Prompt: Forbidden Places | Word Count: 1800 Words Exactly | Genre: Fantasy
The image came clearly into Etha’s mind. An Elbrus crystal, set into a niche in a cave wall, illuminating a portion of the sleeping chamber that Agua shared with his half-brother Pyre, and the other unattached young men of the Kuran tribe.
“Too easy!” Etha sent the thought back through the mindlink, glancing over at Pyre to see if he had recognized the image as well. Her cousin, seated across from her, had his eyes closed and seemingly hadn’t heard her through the link. That was fine with her, Etha thought, triumphantly. Rising quietly, she left Pyre behind as she set off to claim the victory by being the first to find Agua at the location he’d projected.
It was a new game they’d invented to practice their skills of imagery and mindspeak. A game similar to one they’d played as children, hiding from the chosen one who would then seek them out. Back when they were children, they hadn’t known they had these gifts that allowed them to see out of the other’s eyes. In this new game, the chosen one would hide, sending images of their location for the others to find.
But Agua wasn’t in the room when Etha arrived at his bedchamber.
“No fair!” She communicated her indignation through the link, annoyed with Agua’s mirth at having deceived her. He projected a new image to her, of Pyre sitting beside him in the meal room, sharing a mid-morning snack together. “You cheated!”
“It’s not cheating,” she could hear the smugness in Pyre’s thought. “You just didn’t use any of your other senses to confirm that the image was true. Otherwise, you would have smelled the aurochs roasting on the spit and known Agua wasn’t really in the bedchamber. You should come get some, it’s quite good.”
“No thanks. I’d rather see if Dar will let me go out to look for Sasha instead.”
But her father would have none of that.
Sasha was an orphaned wolf pup she’d found and named on her way home from Riana Valley at the end of summer, four moons before. It was deep winter now, and Etha hadn’t seen Sasha for over two moons, not since First Storm had driven the tribe into winter sanctuary within the caves at Eagle Peak.
“Why can’t I just go check the traps, and see if he’s around?” Etha argued with her father when he denied her request. “I’m worried about him, Dar. He’s just a cub. Sasha can’t be more than six moons old, and he’s got no one to teach him how to hunt. How will he survive the winter?”
“Etha. I said no. It’s a wild beast. It’s instincts are to hunt and to kill. Just because it seemed friendly and followed you home, doesn’t change the nature of what it is. It could hurt you. I’ll not have you continue this attachment. It’s not safe.”
Angry and disappointed, Etha went to her bedchamber, rebelliously thinking of seeking out the wolf in her mind instead, thinking to use her link with Gaea.
Etha had discovered that she could bond with Gaea during her last training session at Riana, at the end of summer. By matching and melding her own rhythm and pulse with Earth’s vibrations, and imagining her spirit sinking down into the earth, she’d discovered a thriving labyrinth of interconnected roots and undergrowth. Tracing these up through earth’s crust and into living plants, she acquired a rare sight and awareness into the life that abounded in Gaea’s realm. She’d only done it the one time, and didn’t understand how this bond was to be used. The gift was so rare that neither Madra, the Rianan Leader, nor Madra’s sister, Celynn, had any idea how to aid in Etha’s training. Elder Celynn had strictly forbidden Etha to attempt to use this skill unless someone was present with her.
Even so, Etha was going to try it now.
She lay upon her bedroll, stilling her rebellious thoughts and opening her mind to Gaea, as she had learned to do. It took but moments to send her psyche down through the layers of earth, merging into the rhythm that she found pulsing through the undergrowth. Roots branched off into many directions, and Etha chose one that led westward, as that was the direction she’d last seen Sasha. She traced the vibrations up through earth’s crust and into the branches and the bushes not yet weighed down below the last two moons of snowfall.
Etha imagined the wolf curled up under a copse of trees, lying upon a soft bed of needles; away from the snow and the ice and the freezing wind. She imagined herself sitting beside him, stroking his soft fur with his head in her lap, though this was not a thing that had ever occurred before. Not in her lifetime, nor that of any living tribesperson, nor any ancestor that had come before.
She found him in a small cave at the far west of Eagle Peak. The mountain was riddled with such openings, though only eight entrances were large enough for the people to traverse, connecting to the inner pathways leading to the many chambers and caverns that gave home to the twenty-two families of the Kuran tribe.
“Sasha.” Etha excitedly whispered his name in her mind, filling her presence into the space surrounding the wolf; knowing herself connected to Gaea, and thus to the earth upon which he lay. The wolf’s pale green eyes opened, as if sensing her presence. His tail wagged, and she could hear the soft exhalation of his breath. She couldn’t touch him, but Etha could see him in her mind’s eye, his small body curled in a ball, head resting on crossed paws. His white fur gleamed in the thin light penetrating the den.
Scraps of fur and bone lay in the space beside him, the remains of some small animal he’d recently fed upon. Etha rejoiced in this triumph, evidence that he was learning the skills a young wolf would need to survive alone and hoping it would be enough to get him through the winter.
It had taken mere moments to find the wolf cub in her trance. Having satisfied herself that Sasha was safe and that she now knew where to find him, and that should could trace him at will, Etha rashly decided to see how far she could extend her reach.
Where ever bush or branch or leaf touched, there she could roam. Etha thought this must be what a bird might feel, soaring among the tops of the trees. Or she imagined a leopard, leaping from branch to branch. Etha had never felt such exhilaration before. She laughed in sheer joy, exalting in the freedom of movement and the expanse of Gaea’s world.
Finally, the forest tapered off to rock and boulder and ice, and she had to stop to assess her position. Etha hadn’t realized she’d gone so far east, nor climbed so high, so fast. She saw that she was near the South-eastern border of Kakaesia. Above her loomed the colossal ice wall that amassed over and between the mountain peaks, effectively closing off Kakaesia from the lands and the people that existed to the south. Etha knew she would find a similar border to the north as well, where the mountains were higher and the ice wall even thicker than it was here in the south.
Etha felt infinitesimal in comparison to the huge mountain towering above her, especially as she surveyed the ice and the snow that seemed to reach out beyond the bounds of the ridge in ominous proportion. Thick clouds had begun to close in around her, along with a heavy snowfall that impeded her sight.
Suddenly, she felt a tug upon her being. As though Gaea was trying to gain her attention, pulling upon her awareness and communicating some need that Etha failed to interpret. The pull intensified, an agitation that belied the odd quiescence that seemed also to have settled in the air around her, filling her with a heightened sense of immediacy that contrasted with the stillness.
In the next moment a tremor rocked the mountain, sharp and severe and violent. A rush of noise deafened her senses as a mass of snow and ice and rock dislodged from above, falling rapidly down from the ridge above and engulfing her in its wake.
Etha screamed in fear as her mind lost its hold upon Gaea and became submerged instead in the avalanche that she witnessed from afar. Having no experience with her gift, Etha didn’t know how to separate herself from the barrage that now pummeled her senses. She no longer remembered that she had a body, lying safe and warm upon a bed in a cave further west along this mountain range. Down and down and down she fell, tumbling and plunging down the mountainside until finally the avalanche lost its momentum and settled amidst a cloud of dust and dirt, and freshly falling snowflakes.
Stunned and disoriented, Etha struggled to gain back a sense of consciousness. Panic filled her mind, tricking her into thinking that she lay trapped under the snow and the ice. But through it all there was a sense of weightlessness, and she began to realize that if she truly was buried under the snow she would feel its weight. Should feel the cold.
But she did not feel these things.
She thought of Pyre, then, of what he had said about using all her senses to seek out the truth of an image; and as she thought of her cousin she regained an awareness of where she was. Of who she was. She forced herself to calm her racing heart, focusing and finding again the rhythm that was Gaea’s. Matching Earth’s vibrations to her own, Etha used it as a guide to return to her own body, lying in a bedchamber inside Eagle Peak.
She lay there for a while, deeply shaken and frightened by the experience. She thought of the joy she had felt, finding Sasha in the link, then soaring among the trees. But the memory of being violently dislodged from Gaea unnerved Etha, leaving her uncertain if she’d ever be brave enough to bond with Gaea again. Celynn would be furious with her.
After a time, Etha reached out to Pyre and Agua, seeking the familiarity of their presence in her mind. Surprisingly, she found them still in the meal room.
“Etha! Were you hiding? We couldn’t find you.”
“No. Not hiding. But stay there, will you? I’m on my way and I’ll tell you all about it. Maybe see if Celynn can come, too. And slice me off a piece of that aurochs. I hear it’s quite good.”