A Credencium story
Kaolin Imago Fire
Start at the beginning of the Credencium series
Joshua knelt in the dewy grass beside Ashes, smoothing out her clothes.
Spike cleared his throat. "I hope you're not going to go all Gilgamesh on us, Dreamer."
"No. She's not in there anymore, I know that. I can see it clear as her flesh, after last night."
"So what, then?"
"Just working up the nerve, I guess. I mean, okay, we're here. This was my idea. But still...and we've got to keep anyone from seeing, and..." Joshua's voice caught.
John Doe sighed, and looked around. "It's reasonably empty, and I don't see anyone in a particular hurry to believe that three gutter punks are burying a fourth. Keep it together, Dreamer, and I'll help you hold it."
Joshua looked up at him, tensing instinctively at some strain in John Doe's voice. "I didn't do this, man. You know I didn't. No if-only's. And none for you, either. This is just another spin around the wheel for her, right? Enlightenment and all that. Maybe she'll be born in Tibet next time, recognized, like you were saying."
"It's funny. In Buddhism, it's considered a good thing to die before your master, your guru, because then they can lead you through it. I'm not ready for her to go. And I know I need to deal with that. So, yeah...but first, we've got to dig a hole."
Spike looked at the ground, scratching his chin. He grinned, slyly. "Good thing it rained recently, huh? Ground is nice and moist, shouldn't be anything special to dig into."
Joshua turned to him, confused. "I don't think that—"
John Doe shushed Joshua. "Yes, you do. Nobody's going to see us, and we're going to be quick because the earth is waiting for us to do this." He pulled two camping spades out of his pack and unfolded them, handing one each to Joshua and Spike. "Put your legs into it."
Joshua patted the last bit of earth back into place, and rolled the grass back over it. There wasn't even a mound of extra dirt—Phoenix had really wasted away, and, well, there was more than a little magic going on on top of that. The ground had been like butter under their spades, and they'd managed to dig a proper pit in no time, or next to no time, anyway. The sun had crept over the trees, and he was sweating a bit, but the city still seemed to be sleeping; muted.
He stood up, and looked down at the unmarked grave. The grass had practically sealed itself. Joshua opened his mouth to speak, but failed to find any words of import. He tried again, with the same effect.
John Doe just shook his head sadly, and turned to walk away. Joshua wondered if he'd see him again. He knew he wouldn't see him any time soon, knew it as if he'd known John Doe for years instead of months. John Doe had some walking to do. "Safe journeys," Joshua said, softly, to his retreating back.
Spike put his arm around Joshua, and he restrained himself from shrugging it off. "He'll be back, Dreamer. We might not be here, but he'll be back. He'll be okay."
"You know that?"
"I feel it. That's good enough for me, today. And now I think I need to get wasted, and forget all this. At least for a little while."
Joshua felt Spike's hand try to push him forward, and he pushed back. "I'm...I'm not ready, yet."
Spike shrugged. "Okay, man. See you flip-side."
Joshua sat down, twining his fingers through the grass. He wished he had Spike's reckless abandon. He remembered having it so very recently, but the once-welcoming emptiness was now an even more frightening abyss, where monsters lurked. No, he wasn't going there. Not anytime soon. And yet—
He twisted around, sure someone's eyes were on his back. A crow stared back at him, then leaped into the air, flying away.
A small, quiet voice, from deep in his head where the monsters lay, told him that it wasn't a crow, but he was too tired to force it, too tired to believe anything else. It was time to sleep, and pray the cops didn't catch up with him. Who knew life on the streets was so tough? Everybody but him, it seemed.
Days and nights blurred, and he let himself blur with them. Joshua just sort of melted into the street, sleeping where and when he felt like, finding people that would hand him food when he needed. Telegraph was his radio, his television, and he turned on, tuned in, and dropped out of everything else.
It all seemed to come easier, now. He didn't believe in reality as much, felt separated from it, and it was all the more malleable for that. Joshua had made a few half-hearted attempts to find some more five-methoxy, but people either hadn't heard of it, or made noises as if it had just dried up. He took that to mean that he just didn't want it badly enough. He stayed sober most of the time, anyway, not wanting to confront the twisty, inky horrors slurping through his subconscious.
It was a month or two later that he felt a presence that knocked him out of his complacency. Cerberus was watching him. He knew it as plainly as if Cerberus had walked right up to him and said hello. Joshua stood, turned, and stared back, arms crossed. He didn't know what was going to happen, didn't know what he was going to do, but he hoped he was ready.
Cerberus just nodded, and turned away, ducking into an alley. Joshua followed after, deftly walking through traffic that didn't even noticed that it slowed for him.
In the alley, they just stood, facing each other for a minute. Finally, Joshua gave in. "What do you want?"
Cerberus chuckled. "You still don't know how to play the game. That's a question I could spend the rest of both our lives answering."
"I'm tired of games, Cerb. Phoenix is dead. I might as well be."
"You're far from that, Dreamer. Anyway, I wanted to check in on you. I know you've got no reason to believe me, but I do care. About Ash, too. Things shouldn't have gone down the way they did, but—"
"But nothing! If anyone could have done something, it was you. But no, you were just an observer. That sapped me and took my shit, the first night I was here. And let Phoenix die. You might as well have killed her. I wouldn't be surprised if you did."
Cerb's expression hardened. "You don't know what you're saying, Dreamer. I know you don't, but you're not making this easy."
"Why should I make anything easy for you?"
"Because you haven't let go of the world, you've just deadened yourself to it. It's a child's step, a childish one, and you're going to have to unlearn it."
"That's where you're wrong. I don't have to do anything."
"Then why don't you just kill yourself, and get it over with?"
"Yeah. You're not there. I don't think you're the type, but you're wishing you were. This half-living is the closest you'll allow yourself. Look, Hunin and Munin have been shadowing me the last while. But our glorious leader couldn't spare them, today, and he's keeping me busy. I'm too busy to stop for long, and I'm depending on your skill to mask us; he knows mine too well."
"I told you things were complicated, Dreamer. Now they're even more so." Cerberus pulled a tiny black baggie out of one of his jacket pockets. "This is for you, when you're ready. You know what to do?"
Joshua stood motionless.
Cerberus tucked the baggie into Joshua's hand. "You know what to do."
Joshua put his hands in his pockets, and rocked back and forth on his heels. He certainly did not know what to do.
But he thought he might finally be ready to cry.
No. He knew what to do. He had to go back to that warehouse. He had to find someone to tell him where it was...or maybe he just had to follow the trail of distorted reality.
Joshua looked up into the sky, and felt the wind on his skin for the first time in a long time. Yeah, he could find it.
Story and image by Kaolin Imago Fire, Copyright 2011