Arthur sat kneeling in the sand, the hem of his robes buried. His eyes were focused forward, eyes on the large sand dune in front of him with statues at its peak. However, he was only half paying attention to this dune, on the sun sitting low in the sky or the wind whipping hot sand around him. Arthur closed his eyes and breathed deep, calm and still in his meditation. He was about to start his Journey, the one he had been preparing for and was finally ready to face.
Suddenly eager to begin, Arthur stood. Sand fell from his form in cascades as his robes billowed, the wind snagging edges of fabric. And then he began to run, his feet sinking deep into the sand and making every step an effort. But he ran anyway, excited and determined. His dark red robes danced with the howling wind, the gold designs of his hemline shining in the sunlight.
If Arthur had not grown up in the desert, he would have felt overwhelmed. The sky was the same beige hue as the sand, making the desert appear even more massive and ever-reaching than it already was. But Arthur knew this desert, these sands and winds. The burning flecks of sand grains brushing his face were comfortingly familiar, rather than bothersome. He had been preparing for this, and nothing would stop him.
As he reached the base of the sand dune, he took larger steps to scale the sand, refusing to slow his pace even as his feet sank deep. It was worth it, because as he reached the top of the sand dune, the Mountain appeared in the distance. Though it was half shrouded in cloud and haze, Arthur could see the peak with the crack down the middle, a light far more eternal than the sun spilling out between the split Mountain peaks. Tempting Arthur, and inviting him.
After staring for a few long moments, contemplating his goal and the Journey lying ahead of him, Arthur took another deep breath and began. He continued forward until he was sliding down the far side of the sand dune. His feet surfed the golden sand, twinkling in the afternoon sunlight as he traveled. As soon as the dune’s incline faded away, Arthur began to run again, working off his initial momentum as he rushed through a field of statues that, to many, would look more like a graveyard.
The only sounds that accompanied him were the wind and his feet kicking up sand as he approached a half-ruined temple, finding four small pieces of fabric circling around a golden symbol. He slowed as he approached and forced himself to remain still as the symbol turned into threads of light that surrounded him. A moment later, the first piece of his Journey scarf was woven onto the back of his robes, the same ruby red and gold.
Arthur had been taught about this scarf; had been told of its magic. Concentrating, Arthur jumped in the air and used the magic of his scarf to float through the air for just a moment before landing twenty feet away in the sand. Arthur would need to collect more pieces of his scarf throughout the Journey to allow him to fly longer. The thought itself excited Arthur, his heart still racing at the remembered feel of flying through the warm desert air. It felt utterly enchanting when Arthur spread his arms beneath his cloak, magic transforming the fabric of his robes into elegant wings until he touched ground again.
After collecting himself again, reminding himself that he had a long Journey ahead of him, Arthur looked to the sky. He reoriented himself to the location of the Mountain and then began dashing away through the sand again, always running towards the Mountain, his final goal. Other pieces of dancing fabric recharged the magic of his scarf as he ran and came to a valley of sand and temples.
He slid down the hill of sand until he was at the bottom of the valley, the sun hidden away by the huge dunes of sand. Even the Mountain was barely visible behind a large gate with glowing lights and a meditation stone sitting in front, waiting for him. Arthur hurried about collecting more scarf pieces before using the unique Chime of his voice to call fabric pieces to him, helping him cross the large expanse of open air to float to a rest in front of the meditation stone. He used his Chime again to power the meditation stone before kneeling in the resulting circle of light in front of the stone.
The light that enveloped him was brighter than the sun, but somehow cooler. It was like he was somewhere other than the hot desert he knew so well, somewhere entirely new. Before him stood a giant robed figure, all in white and standing tall as they stared off further into the distance, eyes on the Mountain. Then a deep Chime came from the robed figure, the echoes washing over Arthur and causing a story to play before his eyes.
He had heard of these white-robed figures before, though he did not know exactly what they were; whether they were like him, or some type of spirit. Many called them the Storytellers since they had never been seen except in the stories woven during the meditation of a select few. Arthur felt privileged as one of the Storytellers told him the first part of a story, and from what he was saying, Arthur felt that he was being shown the very first story. The creation of everything. Arthur watched with rapt eyes, taking in every detail, until the story faded away. He wanted to know more, and could only hope that he would be told more of the story as he completed his Journey.
The white light faded from around Arthur, and the warmth of the desert wrapped him up in a welcoming hug. The ground beneath him shook as the gates barring him from the Mountain began to part and pull away. Arthur stood slowly, watching the gate withdraw until the path was clear. Then he turned slightly, looking back at the valley of sand and the old, half-buried temples.
There was not another soul in sight. Arthur was entirely alone in this Journey. And that was the way he wanted it. He wanted to prove to himself that he was intelligent, strong and determined enough to complete this Journey on his own. He had been told by a few people that had been forced to turn back part way through their completion of the Journey that others often completed it with companions. Arthur had not heard anything else, since no one returned from a finished Journey. But Arthur knew he wanted to be different. He didn’t want to need help.
Arthur had been alone for quite a long time, since his parents had taken the Journey together. Arthur didn’t blame them for leaving him so young; it was not a simple matter of choosing when to complete your Journey. One day you just woke up knowing that it was time for you to move on, to start a new adventure. No one knew where you went when you did reach the summit of the Mountain. Some said it was a place of eternal life and happiness, while others argued you simply began a new life. Either way, the desire to complete the Journey would overtake everyone someday, and though you could postpone it briefly, everyone would eventually end up in this desert, chasing the Mountain.
With that thought, Arthur turned back to the gate and stepped through it, eager to face his first of many challenges to come. And as he crossed through the temple, running past columns towering far above his head, he saw his first challenge lying ahead. He was up on a platform, desert and rock below him, and four pillars of white stone spanning across the desert. The pillars were half crumbled and Arthur was surprised they were still standing strong against the powerful winds. He noticed quite quickly that the bridge he would need to cross to the next meditation stone needed to be rebuilt.
Arthur jumped from his overseeing ledge and sailed down to land gracefully in the sand. He was pleased to see that there was no one else in the desert with him. Arthur didn’t want any companion joining him on his Journey. But even worse than that would be if someone else ran through on their own and completed the bridge, leaving Arthur incapable of finishing the challenge on his own.
This motivated Arthur to dash through the sand quickly as he collected scarf pieces and searched for a method of rebuilding the bridge. It was a little difficult to see anything. The wind was stronger here, picking up sand and turning the air into a golden haze. But eventually Arthur found some old torn and faded banners of cloth caught in the stone already fallen away from the bridge’s pillars. He let out a loud burst of his Chime beside each of these banners and watched as they returned to their original red and gold before shattering to pieces and flying high to rebuild the missing sections of the bridge.
Elated and proud of his triumph, Arthur jumped up and soared toward the beginning of the bridge. The warm wind wrapped around him, tugging at his robes again as it pushed him forward, as Arthur knew it would. His scarf was not yet long enough for an extended flight, but the simple feeling of floating through the air again felt freeing. Rather than his feet sinking deep into the sand, forcing him to trudge along, he could soar above it all.
As he reached the beginning of the bridge, he stepped carefully onto the billowing red banner stretching between the remaining columns. When his feet touched the fabric though, Arthur was startled to see rows of glowing symbols etch themselves into the ruby red. These ribbons filled with magic made it easier for Arthur to move, lighting up his scarf again, and he practically flew along the bridge, symbols shimmering at his touch until he landed safely in front of the next meditation stone.
Arthur looked back briefly at the bridge he had successfully fixed all by himself, creating his own form of passage along his Journey. The desert sparkled like sun on a lake below him. And although Arthur was normally quite quiet, saving his Chimes for important moments, he let out a small Chime of pride as he overlooked his work. He let it resonate in the air before turning and kneeling in front of the next meditation stone, allowing the calming white light to cover him once more.
This time the white-cloaked figure, still towering far above Arthur’s head, turned away from the Mountain to regard Arthur. The Storyteller leaned forward, studying Arthur curiously for a moment. And then another deep Chime surrounded Arthur and a new piece of the story began. Arthur studied it carefully, wondering if he would be tested when he finally reached the Mountain. And then it was ending and Arthur was blinking his eyes open just in time to watch a wall of falling sand part, showing him a new path on his Journey.
He entered the new passageway of the colossal temple, still quick on his feet. The thought of rest was nonexistent in his mind as he shook off some stray sand from his cloak. He had not been able to see the Mountain from the second meditation stone, so he felt relieved and energized when it came into view again when Arthur exited the temple. And what a view it was.
Desert lay ahead of him again, though it somehow seemed to be even more endless than before. The Mountain stood tall and imposing in the distance, the base hidden by a bank of clouds though the rest appeared clearer as Arthur drew closer. Spurred on by this, Arthur quickly began traversing the dips and hills of the desert, exploring every inch of sand in his search for more scarf pieces and hidden secrets.
Arthur was naturally meticulous when it came to details and he wasn’t concerned about missing anything, but his thorough nature meant that it was slow work moving through the desert. At least he knew he wouldn’t get lost, always facing the Mountain. The wind was against him now, buffering him back when he tried to fly through barren fields of sand. It didn’t help that with no one else and very few creatures moving around the desert, Arthur was incapable of recharging his scarf to fly over the difficult sections of desert. Not to say that Arthur wanted a companion or anything like that, but you could only explore so many sand dunes before you grew well and truly bored.
Luckily, just as these thoughts began to plague Arthur’s mind and motivation, he rounded the peak of the final sand dune. Below him was a gaping hole of sand with a half-destroyed circular tower in the centre. Arthur felt a chill run up his spine as he looked down into the valley, despite the sun’s heat. The sand dunes surrounding the valley were so high that the sun was half blocked, casting the tower into a grim darkness. And even the parts that were still lit up by the sun’s rays were dimmed by a great vortex of wind whipping sand in circles around the tower.
This place felt unwelcoming and... Evil.
Arthur slid down the slope of sand cautiously, moving slower as he kept his eyes on the tower. A few cloth creatures followed him down, Chiming timidly, though as Arthur approached the tower, he could barely hear the creatures’ calls over a terrible racket coming from the tower. Arthur had never heard such a sound before, and could only describe it as destructive and mechanical. To him, it sounded as though the tower was trying to destroy itself from the inside.
He was just working up the courage to begin climbing the tower when a noise behind him startled him. Arthur turned just in time to see another red and gold-cloaked figure standing at the top of the sand dune Arthur had just left, letting off such a loud Chime that it rippled the surrounding sand. Arthur did not know whether the other person was Chiming to him or was waiting for someone else, but Arthur had no intention of gaining an unwanted companion.
Arthur turned back to the tower, took a deep breath, and flew to the first ledge in the circular climb upward. He ignored the heavy discomfort that settled over him from standing so close to the terrifying tower in the shadows. He also ignored the continued Chiming behind him as he climbed the tower, flying when he could. At one point he passed a cloth creature trapped in some grating on the tower’s side, and Arthur gave a Chime to give the creature enough energy to escape. In return, the creature scooped Arthur up and helped him reach the top of the tower.
A second tower lay before him and Arthur rushed up it quickly. It was horrifying, seeing a swarm of cloth creatures trapped away in the centre of the tower where Arthur could not help them. Arthur actually felt his heart stop at one point when, through the gratings, he could see the inner workings rotating in the heart of the tower. Whatever it was that powered the tower, the pieces glowed like demon eyes, watching his progression dangerously. Arthur did his best not to look at them as he continued his climb upward.
It was a relief to reach the top, the air clearer and the sun shining bright above his head. Arthur still felt a little shaken, looking out at the swirling vortex of sand and shadows circling him and the tower. It looked like Arthur would be swallowed up and never seen again if he were to fall back into the wind’s clutches. But the next meditation stone stood there, waiting for him at the tower’s crown as his reward for braving the climb.
Arthur was halfway up the staircase to the stone when another loud Chime resonated behind him. He spun to see the second cloaked figure catch up with him and... run past the staircase. Confused, and a little curious now, Arthur turned more fully to watch the cloaked being circle around the edge of the tower’s crown before beginning to Chime quickly, insistently. Arthur was half tempted to just turn and kneel at the meditation stone and completely ignore the other being, but his curiosity was just too strong.
He glided down from the staircase to land beside the other figure who only moved when Arthur was beside him. With another string of excited Chimes, the cloaked figure led Arthur around to reveal a hidden-away scarf piece. The stranger collected the scarf piece, making his cloak glow. Arthur could see symbols embroidered on the man’s cloak spell out his name: Eames. His eyes glimmered as well, holding Arthur’s gaze.
Eames Chimed again and Arthur could feel the man’s magic skim over him, lighting up his own cloak. Eames was no doubt confused about why Arthur wasn’t collecting the scarf piece, shown by the fact that he kept motioning toward the glowing symbol. A part of Arthur wanted to forsake the scarf piece; he felt he didn’t deserve it since he didn’t find it himself. He wanted to complete this Journey on his own, so it seemed wrong to suddenly accept help.
However, the scarf piece would help Arthur on his Journey, and he couldn’t bear to turn away from it. So he stepped forward and allowed the magic to surround him, stepping away a moment later with his scarf glowing and lengthened. Eames stood beside him, Chiming excitedly. Arthur should have Chimed in return to show his thanks; it would be the polite thing to do. But he didn’t want to encourage this cloaked figure and make him believe Arthur wanted him tagging along, so Arthur ran past Eames silently and knelt in front of the meditation stone, eager for the white light to blind him from all but the next part of the story.
Unfortunately, when Arthur’s awareness returned to the desert, he found Eames kneeling beside him. It was an oddly intimate moment, or at least more intimate than Arthur had ever shared with anyone else in his life. Arthur preferred to meditate alone, not trusting anyone else to be around when he was vulnerable. Yet here he was, kneeling beside a stranger, both of them meditating and searching for deeper understanding together amidst this Journey. Their scarves were twined together where the wind had caught and tugged at the fabric, and as Eames came out of his own meditation, he turned to look at Arthur with a quiet, almost shy Chime.
Arthur stood quickly and raced away, not really caring what he looked like to Eames. He had felt the urge to complete this Journey alone, and had started it alone. He would finish it alone. Arthur didn’t want to rely on anyone else during this Journey, especially not this annoying stranger who was presumptuous enough to just butt in on Arthur’s Journey and try to become a part of it. Arthur wanted to face and conquer these challenges alone; it didn’t feel like he was really succeeding if he had someone else helping him.
So Arthur ran away, a cloth creature sweeping him up and flying him far away from Eames, and closer to the Mountain. Eventually he was placed down on a long, sweeping mountain of sand, rocks and temples half-buried in sand scattered about. Arthur angled his body and slid down the plains of sand, the air cooler with the wind and fading sunlight. He wove amongst gates and temples and flew over fallen obstacles, picking up speed as the slope continued and the wind pushed him, egged him on from behind.
The desert whipped by, a blur of detail and history. Arthur wondered how many others had seen these sights on their Journey, and how many more would follow him. There was one part where Arthur slid through a temple that remained standing and could look out past the columns supporting the roof. The sun was sitting low in the sky, half hidden by the Mountain. It lit everything up in a dark orange glow, the reflection off the waves of sand making it look like a sea of liquid gold.
It was all so beautiful and exhilarating. Arthur knew he was alone, that Eames had fallen behind. And Arthur was so caught up in the moment, so excited and breathless, that he let out a solitary, joyful Chime that caused the nearby cloth creatures flying with him to glow at the touch of Arthur’s magic. Beneath his robes, his scarf soaring behind him, Arthur grinned. It was all so lovely and perfect. That was, of course, until a responding Chime echoed behind him.
Arthur looked back over his shoulder to see Eames swiftly catching up, a cloud of sand in his wake as his cloak billowed. Rolling his eyes at the persistence of the other man, Arthur turned back to facing forward. He promptly let out a Chime of shock when he saw the edge of a cliff in front of him, fast approaching. He did his best to slow his progress but nothing could stop his momentum now, and with a sickening jolt in his stomach Arthur tumbled over the edge into a gaping abyss of darkness.
Frantic Chimes followed him as Eames no doubt panicked and went over the edge himself. Arthur flew for as long as he could, flapping the wings of his robes enough that he actually rose back up to Eames. But then his magic ran out, his robes refusing to glow any longer, and Arthur plummeted alongside Eames. The fall made his stomach churn until Arthur felt nauseous, and when the two of them finally landed in more sand, Arthur’s legs gave out from beneath him.
Everything was silent for long minutes, the dark, stagnant air around them hanging heavy. Arthur remained sprawled there in the sand, focusing on calming his panicky heart and breathing. It was only the sound of Eames’ Chime by his ear that caused Arthur to stir, blinking sand from his eyes as he looked at the cloaked figure beside him. Eames looked a little shaken, kneeling beside Arthur and nudging him worriedly. Staring up at Eames, Arthur shivered at the pleasant sensation of his magic returning. It seemed that whenever Eames and Arthur touched, their magic recharged.
Arthur gave a short Chime to show he was alive before forcing himself to stand on wobbly legs, Eames following suit. Arthur looked up and realized with fear that he could barely see the evening sky above his head. They were so far underground; too far to have any hope of flying free. Arthur looked back at Eames and realized he was trapped down here with this stranger, with only one way to go. A glowing meditation stone and another massive gate awaited them.
He wasn’t terribly pleased with being stuck with Eames, but there seemed no way of getting rid of him now. And at least he had someone to run with in this oppressive darkness. Arthur didn’t like the fact that he couldn’t make out the details of the temple they had fallen into, the darkness too thick for him to spot any monsters lurking in the corners. But Arthur and Eames’ cloaks glowed as they stood close together, lighting up at least a small portion of the room.
Resigned and decided, Arthur gave another clipped Chime before heading off toward the next meditation stone, hoping Eames at least had enough sense to follow orders. Eames did, and stayed close by Arthur’s side as they Chimed the meditation stone to life together and knelt down side by side. As the white light surrounded him, feeling warm and comforting now that the air in the temple was chilled, Arthur briefly wondered if Eames was seeing the same things Arthur was seeing. But then the story began and Arthur paid close attention, feeling mounting dread. He wasn’t sure what exactly he was being shown, but it felt sinister. It felt like a warning.
The sound of the gate sliding open brought Arthur back to the present, and he stood slowly, still careful of his recovering body. He ran halfway to the gate before slowing to a stop, realizing that Eames wasn’t beside him. Arthur turned around to see Eames still kneeling at the stone, eyes closed and looking peaceful. For a moment Arthur considered waiting for Eames, fidgeting beneath his robes; he didn’t like the idea of anyone being left alone so vulnerable in a place that felt so unsafe.
But he knew that this was probably his only opportunity to distance himself from Eames and actually manage to complete this Journey alone, so Arthur quietly stepped through the gate and into the next room. He forced himself not to look back over his shoulder as the meditation stone and Eames fell away into darkness.
The next room was an odd one. Arthur could not imagine anyone big enough to create a temple so large, except perhaps the giant Storytellers in white he saw during his meditation. He could not see any walls or the ceiling, everything too far away to be seen in the darkness. Only a few patches of sand and fallen rubble were lit up by rays of light trickling in from broken parts of the ceiling. Arthur ran through the huge room quickly, rushing from one patch of light to the next. He didn’t feel comfortable in such large open spaces.
The air felt peculiar down in the underground temple. Although Arthur knew it must be air surrounding him because he could still breathe fine, the air was thicker and more sluggish as it moved around him. Arthur felt like he was running and floating through water, the glittering light coming from the surface far above maintaining the illusion. It was even more confusing when he found a room full of gently-swaying fabric, looking like kelp or seaweed on the ocean floor.
The red and gold fabric lit up with symbols as Arthur brushed past them, adding magic to Arthur’s cloak as he continued on his Journey. Arthur followed the fabric plants up to a room full of cloth jellyfish, which danced and lifted Arthur up to the top of the room. To his delight, the top jellyfish held aloft another scarf piece, and it Chimed as Arthur rested on it while absorbing the new magic into his scarf. Arthur remained there for a few minutes, Chiming in return and feeling the jellyfish spinning and dancing below him, before finally jumping off and floating to the ground to continue on.
It suddenly grew very dark as Arthur pressed forward, the air dark and murky like sand kicked up in water. When he entered another large room he moved slower, gazing around nervously. There were massive statues lining both sides of the walls, great monstrous things carved out of stone to look like they were nothing but bone. They loomed over the room and Arthur swore he could feel eyes following him, even though nothing stirred.
Arthur moved slowly down the centre of the room, giving the statues boxing him in a wide berth. He saw something glowing up ahead, what looked like another scarf symbol, and further beyond a large archway leading into the next room. Arthur picked up his pace, eager to be out of this room and to collect the scarf piece all on his own. But then, suddenly, just as Arthur neared the glowing object, which Arthur now saw to be a tiny creature, the ground shuddered beneath his feet. That was all the warning he received before a terrible Monster rose from the sand and caught the little creature in its jaws.
Arthur stood, frozen in terror as he watched the little creature get torn to shreds, splintering into fragments of golden light that scattered and sunk forlornly to become a part of the sandy ground. The Monster looked just like the statues against the walls, bone that looked like stone shaping a long spine and horrible, spiky wings. Worse was the single eye at the end that cast light across the ground, already searching for its next meal as it let out a horrifying roar that echoed off the walls. It sounded hungry, angry and terrible.
That eye landed on him, pinning him in a circle of light even as the final sparks of light from the murdered creature winked out of existence. Arthur was positive this was the end for him; he would never be able to outrun such a large and ferocious creature, nor could he even will his body to move. But just then he felt something wrap snugly around him and yank him backwards, out of the searching gaze of the Monster, which gave another roar and soared away to continue its search.
Arthur fought the hold weakly but found himself being dragged back until he was hidden behind one of the permanent, unmoving statues. He looked around frantically, trying to figure out what had such a tight hold on him. He noticed a glowing scarf wound securely around him right before Eames was suddenly standing right in front of him. Eames let out an angry, panicked string of Chimes as his arms beneath his cloak wrapped Arthur up into a tight hug.
Once again, Arthur was frozen in place. It was not common behaviour for people to touch and press together so close. Your arms normally remained beneath the fabric of your robes, hands only touching those of another when you were bonded. There were two layers of fabric between him and Eames, but Arthur could still feel the man’s fingers grasping tightly, keeping Arthur pinned both to the wall and to Eames’ chest.
Eames had his head resting against Arthur’s shoulder, and he kept Chiming at Arthur, hurried and fearful, even though the Monster had disappeared in its search. Arthur’s arms were pinned at his sides and he felt awkward standing there, being hugged by a near stranger. Though he honestly didn’t know what he would do with his hands and arms if they were free. All he thought to do was to Chime back hesitantly, pressing a little closer to Eames to let Eames know he was alright. Eames Chimed back, slightly calmer this time, but still held Arthur close. And Arthur couldn’t quite find the will to protest; Eames’ warmth was the only thing soothing Arthur’s trembling.
The Monster roared somewhere in the distance and Eames finally let go, though he remained standing close enough that their cloaks continued to shine. They stared at each other, blinking owlishly as adrenaline raced through them. Arthur gave a tiny, questioning Chime, his heart still tripping over itself. He was grateful to Eames, but the hug still had him confused. And he felt weird. He felt like his body was vibrating, being so close to Eames and still remembering the feel of Eames’ body against his.
Eames looked at the ground and then back to Arthur, looking shy. Arthur gave another more insistent Chime, but they heard the Monster in the distance again and Eames shook his head. Arthur wanted to demand some sort of explanation, but he knew this wasn’t the right time. Not to mention the fact that he owed Eames his life; if Eames didn’t feel comfortable talking at this very moment, the least Arthur could do was grant him some leniency.
As if sharing the same thought, Arthur and Eames both turned to the exit at the same time. There was no knowing when the Monster would sweep by in another search, and although they were well hidden, staying paralyzed would not bring them any closer to the Mountain. Arthur took off first, looking over his shoulder to see Eames following right on his heels, as they headed for the next towering archway leading into the next room.
They rushed through a twisting hallway first, and Arthur skidded to a stop, his feet digging into sand, when he saw the Monster through the grating covering a window. Eames ran past him and stopped as well, standing in front of Arthur like the tiniest but most well-intentioned wall. Luckily the Monster was searching outside the temple walls and did not see them, gliding silently past the window’s view. The buried temple fell silent again, until Arthur gave a huff and nudged Eames angrily; he did not like the idea of someone else risking their life for him. It made his heart clench painfully at the thought. But Eames didn’t even seem to acknowledge the shove, instead just Chiming a few times and continuing on. Arthur had no choice but to follow, albeit grudgingly.
The temple truly must have been made by giants, buried and forgotten long ago. It was not simply one room, but instead seemed to be made up of multiple long halls, archways continuing along like an endless road through the centre of it all while columns and statues guarded the wings. It was slow and treacherous as Arthur and Eames made their way through the temple together, first one and then two Monsters scouring the sandy floor for creatures of fabric and light they unfortunately devoured more than once. Arthur felt saddened each time he saw another creature caught and shredded to glittering light, but he was also guiltily grateful for the distraction keeping the Monsters from finding Arthur and Eames.
They hugged the walls mostly since the two Monsters travelled along the road of empty sand cutting its path through the centre of the temple. Though they still had to backtrack or duck away into a patch of shadow when one Monster grew curious and explored the outer edges of the rooms, peeking around columns and crumbling statues with its horrible, hungry eye. Before Arthur had been terrified of the shadows, worried they would consume him. Now he was indebted to their blanketing cover, keeping him safe from the bright light of the Monster’s gaze. And Arthur had to admit that the darkness really wasn’t as scary with Eames pressed close against him, also taking refuge where he could.
Their trek through the temple seemed to be going surprisingly well; they even managed to find another scarf piece behind what looked like a piece of fallen ceiling. Arthur was just starting to feel confident in their sneaking abilities when they slipped through the final archway of the temple. But then his stomach made a sickening dropping feeling as he looked at what was before them. They were looking down a sloping, narrow passageway with two Monsters patrolling every inch of the floor. They could do their best to dodge, but it looked impossible.
Arthur looked to Eames, who was standing beside him on the edge of the slope. Eames looked back at Arthur before looking back down the long length of the slope. He gave a quiet Chime, trying to sound reassuring but only half succeeding. Arthur looked back down the slope as well, trying to track and memorize the Monsters’ patterns of movement. He noticed Eames looking back at him out of the corner of his eye, and Arthur turned to face him once more. He didn’t think it was possible to predict the Monsters’ movements, and he was quite sure this realization showed on his face. Eames gave another Chime, and Arthur Chimed back. Then they both took a breath and leapt.
Arthur’s feet touched the sand and he began to surf again, the slope steep enough that he picked up speed quickly. He realized, as he slid closer to the searching Monsters, that he had too much momentum to stop even if he tried. All he would be able to do now was dodge and pray. Eames was beside him, their scarves flying together behind them as they moved. Arthur’s eyes were staring straight ahead, where he could see the next meditation stone far below, though he discovered that he could somehow sense where Eames was beside him even without looking.
For a few brief, fleeting moments, Arthur thought they were going to make it. They both managed to swerve around the first Monster’s gaze, staying hidden in the shadows. But then the second Monster turned back up to climb the slope and Arthur didn’t have enough time to dodge the circle of light. The light encircling Arthur turned red and the Monster roared, sounding triumphant. Arthur pushed himself to slide faster, to manoeuvre out of the light, but the Monster had him pinned.
Eames gave a loud, fearful Chime right before he slammed into Arthur from the side, knocking him out of the light and taking Arthur’s place in return. Arthur Chimed angrily in return and angled back, sand kicking up behind him in a wave as he skidded across the slope to try to push Eames back out of the Monster’s sight; he refused to have Eames die in his place. But Eames, apparently infuriating to the very end, pushed back, leaving both of them in the centre of the circle of light. Arthur Chimed again and again, fast and angry, and Eames kept Chiming back, as if now was a good time for an argument.
It all happened in the span of a few seconds as they surfed down the slope of sand, red light tracking them and the second Monster following the first’s roar and joining in the chase. Arthur resigned himself to death as the two Monsters descended behind them, edging closer. Oddly, all he could feel toward Eames, despite the way he had behaved, was a sad sense of regret. He felt like this Journey had ended too soon. Despite being quite annoying and unorthodox, Arthur thought he would have enjoyed finishing the Journey with Eames.
Arthur cringed as he felt one of the Monsters lunge for his scarf, jaws barely missing the fluttering fabric. He looked over at Eames and Chimed his farewell, sounding as sad as he felt. Eames looked at him but just shook his head, Chiming loudly. A clear Don’t Give Up! Arthur looked forward again and noticed shrines half-buried in the sand lighting up as he and Eames whipped past. The meditation stone was just ahead, glowing, encouraging them to continue on.
Arthur pushed himself as hard as he could, using his magic to put wind his cloak, propelling him forward. His shoulder was practically touching Eames’ as they flew together, encouraging each other with quick, bursting Chimes, their voices mingling together to be loud enough to be heard over the Monsters’ roars. And then, just as Arthur began to think it wouldn’t be enough, there was an explosion of light and an echoing crash of noise.
His feet caught on the few steps leading up to the platform with the meditation stone, sending Arthur tumbling painfully across stone until he slid to a stop. He pushed himself up onto his hands and knees with a pained Chime, looking around frantically to figure out what had happened. Eames lay on the stone floor a few feet away, sitting up and looking around in a daze. The Monsters circled them a few times before flying away with an enraged noise, unable to penetrate the wall of light that had suddenly surrounded the whole platform, keeping the meditation stone, Arthur and Eames safe and hidden.
Arthur touched a hand to his chest beneath his cloak, feeling his heart beating rapidly. He could barely comprehend that he was still alive, that he and Eames had been lucky enough to survive. Arthur stood slowly, stretching out the pain in his legs and arms. He watched Eames look over at him, still looking rather confused, before standing as well. They both seemed a little wobbly and unsure of themselves, shaken as adrenaline seeped out of their bodies.
Arthur stood there watching Eames for a long moment, and then he Chimed loud and long because he was alive, and he could. He Chimed with all his heart, jumping off the ground slightly with his energy. And then he did it again and again. Eames joined in, Chiming just as loudly and excitedly, jumping up and down and running circles around Arthur. This just made Arthur even happier and they Chimed together until they were both out of breath.
As though they were one person, they calmed at the same time and looked to the meditation stone, waiting for them patiently. Arthur looked back at Eames, Chimed invitingly, and flew over to kneel in front of the stone. Eames followed and Chimed back to him quietly as he knelt down beside Arthur. Between the other’s Chiming and the light surrounding them, their cloaks and scarves were glowing and charged again. They were ready for the next part of the story, and for the rest of this Journey.
The story told Arthur of the ancient cities being buried by sand, civilization winking out of existence and the stars above growing brighter without competing with light on the ground anymore. Then he was shown what looked like one star falling from the sky to land in the sand, a creature looking just like Arthur and Eames standing there in the star’s place. This made Arthur wonder where his kind had come from, and question again where the Mountain might lead, but before he could ask one of the giant spirits, the story was fading around him.
Eames was already standing when Arthur blinked his eyes open, halfway to the gate and looking back at Arthur expectantly. Arthur pulled himself into a standing position and ran around the meditation stone to join Eames as they both ran through the next gate. Perhaps Arthur’s questions would be answered when he completed this Journey.
Arthur and Eames came to a standstill in the next room, taking it all in with a sense of wonder. They were standing on the edge of a huge circular room with a giant tower in the centre, reaching for a small circle of light in the ceiling letting in sunlight. The walls were coated in a shadowed red thanks to the weak sunlight above, while the sand on the ground was a rusted gold. Arthur squinted as he looked up to the ceiling far above; how could they possibly even be that far underground? And how could they ever reach the surface?
There were a few ledges here and there built into the tower in the centre of the room, as well as a few more ledges jutting out from the walls. But it wouldn’t be enough to allow Arthur and Eames to climb to freedom. Arthur followed Eames when he ran toward the imposing tower in the centre of the room and attempted to fly up to the closest ledge, watching sadly when Eames’ magic ran out long before he reached the ledge and fell back to the sand. Arthur brushed against Eames and Chimed to help his cloak recharge and began looking around for another method.
Light in the distance caught his eye, and Arthur ran toward a small alcove lit up by some torches. Eames Chimed and followed behind him. In the alcove they found four small shrines, which they lit up with one echoing Chime. Right in front of their eyes, light was etched into the design of a hieroglyph on the wall, showing where Arthur had begun his Journey; a lone figure standing on a sand dune overlooking a desert of shrines.
The metallic clang of machinery sounded behind them, and Arthur turned on his heel to regard the room. He watched as the lowest level of the tower seemed to power up, removing a barrier and allowing a core of light in the tower’s centre to stream out through the metal gratings on the side. The room filled with light as though it was actually water, Arthur’s feet lifting from the ground as his body became weightless.
Light and glowing symbols surrounded him, leaving his cloak and scarf constantly ablaze with its own light. Arthur found that he could float along without touching the ground for as long as he pleased as long as he remained in the light, his magic never running low. It changed when he had to explore above the light’s surface, which was necessary to continue moving up the ledges of the tower. But if he ever needed more magic and Eames wasn’t nearby, he could always drop down into the pool of light below him and try again.
He and Eames made relatively slow work of the tower, but not due to a lack of skill. Arthur found himself floating around the room while looking for more hieroglyphs to light up more of the tower, just to explore and see what there was. Eames took off to investigate as well, but would frequently Chime at the top of his lungs until Arthur flew over to see what he had found. Often it was just another hieroglyph depicting more of the Journey Arthur had completed on his own and with Eames by his side. But other times, as they continued to rise, it was even more fascinating.
After they had discovered the second hieroglyph, allowing more of the tower’s light to spill free, they happened upon a forest of jellyfish; the jellyfish Chimed back to them happily as Arthur and Eames flew from one to the next, aiming for the next glyph on the wall. Next, a massive whale of cloth came out of a side room, echoing out a much deeper Chime in greeting as it swam through the waves of light from the half-opened tower.
Curious about where the whale had appeared from, Arthur flew over to investigate the archway that had opened. Inside he found a small circular room surrounded by columns, red and gold banners hanging lazily between each one. Excited by his discovery, Arthur ran back to the entranceway and Chimed again and again, trying to catch Eames’ attention since he couldn’t see him in the room. Eames appeared from above after a moment, Chiming happily in return and floating down to land beside Arthur.
Eames gave another Chime, questioning and watching Arthur with wide eyes. Arthur smirked lightly and Chimed eagerly before leading Eames back into the room. Eames Chimed in surprise and wonder when they entered the circular room, and then flew around with Arthur as they explored every nook and cranny. They found another hieroglyph to light up, as well as another scarf piece hidden away behind a column, and by the end of it Arthur felt very pleased.
Eames flew out of the room ahead of him, back into the large circular room that was over halfway filled with light by this point. When Arthur had stood at the base of the tower in near darkness, looking up at the tiny circle of light in the ceiling above, he had feared that this would be an impossible venture. But now it not only felt possible, it felt incredibly fun as well. The room was beautiful as little cloth creatures swam and scattered about in the ripples of light, playful in their movements, and the continued hieroglyphs etched into the walls made Arthur nostalgic of the challenges he had faced to get here.
Eames led Arthur across the room until they were riding on the whale’s back, the creature leaving the pool of light below and soaring high to take them to the next hieroglyph. Eames stood right by the head, Chiming encouragingly, while Arthur stood on the creature’s back. For a moment Arthur felt a little breathless, seeing the whale’s fabric light up at Arthur and Eames’ touch, as well as seeing their cloaks light up in return. Eames looked back over his shoulder at Arthur, Chiming again and again in delight, and Arthur Chimed back with a smile. Although their cloaks were the same, and the fluttering of Eames’ scarf was familiar, Arthur couldn’t help but think Eames looked incredibly beautiful.
A second later he realized what he was thinking and shook his head, jumping from the whale’s back with a thankful Chime to the creature. He knew Eames had planned to reach the glyph first, being closer, but Arthur needed a goal to focus on to distract him. He had begun this Journey alone, with the goal to complete it without any help. And although he really didn’t have much interest in sending Eames away at this point, he didn’t want to get caught up in fanciful thoughts. After all, he had just met Eames a short while ago. It would be silly to grow attached so quickly.
Eames landed beside him as Arthur Chimed to life the next glyph and the tower bathed them in more light. Eames bumped into Arthur’s side playfully as they watched the pillar of light grow, and despite his previous train of thought, Arthur gave Eames a small smile. After that they took off again, soaring along roads of red-gold fabric that linked up small hanging platforms, spiralling around the room. Arthur led the way, Eames right behind him as the fabric bridges continued to materialize in front of them.
By that point there was only one more hieroglyph to light up, filling up the reminder of the room with light. Arthur peered over the small ledge to look at the huge room below, the glowing tower lighting up the room while the whale circled calmly below. It was all so beautiful, and it made Arthur incredibly happy that he had finally decided to take this Journey. And he had to admit that it was nice having Eames here to share the beauty with.
The two of them floated across the room to the centre of the tower, climbing the staircase to the meditation stone waiting on the crown of the tower. Shrines lit up as they passed, wrapping Arthur and Eames in a warm, white light even before they had time to fully kneel in front of the stone. When Arthur looked up, the circle of light in the ceiling shone as brightly as the sun, leaving the rest of the ceiling shadowed. Glowing symbols fell from the ceiling slowly, twinkling like stars as they floated down to wrap around them.
The story he was shown felt like the last one. It showed Arthur where he had come from; all of the challenges he had faced so far on this Journey. But it kept going, past the tower of light Arthur stood atop. He saw the plains at the base of the Mountain, and the etchings of strong wind pushing down from the Mountain top. Last, he saw a carving of himself beside Eames, both of them fighting the wind side by side. It wouldn’t be easy, but they could do it. The final spirit watched Arthur before looking up at the Mountain, which was visible through the gate ahead of him.
The comforting white light faded from around him, leaving Arthur kneeling peacefully beside Eames. It felt wonderful to just remain there for a few minutes, entirely still and at ease while light and symbols floated around them. Eames seemed to think so too, since he looked over at Arthur, smiled, and then bowed his head again calmly. Arthur didn’t count the time they remained there, instead opting to enjoy it and let time pass unnoticed. Eventually though, his legs began to grow stiff and Arthur stood. Eames followed suit and together they passed through the final gate in their path.
They emerged at a frozen wasteland at the base of the Mountain. The ground was covered in snow, small patches of fabric frozen as they stuck out of the snow mounds. Arthur looked up to see the Mountain shining tauntingly, and then watched in horror as a small cloth creature froze in the air and fell to its death, buried below drifting snow before Arthur could even reach it in an attempt to revive it. Arthur knelt by where the creature had fallen but Eames was suddenly behind him, ushering him along worriedly.
It was then that Arthur realized the danger they were in. After being motionless for only a few seconds, Arthur could already feel the hem of his cloak and scarf freezing over, the ice choking out his magic. He allowed Eames to push him along, scared now of becoming a permanent decoration of this frozen land. Another monster flew far above them but did not see Arthur or Eames, and once they realized that they were not spotted, Arthur and Eames did not even dare to stop and hide for long.
Despite being warned, the wind caught them off guard when they turned a corner in the valley they were travelling and got hit with its full force. Arthur was close enough to a standing shrine to hide behind it, allowing the stone to buffer the wind until it momentarily died down. But when he looked around, he couldn’t see Eames anywhere. Arthur Chimed loudly as his heart jumped up into his throat; where was Eames?
A weak Chime called out in return, back in the direction Arthur had come from. He flew back with all the magic he had left in his scarf and quickly found Eames slumped against a pile of boulders, not moving and already half buried in snow. Arthur brushed the snow away frantically, Chiming Eames’ name over and over as he kept Eames free of snow. He assumed Eames must have been knocked back by the wind before he could find cover, and the wall of boulders had been his sudden and painful stop.
Eames, Arthur Chimed again and again, louder and more panicked at each second that passed. He could already see that Eames’ scarf was half frozen, lying lifeless in the snow, and the bottom portion of his cloak was also coated in ice. The wind kept howling, freezing Arthur as he used his own body to shield Eames. It was a constant battle to keep the snow from burying Eames, and each second dragged as Eames remained slumped and unmoving. Arthur hadn’t wanted to do this Journey with anyone else, and Eames had certainly been annoying at first, but despite his better judgement, Arthur had grown attached and he wasn’t leaving Eames behind.
Desperate now, Arthur moved as close to Eames as he could and wrapped his cloak-covered arms around Eames, sharing warmth. He was startled for a moment when he saw their heart symbols – the one showing their name, stitched on their cloaks right over their hearts – shining brightly. But even confused and scared, Arthur wouldn’t move away. He tried to transfer all the heat and magic he could afford over to Eames, Chiming his name in his ear repeatedly until Eames finally stirred.
Arthur’s heart jolted in relief when he felt Eames moving against him, pressing closer to Arthur’s warmth. The Chime Eames gave was pathetically weak, mostly swept away by the wind. But it gave Arthur hope. Eames, he Chimed again, and this time Eames lifted his head enough to blink up at him, eyelashes encrusted with ice. Arthur, Eames Chimed back quietly.
Arthur nuzzled Eames for a moment before nudging him a little more forcefully, Chiming insistently in his ear. Although their close proximity was keeping their cloaks unfrozen, their heart symbols still glowing, Arthur could still feel his magic fading under the strain of the cold. They couldn’t stay there, and all Arthur could hope was that Eames wasn’t too hurt to stand. Eames still seemed a little dazed for a moment, but then he nodded. Arthur moved back enough to give him room, but stayed close enough that they continued to share heat.
Eames stood slowly, his joints clearly stiff and his body uncertain. Arthur watched Eames lean against the boulder to keep himself standing, and Arthur Chimed again when Eames didn’t move past that point. Eames took two steps and faltered, knee buckling, and Arthur rushed forward. At least half of Eames’ weight fell on Arthur, but Eames remained standing and even took another two steps. Arthur Chimed his praise and began to slowly lead Eames back up the Mountain, hiding them behind wayward shrines to escape the wind when it grew unbearable.
It felt like a lifetime as they worked their way through that small valley, especially with Eames moving so slowly and being so uncharacteristically quiet. Arthur was getting pretty exhausted from supporting half of Eames’ weight, not that he regretted it, but it was a relief when they finally made it through the valley. The next area was more open but the Mountain’s sides seemed to block the majority of the wind where they were walking.
Up ahead Arthur saw a little alcove built into the Mountain’s side, and he Chimed to Eames encouragingly. They fought the wind more strongly then, desperate for some sort of break from the cold. Even though Arthur was trying to hide his discomfort to avoid upsetting Eames, Arthur could feel his body beginning to freeze over. Even the sound of a monster’s roar far above in the hazy sky wasn’t enough to deter them as they raced for the small stone room.
Inside there were a few shrines and a lantern they could power up with their magic. The resulting light filled the room with a warmth that was reminiscent of the long-forgotten sun, and Arthur shivered happily as he felt his body and cloak thaw. He noticed a ledge above and, after propping Eames up against the warm lantern, flew up to see what was there. Arthur found a forgotten hieroglyph and a ledge free of snow, still close enough to the warm lantern that it felt comfortable and cozy.
Arthur jumped back down and Chimed a few times, hoping Eames had enough strength and wasn’t too injured to get up to the upper ledge. They could stay down below, but Arthur didn’t like the unprotected opening or the fact that their cloaks would soak through with snow if they sat too long. Thankfully, Eames looked a little more conscious now, and although he let out a pained sound when he flew up to the ledge, he made it.
Arthur followed and nudged Eames against a wall, propping him up again. Eames Chimed tiredly and Arthur Chimed soothingly in return. The Mountain wasn’t going anywhere and now that they were out of the freezing wind, they could stand to stop for a little while. Arthur was nervous as he shrugged the edges of his cloak aside, freeing his hands and arms to the cool air and Eames’ vision, but the urge to check Eames for injuries was stronger than his modesty.
When Arthur moved closer, Eames gave a small smile of agreement and closed his eyes, giving Arthur permission. Arthur took careful hold of Eames’ hood, sliding it back slowly. For the first time he could see Eames’ light brown hair, mussed from his cloak and movements. Arthur felt a shudder run through his body as he slid his fingers into soft hair, carefully checking Eames’ scalp for damage. He was relieved when he didn’t find any cuts or bumps, but found himself unwilling to untangle his fingers from Eames’ hair. It felt so odd but extraordinarily pleasant to be touching someone else, to be threading his bare fingers through hair and across skin. And judging by Eames’ happy Chime as he leaned up into the touches, Arthur wasn’t the only one enjoying the contact.
His fingers were growing cold though, the lantern not enough to keep his uncovered skin warm, so he pulled away regretfully. With his hands still free, Arthur tugged Eames’ hood back into place, selfishly allowing his skin to brush hair one final time. Then he gave a questioning, short Chime, trying to get back to business and hide his momentary lapse in modesty. He touched a finger to one of Eames’ legs and another to his upper back, Chiming again. Each time, Eames shook his head. Apparently he had only been stunned from hitting the boulders, rather than being physically injured. Eames’ movements were still somewhat slow and stiff, but he would be able to continue the Journey after some rest.
Arthur covered his arms and hands again, allowing the magic in his cloak to warm him up. He was still trying to get over his sudden nerves, trying to decide how appropriate it would be to sit close to Eames, when he felt arms encircle him and pull him down. Arthur let out a sharp Chime of surprise when he found himself seated in Eames’ lap, Eames’ warmth almost overheating Arthur at being so close.
Arthur struggled weakly for a moment, feeling embarrassed even though he didn’t really want to move. The sensation of fingers against his face stilled Arthur immediately, Eames hesitantly cupping one of Arthur’s cheeks. Arthur shivered and leaned into the touch, allowing Eames to pull him forward. Their heart symbols were practically pressed together when Arthur felt lips on his own, and his eyes flashed open in shock. Touching hands was the most sacred of touches, though kissing was a close second, but Arthur couldn’t even find it in himself to care.
It felt so good and Arthur found himself pressing closer, seeking more as their chests rose and fell together with their quick breathing. Eames’ lips didn’t move for a moment, remaining soft and warm against Arthur’s own. Arthur wanted more but didn’t know what to do, and he groaned happily when Eames began to move his lips. He followed Eames’ lead, their lips moving, exploring and locking together. Arthur rested his cloak-covered hands on Eames’ shoulders and tilted his head, deepening the kiss until he felt like he was going to burst with warmth and magic.
What eventually ended up bursting out was the loudest Chime Arthur had ever voiced. Arthur actually felt himself blushing at how loud and vibrant the sound had been, especially since it had had enough force to knock him back slightly. Eames laughed with a few quick Chimes, leaning forward to resituate Arthur on his legs. Arthur didn’t fight it, suddenly feeling overwhelmed with a sense of belonging he had never before experienced. He had been told once or twice what a soul Mate was supposed to feel like, but Arthur had never considered the stories to be more than fables. Until now.
Eames kissed him again slowly, his arms covered again against the cold but snugly wrapped around Arthur’s waist to keep him close. Arthur kissed back, allowing his magic to emanate from his body so that it didn’t come bursting out all at once again. Arthur felt so warm while kissing Eames that he could have sworn he was standing below the sun in the desert again, and while the memory of the desert made him feel nostalgic, the feel of Eames’ lips kept him focused firmly on the present.
Eventually they ran out of breath, though they both kept leaning in for more kisses before they had recovered fully from the last string of kisses. At some point Arthur Chimed a laugh and leaned away slightly, allowing his heart to finally stop racing. Eames allowed him to lean away, seeming to understand. But then Eames smiled and Chimed the word for Mate and Arthur, after Chiming it back shyly, was leaning in for more kisses, promptly becoming addicted to the sensation.
He wasn’t sure how long it was before weariness from the Journey set in, turning Arthur’s movements sluggish. Panting slightly, Arthur pulled away and rested his head on Eames’ chest, loving the feeling of rising and falling with Eames’ breath. Arthur wrapped his arms around Eames’ waist, mimicking the feel of Eames’ arms around him. Arthur Chimed contently and smiled against the glowing fabric of Eames’s cloak when he felt Eames kiss the top of his head. Then Arthur closed his eyes and allowed sleep to take him.
Arthur was woken by the sensation of Eames drawing affectionate symbols on Arthur’s back, only their cloaks separating their bodies. Arthur was relieved to know that Eames was awake and seemed to be doing quite well, having recovered from his earlier collision with the rocks and ice. And the memory of what they had discovered returned to Arthur’s hazy mind, making him feel lighter than air. He lifted his head to blink up at Eames, who was watching him fondly. Feeling a little more confident, Arthur Chimed a combination of Eames and Mate, and received a deep kiss as a reward. When Eames Chimed Arthur and Mate in return afterwards, Arthur wondered if it was even possible to feel more in love.
The wind sounded like it had died down a bit, so Arthur and Eames eventually stood and stretched before floating down to the glowing lantern below. As they stepped back out in the frigid wind and snow, racing across another banner of fabric to cross another broken bridge, Arthur couldn’t help but watch Eames. He was pleased to see that Eames seemed to be moving without much pain now, his movements still a little slower but still strong against the wind. Arthur began to wonder if there had been some plan for him, if he had felt the urge to begin his Journey now so that he would meet Eames along the way. The thought was a little overwhelming and Arthur shrugged to himself under his cloak. All that mattered to him was that he had found Eames. And now it was time for them to complete this Journey together.
After passing through a crumbling archway, Arthur and Eames entered a massive field of snow, the ground at a constant but slight incline, and the wind beating down on them harshly. It was nearly impossible to see anything up ahead with the wind picking up so much snow, thickening the air and turning the sky dark. Arthur launched himself into the air, wanting to take advantage of the remaining magic in his scarf that the ice hadn’t yet snatched away. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make anything out other than a few half-buried structures, and he also got knocked back into the snow for his efforts.
Eames returned to his side and Chimed chidingly at Arthur, though Arthur could tease out the worried undertones. He chose not to argue back and instead leaned against Eames a little as they continued to walk against the wind together, keeping each other warm enough to keep pressing on. Arthur could feel his cloak weighing him down, turning to ice, as they came across the first of many tiny structures scattered about in the snow.
He rushed inside quickly, the small shelter just large enough for himself and Eames to stand together shoulder to shoulder. It wasn’t much of a break from the wind, and they were both about to continue running through the plains of snow when Arthur spotted something in the sky. Eames was already halfway out of the shelter when Arthur gripped the end of Eames’ scarf, yanking him backwards. Arthur managed to get Eames back into the shelter and pin him bodily against the wall just as the searching gaze of a monster skimmed over their tiny hideout.
Arthur’s heart was beating rapidly and he could feel Eames’ heart doing the same, their chests pressed together. Arthur rested his forehead on Eames’ shoulder, reliving that flash of fear when he thought he might have lost his Mate right after finding him. He just wanted to stay here; didn’t want to gamble their safety. But even though they were safe from the wind, the cold still wrapped around their bodies, turning their limbs heavier the longer they stayed still. They couldn’t stay here; they had to continue on.
Each time they stepped out into the open to run to the next available shelter, Arthur felt like he would pass out with fear. His eyes would skim over the snow and sky constantly, searching for danger. It was almost pointless since the monsters moved through the air much faster than Arthur and Eames were able to trudge through the piles of snow. But staying aware of his surroundings was the only thing that kept him from a full panic. Eames seemed only slightly less terrified, Chiming and hurrying them both along.
Each time they rushed to the next shelter, exposing themselves as they made slow progress, it felt like a gamble. Some monsters were predictable in the patterns of their hunting, while others remained hidden by the clouds of snow until it was almost too late to retreat and hide. They kept pressing forward though until they were at the last shelter, a narrow chasm up ahead that they could disappear into.
Unfortunately they were forced to stay in the shelter for a long time as one monster circled them repeatedly, the wind making a hollowed howl as it hit the monster’s skeleton above them. Arthur and Eames remained hidden and pressed together, shivering violently in the cold as they waited for their chance. Arthur’s eyelashes scratched his cheeks each time he blinked, the lashes encrusted with ice. He realized they couldn’t last much longer in this cold, their heart symbols growing dimmer despite their proximity. Arthur couldn’t even fly anymore, his scarf trailing limply behind him.
They made a break for it when the monster finally widened its hunting circle, giving Arthur and Eames just enough time to race from the shelter into the chasm and out of sight. They didn’t even stop to Chime their relief, both of them knowing that the cold was still hunting them, nipping at their heels. Instead they raced along the path up the Mountain’s base in silence, carefully avoiding the vicious wind whenever they could find protection.
As they passed through another archway, Arthur found himself slowing. He craned his neck back to look up at the sky, the Mountain filling his vision. A lightning storm seemed to be raging above them, the resulting wind buffering both him and Eames this way and that as they tripped over buried shrines and continued to push forward. He could also see a few monsters circling high above, but they did not seem interested in the two travellers far below them. Or perhaps the monsters were waiting for the wind and the cold to beat them down before swooping in for the kill.
Arthur looked ahead and saw that Eames was already a little ways ahead of him up the Mountain side. Arthur Chimed at Eames frantically to wait, but he was so cold and the wind was so loud, Arthur’s Chime was swept away. He tried to fly to catch up with Eames but tumbled into the snow when a particularly nasty gust of wind tore part of his scarf to pieces. Eames, Arthur Chimed over and over, desperately fighting to catch up even though his legs were sinking deep into the snow, chilled and stiff.
Eames eventually stopped and turned, searching. Arthur could see how slowed Eames’ movements were, his shoulders hunched as he looked for Arthur. He noticed Eames’ head duck and rise weakly, and Arthur knew Eames was Chiming for him even if he couldn’t hear it. Luckily, once Eames paused at realizing Arthur was not beside him, Arthur was able to push forward and catch up with him. They Chimed together feebly, huddling together when wind ripped more of their scarves away. And then they kept going.
The storm cleared at some point, the sky above them cloudy but calm. However, Arthur panicked when he looked up and noticed the Mountain was no longer ahead of them. He looked around quickly, wondering if they had gotten turned around, but could see nothing but snow. Arthur turned back to Chime to Eames, but instead watched in horror when Eames took one last step, wavered, and then collapsed into the snow.
Arthur waded through the snow with agonizing slowness, barely able to drag his legs for another step. It took a few long steps before he was at Eames’ side, kneeling down beside him and shaking him, seeking some response. When Eames remained in the snow, unmoving, Arthur felt his heart begin to shatter. He hadn’t noticed their connection when they had first discovered each other as a Mate, an invisible bond tying their two heart symbols together. But now he was aware of it because he could feel it fading, leaving his chest empty and cold.
Eames wouldn’t respond to Arthur’s touch or his Chimes, and Arthur’s voice was fading. Arthur looked up at the sky, wondering briefly if he should continue on. He knew Eames would want him to complete the Journey. But Arthur didn’t want to complete the Journey without Eames. No matter what was at the end of it, or where it led next, Arthur refused to leave Eames behind, to start a new Journey without his Mate by his side. So Arthur wrapped his body around Eames’ frozen, unmoving one. Their cloaks were frozen, their scarves torn away and shredded. The sky above them was clearing but it no longer mattered.
Arthur Chimed a goodbye and closed his eyes.
Time seemed to slow as Arthur’s consciousness faded. He could feel his limbs freezing and going numb, and could feel his mind and heart slowing, dimming. But the death he had finally accepted was interrupted, a familiar white light surrounding him again. Arthur raised his head and blinked bleary eyes, confused as he saw six white spirits standing before him, watching him. They said nothing and Arthur turned away, searching for Eames and Chiming his name loudly when Arthur could not see his Mate’s body anywhere.
The six spirits continued watching silently, but Arthur could feel their magic wrap around him. Arthur was lifted to his feet, his cloak thawing and returning to its vibrant red and gold. His scarf also returned, growing far longer than Arthur had managed to create before it had been ripped away. Arthur was about to argue with the spirits, to tell them he wasn’t going anywhere without Eames, but their expressions silenced him. They looked mournful, but also proud and certain.
As he watched the spirits, Arthur noticed golden glowing symbols gravitating to the fabric of his cloak and scarf. It continued until Arthur’s entire body was glimmering as brightly as the noon-day sun. He felt warm and safe and confident, and as the spirits faded from his sight, Arthur launched himself into the air. Monsters circled him but Arthur dodged easily, certain of his path now. He continued pushing, spiralling higher into the air and aiming for a bright light far above.
The light blinded him for a moment, and when Arthur opened his eyes again he gasped. He was above the clouds now, the tips of smaller mountains looking like tiny islands surrounding the highest Mountain. It was in clear view and just waiting for him, but Arthur still hesitated. At least until he heard a familiar Chime a short distance away. MateArthur. Arthur flew higher into the air and spun, his scarf still glowing and now filled with unlimited magic to keep him aloft and help him complete the final portion of his Journey.
Eames flew up to him, their scarves tangling intimately as they nuzzled in the air. MateEames, Arthur Chimed in response, his heart symbol shining bright and strong with Eames so close. They continued to Chime back and forth excitedly, reassuring one another of their safety and close proximity as they began to fly toward their goal side by side. Cloth creatures of every shape and size flew with them, leading the way through archways, over cloth bridges, down sloping valleys and up glimmering waterfalls.
It was all so gorgeous, the sun lighting up this entire sanctuary above the world. The sun’s light itself kept Arthur’s magic strong, though Arthur knew he would be able to make the flight no matter what as long as Eames was there beside him. Everything they touched lit up with glowing symbols, Chiming at him happily, celebrating with him. Arthur and Eames rose higher and higher into the air, circling around to take in the unforgettable view together as they climbed toward their goal. He felt so proud of himself, and of Eames, for making it this far and completing the Journey, and Arthur admitted that he never would have been able to get here without Eames by his side. He didn’t mind that though, because it felt so rewarding knowing he had done this with Eames.
When Arthur finally flew high enough, he landed briefly to look ahead of him. The Mountain stood tall, its two peaks split open with golden light slipping through the deep chasm spreading the rocks. The sun was visible in the distance, lighting up a river of gold symbols that turned Arthur’s cloak golden again. Eames soared past him and Chimed back, calling for Arthur to join him. Arthur Chimed happily and followed his Mate, sailing through the river of gold.
It was cold on top of the Mountain and the magic faded from their scarves when they landed, twin peaks standing on either side of them protectively. The white light streaming in from between the two peaks was warm and beckoning, and it felt familiar. However, Arthur held back, suddenly unsure. Eames took a few steps towards the light and then stopped and turned to look back at Arthur, Chiming questioningly.
Eames looked beautiful standing there, red and gold and silhouetted by a bright light that felt so powerful and reassuring. Arthur wanted to go to him. He wanted to continue on and see what lay beyond the Mountain, what the bright light held for them. But he was also scared. He didn’t like uncertainty, and he had no way of knowing what would happen next. Before, when he had started this Journey, he was alone and had nothing to lose. Now he feared that he would lose Eames, his Mate; that where he ended up would not be with Eames.
Arthur watched as Eames stepped back towards him, walking away from the light that called to him so strongly. He could feel his heart skipping beats when he saw Eames shrug his cloak aside, a bare arm reaching out and offering a hand. Arthur’s eyes skimmed over skin, taking in the detail of Eames’ outstretched palm and fingers. Everything about Eames was different and enticing and reassuring, and Arthur could not help but reach forward and place his own hand in Eames’ own.
Their fingers twined, skin pressing together. Arthur arched and sighed happily at the contact and the sensation, Chiming Eames again and again, softly but repeatedly. He was silenced only when Eames pulled him closer and sealed their lips together, kissing Arthur’s breath away. Arthur slid his other hand from beneath his cloak and pressed it against Eames’ chest, feeling his heart beat until Eames’ other hand took Arthur’s. They stood like that in the light, cradled by the Mountain top as they kissed.
When they finally pulled away for air, both of them were smiling widely. Their hands were still clasped together, fingers locked as their hands hung at their sides. Eames looked to the light and then back at Arthur, a question and also a calm answer in his eyes. Arthur took a deep breath before turning to face the light, allowing one pair of hands to break away. He kept holding Eames’ other hand though, their fingers twined as he began to walk towards the light. Eames followed his lead.
They Chimed back and forth as they walked, shoulders and arms brushing and clasped hands swinging lightly between them. Their heart symbols continued to shine as they walked so close together, though it became less visible as the light grew brighter ahead of them. When he squinted, Arthur could see the end of the chasm, rocks fading away into a solid white light. He knew that was the end, where this Journey would end and the next one would begin. Arthur was ready with Eames beside him.
They shared one final look, one final Chime, and one final kiss. And then they stepped into the white light together, holding hands, never willing to part again, and waited to see what new adventure and Journey awaited them.