Razor Mountain — Chapter 13.2

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

He buried the pieces of the stone god as well as he could with the snow. He knew that the spirit had left the stone when it broke. It would not favor God-Speaker after he had failed to keep it safe.

Deep in the canyon of ice, there was only one way to go. The sides were steep and slick, and he was tired and hurt. He found his way down to solid ground, though he could not tell if it was ice or earth or rock. He stood and limped forward. He did not know what direction he was going. He did not know if he was walking toward his people or away. He could only hope that there was a way up to the surface somewhere ahead.

Instead, the crack grew deeper. It split, again and again, but each path looked the same: dark walls of ice and rock and a dull sky above, filled with snow.

The world took on an unreal quality. Faint reflections stared back at him, and shadowy shapes loomed in the ice. He felt again that he was on the edge between his world and the world of spirits. Perhaps he was. Perhaps he was dying.

As he limped onward, he began to feel the truth. He was walking toward the mountain. Just as it had called down the storm, it shaped the ice. It pulled him to it. The deep, unreal blue of the ice dulled until it was black. Along the sharp edges, where it caught the light, it glowed deep purple.

The air took on a sharp, foul scent. It felt heavy and thick. God-Speaker held out a hand, and along with the snowflakes, black dust began to collect on his palm. A gust of wind from high above swept over him, blowing his hand clean. Black smoke swirled in the air ahead.

Finally, he reached a place where the sky above went dark. He didn’t know if it was night at last, or if he had gone completely under the ice. The snow and wind fell away, so he supposed the ice must have closed over him. He kept limping forward. There was nothing else left for him to do.

When he had gone down into almost complete darkness, he heard voices once again. They were stronger, clearer. He felt that he should understand them, but the words were always just beyond his reach. The path took him toward the voices, into complete darkness. He felt the walls on either side, and they no longer felt like ice. They were warm stone.

As he continued, his eyes adjusted. Faint purple light came from the stone itself. It was just barely enough to see the twists and turns by variations in darkness. Even so, he nearly stepped into a crack that cut across his path.

He stopped at the last moment and tried to look down. Nothing but pure blackness, a gash across the purple-black of the cave. A gentle breath of air came up from somewhere far below. God-Speaker held on to the rough walls on either side and reached a foot across to find the far side. He didn’t have to jump, he just took a long, careful step across the gap.

The walls came together, pressing in on either side. God-Speaker had to get down onto hands and knees and crawl to fit through. He no longer thought about getting up and out. He would never be above the ground again. Those voices still called to him.

He came to another gap and reached out across it, finding a ledge on the other side, a little higher up. He forced himself over and through, squirming into a gap in the rock. On the other side, the cave opened up.

The purple light was stronger here, but it didn’t help him see. It made his eyes hurt. It throbbed in unison with his heart, in time to the pounding pain in his forehead. He could see it even with his eyes closed. The rock walls of the room were too smooth, too perfectly curved. The room had no ceiling that he could see. It rose forever into blackness, but tiny lights appeared above as he stared upward. The voices came down from those lights.

They fell upon him like a torrent, like a rushing river of whispers. He lost track of his body, and even the pain fell away. He knew now that they could hear him. They could understand him. He could hide nothing from them.

What surprised him was that they, too, were completely exposed. The voices were as open to him as he was to them. So close together, there were no barriers between them.

The voices were old, so old he couldn’t imagine it except by the context they gave him. The idea of Braves-the-Storm or Makes-Medicine being old was laughable in comparison. The lifetimes of the biggest, most ancient trees God-Speaker had ever seen were mere seasons to the voices. They were true gods. They were like the mountain, built up slowly over ages.

They dove into the shallow pool of his memories: the few places he had been, the little group of people he had spent his entire tiny life with.

They were witness to things he could not imagine. He saw landscapes stretching out and out and out, until they curved back into each other. He saw tribes growing into peoples, into societies and cultures and nations and beyond.

They delved into his knowledge, into the worlds of people and spirits, into magic and medicine, into the ways of napping flint into tools, of curing hides and weaving nets and cutting spears into a fine, fire-hardened point.

They knew that these simple (so simple!) tools could grow with the people who fashioned them: tools to make tools, more people specializing into smaller and deeper wells of knowledge.

The voices saw the vast span of time and space and knowledge. They lived lives beyond anything he could comprehend. But even they did not know everything. Even they were subject to great catastrophes. Just as he and his people had journeyed in their small way, the voices had journeyed.

Once, they had a home. They were comfortable. They lived endless lives, minds passed down generations, living endlessly. Then they passed through the void, to find a new home. They would continue, as they had always continued. They would continue in God-Speaker.

They were laid bare to him. He could see, just as they could see, how they had continued endlessly for so long without dying. He could feel, just as they could feel, that something was wrong. God-Speaker’s thoughts were close (so close!) to the shape of their thoughts. More than any of the others. Still, they couldn’t quite fit. They wanted to wash over him, subsume him into themselves, but they couldn’t. They wanted to live as they had lived before, but they couldn’t. They were trapped, at their journey’s end, deep inside the mountain, unable to accept death but unable to live.

God-Speaker could see into them. They knew so much. In mere moments, he felt the world expand around him. It was so much more and so much less than he had thought it was. He could feel his own mind expanding. It was a chaotic blur of images and ideas.

He lay on his back in the center of the chamber, exhausted, broken, unable to move. The purple light washed over him. He was so utterly different from them, yet there was one thing that bound them tightly together.

Like them, he did not want to die.

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