May stood in the middle of the highway, arms crossed and brow furrowed. On the outside she was still, her expression drawn and defiant. On the inside her heart was pounding as her mind struggled to comprehend what it was hearing.
"How long is this going to take?" she asked, keeping her tone steady even though all she wanted to do was scream. "How long until we can get through?"
Standing opposite her on the other side of a battered orange barrier was a weary ranger. He raised an eyebrow over one of his bloodshot, sleep deprived eyes. "Ma'am, what part of 'the road is washed out' don't you understand? This isn't something that gets fixed in a day."
"How long?" May pressed again. Her voice was even but her words were tight with patience worn thin. The ranger sighed and massaged his forehead with his thumb and forefinger.
"I don't know, lady. I want to tell you a week and change but it depends on how much more rain we get. Let's say two weeks to be safe."
May felt the bottom of her stomach give way. She didn't have two weeks to wait for the highway to re-open. As far as she was concerned, she didn't even have two days. Cursing under her breath, May cinched the hood of her jacket tighter around her face and tramped back to the waiting van that had gotten her this far. The heavy rains - the ones responsible for stealing away the critical stretch of highway before her - had settled into a fine, misting drizzle. Low clouds loitered between the emerging mountains on either side of the highway, reflecting May's abysmal mood. As she reached for the handle of the van's back door, a raven landed nimbly on the roof and gazed down on her questioningly.
"Two weeks," May muttered between clenched teeth.
Fargus - the corvid dispatched to bring her back to Tenna by the forest spirit-turned-mountain rescue technician, Dom - was not pleased with this news. He let out a cranky caw, flapping his wings irritably.
"Keep your feathers on," May hissed. "I'm working on it." With a too-hard yank she dragged the sliding door open and crawled inside.
Two pairs of eyes watched in the rearview mirror as May pulled down her hood and shook out the waves of rosy hair that cascaded from most of her head.
"Well?" inquired DeRon, owner of the first set of eyes and driver of the van. "What did he say?"
"Nothing good," May replied, clicking her seatbelt. She absentmindedly ran her fingers along the soft fuzz of her side shave. Her brain was already leaping ahead of the situation, trying to concoct a faster way to get to Tenna. "The road is washed out. It'll take a week-ish if the rain lets up, but it sounded like an optimistic estimate."
Seth, DeRon's boyfriend, let out a low whistle from the passenger seat. "There goes that climbing trip."
May hadn't known DeRon and Seth long, but she knew this news would be a disappointment. She had come across the couple two days earlier in the aisle of an outdoor equipment store in the seaside city of Mondova. May overheard them describing their upcoming climbing trip to Tenna to an enthusiastic employee. She had stood, frozen in disbelief, halfway through sweeping an arm-load of dehydrated meals into a shopping basket and eavesdropped as DeRon described the years of training he and Seth had done in preparation of summiting the north face Mount Yaspur on a whirlwind five-day trip. Shamelessly, May all but lept through the shelves and begged the pair for a ride to the mountain town.
May had noticed that the kind of people to whom the mountains called were generally generous at heart, and DeRon and Seth were no exception. The three had piled into DeRon's van that morning like old friends heading out on a road trip, and had been making pretty good time until they came to the highway blockade.
"There has to be another way to get there," May said, leaning forward between the front seats and looking earnestly at each of them in turn.
Seth shook his head, looking crushed. "This mountain range is too dense for other roads and settlements. To get through it there's only one way in and one way out on the other side, and Tenna's the only town along the way."
"If we had more time, we could head south to the pass in the lower range and loop back up. But that would add so much travel time that we wouldn't actually have a chance to do anything once we got there." DeRon gave Seth a crestfallen look. "And with all this rain, the climbing would probably be shit anyway."
"We'll just have to plan another trip," Seth said with false positivity. "Try again in the dry season."
Under different circumstances, May would have felt bad for them. Over hours of driving, the couple had told May about their many mountain climbing adventures over the course of their relationship. Summiting Mount Yaspur was a bucket list adventure to them. May could picture the near vertical face of the mountain jutting from the clouds; she saw it every day during her brief stint as a member of Tenna's search and rescue team. Truthfully she thought DeRon and Seth were crazy for wanting to climb the behemoth, but far be it for her to judge the passions of other people.
May watched the windshield wipers as they tracked beading, streaky arcs and half listening to DeRon and Seth bandy around ideas of other spots they could camp and climb. But it wasn't until DeRon put the van in drive and turned the wheel did she truly believe they were giving up.
"Wait," she cried. "You're not really turning around, are you?"
The guys exchanged perturbed glances.
"We can't go through and we can't stay here..." Seth trailed off, hoping May didn't honestly need him to spell out the obvious for her.
"I need to get to Tenna." May's voice was small and desperate.
DeRon put the van back in park and turned in his seat to face her. "We're sorry, May. But I'll bet you can find someone heading south when we get back to Mondova. If we had the time we'd totally take you all the way, I swear."
Through the roof, May could make out the light scratchy tapping of Fargus' talons as he waited for something to happen. She bit her lip and forced down her dismay. DeRon and Seth didn't know why she needed to get to Tenna; she hadn't told them about Dom and his mysterious raven-delivered summon. She hadn't told them about how this pit stop was standing between her and what she was really after: a fallen wishing star, a long lost piece of celestial magic that could be the way to stop a hostile group known as the Loyals. And she certainly hadn't told them about...
"Well, unless you can fly, the only other way to get to Tenna would be to walk."
May sat up with a jolt. A memory struck her like lightning, filling her mind with images of a fateful night, sitting on the couch next to the woman who would change her life forever.
"She was backpacking to the coast," May whispered, the thrill of new possibility flooding her veins.
"Huh?" DeRon and Seth blurted in unison.
"Thanks for the ride, guy," May all but shouted as she fumbled with her seatbelt with one hand and ripped open the door with the other. "I'm going to walk from here."
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The Fire and the Sky (Book 3 of the Starborn Series)Fantasy
Separated from her Starborn girlfriend, Em, and the rogue group of Wishes known as WIND, May Alana knows she can't go back to life she once knew. Now, armed with a family secret that could help put an end to the chaotic power of the ruthless Loyals...