Tattoo Book 6 part 2.22
Posted by harmony0stars on August 27, 2010
The climb seemed to go on forever. Her questing fingers found a hole in the rock, her feet found a stable toehold, and the process was repeated a hundred times. When her arm finally encountered empty space, she almost didn’t know what to do. She waved her hand in the air, searching for the next handhold and only belatedly realizing they’d reached, if not the top, then someplace they could rest.
Glory pulled herself up and lay on the flat surface with relief, her muscles twitching with exhaustion, not that she could feel them. The wind had chaffed her nerves raw till she felt as numb as when Phoenix had been suppressing her senses. She flexed her stiff fingers on the barren rock, blearily wondering if the wind had scoured all the snow away.
It was several minutes before a sound from below reminded her that Phoenix was still behind her. Barely opening her eyes, she turned and crawled back to the edge. He was still several feet down, but when he finally came near enough, she reached down and offered him her hand. He might be an irascible misanthrope, but he was the only thing she could count on to be half way familiar.
Phoenix took her hand, nearly pulling her over the side as he strained to pull himself up. He collapsed to the ground with a sigh. They lay there for several seconds before either had the energy to look around. Though the frigid gusts made her want to curl up into a ball, Glory stirred and struggle to her feet, keeping her eyes slitted.
She pushed Phoenix’s shoulder, and he groaned. “Up. We can’t stay here. We need to find shelter,” she said when he showed no inclination to rise.
With a weary sigh, he dragged himself into a crouch but made no further attempt to get to his feet. Glory reached down and pulled him up by his arm. The cliff where they stood was as white as any snow but had been swept smooth by the unceasing winds. It hardly mattered that the cliff and surrounding rocks were rather dull in color as their eyes ached with the wind and cold. Leaning on one another for support, they staggered to a clump of jagged rocks which jutted up a few yards away. With the winds as likely to come from one direction as another, it was a poor windbreak but better than lying on the edge of an abyss waiting to die of exposure.
Glory marveled at how weak Phoenix seemed. Had he always been so weak? She was tired, but it was more the hassle of battling the elements than true exhaustion. The cold would kill the both of them if they stopped, so she saw no alternative but to keep moving. The place might be called the Dreamlands, but she had a feeling that they could die there as easily as in the real world.
Somewhere she found the energy. If Phoenix had still been inside her, she would have thought he was responsible. But her father had called him a parasite, had mentioned her ‘coming into her power.’ Had Phoenix been feeding off of her all along, encouraging her belief that their relationship was mutually beneficial? She found the thought repulsive and struggled not to despise him, though she could hardly have claimed him as a friend even when he’d been a part of her. Glory still felt compelled to protect him as she felt compelled to protect anyone in need. Who had ever come to her defense in regards to her sister? She couldn’t simply abandon him to his fate without feeling her sister‘s persecution had been justified.
They sat among the rocks, cowering whenever the wind turned in their direction. Eventually they recovered their wits enough to look around, though their eyes still stung. Glory heard Phoenix gasp and turned in his direction, following his gaze up, up and up till the walls of the great castle were lost like in a sky that glittered like jewels spread over black velvet.
The structure was as stark as their surroundings and seemed to grow right up from the mountain itself. Glory had not even noticed when they climbed above the snow, but there was none to be seen anywhere. It was not without its own beauty, but it was far from a fairytale castle. Aside from the arched doorway that gaped open like a hungry mouth, the structure had no windows that she could see and no other discernible doors but the main one. She had the impression it was not made to keep intruders out and that it was in fact indifferent to visitation.
The gray-white rock stretch out before them, gradually rising to join the walls of the castle. There seemed to be little difference between the rock of the mountain and the walls. The stone darken gradually like some artist’s airbrushed fantasy until the castle disappeared into the star filled sky. It stabbed at the darkness, extending forever and joining the vault of heaven like the axis upon which the night sky turned. The structure failed to blot out any stars, despite the heights to which it must stretch. High above a single star shone like a beacon, perhaps Polaris, though none of the constellations overhead looked familiar to her. Something swooped and gamboled above them however, causing the stars to wink as they passed. As they watched, the creatures plunged lower and lower as they came to investigate the interlopers.
“What are they?” Glory asked as one of the creatures flew directly overhead before rejoining its brethren in the sky, its long sinuous body extended to full length like a stretched man with devil wings, horns, and a strange lumpy tail.
“Nightgaunts,” Phoenix grunted, eying the creatures with an unreadable expression.
The nightgaunts continued to fly over the travelers for several minutes, their slick black bodies indifferent to the cold. Just when Glory was about suggest the creatures were afraid to get too close because of the jagged rocks, there was a thud of some large body striking the rock directly above and behind them. Glory looked up at the largest nightgaunt yet as it leaned down to stare at them. Though stare was perhaps not the right word as the thing did not have any eyes, nor really a face. How it breathed or ate without a mouth or nose was anyone’s guess.
to Book 6, part 2, page 23