Melt

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Blood-filled water pooled around his ankles, elbows and the back of his head, where he lay sprawled on rocks in a depression beneath the glacial cliff. He stared up at the blue-white skies, now tinged with orange, with the cliff cutting across half his view, stretching sharply up and jutting out. Water dripped from icicles high above, drops splashing onto his face.

There had been a natural path of sorts which hadn't lasted for long, coming to an abrupt end as it vanished into the ice wall. Tranton had stood on the ridge, sheer drop below and a sheet of ice above, with the valley laid out temptingly all the way to the horizon. His destination close enough to reach out and hold. Instead, he was a small man gripping the side of a vertical world.

Backing off to a safer position, he'd dug a hole in the ice, a hook about which he would be able to tie his woefully inadequate rope. He'd left Hollanhead with what he thought would be more than adequate supplies, assuming that the mountain range was less deep and with less tortured topography. Climbing equipment had been progressively lost in deep gorges, abandoned halfway down escarpments and left attached to the top of outcroppings to which he'd never return.

He'd lowered himself gingerly over the edge, the ground dizzyingly far below, and had clambered hand-over-hand, the rope tied awkwardly around his waist. Not having enough to form a proper harness, if he fell it would stop his fall but might potentially cut him in half. The rope took him down about twenty foot, leaving only a couple hundred to go. Searching for anything to hold his weight, Tranton walked sideways along the ice wall, swinging on the rope, and grasped at an oblique protrusion which looked sturdy enough. Instead, cracks appeared along its edge and it shattered, disappearing into the wind, sending him swinging back on the rope in a wide arc.

The temperature was noticeably changed here - none of the bitter cold of the peaks remained, with the warmth from the valley rising to meet the glacier. That at least meant that his fingers were functioning enough to grip. Although the wind still blew across the face of the ice cliff, he was now shielded from the greater gale above.

There had been a platform a little way below, formed by the long-ago slipping of a huge sliver of ice as big as a house. If he could reach it, he'd be able to descend a little further. Rooting about in his layers of furs, he'd retrieved the hilt, had flicked the lock and watched as it telescoped outwards in the blink of an eye. He'd manipulated it in his palm, being careful not to lose his grip, and had made an investigative push into the ice beside where he swung on the rope. The tip of the blade penetrated deep and he was able to keep pushing. Either the ice was warmer and more brittle than he'd anticipated or the blade was sharper than it had any right to be, having been left in the wilderness for so long.

He had gouged out a rough triangular shape, pulling out the ice until there was a hand-hold of sorts. Then he did the same a little lower, creating a space for his foot. He'd already kicked off the decrepit ice shoes, leaving them to their own fate at the top of the cliff. Inserting his foot and one hand, he pulled himself sideways, then plunged the blade into the cliff-face again. It was a painstaking process, carving out his own holds as he went. After only a small distance he'd had to steady his nerves and cut the rope that still anchored him the top of the ice. It swung away under its own weight, until it hung teasingly out of reach.

Taking a deep breath, he continued. A new handhold. Then a new foothold. One after another. Each time slightly lower, cutting his path along the cliff, doing his best to ignore the ground dizzyingly far below.

His fingers began to scream. His toes cried out. Each time he cut into the ice with the sword in one hand the muscles on his other arm grew ever-tighter, threatening to surrender and give way. The weight of his body became ever more apparent, and he began to fear that he would simply drop away from the wall, unable to cling on any longer. He set his mind against the challenge, swearing incoherently to himself and the elements.

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