The Forbidden Spark - Chapter 6

Jun 9 2020

Selenia trudged through the thick snow blanketing Gerhein forest, frozen to the bones. The Shepherd had given her forceful warnings about northern Brekeren's bitter cold, imploring her not to undertake the journey. She'd naively hoped he had been exaggerating, and was now confronted with the full extent of her foolishness.

The thought of turning back kept creeping into her mind over and over, but why delay the inevitable? Ryst was her only lead, her only path. She had tried making adequate preparations in Ivenheim, the mining settlement carved right into Mount Zell's eastern side. But the thick furs now wrapping her body might as well have been a linen garment. At least the snowshoes had proved worth every coin, spreading her weight against the snow so that each step was merely strenuous, rather than excruciatingly difficult.

Selenia hiked along the eastern bank of a frozen river undulating from the mountains to the south. This had been the first landmark on the map that Kaarl had drawn for her, reachable by following a westward course from Ivenheim. She'd left at dawn, hoping to reach Ryst before nightfall. That now seemed less likely with each passing hour, her initial pace difficult to sustain.

She pressed on through the silent forest, the sky's yellow tinge filtered by the pine trees' evergreen needles. There'd been no sign of life for hours save for the occasional bird flying overhead, turbulent flight afflicted by the buffeting winds. In her head, Selenia kept repeating the same mantra over and over: 'Further.'

The light of day had grown concerningly dim by the time she reached the next milestone in Kaarl's instructions, a fork in the frozen river dividing it into two. She was supposed to cross the eastern branch and remain between it and the western branch on a northward heading. Her snowshoes scraped against the river's surface as she crossed, the layer of windswept snow over the ice sheet not thick enough to fully buffer her steps.

She continued until a denser section of the forest where large pine trees lessened the wind's strength. She pulled a compass out of her pocket and checked the heading before venturing due north deeper into the woods. Overhead, the sky's yellow tinge had started turning a rosy hue, inching closer to purple with every passing minute. Despite her profound fatigue and being completely unable to feel her limbs, she attempted a brisker pace. 'Further,' she kept telling herself.

As night began to settle, she came to a rather abrupt clearing in the trees. A large arc of untouched snow separated the section of the forest she'd trekked through from a large thicket, forming a rounded perimeter. The trees on the other side seemed thicker and more tangled, though the growing darkness made them hard to discern. The faintest hint of excitement barely registered through the exhaustion. This had to be the circle on the map, Ryst's perimeter.

She crossed the snowy bank, slowly moving limb after limb through sheer force of will. The snow somehow felt firmer here, her body settling less into it with each step. Or perhaps it did and she could no longer tell, feeling at once weightless and leaden at a point so far beyond exhaustion that exhaustion no longer held any substance.

Selenia came upon the perimeter of trees that seemed to have no depth, and running her hand against the foliage its texture felt more like a mesh, though she dared not take her gloves off to examine it more closely. She banged on the wall, first with one fist and then with both. She tried yelling at it too, but could barely hear herself over the hissing wind.

A flash of desperation welled in her, the darkness now total. She'd planned to arrive an hour before sunset to give herself time to figure out how to work whatever mechanism was needed to get inside. Now she wondered how she could have been so stupid.

Selenia tried reminding herself of what she knew. Mages had survived out here, using magic. Mages could go inside Ryst. This was what she had learned. She focused, trying with all her might to tap into a moment she'd been trying to repress.

She'd conjured fire before, a blinding spark spreading from the base of her neck down through her arms, and streaks of flames flashing through her hands. The orc in front of her had turned into a torch, indelibly searing the nauseating scent of burning flesh into her mind.

She'd conjured fire before, and somewhere in her was the ability to do it again. But how? She tried to reach for that power once more, tried to will pure heat into existence. Of course she hadn't really willed it then, it had just sprung from her, as urgent and innate as the terror that had accompanied it.

She felt plenty of fear now, but a colder one, buried under the collapse of her physical strength. The surroundings grew very quiet as she pressed her back against Ryst's perimeter and let her own weight pull her downwards. As she touched the ground, she toppled to her side and drifted out of consciousness. A thin layer of snow began accumulating over Selenia's body.