Alexis stirred in her dream. Earlier in the day she had awakened and made her way to a tiny copse of trees, where she had rested for the rest of the day. She was too tired to keep on as the days before. The mare was happy to wander around, although not daring to escape.
As night fell she had fallen asleep again, and now she tossed and turned in her dream. She saw trees, and water. At the sight of the clear, shimmering water her mouth began to water. She was so thirsty...the springs in the desert were dirty and small. She tried to crawl to it, but the way seemed impossibly long. And then, just as suddenly, she saw him again.
“Go to the Empty Mountains, little one. You may find peace there.”
Alexis stared, transfixed. May? “What else might I find?” she demanded hastily, before he vanished again.
“The truth,” he said solemnly. And then he was gone.
Alexis awoke and looked around, half expecting to see him. But everything was the same. She looked at the moon. It was more than halfway through the sky. Morning would come in a few hours.
Alexis looked into the far reaches of the south. It was shrouded in gray. Would she go to the Empty Mountains? She wanted peace...she knew that now. She wanted it desperately.
Alexis felt a tinge of hope. Perhaps she could find it.
Something in her thrashed malevolently. No, it growled hatefully. You must continue in your dedication!
But I want to be free, she thought to herself.
Look at the testimony of your remembrance of those you loved.
I see blood and death. I want rest.
You will never find it unless you finish. You will only find despair in the Empty Mountains. Then it growled menacingly, You will not go there....
Alexis felt something in her snap, like an explosion of passion. “Yes I will!” she shouted out into the emptiness of the night.
The ring in her voice was the ring of a girl that she had been, like it was making one last call.
Alexis mounted the mare, and urgently turned it south, before the maddened things turned her back. She rode hard, as if to escape the wild passions inside.
If she was to get to the Empty Mountains, better known to others as the Unending Mountains of Endor, she had a long journey ahead. Worse thing yet, she had no idea where in the world to find this “Mirror” the man spoke of. And the Mountains were vast. There was a great chance she would never come out...they weren't like the mountains of Ethen'dor, or the Northern Peaks. The Empty Mountains went on for hundreds of miles. Presumably to the end of the world.
But that was where she was headed. She had reached the end of her sanity and needed any hope of inner rest she could hold onto.
The mare sensed these more recognizable emotions in Alexis as they rode, and she relaxed a bit as she kept on at a steady pace, happy with her rest the day before.
All day they rode with two breaks for water and a brief rest, during which the mare ate what brush she could find.
Two days passed with them journeying south. They were days of torment, for the voice never stopped its prodding, its relentless whispering urging her to turn back and finish what she had started. Fighting against its constant antagonizing of her thoughts left her more exhausted than from the weariness the physical journey. Constantly pushing it into the back of her mind was a fight that afforded no rest.
The land rolled by as they put the miles behind them. The sun rose and set, and they continued on south. The days faded into one another, Alexis keeping no count of them.
A little after midday she passed within two miles of the Sheloc outpost. Everything inside her tightened. As she followed the land into more mountainous country she gazed back over toward the deserted post. That was the place, she felt, where she had lost herself and everything had become blurred and confused.
Alexis looked ahead, into the mountains. It'd be a long ride, but perhaps she'd find an answer in the end.
They traveled onward for almost another fortnight, not stopping until dusk, when they climbed a high ridge and Alexis looked over the land. The mountains stretched far away into the horizon, with dusty, empty valleys between their arms. Not a sound was to be heard. It was as if all life had left that part of the world.
The next morning Alexis directed the mare down into the mountains. The morning cast a dim, gray light down into them, mixing with the shadows. Alexis wondered if they had always been this way—so quiet, seemingly lifeless. Like some spell cast on a sleeper that only sinks deeper and deeper into sleep, never to awake again. Not a bird or insect was in sight. Or any plant life for that matter. She wondered if there was any water to be had. She hoped so—for both their sakes. A horn of water wouldn't last long between a horse and rider.
You'll starve, or thirst to death, the voice said. Going in is a mistake.
Alexis viciously shoved the thought aside and continued on. She needed answers more than she needed water.
For two lonely days Alexis wandered in the labyrinth of the mountains. Once she found a shallow spring dripped from the rock face of a mountain, but the water tasted chalky. The mare at first balked at the taste, then accepted it as there was no other alternative.
Alexis filled up her horn. It would keep them alive. That was all that mattered.
They rode up a the foot of a gently sloping mountain, and it took them higher. They eventually found themselves on higher ground, on what appeared to have been a long time ago actual turf. Alexis traveled around, desperately hoping for some kind of clue as to where she might find the “Mirror” the figure had told her of.
Resting at night was a lonely, cold affair. Her cloak was barely thick enough, and she had given the mare her blanket that she had taken from one of the urgog camps. It smelled abominably, but it held in some warmth. The mare was grateful for the unexpected sensitivity.
Eventually the mare settled down on the ground, close to Alexis. Their proximity provided more heat.
The next day Alexis continued searching, and early in the morning she came upon something she least expected. Ruins. On the lower mountain wall could be found pictographs of times long since. It was obvious that it had at one time been a small village.
She studied the pictographs, hoping that they'd give her a clue as to what happened and what might be in the vicinity. But there was nothing.
Alexis walked on through the ruins. It was amazing some of it was even still intact, like beams of wood. Perhaps all the materials had been strong and indigenous. As Alexis continued on through the desolated village, a decayed tarp of animal skin blew back, and she saw a couple skeletons underneath, stuck in the stone, the wind having blown them clean. One had to have been a child.
Alexis began to notice others laying around. What had happened? Had it been a raid that had killed these people so long ago?
Wind stirred in the small clearing and Alexis left. No wonder the Empty Mountains felt so empty. Death always seemed to leave a tread of silence.
Alexis led the mare higher up, and a few hours later she came to another village. This one was in a smaller clearing. Most of the ruins of what had been houses were tucked under overhangs and crevices in the mountain rock.
She led the mare through, and looked around. There was a small pathway cutting roughly through the rock behind a house, and Alexis followed it. It led to another set of old house frames, and she was about to go on when she noticed a cave. There was a big rock rolled almost completely over the entrance, and through it Alexis could see the cave with beam of sunlight filtering through small cuttings in the walls.
She approached the stone and looked down. A skeleton hand rested near the small opening. A struggle to escape, or a need to see the open?
She got down and struggled against the stone. She put her back to it and pressed her feet against the opposite wall, until there was a grinding noise. Then she got down and pushed with her shoulder. It ground back roughly into the wall. Alexis pushed until there was just barely enough space for her to squeeze through.
The cave was not large. It looked to be about twenty feet all round. Like she had figured, there were narrow cuts in the walls for light and air. And the room held more bodies. What in the world had happened? There looked to be ten bodies within, including two children.
Then Alexis noticed the pictures on the wall, cut with rough white rock. Pictures of all the people, happy, with happy seasons. Then black water came in the rivers, and all the people fell sick. They had thought at first it was the air that they breathed, so some hid away, taking water to last many days with them. But they woke up to the same bloody boils on their skin, festering wounds that itched and burned. They knew they would not last long. It was the water...no one would survive without water in the Empty Mountains, and it was all the water that was contaminated. All were going to die.
The last picture showed a empty village, and a lonely mountain with all of the flowers and people laying dead on the ground. They had all once been so happy. Now there was no one to continue on. Their own people had been taken from them.
As Alexis looked at the black river that snaked elusively behind the people, it seemed to be trying to speak something to her, whisper something, a truth of what had happened.
As there was nothing left to see, so Alexis turned to go out. She looked down at the hand stretched out from the opening. With the knowledge of death, the person had probably wanted one last look of the sky and mountains he had known. And it seemed safe to assume he only got one.
Alexis silently remounted the mare. She turned her head to the winding trails, going deeper and higher into the mountains. Surely there were more.
You'll only find despair, little one, a voice said. It is no use. You're wasting your time when you should be miles away fulfilling what you are.
Alexis noticed how the voice had called her “little one” just like that other voice had. Only from this, it sounded disgusting to her ears.
But was she wasting her time?
No. She wasn't. This was something she needed to complete for herself. She needed to know something, and this seemed to hold the most promise.
Alexis felt like she was losing what she had been, and that girl was fading fast into a past she could barely remember. The present self felt a call, an ugly pull back to the wide east where the roving Raven bands were still roaming, and whom she could pick of one by one like so many ants on the ground. Was that not her duty?
Alexis wrinkled her forehead, deep in thought as the mare pressed on patiently. Hadn't she always fought against the Ravens? What was the difference between the Alexis of before and the Alexis of now? What made her feel so...gloated with satisfaction after a slaughter but also so utterly rotten, lost, and filthy?
This journey was the last thread, and she needed all her strength to follow it and discover the answer. Was she lost? Would she forever feel empty save for that brutal wrath and hatred that fueled her whenever she drew blade against the urgogs, the kind that had taken those she loved and took strength and comfort in?
The mare curved cautiously through the rough natural paths in the mountain, following wherever they led. She was about to follow a path that sloped upwards, when Alexis abruptly stopped her. Down, just a little ways, was a small cave with moss vines hanging over it, the first plant life Alexis had seen in her whole time in Endor.
She turned the mare's head to go the opposite way to the moss cave. There was something strange about it. She dismounted and pushed the moss aside. The cave looked to be at least fifty feet around. Pictographs were everywhere. It took only a moment to see that this was where they had recorded history and tales.
Alexis scanned along the walls, and when she got near the end, she looked at the far wall. There was a picture of something glowing, with people standing around it. Alexis hastily stepped over. The glowing thing was oval, with a small waterfall flowing over it, into a shallow pool below. Alexis's blood quickened.
The people stood around it, but the strange thing was that most of them looked terrified. Their eyes were large and staring, and their faces screwed up into a voiceless scream. But then there were others who had the most heavenly and blissful look on their faces. What did this mean?
To Alexis, there was no doubt the object was what she was looking for—the Mirror. But the picture filled her with fearful trepidation. What was she going to see? There was a picture above that showed the Mirror up high in the mountains, in the heart of one that had three jutting spires.
Alexis took a deep breath. She must keeping going. She had come so far already, was weak, starving, exhausted. Almost without hope. She needed at least to reach the end, to know if it had been worthwhile.
It won't, the voice said.
Before she could listen and come under the soothing spell of its voice, Alexis turned and remounted the mare, and led her back up the path. This time she instinctively felt like she knew where she was going.
Hours later as the sun was setting in a dim, overcast sky, Alexis mounted a high rise. The sky thundered softly. She could see it in the distance—a three-spired mountain jutting up from among the ring of surrounding mountains. Mist clung about it, like it was hiding a secret. The thunder rumbled again, closer and louder this time. The sunlight was fading fast.
Alexis knew she needed to find a place to hole up. A mountaintop was no place to be standing during a thunderstorm. She gently kicked the mare's side, and she moved to the right, following the flow of the mountain, even as the voices began arguing again, snarling at her stupidity.
There was barely any path to be seen, although Alexis figured that this was the way the people of Endor would have gone. Nearly a hundred feet away as they turned back south towards the mountain and the path sloped down, Alexis spotted a deep overhang that would suit both her and the mare.
With the impatient peal of loud thunder overhead, she quickened her step as she led the mare under the shelter. The mare was just as glad to get out of the open as Alexis was, and she shook herself. Alexis rubbed her down and placed the blanket over her. The mare nickered and looked at Alexis.
Alexis patted her. As she sat down she paused and looked at the poor horse. Whenever had she patted her, showed her a little affection? She couldn't remember a single time, save for the time she covered her with a blanket. It felt strange—like she should, and shouldn't, have done it. But she had.
She looked in the mare's eyes as they furtively glanced at her. They showed wary fear, but also a longing. For the first time in so long, Alexis felt something different. She felt pity.
Alexis settled down as the thunder pealed and a shower of heavy rain fell down. Thank goodness they had found shelter. Alexis wondered where tomorrow would find her.