Cedar’s fourth day in the old ruins concludes with having found no new sources of food, water, or firewood. Rain most of the day dampens any hope of finding dry kindling or tinder needed to build a fire and forces Cedar deeper into the ruins to avoid becoming wet and remaining so, over an extended time. Given her weakened constitution, tattered clothes, and no way to warm herself, mild hypothermia could become a serious problem for her.
With nothing to do, Cedar finds herself sleeping and thinking about her past, future, and an inevitable end to the adventure. She has never stopped to question or contemplate her origins or her history. Her memories are filled with exciting activity, adventure, exploration, and discovery. She can remember sneaking out of the village from a young age to investigate the Hinterlands and Old World ruins. Over these past few days, she has gained an increased awareness suggesting many memories of her past experiences have become occluded. She has vague recollections of a man, a teacher of sorts, who once lead her youthful adventures. But her memories become more muddled as she fights to remember him.
Time spent away from the village has allowed Cedar to center her mind and look at the situation from a different perspective. Recently, she has lost much of her youthful admiration and respect for the elder women who govern the village. It is no great secret that the settlement, comprised entirely of women, is infamous amongst the nomads for its stance against their practice of mandatory reproduction. The fact that Cedar and two other young people her age exist at all proves that the women of the village mate with men from the nomads during their biannual visitations. And yet, the village’s remaining elders would sooner watch the village die than admit men from the nomads into the community or into leadership roles. Cedar has no immediate desire to birth children, but she understands basic arithmetic. Survival demands that the birth rate exceeds the mortality rate. Fighting against the future of the village always seemed counterintuitive if not foolish. As a matter of course, Ceder expected that she would one day relent and do what was necessary to keep the community thriving.
Still, Cedar cannot reconcile that she had simply failed to notice or be concerned by a complete absence of men before now. Meeting the wounded stranger had moved something in her mind. Leaving him to die alone moved it a great deal more. Several days ago, she snuck out with the vehicle knowing the elder women had strictly forbidden her from exiting the village until the nomads arrive for their next visit. An uneasy, sickening feeling drapes itself over Cedar. She has no clear memory of a childhood “home”; only memories of adventure and exploration with a man her mind is unwilling to recall. Could it be possible that she was being held in the village against her will? These thoughts, doubts, and concerns are all swallowed by a thick fog of sleep as they always are. But this time, the fog seems decidedly less opaque.
An air of anxiety awakens Cedar from a light sleep around dusk. The steady rain which had fallen all day has now subsided, taking with it the soothing white noise that had seduced her so readily into sleeping. She has grown somewhat acclimated to the cycle of projections from the Graves. An alarming change in the nature of those projections is what caused Cedar to stir. Things unknown to the wildlife have intruded into the Graves and they have come in multitudes. Confusion, fear, and uneasiness reign over the fauna. One projection, far louder and brighter than any others, bristles on the edge of her perception. It belongs to the Follower and it is furious.
A shallow and steady noise carries on the damp air inside the structure, causing hairs on the nape of her neck to stand on end. It is an unfamiliar sound that has no comparison to anything Cedar has ever witnessed. Equal parts whistle, roar, and whine, the steady drone grows louder and works to instill in her a sense of panic.
Something else is inside the ruins.
Quickly shoveling her few belongings into the pack and shouldering it, Cedar quickly scrambles out of sight and moves to find cover deeper inside the ruins, where overgrowth from the Graves has demolished most of the standing structures to create a web of interlocked rock and flora. A quick glance over her shoulder suggests she had moved not a moment too soon as some manner of queer, greenish lambency is cast over the area where she had been occupying. A rock tumbles as she slinks deeper into the ruins. In response, several unseen metallic objects clack angrily onto the flagstones behind her and out of sight. This is followed by a great and terrible noise, as though enormous drops of water had fallen in quick succession onto the surface of an equally enormous scalding hot skillet.
A wave of heat and smoke chases her through the rocky maze forcing her to choke and gag while climbing through impossibly narrow crevices. She bends and twists into unthinkable shapes to avoid being illuminated by the green light as its source follows closely behind. Unwilling to relent, Cedar pushes her body to match the agonizing pace of whatever is hunting her. No matter how fast she moves, the thing in pursuit seems capable of always moving faster. Occasionally, she catches quick glimpses of shimmering, black scales or plates illuminated by the dull greenish lamp it uses to navigate the dark, overgrown ruins.
Her path eventually ends in an impasse where crumbled stone structures mesh almost seamlessly with thick vines and trees to form a massive and impassible barrier. While able to see the other side through craggy fissures, she has no way of going through. A tributary of the river passes through the edifice nearby. It is marked by a shallow whirlpool at the base of the barrier where the water surges past. Perhaps it is deep enough for her to swim underneath. If she is mistaken, and the way is obstructed, she will likely lack the strength to fight against the current and resurface on this side again.
With less than a second to decide, Cedar leaps into the rushing water and is immediately sucked into the current surging beneath the barrier.