It is possible, if you were to really try, to reach the West coast. To see ocean and to feel the warmth of the sun sinking low over the water. But it is a long journey, especially in winter.
The road in front of the Eternals’ Palace is swept clean every day. The sidewalks are lined with stone. Water runs down the smooth cut rock, directed to storm drains and sewers, and funnels into chemical treatment plants to make ready for drinking. The stone right in front of the gates to the Palace is so smooth that you can see your reflection beneath your feet like another version of yourself made of darkness and glass. But if you step off of that dark and shining stone, step onto the road, turn left, and walk, eventually you will reach the ocean.
The road West from Windrose City, the one that runs in front of the Eternals’ home, is crowded. Transports, pedestrians, military convoys with soldiers. The smell of gas and heat and dust is heavy in your nose. The road leads directly through the heart of West One. It is a bustling, hot, dry city full of factories and warehouses and lines. People come from all over the country to West One to bump into you, step on your toes, tell you to watch yourself. They come to wait in lines, long, winding, sweating lines, to reach the gate to Windrose City itself. It is a metal thing, with shining barbed wire and heavy iron gates. But you are headed the other direction, away from this gate, you are headed West.
The road will take you through the West territory. There you will pass little towns, a few almost large cities, and thousands of small villages with barely enough people to warrant the name, all called, West. West Two. West Thirty-seven. West Ninety-Nine. West 10,999. West 11,000. The people of West are hardy. They have seen winters that coat the world in white for months. They have felt cold that nibbles at your bones until there’s nothing left. They have tasted blood. They watch you as you pass. You watch them. And then, once you pass West 11,002, you will reach the Empty Places.
The road will continue on through this barren place, this great nothing. No one lives here. No one goes here. You are alone. It is a mere twenty miles wide of emptiness, but it runs a thousand miles north to south. It is an empty road itself. A protection, a barrier. There are no villages, no cities, no people to tend the wide green spaces. There is no sound but the wind and the lone cry of a coyote to the stars. There is no smell of oil, or sweat, or smoke, only water and earth and growing things in this wide, empty place. You hear only your footsteps and your heartbeat.
The road winds through these quiet places, and suddenly, if you are not paying attention, you will see the White Mountains rising out of the horizon like a coming wave. Legends say the Unseen lived here. But the craters where the bombs fell have been taken over by flowers. And the rubble from the explosions has turned to gentle hills and soft places covered with moss and tall bluegrass.
The road climbs the mountains. You continue up rock, up soil, up earth, until the world turns white. As far as you can see, everything is snowfall and clouds and the scent of pine and water and cold.
The road falls from the mountainside, suddenly from a precipice, tumbling down like a pebble. You follow the tumbling, falling road. It bounces this way and that way, until it slows on the gentle slopes and lazy hills on the western side.
The road leads through the Poisoned Wastelands. Here the snow melts to warm rock and prickly bushes and bright yellow geckos. You try to catch one, but it slips away.
The road winds through cities destroyed and poisoned by a war too many years ago. This stretch of earth was poisoned by bombs and yellow clouds and the Last Civil War. What wasn’t destroyed in the initial blasts was ravaged by the chaos of fleeing millions, but then was slowly absorbed back into nature. Old transports stand where they were abandoned, covered in rust, and nestled in vines and butterfly bushes. You pass buildings, homes, shops, libraries all turned to ancient ruins. Stone and steel remain, gently wrapped in downy moss and dainty vines. The bodies are gone, but the echoes of lives cut short remains. The fields are overrun, but gently so. The barns and storehouses are empty of their stock but full of bird nests and owls and rabbits.
The road once well-traveled is empty. You follow the road through ghost towns covered in grass and bright yellow flowers. The echoes of forgotten lives fade as the wind picks up — salt on the air. Gulls scream and whirl above. The ground crunches under your feet. Sand. Waving grass, tall and thin, on the crest of a hill. Blue sky.
The sun sets red over blue and green water, somewhere on the other side of the world.