I need to figure out what Raphael meant when he said the barrier is to keep me in.
"Sure," Nathan said, jogging over to the passenger's side of the car, letting himself in while the pastor sat down in the driver's seat. "Um, do you mind dropping me off near the edge of town?"
"Strange destination," Lawrence noted, adjusting his glasses before he started the car. "May I ask why?"
The writer shrugged. "I need to check something out there. It's... kind of personal."
"Ah, I see. Very well."
The drive was relatively quiet. Pastor Lawrence asked a few questions about how long Nathan had been in Virtue, and if he ever considered going to church. He told him about the Christmas Eve candlelight service that was coming up, reminding him that he didn't need to be Methodist to attend. "The service is just as much about being together with friends and family as it is about remembering the miracle of our Lord, Jesus Christ," he said. Nathan politely thanked him for the invitation, but left it at that. He wasn't sure how comfortable he'd be going to an unfamiliar church, of his faith or not. It was the crowds, and candlelight service would mean he would have to interact with strangers. Just thinking about it made him anxious.
Some time later, the sun low in the sky because of the shorter winter day, they reached the covered bridge that marked the edge of town. Lawrence pulled up to the curb to let Nathan out, but watched him with a concerned frown. "Are you sure you don't want me to wait? It's no trouble at all, and it is getting dark. Tonight we're supposed to get snow. Are you sure you'll be able to get home?"
"I'll call a cab," Nathan assured him, though he doubted he'd actually do it. "You've been more than helpful and I can't thank you enough for the ride. It's more than I could have asked for."
"Very well, then." Lawrence still seemed reluctant to leave, but he gave the writer a smile. "Be safe. I hope to see you in church some time."
"I'll think about it."
The pastor laughed, then closed the door. Nathan waited until he was good and gone before he turned his attention towards the covered bridge.
"Now," he muttered to himself. "Let's see if what you say is true, Raphael."
Nathan walked forward with careful, even steps. What was he worried about? It was just the edge of town; what was the worst that could happen? He mentally cursed himself for tempting fate with that thought, and quickly tried to compensate with thoughts of the worst that could happen: the bridge could give out from under him; he could drop dead on the spot; a storm could blow in suddenly and he could be struck by lightning. Weirdly, these thoughts made him feel a little bit better, as if thinking them had un-jinxed him from his false assurance that nothing bad could happen. But there was a sense of foreboding that lingered, and with ever step forward he took, he couldn't help but fell like he'd made a very, very bad mistaked.
"Just keep walking," he said, closing his eyes. Immediately, he snapped them back open. If he didn't watch where he was going, something might happen. He pushed himself onward. "Just keep walking..."
The sense of dread continued to build, forming a tight knot in his chest. Nathan's heart began to race. This was a stupid idea. He was going to die. There was no doubt in his mind that if he kept moving forward, he would be dead. The writer forced himself to ignore these thoughts. No. That didn't make any sense. He was only walking over a bridge to the edge of town. Why would doing that kill him? He had a terrible sense that these fears that were bombarding him were some sort of illusion, something put in place specifically to deter him from going to the edge... which only steeled his resolve to do so. If Raphael was right, and the barrier was to keep him in, what better way to discourage him from leave than praying upon his fear? It made too much sense to ignore, and the end of the bridge was only a few more steps away.
His feet had crossed the threshold of the bridge, placing him on the other side of the river on the road that lead straight out of Virtue. All of the fear and dread that had been trying to overwhelm him abruptly vanished, but was quickly replaced by something worse: the horrifying realization that Raphael had been telling the truth.
Instead of the road fading off into the distance, it instead was blocked. The city was surrounded by a massive bramble of thorns.
"Told you you were trapped."
Nathan whirled around, heart leaping into his throat when he heard the familiar voice. Gula stood at the end of the bridge, hands clasped behind her back, bright orange eyes staring at him intently. She smiled, but kept her grin in check while she watched him. "Trapped like me. Trapped like my sisters. I told you so, didn't I?"
"What is this?" It was all he could manage to say, pointing back at the wall. "What... what the hell is this?"
Gula shrugged, walking up beside him. "The barrier, of course. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out... well, some things do. Things that aren't bound by Lumiel's game can move through freely. But not me. Not you."
Sweet holy hell...