Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
When morning came, the people ate cold smoked fish and packed their things in silence. They walked, one by one, along the ledge and through the gap, and they all dropped down into the snow.
There were no boulders or rock piles now, no going back to find another path, but the hike was no less miserable. The snow came up to their knees, and trudging through it was cold and exhausting, even wrapped in their warmest skins. The children who were too small had to be carried, and were passed from one tired person to another.
When they came to the blue ice, the snow had blown and piled up in drifts, so there were paths between where it was thinner on the ground and walking became easier. A biting wind began to blow into their faces. God-Speaker looked back. The gap they had come from looked far away and surprisingly high up. They were descending.
The smoking mountain slowly grew, filling their view. Its peak was sharp and split. The change in wind blew the black smoke over them, far above. The mountain reached out to cover them.
When they stopped to eat and rest, the people were mostly quiet: a few hushed conversations here and there; a crying child. God-Speaker heard a familiar tone and turned to see Far-Seeing and Finds-the-Trail sitting together. It was Far-Seeing he had heard. God-Speaker couldn’t hear the words, but Far-Seeing was grumbling, by the tone and the expression on his face.
If Finds-the-Trail heard the other hunter, he didn’t reply. He looked up at the sky, then at the mountain. Far-Seeing spoke again. Again, Finds-the-Trail was silent, his face blank. Eventually, he stood and walked away, leaving Finds-the-Trail sitting by himself, staring out at the horizon.
Whenever they rested, God-Speaker sat at the edge of the group with the stone god. It did not speak to him. God-Speaker wondered if he would even be able to hear it over the buzzing that he was now sure was coming from the mountain.
It took the rest of the day to reach the place God-Speaker had seen from above, where the smooth ice cracked and split. At first, they were able to walk across the small gaps, but the ice soon turned into a forest of jagged blue spikes with deep, wide chasms between. As night approached, they climbed down into one of these large cracks to take shelter from the wind.
It was warmer in the crack, but also dark and eerie, with only faint blue light coming through the ice and a narrow stripe of stars above, half-hidden by the smoke. Being without fire for so long did not help the people’s mood. The light was as important as the warmth.
They had come away from the lake with a bounty of fish and beaver meat, but that seemed like a long time ago in this desolate place. God-Speaker had noticed everyone instinctively eating less, already worrying how much longer the food would have to last. No trees or plants grew on the ice. No animals would live where there were no plants to eat. It seemed doubtful they would find more food any time soon.
* * *
Walking in the forest of ice kept the people out of the cold wind. It was blowing harder now, by the howling it made above them. It was still a dismal place. The light was dim and too blue, a blue that lingered even when they closed their eyes. They saw themselves, bent and twisted, looking back out of water-smooth blue curves; or a single feature, an eye or a mouth, repeated across cracked and broken ice.
The cracks deepened, and the sky seemed higher and higher above them. It seemed that they were going in the right direction still, but it was hard to tell without the horizon to guide them.
Then they came to the place where the ice pillars came together to form a roof high above them. There was a tunnel, smooth like a toothless mouth, black except for lines of deep blue where the curve of the ice gathered the light. To God-Speaker, this felt like the same darkness as the mountain. It was like the mouth of the mountain, hanging open, waiting patiently to devour them. It also went straight, as far as he could see, in the direction they wanted to go.
The people stopped there, to rest and eat. They faced the maw and the question was there among them, though no one asked it aloud. One by one, they finished eating and readied themselves. God-Speaker saw glances here and there, but when eyes met, each person turned away.
Far-Seeing stood and looked around at the group. He pointed into the ice cave.
“Are we really going into there?”
Braves-the-Storm, to God-Speaker’s left, sighed, but said nothing.
God-Speaker took a deep breath and forced himself to stand. Eyes turned to him.
“I have asked the spirits to guide us, but they do not speak. We all saw the snowless lands. Is there another way that we can take?”
Far-Seeing clenched his jaw and shook his head. “We all saw the mountain too. That is a place of evil spirits.”
“Yes,” God-Speaker said.
Far-Seeing opened his mouth and paused. He looked at the bag next to God-Speaker, the bag that held the silent stone god. God-Speaker felt his chest tighten. Would Far-Seeing dare to speak to the god? To offend the god in a place like this would be terrible. They needed its protection now. Far-seeing closed his mouth, and God-Speaker let out his breath.
Far-Seeing turned to Finds-the-Trail. “What about you? You’re happy to let others lead now? To follow and be silent?”
Finds-the-Trail shrugged, eyes fixed on the ground. “I am not happy, but what other path would you have us walk?”
“Back the way we came! Let us try to find another path through the ice, or even back to the snow. There may be a place we can walk over the ice all the way across.”
“I saw no paths like that from above,” God-Speaker said quietly. Everyone had seen what he had seen, even Far-Seeing. There was no easy way across the broken ice. God-Speaker wondered why he had to be the one to say it.
“Who are you to say?” Far-Seeing asked, his voice echoing in the ice. “What names do you have for making ways and finding paths?”
“None,” God-Speaker said.
Far-Seeing looked around at the rest of the people. Nobody else spoke. He had hoped others would agree with him, or at least say something. They looked fearfully at the cave, but nobody else said they wanted to go back. What was back there for them? The same empty land they had just come through, hiking uphill instead of down?
Far-Seeing turned to Braves-the-Storm. “Tell me that we should go this way. If you say it, I will be silent.”
Braves-the-Storm shook his head. “I will not say it. If you need someone to tell you what you’ve seen, it will not be me.”
“Then you will all follow God-Speaker? What good is it to speak to the god, if you hear nothing back?”
“I have never told you which way to go,” God-Speaker said. “I have only told you what I think, and what I have heard from the spirits. Do what you want to do.”
Far-Seeing stared at him, then turned to look into the cave. “You’re going?”
“I don’t see any other way.”