Illustration by Casey Green
After the night's cyclones, it was silence that woke Quincy. It was warmer, and light out. The coals of his fire breathed alive with a passing breeze. Quincy stomped them out before stretching his legs to the far side of the tunnel.
He peeked out into the frosty calm. The whipping flurries of yesterday had left the place untouched, a vast snow field in a halfpipe of toothy stone. The slope was steep, but smooth. Quincy prodded with his foot, then stepped out onto the crunchy, alabaster shelf.
Without flags to guide him, Quincy wandered from the tip of one renegade tree poking through the snow to the next. He jabbed his heels down to combat the lack of traction.
Quincy's head snapped up when a howl bounced spiraled through the windless, rocky walls. The sound led him to movement- a snowy white stalker. Quincy crept higher, sight trained on that moving, living whiteness. Had he heard the word 'wolf' before, his cryptic suspicion might have been closer to acute horror.
They paced as one, Quincy across the snow field and the wolf along the overlooking ridge. Their eyes never fully left or focused on one another, both wary of triggering a confrontation. The final stony ascent, about as tall as the Silvereach Dam, loomed ahead. Quincy was hesitant, but the days since the jungle had toughened his legs. Drinks with pirates had calmed his nerves. Standing invisible in the Netherworld Summit had stoked a fire inside him. In spite of even his own doubt, Quincy scraped knuckles and shins all the way to the top.
The the Avalon Spire peaked only a few hundred feet below the hanging Terra service walks. Quincy gazed up at silhouettes in their glassy veins. Whether they were workers or rebellious kids come to behold the wild-men, he couldn't tell. Either way, there Quincy was.
He paced between puzzle-pieced incisors of the Spire, searching for his mark. According to the names of other Tribunal members, it could be anything he could physically bring back, from Summitstone to Mountaintoad to Kneeslash. He supposed they gauged completion of the trial by amount of frostbite.
"Alright Spire," Quincy breathed, "Show me who I am." As he wandered the crown of the mountain, the answer flitted by his nose on a twisting breeze. "Scoot down the bench, Chief." Quincy tracked down a feather and plucked it from the air. The flawless white down was splotched with red. Dread gripped him when the wind furled a wave of feathers around his shoulders.
Quincy wheeled into the stench of death. His mark slipped from his fingers when he saw the rest of the white wolf's pack, noses down in a mass of twigs and leaves. Squeaks and screeches came between fanged, moist chomps. Without ever having seen a wolf or an owl, some part of Quincy knew what was happening. A pair of menacing canine eyes lifted from its meal, lips dripping. Quincy trembled for the blade in his belt. He popped it open.
"He-hey there, pup," Quincy tried. The wolf answered with a toothy snarl. "Quincy Dogfood it is." Then the beast- a good Quincy and a half in size- lunged. He stuck his blade in the side of its throat, but not before the wolf bit down on his hide armor. Red sponged through his sleeve while the fatal yelp called the eyes of the pack. They rushed him. Quincy knew he stood no chance alone.
He slashed a wolf away, only to have another seize his arm again. Quincy stuck his thrashing foe behind the skull before a third clawed his face. His mind threatened to shut down at being devoured in pieces, until a screech brought him back. White wings flashed down. Quincy had never seen a bird of prey before, let alone one so proud as a snow owl. He was stunned when it pierced the eyes of his attacker, doubly so when another wolf snatched it from the air. Like a bolt of lightning, the owl was gone as he saw it.
The sound that broke his trance was a whine from the bloody owl nest. Quincy followed his first, strongest impulse; sprint there. He scooped up a big-eyed, crying ball of feathers in both arms and broke for the dropoff.
"It's okay, it's okay," he muttered, more to himself than the owlet. Quincy nearly ran right off the edge of the Spire, but for the pebbles he kicked off the ledge ahead. "Hang out here." He relocated the hatchling to his hood before climbing down. When they realized they couldn't follow, half the wolves took switchbacks to the snow field below. The rest snapped over Quincy's head.
He grasped the baton. Mimicking Crichton, he jammed its sharpened tip in the rocky wall and clicked the handle-button. While the mountain moaned and cracked, he switched for the zip-gun.
Quincy's shot speared the dead trunk of the closest tree. With a cringe, he flipped on the cord retrieval, which yanked him from the collapsing wall. It slung Quincy and the owlet within ten feet of the tree before they slid on ice to its trunk. When his head buckled back, Quincy saw wolves rushing straight for them, feet ahead of an icy tidal wave. He wrenched the zip-gun hook, and a loose slat, off the tree. Quincy clamored onto it, as good a sled as any. With two
hands in the snow, he launched.
Quincy and his hood-owl skated down the white field. With dislodged ice shelves close on their tail, they split the wind like a razor. A pair of jaws snagged his Quincy's leg. He, the wolf, and the owl spiraled to a powdery halt. He managed to snag the owlet and fired the zip-gun into the nearby tunnel. Teeth clamped around his shin again. All three slingshotted into the cavern. Snow walled them in immediately from behind.
The first weapon Quincy's fingers fumbled around happened to be the baton. When the fearsome white wolf released his leg for his throat, he jammed the tip under its jaw. The button click blasted blood through every opening in its skull.
Quincy waited out the avalanche in rumbling darkness with the little owl in his lap. When it whined, Quincy remembered the night of his own orphaning.
"It's okay, sweetheart," Quincy rocked them both to sanity, "It's okay."
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Strand: the Silver RadioScience Fiction
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