Gaining her breath, tho the blood-washed images remained, she and Vesta needs reorient themselves. How far had she run from the Cave of Torture and Sorrows?* In which direction. The middle’s sun might play tricks, appearing full overhead, only to sink to the horizon within a short span. She chose to retrace her frantic steps – clear in the leaf-bed – then hive off the path before the lure of the cavern could penetrate her protections. Without her own magic, she had only earthly weapons to do battle with ancient powers.

She wanted to escape the abandoned landscape and move deeper into the middle to the central point which must contain the finite power holding the directions together. So back to her base camp at the foot of the Skraeling Forest North Wall. Her knowledge of quests slight. Were they always mere foot slogs from one point of fear or panic to another? She was not a fearful lass – she could well defend herself with short sword and staff. But the middle and quests threw up the dead, not the living, for her to do battle with.

For, on her way back towards her camp, another strange event befell her. Culleen of clan Callawe’en pondered the cracked ice flowing from the easterly direction towards the west. Curious ice out of the east after winter past. After the awakening of nature to the new planting moons. She knew little of the east, but seemed strange to find a place colder than her north. And why flow westward, like a frozen finger pointing at rich farm lands still tilled, planted, harrowed, harvested?

Taking the cracked ice flow as an omen, she would follow the ice trail. The last night at the Wall, once again, she thought she heard the forges hammering, the songs of the argon miners and rhythmic thump of the looms. Perhaps, she heard Darwin chanting a lyric for her. Coming to her on winds out of her cold, magical north.

Culleen, the Quester, seeking what only she lacked in her land. Pulled to the middle, now to the easterlies, she was of the earth and forest, not the mystical and magical. She longed to find her own magic, her own spark to ignite the darkness of her humanish. Humanish that her people no longer felt.

Bright fingers of dawn scratching away the blackness, she and Vesta, bundled and traversed for travel, located the flow and began another journey along it’s margins. The new vegetation, crusted in a hoar frost, crunched beneath their feet. The ice breath must have frosted over the borders, Culleen observed, thinking again of the strangeness here. She was glad of her traveling attire – cast offs of her brothers – jerkin, stockings and leggings, sturdy boots, and cloak. She could move easily and warmly as the ice flow undulated across the landscape. In her baggage, she carried a dress should she needs be a woman again. In the middle, she saw little chance for this.

At what might be sun’s highest, she swung down her pack and signaled Vesta to halt, undoing the harness of her traverse. The cracked ice shimmered in the warmth – a layer of prismatic air danced above it. But the ice did not melt – no tickle of water became an awakening rivulet. How could this be – the sun was that of the awakening after the vernal equinox. She had chanted in the woods on her way to the middle, spreading meadowsweet seeds to the winds of spring. To catch up in a clearing and create sanctuary.

Dare she approach the crackling flow – stare into it’s midst, listen to its song, touch it’s isolation? Culleen knew that unless she was bent for the east now, she needs do the silly, the incautious. Without her own magic, she relied on the protective runes she had carved in her staff, her grandmother’s amulet around her neck. And,Vesta’s 6th sense about the world both visible and unseen.

Holding tight to her staff, then, she leaned over the cracked ice flow, seeing her face mirrored, fractured, distorted in its surface. She looked ancient, as old as the rune stones at the Skraeling Wall, her face a mass of fissures. Beneath her visage, a flat dead world, crushed, sucked dry by the ice, broken so as not to be reborn. And beyond, a void, a vortex, a stelliferous stream deep beneath the flow, the middle. A pathway for …..

Culleen was pulled away from that knowledge by the clacking of a raven almost upon her shoulder. Ravens were totems of her clan, and she had ne’er seen nor heard one in the middle til now. A raven sent for her, to her, she was sure. But by whom?

As a child, she heard  tales of how her people were of the sea, not the land, until they heard the ravens’ talk and emerged called by the clacks to the surface. Like her people, she had sea foam green eyes and raven’s black hair. To have a raven seek you was to be honoured. Culleen turned her gaze from cracked ice to the obsidian-hard black eyes of the raven.

If she were magic, she might speak with him; without, his speech was foreign and harsh to her ears. She understood the attraction to the sound, but not what the sound meant. As with all her magical frustrations, things were just out of reach. “Damn it to circumferential,” she spat “I speak wolf better than raven”, to which she gave a long howl as proof.

The effect was immediate. Her howl, enjoined by Vesta, turned the softly crumbling cracking sound of the ice into a thunderous clap and crash. The ice flow was gone, leaving it’s trail of destruction across the broad middle. The earth was frozen-burnt, but solid. The deeper star-filled liquid path beneath gone.

She sat on her haunches, as did Vesta – the raven silent by their side. Had she done something magic? She had howled since her feral childhood; she howled with Vesta at the loneliness of this place; howled for the souls in the cave. Why now did a howl bring about the end of a strangeness? Every question ended in a question. Was there ne’er an answer upon this quest?

She said to the raven: “We are on a hopeless fey quest. Please be for you to join us as you are sure sent.” The raven clacked an answer, and when Culleen put on her pack, perched lightly upon it. “We will follow the dead path,” she said to her companions, “to the easterlies it is.”

*From last week’s #writephoto mystery: Culleen in the middle

Written for Sue Vincent Thursday Photo Prompt cracked ice #writephoto (1.12.16)

@ Lorraine

If Culleen’s quest is of interest,

For Part 1 read here

For Part 2 read here

For Part 3 read here