CHAPTER SEVEN

part VI

There was no fighting it.

The wind. The sand. The dark.

Roe struggled for the most futile of moments, shouting Ari’s name into the rusted black wall of screaming silt, but it was useless. Even less than.

She stumbled to her knees. Near the shelter of the outcropping? In the middle of the flat plains? She did not know.

Get up, she told herself. Get up.

And she did. Or she tried. Crawled through the dust more than walked, but she was moving.

I won’t be buried. I won’t.

Time had slowed to nothing. Or accelerated into oblivion. How long had it been? All she knew was the dark and the pain.

Only the occasional shudder from the metal bird tucked tightly beneath her jacket against her chest told her she was still alive. Still moving.

Ari was right. They were all right.

She deserved this.

There was no path before her but darkness. Anger. Pain. All too familiar. All too close. All too often.

Her arms and legs burned. Was it the flesh tearing from her bones? Was she on fire?

What is wrong with me? Why do I keep doing this? Pushing people away. Fighting. Isolating.

She drove on into the darkness, blind.

It began to feel like the storm was all there was. Maybe all that had ever been.

She slowed. Sinking. Or falling. She tried to move forward but couldn’t. It was too much. Too heavy. Too strong.

So this is how it will end.

Ground to dust by dust itself.

The pain became numbness. Her motion stilled. This was it.

Nothing could save her.

Not from the storm. Not from herself.

But something flickered. A light. Something writhed in the blood red dark before her. And grew.

It was the void. The void from her dreams. The void that rained crimson ash down upon her and the world around her. That spoke to her. That called her.

She shrunk from it, not knowing if she was dead or alive or dreaming, but it grew. Whispered a language she did not understand. Hissed through the blasting sand and storm. Called her name.

---z-zze-ee----rrrrr--r-rr--ooooo--o-o---

Just do it already, she thought. Just take me now.

The pulsing tear in reality cracked and expanded, red and orange and green flashing at its edges. An all-consuming wraith floating balefully in the blast.

---z-zzzzzee-eeeeee----rrrrrrrrrrrr--r-rroo--oooooooo---

She closed her eyes.

Just end it.

But the hiss shifted. Softened.

She opened her eyes.

A blue glow radiated behind the void. Shone through its chaos.

What is--

And, in an instant, a glowing, blue sphere cut through the void and it vanished as if swept away in the wind.

Roe squinted, shielding her eyes from the searing storm, as sand and slit bombarded the approaching sphere.

It called out her name too.

ZERO!!

Then her heart leapt.

It was Ari.

Her staff held high above her head. Its tip glowing bright blue. Projecting the protective sphere around her.

Ari ran to her, knelt down beside her.

Roe felt a faint shiver, as the orb passed through her, surrounding her in the calm of its shelter.

“Take my arm,” she said, offering Roe the crook of her right elbow, a worried smile on her kind face.

Roe stared in the blue reflecting from her eyes in the glowing quiet of the storm-surrounded sphere.

“You’re safe. I’m here.”


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