We left for Tibet in the morning. Aspen was practically dancing with glee when she met Artemis. I tried to control my face and stay happy for her, but I was already irritated.
Seth had been unsuccessful in finding any information online, even through less than legal methods. Then he disappeared in the middle of the night to do whatever thieves do. I woke up on my couch with a blanket over me and the dagger from my hair missing.
Artemis was talking to Aspen, asking her questions, gauging her skills, and getting information on the ladies we were tracking. I stayed back, just listening, focusing on not interrupting and controlling my emotions to stop the storm brewing inside.
“I have someone I can talk to in Nagqu. Let’s go,” Artemis said.
I nodded as Artemis and I both held our hands out to Aspen. Aspen bounced over to Artemis, grabbing hers enthusiastically. I frowned, feeling like a tag-along, but I reached for Aspen’s other hand. We would need to stay together.
We popped into a small alleyway and steadied Aspen. Artemis smiled triumphantly. “I haven’t portaled as a group like that in a while. Aspen, you did great.” We rounded the corner and came to a stop in front of a fabric store. I raised my eyebrow but said nothing as she waltzed in like she owned the place.
“Aspen, can you and Khione stay up here? I’m going to the back to look at a different type of fabric.” Aspen nodded, but she was already lost in the colours and textures of the fabrics in the shop. I stood quietly in the corner, feeling like I was being watched.
Of course, she had ditched me the first chance she got. I was a hindrance to her. I focused on getting a sense of the snow in the nearby mountain range, but I was too far. I frowned, watching as Aspen chatted happily to the shopkeepers about the amazing fabrics and the type of clothes she could fashion for herself. I made a note that if she stayed with me, she would never be forced to make her own clothes. I saw Artemis select a few of the bolts that Aspen had lit up around and purchase some for her. Her face was practically glowing from the happiness.
Damnit. Why didn’t I think to do that?
“So, we will need to go up the mountain. There’s been some suspicious activity up near some of the caves there.”
“Do we get to portal again?” Aspen asked, clasping her hands together.
“No, we need to find the trail, and that means we will need to ride a yak.”
I nearly stumbled over my feet. A yak? A yak’s smell was nauseating, and they were excruciatingly slow. I could blizzard my way up the mountain in mere minutes. I thought about protesting, but the light in Aspen’s eyes stopped me, and I swore I saw Artemis smirk.
“Yaks are exciting!” Aspen said. I rolled my eyes out of her view, but pushed forward. At least we were going up the mountain now, even if I was following Artemis and Aspen on my own miserable, odorous, grey yak.
“I thought we would have a sherpa,” Aspen said to Artemis. I snorted as Artemis laughed lightly. “The more people in our party, the more chances of something going wrong. I don’t want to give the harpy extra targets if I don’t have to.”
“Pft, like we couldn’t protect a sherpa from a harpy,” I mumbled and pushed the plodding yak forward. He bounced along lazily, and I grew quiet, listening to Artemis and Aspen talk about tracks, trails, and markers.
Since reaching the mountains, my stomach had twisted into a knot. I had let my senses out and could feel the snow rolling unnaturally to the north of the range. Every time the snow shifted, my balance was affected, and I was getting frustrated. When we came to a cave Artemis wanted to search, I struggled to control the frost forming on my skin.
“This isn’t the place,” I grumbled as they went to check it out. My stomach twisted, and I looked up the mountainside, trying to feel which direction to go. Something was very wrong here. I needed to get to Skiron.
“You gave me very little to work with. Hunting takes patience and requires that we search,” she shot back, annoyed with me. The snow shifted again, settling back over the mountain, and my stomach flipped. How dare she be annoyed with me!
“We don’t have time! My uncle is in danger! Do you not grasp that?”
It’s not a hunt for sport or food that we can be leisurely. I need to get there now. Something is really wrong up there.
“I understand, Khione,” Artemis said. She looked at me, and I saw Aspen fidget uncomfortably. “I do, but I’d rather not split up as there is dreadful cell reception in the Himalayas.” I took a breath and clenched my hands, concentrating on not yelling back, even as Aspen giggled.
I followed numbly, feeling the snow ebb and flow in the unnatural rhythm, the knot growing tighter in my stomach. Aspen and Artemis were tracking together, and they were getting along great, even through several more empty caverns.
Aspen spotted something in the ice ahead. I perked up, listening to see what it was, but then Artemis was showing off, porting up to look, and then falling and porting again. Aspen was delighted, and I rolled my eyes at the antics. I could have brought the ice to us instead.
“It looks like wings brushed the ice, and there is a crack as if something hit the wall. The feather marks are larger than any bird in this area,” Artemis explained to Aspen. “I also detected the same scent that was on the harpy’s wing,” she said to me. “Keep going forward, Aspen. I’ll check out this lead.”
“Oh, don’t bother asking the expert in ice to have a look at the marks in the wall of ice,” I muttered, grabbing my yak and urging it to follow Aspen.
Artemis had completely ignored me and hadn’t bothered to ask my thoughts on anything. I knew I asked for her help, but I’m nearly certain I could find the harpy with these unusual snow rhythms now. I hadn’t even had the chance to say anything to them. They were too busy egging each other on to the next empty cave.
“Follow me, Miss Kia. We will head to the next bend. Looks like sunset is coming soon, so we will find a place to camp.” The snow shifted again. My stomach lurched, and I made the yak veer to the left.
“Good idea Aspen.” I heard Artemis call as she ported back up to the ice wall and then beyond.
“Sure, you let her lead and boss us around like I’m inexperienced in the mountains? She’s doing a better job than you are, finding marks and trails. And she’s mortal. All you’re doing is sniffing feathers,” I snapped at her.
My yak tripped on a rock on the path, throwing me off. My cheeks flushed as I collected myself off the ground, the tension and smell of the yak making me want to hurl.
“That’s right! I’m letting her lead you to safety since you can’t even ride a yak.” I saw red when I heard that. Pure anger coursed through me, and I struggled not to shift into the storm inside.
“Why would I believe you’d have my best interests in mind? I don’t think you’d care if my uncle was alive, as long as you find what you’re searching for,” I snapped.
“I wouldn’t have known your uncle’s life was in danger unless you had told me. You came to me and asked me for help. Help that I gave you. I stopped a search I was on, a search that was important to me, just to help your uncle so you can stop wasting my time with your petty bullshit. If you care about your own uncle, you will follow the mortal, who is certainly doing a far better job than you are, and let me do my work.”
I stomped off, forcing myself to stay in solid form and not full blizzard rage at the surly huntress. Why did I think this would work?
I stopped around the bend in a clearing and calmed my thoughts and anger. Aspen rounded with the three yaks. Oh crap.
“I’m sorry, Aspen,” I said and took the reins from her. I tied the miserable trio to a nearby tree.
“Let’s make camp. Tell me what you need me to do.” I smiled at her, and she beamed back, excitedly giving me directions. I followed them, focusing on the tasks instead of the hurt, anger, and the things I’d said. Aspen babbled her thoughts out loud. I could sense something moving on the snow a few miles north of here, but I wasn’t going to abandon Aspen.
We had a fire going and a tent set up when Artemis strolled into camp. She greeted the girl and the yaks, but barely acknowledged me, as she sat by the fire.
“The trail leads to a set of caves a few miles north. We should be able to reach it in the morning,” she said. “I couldn’t tell how many were with the harpy, so we should all go in together in case this is where they are keeping your uncle. Let’s get to sleep early. Tomorrow could bring battle.”
I nodded. It seems we were indeed on the right path, the two of us in agreement. A battle was on the horizon, and we would need to be rested. I retreated but didn’t sleep. I stared up at the moon and let it snow around me, like tears floating slowly from the sky.
I hope you’re safe, Uncle.