Chapter Sixty-Two

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Guin ran as fast as she could, dodging and weaving between trees, leaping fallen branches, and generally giving herself a horrible cramp. Breath sawing in her throat, sweat drenched and struggling to keep moving, Guin doubted she could keep up this pace for long--but she had to catch that child. 

Up ahead, the little scrap of a girl sprinted like a seasoned olympic runner. How could such spindly legs carry her that fast?

She's from Earth. Earth! Just like that kid I saw in my head, Kevin O'Rian. There's a connection--there has to be a connection...

But before she could figure any of that out, she had to find out who this girl was, and how she'd gotten there, and why. 

There was a crash and a curse from behind, and Guin glanced over her shoulder to see Lorn recovering from stumbling over a log. He waved her briskly on, "Keep going! I'll follow!"

Guin nodded and returned fastened her gaze once more the child's retreating back. She could only glimpse bits of the kid between trees now, a scrap of moving color in a landscape of dead gray and parched white. Where the hell was she running to, anyway? Did the girl even have a destination, or was she just panicking?

She has to slow down eventually, no seven year old can run like this forever... I hope.

The quick thud-thud of running feet announced that Lorn had caught up  with her. "Is she real?" he wheezed. "Is she?"

"I think so, yeah," Guin replied, ducking to avoid a low hanging branch. "And I think--I think she's from my world."

"What?" Lorn gasped.

"Barbie. Minni Mouse t-shirt. Talks with a North London accent," Guin puffed. "Earth. She's from Earth, Lorn!"

Lorn began to speak, but never had the chance to finish--because suddenly, the forest was gone, and they were running through swirling, billowing nothing. 

Guin staggered to a halt and threw out an arm. Lorn crashed into it with an "urg," and came to a full stop.

"What the hell--" Guin blurted, staring around at the soupy mist. She couldn't see back the way they'd come. The girl was gone.

"Lorn..." she swallowed. "Did you see this coming? I was looking straight ahead--how could I not have seen this?"

"I didn't either," Lorn replied, doing a slow turn. "It seemed almost to rise up from behind us."

Like it snuck up on us, Guin thought. The idea sent a cold shiver up her spine.

"Lorn?"

"Yes?"

"Tell me this isn't what I think it is?"

He was silent for a moment before answering, "If you want me to say it isn't the Fog, then no. Because I think it is." 

Guin nodded. "Right. Okay. Me too. Um." She took a deep, shaky breath that tasted of rain clouds and damp decay. "I'm about to panic, fair warning..."

Wordlessly, Lorn held out his hand. She grabbed hold of it, not caring for the moment that she was probably squeezing too hard. "Let's try to go back," he said, his voice calm and level. "Maybe we'll find the others."

He was under control. While her hand was sweaty and gripping too tight, his fingers were cool, dry and gentle. Guin couldn't begin to articulate how grateful she was for that.

They turned back and retraced their steps as closely as possible. The ground had changed, become completely flat, moist and spongy. It sucked at their boots as they walked. 

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