Into the woods in the fine pale morning Hux followed the carrion birds. He had watched them through his glass from the fort at dawn, aloft in pattern above the forest, adrift on unseen currents like black flotsam, as select among their number dipped down to inspect whatever quarry. The likelihood it was anything of value to him was slim; if he was lucky it was something he could skin and if he was unlucky it was Ren, and Hux had not managed very much luck since he had come to the South Cariboo desirous of gold three years previous.
Nothing, Hux thought, had much gone as it should in those years. By the time he had arrived in the West from Halifax there was not much gold to be found so he’d pursued pelts with many other failed prospectors, and as such he had found himself on contract and eventually promoted within the First Order of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Ren was meant to be rather his assistant but did not interpret his responsibilities in such a manner and was possessed of a rather mystic and contradictory personality. And yet he was two days late upon return from a scouting trip in the icefields of the far Eastern mountains and, knowing such tardiness was unlike him, Hux had spent most of the previous night drunk on the dregs of his rye whiskey and pacing a tread in the floor of his chambers. Still if the birds’ quarry was four-legged the skin would fetch him a sum even in only passable condition; returning to the fort with Ren wounded would see Hux’s men in a state of near-mutinous ire — not that he’d been hurt, but that he still lived at all. That Hux had not left him in the woods to let the wilderness finish what it ought to have many years previous.
The blood smell drew him further, and the cryptic cries of the birds ever nearer, echoing in the trees like some infernal chorus. The only energy amid the stillness and the silence. Of course the fallen thing upon the snowbanked loam was Ren, though for a hallucinatory moment Hux thought it might be some alien black cervidae fallen and bloody with limbs akimbo… but it was only the thick pelt Ren always wore, heavy with his blood, snowmelt, ice, hiding his white face but for the closed eyes and forehead enough Hux could see the red frozen slash ragged just above his eyebrow. Ren was of noble stock or so rumor had it and some among the company referred to him as Lord Ren out of spite or confusion. Sometimes he swallowed it but he had been known to put a bullet through a man’s throat and it seemed likely he’d set fire to someone’s bedroll after another wayward insult met his ear. Hux was not sure of his first name or provenance but his face was so fine of feature it seemed reasonable to assume he was well-bred. Though it did not explain what he was doing in British Columbia, and why he had been contracted by the First Order as a tracker and a guide. He seemed precious to the regional overseer to whom Hux reported, a man named Snoke who received all the paperwork conveyed from trading post to trading post at an office in Ottawa.
One of the scavenger birds was perched at Ren’s shoulder and leant forward its long bare neck to peck at the long white hand in the snow. Hux fired a shot over its back ruffling a few feathers and it alighted and Ren stirred. Unkillable as per usual no matter who or what tried, Hux thought, trying to remain unimpressed by it. The dark eyes opened and struggled to focus and when Ren moved the pelt away from his face Hux saw the wound cut across almost to the joint of his neck and jaw and it was deep and ragged and had only quit bleeding for the cold. The blood patterning the snow had oxidized in the night into a deep tannic brown-black and it had come as well from elsewhere.
“Where are you hurt?”
Ren just looked at him the way he often did, as though everything were obvious, and it was like the gaze was coming from the wound itself, some fissure in the substance of him, a volcanic sort of chasm. Like he had needed something else to make his face odd.
“Side,” he said finally, voice shattered raw.
“Who got you?” Hux asked, though he thought he already knew.
“That little girl from the woods,” said Ren. “She grazed me too,” he said, and with difficulty he lifted his frozen hand to his shoulder, where the fabric of his jacket was cut raggedly and dark with blood. “She’s a damn — a fuckin crackshot.”
She was a young native trapswoman of this territory whom Hux had never seen but whose signs he had noticed and birdcalls he had overheard at dusk on doomed excursions. She sold her pelts to the French at Kamloops and had been known to sabotage HBC traps or steal the quarry from them. Hux wondered at their fight. Even if she’d shot him once and a half how had she slashed his face? Ren didn’t carry a gun because he thought them inelegant but he was a dab hand with a knife, and his fists. But he'd allowed her close…
He had to help Ren to sit, then to stand, and even still he staggered. He made a pathetic attempt on his own but couldn’t walk for his frozen feet and finally leant heavily on Hux, his great fur stinking of blood and sweat, the big ghost animal he made to haunt him on account of his own delicateness, as the carrion birds descended after his blood upon the snow. They rode together homewards to the fort and upon their arrival Hux found to his chagrin Ren had passed out again leaning against his back.
He was brought to the surgeon’s who refused to treat him on account of some since-misremembered drunken slight and slipped out through the door toward the tavern leaving Hux with the patient in the cold room. He stoked the fire and searched in vain for whiskey. Ren woke again when Hux pressed around the torn fabric on his shoulder. “You’ll need stitches,” said Hux.
“Where’s the surgeon.”
“He refused to see you,” Hux said, feeling his temper rising, “so unfortunately you’re stuck with me. Get your mess of an outfit off so I can stop you bleeding fuckin dry.”
“It’s damn cold in here, captain,” said Ren, practically spitting the honorific. Though they had been hired by HBC around the same time Hux had been promoted quicker and he’d long suspected it was a sore spot for Ren despite his utter lack of leadership skills and social graces. Hux could tell in his heart Ren preferred to ride half a day ahead and scout for Indians and rival trapping bands, marshes rife with mink and fishercat frozen under the white dead sky, footprints in the snow, no sound, no smell, no fire — endless wind, and his own black shadow — and then expostulate upon the journey ahead cryptically to his increasingly unsettled and irate underlings. But yet he pretended loftier positions better suited him.
Indeed it was cold in the room. “It’s warming,” Hux lied. In fact the draft through the panes of the cloudy blown-glass windows was abominable. He pulled the tearing drapes and lit a gaslamp while Ren cast piece by piece his seemingly endless heavy black layers — mismatched wools, pants oiled with duck fat to keep out the water, pelts haphazardly sewn, arrayed in jigsaw — upon the floor with more effort than was strictly necessary. Buttons clattered. All of it could have been said to have been ruined rather long ago. Finally he divested the largely destroyed long johns he peeled from his skin tenderly about the bloody torn places and cast as well to the floor. Then he lay back upon the banquette where the surgeon did his stitching and amputating and measuring of laudanum. He was flushed where the blood was coming back to him in the tentative warmth but his fingers were pure frozen yellow-white, and his toes and bizarrely his knees, and the lobes of his ears and the tip of his nose. When he leant gingerly to the floor to dig up his black pelt from his pile of clothing his long body was all skin and sinews, marked here and there by bruise or scar or birthmark like some hex sign or archaic rock carving, all his sharp angles shadowing in the golden lamplight, and Hux felt his temper or perhaps some other thing, heretofore hibernating, skyrocket like a thermometer placed underneath a tongue…
The fur Ren arranged for his modesty over his crotch and thighs. Hux saw from some black hole of encrusted blood high inside his hip there was a great dark bruise spreading. “Tender place to be shot.”
“Well it’s only coming back now that I’m unfreezing.”
It was humiliating to be at his beck and call in any circumstance but especially with him naked and wounded. Still Hux went and measured an eyedropper of laudanum into a glass of water and pressed it into Ren’s frozen hands to drink. He kicked the surgeon’s three-legged stool over and cleaned the wounds where he could with cool water from the outside cistern and a scrap of cloth. He would have to wait to stitch Ren’s face until he passed out.
“You’re so gentle with me,” said Ren, having set the empty glass gently upon the floor. He must’ve been high for otherwise he wouldn’t’ve said it. “Like I’m ice on the river. After all your cursing and your bullshit and your withering stares.”
“We wouldn’t be able to find our damn way out of here without you.”
“You think no one gives me the time of day for any other reason?”
“I suspect it heartily.” Hux brought the gaslamp closer. “I’ll have to clean all these out with alcohol and sew em shut. So you might not be calling me so gentle then.”
“I’ve had worse,” said Ren, big dark eyes swimming wet in the lamplight, “and without laudanum.”
Hux cleaned one of the surgeon’s thick curved bone needles with alcohol and strung it with sinew and Ren watched him, mouth just open. He was not sure why he asked, but he did: “Tell me about the worse if you can.”
“This I sewed up myself,” said Ren. His voice was little more than breath with the drug. Hux did not see which scar he indicated because he hovered at the wounded shoulder wondering at the tearing of the flesh. At the dark bruise blackening, the freckles within the spreading wounded cloud, the jagged edges… and Ren’s strange warmth, and his smell, like old sweat, and blood, and a cookfire — a wind smell, cold, carrying with it the distant pines. “Northwards in the woods. On the edge of the — ”
He covered his mouth to keep from crying out when Hux pressed a cloth soaked with alcohol to the wound and his brow furrowed and the corners of his eyes in pain.
“On the banks of the Yukon. I’d lost my party. Got separated, drunk, an elk charged me, eight point rack, peeling — peeling velvet. I never found them; they’re likely dead. Likely fell in…”
Another of those Ren looks, blurrier this time — as though it and everything were clear as some glacial river. “Just in.”
He swooned again when Hux withdrew the slug from his side with tweezers and the blood loosed like a tide from beneath the skin deep and rich and seeming endless for a long frightful moment until Hux stemmed it. With Ren asleep he could burn the wound out against infection and continued bleeding with black gunpowder and a sulfurous match. Then he cleaned the wound upon the face with alcohol and stitched it too. Like some priest of Egypt he bound what he could of his work when he was done in the cleanest fabric he could find in the surgeon’s rooms. Then he wrapped the pale body in its greatcoat and called for the strongest men among his company to carry it to his own captain’s quarters at the edge of the palisade.
As he pursued them and the burden they carried between them like a dead man with the feet still bare and overlarge and the toes crooked and blue-white from too many freezings he thought he understood what Ren had meant when he said his old company had fallen in. There were lots of places you could set foot in the North woods that would swallow you and even if your body came back some other piece of you would not. He had long suspected Ren himself to have fallen in, such as it was, to have lost some of himself out there irreconcilably, to have been relegated long ago to something perhaps neither greater or lesser but simply different. Certainly he had had enough occasions to have done it. And naked he was enough of a jigsaw with old scars to have had something cut out in there that Hux could not see.
He had them set Ren like a sack of potatoes in his bed and he threw his mismatched and moth-eaten blankets haphazardly over the body and set to work on the report to send back to Snoke in Ottawa. A storm moved quickly over the mountains to the East smudging a great gunpowder shadow across the dead land and in Hux’s bed Ren stirred on occasion like a saint in the throes of ecstasy stretching the red mark across his face when his dreaming furrowed his brow. Hux watched past the body — the long ancient scars down the back like rainwater upon glass, strong in the shoulders from the heavy packs he carried, the long lank hair rather like some warrior brave of legend, across his long neck in unwashed waves kinked from his hat — at the snow ever gathering in the Eastfacing window.
He must have fallen asleep in his chair for he woke in darkness with his cheek pressed against his unfinished paperwork and when he looked up he could see by the dim scattered gaslights outdoors that the storm had come over while he slept and laid a soft white frost upon the ground that had begun to stick and layer. The wind blew what had fallen and the swirling hypnotic vortex of heavy flakes in the sky into peaks and drifts and guttered in the gaslight and shifted the papers upon his table, and Ren was sitting in the bed having shifted aside the curtain to behold the storm. He had crossed his good arm over his chest to press the wound upon his side with his fingers as though to confirm Hux had really pulled the bullet out.
“You’ll tear your stitches,” he said.
Ren looked at him, then back toward the mountains in the window.
“You want a little laudanum?”
He’d’ve denied he kept a personal supply but it was in his desk drawer. He was prone to headaches. “No,” said Ren.
“You must be in pain.”
“I don’t mind it.”
“How do you not —”
“Most people have not enough pain in their lives; don’t you agree.”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
Outside through the wide window the wind blew the clouds apart for just a moment and through the snow and the frost and fog against the window the moon was full and golden illuminating the snow and the woods and the spiraling smoke from the mess hall, the tavern and the cookfires, the bed, the tangled blankets, the knots in the wood floor, Ren’s long limbs, all the skin, skin like a map to something, bones, freckles, bound by the bandages, marked with blood in abstract patterning. Then the clouds shifted again and the room and the forest alike lost such definition.
“We’re in rather deep, I should tell you,” said Ren. Hux could see it hurt him to speak with the wound upon his face.
“Near on all the traps I saw of ours have been sabotaged. Or broken or stolen or whatnot. Goods probably taken from all of em caught somethin. I got to Little Fort. Didn’t go out my way but —”
“There should be hundreds on that route.”
“Saw about fifty. Forty of em smashed to hell. I hate to break it to you.”
Hux looked at his paperwork; already most of it was fudged. It hadn’t been a good season and they were up against locals with a vengeance for a few dwindling populations of skinny furbearers. “It’ll be both our heads for Snoke, then. That after even all that one of em got over enough on you to leave you for dead. And you supposed to be our great white hope.”
“I never — ”
“Well he sure as hell did.”
It was in the letter from Snoke that Ren had pressed into his hand upon his first arrival at the fort by way of explaining exactly what he had come to do. Verbatim, in Snoke’s square had: I think you will find Ren rather useful.
Of late he had only found Ren haughty and strange. Like some moody half-wild horse. Prone to fits of violence directed within and without. And even in the halcyon days when he had led the company — moving day and night in the driving snow, the wind, asleep on horseback, frostbitten, following with growing mutinous ire his incomprehensible whim — to the fecund broodlands of mink, fishercat, marten, wolverine, lynx, Hux and his men could not forgive him his eccentricities. He had heard others among the company speaking in whispers; they feared that even if they killed him he would find his way back to the fort to have his vengeance.
“You have to find me good for something,” Ren said, cocking an eyebrow, “otherwise you wouldn’t’ve bothered to clean my wounds, sew them up, have me carried to your rooms, offer me opium from your own illicit supply…”
It was true Hux doubted he’d find it at all easy to make his way out of this wilderness without Ren though logically he knew Kamloops was due Southeast and he trusted his own middling ability to navigate by stars. He wasn’t sure, though, that ease of exit outweighed Ren’s nature, and he was beginning to formulate why exactly he had gone to the lengths he had when Ren said it. “Forgive me my trespasses but you’ve been lookin like you want in this bed with me, captain.”
He leant toward Hux on the heel of his hand and though his mouth was just a little open — and there were goosebumps rising in the draft upon his arms and chest and belly, and his neck was a long pale line, and his hips in the shadows and the hollow darkness where they narrowed like some scrape of stone, exposed cliff, or like a tree struck by lightning, or like very old weatherbleached bones — there was something trepidatious deep behind his eyes. The gaslight’s weak flame guttered.
“What you suggest —”
“In fact it was your suggestion.”
Hux sat back in his chair. “You’re badly hurt.”
“Like I said I don’t mind it.” It was like he had thrilled to it, to the reminder he was wounded, it was in his voice. “Why don’t you come here.”
“So many reasons.”
“You don’t find me —”
“I find you somethin, alright.” But still he stood from the chair and he thought in the weak golden light Ren leant toward him just by some fractured degree, just enough it was like the air changed.
“Forgive me my lack of fuckin social graces,” Ren hissed. “And allow me to observe every goddamn excuse you’ve made has been utter bullshit and now you’re sweating. When I last took etiquette it was considered rude to lie even by omission.”
Perhaps it was the thought of Ren in etiquette class that did him in. He went to the bed like running some gauntlet.
Events progressed to the point Hux went desperately digging through his scattered essentials and found to his relative chagrin the only slick he had was the bear grease he used to oil his woolens for the wet season. For a moment he wondered at wasting it on fucking until Ren with all the long pale limbs resplendent in the bed bowed his long back, and the thick blades of his shoulders pushed toward each other shifting in the scars and the marks upon the skin, and Hux felt a rush of something wholly unexpected, some stupid tenderness in cahoots with the blinding lust. He returned to the bedside like some spectral visitor, palmed Ren’s flank, above the bandage, feeling the heat of the wound, and the rotting bruise crepuscular around it, Ren’s hurried breath expanding him, the tiny wheeze, the wince about his hurt ribs, and his open mouth, his teeth slipping against his lower lip… he was like some image out of some dream, good or bad Hux couldn’t fathom. He had Ren suck his fingers mostly for effect then dabbled them in the tin of bear grease thick and stinking and he swore when Ren heard the metallic sound of it he tensed. Silence but for their breath, and the wind.
“I had hoped you wouldn’t,” Ren said, voice choked, “get off on withholding.”
Hux could not say, I have been rather in awe of your body. This haunted wilderness thing you wear.
So he said nothing. Instead he touched the back of Ren’s thigh, the hollow at the small of his back. Pushed a thumb inside him, to see what he would do, then the second. Held him open, not sure why, except that his ears were ringing, or it was Ren’s aspen trembling, or it was the wind outside. It had been so long since Hux had done this that he had forgotten what it was like to wield power so absolute and tender. It was like a knife-edge thing and it only happened when you got lost.
What was he looking for inside this person? He replaced his thumbs with two of his fingers and then a third. Underneath him, Ren, a long keening sound from his throat, like some mourning birdcall. If he was looking for a way out of wilderness he had come entirely to the wrong place. Wherever he was going there was no coming out of and he thought he might have understood that now for a long time.
“Shh,” he said, “shh, shh.” He palmed again the bandage on Ren’s side; not to hurt, he was thinking, though it might’ve. He pressed his mouth against the ribs and the vertebra and lower until Ren’s whole wild being bound itself up and unraveled for him in some violent tectonic motion shoving ever higher the mountains to the East — and when he collapsed on his belly upon the blankets it took Hux but an embarrassing three strokes of his own cock before he came like in some heady snowmelt flood against the backs of Ren’s thighs.
Outside from the woods, coyotes. And the heavy clouds that moved against the moon. Ren’s breath slowed. Hux bent to press for some reason his lips against the temple where the fine dark hair was damp with sweat. His fingers he wiped clean inside Ren’s thigh. The dark eyes shifted; they were bloodshot at the corners. Then they closed.
He thought he should say something like, so you are a real living man. And some of you at least is in this room with me.
When Hux could rise he put the gaslight out. The moonlight patterned in scraps against the floor. When he lay down again in the bed Ren perhaps in sleep and perhaps not pressed their backs together so tightly Hux could feel the cold ridge of his spine and the ragged fabric of the bandages — and his strange heat, and his wind smell, and the edge of void in him (still as icefields, vacancy and presence) which Hux thought he felt truer and truer the closer he came to sleep, and when he slept he did not dream.
He woke at dawn to find Ren had thrown a skinny arm across his chest and from the scant glimpse he could catch through the pulled drapes there was a foot of snow upon the ground or more. Asleep in the dim light Ren looked almost lovely; Hux recalled with some embarrassment he had noticed it before. He disentangled himself against further consideration of Ren’s loveliness and dressed quickly and fought his way through the snow toward the surgeon’s for Ren’s salvageable clothing and a few makeshift bandages. By the time he got back to his rooms Ren was awake and crosslegged in the bed having somehow sniffed out Hux’s tobacco pouch and last few cigarette papers. Already the snow’s refraction off the sun’s white eye was sending needles through Hux’s skull and he was obliged to take a bit of laudanum in water. While he mixed it at his desk Ren watched him.
“You want some?”
“If you give me any more it won’t just be some.”
He sat beside Ren on the bed and drank and then dozed for a while and watched with his mind hardly processing as Ren got up, naked, cleaned his face, changed his bandages, dressed in his overlarge pants and flannel. Nothing underneath for Hux had burned the ruined long johns in the surgeon’s hearth. “For you, later,” said Ren, smiling. He sat beside Hux on the bed and massaged his temple unhelpfully, and his ragged fingernails snarled in Hux’s hair. “Are you in there?”
“No,” Hux managed.
Ren touched Hux’s belly and then cupped the crotch of his pants and his hands were very cold and the look he had upon his face was feral. “I have plans for this,” he said, “when you can get it up again.”
“Is that so.”
He was stroking Hux’s hair from his forehead. Fingerpads in the soft behind his ear at the bend of his jaw. “Plans,” he said, like he had found them somewhere carved in stone. He touched the hollow of Hux’s lip. Then he stood and adorned himself like some ancient druid priest in his black furs.
“No time,” Hux tried, though he knew he would make it. “Oughta ride out after — ” He couldn’t array it though he saw in the forefront of his woozy fragmenting mind the notions of them — the girl and the traitor and the independent cooperative with the burnt firemark sigil sparking behind his eyes. The single vertigo whiteness of the earth and sky and the pelts of their quarry and Ren’s skin.
“I can get the men together,” said Ren, which was unlike him, and Hux would’ve been concerned about it possibly were he not quite so high. He entertained giving orders but couldn’t think of any. Regardless, he thought, if he had issued them Ren likely would have ignored them anyway.
When he managed to collect himself again it was midday. He had a cigarette and watched at the forest. Ren came back at dusk tracking snow and the frozen wind inside with him and Hux found with mortification he was mostly hard already from the hours of anticipation. The rest of the bear grease was rapidly squandered.
In the night Ren stirred.
“I was walking… it was like I was dreaming and I was in an old house and I came to a door. And I leaned as hard as I could against it but someone on the other side was pushing back.”
“Is this a riddle?”
“No,” he said, “Don’t you want to know why I’m like this?”
Hux withheld, not particularly.
“There was this thing pushing against the door. And then finally I learned it was a real man.”
“Inside your head?”
“No. Well — not only. First inside my head and then in my real life.”
He wondered what sort of man given Ren’s proclivities. “Don’t you have to give permission for the devil to possess you?”
“Not the devil. And anyway it turns out you don’t.”
Hux mulled it over. He thought it certainly was a riddle regardless of whatever Ren said. He had lost all other language. Even the sounds he made while Hux had fucked him earlier (two fingers pressing into the crepuscular blood spot in Ren’s bandages) were a sort of riddle. Not for the firs time he wondered if Ren was sick — if Snoke had broken him out of some bedlamite snakepit in Ontario and thrust him Westward to wreak holy havoc. Or if he’d addled himself with opium enough years back he’d fully saturated.
“I got through the door,” Ren said. “At least I think cause anyway now I don’t know where the hell I am.”
“South Cariboo,” said Hux, admiring suddenly the long pale body loose with sleep, the freckles and the bones like a jagged field of snow. He turned on his back — ran his knuckles down the long flank. White and shapely as hills in shadow. “In bed with me.”
“I mean metaphysically,” Ren protested, but he shifted toward Hux like a flower and then he let Hux bat his knees apart. “You don’t think about things like this.”
He was open still, wet inside, warm as blood; Hux had never done this. It seemed not much care needed be taken because it seemed not entirely definite that either of them were really awake. When he pushed inside again Ren’s mouth opened and then it closed and when Hux lay flush against Ren’s back he felt their heartbeats staggering off each other like distant gunfire…
He searched the smoke. Beneath him Ren shifted. Tidal motion. “I feel here,” Ren said, “with you —” He cried out. He brought Hux’s left hand again to his wound. “I know I’m here. And this world is real.”
He licked Ren clean when he was done. He couldn’t breathe. He thought he was in love for a second. Then it passed like a cloud upon the snow. Beyond the thin walls the wind was howling. Ren reached for him and they kissed and his hand was against the small of Ren’s back. Must have been cold. The hair was standing up on the back of his neck.
When he woke he couldn’t tell the time by the sun because there was none. The sky was a uniform white-grey. Ren was already awake and beside Hux in the bed he was silently inspecting his hair.
“You’ll wanna be going out,” he said. “We’ll make it to Horse Lake by night.”
“You’re coming with?”
“You’d get all but two miles outta here without me.”
Hux, hating him, knew it to be true. “Fine.” He got up. In the bed Ren stretched his back and legs writhing like a cat as though he were as yet unfucked enough for his own liking. Then he rose and dressed in his own black things he had thrown the night previous upon the floor.
He was holding out his first two fingers as though Hux already had one rolled somewhere.
Of course he did not but of course he rolled one and they shared it and then Hux couldn’t find his laudanum. And following that they were rather both of them surprised when they went outside and found Hux’s men in a bedraggled livid tangle red of face upon the stoop with pitchforks.
They were unconcerned or perhaps even unenlightened of his and Ren’s liaisons abed and what they had concerned themselves with was Ren’s having given them orders parsed with threats and the spillage of a whiskeybarrel the day previous. It was occasion enough for mutiny, though some were skittish as horses at Ren’s looks as though he were really a sorcerer. They were emboldened by their knowledge he didn’t carry a gun.
They were herded from the settlement without provision at the points of pitchforks and behind them the palisade was barricaded. Jeers were shouted that smudged against the stiff wind. Ren turned surprisingly without comment and stalked off through the snow thick to his thigh like a cloud of bats, his hair was loose and wild, and beyond him the forest was a corpse-flesh grey. Hux followed in the deep trough of his tracks. And by the time they had come to the treeline they had lost sight of the palisade behind them in the white ice lifted by the wind. There was blood left pale in Ren’s lips the final color in the universe.
Of course he understood for certain now he would never make his way back out. There was nowhere left to go from here but deeper.