Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Part 9

It wasn't her eyes that adjusted, of course. She wasn't using those for seeing anymore. Nonetheless, it did take a few moments for the landscape before her to settle down.

The water here was misty, a soupy mixture of something she could not name. For the first time, she realized that there was no flavor in this new world; not once had she tasted the salt of the sea, nor had she smelled the rank ocean mud. She had passed overland, once, and even those flickering recollections were as flat as film. She sniffed at the fog before her, but could discern nothing about it. To her eyes, it was nearly opaque. To her numbed skin, it was simply water.

The ground that stretched before her was rough, mostly jagged rock that dropped away into deep crevices, jutting up elsewhere in sharp spines. She could see clearly for a few yards around herself, but beyond that she could make out little more than the faint outline of one or two dark outcroppings. Treading carefully, she ventured a little further.

There were no other souls here, to her relief. She had feared another field of torpor, but here there was nothing but the scuttling of a few small creatures and the occasional pale blot of a softer, slower form of life, picking its way through the dregs of the seafloor. She had never seen anything like the animals in this deep place- she knew this, though she would be hard put to name the other animals she had seen. Here they were lacy and lumpish, spiny and soft, some of them even emitting tiny flares of light of their own making. It made some part of her easy, so see that there was life even here.

She felt something in the water, however. There was more here than little crabs and their soft and eyeless prey. She remembered the rise and fall of the surface, the rippled hints that a greater thing lay beneath. She moved deeper, her eyes- pointlessly, she knew- straining . All she saw were curling tendrils of mist, distant shadows, and the all-consuming blackness of the depths.

Her own skin was luminous in the dark, almost as if she were one of the curious glowing creatures that drifted past. She examined her hands and arms and saw that they were tinged with a little pink, a hint that blood had flowed in their veins. She didn’t actually shed light, she realized. She just stood out against the black and grey of her surroundings. She looked up from her own hand and saw, just for a moment, a flash of something else that contrasted sharply with the inky water. It faded. Vera walked toward it.

The faint glow was very distant, she realized. It was visible only for brief moments, and always slightly different in shape- a curve, an oval, a long angle, cutting briefly through the fog and then disappearing. Vera picked up her pace and trotted after it, leaping lightly over deep crevasses and skipping across fields of shale. She couldn’t remember wanting something, she noticed. She wanted that distant thing now. She wanted to know what it was, to see it with her own eyes.

She scrambled up a hillside, clinging with unfeeling fingers as she clambered across piled stone. It seemed that she might be gaining, for there was a long, formless lightness to the mist before her. Still distant, but nearer now. She could taste discovery in her flavorless mouth.
As she launched herself from the crest of the hill, her eyes fixed far ahead, she lost her footing. The loose stones shifted beneath her foot, and she fell. Lightly, softly, as though she were a feather. She could not be harmed by such an easy fall as this. Behind her, the heap of rock shuddered, and a slow cascade of stone slithered down the hillside and landed in a rising cloud of silt. The rockfall itself was not large, perhaps a few yards of hillside had shifted. The sound, however, was deafening.

Sound moves differently underwater. It is quicker. It can travel many miles without degradation or disturbance. And now, it seemed, this sound had traveled with great speed and clarity to the ears of that thing she had been chasing, for it wheeled its great bulk and turned toward her. She crouched frozen in the dust and watched the creature’s great muzzle slowly emerge from the shadows.

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