The gray clouds above me are just starting to shine with the light of dawn. The snow’s coming down heavy. Large, wet flakes obscure everything. Piles of snow obscure the path from the fissure in the rock. I gaze up the cliff. This is going to be impossible to climb from here without Eli to guide me. I don’t remember the way anymore; it’s been too many years.
I look down to the frozen river below. I don’t see any tracks; the pack of dogs we saw last night must not have been through here recently. Maybe I can follow the river to an area where it’ll be easier to climb up.
I stuff my hat on my head. I wish I had gloves. Doesn’t matter now. I can’t wish them into being.
Whatever the fastest way back to the pyre, whatever the fastest way to find out what happened to Tannen, that’s what I have to do.
What if he’s dead because I left him behind?
I shake my head. He wouldn’t be dead because I left him behind. He’d be dead because he was a jerk that was more concerned with a dead body than with me. It would be his own fault.
So why do I feel so guilty?
OK. If I can go fast enough, I should be able to climb out before any packs of dogs find me down there. So, down I go. I slide down the steep incline, tottering as I try to keep my balance. My hat is already soaking up the wetness of the snow. That’s going to get cold real fast.
I leap down the last few feet, skidding across the ice. The river here is maybe ten paces across, but it goes as far as I can see in either direction. Of course, with the snow coming down so thick, that’s not very far. At least the Scar keeps the wind away. It’s all very still and quiet. I can only hear my own breathing and the distant clank of the ‘shovels working.
I turn left and start jogging. The snow only comes up to my ankles right now, but it’s going to rise soon. The walls of the Scar are almost smooth here; no point in trying to climb up. It’ll be rougher and easier to climb farther away.
A sound breaks the almost-silence. A dog’s howl.
I freeze. How car away is it? Snow muffles sound – at least these thick flakes should. It sounded far away, but can I trust that?
Doesn’t matter. If the pack has my scent, it won’t help me to know how far they are.
I run. My heart beats in my ears. I slip and catch myself. Of course snow goes up my sleeves as I fell into the white. My hands reach the ice below. My wrist jolts. I grit my teeth as I stand. There’s some red in the snow. I glance at my infected wrist.
It’s not plague. Just a normal infection.
Another howl. Was it closer? I can’t tell.
I sprint through the heavy snow. The problem with running through snowdunes, though, is that it takes a lot of energy. Soon enough I’m panting. The rocky walls are still smooth; no way out here. I wonder, if dogs eat a person with plague, do they get plague?
Keep moving. Keep looking. Any handholds?
I can’t see enough of the other side to tell if I could climb out there. Snow should cover up my tracks and my scent, right? It’s coming down so hard, it should hide me from the pack’s noses. But what else would they be hunting? Eli mentioned animals, not just dogs. Did rabbits fall down here? I wonder if anyone in the Sanctuary hunts.
I don’t have time. Keep moving. Keep looking.
That’s a third howl. That one’s definitely louder. I think. Maybe.
I don’t have a club. I left it behind somewhere, way back, long ago. I don’t’ have anything to defend myself with. Are there any rocks along the banks I could use? I can’t see under the snow. I know there’s no clubs around. That would just be convenient, and we can’t be convenient. It’s not the world’s job to be convenient to me. I learned that long ago.
If life were convenient, that redcap wouldn’t have attacked Kaynie.
If life were convenient, Tannen wouldn’t have been a jerk.
If life were convenient, Tala would notice me.
If life were convenient, mom wouldn’t have died.
If life were convenient, dad would have stuck around.
Doesn’t matter. Life isn’t convenient. Get over it.
The cliffs are starting to look a little more jagged. Maybe I can climb out here. I move to the left and search for handholds. Yeah, there’s definitely more rough patches in the walls. Maybe I can get out here.
Dark movement in the falling snow. I spin.
It’s keeping its distance right now. It’s probably one of the pack’s scouts, just checking me out until the rest arrive.
Do I try to go up here, or do I move while I still have a little bit of time?
The snow lightens for just a moment, and I see the other side of the river. Ten paces away, I can tell I could find my way up there. I just have to dash across. Will the pack give me time?
The scout circles around, sniffing at the air. He paces to my tracks and takes a deep sniff of a drop of blood. He growls at it. He licks it.
If I’m going to go across, I need to do it now. The scout might attack, but I can handle one dog a lot better than a whole pack.
I run. I dash across, as fast as my legs can take me.
The scout howls. He’s so loud. The sound shakes me. My foot gives out. I crash into the snow.
The scout leaps at me. I roll and kick out. My entire leg shakes as I make contact. Lucky shot – right in the side of his head. He yelps and backs away, just long enough for me to scurry to my feet.
My arms are so cold. More snow went up my sleeves.
I want gloves.
An answering howl – they’re close. The rest of the pack is so close. I think I can smell them, like rotting meat and rage.
Rage smells like vodka and unwashed man. Dogs shouldn’t smell like that. \
I sprint again. I make it to the wall this time. It’s rocky here, not smooth at all. It’s still steep. I hope it’s steep enough the dogs can’t follow. Foot, foot, hand, hand. Just like Tannen taught me, long ago. “Sometimes you need to climb up the side of the Pit. Maybe a fire took out the scaffoldwalk. Maybe the bodies’ too heavy to take out the normal way. Maybe he had plague. Doesn’t matter, you need to know how to climb up the side of a pit.”
Foot, foot, hand, hand. Foot, foot, hand, hand.
He really was a good teacher. Most days.
No he wasn’t. He hated me.
The dogs dash out of the snow, surrounding the space below me. I’m already up a few paces. They shouldn’t be able to reach me.
One of the dogs, with big ears and long legs, leaps.
I snatch it just out of the way. He misses, but I think I can feel the warmth of his breath on my toes.
They’re all snarling. I can’t count them – that would mean turning around – but there’s at least six or seven. The scout is whimpering somewhere nearby; another dog is barking at it, nipping at its neck.
The big one leans both forepaws against the wall. It’s watching.
It sniffs the air at me. It opens its mouth to taste the scents. I sniffs at the cliff.
Foot. Foot. Hand. Hand. Foot. Foot.
My foot slips. My arms catch me with a jolt. My wrist screams in pain. I see red and heat.
The lead dog leaps. It catches my boot.
The extra weight pulls. My grip slips.
No! I can’t fall. I fall, the dogs have me. The dogs have me, I’m dead. I’m not ready to die yet. Not yet.
I shake my foot. The dog’s jaws are clamped on hard.
My fingers are so weak. I’m not going to make it.
I kick down at the dog’s face. Hard.
I hear growls as I make contact. Again. Again!
I need to breathe. Why are there swirlies in my vision? That’s not the snow.
I’m going to lose my grip. I’m going to die. The dogs are going to eat my bones and get plague and escape the Scar and infect the whole Pits and it’ll be my fault that humanity gets wiped off this rock.
I kick one last time.
The dog lets go with a yelp. He falls below.
I climb. Foot, foot, hand, hand. Foot, foot, hand, hand.
I leave them behind. My hands are shaking. I can’t feel anything anymore. Am I breathing? Yeah. I’m breathing. I think. I must be.
My wrist! Oh, my wrist!
Keep climbing. It doesn’t matter. Push through the pain. Ignore it. So what if you have the plague?
I don’t have plague. Shut up.
It doesn’t matter, anyway. What do you have left to live for? You’ve gotten everyone mad at you, and now maybe even Tannen’s dead because of you.
Shut up! I don’t have time for that. Tannen’s fine.
No, he’s not. You abandoned him. Just like you abandon everybody.
Foot, foot, hand, hand.
The dogs are barking below me. They’re angry. I hope they never learn how to climb.
The blood is dripping from my wrist up my arm. It’s pooling in my armpit. That doesn’t feel good at all.
If you’d gone to the Plaguer Camp, you wouldn’t have to worry about climbing now. Maybe you’d even get sympathy points from Tala. And you never would have met Kaynie. Cedric would have protected her way better, anyway.
I hate my heart. It always talks to me when it’s quiet. That’s why I like it when there’s things going on. I’m always better when I’m busy.
Busy climbing the side of a cliff? Let’s see you make it.
Shut up, heart. Just shut up.
A breeze starts. I must be coming out of the shelter of the Scar. I must be nearer the top. I can stop climbing then, right?
Someone shouts. It sounds like a kid. I wonder what that’s about. There’s hardly ever anyone near the Scar. Maybe they’ll help.
I laugh. Yeah right.
The dogs are still barking below. As long as I don’t slip, I should be fine.
Foot, foot, hand, hand. Over and over again.
My wrist burns. It burns so much. And the other hand is so cold. They meet in the middle somewhere and fight over the rest of me. I just force myself to keep going. Keep going. Don’t give up. You need to get out of the Scar and rescue Tannen and maybe go to the Plaguer Camp and die but it doesn’t matter because the cliff goes on forever.
I can’t find a handhold. My fingers pass through open air.
Foot, foot. I can’t put my other hand anywhere either.
I reached the top!
I reached the top?
I fall over the side onto level ground. I roll a few times to get away from the edge, the snow crunching under my weight. Flakes land on my face. My head is soaked. I don’t care. I’m done climbing. I’m done! I made it!
Something nudges my side.
“Aydrik of the Pyremen, you’re under arrest for the murder of Officer Bene Fasko. Stand up.”
I try to focus on anything other than the sky. What?
“Stand up, or I’ll start using my baton on you.”
I search around. There. A person in a red hat.
A person in a red hat. That means an official. Probably an officer.
That’s right. I killed one of them.
Well, that’s just great. I guess I didn’t need to save Tannen after all.
Read the next post here.