If You Must Falter

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Simon

I pity everyone on the road with me right now.

I drive like a beast, speeding and darting between lanes. Following the little blue dot blinking steadily on my screen. An unrelenting rain slashes down from the roiling sky, turning every light into a blur, every turn into a surprise. Now that I think about it, I don't think it's stopped raining since Baz left. How fitting.

The drive to Swansea (or just outside of it, if my mobile is correct) usually takes about three hours, in optimal conditions. In the pouring rain, on roads that are only empty this early in the morning, I make it in one and a half (this is why Penny hates it when I drive).

Once I get to Swansea, I slow down. Just enough to be careful and not fuck up my directions. Keeping a wary eye on the little blue dot, I snake through the twisting roads. Watching. My muscles tensed and ready to go.

Hedges line the road I'm on, looking like gargoyles in the dark. Increasingly smaller dilapidated houses crouch on either side of me, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Angrily, I floor the gas pedal, jerking the car forward in an effort to put this damned freaky place behind me. The hedges blur into one long dark row, growing steadily taller and taller and taller until--

With a surprised yell, I slam my foot onto the brake, skidding to a screeching halt. Fishtailing wildly on the wet gravel. Breathing heavily, I look up.

In front of my car rises a huge, old-growth forest, growing right across the road. The dark trees sway ominously in the torrential rain.

The whole place doesn't feel entirely... natural. Normal. Like someone-- or something-- placed it there, just to block me.

I push out my jaw and square my shoulders, gripping my phone tightly in my hand. The softly glowing screen is oddly comforting; some small bit of normality in all of this. A promise that I can find him.

With a deep breath, I exit the car, pocketing the keys. Then I walk straight into the gaping maw of the forest.

-------------------------

I lose track of time. Maybe I've been walking for days, maybe for minutes. It could easily be either.

The soft ground slopes gently upward beneath my feet, and I don't think it's ever going to stop. Maybe I'll just keep walking in here for eternity, forever following the trail of a small, glowing blue dot. Forever looking for Baz.

Every step is harder than the last. Like the air is actively attempting to weigh me down. To stop me from reaching my goal-- from reaching him. Gritting my teeth, I just push harder.

"You won't stop me, you bastard..." I mutter to no one. Maybe I'm going crazy.

As if the trees were listening (dryads?), the incline finally comes to an end, stopping in a sort of lip that overlooks a ravine, twenty feet below.

Black smoke swirls through the gully, twisting around the dark tree trunks. A soft, echoing whisper emits from it, forming incomprehensible words and phrases that don't quite reach my ears. They tug at me, beckoning me forward. I don't give in, instead flattening onto my stomach and peeking over the edge.

Dark trees. Darker smoke. Dead leaves. And there-- two pale figures leaning up against separate trees.

Fiona. Baz.

I have to stop myself from crying out his name. Quickly, I rest my hand over my hip, muttering the incantation to summon the Sword of Mages.

I stop mid sentence, realising.

I don't have magic anymore. I'm completely and utterly helpless; stranded in the middle of the forest, pitted up against who knows what.

Fuck.

Fuck

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