Weary from their travels in the late afternoon, the three gazed at the semi-familiar town rising over the surface of the water, its pathways arching and dancing over and around the town’s structures, touching water and heading off out of sight, or even below the surface. Unsure whether they’d been rendered deaf to the world before this begun or simply staring at a town that would never stare back, they headed silently towards the nearest building to see if anybody was in.
The breeze felt uncharacteristically heavy against their faces as they trudged nearly reluctantly looking forward, each occasionally shifting their eyes to focus on something when they thought the others weren’t looking. The town itself was the same sight they’d always seen from below, however this time it was in quite a different context.
The first building’s interior was visible through the doorway but the three entered. On the left, a young man barely into adulthood, medium-length black hair swept sideways across his faintly stern face walked with a proud posture. Ira spoke quietly and uncertainly like he wasn’t expecting a response or even an acknowledgement. “I wonder if the old forgeworker remains here.” After briefly wondering about whether to respond, the other two did not speak, although they took on slightly less tense postures for a moment and slightly turned their heads towards him to acknowledge they they’d taken this to mind. The old forgeworker had always said his life’s work was here, to give one explainable reason of the many he had that weren’t.
He was sat down at a sturdy-looking table covered with papers and various unidentifiable tools.He looked up with darkened eyes that had been hiding secrets for a long time now. They struck a lot of people as giving him an air of unpredictability and for this reason many people were nervous around him. These three were no exception although it relieved them to have somebody else in sight. There were probably others in town but this was the first encounter of their visit here. “Good to see you’re all still coming here.” He said with a hint of fatigue in his ever so slightly gravelly voice, looking at them briefly then back to what looked like blueprints for something. “Opal’s aunt went out looking for her family, Opal. Didn’t say who, only family. Haven’t seen her since and all the family members I could reach say they haven’t heard. Been finishing her work for her…thought I’d…tell you in person.” Opal was a young woman, a few years ahead of Ira; she was somebody that did what felt natural, and as a result had taken on a rather graceful air. This was reflected in her appearance: long brown hair slightly curling backwards and clothes with colours as so not to draw attention, although it was usually hidden by a cloak held like a blanket on cold days. Her eyes dropped. “Oh.” A brief pause. “She was very smart. I believe she wasn’t reckless.” The forgeworker calmly nodded slowly, a nod that indicated both acknowledgement and the absence of anything further to say. The third of them slowly turned around and the other two followed him out of the shop.
In the distance on a lower level, a figure could be seen walking on a circular break on the roof of a building in between pathways, not looking anywhere but forward as if they were there to create a sense of distance between them and the scenery. Adonis watched the figure placidly, seeing them stop briefly to take out something from their bag, holding it in the hand obscured by their body. He watched until they drifted out of view. There were people here, but he didn’t know if anybody here was really home. “I wonder if they’ll ever find us.” Ira looked at him, knowing what he was talking about but wanting to hear more. “Some of them could have disappeared in groups.” He made a sweeping motion. “Look at this place. It’s been hit hard, but it still isn’t over. It can’t be.” He somehow managed to sound like he wasn’t worried, though nobody could tell due to where he was looking. He voice still sounded like it was harmonising with itself. Adonis was lucky the figure didn’t stop to look anywhere – he would have been spotted instantly due to his large form. He was within a few years of the other two as people in such small groups in this land tended to be, although he seemed almost…ageless. You couldn’t ascribe a fiery youth nor could you ascribe an aged wisdom. You could try but there’d always be another interpretation. People would follow him without being intimidated and he would lead with no aggression. Ira spoke. “We’ve spent this much time looking now. No point in quitting.” Opal didn’t speak, but showed a barely noticeable reassured smile.
He himself tried to make it look like he was wandering the streets, but in truth he was looking for what was once a home. Down below at surface level, where they’d met in their own corner of the world during their first-stage apprenticeships. Opal moved there as a small child and moved away again for the rest of her education, still keeping in touch with Ira and Adonis, who had lived there up until two or so years ago, when people started to disappear without warning or reason whatsoever. Some of them spoke of terrible nightmares of indescribable horror shortly before their disappearance. There were never any witnesses, so it remained a phenomenon without face or faction; half on the run, half hoping against hope they’d find the way out of this world they’d heard so much rumours about. The world was falling now. Only escape remained.
They came to a stop and set down at a platform at the edge of a plaza high above the crystalline water, overlooking one half of town (the other half reaching for the clouds further away). A few more people were visible now…they all looked so tense, so hurried. Those that tried not to look worried were easily given away. Ira didn’t know it but he was really just projecting his own feelings onto these shapes. The one by the fountain was only heading out shopping, and the one at the pathways on the surface of the water really was wandering aimlessly. The sun was setting now, vivid orange enclosing the town from above the cliffs and hills on the outside.
Ira leaned on one of the railings while Adonis sat down at the edge of the platform. Opal sat down at the edge as well and let her legs hang freely down, wrapping herself tightly in her cloak, taking out the food she did have. They’d have to wait until they reached home. “This was where I met Bryn.” She said with more than a hint of nostalgia in her slightly hushed voice, occasionally glancing at both Ira and Adonis, “we met here, at sunset. Kind of by chance. We’d come here every sunset by tradition. We were close friends for a long time. If I didn’t see you two, it’d be him in the evenings and my other friends in the day.” Her voice became something of a more regretful nature. “We were…let’s say closer before I left. But we, we…had an argument. I left him there at sunset, sitting there. I avoided him the next few weeks and before I knew it I was leaving.” Adonis tried to prevent any silence from occurring. “Is it not good that you spent time apart? Just so you could forgive each other when you returned?” “Yes…well, no…” She sighed the sigh of one with no definitive answer. “I’m sorry. I’d heard of him from you but did know much about him.” Ira chimed in, trying to lift the conversation again. “You still had everyone else to talk to. Tina and her family left with you as well.” Opal remained silent for a moment, unsure if she wanted to continue, instead lowering her head and leaning back on her hands. “Even without him, this town still looks so beautiful at sunset.” Agreement. Autumn red leaves floated on the visible edges of land, their trees hanging over the water and walkways on the surface.
“I naturally took this place for granted when I lived here. I guess leaving here did some good after all.” Adonis half-joked. “This…I want to see if anybody’s home. At my home.”
A house still stood on the land at the surface, near untouched, still watching over its own part of the water. Adonis knocked on the door.
He’d kept one key even after he left. If nobody else was here they wouldn’t have changed the locks.
The key worked. “Come in.” Adonis gestured. He walked in and it was the same medium-sized house it had always been. Some things moved around, signs his family remained after he left. In combination with their absence, they could only have been taken. He welled up but did not falter. Lightly stepping around the house he saw how they’d left. In the same condition it had been on any normal day. Finally, his own room.
Pristine condition, awaiting his return. He’d come back, if only too late. He saw his bed and realised his answer.
“I must sleep.” He announced with his back turned to the both of them. Ira and Opal looked at each other, an feeling of unease shared. Ira simply nodded and murmured an “okay” and left with Opal.
Adonis’s way out was an eternal slumber to escape the nightmare. He’d sleep for forever and a day, past death, past this world, past the end. They’d closed the door behind him and unknown to them now, they wouldn’t be returning.
Ira spoke first. “I have my own home here, but that would be leaving you on your own in a place you left.” He stopped to think. “There’s not much to do now, not until tomorrow. I no longer have access to my own house now, not since I received word from my family that they’d be leaving for the city. So, I will have to find an inn later. I still remember where one is, if this place hasn’t changed too much. Is that okay?” Opal nodded.
And so they walked on to see the town in silence and sunset, and finally met somebody under a tree.
“Hi.” Opal smiled expectantly and made a small wave.. The stranger looked up slowly with weary eyes half-covered under short hair and a head kept low. “Go away, will you?” This shattered the peace and calm the city seemed to have to Ira and Opal. All they could do was shoot a glare her way and leave. They could hear her mutter something under her breath.
She’d been suffering nightmares the last three nights, helpless to even try to escape sleep.
Walking through the streets in the upper area of town, Opal stopped and gazed at a house across a walkway some Opal0 metres away. “His house. It’s Bryn’s house.” Ira thought he knew where she was going with it, but wasn’t sure. “Oh?” “I have to apologise. I don’t know if he’s there, but I hope he is. I hope he’s still there.” “I’ll wait here for you.” Entranced by what was usually just a building, Opal advanced slowly, listening for anything inside.
A metre away, a figure passed through the door. The closed door. Not opened, passed through. It was the woman beneath the tree, darkened as if they were standing in the night and the sunlight simply refused to touch them, nightmarish beyond human limits, corrupted night after night until she finally snapped…or was it Opal’s aunt? No, there was somebody else…it looked like all of them. They rushed her before she could do anything, and she was taken by the nightmare.
The truth was, humanity had been living too long. It had spent too long corrupting, wishing, wishing for corruption until something just…snapped and the nightmares started. They could run and they could fight, but hiding was another question entirely. Nobody knew it was an option, but Adonis had made his own way out. After that, he didn’t matter to the nightmare.
Opal’s way out was not of her own will, fallen to the corruption. She didn’t even get to say goodbye.
After half an hour of waiting, Ira grew fearful. He’d been watching the house for most of the time and nobody had come out. She didn’t ever keep him or Adonis waiting like this. He knocked once. Nothing. Again. Still nothing. He forced himself to assume they’d made up and she was spending the evening there and walked on. He’d come back.
That evening, the bad dreams begun, and the world would fall silent…