In the Broken Lands
by Patricia Russo
The bleeding boy and the girl made of shards met in the Broken Lands, where no solid ground was flat, the earth was laced with crevices, and marshes glowed green even at noon. They were surprised to see each other, for ordinarily, people did not travel into the Broken Lands alone, but went in groups, led by experienced guides and accompanied by guards to protect them from lurking predators. People hurried through the Broken Lands as quickly as possible.
But that was normal people.
The bleeding boy and the girl made of shards took one look at each other and knew they had undertaken their journeys for the same reason. Though there was much less magic in the world than there used to be, it was well known that deep reservoirs of power still remained within the Broken Lands.
He was standing on a hillock of shattered concrete and brick overgrown with red moss. She was sitting on a granite boulder that might once have been the base of a statue, but which time and weather, or other forces, had shaped into the form of an open hand. "I wouldn't, if I were you," the boy called. "It's an obvious trap."
"Or it could be an invitation," the girl replied. Much of her skin was the same color as the boulder, and her fingers ended in points like arrowheads. Her nose resembled the edge of a stone blade. Her lips were slivers of gray marble, her chin a triangular wedge of faded terracotta. She looked like she had been put together by a stonemason on a drunken afternoon.
The boy, who bled from the eyes and had to continually wipe his face in order to see, said, "It's risky."
"Riskier for you, wherever you stand or sit. The scent of your blood carries far. It smells like burning hair."
"Nothing has attacked me yet."
"In fact," he said, wiping his eyes, "I haven't seen a single living thing since I entered the Broken Lands, other than this moss, and you."
"Perhaps the powers are shy today."
"Do you think that's possible?"
"I think that there are a lot of stories about the Broken Lands, and that most of them were invented by people who have never been within ten ligas of it."
The boy shook his head, which made droplets of blood fly. "In my settlement, there is an old woman who once traveled to the Broken Lands. She has great skill in healing."
"Not enough to heal you, obviously."
"She acquired her power by embracing a cairn of never-melting chunks of ice, which lies at the heart of the biggest, greenest marsh in the Broken Lands. But she is old now. Her strength has ebbed."
"So you have come to hug ice."
"Why have you come?" the boy snapped. "If you do not believe there are powers here that can cure you, why make the trip?"