**Continued from Part IX**
“‘She’…” Rowan repeated as they came to another staircase. “But our… Our… I don’t want to say ‘soul,’ but whatever it is, it isn’t gendered is it?”
“No,” he told her as he gazed down the narrow stairway. The landscape around it was bleak, almost like a place that had long ago thrived but now had turned to desert. leaving behind only remnants of what it was. It was long and winding, and he could see that there were several places where the stones had crumbled away. “But you see me for the man that I was before my most recent death. It would be the same for your friend; we can ask for the name that she was known by in life, and they sill know her.”
Peter sighed and made a displeased face as he gave the stairs one more look. “The librarians,” he answered. “I think the library is down this way. Just watch your step and use the railing.”
Rowan nodded and followed him down. She, too, could see what terrible condition they were in and why he seemed so worried. The handrail was bent in many places, rusted over in others, and at some points completely missing. He took his time in guiding her down, making sure that each step was secure before letting her take it.
It felt strange to Rowan that no matter how long they took, the sky did not change. The only evidence at all that time was passing was that they were moving; surely being able to move meant that time was not frozen. But what about the body that she had left in the world of the living? Was it–
Rowan cried out, feeling a stone wiggle and give way beneath her feet. The ground rose up to meet her far faster than she it expected it to, and she felt the gravely earth grinding against her skin. Peter knelt down beside her, saying her name, but his voice felt distant. Weariness was creeping in all around her body, and she had to fight to keep her eyes open.
“This is why you can’t get distracted,” he told her. Put his arms around her and pulled her up. “Come on, we have to get to the library and get you cleaned up.”
Peter looked around and cursed under his breath. “You’re bleeding,” he informed her. “Living blood attracts trouble.” He began to guide her down the last couple dozen stairs, his arms still around her.
“Trouble?” Rowan asked. She immediately kicked herself inside for asking such a stupid question. Why was she so confused.
“Creatures,” Peter replied. “Things made of shadow, ready to devour anything that they can. They’re always starving, so even after consuming you they wouldn’t be happy.”
“Are they coming in on the wind?”
“That isn’t wind. It’s the flying shadows. You need to stop letting your mind wander or you’re going to end up stuck here.”
Peter hurried on as safety as he could, swatting at the air with one hand now and then. The wind– or shadows, or whatever it was– seemed to moan in Rowan’s ear, sometimes calling her name. She groaned and tried to ignore them.
When they got down to the last step, Peter hoisted her into his back and told her to hang on tight. She could feel the blood running down her leg and the shadows flying ever closer to it, trying desperately to latch on. Peter broke into a run moving through the next level of the decaying city as quickly as he could.
**Continued in Part XII**