Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
They sat together, facing each other in the middle of the chamber. The strange symbols and shapes that adorned the metal walls of the room glinted like ghosts in the unearthly light.
God-Speaker had grown adept in tuning the voices, ignoring them when he wanted to, or bringing them to the fore of his mind. Now, he let them come to him. They never tired, never faded. They were always desperate to sing about past glories and times long-forgotten. They needed an audience. Without someone to listen, they went mad. Without someone to listen, they truly had no way to act upon the world around them. This, above all else, they couldn’t bear. It was as close to death as they could come. Always, they were seeking entry into his mind, but he was too different, to strange to them.
The background hum came into focus, and God-Speaker heard the individual voices, sometimes harmonic and synchronized, sometimes dissonant and syncopated.
“Listen closely to the voices,” he said. “Listen for the differences, the high notes and the low notes, the fast and the slow. They are like a rushing river, very loud, but composed of many different sounds.”
He opened his eyes to slits to look at her. Her own eyes were closed, her eyebrows scrunched down in concentration, her lips pressed tight together.
“I hear the low voice,” she said. “But it comes and goes. I can’t follow it.”
They went on, as he carefully described the rhythms and sounds he heard. He described the individual voices and the groups. Sometimes the voices brought particular feelings or ideas to the fore, and he mentioned them. Sky-Watcher’s face grew more creased and furrowed as the minutes passed. Her cheeks flushed and a bead of sweat ran down her temple, though the chamber was cool and dry.
God-Speaker pushed her, even though she was clearly exhausted. She had less and less energy these days. He knew he should stop. She was not making any progress. But he needed something. He had to believe in some sudden epiphany where it would all come together. It would happen for her the way it had for him, when he first heard the mountain speak so long ago. That too was a desperate time. Perhaps it was only such an experience that could make it happen.
If it was to happen, it would not be tonight. He let himself admit it.
“We should stop,” he said.
Sky-Watcher opened her eyes and nodded. She took a deep breath and her shoulders sagged.
“Alright. Just give me a minute before we go back.”
It was several minutes before she was ready. He waited in silence. She was tired, and he didn’t want to rush her or cause her any more stress. He already regretted pushing her so hard, but he was driven by the iron-hard ball of fear at the bottom of his stomach.
Finally, she turned and struggled to stand up. He rushed to help her.
He remembered their long hikes in the woods surrounding the mountain, laying in the snow in the middle of the night and staring up at the stars. There were no long hikes anymore.
They made their way along the dark, narrow path. He walked behind her, one hand on the smooth stone wall and the other on her waist. She led the way, setting a pace that was comfortable for her, and he was ready to catch her if she stumbled in the darkness.
They crossed the main avenue of the mountain city, but it was late now, and the street was quiet.
Finally, they came to the last ordeal, the stairway. She had to stop twice to catch her breath at the landings. God-Speaker wanted to say something, but there was so much to say that the words stuck in a tangled mass in his throat.
They reached the doors to his apartments, and he unlocked them with the brass key that hung on a chain around his neck. Inside, she led him to the balcony, the one that faced the outside world. Sensing where they were going, he took a blanket from a chair along the way. As they stepped out, the cold air stung him. He tried to wrap the blanket around her shoulders, but she shrugged it off.
“Let me feel the air for a moment.”
The balcony was built to be invisible from below, blending into the rock. From within, it offered an unparalleled view of the surrounding country, harsh and beautiful. They looked out on the slope of the mountain below, the patches of forest and bare rock and water. The moon was bright, giving a sharp white edge to the trees and snow-dusted ridges. Distant lakes shone like silver coins.
God-Speaker laid the blanket out on the balcony, and they lay down next to each other. Sky-Watcher took his hand and held it ferociously. He realized then that she had also spent their walk back trying to find the words to express something.
“This is where I belong,” she said. “Not down beneath the mountain.”
He wondered if that was a faint accusatory tone in her voice, or only disappointment. But there was happiness too. She was always happiest under a starry night sky.
“Have you been able to use the new telescope?” he asked. It was a marvel of engineering, even by Razor Mountain standards, housed in a chamber a little further up the slope.
“No,” she said, “not very much.” There was a catch in her voice.
He tried to find the right words.
“I am sorry, if I’ve caused you pain. I know this is not what you want to be doing.”
She shook her head and squeezed his hand. He turned and saw that she was crying.
“I’m sorry. It hurts us both, what is happening to me. You’ve taught me so much…there is only one thing I’ve wanted to teach you, but I don’t know how.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
“No, it isn’t,” she replied. “Not for you.”
She put a hand on his cheek, gently turning his head to face her.
“This is okay,” she said. “This right here, you and I, on this blanket under the stars. This is all we need.”
Now he had to close his eyes to stop the tears.
“I cannot lose you.”
“You can,” she said. “It will be alright.”
“Even you,” she said, “have your limits. I’m not afraid of dying. You don’t need to be afraid either.”
“I can’t live without you.”
She kissed his forehead. “That’s a choice you must make. Besides, how many others have you seen come and go? How many have you outlived?”
“It’s not the same.”
She shrugged. “It’s the same to the stars. It’s the same to the mountain. It might feel different to you and to me, but it’s not. It’s just what happens.”
“There’s still time,” he said. “You can do what I do. You don’t have to die.”
“You cannot put all your happiness upon that,” she said. “I have tried, for you. I will be sad to let you go. But if that must happen…it will happen. I can accept that. I’m happy that I had these nights under the stars. That is enough for me.”
“You could stay with me forever,” he said.
“Forever is too much,” she replied. “Everything has an ending.”
He opened his mouth, then closed it again. He wanted to shout, to plead. He couldn’t accept it. But he could see the weariness on her face. He pulled the blanket close around them, and she looked up at the heavens while he studied the reflections of the stars in her dark eyes.
He didn’t realize he had fallen asleep until he was jolted awake by a dream of falling. The same dream he had so often these days, of falling through a crack deep in the mountain, into an endless abyss. He blinked blearily. He was cold, and she would be freezing.
He pulled himself up onto his elbow to look down at her. Sky-Watcher lay under the night sky, her face serene. She still stared up at the stars, but the twin mirrors of her eyes were dull, and there was a slackness to her expression. He held a hand to her cheek. She was too still and too cold.
The panic rose in his chest as he felt for her heartbeat in the vein at her neck, but there too he felt only stillness.