part VII

“It’s--did you--” Roe stared deliriously into the swirling storm outside of the glowing force field, as Ari pulled her to her feet, “Did you see it--it was right--”

“Come on!” Ari ignored her words, worry marking her dust-smudged face, “We have to--”

But her voice trailed off, and Roe’s vision faded into darkness.

Warmth against her face woke her, and Roe opened her dust-crusted eyes, only to squint into the beaming sun. She sat up, finding herself no longer in the desert but in some kind of crumbling structure, the sun shining down on her through a large opening beneath a felled wall.

She pulled herself to her feet and groaned. She felt as dried out and rusty as the very dust coating her. She looked over the sand-covered room, slowly becoming one with the desert outside. Other than her and Ari’s bags beside her, it was nearly empty except for an old chair and couple of overturned metal shelves. Must’ve been a storage shed or something, she thought, as she searched their belongings for water to soothe her scorched throat.

“You’re up,” Ari’s voice sounded behind her.

Roe turned to find Ari, silhouetted against the sun in the collapsed opening. W0RM glided down from her shoulder, chirping excitedly to nuzzle against Roe’s neck.

“Hey buddy,” Roe grinned, her voice hoarse. She looked to Ari who, like her, was still powdered with rusted dust, “Where are we?”

Ari stepped in over the collapsed wall, “Some abandoned farm. Here.” She handed Roe her metal water bottle, “Take some. But this is all we have left.”

The bottle felt light in her hand, as she poured a small amount into her mouth. She sighed in relief, savoring what little she took. She handed the bottle back to Ari and squinted, “How did we get here? I don’t--”

“After we got separated, I was searching--for hours,” Ari swallowed, a sunken exhaustion hung under her eyes.


Ari nodded, “But then I had this--feeling--almost like I was being pulled--and then I found you. But you were... delirious, rambling about something and then passed out. I’m lucky I found you in time.”

“Yeah,” Roe said quietly, “I--uh--it’s coming back now. But how did you--”

Ari shrugged, “I pulled you--with a tethering charm--I don’t know how long or far, but I eventually ran into this place and waited for it to pass.”

Roe nodded softly.

Ari studied her, almost nervously, before speaking, “Roe did you... see something--while you were out there? I just--I felt something and then you were there and the things you said...“

Roe stared at the ground, unsure of what to say. She remembered the void. Floating in the maelstrom. Speaking to her. Beckoning. But she cleared her throat and shook her head, “Just you.”

Ari nodded, tentatively, “Okay.” A quiet moment passed, and then she smiled, absentmindedly rubbing her gloved right hand, “Sorry, I’m just a little tired. And it was..." She sighed.

“Fucking crazy,” Roe sighed, shaking her head and chuckling.

“Yes,” Ari giggled, “Yes, it was.”

They laughed together in catharsis at the absurdity of the situation. The storm. Their survival. All of it.

And, after a moment, they wiped away what tears the laughter could muster, and Ari spoke, “I searched the rest of the buildings after the storm. There’s a main house and a couple of things that I think used to be greenhouses.”

“Any comms?”

“No,” Ari shook her head, disappointed, “But there’s something I think you should see.”