There are prettier places to live. There are softer and safer places. But this place is ours.

A newborn man struggles to rebuild a house, a mind, a life. A young woman works by his side, healing from fresh wounds.


Death’s army is large and strong and deals harshly with deserters, but there are rumblings…

An asthmatic orphan and a recovering corpse drive into the city, afraid but full of purpose. The curious Dead gather from all directions, blown in by a strange wind, a scent of change.

There are disquieting shapes swimming in the depths, but the surface is peaceful: five unarmed ambassadors extending an offer of alliance. If there is a threat, it’s hidden somewhere behind those bright and earnest eyes.

The rotted hand of the old world order, reaching up through the mud of its grave to drag the world back down.

Despite the multitude of dark memories this place evokes, the few bright ones I built with Julie keep rising to the surface and painting a dumb smile on my face.

Walking through nostalgic halls, the place where a new life began. A few warm moments snatched between horrors, a love gathering itself for the trials ahead.

“We’re coming," I tell the world, squeezing Julie’s hand harder. “We’re ready for you.”

Fleeing one enemy to chase down a bigger one. Onward and upward, into the unknown.

A boy is walking alone on the highway…

A long journey on bare feet, tired, hungry, lost. A plane passes overhead—a fluttering of pages in an infinite Library. His compass needle turns.

We walk down into the black city, and though it was razed years ago, I swear I can still smell the acrid perfume of a thousand burned things.

The basement door creaks open. Secrets squirm in the shadows, hiding from the light.

…glittering lines and clusters, earthly constellations that finally converge into the ecstatic galaxy of a city, pulsing and boiling with life.

From up in the clouds, the world almost looks whole. Cities and streets. Fading echoes of a brighter age.

I feel a chill through the wall of the plane, like clammy fingers pulling at my skin. That lonely necropolis that we avoided from above is suddenly uncomfortably close.

An expedition into the oldest ruins of America. A sinkhole in reality. A city of ghosts.

She glances back at me and I see in her eyes that steel I admire so much, but I’m not sure I like the cold edge that glints in it now.

Anthem for a hundred-year-old girl.

The stubborn rage that keeps Julie afloat. A bravado that borders on madness, pushing her to keep kicking when her heart is begging to sink.

Something has to—

It occurs to me that Julie might want to die. The scars on her wrists prove the desire exists, but I’ve always believed it’s a harmless fossil buried beneath miles of time. Will this unearth it?

—break. An impossible dream, a preposterous cruelty. A girl unraveling.

I don’t know how to stop it. We are lost on old paths, caught in old snares. We should be walking side by side through these dark woods, but I feel our distance growing.

Hearts retreating into private caverns. Love stretched, frayed, hanging by burning threads.

How did this happen? Not even the wretch in my basement wanted to live in a world like this…

The world’s greatest city, rotting alive. Human cattle. Rabid wolves behind the big desks. Child kings. Madness as law.

In the musty shadows of my basement, a madman is muttering the story of his life. He slumps in a corner, his once expensive clothes filthy and tattered, his red tie darkened to brown, a discarded wretch telling tales of improbable glory.

The young heir to a hideous empire struggles to embrace his family legacy. But his grandfather’s skin won’t fit him. He can’t shake the guilt, the emptiness, the grief. It will take an even more powerful plague to make him the monster he thought he was…

I am almost gone. I am a head and a heart floating in space, surrounded by cold stars.

The last days of a young man’s life. A flight above a writhing planet. A final realization. A promise that transcends death.

…and should they ever decide to say something, it will be the new law of the land.

The storm clears. Bruised and bloody friends catch their breath, bracing for what’s next. The Dead watch, waiting for a sign they don’t yet understand. Earth’s mantle flows west.

Torn out pages.

Deep waters.

A song for R and J.

> > PART THREE > >