Siobhan leaned forward in her saddle, holding the reins to Wren’s horse. Zelick pranced nervously behind the mangy beast, Nyka couldn’t sit still either. She walked forward and backed up as if standing still would burn her hooves right off. Fog misted around them, making visibility scarce. Lightning illuminated the clouds above. Siobhan looked up and sniffed the air. It hung heavy with the aroma of the impending rain. They had minutes and there was no shelter anywhere near the chasm. Not until miles on the other side, when the plains turned to forests.
Wren leaned over the edge near the raging waterfall as the Lind River dropped into the chasm. He’d finally gotten annoyed with the wind playing with his hair, he’d taken one of Siobhan’s spare braid ties and pulled his back into a half ponytail. She felt a little guilty he no longer had a cloak of his own since she was responsible for tossing it away. When they stopped for the night she’d work on one of the furs and fashion it into a wrap for him or else he’d freeze to death before they reached Firnlan.
“This is the river Elias swam to Firnlan, right?” Even at his highest shout, the roar of water over hard stone mostly drowned out Wren’s voice.
“How did he get across?”
“Aquantian’s have waterways they built underground. They’re narrow, barely wide enough for a body, but they allow crossing of uncrossable areas without having to take to the land. Elias is one of the few who prefer land to water, but most of his kind would rather die than set foot on soil.”
Wren stepped away from the chasm, scratching the back of his head. She waited for the inevitable dumb idea to come out of his lips. His tongue formed lumps on his cheeks as he swished it around. One foot kicked against the soft side of the chasm, knocking a rock over the side.
“There’s a narrow pathway leading down. If we walk the horses we could make it.” And there it was. The dumbest of all dumb ideas.
Siobhan rolled her eyes. “It’s too narrow. The horses would never make it even if we removed all they’re carrying. We have to go around.”
Though she wouldn’t admit it, there was another reason she didn’t dare cross through the twenty mile wide rip in the earth. It was unholy. Worse than unholy. It wasn’t made from natural means and magic burned through the sandstone and other un-named sediment forming the jagged walls. It simply appeared one year, a rip in the land that stretched north to south for thirty miles until it flattened in the south and returned to level plains meeting with the forests. Being that close made Siobhan’s magic scream inside her. It burned through her veins, racing her heart, and swaddled her in fear. She trembled.
Rumors say the chasm first formed during the mage wars, long before Siobhan walked the earth. It was a blight created by magic and the reasoning for the humans to begin to distrust mages. Power strong enough to gouge a great chasm in the world couldn’t be anything but evil in the eyes of the humans. She didn’t blame them considering she felt the same. If it didn’t make every bone in her body want to cower, the chasm might have been beautiful. Mixing layers of gold and brown and black climbed either side of the wall, twisting and shifting in a splattered dance. On a clear day, the far end looked like a painting hanging on some lord’s wall.
Two waterfalls broke up the Lind River feeding into the chasm. On their side, the waterfall was normal. Falling downward as nature intended, where it merged with the smaller Callay River below. On the other side, the waterfall flowed upward. It was unnatural. Once, years ago, the people of Scanla and Firnlan tried to build a bridge across the chasm. Their bodies now lay entombed in the rocks below. Some say their screams as the bridge collapsed and the wood burned by invisible forces still tortured the night.
Not even the Goddess herself could bring Siobhan to climb down into the depths of hell itself. She could feel the death, sense the sorrow of remaining loved ones, and if not for the wind howling around her she swore she could hear the whispers of the lost. She closed her eyes and inhaled, trying to calm her heart. When she felt something touch her cheek, she opened her eyes but nothing was there. Wren was staring at her, but he hadn’t moved any closer.
“I’m not risking the horses because you’re too lazy to go around,” she said, sighing. If Wren had noticed her fright, he didn’t let on. She twisted Nyka’s reins around her wrist, allowing them to cut off some of the pressure. The magic built up where the leather bore into her skin. It begged to be free, yearned for her to unleash her own hell on the scar in front of her. Years had passed since she last used her power and she wasn’t about to use it again. Not in the lowlands at least. She released another breath.
“Going north to pass the chasm would add another day or two. If we climbed down it would easily cut that in half.”
A chill coiled around her fingers. She released another breath and tightened the reins around her wrist. It would pass, she had to wait it out, but it would pass. The world was screaming at her. From the grass waving in the wind, to the clouds hiding the blue skies, to the water crashing into the chasm—such a terrible place. Power swarmed around her, calling her name.
“Oh dear.” Siobhan gasped. It wasn’t simply to pretend she was shocked by his statement; it was also to release some of the power. Her breath puffed with snowflakes that speckled Nyka’s mane. “Whatever will we do without that extra day?”
Wren scowled, his eyes drifted to Nyka’s head but still he said nothing. He had to have noticed, Siobhan was sure of it. She cursed herself and this place. Another breath came with more snow and puffs of vapor. There was no stopping it, not until the energy inside her subsided. She tightened the reins again. Her hand was numbing, mixing with the cold.
“Do you smell the air? It’s going to rain any time. And when that rain comes, the snow will follow. We’re not dressed for a ride in the snow even with the furs you and Elias had. They’ll hold up for a night or two with a light dusting, but a blizzard? We’ll freeze to death.”
Though he had a point, Siobhan still wasn’t going to climb the chasm. The sooner she got away from there, the happier she’d be. Siobhan sighed and leaned toward his horse, untying his bag with her free hand. She tossed it at Wren’s feet.
“You go right ahead. Climb down into the chasm and take your chances. I’ll meet you in Firnlan, but the horses are coming with me.” She impressed herself with how still her voice sounded when a nightmare raged war within her.
“Apparently the all mighty Siobhan is afraid of something.” Wren slung the bag over his shoulder. She wanted to rip that smug grin right off his face and could do just that with a snap of her fingers. “Can I at least have one of your daggers? Between your staff and them, you have five blades. Surly you can spare one.”
She sighed, pulled one of the daggers off her belt, and tossed it to him, still keeping one hand twisted in the reins. “If you die, don’t expect me to come looking for your body.”
“I wouldn’t dare make you actually care about returning me to Crestborne. I’ll make great chow for the plains wolves.”
“The Smilodons would eat you way before the wolves would.”
Wren smiled. He took another glance to her hand before he turned and walked back to the edge. He once again leaned to look down. She waited for him to change his mind, but he didn’t. Which was a good thing in that instance, she was barely holding it in at that point.
“See you on the other side,” Wren shouted as he descended.
As soon as the last sign of him vanished into the depths of the chasm, Siobhan released the reins. Her head tilted back, eyes wide to the dark sky. Voices howled with the wind, calling her name, speaking of a land she long forgot. A home she no longer knew. They were angry and sad and happy all at once. The voices were pain and fear.
A growl bubbled in her throat as she gritted her teeth. Teeth dug into the inside of her lower lip, drawing blood. Both hands rose from her side. Her fingers trembled from the chill now pulsing through her entire body. Siobhan roared and closed her eyes. The voices and wind silenced with her roar.
Siobhan slumped in her saddle, wrapping her arms around Nyka’s neck. “Goddess watch over that fool. Elias will blame me if Wren dies.” She opened her eyes and sighed at the white fluff drifting around her. “So much for raining first. Curse my magic.”
One hand touched the inside of her mouth where the blood still dripped. Her fingers moved to her teeth and she hissed. Pulling her fingers away, she stared at her black blood coating the pads of her fingers. It wiped away with a single brush of her hand against her cloak. Siobhan twisted in the saddle and grabbed the final vial of changeling potion from Elias’ bag. She knew she’d regret giving Wren the other vial, she just didn’t know it would be so soon.
“I am cursed,” she whispered and drank the entire black liquid in a single gulp. Her eyes closed as she thought about the features she needed the potion to change. After several years, she’d finally acquired a taste for the rancid liquid so it no longer made her want to puke. Snow started coating the ground when she re-opened her eyes. “You had better pay up, Wren. If I wasted the last of my changeling potions on you and I still don’t get passage to Ardorn . . .”
She tied the reins of Wren’s horse to her saddle and clicked her tongue. Nyka responded to the gentle tap of her heels and the horse turned away from the gaping hole in the ground. Another tap of her heels sent all three horses in a gallop toward the north rim of the chasm. She couldn’t wait to leave that unholy place.