8.1 – The edge
Skis off. New footprints in the night-coloured snow. Brand wonders aloud about why he takes all this in stride, why this doesn’t seem stranger to him. You will get used to it. Thinks Brittle. They cross the lips of the cave. Something brushes her face. She thinks of the fearrow touching Brave’s face. Or the rapidly wilting spirit creepers that she forgot in the next instant. But this is just a braid of gossamer, a remnant of a summer’s web, its…grandmother spider still buried at the end of it, white-bodied, blue-eyed, feet all curled up. Oh. Gently unpicking the dead spider from its resting place, she puts it in her gloved palm. „Oh, grandmother..“ whispers Brittle. „..lend us your farsight,“ finishes Brand. They look at each other, remembrance gleaming in their eyes. Grandmother spiders are rare and shrouded in mystery. Most people go through a lifetime without laying their eyes on one. This is their second. The first one they found in Middler’s Glen, at the first spring feast after Brook’s death. They had taken its three-eyed husk to Breach, filled with awe and excitement. It was her Mirror, after all.
Breach had put it in her palm, and slowly, like a passing tide, she had contracted her hand and crushed it with a mix of reverence and love. She had taught them the words and smeared their foreheads with the powdery paste that remained. Nothing had happened, nothing of note, though Brittle’s dreams, her dreams had been vivid for days on end.
„Should I…?“ says Brittle. „What else can we do?“ smiles Brand, „It’s like we are following marks on one of your uncle’s trade maps.“ In the light of her frost nettle lamp, Brittle curls her fingers as patiently as Breach once had. It’s like squeezing puffball mushrooms, if they had been strangely warm and also slightly sticky. She dabs two fingers on her forehead, on Brand’s and on Bridge’s too, for good measure. „Now,“ she says, „let’s truly enter the cave, Brave.“ „What?“ „Nothing.“ As she walks into the darkness, she briefly chastises herself for forgetting to be angry with him. But that part of him was burned away, she reminds herself. His Deepheart was reborn. Let’s not think about it, says a third arbiter in her mind, but focus on this moment. This last reasonable one is instantly challenged, as more voices spring up inside her. One wants to worry about Brooder. One wants to think about the implications of her visit to this cave with mother just a few months before her death, and the uncanny similarity between their shouts of glee and the fearrowing’s ululations. One wants to remind her that she should be afraid and that all this might be an incredibly bad idea. „It’s not invulnerable,“ she whispers to herself, gripping her ski pole, Brook’s weapon of choice. It is, in fact, the very one mother had used when she burst through the horror. That makes her feel safer, as if it is imbued with some latent power.
Another voice takes precedence, guiding her thoughts to a recent memory. Of Brother protecting father protecting her as they were walking towards the dead forest doe in the clearing. And now? The order is reversed. She is in the front, protecting Brand, protecting Bridge, the doe’s only surviving child. Imagine, sings another soloist in her inner choir, that happened just five days ago. And now look at you, walking into the fray. Maybe they should rename you too, like Brand? What name would suit your new you? Brave is, of course, taken. Braver? The din of voices is so clamouring inside her head that she doesn’t notice the growing telltale echo of their footsteps. She pays no attention to that one voice, the arbiter, trying to reach through the cacophony of self-congratulatory thought-songs. Trying to tell her with increasing desperation:
„Hey, remember that there’s an edgeanedgeremembertheedgeTHEEDGE!“
But it is only in the moment when her foot slips and her entire body tumbles over with it that she…
„Hey, now, Brittle. Caves like these can be treacherous. Stay with me, remember what we noticed, there’s an edge.“
„Briiiiiiiiiiiittle!“ does the dawnfire sparrow cry. As her body spins through nothing, the mind chorus goes completely still. Only one voice remains, the arbiter. It has Briar’s tone. Like yesterday, she says:
„Few can dance in the borderlands, on the edge…without losing their minds, their lives…or worse.“
Well. She was far over the edge now. Falling into darkness.