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Echo’s Journey


1. An Outsider

Echo sat listening to birdsong right at the bottom of the valley, in the old place where stonemasons used to come and chip blocks out of the dark basalt. She could see the deep wheel-tracks where mules had pulled carts laden with the stone, taking them up to the village that spread out across the terraced farming land. The tortured cliffs here towered over her and she was in shadow, though the sun was bright that morning. The other children would all be playing out on the grassy fields. She wasn’t like the other children. They all had brown, sun-touched faces and pale hair that reminded her of the straw they gave to the steadily-diminishing herd of sheep. The only thing that was pale about her was her skin – white as the clouds in the sky, so they said. But her hair wasn’t like straw and neither was it cut short like the other village youths. She wore it long and dark, sleek despite the wind. It came to roughly waist length and the tresses served to hide the points of her ears – just another sign that she was different. A beautiful outsider. Ogled at sometimes, but never liked. But do I even want to be liked? She asked herself.

She was the only girl in the valley who couldn’t name her real parents. Her adopted family steadfastly refused to tell her anything about who she was or how she’d arrived in the valley. Though once she’d screamed at the top of her lungs and her foster father Mark’s eyes had flickered towards the top of the valley, where the murderous cliffs and crags obscured the passage of the tiny path winding up from the highest terrace. She remembered the instant now, oddly. Maybe it was the screaming of the kestrel floating on the winds high above her, reminding her of the way her own piercing, frustrated shriek had echoed across the valley. Often she wondered if that was where her name came from – if it was her real name. Mark had promised her it was, as had her mother. But she had no way of knowing if they’d lied or not. Echo felt like her name… then again, so did Raven. And she certainly didn’t like to think about her.

The gang of village children came sauntering down the path towards her, laughing and talking too loudly for her well-developed sense of hearing. Echo could hear a dragonfly flapping its wings when she concentrated. Now she had to close down the part of her mind that let her discern small sounds so well. She looked up at the approaching youths. They were of various ages, some having more than her own sixteen summers. But they’re all so… immature. So foolish. Even the older ones spent their time playing stupid games with the younger ones. None of them could read or write – not even their own names. They were obsessed with animals and plants, smelled so strongly of the outside. The only animals Echo liked were the birds, especially birds of prey like the kestrel. She could have called it down if the others hadn’t been making so much noise. She would have loved to preen the bird’s dark plumage with her fingers, feeling the softness of the feathers and the power in its talons as they grasped her wrist.

She pulled deeper into the shade of the cliff, wrapping her slender arms around her knees and staying silent, hoping they wouldn’t see her. Sometimes she could coax herself into talking to them for a while, but sooner or later the differences between them would start to tell. And she couldn’t do with getting upset or angry – there was Raven to be avoided at all costs.Maybe I should just run away... but there's no place else to go.

“Oh! Gods above… Echo, I didn’t see you there!” One of the girls laughed. Stupid. If you didn’t see me, how have you noticed me now? “You’re always hiding in the shadows.” She stopped and sat on a boulder while the rest of the group carried on. A few stragglers detached to come and muck around in the quarry.

“Some of the young ones don’t even know if you’re a girl or a boy.” Davin was one of the crueller boys and he walked up now with malice in his eyes. “I’m not even sure myself.”

“Can’t tell the difference, Davin? I’d watch out next time you take a girl for a tumble in the hay… you could get the shock of your life.” The girl retorted.

“At least I’d care enough to run away.” He sneered. “But you, Hanna? You’d just tumble merrily along, wouldn’t you?”

“And? It’s boring enough ‘round here. I’d take a girl to the hay barn sooner than you!” Hanna stuck out her tongue at him in a manner that made her seem much younger than her seventeen years.

“What about you, Echo?” Davin turned to face her. The girl tried to relax, though she knew what was coming. Second time this week… can’t he just leave me alone? “I bet you’re not too fond of what a boy has to offer, are you?”

“Oh, shut up, you sick little arse.” One of the older lads shouted. Greg was alright, really. He couldn’t be close friends with Echo, but he did his best to keep the other youths in line and they respected each other. In many ways he was the most mature of the group. Although he did still have his own annoying tendencies. “Leave our little princess alone.” Why does he always have to call me that?

“Echo, are you going to come to the lake with us?” One of the younger lads asked. Chad, his name was, and by all accounts he seemed quite taken with her. There’s something I could do without. A sweet little fourteen year old following me around.

“I don’t think so, Chad.” She said softly, so as not to upset him.

“But why not? It’s all sunny and nice.” He complained, too young and simple to notice the signs.

“Because… I’d just rather stay here.”

“Well, can’t I stay here too?” He asked. Echo looked helplessly at Greg, hoping he’d do something. He caught sight of the pleading in her black-as-night eyes and rolled his own as if to say ‘oh, all right…’

“No, Chad, your folks said you had to stay with us. After what happened with that beehive last month, you remember?” Greg looked meaningfully at the younger lad. Chad shivered and rubbed his arms at the memory.

“Hey, can we go already?” One of the others yelled, tossing a stone at the side of the quarry. It clacked dully. Great. They come down here and mess up the only place in the village that I call my own.

“You sure you won’t come with us, Echo?” Hanna asked. “I’d love to swim with you. Remember when we were younger and you used to dance all the time? I’m sure you’d be just as good a swimmer as you are a dancer.”

“No, it’s alright. Really.” Echo said, gifting her a rare smile.

“Huh, she just doesn’t want to get naked with us – too high and mighty.” Davin threw another stone, knocking down a little cairn Echo had spent the past hour building.

A girl moved away from the main group, walking back to where the others were sat around Echo. In many ways the newcomer was the exact opposite of the dark, mysterious girl. Her long blonde hair flowed over her shoulders, bright against her creamy cotton tunic. She had shockingly blue eyes, a mischievous smile and a bubbling laugh. Her walk was confident, slender legs giving her an elegant gait that set her hips swaying. Greg’s jaw hadn’t dropped, but it might as well have done. All thoughts of the outsider were pushed out of his mind.

“What’s keeping you, darling?” She flashed a stunning smile at the group, which faded briefly as it passed over Echo and then returned when she fixed it on the slightly bedazzled young man.

“Uh, nothing, Shani, we were just talking…” He leapt up and began walking away with her. The others followed shortly after, with Chad looking back regretfully. Davin looked like he was about to loiter, but Echo chucked a rock at his feet and glared at him until he ran away. Good riddance. She told herself. Only when everyone was out of earshot did she whisper “Bye...”.

2. Echo’s Argument

The next hour was spent rebuilding the cairn, using a half-forgotten memory as a guide to how it should look. It was nothing she’d seen in the valley, for certain. There was something comfortingly familiar about the finished shape, and yet a strange sense of wrongness that she couldn’t place. In the end she left it and began to wander back up the zigzagging path leading up the valley, passing through the various terraces where different crops were grown or where several small herds of animals were allowed to graze. She saw Farmer Cordwell holding a dead lamb when she passed and felt sorry for the poor animal. Every year it seemed there were fewer and fewer lambs born, and now those that were born were weak and feeble. If only there was something I could do… then I wouldn’t feel quite so useless.

It took just under half an hour to walk the length of the village and get to the cottage she lived in with her stepfamily. Estelle was out with a pail of water, tending to the vegetable patch struggling to grow near their home. Try as she might, Echo couldn’t bring herself to call her ‘Mother’, even though she was kind and understanding – most days. Today was not one of the days. More and more often Echo was coming home after spending time by herself and finding out there was some chore she was supposed to have done or had promised to do and forgotten about. She doubted it, she had a perfect memory and always did whatever was asked of her. But some people are just impossible to please. Mark came out of the house, yelling at the top of his voice.

“How many times, Echo? How many times?”

“What now?” She sighed, shoulders slumping.

“The pots from last night are filthy! I’ve told you time and again to wash them properly!” It was always the same thing with Mark. He’d come home from working on the fields and would purposefully look for things that were wrong, just so he could shout about them. Estelle had learned just to put up with it, but Echo didn’t have her patience.

“Sorry… but I spent two hours scrubbing them all… what more am I supposed to do?”

“If two hours isn’t enough then you stay there until they are clean!” He hissed, his face growing red. He was a heavily built man and Echo hated to think what would happen if he one day lost his temper.

“Why? I need a break after two hours.” She complained.

“Why can’t you just do as I say?” Mark groaned. “Like all the other children. Why do you always have to be so… different?” Because I am different. You just won’t see it, will you?

“You tell me.” She said. “Why am I different? I assume you know.” She folded her arms and stared at her stepfather.

“I - I can’t tell you.” He said, shaking his head. “It’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

“To you, maybe, but not to me!” She retorted. Davin’s empty jibes had got to her more than she’d realised. “I think it’s you who doesn’t listen. You won’t tell me who I am. I do all these chores for you and you’ve not given me one damn good reason why I should.”

“Because I say so.” Mark drew himself up to his full height. No. You won’t intimidate me into silence this time. I want answers.

“No, Mark. ‘Because I say so’ worked when I was seven. I’m sixteen years old and I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who my parents are, I don’t even know what I am!” She took a deep breath to calm herself – it wouldn’t do it Raven were to appear now.

“It’s too dangerous.” Her stepfather insisted.

“I think that’s my decision to make, not yours.” She whispered.

“Calm down, you two…” Estelle appeared from behind the house, the pail now empty. “You don’t want to get yourselves both worked up.” I’ll bet you don’t want me worked up! Echo thought angrily.

“Bottom line is, I’m your father and you’ll do as I say, and I say stop asking questions!” Mark barked.

“You are not my father!” It was Echo’s turn to hiss, tears in her eyes. “You will never be my father!” A surge of malice went through her and with a half-choked sob she ran away before Raven arrived. The shouts of her stepfamily followed her, but she was fleet of foot and swiftly outpaced them both.

There was a narrow rocky path that ran along the side of the valley. It led to a stone ledge that overhung the lake where the others were swimming. Usually it took the better part of half an hour to walk it, as it meandered here and there, but today Echo ran along it in a few minutes, struggling against the dark thoughts surfacing unbidden in her mind. Raven was close, she knew it. She had to bury her, and soon, or it would be like her thirteenth autumn all over again.

The overhang came into view and she pounded toward it, her feet aching. There was a sizeable drop between it and the surface of the lake, deep enough that you could dive off it but high enough to make all but the bravest – or most foolish of the village youth – keep away from it. She pulled off her white cotton dress as fast as she could, running the last few metres naked apart from the talisman nestled between her breasts. She could hear the others splashing and screeching with mock outrage down below, oblivious to her presence up on the cliff. With shock she realised she could already feel their emotions. Raven was too near for comfort.

With a heartfelt cry that caused heads to turn she leapt from the ledge and seemed to hang in the empty air for an unreal instant, as if moving – floating – in slow motion. Reality snapped back in and she plummeted down toward the lake surface, bringing her arms together just before she hit. In that split second she looked for all the world like a white shaft with a black tip and then she had slipped into the water’s embrace, the shock of the cold on her skin excising all thoughts of Raven. She spent a few minutes under the water, holding her breath effortlessly. The muffled underwater sounds lulled her. When she felt calm, she swum steadily back up to the surface.

She came up in the middle of the lake, treading water. Greg came swimming over as fast as he could propel himself using his muscled shoulders.

“Gods above, Echo, are you alright?”

“You really scared us!” That came from Dain, who swum up a moment later. “We thought you’d never come up…”

“I’m fine. I’m just really good at holding my breath.” She said, suddenly becoming uncomfortably aware that she was completely naked and swimming with two handsome young men. What on earth made me do that?

“But that…” Greg said, gesturing at the sky and the cliff when words failed him. “That… that was really something.”

“I definitely wouldn’t have dived off it.” Dain said, a trace of admiration in his voice. To Echo’s dismay Davin and his little band of cronies all came doggy-paddling over. Fortunately they were too hung up on the spectacular dive than the fact that she was naked.

“I told you she was crazy!”

“She’s a freak!”

“She’s wrong in the head.”

“Yeah, you shouldn’t come here with us, you’re not safe.” The last barb was particularly hurtful. Echo was perfectly safe… so long as Raven didn’t decide to follow her.

“What have I told you guys?” Greg shouted. “Piss off!”

“And go do what?” Davin sneered at him.

“Go play with yourself, for all I care.” He shoved the younger lad away.

“You’re all just jealous because I jumped and you didn’t.” Echo grinned. It wouldn’t hurt to be childish for one day. Most of the young boys swam away, but Davin stayed around, treading water.

“If you’re not a chicken then I dare you to go up Crag Pass.” He said defiantly.

“Don’t be stupid. It’s not allowed. There’s nasty animals and the path isn’t safe.” Greg said. “Now, I don’t want to hear another word or by God I’ll drag you in front of your folks and make you explain why you’ve been telling people to go up there all week.”

Finally Davin left and Echo, Dain and Greg swam over to where the older people were lounging in the sun-warmed shallows. Greg was swiftly sighted and ensnared by Shani. Guess I’m just not interesting enough. Even if I did like him… which I don’t, of course, that would be ridiculous. Echo stood up in the shallows and waded out of the lake, up onto the sandy shore. She began to walk towards the path when she realised the murmur of conversation had gone quiet behind her. Then she remembered she was naked – but unlike the other girls, none of the young men had seen her without her clothes. There were several lecherous grins and catcalls directed at her, as well as bitter stares from some of the younger girls who hadn’t filled out their frames yet. To her horror, in the corner of her eye she caught of sight of Chad, gazing in awe. She felt her face go red with embarrassment and ran away up the path to raucous laughter, cutting her feet on the sharper stones in her hurry to get away.

3. Raven Awakes

Unbeknownst to her, Davin hadn’t gone off with his friends. He’d climbed out of the water and into his tunic, sneaking away to where another path led up to the overhang. He grinned at the promise of revenge. Echo had made him look stupid and he wasn’t going to stand for that. Who did she think she was? Some jumped up little princess who looked down on all the others. But Greg tried to be friendly to her – her, an outsider! – more than he tried with Davin. The fact that Echo had been living the village for a few more years than he had was neither her nor there. Davin hated the strange girl. Hated her fiercely. And recently, as the others began to grow more mature and make more of an effort to include her in their group, the feeling intensified until it was in danger of becoming an obsession. He spotted where Echo had left her dress and hurried over to gather it up. Then he looked for somewhere to hide.

Echo stumbled up the path, tears welling up her eyes as the pain from her feet overtook the shame she’d felt at the jeering and stares from the lads. She was also shivering from the lake. More than anything she just wanted to stop and sit on one of the mossy boulders lining the rocky path, but she knew that if she stayed in the sun her skin would burn. She didn’t tan, like the others. Beetroot, they’ll call me. The thought was enough to keep her staggering on.

She reached the spot with the ledge and looked around for her dress, but it was nowhere to be found. Oh, God… if there’s an animal around… She began to search all the nearby bushes and crevices frantically. Having to walk naked through the village would be an embarrassment beyond words – a torture, for her. Not to mention she’d have to pass the village tavern and there were sure to be drunks outside. The thought of what they might do made her brave thorns and stinging nettles to search for her clothes. She suffered numerous cuts to her arms and shoulders over the next five minutes as she checked every possible place. Then she sat back and half-collapsed onto a slab of rock, its surface rough beneath her bare skin. She began to cry freely, tears streaming down her face. Why did this have to happen to her? If any of the others lost clothes then their friends would run up to the village and come back with a spare tunic or dress or britches for them. But no one would trouble themselves for her.

“Oh my, has our little elf princess lost something?” Came a leering voice from a few metres away. God, no… not him… not now! Echo turned her head slowly to see him, covering her chest with one arm and her lower half with the other. “It’s a bit late for modesty, isn’t it? Your highness?” Davin laughed. He was lounging indolently on a rocky outcropping, Echo’s dress in his lap.

“Give it back.” She snapped.

“Is that any way to ask? Didn’t your parents teach you manners?” He paused, one finger on his chin as if thinking. “Oh, no, sorry, that’s right, they can’t have done because you don’t have any!”

“Give me my dress and then piss off.”

“And what if I rip it up?”

“Then I’ll tell Mark and Estelle what you did.”

“And I’ll tell my parents you did it yourself. I wonder who they’ll believe?”

“Why won’t you just leave me alone?” She sobbed. What have I ever done to him that’s made him hate me so much?

“Because you’re a freak of nature.” He said softly. “Like that lamb with six legs that we had born last year. My parents had the decency to let that one die. Yours didn’t have the decency to put you down. Unless they’re freaks like you.”

It was too much for Echo to deal with. And so sobbing quietly, Echo let go and drifted away into her own mind. Into the space that was left came someone else. Someone – something terrible and malevolent.

“They weren’t freaks.” The girl’s fists tightened. Davin was too caught up in his nasty game to notice the change in her.

“How do you know? You never met them. They could be three-legged monsters for all you know.”

“No, there’s only one monster here.”

“Oh, yeah, me, right?” Davin’s face split into a grin.

“No. Me.” She looked up at him then and as he glanced at those black eyes a cold terror suddenly washed over his body. There was something horribly malign in that stare.

“Echo?”

“Not any more. Not for a while.” She curled her lip at him. “You can call me Raven.”

“What-”

She leapt at him, snarling. Davin suddenly found himself sprawled in the dust, yanked off his seat by an unearthly force. He scrambled to his feet and tried to run away, but something vast and invisible came crashing down on his shoulders, knocking him into the dirt. He began to scream, but then Raven leapt on him and began pummelling him with her fists. He tried to fight back, but she was bigger and stronger. He managed to kick with his foot and get her away for long enough to get to his feet, bleeding from scratches she’d inflicted her with her nails. He threw the dress at her, trying not to sob.

“Have it! Have it!”

“It’s far too late for that. You’ve tortured my Echo for far too long.”

“I’ll stop! I’ll stop, I promise!”

“No, you won’t. You’re a stupid little excuse for a man. No wonder your parents beat you when you come home – they must hate your miserable little guts.” Davin couldn’t contain his grief any longer and began to wail.

“How do you know that?”

“I know all of your darkest fears, whelp.” Raven snarled. “I know what your father does to you when your mother goes out. God knows you deserve far worse – you should be locked away from the light and the outside, kept behind bars like the little animal you are!”

“Stop it! Please, stop!” He begged, falling to his knees. His words were gasped out between great wracking sobs.

“Did you stop when she asked? Did you?” She slapped him viciously, knocking him over. “You brought this on yourself! And now I’m going to flay the skin from your bones without even touching you.”

Davin’s hand flew to his nose as it spontaneously began to bleed and the air became thick and sticky, like treacle. The sun seemed to darken somehow, as if this Raven were casting an immense shadow. Her eyes weren’t black any more – they glowed white, leaking light into the air. Her hair writhed of its own accord, floating in the air like a nest of black snakes. As Davin felt invisible pins prick every inch of his skin he voided his bowels, screaming hysterically. Suddenly there was a flash of light from the metal talisman between her breasts and a blast of what sounded like music. The girl stumbled as if swatted by some mighty force and then her hair dropped back down around her shoulders. She blinked twice and her eyes were black when she next opened them. Seeing the sobbing, soiled boy on the ground she too collapsed, holding her head in her hands. I thought she’d gone. I thought she wasn’t going to come back… but she’s never going to leave me, is she? There was no answer to her question.

“I’ll tell! I’ll tell everyone!” Davin said, eyes wide. His nose had stopped bleeding, but his chin and mouth were still wet and red.

“Fine. What do you want me to do?” She spread her hands resignedly.

“Go up Crag Pass. And don’t come back!”

“And what will my stepfamily say when they find I’m missing?”

“I’ll tell them it was a dare. I’ll tell them you went up because I dared you to and then you fell from a cliff.” Well, it beats staying here. They’ll probably burn me at the stake if they find out what I’ve done.

“Alright, I’ll go.” She gave a sigh and pulled on her dirty dress. Then she walked away up the path.

“Oh, and if you do tell anyone… Raven will find you. And she’s a lot less forgiving than I am.”

4. Crag Pass

When she arrived back at the cottage, her clothes thoroughly dishevelled, Mark and Estelle were still out searching for her. The dedication touched her. But it’s still not safe for me to stay here. She walked into her little room and began to stuff what meagre possessions she had into a little haversack. Then she raided the pantry for some provisions, hopefully enough to get her to the next town or village – not that she knew where any of them were. There were no maps in the village – and no real need for them. Their only contact with the outside world were the traders who came by in their wagons twice or three times a year, bringing expensive trinkets and gimmicky, useless things. If she’d been able to plan her departure, she would have gone with one of the traders, paid her way somehow. She didn’t fear for her safety. After all… it’s not like I’m ever alone with her waiting just out of sight.

She heard voices coming from outside the cottage and pulled open a shutter. In a flash she was through it, closing the wooden slats behind her. She heard the door open and muffled conversation filter between the cracks in the shutter. Mark and Estelle, both upset. She couldn’t stay and listen to them, it was too painful. Echo bent down and tightened the straps on her leather sandals before hurrying quietly away. The path seemed rockier than usual and she stumbled every few steps. It’s like my feet don’t want to leave. Fortunately no one saw her, or if they did they simply assumed she was going for a walk. But instead of heading down into the rest of the village, she headed up the central path, making her way toward the highest terrace.

The ground here was exceedingly treacherous, covered in jagged stones disguised by thick moss. Several times Echo put her foot down only to have the ground shift beneath her and almost make her fall. And she was easily the most-surefooted girl in the village, which gave her a glow of pride. Any of the others would have tripped and broken their ankle by now. But the thought was a bad one, because she realised she was never going to see them again. Even though she’d never truly got on with the group, they’d always been there at the back of her mind. Maybe… just maybe she’d been more accepted than she chose to realise. Still, she was no stranger to solitude and she wouldn’t miss Davin or Shani or Terrance or Chad.

The upper shelf of land ended abruptly against a sheer mountainous wall, topped by cliffs that looked as if they had been mauled by gigantic claws. There was a narrow path midway along the terrace – Crag Pass. It was blocked off by a large metal gate tipped with unfriendly iron spikes. The latch had long since rusted solid. And I don’t think there’s enough oil in the village to grease those hinges. Thankfully, not too long ago a creature had managed to squeeze through underneath the gate. It took just a few minutes scrabbling in the dirt for Echo to get through and stand on the other side. She looked back regretfully over the village, a few solitary tears dripping from her black eyes. She may have been an outsider, but it had still been her home. Now she had no one.

The path was narrow and dark, the high walls of the passage almost meeting high above her. The lack of life was astonishing – although the valley had suffered from poor weather in recent years it was still very much a verdant place – but beyond the iron gate only a few sparse lichens and the odd weed grew tentatively amid the shattered rocks. It looked daunting, but Echo knew she didn’t have any choice. Hopefully her food would last long enough to get to the next village – because if it ran out then she’d most likely starve to death. Echo wasn’t stupid, far from it, she knew that starvation was a painful death. Estelle had taught her how to spot edible plants, but it looked like those were going to be few and far between in this wilderness she’d entered.

She set out walking along the path, concentrating solely on putting one delicate foot in front of the other. Keep my mind occupied. Still, with every step she took away from home, more tears welled up. Echo was forced to stop after a few minutes and slump down in the middle of the path, incapable of supporting the weight of her sadness. She sobbed freely for a lengthless time, wishing more than anything for a shoulder to wet with her crying. The shoulder of a father, or a mother, or a brother – or even just a friend. Someone like her, who understood the strength of her feelings. But Echo never met anyone who bore even remotely more than the most superficial of similarities to her. No one who thought about the future in quite the same way, unlike the villagers who simply lived one day at a time.

Finally the tears ran out and she was empty, but the emptiness was a painful one. Each breath made her ribs ache and her heart felt like several large hands were dragging it down in her chest. She forced herself to stand up. It was tempting just to give into the flood of emotion, but after Raven’s disastrous appearance earlier she knew she couldn’t let herself go. One step. One foot forward, other foot follows. Come on. Keep going.

Following the path would have been monotonous, but between the fear and stress of leaving home made the next two hours pass in very little time. She’d travelled about eight miles, but had no idea how far away the next village was. By that time the sun was falling behind the high sides of the passage and the small patch of sky visible between the crags was tinged pink, with fluffy white clouds edged with gold scudding serenely across. Against the dark blue granite around her it was surprisingly bright, but Echo worried about how she was going to find her way once the sun went down. And a distant, piercing sound somewhere between a howl and a screech gave her several… other… worries.

She came to a place where the path widened and branched around a deep, clear pool. She scooped up some of the chill water in her hand and sipped it, making sure it was drinkable. Then she cautiously sipped cupped handfuls until she felt refreshed, looking around every moment. Something on the edge of perception was unnerving her. She couldn’t put a finger on the sensation – it wasn’t like she felt when she was being watched or followed. Am I being hunted? She picked up her haversack and clutched it to her chest, drawing her knees up and hugging them. She didn’t feel restful, but she knew she needed to stop for a little while, just to take the strain off her legs. Echo shivered. The crags looked threatening now the sun had sunk a little lower, causing tangled shadows to be cast all across the path.

Once her feet had no tremors left in them she moved on from the pool, heading ever upwards. She walked until her feet ached and her mouth was dry and the sun was long gone around the horizon. Only when the first stars began to appear did she think about stopping for the night. She stopped fixing her eyes on the distant slopes of the Peak and began to look around for a nook or hollow to sleep in. Damn, I should have taken some blankets… She muttered her annoyance under her breath. She wasn’t a resilient creature – though she never got ill, she did suffer the cold much more than the other villagers. Her pale flesh was already covered in goose pimples and she was shivering. And this was a mild night by the others’ standards. In her mind’s eye she could see the youths sleeping outside on one of the grassy terraces. Before she could push the thoughts away, her imagination betrayed her by producing a treacherous image of Greg and Shani intertwined beneath the stars. Her fingers dug into her palms and she gritted her teeth, emptying her mind the way she’d discovered that sometimes helped when she was angry or upset. It didn’t make her calm, exactly, but it enabled her to keep going with whatever she was doing at the time. It was one of the many methods she used to keep Raven away.

She spotted a tiny cave cut from the side of the passage, just large enough for her to wedge her slender body into. The weather in Crag Pass was colder than that of the valley, even though she couldn’t be more than a dozen or so miles away. If she’d fled to the south, following the rocky road the traders came up, she could have expected a search party to come from the village. No one would ever think she’d actually gone Peakwards instead of Seawards. She resigned herself to the fact that no one was going to come and bring her back – not that she wanted them to. The thought of what she’d almost done to Davin, no matter how horrid the boy was, made her lip tremble. Nobody deserves that…

She tucked her knees up to her chin and pulled her arms inside her tunic, nestling them against the warmth of her chest. Then she lay her head on her satchel and tried to convince herself that the tears still pricking her eyes were a result of her uncomfortable resting place. In all the stories she’d ever heard of adventurers heading out to see the world, journeying to the jungles that lay far, far sunwise of her tiny village, or heading Peakwards as she was doing, none had mentioned the hard facts of travel. Hard rocks jutted into her side in several places and it was still cold, even in the tiny nook’s embrace. But there was absolutely nothing that could be done. Echo shut her eyes. The ground might have been hard, but she was very tired – it had been an eventful day. The first day of the rest of my life. She thought, as she drifted away.

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