As the sun set behind the mountain peak, Arsan lit a fire in the shadow of the summit with what little wood and brush he could find hidden in the rocky barren landscape.
The fire crackled and danced as it warmed my frozen boots and pink hands. My leather pants were crusted with ice, frozen stiff from our journey. I hoped they would soon melt so rest would be more comfortable.
I could see Arsan’s somber face, illuminated by the fire light. He had been quieter than I had ever seen him the last few hours before night fell. What was he thinking of? Was he trying to put the image of today’s events out of his mind like I was?
Ever since we left the monastery he had been quiet, barely saying a word. He looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, but wouldn’t confide in me. I felt like a burden to him, a familiar feeling that I had dealt with my whole life. I was a burden. Orphaned as an infant, taken care of by Delah. Not anymore. I would pull my weight, be useful, be a free woman. That’s how it should be.
“You should get some sleep,” Arsan picked at the fire with a stick.
I nodded and curled up on the ground with my back to the fire with a rock under my head for a pillow. That’s when I saw it, a flash of red just inside the ring of light cast by the fire. It was quick. Maybe I was seeing things? I had no idea what I had seen, but my mind was numb and exhausted. Watching the darkness for a while strained my eyes, but nothing showed itself. There was no movement at all.
After a while my eyes couldn’t stay open. Dreams of warmth and shelter overtook me. I was asleep.
I had woken when the moon was high overhead to let Arsan get some sleep. The night was darker than I had ever seen it, but being on the mountain made me feel closer to the stars. There were so many, all casting light back down onto the earth. Their bright colors seemed to dance in the sky.
When morning came the air was crisp and calm. The fire smoldered, so I threw on another piece of wood, our last piece, coaxing the flames to life. Its warmth wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep the winter away.
One thing had stayed on my mind the whole night, the flash of red in the darkness before I lay down to sleep. It was only a blur of crimson that rippled like a horse tail as it moved back into the black of night. I wanted to tell Arsan but would he think I was going mad? I decided to keep it to myself for now. It didn’t seem significant enough to alert him yet. It was more than likely my mind playing tricks on me.
It was a day’s trek, maybe more down the other side of the mountain depending on the weather. In our rush to escape we didn’t pack any food, there wasn’t time. We would need to try and gather what we could when we reached the trees. Some roots or some nettles. Delah and I had scavenged many times when there was little money for food, but it had been a long time. I wondered if I would remember what they looked like now or if they even grew this high up in the mountains.
Arsan stirred under his covers, rolling over so his face was warmed by the fire that was now burning bright. His features seamed soft and boyish in his relaxed state. I couldn’t help but staring at him, making note of every line on his face. So this is what an Artican looked like.
Pealing my eyes away from Arsan’s face, I wrapped my arms around my stomach. My arms tightened around my waist. “Stop growling, there’s no food right now.”
“You shouldn’t talk to yourself like that. People will think you’re crazy.” Arsan smirked from beyond the fire.
“Sounds about right.” A laugh escaped my lips. Lately I wondered if I was losing my mind. I had been on the run for so long the panic alone could make any strong man lose his mind.
Arsan sat up and wrapped his arms around his chest for warmth, the sleep in his eyes apparent. “We should move on soon.”
In the calm silence of the morning a loud growl rumbled past the mountain peaks. I jumped to my feet surveying the landscape. The familiarity of that sound flashed through my thoughts. I had heard it once before a few years ago in the low mountains of the south. It sounded close by. Arsan was on his feet next to me. “What was that?”
“Yeti.” I paused trying to listen, trying to watch. There wasn’t any sign of it yet, but their hides were cloaked in white fur, making them almost impossible to see in the snowy landscape of the mountains. They could be upon us before we knew it, and then it would be too late. Where was it? My eyes strained to make sense of the white all around me. There was nothing to break up the never ending nothingness. There was no sound, except for my quickly beating heart. We shouldn’t stay here. I pulled the fire to my palm extinguish it. “We need to be moving, now.”
My heart stopped as I heard the loud deep growl again. It was closer this time. Where? I couldn’t pick the direction. The wind was beginning to gust from the west. It had probably picked up our sent as we slept. It would come for us, to kill us and drag our bodies back to its cave to feed us to its young, a brutal death.
We were moving quickly down the mountain side. The snow was deep and our tracks stuck out in the untouched snow. The Yeti weren’t smart creatures, but they would be able to follow our footsteps. Anyone would be able to follow or path. I hoped the Yeti was the only thing following us.
We had to out run the beast. It would be fast with its long stride and large feet. It was more equipped to handle the snow than we were. It would quickly catch up with us even if we pushed as hard as we could. We needed to get away as quickly as possible. Gain some distance between us and find a place to hide. Snow surrounded us with only a few rock outcroppings scattered about, but nothing that would provide sufficient cover, but with the wind against us, the beast would pick up our sent no matter where we went. Our only chance was to make it to the tree line. If we could climb a tree to hide it might lose our sent or be confused enough to give up the hunt. It wasn’t much of a plan but it was the only one I could come up with.
Another growl sounded, echoing off the top of the mountain. My heart jumped in my throat, racing from fear. It was loud, right on top of us. I scanned the whiteness around me, expecting to see the savage beast bearing down upon us. Still, nothing was near. Where was it? It was too close for comfort and I still couldn’t lay my eyes on it.
There was a rocky outcropping just ahead where the rock face made a small cave of sorts. We could hide there a few minutes to catch our breath while the Yeti tried to pick up on our sent again. Maybe I could think more clearly if I could take a few deep breaths.
We crouched down under the rock. I sucked in air to my burning lungs. My chest was warm from the heat of my magic. It was throbbing in my body, trying to calm me. I was in too much of a panic for it to do any good.
“We can’t stop moving. It will kill us.” Arsan sounded panicked between each gasp of air.
“Shut up and let me think.” I snapped. My senses were starting to come back to me with every intake of breath. I muttered out loud to sort things out. “We can’t run from it, it’s too fast. We can’t fight it because we have no weapons. Our only chance is to hide, but the trees are too far away. We’d never make it before it caught up.”
Over my shoulder there was movement off in the distance. Not much but enough to catch my eye. It was there, the Yeti, about a hundred yards away. It sniffed the air, searching for us. Maybe we could hide from it here, wait for it to move away. I stared at it unmoving, not breathing.
Arsan glanced over his shoulder, trying to see what I was watching. He panicked at the sight of the beast nearby. Jumping back into me, I fell to the ground. I scrambled, trying to push Arsan off of me, but I feared it was too late. “Get off of me.”
We had created a tremendous noise, giving away our hiding place. The Yeti’s solid yellow eyes trained on us in a flash. I stared back, unable to move. There was no time left to think. The beast let out a growl that shook my bones. Mist formed from its mouth, from the heat of its breath. I could see the rage in its eyes as it prepared for a meal.
The creature bounded toward us closing the gap quickly. Its shinny white fur glistened in the sun making it hard to keep my eyes trained on it. At one point I lost sight of it as it disappeared and reappeared on the snowy mountain side.
My heart raced, jumping in my skin wanting to run free. I didn’t know what to do. We had come so far for this to be the end. My mind froze, unable to make a usable thought.
I felt the warmth of my magic surge through my body. It knew there was danger nearby and it wanted to take over. It was hard to let go, but I had run out of options. Taking a deep breath I let my magic run free. It flowed through my body, the warmth that I longed for.
Without thinking I stood from the cave, my hand stretched out in front of me. I could feel the magic in the air. It swirled around me and floated out into the world. The wind carried it towards the yeti.
There was a flash or red in the corner of my eye, but I didn’t take my gaze from the yeti. A voice in my head called to me, Delah’s voice. “You know what to do.”
Taking a deep breath I let my magic connect with the Yeti. At first all I felt was its primal need to feed, its hunger for flesh. It was hard to control. My mind slipped from conscious thought to darkness and back. The yeti was stronger than I was and I was losing control.
The beast bounded toward us, feet away from the kill. If I couldn’t control it there would be no where to run.
As the wind whipped up around me, Arsan placed his hand in mine. The warmth of his magic intertwining with mine, fueling the fire inside of me. I closed my eyes and with one last try poured all my strength into the mind of the yeti.
All went quiet around me. There was no movement, no sound but the swirling of the wind through the mountain peaks. Afraid to look, I peaked one eye open. The yeti stood a few feet in front of me, its hands at its side and its mouth closed in a strange smile. It just looked at me and I stared back into its large yellow eyes. The beast was mine.