A boy hung limp and shaking from a vertical wall of stone and snow, hide and pelt clothes buffeting numbed skin as it whipped in the grasp of Lacrum’s dancing winds. A familiar pall hung above as it always did this time of year, a sheath of uniform gray that would flee the twin suns’ glare in a short, bone chilling month. An inexhaustible supply of crags, cliffs, mountains and mesas stood imposing and obstinate in every direction, familiar in the vaguest shape but alien in detail and arrangement. But the child was not completely lost. By his weary mind’s estimate, he was up, and the ground was down. That seemed sufficient.
+So far down. You can fall. You can rest in death. Peaceful death.+
The wind that sought to dislodge the climbing youth with every sudden twist of direction was not a distraction. It wasn’t even noticeable unless he deliberately focused his attention. He had grown up with Mother Lacrum’s winds testing footholds, scuffing his bronze-red skin and howling in his ears as every other soul on the planet had. Subtly adjusting and bending to the squalls was as reflexive as blinking the lazily falling snow from his eyes.
+You’ve never been this tired. Maybe our Mother is tired of you. Maybe she hopes to kill you. Spare her the shame of a pitiful son.+
The pain in his hands would have normally been more occupying. Even wrapped in scaly pelts, they were cracked and bled after several days’ exhaustive climbing. But in the hungry months, the drought days among the peaks when food-beasts went into the ground and eater-beasts grew ravenous and desperate, whole tribes would sometimes have to make such a journey.
+With family, with kin to count on. No one makes that journey alone. No one will catch you when you fall.+
Weary bones and bloody flesh, a tired body and mind, he could overcome when push came to shove. Life in the mountains seldom demanded less. The voice was another matter entirely. It had clawed and prodded his mind for the three days and nights he spent on his solitary ascent. Anytime a doubt of the next reach for a handhold or a notion of turning back crept into his thoughts, the voice would echo it and amplify it, until forcing the fear back down was a herculean task.
+Don’t mistake truth for tricks. I do not make your fear. I show it to you. See how pitiful you are?+
When he slowed and stopped on flatter shelves for breath and tried to rest, it would goad him with insidious tricks. He would hear the shrieks and hisses of predators, the clacking report of falling rocks above, and his vision would distort and stretch into a nauseating vertigo until he resumed his pace.
+You think the sounds tricks? The eater-beasts can smell your blood. They know the smell of blooded prey. They’re all around you now.+
By the second day he had started slipping into fugues, finding himself several meters above where he last was after his mind had drifted and left his flesh an automaton. The voice seemed to recede when those moments came. It wasn’t as a mercy. Letting the boy fall into a thoughtless routine was just another way of adding lethal threat to the task before him.
+It is easier that way. Let go. Dull your mind and let the body move itself. No pain that way. You won’t even feel it when you fall.+
The purpose made handholds he found in his path from time to time were a welcome distraction, perplexing as they were. His tormenter had stood at the bottom of the cliff face when he began his climb. He hadn’t so much as moved a muscle up to the time the boy’s ascent finally took him out of eyeshot. And yet there were the handholds, not prints on the stone but deep holes in the rock itself, four across and one below. That the man could plunge his very fingers through the stone was believable enough at this point. But how that monster of a man could have climbed, caught up to, and passed him without catching notice was a mystery to take his mind off the ache in his body. By the third day, the holes would have small accumulations of old snow dusting them.
+See now? You are slow. You are weak. You will fall soon, down and flat. You will be a red stain on stone and rock for the eater-beasts to clean away.+
He lashed out, as he’d done a few times already. He reacted with reckless anger in a way he had tried to restrain throughout his short life. It was a jagged and spiked thought that grew wild and ebullient in his head until his eyes ached and his gums bled. He’d killed another boy a month before when he lost his grip on the surge. He was older, and stronger, a rising hunter named Ahwak that shamefully boasted of how he would take the Trials soon. He was also a cruel and vicious soul that tried to weed from the Tribe those he saw as lesser, as though Mother Lacrum’s judgment was insufficient. He attacked the boy, tried to beat him, and maybe kill him. A moment’s lapse in restraint, and the fight ended. Ahwak’s head exploded in a fantastic display of gore and lightning. That was when the tribe knew the truth. When they turned their backs to him and ostracized him to the edges of their transient camp. It was when the armored giant came for him.
He was punished for his clumsily spiteful retaliation against the voice. The released pulse of anger rushed through the intangible link between minds, and was rebounded on him like a physical force, a hammer blow that knocked a tooth from his gums and spattered the snow with blood from his nose and mouth. The punishment got stronger each time. For a moment, the child wondered how far he could be pushed before he tried again.
+You lack control. You are weak and lack control. I may kill you when you reach me. I may kill you before then. Try that again, and you will wish you just fell and died on the rocks.+
The threats weren’t new, but they’d developed an unnerving sincerity. The chill of fear joined with the chill of a freshly brutal updraft, and his hand shivered when it searched for the next grip. Frozen blood quietly flaked and cracked around his fingers when he squeezed.
+A frightened little fledgling. You aren’t worth my time. You aren’t worth the breath you take from our Mother’s gale.+
Most children dreamed of joining the giants among the stars. Succeeding in the trials and growing to wear the chert and silver armor of the Star Chief’s hunters was an honor grander than any life spent under one sky could expect. Even so, the child had only ever wanted a quiet and hidden life among his tribe. The irony of the situation was almost bitter enough to drown out the coppery tang of blood on his tongue. People like him could never hope for a quiet life.
A dread gripped his gut when he realized his wandering thoughts fed the voice another fear, another doubt to bombard him with for hours.
But for a single, blessed moment, he felt serenity. The torrent of intrusive mental abuse trickled to a reluctant pause, his pain was numbed, and a strange, gentle sorrow washed over him from without.
+No, not for us. No quiet. No peace. I offer only purpose. It is the best life our kind can hope for. Now climb.+
The agony returned. The voice pried at his thoughts again. He lifted a bloodied hand, grabbed a protruding rock, and sluggishly pulled his tired, cold self another step up the mountain.
Ladies and gents, that boy would grow into the final member of my failed vow, the Windtalker, Atawi...yes I know it's not an original title, but it's the most appropriate one I can think of so far for the Arrows' Librarians
I may have to finally finish those Templars lingering on my desk for the last year as penance. Sigismund would not be happy about this.
Edited by Firepower, 22 August 2013 - 12:11 AM.