Nux wakes to a wild heady wet smell and a vague feeling of strangeness. It takes him a moment to realize that what he’s feeling is the absence of pain. He can’t remember a time when he didn’t hurt.
He reaches up to feel Larry and Barry, and they aren’t there.
He sits up then, eyes snapping open, and scrambles to his feet. He’s barefoot, and there’s something soft beneath his toes, soft and wet. He looks down, and sees that it’s green.
Capable would know the word for it, probably. She’d known tree, and she’d known what the others were talking about when they said satellite, and she knew all sorts of stories. She’d told him some, out in the desert. She was going to tell him more. When they got back safe to the Citadel, she was going to tell him all the stories she knew.
Nux doesn’t know a lot of stories, and the ones he does know are full of blood and death. She hadn’t wanted to hear those, and he’d found he hadn’t wanted to tell them, either. Capable’s stories were better. She knew stories about clever girls who tricked their way to freedom and kind girls who saved the world with their goodness and brave girls who traveled hundreds of miles across the desert to rescue their friends. He liked those stories very much. He always imagined that the girls in them looked just like her.
But Capable isn’t here now. He’s all alone, standing in the soft green stuff under an enormous sky blazing with stars, and in front of him –
At first he thinks it’s the desert. It must be the desert. It stretches on endlessly under the stars, and it rolls and billows in the wind. But the movements are strange. It doesn’t move like sand.
He steps closer, leaving the soft green stuff behind. But the wet smell only gets stronger.
He reaches the edge of the desert and sees that it’s not desert at all. It’s water.
An endless stretch of water, black and depthless, with the stars shining down from the sky and shining up from the water. (He’s cleaned and repaired the mirrors on rigs before. He knows the word for this.)
It’s so much water. He’s never even dreamed of so much water. That’s how he knows he must be dead.
This isn’t Valhalla, though. Everywhere he looks are nameless green things and wild water and burning blue stars, but no chrome. No metal at all. No rigs or wagons or shiny warriors riding in glory. So this isn’t Valhalla.
Immortan Joe was not a god. But Immortan Joe is dead now, and that means he must be in Valhalla. Nux can’t imagine him anywhere else, even now. And he doesn’t want to be where Immortan Joe is.
But here there’s the water, and the wild fresh smell, and the green stuff. There’s a cool breeze, and he can look at the stars and no one can tell him to stop, tell him he’s wasting his Time.
The water sounds like –
The Dag used to hum under her breath, sometimes, usually when all the others were asleep, and she was just on the edge of drifting off. Nux hadn’t slept much – it was a waste of Time and his fevers had been getting worse – but he’d liked listening to the Dag. Her voice was a soothing sound, rolling and wordless.
The water sounds like that.
He wonders if there’s a word for this much water. There must be. Capable would know it, but he doesn’t.
For just an instant, he wishes she was here. Then he remembers that he’s dead, and wants to hit himself, because of course he’s glad she’s not. Even if this place is beautiful and full of water and green and he feels like he has a full life for the first time ever. But he wants her to live. She needs to live, she and all the others. Nux doesn’t know who killed the world, but he thinks maybe they could fix it. She could fix the world the same way she’d fixed him.
It was worth dying for. He doesn’t regret it.
The water is still singing. Nux steps forward again, hesitates, bites his lip, and thinks of Capable. We are not things, she’d said, whispered really, and then added a secret just for him. And you are not a thing either, Nux.
He kneels and dips his hands in the water.
It’s clear, and soft, and very, very cold. He kneels further, and drinks.
No one stops him. (“Water is not an addiction,” Toast had said, in that angry-gentle way she had. “That’s just one of his lies. In the Green Place, we’ll all have as much water as we like.”)
He drinks until he isn’t thirsty any more, and then he dips his hands in the water again and washes his face and neck. The water splashes, and he laughs. It’s a strange sound to his own ears.
Someone laughs behind him.
Nux leaps up and spins around, ready for a fight, but he forgets he is still standing in the water, and the stones are slick beneath his feet. He falls with a great splash and lands on his back, looking up at the stars.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” says the woman who stands there. There is laughter in her voice still, but it isn’t cruel. It’s the kind of laugh the women had shared, above the salt flats, when they had all shared stories and marveled at one another. Nux remembers that, and thinks it might have been the best day of his life.
He looks up at this woman now. For just an instant, he thinks she’s Capable, all tumbling hair like blood and gentle eyes and clever words, and he doesn’t know whether to be happy or sad that she’s here. But in the next instant he sees he was mistaken. Now she looks more like Furiosa, hard and angry but kind, too. Or maybe like Toast, Toast with her wise eyes and her weary smile.
For just a moment, he sees all of the women, one by one and all at once, Capable and Furiosa and Toast and Cheedo and the Dag and the women of the Vuvalini, and he thinks that they are not like Valkyries, not really, but they have carried him home.
When he looks again, the woman’s face is singular and still. She is dark as the desert night, her eyes bright as stars, and her hair is a pale, gleaming tumble. Not like chrome. Starlight, he thinks. Her hair is like starlight.
“Shiny,” he breathes, and winces when he realizes he said that out loud.
She laughs again, and it’s so delighted that he laughs, too.
“Come on, get up, Nux,” she says brightly, extending a hand to him. “There’s a feast tonight, and everyone’s waiting for you.”
He’s half-way up when she says that, and it startles him so much that he falls back again, landing with a splash. Her laughter bubbles up again, and he finds himself grinning helplessly.
“I’m – ” He stares up at her, eyes round and huge. “I’m awaited?”
Her smile softens, and for a moment she looks like Capable again. “Of course,” she murmurs, taking him by the hand and lifting him up as if he weighed nothing at all. “There are no more orders here. No more raids or wars or death. You’re free now.” Her smile turns surprisingly mischievous. “And everyone is waiting to celebrate with you.”
Nux doesn’t know what to think. This isn’t Valhalla, he’s sure of that. There’s no chrome anywhere. But –
“Who?” he manages.
The woman has already started walking, but she waits for him to catch up, and then they go on their way side by side. He doesn’t know where they’re going, but he knows he can trust her.
“I am called Hel,” she says, smiling at him again. “This is my world. My Green Place, if you like. Here is peace and rest and healing, and there are no slaves, and no masters.”
It sounds like one of Capable’s stories. Nux thinks about this for a long time.
Finally, he asks, “What will I do?”
“Anything,” Hel says, and she stops and faces him, holds him still with two gentle fingers on his lips, just the way Capable did. It was the first time anyone had ever touched him gently, and it startles him just as much now, though the feeling is different.
“There are no more orders,” Hel repeats. She is both gentle and ferocious, and for the first time he can remember, there is nothing Nux is afraid of.
“Anything,” he repeats, and grins, half giddy with the thought.
Hel leads him over fields and across streams and up hills. There are a lot of trees here, and not trees like the one he saw out in the desert. These trees are towering and strong and green. There’s so much green here.
They come to a hall, and Nux can hear music, and laughter, and the sound of many voices all talking at once. He doesn’t hear any fighting.
Hel opens the door. Warm light spills over them, and the smells, so many different smells! There are people everywhere and so much food and he doesn’t know where to turn first.
“Nux!” someone calls, and he spins around and there’s a boy, one of the war pups he used to share a kennel with, one of the ones who died before he could tear his lips and earn a name.
The boy grins up at him, as young now as he was then. It’s the first time Nux has really thought about that, though. It must be Capable’s clever words, nudging his thoughts again.
“I’m glad you’re here,” the boy says, taking his hand and tugging him toward a seat. “I’m called Moss now, you know.” He looks at Nux slyly. “That’s the soft green stuff, the stuff that feels so good on your toes.”
Nux turns the word over in his head. Moss. “It’s a good name,” he says.
The food is an explosion of sensation across his tongue, so many tastes and textures that he doesn’t know how to process them all. There are so many different things to drink, but all he wants is water, and he can have as much as he likes. He looks around the hall, huge and bustling with people, so many people that he knows – war boys and mechanics and the women of the Vuvalini and even Angharad, whose name is not Splendid. He remembers Capable saying how much she hated that name.
Angharad catches his eye now and grins at him from across the table. Nux grins back.
He remembers, very clearly, hearing about Hel when he was just a pup, locked away in the pens with the other boys, biting and clawing at one another and eager for their mouths to be sewn so they could rip away the cords and go to war. He remembers being told that Hel was a place for women and children, for the sick, for all the dishonored dead.
He looks around now, at all the laughing people, women and war boys eating together, and wonders why he ever thought that was a bad thing.