Chapter Seventy-Nine

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Matta held tight to Sanna's hand. Lennox, clinging to her shoulders, let out a high-pitched whine.

All around them the blank slate of their world was exploding with color. Images, broken and distorted like reflections on a rippling pond, flashed by in dizzying profusion. Darting schools of refracting light dazzled their eyes, and sang with a shrill, joyous dissonance. 

"What on land's lay is going on?" Matta demanded, clutching the fox's silky tail.

The ground shook. Matta sensed great movement, things unseen shifting and reshaping. Where before she had felt the press of a thousand trapped souls, there was now a vast and roiling sea of unfettered nothingness that seemed, for lack of a better phrase, to be trying to become something.

"Things are coming alive," Sanna breathed. "That is, I think they are, M'Lady. Can't you feel it? Something has changed."

"I feel it, alright," Matta snapped. "And I don't like it!"

Sanna wrapped an arm around her waist. "Don't be afraid, M'Lady. I think--I think this means we're going to be free, soon..." Something like tears glittered in the girl's glowing eyes. "The Myriad. Another story. Isn't that what is meant to happen to those who've died?"

Matta's jaw clenched. She didn't know how to explain to Sanna that, though her body was rotting by now, she didn't feel dead. Far from it. The idea that she had been robbed of her life--that both of them had been robbed--made her boil with rage. She was not ready. She was not ready to be cast out into the Myriad, to be born again, with no memory of herself.

She gazed down at Sanna's bright face, at the flickering flame of the fox hovering at her ear. The world was shaking itself to pieces around them. Life poured from every seam, vibrant and raucous, a flood of possibility...

"Sanna, you are right. Something has changed." She took a deep breath, though she had no lungs to fill. "I want you to trust me. Can you do that?"

Slowly, Sanna nodded. The fox whuffled. Matta took that as a maybe.

"Good. Both of you, hold on."

Matta closed her eyes so she could see better. Then, in one deliberate, stubborn step, she walked through the rippling skin of that world.

____

Alone in his room at the Sunny Horizons hospice for the elderly, Kevin O'Rian lay in his bed and breathed. It was a slow, labored activity. It grew harder with each passing day.

He slipped in and out of a fitful slumber, forever dogged by dreams of flesh-eating monsters and the small, pale face of his long-dead sister. And now, increasingly, these nightmares housed a new beast to haunt him; one that was tall, and slender, and had hair the color of flame.

And now, as he lay alone in his bed, it seemed that this creature spoke to him.

She leaned forward, placed a gentle palm on his forehead, and whispered. "It's okay now, Kevin. It's all fixed."

"How?" he gasped, his words little more than a ghost of a sigh.

But she was gone. She seemed to have taken the weight on his chest with her. For the first time in a thousand years, he took a full, free breath.

When several seconds later, Kevin O'Rian's heart stopped, he had a small smile on his wizened lips.

____

The boy slumped, already dying before he'd hit the ground. Shel yanked her blade out of him and grinned, spittle flying from her snarling lips as she hissed, "Last of his kin. What a pity."

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