Below the surface (Talia, p. 79)

The forest had given away to the sparsest of trees as she navigated the snowy slopes.  The icy chill seeped into her bones making it difficult to move.  Every step sent a jolt of pain through her body, but she continued on.  She could feel it calling to her, still distant in the mountain, but stronger here and its direction clear.  All she needed was a way in.  Snow covered everything and more than once she found herself crossing over her previous tracks.  At least she hoped they were hers.  For the first time since coming to these slopes she worried that she might not be alone in her search.

The comfortable warmth she felt in the corner of her mind was faint, barely a whisper, but she knew that if needed, it would answer in an instant.  She also knew if she called it, she may never be allowed to return to these slopes again.  So she pressed on in silence, hugging herself closely.

Stepping to the top of a short rise she found herself staring at the dark face of a stone cliff.  The unforgiving rock rose above her, frozen rivulets of ice marking it like the wrinkles of an old man.  To continue higher, she would need to find a way around and up.  The snow on the ledge had a thick crust, as if the morning sun on the rock collected enough heat to melt the snow above only to dribble down the face and freeze in pools as the evening shadows returned.  Her feet sometimes slipped, sometimes crunched as she stepped, carefully moving away from the edge.  Placing one hand on the cold unyielding stone, she spoke, more to herself than to the mountain.  “You keep your secrets well, don’t you.”  There was no response. Even the wind was silent for a time.

She took a step forward and the next crunched and cracked beneath her.  Her legs were through the crust, her fingers scraping against the rock but finding no purchase.  In an instant she was below the surface, sliding down a steep sheet of ice.  The fall was not far.  She rolled into a ball, tumbling as the cave floor came up to meet her.  The air knocked from her lungs, she lay there, listening to the quiet drip of water somewhere.

Her body protested every attempt she made to stand, but nothing seemed broken.  Limping across to the fading shaft of light offered from her entrance, it was obvious she would not be leaving the same way.  Her only option now was to move deeper into the mountain.

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