Razor Mountain — Chapter 10.3

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

When everyone was done eating and resting, and nobody had any arguments left, it fell to God-Speaker to step first into the cave. Nobody said it, but he sensed that they were waiting for him. God-Speaker wondered if this was what it felt like to be Braves-the-Storm, or Makes-Medicine. It sat like a rock in his stomach. The feeling that others might speak, might argue or offer advice, but he had to take the first step. He had to start walking and hope or trust that the others would follow.

When he did take his first step into the dark throat of the ice, Finds-the-Trail and Braves-the-Storm came a few paces behind him. The rest gathered behind them. As God-Speaker looked back, Finds-the-Trail’s face was grim. He looked as nervous as God-Speaker felt. Braves-the-Storm looked more bent, older than God-Speaker had ever seen him. Far-Seeing was near the back of the group, his face hard to read.

The sounds of the world had been muffled in the ice cracks, but it was even worse in the cave. The soft shuffling of their feet echoed down the tunnel and came back to them. Every time the tunnel turned, God-Speaker expected to see other people, owners of these other footsteps. The ice itself was not completely silent either. It creaked and groaned. It even cracked once, a deep boom directly over their heads that made everyone jump.

Time was lost to them under the ice. It was lighter or darker only because of the thickness of the ice above. They could not guess the direction of the sun or how much of the day had passed. Cracks and tunnels intersected with their cave, but it continued in roughly the same direction, and God-Speaker saw no reason to change their course.

The people kept hiking without pause or complaint, longer than they would have if they were under the open sky. Each twist or turn of the cavern, God-Speaker hoped to see an exit, but the tunnel kept going.

Eventually, there was a change in the echo of footsteps. God-Speaker shuffled his own feet and felt gravel beneath them. He squatted and reached down, as did Finds-the-Trail beside him. It was dirt. Ahead, the tunnel turned again.

They both stood and moved toward the bend. The tunnel widened.

Around the corner, God-Speaker halted, shocked to see a hunched shadow rise up in front of him. There was a flash of movement to his left, and he realized that Finds-the-Trail had thrown his spear. It hit the shadow with a thud, and the shadow roared. More spears flew from either side of them as the others rushed toward the noise and movement.

Finds-the-Trail motioned for God-Speaker to wait. They all stood, watching for any sign of movement. When he was satisfied, Finds-the-Trail rose from a half-crouch and approached the shapes. The other hunters followed. God-Speaker came behind.

Finds-the-Trail retrieved his spear. “A bear mother,” he said. He motioned to a smaller shape pressed beside her. It had also been struck with a hunters’ spear.

Far-Seeing retrieved his own spear and ran a hand over the flank of the beast. “They’re lean,” he said, “she’s been struggling to find enough food. Usually there are two cubs, maybe one was gone already.”

Finds-the-Trail nodded. God-Speaker stood, distracted from their conversation by the feel of cool air on his cheek. There was another bend at the far end of the bear den. The floor here was all dirt, and the shape of the walls was different, rising to a triangular point instead of a rounded tunnel.

Around the corner, God-Speaker felt the wind blow. The tunnel opened out onto trees. It was night outside, and the air was thick with snow. Here, the harsh, echoing quiet of the tunnel faded into the soft quiet of falling snow. To God-Speaker, it was like the first breath in hours.

Braves-the-Storm came up beside him. “A good sign.”

“Makes-Medicine once told me that the spirits sometimes speak through the world around us,” God-Speaker said. “They may be guiding us still.”

The mood of the people changed in moments. They all gave thanks to the spirits of the bears, and set to work butchering them. With new energy, several of the hunters ran out into the snow and chopped branches from the nearest trees to start a fire. Everyone ate bear meat and enjoyed the light and warmth of the fire, and the feeling of breathing fresh air again.

God-Speaker saw smiles around the fire, but this was not the festive feeling they had shared after catching beavers and fish by the lake. This was relief more than joy. There were no stories late into the night. They talked, but they talked quietly still. Soon, they let the fires settle low, and they slept.

God-Speaker and two of the hunters remained awake. He sat with the stone god at the opposite end of the cave opening. The hunters kept watch for predators, though they were unlikely to be prowling in the blizzard, or near a cave that smelled like bears. God-Speaker worried about other, less obvious dangers.

He thought about the words he had said to Braves-the-Storm. They sounded wise, but he could not believe them. The people had made it through the dark cave. They had found meat in an unlikely place. Still, the stone god was silent, and the buzzing from the mountain was only getting louder.

God-Speaker hunched over, exhausted. He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to the head of the stone god, straining to hear its voice. His chest and arms were chilled by the outside air. His back was warmed by the fire. He breathed in the smells of the cave, animal smells and roasted meat, the musty smoke of smoldering green wood, and the cold clean snow.

He was surrounded by softness. The world faded. The snow left everything silent and white.

He stood alone. The trees, the cave, the people, the stone god were gone. Everything was gone except for the flat white, empty world, and the looming black shape ahead.

The mountain leaned over him and buzzed. God-Speaker could hear it now. Not the buzz of insects. The buzz of voices, so many voices. More voices than he could imagine, far more than he had ever known. They spoke together, but they spoke in different pitches, different tones, some fast, some slow. They spoke in words he had never heard, but he felt their meaning.

They told him that he would come to the mountain, and they told him that his people would be destroyed.

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