Dresden: Protection duty

The landscape changes as we walk through the Ways; it goes from green fields to a darker, hilly landscape – and then back to fields again. The path branches twice, but the Emissary who’s guiding me always takes one fork with no hesitation, and I have to trust that he does know where he’s going. Ten minutes later it’s rock walls, overhanging us. I stay close behind my guide; we’re not talking, and we keep moving with quick steps. The Ways do not inspire complacency; they’ve got an air of danger and uncertainty that puts me on edge, and even the half-Fae Emissary obviously isn’t comfortable here.

We’ve just come out of the rock maze into a barren desert that stretches out into the distance when my guide stops, looking ahead of us. I stop behind him, and peer around his back. There’s mist up ahead, half-obscuring the path, drifting out across the desert in a vague cloud that doesn’t seem to have an end. The tall man half-turns and holds out a hand to me. “Take my hand, and don’t let go until I tell you that you can.”

I take his hand, feeling like a child, and he pads off. I follow, feeling my boots sink slightly into the sand beneath my feet. I don’t want to ask what he’s worried about…

The mist closes in around us; it’s cool, clinging to my skin. All I can see is the dark shape of the Emissary’s back in front of me –

– it’s gone. I’m alone in the mist –

His hand tightens on mine, and we keep walking.

– he’s not there. He’s gone –

– I’m lost, I can’t see where I am, I’m never going to get out –

His hand is gripping mine.

– he doesn’t care. He’s left you. All along in the mists –

– nothing out there for you –

– let go of his hand –

I can’t tell if they’re voices, or my own thoughts.

– you’re all alone, little mortal –

– you can let go of his hand now –

I can barely see; I’m not sure if it’s the mist or tears that are blinding me. I stumble onwards, feeling the tug of his hand.

– you’re not going to find your way out –

– always alone, little mortal. They all leave you –

– just let go! –

And then my head meets something, and the Emissary’s voice says, “It’s all right. We’re out. That’s it.”

I’ve run into his chest. The mists are behind us; we’re back on the sandy footpath between a barren desert that stretches on ahead of us. I look down, and find my hand still tightly clasped in his. He bends a little to look at me, and in a strangely tender gesture, runs his thumb across my cheek to wipe off the tears. “What were they saying to you?”

“I was alone.” My voice is thick. “I’d never get out.”

“Yeah, they do that.”

There’s a moment of silence. And then he lets my hand go, and turns. “Let’s carry on, dollface.”

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at writingandcoe.co.uk. When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.