The Graves

Morning arrives after a restless night spent cramped inside a small cavity among the long-deserted ruins hidden within the Graves. The name given to this region of densely forested highlands is well earned, given that all who were known to have entered simply failed to emerge. The sobering distinction that Cedar will most likely be counted among those who die within this place is not lost on her. While she is not afraid of death or dying, she is no rush to meet with the inevitable event quite yet. Fear was not why Cedar wavered between shallow sleep and anxious alarm most of the night. It was the Follower she had first sensed while still driving in the vehicle that had remained on the periphery of her senses all night.

Whether it be for its own perverse amusement or for some other reason, it continued to pluck at her consciousness most of the night to keep her awake. The final results of its constant harassment of her respite were anger and frustration, more than fear. Now that she has time to reflect upon those moments, Cedar realizes she probably owes it a measure of thanks. The dangerous, inimical emotions she had projected throughout the night would have kept any wild animal away, predators included. She likely owes her survival through the night to this practical but vexing strategy.

She has no remaining doubt that the Follower had also provided her the directional sense to find this place the evening she escaped from the predators. Last night’s interference was most likely some manner of remote survival lesson. Whether or not she can reproduce the projection a second night is questionable. She is sluggish both physically and mentally from a lack of sleep. She had exhausted her remaining food ration sometime after sunset yesterday. Although hungry, she is not yet weak with hunger, but that will surely come to be the case by nightfall today.

Locating food and drinking water before suffering the effects of hunger and dehydration will be the first hurdle she must clear if she hopes to survive. Cedar has little sense of how dangerous it may be inside the dense wilderness since she has yet to completely orient herself to the area. Becoming lost within the Graves or being unable to find her way back here before nightfall would likely be a fatal mistake. Instead, she elects to explore the ruins she had been led to by the Follower.

The ancient remnants continue for some distance along the winding waterway. This had clearly once been home to a large populace. The rough-hewn stone blocks and simple designs are similar to others Cedar had encountered in the Hinterlands. Crude and simplistic, these structures were erected long after the fall of the old world and bore nothing in common with those magnificent towers that dared reach the top of the sky. It seems as though two completely different peoples once inhabited, then ceased to exist in the same place.

Cedar continues exploring but only finds a few trinkets that, while interesting, are ultimately useless to her immediate need for survival. She had identified a more secure and comfortable location to retire after nightfall. When twilight is upon her, she has only foraged a few edible types of grass and mushrooms she recognizes from her home in the Hinterlands. They are scarcely enough to satisfy her nutritional needs. Eating these light morsels is better than not eating at all or consuming something unfamiliar and poisonous.

Drinking water from the waterway will keep her alive. It is not an ideal solution. Cedar does not know what upstream contaminants might be affecting the water supply. Finding a means to build a fire for cooking and boiling would eliminate most impurities from her food and drinking water. With food and water being her first priorities, Cedar decides that she will spend her remaining time and energy on seeking a route back to her home. This waterway is the key to her immediate survival and the safest passage leading out of the Graves. Remaining here longer term will likely be impossible for her to manage alone.

Rather than focus on her regret, Cedar retrieves her belongings and then moves to a more secure location she had discovered nearby. It is a relatively intact structure that would keep out the larger predators, but not smaller beasts like the insects they had encountered. With nothing better to do in the vast darkness of nighttime in the Graves, Cedar’s mind wanders within her inner place and connects with the memory of her unknown companion. While entirely unlike hearing, sight, or touch, Cedar’s inner place serves as a means of sensing her environment. It comes as natural to her as breathing. Just as she might recall a strong scent she had once smelled or reenvision a grand vista seen from the top of an old world tower, Cedar’s mind recalls her companion’s pain and suffering alongside the fierce will to survive he projected moments before she fled. Although he no longer lives, she finds comfort in attempting to soothe the memory’s pain.

Leaving him to die was a mistake. It is a mistake Cedar will regret as long as she lives. All the same, being stranded alone and hiding inside a hovel within the Graves, she is keenly aware there is no guarantee she will live to see morning.

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