The Fragments – Chapter 3, The Tear

From February 2022 I plan to publish sample draft chapters from upcoming books on my website. If you are interested in more information head over to the new section on Writing . And now … The Fragments – Chapter 3, The Tear.

tear |ˈtɛər|

1 – a split or hole in any matter, physical or metaphysical, caused by it being pulled apart forcefully
2 – (also: the tear) [Fragments] the frayed threads of reality around a fragment 
3 – see also: tear |tɛː| in the Standard Anglaise Reference

Standard Anglaise, Fragments appendices, revision 4216 – Amik, Marcus

The girl crept down a dark alley. She inched along one wall keeping her back to the cold stone and out of sight of the roofline. The high brick walls on either side reduced the city’s lit night sky to a thin line, and the lights from the holo feeds and traffic beams faded long before they reached the derelict pipes and dilapidated fire escapes around her. 

She stopped and tilted her head to catch the sounds drifting down into the alley from the city above—blaring announcements and jingles cut into meaningless babble by the throbbing of auton dirigibles and cargo carriers. She continued down the alley but stopped again after no more than a dozen paces. This time, she could make out the dreaded buzzing of a surveillance drone patrolling the abandoned quartier. 

The sound grew louder as it headed directly into her direction—

She was startled awake as a hand shook her shoulder. 

‘We need to get going.’ The voice sounded apologetic, but the hand squeezed her shoulder another time before it retreated. 

Shredded images spun in her head, but the dream slipped away before she could make any sense of what she had seen. She squinted through blurry eyes, and her gaze focused on Tayl’s silhouette crouching next to her. 

‘Your clothes are almost dry.’ He nodded to a bundle next to her, then straightened and started to gather his belongings. 

Still half asleep, she uncurled her protesting body and sat up. Tayl’s anorak dropped off her shoulders. He must have draped it over her after she fell asleep. She heaved herself up and winced. Her chest hurt where Tayl had pressed the water out of her lungs after he had dragged her out of the water. She managed to struggle into her trousers and parka but stuffed her tunic into a pocket. She found her boots, shook out the dry leaves, and tied the laces. When she returned Tayl’s anorak and jumper, he looked at the sleeves of his shirt still sticking out of her parka but didn’t comment. 

‘Are you ready to go?’

She nodded, and Tayl caught the hovering light in his hands. 

She held him back. ‘The place where we are going—is there a city close by?’ 

‘A city?’ 

‘Yes—tall buildings, traffic, people?’ 

‘No. Why?’ 

She scanned the ring of trees surrounding the clearing and shook her head. ‘It’s nothing—let’s go.’ 

Tayl shrugged and tapped the globe with his fingernail. The glow shrank to a tiny speck, flickered, and went out.

Without the light, Tayl was no more than a dark outline moving between the trees in front of her. She struggled to shake off her drowsiness, and her unwilling legs stumbled over every root in their path. She ignored the pain in her chest and took deep, even breaths. There was a softness to the air and the taste of something unfamiliar. The cold that had clung to her bones since Tayl had pulled her from the river loosened with every step, and she started to feel slightly more awake. 

They hadn’t walked far when the forest around them changed. The trees grew further apart, and the canopy opened. Starlight fell through swaying branches and lit their path. About a hundred paces later, Tayl stopped, and she drew up beside him. They had reached the edge of the forest and, beyond the last line of trees, dark fields stretched out under a cloudless midnight sky.

Tayl turned to her. ‘I’ll need something from you to take you through the tear. An object, something that belongs to you.’ 

She tore her gaze from the star-speckled dome above her and asked. ‘A tear? Like something came apart?’ 

‘Can we have this discussion later?’

Taken aback, she shrugged and said, ‘I don’t have anything.’ She rummaged through her pockets. ‘Wait.’ Her fingers found something. ‘What about this?’ She held out her hand, the silver coin on her palm. 

Tayl took the coin and turned it between his fingers. It was too dark to make out any details. ‘What is it?’ 

‘A coin—money, I guess.’ 

‘Is it yours?’ 

She shrugged again. ‘It was in my pocket.’ 

Tayl’s fingers closed around the coin. She felt a shove in her back—like a sudden gust of wind—and almost stumbled forward. Something insubstantial passed through her chest. It unravelled something deep inside her, and she felt a part of her trailing behind it like an invisible thread reaching out to connect with the object in Tayl’s hand.

She sucked in a sharp breath.’ Skies. What was that?’

‘It’s yours.’ Tayl pocketed the coin, either unaware of what had happened or ignoring her. ‘I’ll return it later.’ 

His too bright eyes seemed to glimmer with gold and silver like sparks caught in grey stone. She shook her head. She was too tired for any of this. 

‘What now?’

Tayl turned towards the night in front of them, and she followed his gaze. There was nothing to see but darkness and stars and more darkness.

‘There is not much time for explanations,’ Tayl said, ‘I need you to listen and do what I tell you to do.’ 

‘That sounds—,’ she started. 

A sudden gust ripped through the treetops and tore off leaves, filling the air with whirling silver. But not a single leaf passed the edge of the furthermost branches as if none of them was allowed to step over an invisible border. Instead, they just hung motionless in the air. 

She gave in. ‘What do you want me to do?’

Tayl walked out from under the branches, crouched, and picked up a handful of the leaves scattered across the ground. He gestured for her to do the same. ‘Hold the leaves in your hand. Don’t crush them.’ 

As she gathered a handful of leaves, her fingers touched a cold, smooth surface beneath them. 

‘What is this?’

‘A Crenok circle.’ Tayl brushed away more of the leaves to reveal a flat, black stone about two paces across. ‘We are going to walk across it.’ He straightened. ‘I’ll go first. You’ll keep close behind me. Don’t hesitate when you feel the tear.’ 

‘And how do I do that if I don’t know what a tear is?’ she asked. 

‘What do you feel now?’

She looked from where the leaves hung motionless in the air to the round stone underneath. The invisible border that held the leaves in place cut through the circle precisely in its centre. Her mind turned inexplicably blank. Her body froze, and the night started to blur and spin around her. 

She staggered a step back and looked up at Tayl. ‘It’s like an edge you can’t see—like looking down from a great height.’

‘That is the tear—it’ll feel like stepping off a cliff. You will know when it happens.’

‘We are stepping off a cliff?’ 

‘No—we are stepping through the tear into the seam.’ Tayl said as if this would explain anything. 

She waited. When he offered nothing further, she ground her teeth and nodded. The sooner they got this over with, the better.

He held out his hand, and she took it. His fingers closed around hers, and he said, ‘Don’t let go.’ 

They stepped onto the stone. A sudden gust lifted the leaves strewn across the circle off the ground, and rings of gold and silver sprang to life under her feet. She had taken another step before her mind accepted the fact that she could no longer see Tayl but still felt his fingers laced through hers. The night around her froze into a grainy image. Ice webs tingled her skin as Tayl’s grip pulled her across the centre line of the mark. He had been right—it felt precisely like stepping off a cliff.

She stood in the darkness between the stars. She felt a tickle on her palm and looked down at her hand, glad to have something to hold onto other than a night both too brilliant and too dark to be possible. Silver dust seeped through her curled fingers like sand trickling through an hourglass. It gathered in a pool around her feet, and she realised that she stood on a surface polished to the shine of black ice, and reflecting the night sky above so perfectly it looked like she stood in the sky itself. 

Tayl’s grip around her other hand tightened. ‘We need to keep moving.’ He looked utterly in focus and brighter than the starlight could account for.

She swallowed hard to fight off a wave of vertigo and followed him across the mirrored night. 

Time stretched into unreliable still images. They walked through ghostly impressions of places and people that meant nothing to her. A man and a boy sat around a glowglobe, their faces relaxed in companionable silence. The boy balanced on a line which was stretched too tight and about to snap. The man walked along a beach deep in thought, his face both drawn and withdrawing. A house on the edge of a cliff looking out over the sea. 

Then an icy current took hold of her, and frost crawled over the mirror beneath her. The night turned to white. Snow swirled around her feet, and her footprints filled with blood. Behind her, a scream echoed through a dark tunnel multiplying a hundredfold—

Run! Eass, Run! 

Tayl’s grip around her fingers tightened, and the mirrored night returned. 

She looked back over her shoulder. ‘Wait. Somebody called my name.’ 

But Tayl’s hand pulled her forward, and a circle of gold and silver took them in.

Behind her, the night sky had retreated to a familiar dome of distant stars, and water lapped up between a group of boulders strewn across a sandy beach. 

‘Eass.’ She clasped the word before she could lose it again. ‘My name is Eass.’ 

‘Are you okay?’ Tayl’s voice sounded worried. ‘The seam can be disorientating.’

She shook her head. She wasn’t okay and disorientating wasn’t the word she’d use. 

Exhaustion washed over her. She blinked sluggishly, unable to hold her eyes open for any time. A tall figure walked along the beach towards them. She remembered the man from the mirrored visions and could no longer tell if the figure was real or not. Then the last threads of consciousness slipped from her fingers, and she sank into the sand.