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Jay squeezed Louis’s hands again, reassuring. “Okay,” he said. “That sounds good. Let’s count out the main city of Carcosa and the palace, then. If they’re heavily occupied, someone would probably have found it, like you said. Let’s discount the lake for now, too, ’cause… well, if there are other things living down there, same deal, and besides, I can’t think of how we could explore it anyway.”
“So that leaves the abandoned city?”
“Or the forest,” Jay said, “but I feel like the abandoned city… just feels more likely. If it’s a city made of cities lost to time, it makes sense that lost things might end up there.”
Louis nodded. “It’s as good a place as any,” he agreed. His fingers wound between Jay’s, clasping his hand tightly. “Let’s go, then.”
They headed toward the ruins, quickly passing under the damaged archway that had once been the entry to the city. If there had been a name on the plaque that still sat on the stone archway, it had long since been worn away; what was left there now was simply a rusted mess.
To either side of the path lay small cottages, similar to those he’d seen in the city of Ulthar, but with the bricks partially collapsed, the thatch rotted, smelling of wet decay. It was clear even this short a distance in that there were far too many buildings in this town to search each one as they came across them. This was a city, after all; it could take hours just to walk from one side to the other, let alone looking through each house on the way. And if, as Louis implied, all lost cities and towns ended up here, it might back onto another larger area—Jay wasn’t sure, but tried not to think too hard about it if so.
It was better to walk some of the streets and see if anything gave some kind of tell as to where to go. They walked briskly, looking around them as they went, watching for any signs of something different. Rarely—maybe once every twenty minutes—one or the other of them caught sight of hunched figures picking through the foundations of some building or another, scavengers of some kind looking for any goods that hadn’t yet been picked over. But since none of them appeared to have found anything, Jay and Louis steered clear.
More often, they saw strange creatures flying overhead, criss-crossing as if looking for prey. They had fat bodies, membranous wings, beaks, many dangling webbed feet. Looking at them made Jay’s pulse race, his heart squeeze in his chest, so he tried not to pay attention to them, and hoped they paid even less attention to himself and Louis.
And he tried to remember anything Aunt Grace had said about running away from monsters in dreams. Anything that he could use for a tried and true method to get away from those flyers—or the more mundane scavengers, or any other pursuers he hadn’t yet come across or hadn’t yet noticed—if they came after him.
But nothing came to mind. She’d always tried to save him, he thought, from the more terrifying things in her dreams. And even if she had said anything, this wasn’t the Dreamlands anymore. They’d only just used the Dreamlands to transition to this place, to dread Carcosa. His dream abilities, weak or not, were useless here.
After just under an hour of walking, they found themselves leaving behind the abandoned old village that they’d been walking down the main street of. The houses became fewer, though he could see more up ahead, and the cobblestone path turned to cement.
“We should press on,” Louis said. “The first area is the most picked-over. It’s still more likely something would have been found in the last while.”
They continued walking down the cement street into a much more modern abandoned town—but also much smaller. From where it began, he could already see the city center; it could have been a town in Massachusetts still, not unlike Kingsport. There was a tall white church, a grain silo, an old general store, a pub, and numerous houses. All were immediately obvious as abandoned, their windows blown out, lawns overgrown, paint peeling and wood decaying, holes in their roofs. Further along, he could see more buildings, additional houses, possibly a school.
Louis and he took a break when they reached the city center, sitting on the porch of the general store. “Thoughts?” Jay asked. “I mean, the church is suspicious by virtue of… I don’t know, being a church in this place.”
“Mm, maybe,” Louis said, distractedly. “But I think that’s more suspicious.” He pointed to a house.
Jay turned to look, then ducked, trying to hide his face as a number of those horrible flying creatures soared past low overhead, flying quickly, chattering to each other in a horrible tongue and moving with intent as they followed the main street themselves, further down. Louis covered Jay with an arm, tugging him closer, and Jay swallowed, waiting for his heart to calm.
“They seemed agitated,” he managed, when he could. “Moving in a group like that. We could check that out, too, if… I mean, if you thought it was safe.”
“I don’t know if it is or not,” Louis said. “I think those may be the Byakhee. Creatures summoned to perform tasks, so it’s possible they had some purpose. Though, many of them live around Carcosa and Lake Hali, I’ve heard, so they might be a wild flock. They can be injured or killed, but…”
“Can also injure or kill us? Yeah,” Jay said. “So should we go after them? Or look around here instead, in the church or maybe the store?”
Louis hesitated. “I really want to check that house out,” he said finally. “Something feels… wrong.”
“What do you mean?” Jay looked at it again. “It looks like a lot of the houses in Kingsport, like yours and mine. You find it suspicious because it’s familiar? I guess it is weird that a part of the lost city looks like it could be somewhere like Kingsport.”
“No, I mean, there are plenty of ghost towns in Massachusetts,” Louis said. “So that part’s not surprising, exactly. Because it’s familiar… it could be that, perhaps. But that particular house looks exactly like our houses. Don’t you think it’s suspicious? Miss Evans stole something, and we came across a place that looks exactly like the place she had lived.” And then, as usual, that intensity faded, replaced with some kind of disinterest. “Well, you’re right that it’s a common enough architectural style, and there’s no reason for it to be there in particular. It’s up to you. If you want to follow the Byakhee or explore some public buildings, I’m fine with that.”
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