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Story Notes:

I interrupt my regularly (sorta) scheduled updates to bring you something fluffy; not punch-through-clouds soft, however, not prophecy-of-doom-incessant-sublevels-of-hell dark either.

Direct your blame and head-shakes of disapproval to an old black and white photograph depicting a dilapidated old wreck of house situated neatly at end of dirt road. Every picture really does tell a story.

Author's Chapter Notes:










I have walked a stair of swords,
I have worn a coat of scars.
I have vowed with hollow words,
I have lied my way to the stars
Catherine Fisher

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Gautama Buddha

"On the road from the City of Skepticism, I had to pass through the Valley of Ambiguity."
Adam Smith

“If the road is easy, you're likely going the wrong way.” Terry Goodkind









      It was dusty and narrow, peppered with fissures, and precisely one hundred forty-two miles from the epicenter of rural sprawl; the ingress dissected a three hundred acre farmsunflowers as far as the eye can seeand ribboned skyward through the remote countryside with a single purpose.

Its end propelled her forward, on across the Rubicon, and was not an end at all but rather a beginning.

Some lone traveler might have found the absence of turnabouts rather disconcerting. There were only the ridiculously steep, lateral trenches chiseled with precision into the rugged, undulating terrain; those cavernous ridges set the road apart from the land so that it felt instead like an island, an entity entirely separate from the land, from the rest of the world and made the decision feel concrete, final.

There was, however, a way out; in fact, there were twoneither of which were without their disadvantages and at least some degree of discomfort: one could throw the gear into reverse or simply travel on and about-face at the end.

And after twenty-some-odd miles of bad road, that end was finally nearing; at the pinnacle, the landscape transitioned dramatically: sun-parched pecan grovesdotted with dandelionsflanked the weathered dirt road and off to the right stood a rather large and sprawling tree whose trunk was fused into a massive stone.

A tree fused to a stone. Symbolic.

Jarodalways trying to send a message.

He was her anchor, her rock, notwithstanding their respective adversarial inheritance; the storms could bend and snap and carry her across the world but just like those sinewy roots cemented in solid stone, she was rooted to him; their souls were fused and it was impossible for one to be carved away from the other without them both sustaining damage.

Embracing that truth had never been easy, nothing had, and as per status quo, if something can go wrong, it will; it had.

In the weeks following Carthis, Mr. Parker had been memorialized with a small service. Life goes on, he would have said and life hadat least until Raines discovered Angelo sending a cryptic fax to Jarod.

Some say the blatant disloyalty had driven Raines mad. Parker would have said the wheezing waste of skin-grafts had never been sane, or even alive. He was the thing of children's nightmares, Parker's nightmares; he'd instigated and presided over almost every single tragedy in her life.

Angelo's murder, howeverunder the auspices of the Triumvirate had been the final indignity, an atrocity that Parker couldn't abide. With a jaw set in determination, the avenging angelher wings broken, not bent like Jarod'sleft the Centre behind and the dust in Sub-level 28 soaking up Raines' blood.

Parker had then quite literally wiped the slate clean on her life and taken off. She knew Jarod had been searching for her. They all had. She'd been searching too, searching futilely.

Three years, ten dozen cities, twenty-two countries, six continents, every nook, cranny, corner and no peace to be found.

No comfort.

No Jarod.

The missing piece.

It's always found in the very last place one searches. Introspective scrutiny, a peek inside. He'd been there all along.

And waited still.

Just beyond a young maple tree, the dirt passage splintered; to the left, the road curved sharplywhere it spliced with yet another path that dead-ended at a wall of red clayand spiraled around a tree.

A pair of Crepe Myrtles stood straight ahead. Parker observed their blooms eddying about like dancers or lovers.

This is it.

The turning point, the place where a wayfaring soul can return from whence he or she'd come. And that's the choice Parker might have made. Once.

She pushed stray locks of hair behind her ear, surveyed the land, the house, the scarcely frequented flagstone path that unfurled before her like a welcome matlike a promise, like hoperight up to the front porch of the old Cape Cod, and, to Jarod.

Parker pulled the car to a stop, dragged in a fortifying breath, and she chose the path less taken.




Chapter End Notes:

I want to end it there. After such a long and fraught lead-up to all things icky and gooey, however, Lady Muse is adamant about the "they kiss and live happily ever ooey-ly" part of the story.

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