The rusty hinge popped as she opened the Mustang’s door. She twisted sideways and struck a booted foot on the lacy, white grass. The satisfying crunch of November frost gave way beneath the well-worn sole. A gush of repressive cold surged in to follow the noise, and her breath streamed in wide, flat plumes through pursed lips. She reached up with gloved hands and pulled down her beanie and scarf, and dragged the rest of her tired body out of the old car. She clapped her hands together to remind herself to keep moving and slamming the car door, she turned back to the long path ahead.
Anrav would be waiting on the other side of this path. Path. This was a road, damn it. It could no longer be considered a path. It was too wide, too long. Iris sighed. She was tired and maybe it was too long. She laughed at the joke that caressed her gray matter. Hadn’t she been down this road before? No, not this road. This road was going to be something she gave her entire life to serve, and waiting somewhere down this road was Anrav, her brother in arms, soul from across time. Anrav had waited long enough. She had to take this road.
Iris looked up into the marable-gray sky. Clouds muffled the oncoming dawn with a violent embrace. The world around her was silent and strange, cast in that light that is virginal yet fecund. Midnight black shadows gave way to the faintest light, bringing tree bark and shadows into razor blade focus. The car was warm and it was so easy to contemplate return to its metallic arms. Iris cast the thought from her mind, like discarded vision. She opened the back door of the car and removed the large backpack from the seat. Strapping the old canvas over her woolen coat, she slammed the door again. The shotgun steel blast rang through the brightening forest. She looked at her car one last time. Someone would care for it, she consoled herself. Either way, it didn’t really matter, but it felt better to think someone would love it as she had. She pulled the keys out of her pocket, shook them once like a souvenir bell, and placed them on the roof. She thought better of it, opened the driver’s door, and tossed them in the seat. She took a deep breath and looked into the future.
The silence was a shock. After the turmoil of the most recent days, when the fighting was at its worst, she had gotten used to the backfire of small, homemade cannons, the swoosh of RPGs, and the constant tack, tack, tack of gunfire. That seemed so long ago, so, so, distant. It was miles and hours and stars ago. She knew for her own sanity and perhaps her own life, she needed to take this exit. In the long driving hours, she unwound the tumblers of what had happened to her town, her friends, her nation. She came to the conclusion that it was not an exit after all; it was an interlude. This time, this new road, this was a beginning of inner space, the final piecing together of dark matter puzzles. The puzzle-master had finally called upon her and she was eager to game. She was eager to solve the equation and challenge the moves which drove them all to this crazy time in history.
She strained for the sound of…something. There. Against the lightening sky, a single dove moaned. A rain crow’s sigh. It was something. It was life. She shrugged the pack higher on her back, letting it rest on her hips. The ground felt uneven and maybe, yes, slippery. The wide dirt expanse left the marshy field and wound its way into a grove of oak and ash, old and new. She had to move, had to do this without too much thought. These would be memories soon enough. She looked over her shoulder at the lingering night sky, hung with sorrowful drapes of ash. On the crest of the mountain, an angry line of copper fire glowed. There would be no going back, only forward. Only alone. Only. Until Anrav. Always Anrav.
Move, Iris. Your mind will catch your feet soon enough. Jamming her hands into her pockets, she padded the worn, folded message that had summoned her. Iris sighed once more and began the long march towards the oncoming day. Keeping toward the sun, East, was the first clue he had sent; “Turn towards the road that leads to the courage of the sunrise, leave behind your tears, Rainbow. Let the mist dry slowly as you lift your heart from darkness to the Eastern blessing.” The direction was easy but the place…the place stumped her for weeks. It was only when she found the picture of Anrav sitting on a rock in Delta Meadows that she remembered Leeds Road. It was an abandoned logging road that began at the delta and wound its way into the low, forested foothills. She and Anrav had the first of hundreds of walk-talks there. Here. She had never been here so early in the morning, and never quite felt so alone.
Nor so alive.
It would take days to get to Ostera’s Grove and she had never ventured on foot down this road past the river’s ascent into the hills. With the Winter coming on, she hoped she wouldn’t be stuck there for long. The beginning starts with a single step, Iris thought. It was an uncertain beginning but there would be no turning back now.