32. Wherein Everything Goes Downhill

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"The problem with avalanches is they don't negotiate. You cannot offer them fun riddles or architectural advice or earworm relief. They wreak havoc until the energy created by the movement of tons of ice is expended.

You can't argue with physics.

Put that on my epitaph."—Unknown


The ground did not behave at all like ground is supposed to—all still and reliable. Instead, it had all the substance and stability of meat jelly.

Beneath their feet, the crust of snow shattered like broken glass, radiating outward into hundreds of lightning bolt-shaped fissures.

"What's happening?" Kai said, leaping to the side to dodge a crack heading straight for her.

"Avalanche," Derek croaked. "Layyin, watch out!"

At the last second, Layyin vaulted, barely escaping a widening crevasse. She landed on her behind, legs over her head, grinning, eyes glowing like moonbeams. "Cool."

But then ...

... an eerie quiet blanketed the mountaintop.

As if suddenly the monstrous mountain thought, hey, why bother with all this destruction? Wouldn't it be better not to make such a big mess? Think of all the cleanup!

Perhaps that was it.

Which would make this a fabulous quiet, not an eerie one.

A small, slightly insane giggle escaped Ashley's mouth. Avalanches didn't seem all that bad compared to trolls, witches, randy unicorns, arcane prophecies, ice elves, and an abominable lack of moisturizer while questing.

"You could've been hurt, My Princess," Terrowin said, extending a hand.

"I know! Isn't that awesome?" Layyin said, breathless as she allowed him to help her up. "I love being on the brink. So life-affirming."

"'Tis," Terrowin agreed. "But a little less brink, please."

Layyin kicked snow into the crack. "I'm a little disappointed, though. You'd think an avalanche would be more of a challenge."

Derek put his hands on his hips and glared at Layyin. "Girl, are you insane? Never ever ever taunt the universe. What do they teach you at princess school? Honestly!"

Layyin formed a snowball and threw it hard at Derek. Missed. It hit the crack instead. Immediately thereafter, above the cloud line came a deep, very wrong-sounding rumble that vibrated in Ashley's chest. "Whaaaa?" Ashley said. Next came a series of bangs, the twisted crunch of snapping wood, a banshee-caliber scream.

Oh, wait. That was her.

"Told you, Layyin," Derek snapped.

Craggy tree trunks slid and tumbled in chaos, like a melee of giant rolling pins determined to flatten them into life-sized gingerbread people.

Chaos ensued as the humans shouted, sidled, scampered, stumbled.

"What do we do?" Sadira yelled and fell into the snow as a log grazed her ankle. She stood shakily, arms outstretched in the traditional "I' m-embarrassed-I-fell-but-don't-worry-about-me" stance. "I'm okay."

"Aaaaaaargh," Ashley said, narrowly avoiding the cauldron hurtling past. They had to get to shelter and fast. But where?

Betty trumpeted out a snore as piercing as a stampeding elephant but remained blissfully asleep.

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