“No. No no no no.” I dropped to my knees, slack jawed, as the storm passed.
I saw a half dozen illusions, beautiful and filled with hope. There were three that I reached out for, three that I wanted. The rest were too easy to pluck, and they would not give fulfillment. Then the storm stopped, and all I saw was ruin. Will-o-wisps. Fucking will-o-wisps.
The feeling coursing through me was strange. False hope always does that. Was it anger? It wasn’t quite anger. As I looked out at the wastes, the fallen buildings which were not populated for centuries, there was a lacking desire to smash it all.
Despair wasn’t quite right. I had no desire to die or hurt myself. There was no wish for death, though based on my predicament it was plausible. Maybe I would find a usable well, but the chances were slim.
Frustration. Frustration and disappointment. I nodded, those were the feelings. I was thwarted again, denied again, brought out somewhere in hope, and then I was left wanting and empty, like every other time. I put my head in my hands. “Not again.”
You wanted to know what to do. You acted. You were to do nothing.
I smirked. Then grinned. Then smiled until you could see my teeth. That smile turned into a chuckle, which exploded into a laugh. Or cackle. Cackle would be more correct. My frustration turned into hysteria. What else could it morph into? It wasn’t the first time I sat in that position. It would not be the last. I would pray that it would be the last, but it would not. I learned too much from false hope. From dashed hope.
That’s the spirit. Laughter.
That storm raged on forever, and I prayed so hard to understand it. And the voice was right. Now I understood. I understood everything, and that everything was nothing. I stood up, exhausted from the trip. From the hopes and dreams. From the breaking. From dehydration. I shambled through the ruins of some old city.
Up ahead. To the right. Now go into the third house on the left. Yes. In the basement. It’s the only house in the entire city with a basement. They were greedy people, but their hearts were hardened so your life could be saved. Aside from this well, they were good people.
There was a well where the voice said I would find one. I drank from it, pulling up buckets. No matter the plight falling on my head, I at least had a strong survival instinct. There were too many people back home relying on me. I could not fail them.
The water was fresh, a delightful taste on my splitting lips. I let it pour down my sand scoured front, and it both felt cool and searing as it agrivated the wounds from coarse sand. I didn’t mind, though. The water was plentiful and I filled the three goat stomachs I brought with me, corking them for safe keeping. I found lizards which were sunbathing, and I caught them and cooked them so I could eat. They were filling, and I slept well, using food and water to stave off the onset of depression.
In the morning, the sun rising, I surveyed the ruins, and found a few useful pieces, mostly leather and metal to be remade later. I stashed them and went to the outskirts of town, to the east where the sun was rising.
Where to next?
I shrugged. “You’re the guide. I’m just a follower.”
Even after I led you here? After I tricked you?
“You taught me. You fed me. My heart was doing no matter when I didn’t follow you, and the food and water didn’t taste as sweet. I will take two of three. Every obstacle you give me is a lesson.”
What was the lesson here?
“I don’t know. But I’ll figure it out. You’ll reveal it. For now? Harden my heart. Keep moving.” I lied. My chest ached as if something inside me pulsed, fighting for room. I would swallow that bitterness down in time, and by the next morning it would be gone. But for the day I would let it rest inside me.
You’re a horrible liar. But you are right. You’ll figure it out in time. East seems as good a direction as any. We should continue.