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A Vision of Safety

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Jowd made his way through the mines, seeking… he wasn’t sure. He’d wandered the chill, empty streets of Narshe, concluding yet again that he was alone in a dead world, and he was in hell. He’d met people in his wanderings out in the world, but they must have been ghosts sent to plague him by an uncaring god. This was only fitting, of course, and what was just for his crimes, but still, he couldn’t quite bring himself to merely sit and wait. He’d done that, for five years. What had it brought him except to this? In memory of those whom he’d allowed to fall, the only just punishment was to move until he could not anymore.

The caves were still lit with a warm, yellow light that seemed divorced from the frozen glare of the snow outside. If Jowd had had it in him to be fascinated any more, he would have examined one of the ever-burning lanterns and taken notes for the engineers of Figaro—but they could hardly care about such things now, could they? They too were gone into the dark. The train had taken them, as it had taken all he loved, except for himself. He was denied that mercy.

The monsters of the caves were weak, and Jowd waded through them with barely any attention spared for their groans and howls. If he’d had a purpose, it might have been different, but as it was, he let them come. If they defeated him, perhaps that only meant an end to this limbo, which was as likely an explanation as any as to why the green-skinned, dead wizard from another time, one whom he could only assume, on later consideration, had risen from the dead in the cataclysm that shook the world, was able to catch him with its spells, sending him reeling in sleepy stupor to the floor. The last thing he heard, before he hit the ground with a whump that shook the caves, was a strange, panicky music and the thumps of dancing footsteps. His lips curved in a languorous smile. Ah. So Cabanela had survived after all, and was coming for him, to keep him safe.

As he woke, he lay in a warm, empty cave. Before him stood a large, round stone, an orb of mighty of stature, and it was staring at him. Jowd, as an orb of mighty stature himself, could respect something like that. He sat up, stared at it, let the abyss of its eyes take him. In those eyes was the image of everyone he’d lost. In those eyes was an unspoken welcome that bade him come in and stay, rest, and let him envision a world where beautiful things still lived.

Hours or days or weeks later, he awoke from his vision. The cave was still empty around him, although, to his passing bewilderment, there were drifts of paper all around him, littering the floor, and there was a ribbon tied around his leg. Ignoring that for now, he picked one of the paper sheets up. It was written in an almost unintelligible scrawl and seemed to be about the glories of something called Mino—ah. A drawing revealed that Mino was his stone companion. His rescuer, somehow? After what Jowd had been though, it almost seemed plausible. Jowd nodded slowly, reaching for charcoal from a burnt-out fire. The blank whiteness of the paper called him and he drew, before realizing he no longer needed the paper. His vision was rising to meet him, his family and Figaro shining like castles in the air.

He looked around at the empty cave and the phantoms he’d created, although they were fading quickly. Someone had been taking care of him, although they were not here now. If it was Cabanela—no. He dismissed that thought quickly. Cabanela would never have stood for the welter of paper and the untidy fire. Jowd shook himself. What kind of wishful thinking had that spell brought him? It wasn’t worthy of his present circumstances, and yet…

He found his hand moving slowly in the air, and he sketched out Cabanela as he had been the last time Jowd had seen him. He’d taken a flying leap and he’d been in Jowd and Alma’s arms… but now this figment stood in Jowd’s arms alone. Carefully, Jowd leaned his face to this new version of Cabanela, one untainted by memory, shame, or guilt. Once his kisses had burned like sparks, racing through Jowd’s veins. Now his careful lips met only the chill air of the cave.

Ashamed, Jowd backed away and swept a hand through the thing he’d created. It was no more real than the rest of his dreams, and Jowd had no right to wish for it to be so. He turned away, trodding heavily away from that place without looking back at Mino or the rest of the mess. If there were rescuers here, they too were likely no more real than dreams and with as little need for Jowd as the rest of the world. Better to be on his way, although—he looked down at the forgotten ribbon. What that was about he wasn’t sure, but best to leave it, with his thanks to the rock that had gifted him this puzzling, seemingly useless, painfully comforting new skill.