While crossing the mountains with the Lady Saniyya prisoner, Yllen and Gundrea’s caravan is attacked and they are driven into the mountains. With nowhere to go but up, their hopes are pinned on an expedition that passed that way a week ago.

Snow blasted them. It cleared away to expose a harsh, unforgiving sun. Then more clouds swept in and lashed them with hail. The weather couldn’t decide whether to burn or freeze them. In brighter moments the mountains rose around their path, an impenetrable wall. Craggy peaks overlooked their path and the ground slid treacherously underfoot.

Yllen felt the air thinning as if it couldn’t be bothered to keep up. Her lungs protested but she seized the panic by force and shallowed her breathing. There were more pressing problems. The makeshift snowshoes she’d cut were coming apart. Cold bit into her toes. She clenched a fist. The nails dug into her palm and she felt the pain as warmth. The others didn’t fare so well. Kamal struggled on his leg. Gundrea tottered along drunkenly. The loss of his hearing had affected his balance. The Lady Saniyya looked barely capable. She wasn’t built for this, none of them were.

When the storms descended they dug in. The stops were almost welcome, allowing the group to huddle together and regain ragged breath. The hard hunks of Detapi bread were flavourless but at least they weren’t frozen.
But then it ended and they had to clamber into a pass filled with fresh fall, the marks of their passage obliterated.

“How far up do you think they went?”
They sheltered in an ice cave, all of a few yards deep. It was small and awkward but it was positively warm.
Kamal shook his head “Maybe… We must be close. We walked so far today.”
“We barely covered 5 miles.”
The chorus of groans made her regret saying it. Gundrea hummed to himself cheerfully, the sound pitch changing erratically. Yllen went to Saniyya and undid the gag. Gundrea placed a hand on her shoulder.
She frowned “Who’s she going to practice on up here?”
Saniyya did not speak immediately, touching her throat “Hurts to talk.”

They crossed the mountain’s broad side. The pass ended suddenly in a sheer edge. On either side the mountain formed a steep rocky wall, coated in snow. Some giant must have scooped out this pass long ago. Yllen took in the view as Kamal searched for a path along the rocky drifts on either side. In the distance the cliffs formed a curve leading to a man-made pillar. Her eyes screwed up in the glare of the sun, there was something, maybe someone atop it. Kamal limped over to her.
“No marks. The storms have buried the scholars’ passage.”
Yllen pointed “Do you see anyone up there?”
Kamal followed with his eyes and shrugged helplessly “If we cannot see them…”
Saniyya, sitting exhausted in the snow looked up “Perhaps it's the raiders waiting to finish us off.”
Kamal shuddered “We walk from death to death.”
“I’m not dying in sight of hope,” Yllen approached the side and cast about for some way to climb it.
Kamal wobbled on his good leg “No outlander! To walk without care will bring the mountain down on us.”
Gundrea had been leaning on his broom. Somehow even after all this he still had it. Now he offered it to Yllen. She aimed it at the snow drifts and poked experimentally. It went deep, the drift shifted around it and she hauled it out quickly.
Kamal shoved her, well nudged her. It was too hard to summon the strength for violence
“Stupid outlander! Listen to me and I will tell you where to test.”

It took an hour to find it. The metallic clang from a cluster of buried canisters. They cannibalized the cache and scaled the slope behind it. The rocks were just kind enough to climb. Fifteen feet up and across a scree strewn waste out onto the narrow cliff path. It took a morning to cross, two men wide, with a sheer drop to their lift. Yllen shepherded them and though Kamal protested, he did clutched her hand when the snows shifted over the side.
The figure on the pillar watched their approach, never moving. They grew closer and closer until Yllen could see its hair streaming in the wind. Was she some mad mage or a demon’s lure? Disquiet grew, though the rest of the party seemed cheered. Kamal refused her help now, pressing on the last few yards as the path passed right under the pillar and curled up round its back. He clambered up to the top calling out
“Greetings of the mountain-”

Yllen was the last up. She was greeted by three silent faces. Kneeling on the pillar was the woman, lightly dusted with snow. Her eyes were open, staring vacantly into the sky. Her hair whipped in the icy gusts, everything else was frozen. Gundrea went right up to her. He peered into that peaceful expression and shuddered. She half expected him to suggest a burial. Not that there was any soil to do so.
“A ghost of the mountain,” Kamal sighed “In all her glory.”
Saniyya was less worshipful “She’s knelt here over a century, while her masters forgot about her, then died.”
One by one they sank. Only Yllen stood, nails digging into her palms
We’re close aren’t we? The expedition will be at the temple.”
They looked at her as if she were mad. So she decided to be. Yllen strode over to Kamal and heaved. He must have been getting heavier because he barely moved. Still his protests were loud
“Off me! Get off me!”
His drew a deep breath to yell, only to end up coughing on the thin air. She went to do the same to Gundrea but he was up before she got there. That left the lady. Saniyya had to be helped up. There was no anger there, just weariness. She leaned against Yllen as they made the final ascent.

Descent as it turned out. The path ran into a valley carved into the mountain. At the bottom, erupting from a cliff was a building of black steel. It skulked behind a heavy drift like some monstrous spider. Snow slid from its alien exterior, unable to find purchase. Incredible to Yllen’s eyes was the sled. It sat on the temple’s porch, plain and human. People. There were people here. Still supporting Saniyya, Yllen ventured into the valley proper. Kamal and Gundrea were just behind. Immediately the wind howled a greeting, whipping out their cloaks and driving the last warmth away. Saniyya slumped, Yllen was forced down shielding her face. They had to crawl to continue, the gentle slope nightmarish in that hideous gale. Yllen began to fear it would pick her up and dash her against the jagged edges of the temple and squeezed her eyes shut, trusting to the decline to guide her. The moment she touched the porch the wind died. She hauled herself onto the chill metal plates, pulling her cloak tight to regain some semblance of life. She only remembered Saniyya when the woman crawled in behind her, gasping. Kamal arrived just behind her, sliding the last few feet and hitting the porch with a thud. The two of them barely looked in his direction
“Don’t even think about it! I am fine.”
That left... Yllen looked up the slope.

Gundrea had stopped moving. Snow arrived on the wind. It drove down into the valley, coating him. As it hit the porch the wind died and the flakes floated gently to the ground. He had to make it. Yllen plunged into the blizzard. The gale stripped away everything. She padded toward him, low as a snake but as she approached the flakes upon his eyelashes moved. He had one arm thrust into the snow, and his mouth moved. She seized him, compared to Kamal he weighed nothing, and hauled him down to the porch like a sack of potatoes.

Kamal looked almost pleased, grabbing Yllen as she reached the porch and pulling her and the old man into their little ring of protection. They sat and watched the storm.
“Wha’s the rush?” asked Gundrea
“Master-” but of course he couldn’t hear so she settled for batting his ear.
He held up a ring “Found this.”
Saniyya asked “Where is the expedition?”
No one had touched the door to the temple. Yllen looked at it now. It had been pulled from its frame and pushed partially to the side. There was space enough for people to squeeze through. Kamal crept toward the door, peeking through that dark hole into nothing. Yllen went further sticking her head in. Her eyes adjusted slowly, from the brilliant white of the snow to the darkness of an enclosed ruin. She went further, until the howling of the storm was a dull roar. Her eyelids fluttered, shaking off their icicles. In the midst of some kind of antechamber was an empty camp. Bedrolls, equipment, the smouldering remains of a fire.
Behind her Gundrea spoke “It were on someone’s hand.”

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