** Read the previous chapter here **
A sharp snap and I woke up. Raging noise everywhere, all around, tumbling, screaming.
I grabbed hold of a firm object nearby. Whatever it was it fit perfectly into my hands. I braced myself against the tumult. Waves of angry salt water crashed over me. I held tight and closed my eyes against it. Water leaked into my mouth. It tasted good.
The storm raged on and the shock of coming awake to it wore off. I started to stand, still clutching the Firm Object. It had eroded a bit since the storm had begun, but it seemed to have firmed up again. The waters pressed against me, and I found myself pressing back on them as I widened my stance and turned my face away from the waves.
My neck began to ache and I was forced to face the storm. The Firm Object shifted as I faced forward, and I thought I was going to lose it. But then it became Firm again and I felt safe. I was surprised at the way the water felt, flowing over and past my face. It did not sting, but warmed and massaged me with its raging furor. At one point I gasped, and the waters that filled my mouth did not choke me.
I was standing tall now. I opened my eyes and the water stung for a moment, and then became soothing. I took a step forward. I don’t know if I stopped holding the Firm Object or if it eroded away in my hands. I never looked back to see what it had been.
I walked through the storm. Either it was dying away or I was growing used to it. I could see where I was now and I remembered. I had been by a dumpster, licking my wounds after failing to rescue my fairy queen, Sume el Raj. I must have fallen asleep or gone into a daze. I looked up at the sky. The clouds were thinning along with the rain and I could see sunlight coming through. I must have been by the dumpster all night.
The storm, while leaving me unharmed and rather invigorated, had wreaked havoc on the town. Wide fractures yawned up in the road, making walking tedious and driving impossible. The apartment buildings were all windowless and chucks of steel and stone were bitten out all over their sides and corners, showing the skeletal walls within. The townspeople didn’t seem to notice. They have firm hearts, I suppose. Children still played on the streets, leaping over wide crevasses and making me shudder. Adults still pressed their dying automobiles along, making ridiculous maneuvers to avoid the most dangerous fractures. It was stressful to watch them. I avoided the roads and walked toward the cistern.
It had flooded, of course. I couldn’t see the Man in the centre or his victim. I wondered if they had drowned. I couldn’t bring myself to care anymore. They were just part of a dream I was having. But the devotees were still there. I was shocked to see that many seemed to be drowning. I ran down the hill and waded out into the fetid water. It had grown worse in the storm, and even in the now brightly shining sunlight it seemed dark and icy and filthy. All the spoiled things of the town seemed to have washed in.
I drew near to a man I knew and reached out my hand to pull him to safety. He floundered and glared at me, coughing up water. I thought he was struggling to reach out to me, so I took his hand and pulled. He gave an angry cough and pushed back, splashing some of that water on my face. It burned and the refreshment from the storm was spoiled.
“Grab hold, man!” I called to him. “I’ll pull you out.”
The man forced himself to tread water harder so he could speak to me.
“Idiot,” he coughed. “Why would I leave? This place is awesome.” He gave me an angry patronizing look and pushed himself into even deeper water. Every time I tried to reach out to someone, they pushed back against me, some angry and some so very sad that I had disturbed them. The sun was beginning to set, it seemed, and eventually I just left them.
I didn’t know where to go, but I knew I would soon leave the town. I looked back toward the open eastern gate, the gate everyone entered when this story began. The endless desert was beyond that. There was nothing there, for me or anyone. I put my back toward it and walked west. I past through interesting and pretty places as I went west. Parts of the town that I had not known existed. Other buildings and other cisterns. Some of the cisterns were tiny and looked almost perfectly clean when the sun hit them in a certain way. Others were large and some were even dirtier than the one I had come from. Others were old and many were almost completely abandoned. But all cisterns, only cisterns. And I had lost all taste for cisterns or even fountains. I still felt the taste of the Stormlight on my mouth.
I came to a wall. A tall wall made of brick so old it looked like natural rock. I glanced behind myself one more time and took in the scope of the massive, beautiful, psychopathic town. I waved at it, at everyone, at no one.
I climbed the wall, and dropped out of sight.
Beyond the wall, I follow the sun and learn to keep up with it.
Beyond the wall, I see wonderful things.