Lethe

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Chapter 42

Chapter 42: House

My dress hangs in shreds. I am sodden, nipples taut, skin goose-bumped. If this faux flesh of mine had the physiology of a living person, I would have been delirious with hypothermia. I should be grateful that I’m dead.

I make myself comfortable inside the cave, shifting stones out of the way, digging my toes into the sand, hugging my knees against my body.

The cave is shallow. I can reach behind me and touch solid bedrock. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that the cave is deeper than it looks, that it recedes far behind me, and that something might lurk in its depths. I touch the back wall to reassure myself. Again, I find it solid. I clear this stubborn notion from my head.

Once I catch my breath, I push all conscious thoughts from my head—Sabonis, Zion, Bianca, Elysium, even Gina. I shove them all aside and hover in the space between daydream and sleep. My wounds, external and internal, fade from perception.

Maintaining an empty head is an acquired skill, but Clearing is much easier for me now than it had been a few days ago. Life seems so distant now, unreachable, receding like the tail of a comet.

Time compresses in this null state. I stare out the cave, barely aware of the transition from daylight to twilight until the night is well-entrenched.

I let some of my consciousness creep back—enough to make me aware of my surroundings while keeping my agonies at bay.

A piercing scream draws me further than I wanted out of my trance. Across the dim marsh, monkeys scurry across a talus heap. Two troops face each other, squabbling. Battle lines form. Lumps of fur converge, biting and tumbling. More screams. One band disperses and retreats. The victorious troop hoots and postures.

I pry a sharp wedge of stone loose from the wall, just in case the fighting spills over to this side of the hollow.

The cave feels a lot less cozy and secure than it did that night with Sabonis—perhaps, because I am alone. I can’t see staying here more than one night. Give me a day to rebuild some of my tolerance and I might be able to cross over the ridge to Sixwing, or make my way back to that beach where this all started.

Those options don’t give me much to look forward to, but they’re all I have, at the moment. Any ambitions I might have harbored for attaining Elysium have been snuffed.

I keep glancing at the back wall of the cave. Certain shadows look darker and shiftier. Drafts tickle my back when I face forward, as if a hole keeps opening up behind me when I’m not looking. Obsessively, compulsively, I keep touching the back wall to reassure myself.

This time, instead of stone, my finger touches something cold and squishy.

“No touch me!”

Jolts zap through my body. I scramble and knock into the makeshift front wall. Stones tumble off the top.

“Who’s there?” I say.

“Haurvil, Jean-Francois,” says the voice, hollow and tinny, the voice of a Shade. Its tone is familiar. It’s the Shade who tried to get Sabonis to go see Alecto.

“What are you doing here?”

“Zees ees my house,” says Haurvil.

“Since when?”

“It has always been my house … before you and the Unfettered One invade and block it up with stone.”

“Were you here all along?” My fear transforms into anger. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“I did not weesh to talk to you,” says Haurvil. “I was hoping for you to go away.

“I was just going to spend the night,” I say. “Those monkeys, they bother me.”

“Zees monkeys, zey vill not bozzer you,” says Haurvil. “Not in ze night. In ze night time zey sleep.”

“I ain’t going out there in the dark.”

“Why not? For you … ees safe. Nussing vill harm you. My mistress, her people, zey vill not harm you.”

“Your mistress? You mean Alecto?”

“Oui. She and hers have no reason to harm one who climbs. It is ze Unfettered Ones zat concern her. And now zey have all been gazzered.”

“Gathered?”

“Ze campaign … it vas successful. All sree has been captured. But surely, you must know zis. Your friend—”

“Sabonis …?”

“Yes. He ees among them.”

I remember being on the heights above Zion, deep in the narcotic thrall of the symbiont, watching a scuffle on the beach. From afar and in my daze it looked like dancing. That had probably been Sabonis being nabbed by Alecto and her crew.

“What did they do to him?” I feel guilty for leaving Sabonis to fend for himself.

“My mistress, she brought zem to her home,” says Haurvil. “She says it ees for learning zare ways, but I sink she ees like ze cat vit ze mouse. She likes to make play with her prey.”

“Where?” I say. “Where is this place?” I doubt there is much I can do. But I need to know what happened. I need to see Sabonis.

“You vill leave my house eef I tell you?” says Haurvil. “Leave my house … and not come back?”

“Tell me where she lives and I guarantee I’ll leave.”

“Come. I vill show you,” says Haurvil.

“No need,” I say. “Just point me in the right direction.”

“It ees night. Zees ees my time,” says Haurvil. “I vill show you.”

Something silky, like spider web, brushes against my bare arm. A deep pool of shadow stands beside me outside the cave.

“Follow me,” says Haurvil.
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