The First Sdhlain: Sdhlai 1

Rocks clattered down, down, down as she skidded to a stop at the edge of the Cliff. Damn, she muttered. If I had a coin, I think it'd make better decisions than me. I'm going to die either way.

The snap of a not-so-distant twig made her wince. Only one way back, and it had just been blocked. Surprise, surprise. Mouth open to shed some heat, she dropped to her belly and peered over the edge. The last moon was close to setting and the depths were a uniform midnight blue but the weathered finger of rock she clung to still shone like old bone. Only a snaggle of iron bush roots broke the smooth service, and they led nowhere. Undercut on all sides the rock face offered no sanctuary. If there was a ledge down there then only a spider could reach it.

For a moment she toyed with the idea of climbing over the edge and hiding but she knew that that would only postpone the end. They were big and slow and awkward, but they weren't stupid. The thought of hanging like a fruit waiting to be plucked made her gag. If only she hadn't chosen this path, this stupid, stupid path. There were only three of them. If she'd just left herself room to manoeuvre she could have run rings around them all . . .

A heavy step vibrated up through the rock and into her belly. Almost here. Weakness rooted her to the rock. She didn't want to die, especially like that . . . falling . . . yet the alternative . . . Digging her fingers into the cracks she shuddered. Caught like a snarhg, a filthy, sneaking snarhg. No, worse than a snarhg because they were dangerous when cornered . . . she was quick and agile but no match for what chased her.

Another step rippled through the rock but this time she didn't even feel it. I'm smart . . . Weariness forgotten she scrambled to her feet, teeth bared in a feral grin. Only moments remained now but her movements were sure and unhurried, as if time no longer mattered. There was time to slide behind the remains of the iron bush; time to grasp its scaly stem; time to lower herself over the edge. More than enough time for her left foot to find that V-shaped tangle in the roots, to become rock.

Clinging by one hand and one foot, the top of her head level with the cliff edge, she couldn't see anything, but then she didn't need to. Each step was a vibration through her skin, a crunch in her ears, a sour waft in her nostrils. Closer, closer . . . then a 'huh' of surprise. Above her, a shadow detached itself from the gloom, hunkering down to peer cautiously over the edge . . .

Like a snake her right hand whipped out, grasped and then she was launching herself backwards into the void. For one gut-wrenching moment they both hung there and she thought she'd failed, thought her momentum had not been enough and then, slowly, like a tree, he toppled and was gone.


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Last Updated: 2002.11.17.2217