Justin was huddled against the cliff that seemed to be the only thing in the world of his mind. Besides the mist, of course.
Daldion was nowhere to be seen—he was hiding in his own part of Justin’s mind. If truly it was Justin’s mind. If he truly existed. If anything truly existed.
Justin was trying to think, trying to remember. Something—anything. What was real? What was firm? What could he hold on to? What was reality?
Perhaps there was only one way to find out.
Justin was sleeping—but Daldion had left him. This is his mind, his part of the body he occupied. In his mind, the presence of Daldion was obvious. In his moments of wakefulness, he couldn’t tell when Daldion was listening in on his thoughts. So now he thought, and planned.
Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays…
At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you.
Sun Tzu—On the Art of War.
Amber opened the door, humming. She had been listening to her favorite music—the haunting flutes and drums of her childhood on the Reserve. It was modernized and commercialized, of course, but it still carried the hint of home.
She backed into the room, shielding the tray she carried from the heavy door. Here in the Canadian wilderness, the heavy doors were necessary to keep the heat in and the cold out. Francisco had just managed to get the furnace working, so a pleasant warmth was finally creeping into the corners of the old farmhouse.
Amber turned, seeing the hump on the bed, and smiled. Justin was sleeping. He deserved to be sure. Dragged around by ‘kidnappers’, hunted by people he didn’t understand, and knocked out more than once in twenty-four hours…it was no wonder he was sleeping off his near-nervous breakdown.
She held the tray on her hip, trying to keep the thick soup from spilling. “Time to wake up, Justin. You need to eat.”
The blanket-hidden shoulder she touched collapsed under her touch. Amber dropped the tray and pulled the blanket back with both hands.
Pillows and various trash from around the room were piled on the bed, giving the impression of a sleeping body. But Justin was gone.
Amber closed her eyes, trying to keep the panic in. Seek…Seek…
The pain came. But so did the sense of Justin, barely visible in her mind. He was going away from the farmhouse, into the woods. Into the blizzard. And he was far—he had moved quickly. Probably as soon as they had left him to sleep.
Amber took one more look out of the window at the heavy clouds approaching and the snow-capped forest beneath them.
Then she ran from the room. She needed Francisco. Now.
Justin clambered up a hill. He was fighting. Physically, he was fighting the wind and the snow and his aching legs. Mentally, he was fighting Daldion, trying to keep him from his mind. His rage and pain seemed to be enough to keep the being at bay…but then again, Daldion didn’t seem to be fighting that hard.
Emotionally, however, he was losing. He was barely holding himself together. His tears were freezing on his cheeks.
He hadn’t found a phone in the plane, and the cockpit had been locked. He could call for help and he couldn’t fly for it—not that he knew how anyway. So he had run. To the forest.
Only the words of the long dead Chinese General Sun Tzu were keeping Justin going. Sun Tzu had never failed. So if he followed the man’s words, maybe he wouldn’t either.
He crested a tall snowbank, his boots sinking deep into the snow. With his shoes taken, he had found them outside the front door. Fortunate. They were too big—possibly Francisco’s—but they worked.
Justin clutched the sheet he had taken from the bed closer around himself. It provided a bit of warmth in addition to his sweatshirt, but spots of wetness were rapidly spreading across it. Even when it ceased being a comfort, it would still be useful. The whiteness would be useful camouflage in the snow.
Justin felt a blast of wind, colder than anything he had felt in his life. Wherever he was, it was north of Maine. It had to be. So Canada, most likely. He looked up.
A dark cloud was rolling over the little sliver of sun he could see. A whole sheet of black. It was a blizzard.
For a moment he considered returning to the farmhouse. To his bed and the warmth of indoors.
But then he set his face and plunged forward, shielding his eyes with his arm, the sheet snapping around him. Forward. If they wanted him, they could come and get him.
Justin had once read in one his conspiracy searches that the CIA’s physic programs had relied on near-death experiences to bring about clairvoyance. He hadn’t believed it, of course, but now it seemed almost relevant.
With every step away from life and into the cold and white and green of the blizzard-swept forest he felt his calm growing. His emotions diminishing. He felt his thoughts, his preconceptions, fading. He was losing himself. Giving himself up. It was liberating. Exhilarating.
Justin half-climbed, half-slid, down an icy hill. The tree all around him seemed to press in, covering him from the wind, from the snow that had begun to fall.
Into the great unknown.