Snow fell lightly all around. It brought a quietness that was only broken by ice falling from tree branches nearby. It was eerie, but calming.
Ice crusted to the fur that circled my face. Snow slid down the leather on my back. The aching that had kept me company all these years was back. It kept me warm as the wind blew past my exposed skin on my face. Danger was near.
Arsan’s slow breathing stopped when I called his name quietly from the fireside. He startled from his slumber. “Is it morning already?”
“No. There is danger coming for us.” My palm reached for the fire, pulling it to me. It disappeared into nothing leaving us in darkness. “We must leave this place.”
As we crept toward the ledge that hid the cave from view below, I hoped that I was wrong. Maybe they hadn’t seen the light. Maybe they weren’t coming for us, but they were.
The edge of the cliff ended with a few spindly trees and a snow bank only a foot or two tall. Not much cover, but it would do. We crawled up to the tree line with our bellies on the snow, peaking over the edge into the ravine.
“There, coming through the trees.” I pointed off in the distance to the valley below. There was a slight movement, hardly noticeable at first. A spot of red amongst the white background of snow. Soon another red spot appeared, then another, ten of them in all. Their crimson red jackets clearly visible the closer they came.
“We need to go now.” Arsan pulled back from the edge but I lingered there, watching, calming my thoughts. “Tabri, hurry up.”
The wind grabbed at my clothes as we ran through the cold morning air. Dawn was approaching, but the sun had yet to make its appearance and the weather was still cold.
My boots sunk into the soft snow left behind by the night’s storm. Our journey was going to be difficult, labored. It would be a long hard journey and even if we made it through the mountains there was still the issue of the men that pursued us. What was to be done with them?
Quickly I called fire to the palm of my hand to light the way. Rocks covered the trail in front of us. They had fallen from high above, forced down the cliffs by the wind. More could fall at any time and crush us. Maybe even block the path that was quickly narrowing into a tiny ravine. There was an uneasy feeling about all of this.
The walls were tall all around us, towering over us like the shadow of night. My shoulders brushed both sides of the walls at the narrowest point. The cold stone felt like a tomb all around. Our footsteps echoed high up on the walls reminding me of the vastness of these mountains.
My body trembled with fear as we made our way through the ravine. What if a rock fell from above? I didn’t want to die here. This was no place to be stuck. The air in my lungs caused a warm mist as I released it, not even knowing I was holding it. They burned with panic, sucking in air to replenish its stocks. What was I doing here? This was insanity.
Small rocks up above our heads rolled down the cliff, showering us with stones and dust. My eyes squeezed shut in terror waiting for something bad to happen, something big to roll down the cliff. Warm hands clasped around my face. I opened my eyes to find Arsan’s gaze upon me. “Just breathe, Tabri. Focus, it will be ok as long as we keep moving.”
His fingers left my face but held onto my hand tightly. The warmth of his touch calmed me. Arsan didn’t let go until we had reached the end of the pass. It wasn’t much better on the other side. The narrow walls opened onto a cliff side were the path was only a foot or two across in the widest places. The drop below was obscured by clouds that sat, lingering in the crevasse. It was a long way down into an unknown ending. There was no going back now.
The sun peaked through the mountains as we slowly inched out onto the ledge. The wind was blowing harder here, threatening to knock us from the path. Arsan’s strong hand held mine without wavering, something that I was grateful for. I needed his leadership at the moment, or I wouldn’t be able to force myself onto the ledge. My mind pulled images of the last time I was on a ledge like this. I almost fell to my death. Even though Arsan had saved me, my injuries almost took me. The thought of that terror made my stomach turn.
We crept on, turning our backs to the rock face when the path became too thin for us to walk forward. The end was near. I could see where it widened up ahead. An inviting patch of snow that led up into the wide open mountain tops of the Erined province. Just a few more steps and we would be off the ledge and out into the open. I put one foot in front of the other, concentrating on each step.
My breathing became easier when I finally felt soft snow under my boots. I wanted to fall to my knees and roll in the snow, laugh till my heart was content. There was no time for rejoicing though. There was danger behind us. We must keep moving.
There wasn’t much cover this high up. The trees were sparse and the rocks didn’t provide much shelter. Every noise made me jump. I attempted to clear my head and kept climbing ignoring the ever growing burning in my chest. The danger was closing in on us.
Shouting from below broke the crisp silence of the morning light. They were male voices. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. They echoed all around us, through the mountain tops and in the valleys below. It was hard to make out exactly where it was coming from. I glanced over my shoulder. Down below in the narrow ravine were red jackets running single file through the pass. They flew through the narrow opening and out onto the small ledge with ease. “Arsan, we’ve been seen.”
An arrow whizzed past my face and stuck into the snow bank behind me. My body barely had time to react to it when another arrow pierced the ground in front of me.
“Run,” Shouted Arsan.
“No, wait.” I crouched down and placed my hands in the snow. The fire from my magic began to melt away the surrounding area until all I could feel was solid ground. My magic surged through me as a third arrow sliced the sleeve of my jacked exposing skin.
With all the power I could muster, I let it free into the ground. A rumble moved deep beneath us. It shook like a wave under my feet. Standing, my hand subconsciously found Arsan’s open palm again and grabbed on tight. We clung to each other for support as the ground shifted beneath our feet violently.
Sheets of snow cracked and moved all around us, some sliding down the mountain, some shaking in place waiting to fall. Fear gripped me. This was not what I had intended. We would be caught up in the rush of snow from above. There was a deadening crack as the snow drift above us broke away from the side of the mountain gaining speed and size as it rushed towards us at an alarming rate.
I didn’t know what to do. How could we out run an Avalanche? There was no cover, no trees, not anything to save us. I had never witnessed an avalanche before, but all the stories that I’d heard painted a grim picture for survival. All I could do was watch the ever growing wave of snow rush up to take us and realize I had killed us instead of saving us.
My arm jerked forward and suddenly my feet were running toward a tall rock formation. It took me a second to realize that Arsan was pulling me along, attempting to save us. The snow was deep. I felt bogged down in the soft powder. It was almost as if the mountain was trying to claim me. It tried to glue me to one spot so it could eat me up in the snow wave that was rushing toward me.
A new rush of confidence filled my body, the warmth in my chest giving power to my legs. I could swear I was running faster. This mountain wasn’t going to take me.
Step after step we pushed on, watching the ever growing wave of snow rush toward us. It was so loud I couldn’t hear myself breathing. Feet away, inches away. We leapt toward the rocks, our only chance for survival. I pressed my body against the cold stone just as the snow cascaded over our heads, a gust of wind blowing all around us.
I could feel the frozen air of the rushing snow against my skin. It was inches away from my face, reaching for me, grabbing at me. It was like we were behind a water fall, a narrow space that seemed like a prison.
My heart thumped in my chest, an internal screaming that I couldn’t calm. Was this it? Would we die here, buried in the snow? A voice inside my head said no. I still had so much to do, so much that I needed to learn. This would not be my death, but I didn’t believe my own thoughts.
A calming sensation crawled slowly up my arm and into my chest, my magic. It was taking over my body, telling me to breathe. It was warm and soothing. Arsan’s hand was still clasped tightly around mine. He stared into my eyes and I stared back, breathing slowly as the snow kept flowing over head. Again he had saved me, calm in the eye of the storm. How would I ever be able to repay him?
Just as suddenly as it had started, the cascade of white snow ceased. The last of the powder trickled over the edge of our hiding place, sprinkling our heads with dust. My breath escaped me in relief. I brushed the white powder from my fur lined hood and giggled at the thought of what we had just survived. It was a nervous laugh, and only helped to keep me sane, but it seemed like the only thing I could do to hold back the tears.
All was calm again. The morning sun shown down on the newly formed layer of snow. It shimmered, reflecting off the whiteness. Down the mountain side was a path of destruction. Uneven snow rippled in the wind and tree tops stuck out of the white without any limbs or needles to cover their bare bones. It was an eerie sight, one that was burned into my eternal mind. The cliff that dropped off suddenly was now a steep incline and the ravine just beyond, was filled to the top with snow. It was like it had never existed at all.
A realization that there were men trapped there amongst the layers of snow and ice, slowly suffocating, slowly dying. It pulled at my heart. I wanted to find them, to save them from their fate, but then again, they wanted to kill me.
What if they were like I was? Trapped in a situation more horrible than death with no way to escape? Maybe this was their release. They would finally be free. I would never know, but the more I thought about it I didn’t want to know. It was easier to think of them as killers, easier to let them go.
I had to stop thinking about death. It was driving me mad with all the “what if’s” and possibilities. Maybe this was what it was like to be an Artican? Death seamed to haunt me where ever I went. My parents, Delah and now these soldiers. They were consuming me, turning me dead inside. I needed to find a happy place before I was lost to the sadness.
“Come on, Tabri.” Arsan’s pained eyes beckoned to me. Was it possible he felt the same way? Alone in this world, bringing death to all he touched. “Let’s move on, away from these icy tombs.”
I nodded, unwilling to stay behind a minute longer.