Weary. So… weary. Weariness that weighed her down like stone, trapped between the waves of a rushing river.
Keep moving, say the waves and the wind. Flow to the sea with us.
I cannot, she replies. I cannot move as you do. All I can do is wait for you to erode me. You are turning me into nothing, and soon I will no longer be a stone, but merely sand.
Erika lay in bed exhausted, too tired to get up and yet too restless to sleep. Everyone had a job for her–something always needed to be done, and they always seemed to believe that she had to be the one to do it. But now she was too tired. Tired of politics and fighting and quests. Tired of plots and strategies and betrayals. They had worn her down, and now she felt as if she were becoming sand–small fragments of herself. No longer whole.
She could not recover from this. She could not continue with this life. In this way, at least, she could not go on. Something had to change.
Without thinking or deliberately choosing what to do, Erika rose. Her body acted of its own accord, performing a series of movements so natural to her that she barely even recognized she had acted at all. Unconsciously, she put on traveling clothes–her signature boots made from the nearly impenetrable hide of a mountain lizard, flowing tan pants, a simple forest-green tunic, and a warm, earthy-brown cloak. She grabbed the pack Nick had designed and made especially for her, and stuffed supplies into it. As she attached her bow and quiver to the back, she thought of him for a fleeting moment–how creative an engineer he’d proved himself to be—and a glimmer of warmth rose in her, but then her mind seeped back into its dull emptiness.
Her movements were as silent as the clouds as she slid from the window and dropped to the street below. Normally, she would have made a visit to the kitchens for rations, and collected her horse and falcon to take with her, but on this journey, she needed to be alone. Things had always been better when she’d been alone, fending only for herself and chasing quests that only she cared for. Before anyone needed her, or wanted her around.
She dashed to the edge of the woods and then slowed her pace to move carefully through the trees. Years ago, traveling through the forest without company or responsibility was all she had, and all she wanted. But then she gained too much, and lost too much, until now, the only thing to do to save her from her weariness had to be this–a return to the forest. A return to solitude.
She marched south, not knowing or caring where her feet might take her. For the first few days, she struggled, and at the end of each day she found herself hungry and exhausted. But as each day the sun rose, she became more and more aware that she didn’t feel quite as weary as the day before. She could walk longer, hunt more efficiently, and gather food from the land with greater ease. As she traveled south, the heavy clouds that blanketed the sky slowly began to dissipate, and as the days passed, the skies began to clear until one evening, the sun’s descent into the ground made the sky beyond the clouds catch fire and erupt into layers of reds, oranges, purples, and blues. The clouds seemed to retreat in response, leaving an uninterrupted expanse behind them in shining victory.
When the day darkened, Erika saw her first star in months. Laying on her back and staring at the darkness above through the trees surround her, she noticed a twinkling light emerge from the depths of space, revealing itself to her. She fixated on it–and its remarkable beauty–and watched in awe as more stars appeared. It had been too long since she’d seen her old friends. As the heavens continued to darken and become dotted with more and more stars, another wonder developed. Colors–colors of all kinds grew and swirled around the stars, curling under constellations and leaping over small clusters. The turquoise of a tropical ocean, the warm orange of a glowing fire, and deep violet, mint, and amber.
The Nebula. She must have traveled weeks if she were far enough south to see the dancing hues of the nebula surrounding the planet. Nick likely knew exactly what caused it, for nebulae would be exactly the kind of science that interested him, but for Erika, the power of the nebula lay in its beauty. And so, as she lay there exhausted amongst the trees, the weariness within her gradually began to fade.