Loving someone now, in the emptiness of time, is to skirt the edge of death’s abyss. It is an impossibility, where we claw for survival every hour, where if you don’t find nightmares, they find you, it cannot be allowed. It brings only defeat.
And, yet, maneuvering through the throngs of evil, it is the only thing that matters.
My name, Mallocrest, is synonymous in the southern land of Teberut with stealth, strength, speed, and ruthlessness. Yet, even so, I count on a certain amount of luck to spawn from the chaos, though luck, as you know, runs a very thin line. Left to myself I can fight off dakkeroos attacking from the sky, outsmart an anterpen pushing me into their snares, and outrun richetetets.
Consider what it’s like, then, to run the gauntlets of hell with my beloved Enta by my side.
We’d come through the swamps of Gorno over the hummock bridge to stay out of the water. Never go into the swamps if you don’t know the hummocks. The water will kill you before you can count off twenty nails.
We broke into the grassy sands with bags full of food and water. The kid carried her weight, and she knew how to scan the terrain, the most critical skill, until you’re caught. We were well into the open when I heard Enta’s whimper. I followed her eyes to a hillock a couple sprints ahead to the left.
The ground wasn’t right, her eyes were so good. I stared for eighty nails trying to figure it out, Enta silent the way I taught her, and then it moved, and I knew.
My voice barely a wisp on the breeze, I said, “Porgrents.” The truth. For the deeper into perdition you rove, the more critical truth is for a child. I have never lied to her, and I never will.
Her mouth tightened into a frown, and she took my hand. Only the tops of the porgrents—maybe three of them—were visible behind the hillock, but she knew them. Porgrents were giant, light yellow, four-legged blobs of muscle, higher than a man, with enormous mouthes, two open tracks leading up to their eyes opening into nostrils. Perfectly round, muddy eyes with no feeling, no comprehension, and no other intention than to find something to swallow. At short range, they run you down and swallow you whole. That quick, that easily, that merciless.
Bullets do not kill them. You cannot cut deeply enough to harm them. Most distressful at that moment, a child cannot outrun them.
With enough of a start, I could outrun them while carrying Enta, but you must understand, certainly by now you must—not only does carrying a child slow you down, it inhibits your movement, limits the range of your senses, and prohibits an immense repertoire of maneuvers that would harm her. With the never-ending dangers in this doom-laden land, it would cripple my ability to face other beasts that intercepted us. This is what I mean when I say love brings death so much closer in this emptiness of time.
Alone I would have bolted to get over the next highest hill, dealing with whatever deadly creature I stumbled upon as they came. With Enta, the best course was to move quietly downwind and be watchful for a place small enough they could not reach, so I tugged her arm gently to head right, silent as the grass we went, and I noticed proudly that she returned to scanning. We were horribly exposed, and I think she knew it.
The porgrents came over the hill. Before their eyes emerged from the horizon, I pulled my cape-skin around and fell over Enta, who had already dropped flat and lay still. We baked in the sun as I watched them cross the grassy sands downwind from us, calculating the distances I would need to formulate an escape if they discovered us. The math was bleak.
They were too close. Our discovery was imminent. I chose our path.
Picking Enta up as I rose, I turned on my heel and sprinted toward the highest hillock I could see, but another porgrent emerged from the mound next to it. I changed course for the next highest, but this new spawn of the eternal pit shortened my range of escape—and the others had seen or smelled us, because they were chasing us down. I would not outrun them.
I turned to get behind one of the shallower knolls and fell to my knees as I set Enta on her feet, threw my pack on the ground and pulled out my shovel.
She crouched next to me. “What are we doing, Mallo?” She whispered like I taught her, a tuft of dust across the sand.
“You must be brave, Enta.” I dug feverishly. “There’s only enough time for you.”
“Don’t leave me.”
My heart shattered as it has so many times. Even in her voiceless breath I could hear her panic. I gritted my teeth.
“Do as I say.” I laid her in the hole, and unzipped her bag next to her face. “Listen, Enta. If I don’t come back, wait until next morning to come out. You will know by the heat.”
I pulled a tube out of a drinking bag and stuck one end in the top of her pack. “Put your head in the pack to protect your face.
Tears poured down her face and she sobbed, but she complied, so I tightened the zipper around for a barely snug fit that held the tube in place. I shoved the dirt and sand back over her, making sure the other end of the tube was out, then smoothed it over with my cape, grabbed my pack, and stood.
My bowels froze. The three porgrents were almost upon me. Never have I been so close to these monsters, and I did not know if even alone I could outrun them. I vaulted into a sprint, pumping my legs with everything I had, wrestling with the notion of dropping my bag. It might slow one of them as it swallowed it, but it would hardly help me, and Enta and I would be in bad shape for provisions if I did.
It seemed like five pot boils before I started putting enough distance between us to pace myself.
I trod the thin line of luck, for no other beast got in my way except for a hoshreth, and I discouraged it with a well-placed kick, but the porgrents didn’t give up until almost nightfall. I prayed to the unknown god that Enta be protected. That no creature would find her in the night. My breath quivered.
I could not go as fast in the night, the dangers much harder to sense, but I couldn’t restrain myself from a reckless speed. I found her shortly before the sun came up. No greater joy had I ever felt when I spied the unbroken ground where I’d left her.
I dug with my bare hands, pulling mounds of dirt away. Enta screamed and burst out of the sand, her teeth bared in a savage snarl. I smiled and laughed. “Good girl.” She leaped into my arms, and the only serenity I have ever known seeped through my heart and mind.
In the emptiness of time you do desperate and unthinkable things every day. With love even more so.