At the Edge of Dust: Prologue

She stared at the dimming scene outside the window. They were in a small cabin high up on the mountain, even higher than the temple. Snow had been falling nearby ever since they started walking up early that morning. Now the white snow was turning grey as the last hazy light from the sun slipped behind the mountain. Light from the fire behind her reflected off the glass. The smell of cedar, fire, and birth filled the room.

She turned her gaze to the newborn infant sleeping in her arms, still red and wrinkled. She swallowed, but didn’t turn around. She couldn’t. “What do you want to name her?”

The other woman behind her looked up from the other infant in her arms. Sweat soaked her black hair and tears were dripping down her face. But she smiled, and it wasn’t even a sad smile. “She planned every part of this, but not the names?”

The woman by the window finally turned to her. She was not smiling. Her eyes were red, her face tense. “You’re not angry that the only control you get over your child is her name?”

The black-haired woman shook her head. “Sophia, I have just given birth to a divine being. There isn’t a speck of room available anywhere in me for something as ugly as anger. All I feel is awe, love, and gratitude.” She snuggled the son in her arms. “But besides that,” she looked up into Sophia’s eyes. “Besides that, Sophia, don’t you see? She’s your daughter now. I’ve given you a daughter. And she’s going to give you the freedom you’ve always wanted.”

The quiet infant stirred in Sophia’s arms.

“This isn’t freedom, Adrianna.” Sophia sighed. It was useless. “Just give them names, please?”

“If you really want.” She thought for a moment. “This is so intimidating. I’m naming the Moon. His name will be known for thousands of years…”

Sophia sighed then turned her back again to Adrianna and stared out the window, holding the girl tightly to her chest.

“I’ll name him James.”

“And your daughter?”

Adrianna looked up at Sophia’s back. She had a small frame, brown hair bound in a long braid down her back, and Adrianna knew her face would be scrunched up in a scowl like usual. “Max.”

Sophia turned to her. “Really? After her father?”

Her smile faltered, crumpling in half. Big tears slid down her cheeks. “It’s the only name I’ll be able to speak without anyone knowing it means someone else.” She said quietly. “I won’t even be able to say your name soon.”

Tears started rolling from Sophia’s eyes too. “Adrianna…”

Adrianna shook her head. “How am I still telling you how to do your own job? Go. Follow the path Goddess laid out for you. Get off this mountain and away from everything. I need to bring the Moon back to the temple.”

The air hung heavy between them. The fire crackled softly.

“I love you, Adrianna.”

She smiled again. “I love you too, Sophia. I’m so grateful that it’s you who will take care of Max.”

A cold breeze snuck into the room, but it was quickly extinguished by the warmth of the fire.

“Don’t leave too fast.”

Adrianna didn’t reply to that. Her eyes went back down to James.

Sophia sighed, wrapped Max up in a fur blanket, pulled up her hood, and pulled the cabin door open. Just a few meters away the snow was piled up beyond her head. But on a path leading away from the temple the route was almost clear, only a few inches of snow compared to the feet blocking the route on the other side. Her path clearly laid out for her, she started down the mountain with Max.

As the sun set and cast the mountain in darkness the clouds parted to reveal a bright full moon and a sky full of stars. Even though the light was still less than the sun, she never once fell down and not a single rock or root snagged her feet. It was undeniably cold, but no wind blew. Max woke up a few times and needed feeding and changing as a baby does, but Sophia was prepared and none of the normally present mountain wolves ever approached them.

Under normal circumstances this was an entirely inhospitable mountain. The snow was always so deep that there were only two ways up or down: the path that was maintained and led to the temple, or the helicopter that the temple kept. There were two packs of wolves that roamed the forest and there were more predators in the nature reserve at the base of the mountain too, giving trouble to humans at the very start of their journeys. And that was just the animals. The trees here had roots that grew largely on top of the ground, creating kilometers of fertile tripping-ground. Where there weren’t treacherous tree roots there were icy rivers, obsidian cliffs, and boiling, acidic hot springs. Historically there were reports of small lava exposures as well, though no one had reported seeing signs of any for over two centuries.

History taught that Mt. Rham had been selected by the first Moon incarnate, Oberon. He chose the mountain as the safest place for the Goddess to live while she remained in her mortal reincarnation cycle. Thousands of years later the mountain had become the holiest site on Earth. Millions of people made a pilgrimage to the base temple every year for the Lunar Festival, one of the very few times the Goddess would descend the mountain. No outsiders except the new temple devotees and the King of Ramir were allowed up to the temple at the top of Mt. Rham. No one except head priests and the King of Ramir were allowed to leave the temple once they entered. Even the Goddess herself was only allowed to go down to the lower temple once a year. And after she died she still couldn’t descend the mountain. She was cremated at the top and her ashes stored there too. And she, nor anyone else was definitely not allowed to be sneaking down the backside of the mountain like Sophia was doing.

But no one cared if the Goddess’ favorite attendant died on the mountain as the priests would assume she had, her body buried beneath the snow. No one would come looking for her. There was no way she could ever survive the mountain once she became lost anyways.

Only Adrianna would cry over Sophia’s absence.

Months later, Sophia had Max strapped to her back as she went about her shopping. Her face was darkened by the lowland sun, her hair shorter than it had been when she left the mountain. She was picking out vegetables when a bell started ringing over the PA. Everyone stopped what they were doing. A woman’s child continued playing and she grabbed their wrist tightly to hold them close. They cried out, but when they saw their mother’s pale face they held still.

The bell stopped and a voice came through the speaker.

“Mt. Rham has just announced that at 12:04pm today, Her Royal Holiness Queen Adrianna has passed away.”

Men and women cried aloud throughout the store, throughout the nation, throughout the world, but Sophia’s eyes stayed dry. With trembling hands she put the vegetable she was holding into her basket and paid at a self-serve station before leaving with everyone else. Little Max stayed silent.