“What did you mean about keeping me from dreaming?” Glory asked after a moment. “Why is that important?”
“Well, it’s not any more,” he said petulantly. Phoenix pulled the furs around himself and eyed hers. “The old bastard’s found you and put you on task. I can’t pretend to know what his plans are, but it’s no secret that all the Great Old Ones want their freedom. I’m sure he’s no different.”
“I wonder what he has to do with the Black Seal,” she said more to herself than him.
“Probably nothing. I’m sure that has more to do with the dark priest’s son than your father.”
“You mean Ytho-…”
“What did I just say about not using their names here?” Phoenix cut her off, sitting up to glare at her. “Just because your father pretty much has the Dreamlands in his back pocket doesn’t mean the others can’t hear or send their own avatars to get rid of us. All they do is jockey for power. No one even knows what the war was all about or why the Elder Gods let the rebels live. I’m betting whoever gets out of prison first will have some kind of leverage over the others. Maybe they can throw the door shut behind them so the others have to wait until the next time the stars come right again. So one or more of them is seeking the Black Seal, and your father sent you here for his own power play. One thing you can count on, none of them like to share if they don‘t have to. They’re not like my people.”
“Your people, who you betrayed in order to maintain your independence,” she said. That shut him up quick. He scowled and lay back, shutting his eyes and pulling the furs closer again, but she wasn’t done. “We can’t stay here, so don’t get comfortable. This little pile isn’t going to last more than another hour, and there’s nothing else to burn once its gone. We have to go further up the mountain.”
“Up? Up where?” he asked. “Why not down, where it‘s probably warmer?”
“We have to go up, to Kadath.” She began pulling on the thickest fur properly, tying the laces as tightly as she could. It had not been made for someone her size and fit awkwardly. Though they were worn nearly through, Glory slipped on a pair pf discarded gloves as well. A little protection was better than no protection. At least none of the furs smelled of the bodies that had so recently inhabited them. The cold had stolen that token of death’s visit as well. “At least it’s closer.”
Phoenix sat up, the furs he was bundled in falling away. “What do you know of Kadath?” he asked suspiciously.
“I know it’s closer than the bottom of this mountain,” she said. “These men whose bones I’m burning to keep us warm were on their way there with a tribute meant for the gods of Earth, whoever they are, and Oukranos in particular. I can only assume that’s where my father meant me to go as well.”
“They must have been desperate. Men are forbidden to approach Kadath. It’s tantamount to a suicide mission. No one ever comes back.” Phoenix sounded almost impressed.
“There’s a drought in their land, or there was when they came here. It’s impossible to say how long ago that was in this cold, but the Ourkranos river was drying up when they left and everything along its banks was dying. Considering what I had to do to keep us warm, finishing their mission is the least I can do.” His silence irked her. “You know you can do whatever you want, right? Since you’re so fond of choices. We‘re not sharing the same skin any more; if you want to go down, go down. I don‘t think you‘ll make it, but far be it for me to just assume you‘d choose an uncertain fate over certain death from exposure.”
Phoenix blinked, glancing towards the cave’s entrance. It was so warm near the fire, it was easy to forget they were on the peak of a very high, very cold mountain. The cave had only bought them a temporary reprieve from the cold, as it had the men who came before them. With a sigh, he pulled one of the fur coats on, and then another over it. Glory shook her head but didn’t comment. He was going to find it difficult to climb a mountain when he resembled the little boy from A Christmas Story.
There was still a small pile of broken bones left, but it wouldn’t see them through the night. If they started while there was still light, hopefully they’d reach Kadath before dark. Let the mound wait for whoever came after them. Glory had no doubt that some foolhardy or desperate soul would eventually follow if only because the place was forbidden.
Phoenix followed her into the gleaming snowfields. The world was eerily quiet aside from the crunch of displaced snow. She forced her way through the dusty crystals without looking to see which way Phoenix would go. The sound of his footsteps behind her gave her some comfort though. He knew more about the Dreamlands than she did, even if getting information out of him was like prying open oyster shells in search of pearls. Apparently he had decided that his chances were better with her than trying to make his way down the mountain alone.
Funny how she’d wanted to be free of him since he’d become a part of her, but now that they were finally separated, she was still attached to him for other reasons. She couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him too. For as much as he’d spent his existence walking in other people’s shoes, he‘d apparently learned nothing from their mistakes. He’d betrayed his creator for the sake of freedom, but the Elder Gods, whoever they might be, had ensured he’d remain reliant on others for his survival, at least on Earth. How he would use his new found independence in the Dreamlands was anyone’s guess.
She did not have to worry about wet shoes or pants. It was so cold that the warmth of her body did nothing to melt the powdery snow. While they walked, Glory kept her hands tucked into the sleeves of the heavy fur coat she wore, but her feet and legs were numb long before they reached a route that seemed to lead up to the forbidding structure at the top of the mountain. Her hands were soon just as numb, something she was marginally grateful for as the sharp rocks cut through the worn out gloves to ribbons.
“I… can’t…” Phoenix moaned, clinging to the craggy surface as a gust of wind threatened to pry them away and send them spinning out into space. They were so high up, Glory wasn’t sure if they’d fall to the earth or go floating off into the stars.
“Keep moving,” she panted, digging her fingers and toes into crevices she couldn’t even feel. “There’s no other way to go but forward.”
to Book 6, part 2, page 22