East of the city, toward the rising moons, the soil thinned. The Church of Arya’s Favor stood among the mansions and palaces of Lower Falls. Not far southwest, the Clockwork Gods had left part of Meru unfinished. Down there the Thorium Mountains, the paving stones of the maker gods, gave way to ancient gears of white adamant, between which lay a thick fog. One could stand on the edge of rock and hill, and look down to twisting clockwork and bending springs, where the fog flowed like water and fell into a dark and sunless sea. If you stared down there long enough, you could see veins in the fog, like it was gum tissue receding from the gears.
But I had no intent in going in that direction. North the Thorium mountains stood above the Lower Falls, and east they petered out into hills and basins. Between those hills, the soil lay thin. I ran up and over a long foot of the mountains, down the other side into a narrow valley between tall, blocky hills, and started putting miles on my shoes. The road ran straight and smooth, unmarked with potholes or divots.
At first, by the ridge and not far into the hills, alluvial flows from the mountains had distributed some dirt among the valleys. Once past the first ridgeline, that stopped, and the great square blocks of thorium that made up the bedrock lay exposed. Thorium fluff and moss grew in the cracks between blocks, etching the rectangular crystals like mold on bread, but they hadn’t broken the stone up enough to turn it into dirt. At best they’d made small-grained gravel. Here and there the weeds had managed to take root in that, but growing in pure thorium burned them out before they made it to great size. Charred bracken, crisp grass, fried dandelions, and baked cactus crumbled beside the road, evidence that a fire had come through here recently and ignited the unstable thorium weeds. When they rotted and fell apart, they’d become more soil which would dilute the powerful stone. Layers of dirt would build up over time until the ground had a thick layer of loam, thick enough to support trees like in Lower Falls. Now I ran through dry, stark terrain where huge, crystalline stones lay exposed, glowing faintly blue or white but getting brighter as the sun set. I kept passing in and out of shadows, and felt like I was running between a hundred night times and twilights.