Chapter Seventeen – Travel

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The world seemed somehow simultaneously more vivid and paler than the real world., Though, Alice supposed that she would probably be insulting Esther if she referred to it as the “real” world. Esther was different now that Alice was close to her. She could see that the tattoos covering Esther’s arms were, if not alive, at least animate. They were a mixture of strange symbols and animals. The animals seemed to writhe and slither across her bare arms, while the symbols were fixed but radiant, a glow of power, leaking from within her, almost luminescent.

Curled around what looked like a stylized lower-case “r” on Esther’s bicep was a tiger in dark blue ink. It was staring in Alice’s direction, past her. Below it was a snake coiled around Esther’s forearm, its head disappearing behind a black band with swirls through it of unmarked flesh. The green ink of the snake’s body was visible through some of the gaps, and it’s red eye peered out through a hole in the black.

Alice felt the hot breath and menace over her shoulder again. “Do you require anything else of me?” The wolf repeated itself in it’s bizarre and intrusive unvoice.

Esther turned, raising her hand in a dismissive gesture. Her eyes blazed in the dim light of the Dreamlands, an almost yellow light emanated from them, shining across Alice, and she was simultaneously captivated and frightened to be cast in their light. “Do you feel that?”

The wolf let out a chuffing sound, a harrumph, at being ignored, and settled down onto its belly, resting its head on its paws, and looked sideways out off the cliff face. A massive golden lighthouse in the distance slowly swept a light across the maze.

Alice felt a lot of things. The whole world felt different. Nothing here was familiar, so she thought that for Esther to think she could pick out any one of the new strange sensations was a little unreasonable. “Um… which?”

Annoyance flickered across Esther’s face, and she gestured up into the dim movement above. “Do you feel the storm? It’s already noticed us. We need to move before it gets here.” She turned to the wolf and its ears pricked up. “Odi, how quickly can you get us home?”

The wolf cocked its head sideways, thinking, and then those thought-words that Alice continued to find unsettling issued forth. “The storm closes off paths through the maze-”

Alice interrupted. “Wait. Your wolf is named after the dog from Garfield?”

Esther turned to look at Alice. Esther spoke, the look of annoyance on her face again. “No. His name is- No.” She sputtered. “He is not my wolf. And he is named for the allfather. Odi is a name that has become familiar between us. I would not speak his true name lightly.”

Alice nodded. “Got it. Your wolf is named after the dog from Garfield.”

Odi looked at the two of them with bemusement. Esther sighed and gestured to the wolf. “If there is nothing else, please continue.”

Odi blinked and continued to not speak. “The storm comes for us. I will be able to take you to your home quickly, but we will have to face the storm’s emissaries.” He sniffed the air. “There is no path that is clear of them, so we may as well take the most direct.”

Esther nodded. “Very well. Lead on.”

The great wolf stood, and without looking back to see if they were following, began to pad away down the course, rubble strewn wall. Esther followed, and Alice came last. As they walked, the light from the lighthouse would occasionally pass over them, casting their shadows long against the side of the wall parallel to their path, and then be gone. They passed several small holes in the top of the wall, each with stairs carved into the stone and brick and bone, spiraling downward into the dark. Alice wondered if they were paths down into apartment buildings like the one she had come from, or if they led somewhere else.

The wolf took them to a T intersection, and after sniffing the air, turned left. He led them to several such intersections, and at each performed the same sniffing and turning, sometimes left, sometimes right. Alice had no sense of which way was the way they had gone, and using the lighthouse as a reference, she didn’t feel as though she had really moved. What she did notice was that her ribs and leg didn’t hurt anymore. She still had her headache, but that had become a regular part of life.

Looking down at herself, she didn’t seem to even be wearing the sweatpants she took from Chip. She was back in her standard gear. She reached up her back, and found only the empty sheath for her dagger. “I guess that was too much to hope for,” she mumbled to herself, then, “Hey Esther. When we came here, I was injured. Why am I not bleeding? And why am I wearing different clothes?”

Esther didn’t stop or turn around, but Alice could feel her attention shift back to her from somewhere else, somewhere far off. “Your injury is not you. At least, it did not change who you are, or how you see yourself.”

“So, what I look like here is what, the real me?”

Esther stopped walking and turned to look at her. Odi took a few steps more and then sat without turning to look at them. “No more than this is the real Boston,” Esther answered, gesturing out at the great maze. “On you are the real you. This place, the Dreamlands, is but one of the worlds. The material world is another. But each of the worlds is an expression. Do not confuse an expression with the truth.”

Alice pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay, so this is the Dreamlands. Why is Boston a labyrinth?”

Odi looked back over his shoulder, and Esther raised an eyebrow. “Boston is just a maze. The labyrinth is something else.” Esther began walking again, and Odi resumed the lead. After a minute, she spoke again, breaking the silence. “The short answer to your question is that I do not know. Boston was once farmland, grazing land for cattle and sheep. The streets today were laid down over the paths that the cows took being moved from pasture to pasture, and the city grew up around them. Now the city is a mess. Only a native knows how to get anywhere quickly, and there are people who have lived here for years who get lost. The city spent millions digging a giant tunnel just so people could get to the airport on time. So maybe it’s just Boston’s reputation for being difficult to navigate. But then, half the city used to be underwater, and the other half used to have hills, until the city flattened the hills and filled in Back Bay with the soil. We occasionally have building that just sink into the ocean, still. But I have never seen a great wall of water waiting to crush the city on this side. Things have personality. Maybe Boston just doesn’t like people be able to find their way around. As I said, I do not know.”

The wolf stopped abruptly, its hackles up. The not-voice reverberated through Alice’s head. “The storm approaches.”

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