Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Four

Nora knew that they would never get the Kenazians back. There was no way to bring them back by force—even she had already figured that out—but she’d hoped for negotiations at least. Eventually Sheen might give way and let someone go, and Nora would be more than willing to be that person herself, but it was very likely that Atkin wasn’t going to budge. Zena said so, and she apparently knew him pretty well, though Nora really didn’t understand what was going on there.

It was as she reached this conclusion that she decided to visit. She’d gone over the moment of Cragg’s leaving, and complicated as it may be, she was determined to see him again. She didn’t know much about the land beyond Mt. Yenin, but it couldn’t be very far for Atkin to just pack up and go. He was so meticulous he couldn’t have been facing a long journey to make such a quick decision. Unless he was playing us the whole time—but isn’t lying forbidden for him?

Nevertheless, she was determined to go, so she sent Petto to stay with her best friend, Lynerri, currently living with her older sister. Unlike Nora, though, Kameli was actually there most of the time. It was only recently that Nora had begun to realize how much she wasn’t at home.

She took nothing with her. She knew she had to be back by the next morning, so there was no point bringing food or anything.

She set off around the edge of the colony, avoiding the center where someone might see her and ask where she was going. In no time at all she had reached Mt. Yenin. She spent several minutes debating how high to climb it. Eventually she decided to just go straight and see what happened, as the Kenazians had done.

Once she had rounded the mountain about two hours later, it was dangerously late in the afternoon, but she could see the tents of the new settlement, and she felt sure she could make it there.

***

Once she got to the Twin Peaks, she eyed the camp, knowing right away that she couldn’t parade in through the gate, since she wasn’t exactly on official business.

Wishing she was a sneak-elf and simultaneously knowing that Sheen would kill her if she heard that thought, she snuck around the edge of the mountains, keeping an eye out for Cragg or his tent. Unfortunately, Kenazian tents were virtually identical and the names were written in very small letters on the front. If I was wearing the right clothes, I could just walk in, she thought, how many people would recognize me? The number was really higher than she thought, the rumor of Cragg’s Mashomi girlfriend having spread rather fast.

She was hiding behind a tree on the edge of the woods debating what to do when she saw him. He was sitting on a log in a clearing with no tent occupying it. Sending thanks anywhere and everywhere, respecting her mother’s religion for the first time in a while, she quickly plotted a path there and followed it, darting behind trees.

Somehow he didn’t see her, which made her both laugh inwardly and curse whatever it was he was thinking about so seriously. He lonely looked up when she sat next to him on the log.

“Nora?” he hissed, “what are you doing here?”

“I came to see you, duh.”

He glanced around and then gave her a quick hug. “I miss you,” she whispered into his shoulder.

He let go and suddenly his forehead. “You aren’t planning on making this a regular thing?”

“That depends on how easy it is. Does anyone ever come back here?”

“I don’t know. Nora,” he paused, “you can’t just come sneaking in here all the time.”

“Well, are you ever coming home?”

“I think this is supposed to be my home.”

“You don’t want it to be, though.”

“I don’t know,” he said again, “but it isn’t safe.”

“You take things too seriously. You and Atkin both.”

“Oh, Atkin,” he sighed, “he’s changing. I don’t think he trusts anymore.”

“What about you? Does he trust you?”

“No, and that’s why you can’t visit all the time. It’s dangerous.”

For a moment Nora agreed, and then she said, “why would you want to stay with a group that makes meeting me dangerous?”

“It isn’t our group, it’s the whole climate. You know we got some raised eyebrows back home. I mean, at the colony.”

“That’s bullshit.” Nora stood up abruptly, “It’s your group that’s messes things up. I didn’t mind the rules and the traditions, but you were the ones who left. I know that the half-gods suck and made you miserable, but seriously, you couldn’t stick it out?”

“We could have, but we wanted freedom. Can’t you respect that?”

“I can respect that. I can’t respect you just packing up and leaving without any warning. All that did is put up a barrier.”

“Action had to be taken.”

“That was pretty quick for it to happen,” she said shrewdly, “did you really decide, or did Atkin tell you to go?”

Now he got off of the log. “He’s my family, Nora, this is my family.”

“Family’s for loving, not for following blindly,” she snapped, “did he organize the protest at the wedding too? Or did you have general assembly and discuss it?”

“That is not the issue here,” he said as fiercely as he could while still whispering.

“Oh yeah? What is?”

“The issue,” he said firmly, “is that you can’t cross the mountain all the time, and I can’t get caught leaving.”

The meaning of this hit her as squarely as he’d smacked her on the forehead with the palm of his hand. “Soo…we won’t see each other.”

“Not until someone starts talking between the colonies. Which isn’t going to happen soon, not if Atkin has anything to say about it.”

“When did he become so anti-negotiation?”

“I think Rouk had something to do with it.”

“Who?”

Before he answered, he became aware again of people moving in the woods. The sun was very near the horizon and people would be closing up for the night. “You better get out of here.”

“Yeah.” She thought about giving him a kiss, or something, before she left, but she wasn’t sure how to do it. And she thought she might have just been semi-dumped. “Bye.”

“Goodbye, Nora.”

***

Getting to Mt. Yenin wasn’t really that difficult. They were all heading inside, so she was able to make it to the Twin Peaks without being seen pretty easily. It was the hike around Mt. Yenin that was going to take too much time. She had picked her way around boulders and it had taken her about two hours. The sun was already down and it was going to get dark and cold very quickly.

She could see right above her a fairly large cliff. She thought that it might be flatter on top of it if she could get up there. It would be a steep climb, but if it really was easier walking above it, it could shave off some time. Anyway, she didn’t relish a tedious and slow hike around the bulk of the mountain.

It’s lucky I don’t have anything to carry, she thought. Just after that her stomach growled and she had to exercise a lot of self-restraint to keep from eating snow, she was so thirsty. Probably there was nothing wrong with the snow on the top, which had likely just fallen, but all her life she’d been taught to not eat snow, and she wasn’t going to start now.

By the time she reached the top, it was almost completely dark. So much for getting home by dinner time. I hope Petto isn’t too worried. Without light she couldn’t really see the details of the ground, but it did seem flatter than the terrain lower down. She found it quiet smooth as she walked forward.

She kept to the inside, away from the ledge, and it was there that she felt the foliage. He hand touched grasses of the kind that grew in the prairie around the colony. She hadn’t heard of any brush growing on the mountain. Gingerly she ran her hand over it. She followed it up to about her chest, where it ended, right up against the snowy rock, but it didn’t seem right. She pushed on the grass, and it gave way.

As her hand hit the empty air beyond what must have been some kind of shield or wall, she lost her balance entirely. The ground had become quite slanted, tilting inward, which was fine for keeping away from the edge of the cliff, but it was also very rocky, as if the snow had been swept away, and so there was nothing to dig her feet into. Caught so suddenly by the breakthrough of the grasses, she fell rather painfully and slid on her side through the brush screen.

She screamed as she rolled and fell down a bumpy, steep rock wall. She scrabbled at the rock face as she fell, but it did nothing. She landed on a packed snow floor, on her back with her head raised just enough to see the fire pit she skidded into, pushing kindling and old ashes into the lap of the girl about to light the fire.

She had long blonde hair and she stared at Nora with wide eyes.

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