TODO: Celeste (unnamed, only "my sweet" or "my angel") at the river with Isaiah, two summers ago. Show how happy she is VS now. Isaiah pretty much looks like Hadfield.
As she fell back, she grabbed Isaiah's arm. "I'm taking you with me!" she laughed, as they tumbled into the icy cold --
Icy cold? It was the height of summer on the the River Varun.
But it was not, Celeste realized as she awoke. She was on top of a mountain of eternal winter, lying not in a riverbed but on the edge of Ferd's glacier, three miles in the sky.
TODO: Remarks on the senility of Celeste's grandfather and illness of her grandmother; scheming.
Second Camp was the end of the line for the majority of expeditions, though it was only three days' climb from the summit. From here, they would cross Prakt Icefall, a glacier that softened in the morning, flowed downhill in the afternoon, and froze again at night. They would race across the seracs of Prakt, and if they made it across before the sun awoke, they would never return: to descend the icefall as a mortal would be to commit suicide.
It was the sixth expedition which had first attempted to cross Prakt, but they had departed Ferd's glacier at sunup, and so they lost their race against the god of fire. In His mercy, he had made their deaths quick: a serac had collapsed under their combined weight, sending them plummeting down a crevasse half a mile high. The thirty-second had not been lucky, and had been pinned under an avalanche for hours before their breath magicks failed and they died of asphyxiation.
They would bring nothing with them but their ladders, rope, and five days of calorie gels to cross Prakt. From there, a day of spelunking and another day's ascent would see them to their ultimate prize.
TODO: crossing of the seracs
TODO: Rewrite this whole scene
An hour downhill, and Viola stopped the group. "Shouldn't Celeste have caught up to us by now?"
Duff glanced up the escarpment. "Yeah, I think she might've run into some trouble. We should never have left her alone." He glanced at Ruan, then Viola, then focused in on Baye. "Alright, we don't need to all go back for her, and there's no sense in splitting up, since there's only one road from here to First Camp."
He grinned. "Who wants to look for her?"
"I can go," Viola said.
"You did most of the work clearing the snow wall for us."
"I don't mind."
"You also almost fell from the bridge. I wouldn't feel safe. Baye, can you go?"
Baye grumbled something that sounded like "boss".
"You can have a lighter load on the next trip up."
"Fine. But you damn better keep that promise."
"Of course I will. The rest of us will wait here for you."
Baye set off, and Duff shouted a "Thank you!" into the wind after him. He didn't listen for a response.
TODO: Rewrite this for Second Camp; as a serac crossing
Back at First Camp, Celeste had finished salting the cuts of venison. After she had finished, she had loaded them into locked boxes that would keep out the vermin. Covered in salt and buried under snow, the meat would still be a material pleasure a month from now, even up here at the end of the world.
She thought of the calorie gels that they'd have to subsist on higher up the mountain to minimize carrying load and spat. There was nothing pleasant about them, for they were a teenager's first relationship, sickening and sweet and sticky. If exposed, they would rot, until they lost their flavor and stained skin red-and-brown if spilled. Some smoked deer would be a nice break from the gels while they were still at the lower camps.
The deer was far from perfect, though. In the Survival unit at the junior military program, her sister had learned how to prepare all manner of beasts as dinner, even manticores. When she'd gotten home from training, Helen had treated Celeste to her richest steak. Compared to this, Celeste's meat would be too salty, or too burnt, or too bloody, or under-preserved. She'd have to wait until next time to find out which.
Well, better than nothing.
A short descent later, she arrived at the bridge. So much wood had chipped off on their way up that the stakes holding it in were thinner than a feeble patient in his last throes before death. The aging bridge let out a sad wail as she set foot on it, as if to resignedly beckon her forward, but as she advanced, the moaning grew ever more agonized.
Celeste clenched her teeth, opened her eyes wider, stepped more lightly and continued.
The bridge spoke again, cracking behind her in pain.
She sucked in her chest and began to breathe faster.
The bridge was shaking quite violently, and with every step it swung further and further over the abyss.
She didn't look down.
But were the tiles coming loose?
She grabbed onto the railing.
With a crash, the back of the bridge broke off.
She began to run -- on the tiles at first, then cycling her legs hopelessly in the air as the wood under her gave way, and she was hanging onto the rope railing with a hand.
It chafed her palm red.
Celeste began to scream.
Were those footsteps in the distance? They wouldn't make it in time; the back pole holding in the rope was splintering faster and faster under her weight.
And then it shattered, and she began to swing down, grabbing on by just fingers, into the abyss.
Was her life supposed to flash before her eyes? Her vision was blurring, and she could hear her heart shake her bones. The wind was rushing up all around her. What was there to see?