Asta woke with a start, sat up quickly and bashed her head against stone. She collapsed to the floor, sloshed water from the pool with her sudden movements, groaned in pain and suddenly remembered her situation.

Blood flowed from torn flesh, gingerly she touched her forehead where she had hit the cave roof. There was swelling, her fingers came away bloody, “Pickles!”

She splashed water onto her face and the wound on her forehead, the bleeding did not stop. After a cautious look around she pulled herself over the entrance of the cave. She was surprised by how little pain she was in. Except for the most recent bashing of her head, she seemed to have undergone a miraculous recovery. At the mouth of the cave she paused and looked around, there was no sign of the strange creatures and nothing else seemed threatening. The light was still that of a stormy twilight sky, the mountain top rose above her position.

The air tasted strange and her breathing was still a labour, but it did not seem as bad as when she had first arrived.

Again she was amazed at the distance she had covered during her descent and wondered how she had not killed herself coming down the slope. She saw stars, high above the mountain peek, surprised by how familiar they appeared and yet disconcerted by a subtle difference in perspective. Blood trickled along the bridge of her nose and dripped to the rocky ground, she wiped at her forehead, startled by the amount of blood on her fingers.

She crawled out of the little cave and sat up. After a quick look at her surroundings, verifying that she was not in any immediate danger, she turned her attention to a careful inspection of her wounds. “Goddess be praised!” She said a bit too loudly and looked around again for fear something might have heard her.

The Goddess had given her the mercy of healing, the gash along her foot, the deep puncture from the sliver of stone, even her left leg seemed like it would support her again. With the exception of the recent wound on her forehead, she had been fully healed. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Next, she took stock of what she had with her. She untied the braided belt she wore around her waist, she placed it, the pouch and small knife she usually carried on the ground to one side. She removed the boot and sock from her right foot then unwound the bandages she had made from her tattered robe, placing them to the other side. By this point her forehead was no longer bleeding, under the gummy coagulation that had covered the would she had a very tender bump forming.

Asta crawled back into the cave, retrieved her robe and the torn shift she had been wearing. Asta tossed them outside where she had left her other belongings. She left the rope halter on and her medallion, she briefly held the symbol of her Goddess to her lips and kissed the flesh warmed metal, “Thank you, ” she whispered. She took some time to bathe again, untied her hair and rinsed it out as well then tied it back up. Once more she left the cave.

She emptied the contents of her pouch onto her shift; a brass needle, an arms length of waxed thread, a small piece of dirty candy, a scrap of cloth she used as a hanky, five copper weight, a silver weight, a flint arrowhead that Flint had made for her and another length of braided leather for tying back her hair. Really it was not much, she wish she had her ironwood walking stick but knew better than to dwell on what could have been.

The sock was not of much use, it was crusted with dried blood on the bottom and it had started to fray along the upper part of the gash. She though about stitching the gash in her boot but was pretty sure the small needle she had was not up to the task. Instead, she pulled the boot on and used three of the bandages she had made to tie it in place. She popped the dirty piece of candy into he mouth and sucked on it while she continued to sort out her meagre supplies.

Her shift was torn at the neckline, most of the stitching along the right shoulder had been ripped apart and it was otherwise shredded and punctured by the loose stones she had slid through. It took her a few moments to cut and sew a series of loops, using most of the thread she had to do so. She put the hanky and coins back in the pouch, stood and stepped into the modified shift, then threaded the belt through the improvised loops, putting the pouch on one side and her small knife to the other. Then she slid the needle lengthwise into part of the rope of her halter that crossed over her shoulder. She took a bandage and wrapped the flint arrowhead and tucked it between the ropes that supported her left breast.

She considered her robe. There was not much left of the lower part of it, much of the rest of it was torn or cut, if she wore it there would not be much below her hips and suspected it would ride up her torso with even a moderate amount of activity. She tossed it into the cave, no doubt she would need more bandages if she found Loden. She braided her hair and made a bun of the braid, hoping that it would stay in place. Lastly she took a couple of the bandages and wrapped her hands. She gathered the rest of the bits of cloth and looped them into her belt.

Taking a few deep breaths, despite the wretched air, she observed the slope above her. She still did not understand how she had come so far down in such a short time, the way back up looked treacherous.

As Asta started back up the mountain she came to the spot where she had come to rest after her fall. There was still blood, one particularly large glob of it had pooled within the scree and there were splashes of blood painting some of the other rocks. She had also come down over the edge of a small drop, which she was able to scramble back up, though she was dismayed by the noise of the displaced stones. She paused and looked around, from this angle she could not readily see where she had originally fallen; she had expected some sort of obvious sign through the loose rocks.

She took one of her scraps of cloth and put a heavy piece of rock along the edge, her intent was to leave a trail she could follow back down to the cave.

She did spot an area to her left that looked like an easier way up, so she shifted over, trying not to displace too much of the loose stone. She disliked the noise it created and feared it would draw the creature. As she continued her ascent she became aware of two distinct types of stone, though she did not know the names. On the left side of her the stone was smoother, dark brown in colour and showed little sign of flaking away as the grey-black stone to her right side so obviously did. As she continued to climb she noted that the brown stone seemed to be dominant.

She left a scrap of cloth periodically but soon found there were no longer convenient places to do so.

Asta was careful where she placed her hands and feet, being sure to have as much contact with the mountain as possible, even leaning into it where she could. She had moved further away from the flaking stone and thought she must have climbed at least halfway to the peek, she could no longer see the mountain top. She came to a point where she could no longer go up, nor shift much to either side. She had not realized that she had been climbing a section of the mountain that jutted further out, to her left she could now see a very deep drop. Though the twilight made it difficult to see, she was fairly sure there were trees and other vegetation down there.

She could not find a safe handhold to go further up and back tracking down was not what she wanted to do. The edge of the escarpment was half an arm span out of reach and to her right was a secure place for her foot, from which she though she might boost herself up to reach the ledge above her. The thought of doing so terrified her, even if she grabbed the edge she was unsure she would be able to pull herself up. As she tried to gather the nerve to launch herself upwards she started to feel the coolness of the air and realized she was sweating freely. She could not afford to dither much longer.

She stilled her breathing, looked to the point she wanted to grab and placed her right foot on the little nub of stone she intended to launch upwards from. Half prayer, half call to witness, she said, “Goddess.” Asta surged upwards, her left forearm slapped over the edge of jutting stone and her right hand scrambled for purchase. She dangled for a moment, pulled upwards and was able to swing a leg up onto the ledge and rolled onto the escarpment. Her heart raced and she felt a surge of bliss. She lay there a moment smiling.

Carefully she looked around, on the left side she saw no way to continue upwards, above her there were a number of places to gain purchase, to her right the ledge sloped gently downwards as the mountain facing bulged slightly outwards. She noted her fingertips were raw and she took a moment to retie the strips of cloth that secured her boot. Then she continued, feeling more confident, but still cautious.

A while later she pulled herself onto a broad flat section of the mountain. She was surprised to see she had come up a bit higher than where she and Loden had initially appeared in this strange world. She could also see a natural stone wall on which some sort of nest had been built, and then she spotted Loden. He was encased in a strange glistening material and suspended from the side of the wall. It looked as if a great number of creatures had suffered a similar fate as she could see a few scattered bones and many dried husks hanging in a similar fashion as her friend.

She started to rush towards Loden and nearly ran off the mountain. There was a broad split in the stone and she teetered on the precipice for a moment with her arms pinwheeling. She threw herself back and crawled away from the ledge. She moved back over to assess her situation.

The gap in the mountain was three to four paces across, the other side was two paces lower. She thought she could make the jump, she did have room to get a running start but she had also noted that the surface on the other side sloped downwards and then there was a drop-off down to the area below Loden’s position. She shrugged to herself, “I’ve come this far.”

Asta moved over to the opposite side from the gap. She ran towards it and jumped.


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