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In the Broken Lands

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."
"Nor me."
"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?"
The girl lifted her hands. "I cannot touch anything without harming it. I have never been hugged. My parents handled me with metal gloves. I heard the elders in my settlement say that perhaps someone would buy me for a soldier. Market day is coming. I do not want to be sold to some lordling for his army."
"Were you born this way?" the boy asked.
"Fortunately for my mother, no. I began to turn sharp as an infant. What about you?"
"I have been bleeding all my life."
"Does it hurt?"
"Yes." The boy wiped his eyes again. "I don't suppose you have seen a very large, very green marsh anywhere?"
"No. Nor any ice, either."
"The power is here, though," he said. "I can feel it."
"Where? In the wind? In the earth? In that moss? I feel nothing."
"Yet you sat on a stone shaped like an open hand. Why?"
"Stone to stone," the girl said. "Perhaps my fate is to sit here until I become one with the granite. Or maybe the hand will suddenly close and crush me to dust."
"No! Don't say that. That's horrible."
"And to be a bound soldier, forced to maim and kill people, isn't?"
"That won't happen. The power is here. We just have to find it."
"Good luck. I admit that when I started out from my settlement, I hoped to discover a spring of diamond water that would wear away my edges, or a meadow of downy flowers that would soften my skin. But there are no such things here."
"My bleeding is real," the boy said. "Your sharpness is real. Agreed? And neither my bleeding nor your sharpness is natural. Powers brushed against us and changed us from what we were meant to be. So the powers must be real, too."
"Oh, such logic. But even if the powers are real, that doesn't mean they're within reach."
"They are. In the air, in the earth, in the heaps of rubble and ashes, and yes, in this moss, which I don't think is really moss, since it has tendrils."
"Your eyes are bleeding more."
"I know," he said. "I believe the old woman in my settlement found a cairn of ice in a vast, greener-than-green marsh, even though I have seen no marshes. I think the powers show themselves in different ways to different people. I feel a power quite strongly in this very place."
"Are you saying you can see something?"
"I think you can, too."
"Other than a lot of ruins, all I see is you."
"You traveled here because tales of the Broken Lands are told in every settlement, every village, everywhere human people still cling to the skin of the earth."
"Oh, yes. Tale piled upon tale, a mountain of fictions. Where are the marshes that glow green? Where are the whispering trees? Where are the bands of Rat Folk, with their mazes of warrens and their forges on which babies' teeth are hammered into swords? I see nothing here but the rubble of a city that fell ages ago."
"We do not see marshes or trees or springs of diamond water, because that is not what we need to see."
"You speak like a priest now, and every priest I have ever met has been a liar."
"You said you could see me. So look. Truly look, not just with your eyes."
The girl made of shards lifted her head and gazed upon the bleeding boy. He stood on his mound of rubble. She sat on her hand of stone. A breeze blew from the east, ruffling his hair, fluttering his clothes. Blood streamed down his cheeks. He did not wipe it away, but allowed it to coat his face and soak his shirt.
Perhaps an hour passed, perhaps a minute.
"Come here," said the girl made of shards.
The bleeding boy climbed down from his mound and made his way across the dips and rises of the ground, jumping over the narrower crevices, circling the wider chasms, until he came to the granite stone.
The girl made of shards stood up. She touched the boy's blood-soaked shirt with one pointed fingertip. When she withdrew her hand, she gasped, for the arrow point had rounded and softened to a human nail.
"You see? We've found it," the boy said. "Now hug me."
"Wait. First let me try to stop the bleeding."
"No. My blood is the power that can cure you. If you stop it now, there may not be enough to heal you."
"If your blood is the power that can soften me, then my sharpness is the power that can staunch you. If I lose all my sharpness, you will keep bleeding." She reached for his face.
He pulled away.
"We do this together, or not at all," she said.
"Have you always been this stubborn?"
"Always."
He sighed. "How can I argue with a girl made of shards? Together, then."
She placed the sharp palms of her hands over his eyes; he wrapped his arms around her.
Perhaps an hour passed, perhaps a minute.
When they let go of each other, the bleeding boy no longer bled, and the girl made of shards bore soft skin, except along the ridge of her spine and on her feet. "Turn around," the boy said. "Maybe I can wring a few more drops out of my clothes," but his clothing was dry.
"It's enough," the girl said. "Look. Do you see that fountain? It wasn't there before."
"Or we just couldn't see it before."
"Maybe it came so we could wash."
The boy followed her to water that was neither diamond nor fire in disguise; after they'd bathed, they held each other again. "It seems we've discovered a new tale of the Broken Lands," he said.
"Discovered? We created it," she said.
"Will you tell it?"
"Oh yes, and so will you. But the first people to hear it should be our children."
"If you say so," the boy said, and kissed her soft lips.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 20th, 2015

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