The first physical tremors started when they were halfway up the ravine. The dirt track had given way to a narrow trail climbing stony switchbacks above the village, then to a steeper goat path.
Following the surprisingly nimble, knotted old legs through an inward fold of the rising mountains, Ariadne looked down to the stream making its way past the broken rock foundations of a ruined settlement. High above it on a craggy bluff, the square tower and blank window slits of a centuries-abandoned Venetian fortress frowned down. On their side of the stream, above the precarious path ledge, natural caves honeycombed the limestone cliffside. Vanished hermit-monks had built plastered walls to seal their entrances, and outside one black-shadowed doorway a few bright scraps of laundry lay spread over the rock. When Ariadne paused to point at the cave—“Your home?”—the crone only nodded and prodded her on with the staff.
The pathway narrowed again as they climbed. They were forced to wade up the stream bed itself, slippery stones shifting under the foaming snowmelt from the peaks. The ravine sealed off all but a thin strip of blue far above, sheer cliffs closing in so tightly Ariadne could touch both sides with her outstretched fingers.
She could taste the urgency in the air. The shrill scream of blocked pressures ripped through her bones. Panting, she followed the midwife through the churning current, slipping over wet stones and nearly going under before she caught the staff the old woman stretched out to her from a steep bank.
Dripping, she climbed onto a narrow ledge. She didn’t need Cassandra’s guidance now to follow the source of the silent scream. Its eddies pulled at her, jagged waves of energy shivering up her spine from the laboring earth.
The stone path trembled in its throes. It rippled beneath her, and Ariadne nearly fell back into the roaring stream. Cassandra cried out, teetering on the brink. Ariadne caught her wrist and pulled her back against the rock face.
The tremor subsided. They leaned together against the wall, panting.
“It’s happening much faster than I thought,” the crone managed. “She’s worse this time. The pain. It’s not right. I can feel the dark force of it, pushing so hard, too hard, ripping and rending. . . .” The hoarse voice trailed off, staring eyes gone flat and blind.
“Come. I must try.” Ariadne gently touched her shoulder, somehow in the maelstrom finding the key she’d lost. Her connection to the earth forces—her Link. Its currents crackled through her, spinning her inward to the center of the whirlpool.
Cassandra clutched her staff and glared up at Ariadne. “Oh you see now, do you? You may have the touch, but you’re still a young fool. Too proud, too proud,” she muttered, tracing a looping design with her stick on the rocks. “Listen to me, I’m old as the rocks, and I’ve seen all of it. I’m nothing. You’re nothing. Only a vessel for Her power—the Goddess.” Her staff pounded the earth.
“I have to go.” Clutching her pendant newly engraved with the twining helix, Ariadne pushed past her.
“Wait, you fool!” A talon hand gripped her wrist. “You don’t know anything of the Way! The old ways, the wise ways. . . .”
Cassandra ripped the crystal from Ariadne’s grip, peering closely at it, snorting and then releasing the pendant. “It’s more than just stones, you know.” She waved a hand around them at the rocky ravine, the plunging torrent, the blazing sky, and fixed her fierce eyes on Ariadne. “The Mother’s alive. She holds us all, beast and human, to Her breast. You have to taste life to know Her power—the salt, the sweat, the rot. Not this bloodless tinkering.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish