CHAPTER 1: DRINKING FROM THE LETHE
The sand was sifting in the wind, and the iron coffin was now half buried beneath the lead-grey grains.
Slumped over the open casket was the withered, stiff body of a Shade. The wind tugged gently at it’s ragged, black garments and the hood had been blown back, revealing the creature’s pale, wrinkled features. Fluid still seeped from the wound in it’s chest, staining the grey sand.
Alive, it had been a snarling, terrifying thing. A harvester of souls and haunter of nightmares.
Dead, it was small and piteous. The face, now that the cruel mouth was slack and the golden eyes dead, looked fragile and very old.
Leading away from the casket was a small trail of prints which led off into the distance towards the huge ebony black mountains. They could be seen making their way up a huge hulking sand dune, like the wake of an ant in a bowl of sugar. And slowly, as the wind blew and the sand swept, the little footfalls drowned quietly, and were gone as if they had never been.
You could see her from a thousand miles away.
Whether against the endless grey sky and sand dunes that mirrored each other in colour like a reflection in a lake or against the great hulking range of obsidian mountains, she stood out like a flame in the night. The wind caught her great bonfire of hair and cast it back and forth so that it looked like she was burning from the head up. See her now; the collar of her dress pulled up over her nose to screen out the sand, and her eyes are a green you’ve never seen before. In her left hand she holds an old bone comb, in her right a blade with a golden handle. She is perhaps thirteen years old. No more.
The storm was getting worse, and the mountains seemed no closer than when she had set out days (weeks, months, years, hours?) ago. This place was unlike anywhere she had ever been, and she had travelled throughout much of space and time in her short life. She had seen the Moon from the inside. But this place…
The sand was grey.
The sky was grey.
The mountains were black.
And nothing more. Nothing changed apart from the wind picking up occasionally. The entire landscape seemed frozen in time. It had even infected her body. Since coming to this place she hadn’t eaten or drunk. Her body no longer made waste. And when she slept, which was rarely, she no longer dreamt.
Nonetheless, it was now getting harder to see, and the sand was getting in her eyes. She bent down and drew her head back into her dress like a turtle retreating into it’s shell. Huddled on the sand, she waited for the desert to calm, and slept.
She was woken by a stabbing pain in her chest. She gasped, and sat up, thinking that perhaps she’d rolled onto a particularly sharp stone. But no, the pain was still there. For an insane second she thought she was having a heart attack. But the pain was in the centre of her chest, between her lungs, a hard little nugget of discomfort. She breathed in slowly and gently, and the pain receded to a dull ache. She slowly got to her feet, made sure she had her comb and blade, and set off again towards the mountains.