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
From there the Night Wing will drag you on
And Sorrows may weaken your legs,
Remember the smile of the Jester’s Court,
And turn inward toward the King
A playing card may fall on the path
And the carrion eater may circle,
Turn at the water’s edge if blind
and find the doorway in front of you
There is no gold at Rainbow’s end
That fairy tale is gone,
Reach with your hand toward the mirrored sand
Your treasure is the sight which cannot see
Iris woke with the sun just creeping up over the tight grassy rise in the road. After a week of steep, slow climbs, her ankles hurt and her back burned. The chill sound of cool water running brought her alert. She was thirsty, and had to pee. She crawled out of the warm sleeping bag and scrambled through the mucky leaves and dirt toward the small stream’s edge. The smell of rotting underbrush drifted upward on the morning mist.
The quiet was overwhelming, especially after the past months of war. The Movement had left its mark, on hearts, minds, and eardrums. Iris almost begged for a raucous gunfight. Her nerves were shattered, she knew it. The sound of the water was pale and weak, but she knew it was necessary. She laid out on the flat ground beside the stream and buried her face in the cool, thin water. Icy. She pulled her head up quickly. The idea of being snuck-up on was very fresh. She took a long drink and rose to pee. A twig snapped on the other side of the stream and she froze, half crouching. An animal out of her element.
She saw movement, brown and slow. She didn’t realize she was holding her breath until her chest began to hurt. The grasses shifted and a small bear wobbled towards the rushing water. Iris did not move, despite the now-apparent lack of danger. Something made her stay put, watching.
The bear was very small and she had never seen a living one. Pictures in books were…inadequate. It’s thick fur swayed as it wobbled toward the water. It tentatively stuck its black snout into the water and lapped up small swallows. Iris, fascinated at a living creature, not human, nearly her size, wanted to creep closer. She put her hands in front of her to pull herself forward when she heard a twig snap, again, to her right. She froze.
Ten yards away, a much, much larger bear lumbered toward the stream. A short whimper followed by a fierce bark erupted from the larger bear. The small bear looked up from the water and whimpered as well. It tentatively put paws into the river but the bank fell off steeply. It floundered for a few seconds before pulling itself up back onto the ground. The larger bear growled again, a rumbling type of bark, and started to lumber toward Iris.
Shit, shit, shit… what was she going to do. If she got up, she was going to be chased. If she stayed there, she was far too close to get away. Luckily, the smaller bear moved up river toward the larger bear. The larger bear, Iris called it Momma Bear in her head, stopped moving toward Iris and sloshed into the river. She waddled across the water toward the small bear, and finally landed on the other side. Iris watched the smaller bear roll up to its mother, rub against her legs and grab for her neck. Momma was having none of it. She swatted the smaller animal and started to move up the bank. The little one followed, and within a few minutes, they were out of sight.
Iris rolled over and let out a long breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding. Shit, she thought. I need to be more careful. Iris rolled up and moved back to her camp to pack up for the day’s next hike.
By her estimation, she was still about twenty-five miles from the first place mentioned in the poem – Eastern blessing. It had been so long since she had been here, she felt as if her mind were filling in things that might not have been true. Forests were thicker, the river wider, shifting. As she rolled up her bag and worked shoes and socks back into the backpack, she hoped it was right. She was a little irritated at Anrav for putting directions into a poem. Yes, it was fun to unravel it and yes, she understood why he did it. Damn it, though, how was she really sure she was in the right place. She only had so much protection and the world was becoming a far wilder place. Two more days, max, and she’d be at the first sanctuary. At least, she hoped, it was still the sanctuary she remembered.
Ostera’s Grove. It was one of the places Anrav first met her, to talk about the past, the present and the future.
Winter was coming on stronger, and Iris could feel the snow ahead. The chill, crisp air filling a blue sky was deceiving. She could not see the full western sky yet, as the trees rose and feel behind her, obstructing. If she was right, it would only be one or two more days until the snows started, and she needed to be at the Grove before then. She was shocked how long it had taken her to get to this point. Days of walking in her earlier life would have brought her to the Grove in a week. She was behind. She was out of shape. Guerilla warfare in the streets of a city is no substitute for the endurance of hiking. Iris pulled on the wool coat and slipped the backpack over her shoulder. Damn it. She forgot the water. She dropped the pack to the ground again and unhooked the canteen. The walked down to the river again and laid flat to fill the canteen. The water began to glint and flicker in the on-coming sunrise and she stared at the transient jewels for minutes as the can filled. Shaking her head, she broke the trance. She needed to get going.
She heard the earth move before it actually shifted. Laying on the ground, the sound snapped and grumbled as the bank began to rumble and shift. Startled, Iris looked around at the trees that began to sway together. The ground seemed to undulate, like a large wave, and her eyesight became skewed as the earth shifted. The earthquake went on for some time, longer than she remembered them happening. She looked around for things that might fall on her but luckily, she was in an open space. Rocks on the other bank crumbled and streamed down the low rise and into the water. In a moment, the sound stilled and the earth halted its dance. She took a few breaths and listened. The silence was enormous. Iris breathed. It was over.
The sky to the north erupted in bright white light, even in the brilliant sunrise. As Iris rose, the shock wave of a roaring explosion knocked her back down. She lifted her head and looked toward the north. A plume of grey and white smoke, a cloud rising from the ground, billowed toward the sky. Shit. What now? She racked her brain for what could possibly be this removed from the world and still explode. Her breath caught as she remembered.
Granite Station Missile Silo.