Fragment: ON THE MOUNTAIN, REAL

On the Mountain, Real

A fragment from the world of THE ARTIFACT OF SEVEN, a novel currently in drastic need of revision.

Sky rounded the boulder around its backside, and then leapt up, landing with one foot higher than the other on the ridged surface. Struck by an inexplicable urge, she straightened and put her hands on her hips, closing her eyes and sticking her neck out into the crisp mountain air.

“You’re not–” puff “–doing–” puff “what I think you’re doing, are you?”

She opened her eyes and dropped her gaze to find Blaze leaning against the front side of the boulder, clearly winded, sweat streaking his strange dark skin.

“Don’t they give you any exercise in your world?” she asked.

“Hey,” he said, “watching Netflix and drinking is exercise, if you do it right.” He drew a jagged breath and leaned back. “Speaking of–you’re doing the Captain Morgan. Aren’t you?”

She shrugged. “It fit the moment.”

He grinned at her, and for a second, she almost liked him. Then her eyes slid past him, further down the rocky scree, to where Rayne and Dusty picked their way much more carefully upward.

“You could have killed yourself, following me,” she said.

“I live on the edge,” he replied, stepping around the boulder and hauling himself up to join her.

As he splayed himself facedown across the rock at her feet, it no longer seemed sensible to have one knee up in triumph. She shook out her limbs and sank into a crouch. In all honesty, she felt she should be winded too–it wasn’t like she got much exercise at the Compound. But there was something about the freedom of her climb, the pure power of it–she felt almost as if she had become the emotion, and that her own bodily limits had ceased to affect her.

He rolled over to look up at her, his gold eyes gleaming. “How did you do that? Get up here so fast.”

“I put air under my feet,” she said, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. “I think I’ll be able to fly, if I keep practicing.”

“Lucky,” he huffed. “You can’t fly with fire.” He shook his head, his shaggy hair bobbing slightly, and sat up so that the back of his head faced her. “It was crazy,” he said, turning to look at her over his shoulder. “As you ran, it was almost like you disappeared for a second, into the sun. It was…” he paused. “Kinda pretty, I guess. Like an angel.”

She laughed shortly. “Here you go again.”

He spun his lower body around, throwing his legs over the boulder’s edge. “No,” he said, “this time I mean it.”

 

Sky tilted her head, searching for signs of his typical misogyny, as Dusty put it–but she gave up. Blaze was an asshole, pure and simple. It was just another trick, whether his face showed it or not.

“Man,” he said, “the one time I actually mean it, the girl don’t trust me.”

Scoffing, she said, “I’ll never trust you, Blaze,” and swung her legs over the ledge to join him. For a moment, she savored the feel of her own breathing, the suntanned rock unspooling at her feet. But then, the wide desert and its orange glow started to itch at her, because Blaze wasn’t talking. He should be.

She waited a bit longer for the mean comment, the boob joke, the banter–but Blaze continued to stare out over the land they had covered, his only movement the occasional blink.

“When we get to the other side of the mountain, the sunset should be awesome,” she blurted.

Blaze gave a noncommital “Mmm.”

Cheeks heating, Sky looked away from him again, willing her face to cool the hell off. Bricks, what was it about boys that had her so damn bothered? It was the same with Dusty.

Past their feet, she could see the pale blond boy climbing steadily, sensibly toward her. For the first time, she actually thought about the effort it had taken for Blaze to follow her. Why?

And then, his finger touched hers.

That’s all it was, his finger, the side of it against hers on the rock. Pinkie to pinkie, cool flesh to cool flesh.

But he had moved it there. In silence.

Her heart raced like a current, like fire.

She knew, electrified, that she should pull her hand away. She knew it was probably just an accident of sitting so close. But at the same time, she knew that he knew that she knew he had done it, which meant he had meant to, which meant–

Pull your hand away, he’s just tripping with you. The voices of the other girls at the Compound came back to her. They’re like that, they’ll rope you. They’ll make it feel real.

But Sky didn’t move, neither her hand nor her face. Her eyes stayed stuck on the rock below her, but Dusty’s head had moved out of sight.

“It’s really something, isn’t it?” Blaze asked her, and she exhaled a burning breath. Finally she turned to his face, but it hadn’t moved, his eyes locked on the place in the distance where the pinkening sky met the tree line.

When she didn’t answer, he leaned a little bit further forward. “All this, I mean. The magic and stuff. I mean sure, I miss the hamburgers, but….” He closed his eyes and drew a breath. “But this. This is so real.”

“Yeah,” she managed, still tasting the word.

After that, they sat for a very long time, neither one of them moving nor speaking. But this time, it didn’t scare her so much. This time, it only felt real.

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