Shane's tired brown eyes followed the clear water as it cascaded off the edge of the cliff and down over the rocks, glistening in the sunlight and frothing into a white foam where it fell into the pool below. He sighed and leaned back against a pine tree whose sticky sap stuck to his ragged clothes and pulled his tangled hair. Shane paid it no mind; he had other, more pressing pains to contend with. "Must we leave?" he asked, the sound of his voice startling twittering birds into silence.
Macy circled around in front of him. "Leave? Shane, you know it is not that simple. That which I had in mind was more akin to running than simply leaving," she replied, her own voice low and threatening. She settled her hands on her narrow hips and glared down at his lounging form with cool blue eyes.
The bruises on her pale face were much more obvious in daylight when the contrast between her black hair and pale skin was greatest, and the sight pained Shane to no end. Despite all he had done to protect her, the world had gotten its share of blows in. He drew his knees to his chest and draped his hands over them, doing his best to ignore the raw, red lines that circled his wrists. Another sigh slipped past his lips as he met Macy's gaze. "Look at me. Does it look like I am in any condition to run?"
Macy narrowed her eyes and shifted her arms so that they crossed beneath her chest. "So you are willing to abandon all hope just because you are tired?"
"What about my appearance leaves room for hope?" Shane replied with a harsh laugh. "I am dying. We are all dying. Macy, this world is killing us and nothing we do will stop it." He lightly ran his hands over his dirty face, careful of the bruises and fresh cuts that made his once handsome features into something grotesque. Beauty was a thing of the past. Shane let his eyes fall closed and reveled in the feel of the sunlight against his skin.
Her hand struck his left cheek with a resounding clap and snapped his head to the right. A groan bubbled up from Shane's throat at the pain the sudden movement tore from his abused muscles. He opened his eyes and glared at Macy, whose face floated just inches from his. "What was that?"
"A wake up, I pray," she said hotly and dropped to her knees beside him. "I know you are suffering, but I do not appreciate you throwing it at me like that. I love you, and watching you die is the last thing I want to do. What is to come of me if you die?"
"What more do you want of me? I have reached my limit," Shane cried and stretched his legs out before him, wincing with every move. "This world has destroyed me."
Tears welled in Macy's blue eyes. She snatched Shane's hand in her own and pulled it to her chest. "What do you see? You have always been able to see what is to come; maybe you can see a path away from the inevitable for us. I do not want to die, and I do not want to lose you."
Shane closed his eyes to escape Macy's penetrating stare. How was he supposed to tell her he had lost his ability to see the future? It was his limited precognitive ability that had gotten them this far in life, and without it, Shane had little hope they would have much chance to live out the week. He rubbed his brow with his free hand and then opened his eyes. "I cannot see. My ability has been taken from me just as surely as my health."
The tears in Macy's eyes burst past the dams of her eyelids and rolled down her narrow face, leaving streaks of pale, clean skin in their wake. "Are you sure?"
Shane nodded. "I have not been able to see in that sense for at least a week."
"What does that mean for us? We cannot just give up. There is still hope; there is still life. The world cannot steal everything from us—I refuse to let it!" Macy yelled and released Shane's hand from her grasp. She jumped to her feet. "There has to be some answer!"
Shane placed the flat of his hand against the sticky tree trunk and pulled himself to his feet. He wavered for a moment when the pain rose within him, but practice had served him well; he was able to suppress it without too much effort. "We could go to the Wisdom. The last group we traveled with mentioned how he had helped others with their plights. Perhaps he would do the same for us."
"But we know nothing of his allegiances!"
"What other choice do we have?" Shane took three quick steps forward, bringing him before Macy. He grabbed her arms and pulled her close. "Death awaits us down every other road." He just could not bring himself to tell her this path might also lead to the same end—he just did not see room for hope anymore. At least this way they would be together.
Macy lifted her chin and looked into his eyes. "I am frightened."
Shane gently kissed her forehead and rested his rough cheek against the top of her head. "Do you trust me?"
"Of course, Shane. I love you."
"Then let us do this. It is the only option left to us now that I can no longer see. I have no way to protect you, and I refuse to sit by and watch you suffer for my failings," he whispered, the stubble on his jaw gently grazing against her thick brown hair as he spoke. He felt her consenting nod and allowed himself a small smile.
Shane winced when his bare foot landed on a dry twig and snapped it with a crack that seemed to echo through the forest. Silence was of the utmost importance at this point; a patrol had nearly caught up with them the day before and had hounded them since. Shane had initially entertained the notion of letting the patrol catch them, but then they would end up captive again and separated. And now that his gift was gone, he had nothing to give the regime, nothing he could use to protect Macy. The thought of her suffering killed that idea seconds after it had formed. Now Shane just had to focus on running…and finding the Wisdom.
From what they could piece together, they were in the general vicinity of the Wisdom's lair, and Shane desperately wanted to find it before the patrols found them or his strength gave out. It seemed to be an ongoing battle as to which of the two would end their search first. Three days of traveling and running had already pushed him to his limit. He held his hand out behind him and bent his fingers, "Macy," he whispered and glanced over his shoulder.
Macy crept out of the copse of brilliant green trees where they had made camp the night before and slipped her hand into his. "Is it clear?"
Shane shrugged and drew her nearer. "Keep your eyes open."
The two of them continued through the forest, on alert for any indication of the Wisdom or sign of pursuit. They passed a rotted overturned cart, with its now dead and decaying horse still secured by the harness. The sight was partially hidden by young trees and shrubs, but nothing masked the almost sweet smell of death. The stench wafted through the trees and engulfed them. Shane used the back of his hand to block his nose and watched Macy do the same, retching silently. She moved closer to him, and he disentangled his hand from hers and draped his arm over her shoulders.
They smell slowly receded as they continued onward, walking through the seemingly endless forest. Twice they heard the quiet clanking of metal and rustling of horses' hooves through the undergrowth and froze until the sounds faded. Hours slipped by before Macy saw something. "Shane!" she cried softly and pointed towards what looked like a nearly solid wall of ivy.
Shane turned and narrowed his eyes to better see. It seemed even his natural vision was beginning to desert him; the sooner they got to the Wisdom, the better. Among the densely packed vines, he could just barely make out the uneven bricks of a stone wall. "That must be it." he grabbed Macy's shoulders and turned her towards him. "You found it!"
Macy bowed her head and leaned against the shoulder of his soiled shirt. "We found it, Shane. You must not forget we are in this together."
"How could I with you here by my side?" Shane replied and kissed her nose. "Shall we enter?"
Macy lifted her head with a laugh and smiled. "If we can find the opening; the vines seem to be doing a fair job of hiding what they are meant to hide."
"Start here, and I will work from the other end. We will find it soon enough." He tightened his on her shoulders for a moment, afraid of what they would find when they found the Wisdom but unable to share his fears with Macy. The Wisdom was her hope, and she knew as well as him that there were no actual reports or even rumors of people who returned from their encounter with the illusive Wisdom. What good would he do by repeating it? Let her hope. Shane gave Macy another kiss, this time on the lips, and released her.
A short while later, Shane parted a particularly dense cluster of ivy and motioned Macy over as a blackened and warped wooden door came into view. "Are you ready?"
Macy nodded and helped Shane push the heavy door open since he lacked the strength necessary for such a simple task. He was panting heavily they had opened it far enough to allow passage. A narrow flight of stairs came into view and descended into darkness.
Shane's heart began to race. He feared the darkness second only to the thought of Macy suffering. To him, darkness represented pain, isolation, and an utter lack of freedom. He gently touched the red rings on his wrists and prayed that was not what they were walking into. He did not know what he would do if he exposed Macy to that kind of torment again; he could not fail her as he had for the past several months. The fact that they had managed to escape still shocked him, but he refused to question such a blessing, even if it had given Macy a false hope of survival and brought them here to the steps of the Wisdom.
Macy helped him sit on the top step and dabbed his forehead with the hem of her torn shirt. "Are you well? We can wait to go in until you are better."
Shane shook his head and pushed her caring hands away. "We need to do this now. The longer we wait, the greater chance there is of the patrol finding us. I will not let you go back to that." He rose, using Macy's shoulders to steady himself.
"All right." Macy stood and hooked her thin arm around Shane's. She took a deep breath and together they stepped onto the second step, their bare feet carefully probing the cool, damp stone to avoid any missteps.
The passage narrowed and curved as they descended, forcing them to shift into a single-file line which Shane insisted on leading as the darkness moved in around them, but their hands never parted. Shane slipped once on the stone stairs, but with the walls so close, he was able to steady himself before falling. "Be careful," he whispered back to Macy.
"I will." She tightened her hold on Shane's hand. "I love you."
"And I you." Shane glanced over his shoulder, and though he could not actually see her, he still knew every beautiful line of her face. He smiled and paused, half turning on the step, and planted a kiss on Macy's shadowed lips.
She lifted a hand and ran her fingers over his cheek. "Shane," she whispered; nothing more had to be said.
Shane turned back around and started forward once again, drawing Macy along with him.
The bottom of the stairs came suddenly in a darkness so complete that Shane had no way to anticipate their end. He stepped down and then moved to repeat the process, but rather than land on the next step, his bare foot collided with the slick stone of even ground. A crunch sounded through the darkened passage, and Shane tumbled to the floor with a strangled cry, their interlocked hands forcing Macy down with him. Shane let out a wheezed breath as Macy's slight form landed directly on top of him, weighing heavily on his already wounded body.
Macy got up quickly and knelt beside him. "What happened?"
"My ankle," was all Shane could force out of his recovering lungs and body. He doubled over and gingerly felt his ankle with freshly scraped fingers. The skin was warm and already puffy, and though it did not feel broken, Shane did not know enough to be certain. All he knew was he had done enough damage to make the rest of their journey quite painful.
"Thank goodness we are almost there." Macy hugged him. "I can help you the rest of the way." She hooked her hands under his shoulders and heaved, pulling him to his feet as she stood. "Lean on me."
Shane did as she said and relieved the pressure on his ankle. "I cannot believe I did that."
"It happens to the best of us," Macy quipped and kissed his cheek. "Come on." She started forward with shuffling steps to get a feel for the floor on which they walked; there was no sense risking a repeat of the stairs' episode.
They walked down the slightly damp, dark passageway, the echo of their bare feet lightly scraping the stone floor and kicking up loose pebbles the only sound in the subterranean hall aside from their ragged breathing. Shane held his hand out before him, testing the way to make sure they did not run in to anything in the inky blackness. They walked for an indeterminable amount of time through the darkness before Shane's fingers brushed a hard surface. He pulled Macy to a stop and tightened his arm around her waist. This was it; this was what they had come for.
"You ready?" he whispered, his lips mere centimeters from Macy's ear.
He felt her nod and closed his eyes, hoping that he could get a feel for the future, hoping that his precognitive ability had returned to him so he could see what was to come next, but nothing came. He was truly blinded. But then what if the lack of precognitive vision was itself a vision? What if it had accurately shown him all along what waited for them on the other side of this door? Shane feared what that meant, but the nothingness he sensed had no ominous feeling…it was oddly peaceful; a feeling completely out of place in their devastated world. Shane opened his eyes into the darkness again and turned Macy to him. "We are free now. The Wisdom will help us as he has helped so many others," he murmured, finally convinced they had made the right choice.
"I know," she whispered, the hope that had driven them here still evident in her voice. He lightly traced her face with his fingertips and kissed her before entwining his fingers in hers once more and facing the door together.
Shane reached out and felt along the face of the rough wooden door, his fingers searching for some way of entry. Splinters jutting out from the coarse wood jabbed the tender skin of his hands, but he did not stop. After a moment, he felt the edge of a metal loop and grasped the cool ring in his hand. As he tightened his hold on Macy's small hand, he pulled, and the door swung open with surprising ease. The blast of light that followed blinded them both, but Shane did not falter. He stepped into the brightness with Macy, and neither flinched when the door slammed shut behind them. They had found the Wisdom, and for first time in years, they knew peace…
A/N: Please let me know what you think whether it's good, bad or semi-ugly.