No sanctuary for the homeless, no rest for the wicked. Because from wherever you are, Thornley, the mighty rivers run.
About this creation
I flew once
Above the orbits of the moon
I dreamed once
That life was better than it was
Like so many beautiful scenes
Like memories kept in wooden rings
Over and over flitting by my eyes
Calling "Truth! Truth!" past all the lies.
And I dreamed -
Dreamed not once, but twice
Dreamed not twice, but thrice
Dreamed not thrice, but every night
But every time I woke
The burden fell once again on me.
Thornley shivered. Olympia didn't sleep anymore. Day and night the city toiled and worked. Coughing, boiling under steel bones. Olympia was awake. Life was warm in its streets.
Thornley was cold.
Not long ago, Thornley would never have gone to the lower levels of the city by himself, especially not in the night. But he couldn't go back to his apartment. Not now. He ran and ran, till his ribs bit into his sides. So here he was, in the heart of Olympia. The beating furnaces swept the air with a humid glow.
Under the shadow of a broken lamppost, Thornley felt his very skin freeze. He was so close to the heart of the city, yet he felt neither life nor warmth. It was not just the lamppost whose shadow was cold. The shadow of the city fell on him, too, a hollow spotlight that hid him but found him. The city's light had died, too. The world, beneath a starless sky, was Thornley's to navigate.
Three figures entered the shadow that sheltered Thornley. They didn't notice him at first. Thornley's heart raced, but only for a moment. He didn't care who they were. He didn't care if they saw him. He was afraid of one thing, and the one thing he was afraid of, he could not get rid of.
One of the newcomers squinted into the darkness underneath the lamppost. His friends called him Eagle Eyes. He hated it, but he knew why they called him that. Underneath the lamppost, where the others saw only black draped over wood, he saw Thornley.
"Hey!" Eagle Eyes called to his friends. "There's someone over here."
They ignored him. They were focused on something else.
Eagle Eyes ducked under the lamppost, finding his way with the muzzle of his gun.
"Hey, you!" he barked. "What are you doing here?"
Thornley didn't answer.
"Alright, keep to yourself," Eagle Eyes said. "Come on, get up!"
Eagle Eyes pulled Thornley from the shadows and pushed him toward the others, one hand on his shoulder and another on the gun at his back.
"Found somebody hiding back here," Eagle Eyes said. "What should we do with him?"
A man with a metal leg stepped forward. He squinted at Thornley with cold, lifeless eyes.
"Who're you?" he demanded.
Thornley didn't answer.
"Quiet one," he said to Eagle Eyes. "Don't look like much of a spy either. Might as well let him go."
Eagle Eyes frowned.
"You sure, Steelshank? You don't think somebody like this would turn up in Lamppost Alley for no reason?"
"Don't matter anymore," he said. "Tonight's the last one. We're done after this. May as well let him watch, yeah?"
"If you say so," Eagle Eyes said.
Steelshank turned to Thornley. He pointed at a large container in front of him.
"You know what this is, boy?" he asked.
Thornley shook his head. As he did, a blade of grass began curling out of his palm. The others didn't notice.
"This here is blackwood root, boy. The best money can buy."
The blade of grass had twisted and split, till now three stems grew from Thornley's hand.
"We send out the last few samples tonight," Steelshank continued. "Then it's over for the other mobs 'round here. Everyone'll know to go to Lamppost Alley for their root.
Steelshank turned back to Thornley. The grass had grown into an intricate vine of plant life, culminating in a rose. But even now, the plants still grew, budding, stretching to the sky.
Steelshank reached for his knives.
"The hell are you doing?" he demanded.
The plants kept growing. They had found the narrow walls of the alley by now. They crept still upward, choking the bricks and mortar of their new hosts.
Eagle Eyes cocked his gun.
"He's gonna bring the whole alley down!" he shouted.
Steelshank drew a knife and walked toward Thornley.
"Whatever you're doing, boy, you'd better stop it. I'd hate for something to happen to you."
Steelshank raised his knife, but a vine seized him by the wrist. He tried slashing at the vine, but the vine's grip was too strong. His wrist was trapped over his head. The ground beneath the alley began rumbling. Cracks began to split the dirty pavement.
With a roar, the earth split apart. A tree burst through the pavement, sending a shower of broken stones down on the alley. Roots and leaves shot in every direction. Steelshank and his men were lifted off their feet and thrown from the alley.
When the dust settled, Lamppost Alley was gone. Where it had once been, a veritable jungle of vines and young plants now lived. The tree completely blocked the old entrance the alley. Steelshank drew a revolver and fired six shots into the overgrowth. It was no use. Thornley was gone.
Asbestos Jones surveyed the damage in Thornley's apartment. He wasn't sure what to expect when the manager had come to his office saying a forest was growing on his property. The mayor had never seen anything like this before.
Asbestos Jones shook his head and made his way toward the door. Somehow he knew this had something to do with that thing - the Heart of the Forest, that stranger had called it. Clearly, the natural kingdom was rebelling against him. He sighed. They couldn't just leave him alone.
Amasoma waited for the mayor to leave before climbing out of her hiding place under the stairs. He didn't need to see her. Not yet. She ran up the stairs to Thornley's desk. She was looking for him, but to find him, she needed something else first.
She took a blue compass from Thornley's desk. She looked at it closely, shook it a few times. Everything about the compass was in working order. She positioned herself facing north, then held up the compass. The needle pointed off to the side. Amasoma smiled.
"Thornley, everything is going to be alright."