He had walked along way to get here, through endless miles of shifting gray. Following a twisting path that had no edges, just thicker smoke in a world of fog. His hands where near frozen through and his face a dull, expressionless mask of acceptance. He had felt no hunger or thirst in his long journey. In a matter of fact he had not felt or thought much at all. Just the empty mind of the weary traveler, the long march broken down into the movement of feet and the fight against exhaustion. The collection of rags on his back had been bundled together from those he had found at the side of the path, taken from people fallen some endless time ago and lost to the rest of us.
His eyebrow twitched. Ahead of him, after what seemed an incalculable time on the endless road, stood something new. the fog ended and opened up into a wide vista. A park in the middle of winter, the rolling small hills covered with icy frost and the naked trees bent under the weight of snow. The path turned to cobbles ahead and next to it sat a park bench, empty and inviting. His worn and calloused feet begin to move quicker, something approaching the memories of light and warmth began to spark inside him again. Words, their shapes, forms and functions so long lost came back to him as old friends. Again his pace quickened, faster and faster towards that bench, he stumbled, skipping a few steps in his now headlong rush to be out, away. Somewhere else other than this endless parade of primordial purgatory.
His breath came ragged and curled in front of him is great puffs of loose steam. Then his broken and rag covered feet cracked the ice on the cobbles, the sound echoing in the stillness like the breaking of a thousand tiny bones.He stumbled wildly, desperately to the bench. His hands laid on the cold, frozen wood and he started to cry. Tears streaking down his face froze in the tangled mess of his beard. He collapsed into the chair and began to weep in earnest. He let his feet ache and his body relax in blissful agony. It was a long time before he looked up again.
When he did he began to take in his surroundings in the deafening silence he was stunned by the beauty of simple things, The way that snow clumped on the trees, or that the damned and frozen bracken underneath made such intricate patterns of light and shadow. He breathed and truly doubted if he would ever get up again. This was a good place wasn’t it? considering what he had just woken up from? he made it farther than others to be sure, wasn’t that enough? couldn’t he just sleep here, in the cold, and let it take him?
“That would be a terrible idea” said a woman’s voice. shattering the still air like the icy hand on a warm day.
He turned startled, scrabbling along the bench further away from the speaker, turning to face her as he did so. She was a short woman, long white and black streaked hair hung to her waist over a simple black overcoat, and piercing yellow eyes stared out at him from a face that never seemed to stay the same shape.
“Who…who are..” he said with a voice little used.
“Who am I? now Peter, surely your memory hasn’t fled you already? Surely you remember your oath? our deal?” she replied, she was walking towards him now. A large shopping canvas bag in one hand. The sway of her hips seemed to leave shadows dancing in her wake.
Peter thought hard, trying to remember this woman but his mind was still half full of cotton wool. An idea would come but then flick away at the last moment.
“I am the one that brought you here. I am the one that helped when no one else could” She said, her voice growing soft. She sat down next to him on the bench, one pale white hand reaching up to wipe some of the frozen tears from Peter’s face. Her touch felt like something dieing.
“You…at the gate. Jennifer” Peter eventually said, squinting at this creature. He could not pin down her facial features. He was compelled to look, but every time he tried to look at the whole something tiny changed and moved, her skin and bone refused the shape they had been given.
“That’s good Peter” she said, smiling a lop sided smile “If you remember that much and have made it this far there may be hope for you yet”
“Is it over? Is this where she is?”
“Oh no, she’s further on Peter. You have a while yet to walk. But never fear i have brought you gifts” She reached into the bag pulling out first a pair of boots, and then a long black jacket. She put these on the bench next to him followed by a t-shirt, boots, jacket and jeans and lastly a a very long dagger. It’s scarab was vicious red leather and was wrapped with a metallic silver cord. the hilt looked to be plain iron wrapped with the same red leather.
He looked pointedly at the knife “Why?”
“Not everything that walks the mists is dead Peter”
“That makes no sense”
“No, it really doesn’t. But nothing really makes sense here. The rules you are used to stopped being important a long time ago Peter”
“I don’t understand. My head is all full of fog, i have to find Jen. That’s all that matters. Where is she?”
“follow the path, it won’t be long before you meet the Keeper. You must not fear him Peter, you must get by him if you are going to find your Jennifer”
“Keeper? who is this Keeper”
“A man that is no longer a man. He sold that a long time ago”
“Do you ever give a straight answer”
She laughed a laugh that was like broken crystal being poured down his back “Maybe”
“I’m so tired” Peter said in the silence that followed
She moved closer to him on the bench, Peter knew he could move away but he couldn’t. He sat there transfixed. Her hair had started to move on it’s own, writhing over her shoulders as if it was alive. Her cold white arms stretched out and gathered him to her, She laid him down and put his head on her lap. Her hair continued to tangle around the two of them. Her cold, dieing hand weaving through his clumped and messy hair.
He shivered first from cold and fear. Unable to resist her gentle demands he collapsed into the bench, his face burred in the glossimer black of her dress. Soon as the strands of her hair continued to wrap him in her embrace he began to feel warm, even comforted. Soon he was weeping and shaking in relief.
She opened her mouth then, set among her twitching features like one blood red rose coming into bloom, and started to Sing.
Peter’s mind shattered into a dreamless sleep.