He couldn’t breathe.

His whole body was encased in… something, metal, unyielding metal that pinned his arms to his sides. He knew this sensation from somewhere, somewhere outside. Again, steel ribs seemed to encircle his entire body and if they tightened any more, he would be crushed, he would die, he would dissolve and become a part of whatever mechanism was clutching at him. Even taking a breath was too much, he was choking -

Someone touched him on the chest, a brush with the pads of the fingers. The ribs opened outwards at once, releasing him.

He raised his head in gratitude and relief, and saw that he was standing on one side of a huge wrought iron gate. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a London park. The gateposts on either side had huge spikes jutting upwards. Beyond, he could see a long avenue of trees that had once been lovingly weeded and tended, but now it was thickly overgrown with shrubs and vines that covered every inch. It might have been a jungle. Amongst the undergrowth was a shadowy figure neither male nor female, wavering as if seen through heat haze or underwater.

He knew instinctively this was his rescuer. A powerful need to express his gratitude rose in him, but when he opened his mouth he couldn’t speak.

The gate, the figure said, somehow without words.

Yes. If he could open it, all would be well. He rested a hand on the bars and pulled. But the gate was locked tight, and however hard he yanked at it, it wouldn’t move.

Oh well, said the figure. Just this once, as a favour.

Fat blue sparks spat from the gateposts, down the heavy spikes; he fell back a step as electricity crackled over the iron. The gate swung outwards, and he stepped through. His feet sank into moss, a carpet thickened by dead leaves. The trees hung heavily with leaves and fruit on either side. The figure was at a distance now, beckoning. He followed.

The vines that dangled to left and right hung from ancient statues; they had flanked this avenue once, but were now crumbling and dead. As he followed the figure, and looked more closely, he saw that the greenery covered buildings long since destroyed. Had this been a city, abandoned for centuries, or were they walking through a temple that had only pushed the jungle away for a few moments in time before being consumed?

Then, in the distance he saw a familiar silhouette; a huge tower with four pylons on the roof. But now it was draped in undergrowth, all its contours softened with greenery and creeping vines.

One day Nones will look like this? he asked, finding his voice at last.

Nature reclaims everything, given sufficient time, the figure replied. Just as our own natures, our own paradigms, claim us over and over again. But Nones is not a good place for growing things.

There was an opening in the trees up ahead, and he saw that they had come to a bridge that spanned a wide chasm. On this side, two figures stood on either side as if guarding it. One was a black-haired man in a red jacket. He was blindfolded and gagged with strips of black cloth. His hands were cupped out in front of him, tied at the wrists with a third strip.

On the other side was a woman with red hair, dressed in grey. Her eyes were closed, but a painted third eye stared out from her forehead. There was a knife stuck bloodlessly into her chest, driven into her heart; he recognised the hilt from Lailenus Street. One hand held a gun down by her side. The other was outstretched as if begging.

Past the two of them the bridge stretched to a building on the other side, built atop a mountainous spur of rock.

Well?

 

 

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