Illustration by Abby Brown
An unexpectedly accommodating night on an Avalon down mattress and an edible meal were overdue for Quincy. While still revolting, chicken went down easier for him than lion. He was still accompanied everywhere around the village, but noticed a considerable loosening since he elected to take on the Avalon Spire. Mabel and Corman remained in detention, but Quincy was free, at least of binds, fed, and equipped with everything a native would at the onset of their oldest and most dignified undertaking. Maselyn had sent him a hide-fur vest and gloves for ceremony. He needed only his mark from the mountain.
"Does everyone in the village climb the Spire?" Quincy asked one of his guides.
"Only those who want to join the Tribunal," the guard surprised him with an answer, "Get dressed." Even with the warm, gold-pinned vest beneath, Quincy's cloak hung loose on his stroll through the village. It seemed considerably smaller in the light, with the Spire looming too high overhead to see the peak. The lower bluffs wore a blanket of snow.
"Quincy," Mabel shot up over the stony half-wall of the holding hut, "This is a mistake."
"So let em make it, Mabel," Corman moaned, head hung low. He'd mentioned earlier that this was a record fast from alcohol. "We all made our own, to make us ladies an men."
"If I can pull this off..." Quincy trailed off at the terrifying thought. "They've loosened up already."
"They're patronizing you because they know you're screwed!" Mabel hissed.
"Prisoners do not speak," said one of Quincy's guides.
"Knock em dead, Quinn!" Corman squeezed in before they headed for the outer paths.
It was instantly colder beyond the threshold of the village, in the forests skirting the Spire. The land rose in gentle waves beneath ghastly forests of reaching wooden arms. Fall and winter on the Terra Layer was a show of color: vivid throughout, while the leaves rarely came down. This was arcane, even more beautiful in its gritty reality of brown, crunchy husks on a mountain. Mountain, Quincy mused. Once, he'd been impressed by the grassy wart Greenknoll was named for.
Two vague lines of stones and flagged strings outlined the path up shallow earthen bosoms. It snaked into steeper cleavage in rapid switchbacks. Quincy's sole distractions were humanoid shadows that lumbered between them and small camps beyond the trail. The casual glances at them by the Tribesmen told him they were no threat. They lumbered alongside his procession on colossal forearms, just too far to make out. Maybe some kind of monkey?
"Gorillas," mumbled one of his guides, "Quite fond of your friend, Mabel. I suppose she's not the only one dependent on your success." Quincy squinted, but they were remarkably good at vanishing, for such large creatures.
Maselyn waited with a small troop of Tribesmen at the fringe of the Spire's rocky foot. Quincy's own guard spread behind him to block the path back to the village. The solemn context of so many people in silence carried him forward, before the Chief herself.
"Quincy Famino," Maselyn trumpeted over the rocky pit, "You hereby take on the Trial of the Avalon Spire of your own accord, with no assistance. You return with your mark, as I did my owl's feather, or you stay with the Spire."
When the Chief stepped out of line, Quincy passed through the break. He took the briefest of glances over his shoulder, at the resealed wall of bodies. That left him one way to go- up.
Quincy's knees came up above his waist on the stair that started his journey. Gnarled crags wound up through the most resilient trees, rooted in splintered cracks. The constant grasp and pull on stone up turned his knuckles to ice. Quincy yanked the ceremonial gloves from his oversized pockets. He had to incorporate his teeth to pull them on.
The temperature dropped by degrees as Quincy climbed in tricky clamors. Where once the trail was clear, Quincy knew where to go only by the flicking tails of bright flags through cascading fog. He figured it was safe now for him to unholster the weapons he'd stolen from Crichton's stash in Islaire, from the inside of his thigh. He chuckled a tribute to Corman as he drew the telescope blade, zip-gun, and that destructive baton from their uncomfortable hiding place. He fastened each carefully to his belt. It made the high-knee, hand-over-head hiking considerably easier. Snow powder swept over him in the misty wind.
His mind eventually wandered, if only to get away from the biting cold. He imagined Elly watching him somehow, on a camera-fed screen somewhere. The weeks since they'd seen one another felt more like lifetimes. Would she cheer him on? Would she cover her eyes? Would she even believe it was him, on the side of the blizzard-whipped cliffs? Would she beg me to stop? Quincy realized he and Elly never had a chance to discuss how she felt about being the Seeress. Then he remembered her eyes- that sullen violet smile. The whole time he'd thought she was sad for him, but...
A howl snapped Quincy awake. His hair blasted back with a flood of frozen air. The flags were gone. When he reached up, he found an open maw in the side of the mountain. Quincy climbed inside and plopped against the wall.
Quiet, warmer- it was a different world in that cave. Tunnel, Quincy realized, when he noticed the white, wintery light bleeding through. There wasn't much Beacon light left, and Quincy had a date with a bottle from Corman's under-deck collection. He pulled some sticks he'd tucked away in the forest from his jacket. He sprinkled them in Marauder's Mud. In minutes, he had a fire warm enough to dry his gloves and socks. In hours, he'd eaten through his supply of granola and fallen half asleep. He dreamed about the dance he stole with the Seeress, between howls from what he hoped was the wind. Even in sleep, though, Quincy couldn't quite shake the feeling he was being watched.
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