The waves climb the cliffs despite their failing. The mountain reaches for the sky hopelessly. But, there is one mountain that gets close. It is the land’s tallest offering to the heavens. A flesh-curling chill surrounds this perpetually snowed-in place that not even the fiercest flame or thickest coat can keep at bay. At its seaward bottom the rock is exposed and worn smooth by the wave’s crashing, but at its summit the massive shell of ice hides the stone within. At the meeting point between rock and ice where the gravel turns to slip two climbers are a-climbing unperturbed by the invading frost. Though their boots are wet they do not plan to retreat like the ocean. Though they ascend the mountain they hope to reach their summit.
From without they look alike. Both are dressed in vast layers that trap their heat and identity inside. They ascend by means of axe-like picks getting their own taste of invasion. Each impact crackles and groans as the weight shifts. This melodious and binary repetition is so effective they simply repeat it until the distance is forgotten. Memory haunts one of them, the one that, within her clothes, wears a pain-red scarf. She will be Red, her companion: Blue. Blue not as a result of any outward appearance or inward feeling but because blue is such a lovely colour. Colour, however, would be something described with difficulty in this place. The higher they climbed the whiter and more null it became. Then a crackle crackled a bit more than was comfortable. Red, lost in her pained remembering, had moved thoughtlessly into a place where the ice rebelled. The crack spread its root, which Red considered quite beautiful for the shortest time before she realised they meant to halt her pilgrimage. Her heart leapt and her body was close behind. After coming so far the block of ice had failed and tumbled back to eternity. Red hadn’t the time to fill her lungs for in her haste to escape the tumble she’d landed quite impossibly. She stood on the wall, perfectly horizontal. It was so impressive that Blue made a note never to forget this and to tell as many people as possible when they got back. This mental note-taking happened in exactly 2 nothingths of a second, which was briefly the amount of time Red had to consider her best course of action before gravity, that old prude, realised what was happening. She broke into a run, summit-bound. Blue sprang into action too lest Red should fall and need her help. From a distance, this would have seemed most peculiar indeed: two climbers frantically and improbably climbing up a cliff, although it’s possible it would have seemed just as peculiar from up close. But, silly descriptions aside, Red was in trouble. Though she had closed with the summit she was starting to lose momentum. At this rate she’d be just another wave. Gravity, that trickster, that ne’er do well, that goose, was tugging on her elbow like a little brother reminding a sibling that he existed. But, Red had just one more thing to do before she could pay him any mind. She just had to get to… the… top! Alas, the Momentum Police yelled freeze and Red did so, in mid-air. Blue scrambled insanely from below, rushing with all ice-splintering haste to her comrade’s aid. Red, tried not to swallow lest the travelling spit should be the straw that threw the camel off a mountain’s back. Fortunately, ridiculously and hilariously, a mighty gust of rebellious wind (that could go wherever it liked) blasted Red with a trampoline of force. It was enough to catapult her that last distance onto the mountain top whereupon she finally payed attention to gravity and embraced the snow wholesomely. Blue’s arms appeared over the cliff edge moments later as if they were the sprouts of a fast growing flower. She immediately checked on Red, and upon seeing that she was intact, fell upon her and had a good laugh.
Paradoxically, this mountain was no laughing matter. They stood, or rather, sat on the edge where the wind was obstinate and rowdy. Its opposition came in the form of a red soupy mist that stretched out around them as far as could be seen. This was what the climbers had come here for. This mist. Since the wind was loud and their mouths were beneath much covering, spoken language would certainly go unheard. Furthermore, written language would have taken too long. Thus, the two climbers conversed in Sign Language, in particular a newly formed one named Das Kew not to be confused with the Sign Language of the forest, but more on that later. Snow did fall to obscure their vision, but these climbers wore goggles made from the eye lenses of sand-worms fabled for their mythic ability to see through just about anything (not including underwear). Thus, they appeared perfectly clear to each other and signed this:
“I’ll go this way.” Signed Blue.
“I’ll go duck.” Signed Red. Note: In Das Kew the sign responsible for indicating direction is remarkably similar to the sign for duck. Blue doesn’t know this and she understood that Red meant ‘this way’. In fact, no one will ever know that she signed incorrectly. Did she sign incorrectly then; I wonder? I digress. So, Blue went this way and Red went duck. As they got to the milk-skin that was the barrier between them and the mist they turned to each other.
“Back in 5 minutes.” Blue signed.
“Cool. Good luck.” Red signed.
It was like stepping into a bath, if baths were vertical and didn’t have an end. Also, Red didn’t feel warm and comforted as she entered it, rather she felt a cold numbness encompass her. Within the mist there was no sound. There was no smell. There was no taste. There was no feeling. The numbness seeped into her clothes like a spilled drink. Pins and needles tickled her skin. Her clothes were thick enough to keep her from being entirely numbed but her body ached. She felt like she was suffocating. But, she knew what she had to do, she knew why she had come here and she knew that these feelings were just an illusion. Her memory reminded her of her true feelings. They had brought her here to save her friend. And, so she set off eyes front, into the mist. For though her other senses were absent she could still see.
The moment Red set foot outside the mist her entire body buzzed with the feeling of blood rushing back into every vessel. She twitched convulsively but overcame the sensation within a few moments. Blue had brought a someone with her. To look upon his face felt cruel. It had been a wizard, but now it was something else. There were pulsating veins wrapped around his form like parasitic vines. He twitched as if reaching for an itch that couldn’t be scratched. No, he was scratching but he couldn’t be satisfied. His body was thin, more like a shell. They didn’t know how he continued on. They didn’t know what sustained him. Perhaps nothing did, perhaps something tormented him instead. His eyes were a swirl of darkest blood that spiralled down into maze-like nothingness. Red nodded. Blue picked up the once-wizard and threw him off the cliff where his pain would be at an end. He didn’t even struggle.
They decided to take it in turns. Blue drove a pole into the ground and tied a length of rope (Jojoji-made) around it then she tied on several other lengths of rope. Blue set off with these ropes in hand, and one around her waist. If Blue tugged on it three times Red knew that she had found another wanderer in the mist and pulled them towards her. The wanderers were listless and unable to perceive anything let alone a threat. They came easily and without objection although Red had to take care not to pull too hard lest their atrophied muscles give in. She pulled in two more wizards before Blue came back, needing a break. They swapped roles and Red headed in without hesitation.
This time when she headed in her clothes weren’t as effective at keeping the numbness out. The mist was chewing at her and she was starting to feel the cold teeth. More of her body was numb and her arms felt diminished. But, her resolve was strong. The mist was shadow but she could see through it. There was a silhouette in the distance and she could see that it was holding some sort of weapon, a blade. She dashed towards the wanderer, her body parts felt like they were sloshing around and with each step she grew more nauseous. As she drew nearer her heart sank. It was a knight wielding a sword. Never had Red seen a more wretched being. The mouth was agape, the spiralling eyes were blank and the body was motionless as if frozen by the death stare of an unspeakable beast. Red didn’t dare dream of what nightmare the knight was trapped in. She tied a rope around the knight, tugged thrice and it started slowly ambling away.
Red returned to swap with Blue. She had wanted to get a better look at the knight but Blue had already thrown her off the edge. No matter, she would be seeing them all soon enough. Blue went back in and Red sat down to catch her breath. Her body was shaking. To perceive nothing and then to perceive everything again so immediately left her feeling dazed and breathless. The mist was like a demon and a ghost. Deadly, damaging and vicious but at the same time quiet, absent, yet omni-present. She found comfort in the biting cold because she could at least feel it. She was waiting by the pole now, dreading the fact that she’d have to go back in when she felt the rope get tugged, four times. That was the signal! She grabbed the rope and started to pull slowly. She had to take extreme care. Red was so excited to see him she had to stop herself from pulling too hard. She imagined him falling face first in the snow and then laughing about it afterwards. She wanted to see him so badly. She wanted to see him laugh. Then she felt the rope go taut. It was stuck. She pulled. Nothing. She pulled again. Nothing. She pulled hard. Then the line went limp and she fell backwards. If the pole hadn’t been there she would surely have fallen off the mountain. She held the rope in her hands and looked into the mist. The outer layer was too thick, even with her sandworm goggles. Then Blue’s rope went limp and fell to the floor beside her. A split second later a knife zoomed out of the mist and landed right by Red’s foot. She immediately dove forwards and clutched it with both hands. This knife had been enchanted with homesick magix, that meant it would always fly back to where it had come from. It was Blue’s knife, so it would lead Red to her. She clipped it onto her belt, she could already feel the knife pulling. As soon as it was fastened she let go and it pointed forwards like a compass. She took a breath, clenched her fists and ran forwards once again.
That familiar numb. She could see the silhouettes in the distance and, though her legs didn’t want to carry her, nothing could keep her from him, not today. She followed the knife tip and soon found herself on a knife edge. A precipice. There was kicked up snow all around her and the two ropes. Blue couldn’t have fallen! She bent over and started to climb down and to her surprise she found some stone steps. She walked down them cautiously. Her legs were so numb that it felt as if she were walking on her shin bones, she juddered with each step. But, she was in luck. Blue was right there at the bottom of the steps. It looked as if she had fallen. Red picked her up and threw her over her shoulder. Who knows how she managed this feat in her weakened state but she did. She also noticed a deep gash in Blue’s back. The mist was seeping in. She had to get Blue out of here now! Damn! She would have to come back again to find her friend. But, she would have to look no further. For the one she had come looking for stood at the top of the steps. There he was wielding his katana. There was Jack. Red shook with fear and sorrow when she looked up at him. He looked down on her with spiralled eyes of nothingness. His familiarity was choked by the sinuous veins but his white hair and katana were all too recognisable. He started to wave the katana around aimlessly. Blue must have been caught unaware when she turned around. Red lay Blue down gently and approached with extreme caution. She ignored the weakness, the sight of him exhilarated her. She waited for a big swing and then tackled him to the floor. She looked down on his face and hers contorted. His lips were moving, there was no sound, but she could see the words he was mouthing.
“Why did you leave?”
Red’s vigour felt renewed as emotion flowed freely through her. She got off Jack and put him on her back. He was light. Then she went to Blue and grasped a fistful of her coat. She felt that her rope was good and tight. But, then her left leg disappeared. She fell flat on her face with Jack on top of her. She looked down and saw that the katana had sliced right through her pants. The mist had come in and claimed her leg. It wasn’t numb. It wasn’t there. It felt completely and utterly severed, or rather it didn’t feel at all. But, she wasn’t defeated. She wouldn’t be. She grabbed the rope and pulled herself onto her feet. All her weight was on her right leg and the left one dragged behind limply. She lumbered forwards somehow. But, her misfortune wasn’t at an end. The mist ahead was warped, as if the shapes were distorted. Cracked. Her goggles. The right eye had a large crack down the middle, likely from her fall. She hopped on as fast as she could before the mist could get to her. She saw a small red vapour whisper in through the crack. She held her breath. The edge was
She was walking in the desert. In the distance, a city on fire. She could see the sky ships circling above it raining down hot hatred. A pain started in her chest and blood poured out of a deep wound. Then a beast beyond imagining appeared and swallowed the city whole. It was gone. But, all the voices remained. They called out to her. They called out countless names. She saw faces. She saw bodies. All the names! So many names!
But, she was none of them. She remained. She would remember.
“This wound healed long ago, now the scar remains.” Red said and the wound healed instantly. “I am Jean and I will not be taken by illusion. I know my nightmares.”
Then everything was nothing. Red was floating in a void. It wasn’t that she couldn’t perceive anything. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to smell, nothing to taste. She couldn’t even feel where she started and ended – almost as if she was a part of this deep void. Then there was something. She didn’t know what it was. Without any of her senses she didn’t know how she could even perceive it. But, it was there. Beyond perception and yet perceivable. She moved towards it. She didn’t know how. She reached for it with all of her strength. She didn’t know where the strength came from. She touched it.
The wind roared in her ears. She smelled her breath. She could taste blood in her mouth. She saw the cliff edge and the rope-bearing pole sticking out of the snow. Now her leg was back. She could feel Jack on her and Blue in her hand. She could perceive again. And her perception was telling her it was time to go. With the last dregs of her strength she threw Blue off the mountain. Then she held Jack and took off the layers of her mask. And there was Jean beneath it all. One of her pupils had gone red, a result of the mist no doubt. She put her mouth to Jack’s ear.
“Do you know what day it is, Jack?” Jean said tenderly. “It’s been 10 years since we met. And, I wasn’t about to let you forget!” She grinned and hugged him tightly. Jack groaned silently, but there may just have been the subtlest note of relief in the sound.
Then Jean leapt off the mountain with Jack in her arms. As the air rushed passed her the last of her strength faded and she fell asleep. Her pain-red scarf billowed unbandaged as she approached the sea. Maybe she was a crashing wave after all, but at least she had reached her summit. Gravity, that whippersnapper, finally got what it wanted and the water was welcoming.