this mind-trap. But I wasn't going to get anywhere like this. Maybe I could . . . I closed one eye, left the other open, and crouched low. And took two steps. One, I counted. I teetered, feeling as if I were goose-stepping as my vision telescoped, then collapsed back. Two.
That second step found me unbalanced, staggering back into a bush--that hadn't been there earlier. After I disentangled and crawled out of it, after I took two more steps, I found I was right. The bush wasn't there. Though the stickers in my backside begged to differ. Damn. I whistled. Strong didn't describe that illusion.
Now what? Walk blind, I had thought earlier. Could I?
And I walked front first into a bush and fell on my face.
When I opened my eyes out of reflex my vision slammed me a new headache, not to mention a few pricks there to match my backside. Wonderful.
I got up again, and crouching low, hands swinging wide out in front of me, I began to feel my way. As I did that, I felt an area where my scar's warning was less. I tried out my newfound intuition and followed that course. And that got me in circles and tripping over brush and ditch all over the place--literally.
I stopped and stood in the ditch. Ran my hand over my face and winced and removed another sticker from my forehead.
So, closing my eyes was out. There had to be something else; I had to do something else.
Crouching and walking, with my hand to the ground. I had felt something when I had picked up the road's inch thick dust, after all.
And I accomplished sore back and legs, but little else with my eyes wide open, for my trouble. The buildings loomed closer, but if I stood, I was back where I started--or damn near it. And I couldn't feel that much difference with my hands.
Massaging my back now with both hands, I stared at my destination. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe I should focus elsewhere, say, on the area behind the farm and the trotting horse?
Better. I got closer. Then two steps later, I got further away.
Massaging my back I stared at the ground. "This is going to take a while."
End of Part.
Links to Key Plot Point One Parts:
Links to Key Plot Point One Parts: