In the darkness of the mine shaft, Storn stroked the cold stone wall. “Not long, sister,” he whispered, knowing that she couldn’t hear him. His hand brushed over a thin line scribed in the rock, and his breath caught like his snagged fingertips—but it was an old letter, old words. The wall here was covered with the scars of long-past conversations. His own words, chiselled in slanted, uneven strokes, relaying requests for so many tonnes of ore, strata reports, instability estimates; the sleek smoothness of his sister’s replies, flowing in thread-fine rivulets of iron, copper, silver. But between the abbreviated, formal phrases sprawled other words, from a childhood now long past.
Tippy had 5 kittens today two boys three girls there fuzzy and warm [Req: 2t 1st gd iron, shft 17, 4w]
[Ack, mod: Shft 16b, est. 3w] Was there any tabbys?
Yes two, 1 gray 1 oranj. [Req: Status rpt shft 17 dry?] You can name them if you want
Childish chatter, misspelled and ill formed, the rock dense with frozen voices. It had been the only way to talk, after her voice had stopped (his own high child’s tones echoing in the eternal mine-night; her soft, sand-dry voice whispering back). He’d carved his words into the rock like he’d once drawn letters with his fingertip on the back of her hand (under the dinner table, trying to suppress giggles as Papa said grace, while Mama’s glare from under lowered eyelids promised no dessert later), and her replies had come welling back, the stone weeping thin script of pure metals. It had taken him longer to shape his words than it had taken her; sometimes the metal would start to bead up in response under his very fingertips, even as he laboured on the final chisel-strokes of a phrase.
He had grown, and learned, and his words came faster. She had grown, and learned, and her words came slower. Hours between the last of his hammer-blows and the first creeping drop of metal, and hours for the letters to form . . . then days. Then weeks. Her skin hardening, his touch going unfelt. He carved his words taller, wider, deeper.
GRANDMA DIED LAST NIGHT. IT WAS PEACEFUL. I WAS THERE.
Her answer in thin, streaked silver, tears down rock: Stone from me.
He hadn’t understood, not until he’d noticed the brilliance emerging slowly, over weeks, through the soil of the grave. She’d formed the headstone from gem-bearing lode, the name (no dates; already, she had slowed beyond that understanding) written in twists of pure opal.
Some of the miners had talked last year about breaking that headstone, converting the gems into desperately needed grain and cloth. He’d stared at them, from his seat at the head of the council table, and they’d gone quiet, and looked away. They’d misunderstood him, though. Not anger, behind his eyes, but the knowledge that such a stopgap suggestion was no solution. He could see as well as anyone the dwindling figures in the account books, the unbalanced import sheets. The sunken cheeks of the children.
And so later, when the miner’s council had come to him with nervous eyes and shaking, sweating hands, clutching the rolled paper of their proposal, he’d taken it from them, and read it in silence, and finally nodded, once. And then he’d sat silent as stone in the midst of the relieved, rising chatter that planned who and how and when, and felt the fear settle rock-solid in his stomach.
Storn leaned his forehead on the rough rock. “Elanthe . . .” He spread his fingers, palm flat, pressing against the furrowed wall. How thick was it here, how many inches of living stone separating their flesh?
She’d shown him the space, and the thin shafts of air holes, and the straws for water and soup, and the sloping drain for wastes to run away. They’d measured her hipbones, she’d said, and the angle of her spine, and calculated from them her exact adult height. They’d sized the space to match. “Look, Storn!” she’d said, squirming in the hollow, wrapping arms around knees and twisting to grin back at him. “Look! Isn’t it wonderful?” She’d had space enough, then, to stretch out her limbs, and laugh. She’d been eight; he, six. The wall hadn’t yet closed. She hadn’t yet had the control to grow it, sealing her in, stone a second skin.
She had gone in so joyfully, without looking back. For many years she’d willingly flung up the buried treasures of the mountain for them, silver springing up in the bore-holes like water, like her laughter. All the words on the walls spoke of delight in strata and stone—and of love for him, her anchor to the soft, quick world of men. But that love had not held her back from wrapping herself in the mountain, slowing, slowing, slowing into the cold silence of stone-time.
He’d lain awake some nights, alone in his narrow bed, staring into the dark, wondering if her eyes too were open, on the black of her eternal night. Wondering if she thought of him. Wondering if she remembered him at all.
And sometimes—furtively, secretly, always waking with a guilt-ridden jerk—he’d dreamed of pulling back the mantle of stone—easily as a blanket, in his dream—to see her naked form curled in the heart of the mountain like a nutmeat in its shell . . . and then her limbs stirring, stretching, her beautiful face turning sleepily towards him with a smile: Storn. My brother, I had the strangest dream. . . .
Only a dream; only ever a dream.
He’d carved his last message in words twenty feet high, three feet wide, two feet deep, in the centre of the largest expanse of cliff on the mountain. Had she felt it? Did she know?
Light glimmered from up the tunnel, sun-bright to his dark-widened eyes.
“Elanthe,” Storn said to the wall. “It’s time. It’s time now.” He hesitated; pressed his face to the rock. “Please,” he breathed, the stone cold on his lips. “Please. Don’t hate me.” Then, shielding his face from the distant glow, he stood, and waited.
The approaching pair weren’t as adept in the mine gallery as he was, or as any of the other townsfolk would have been, but they did not blunder about unwittingly. One had the soft, wary step of a warrior; one foot placed precisely, pause, then the other, pause. The other person’s gait was more uneven, but it was a curious patter—step, step, pause, step-hop, shuffle, pause—not a blind stumble.
The dim glow flared into the brightness of a lantern beam, making him wince as the light lanced across his face. A faint, acrid scent wrinkled his nose. Blinking watering eyes, he stepped forward, offering his hand. “Captain Jia.”
“Overseer Storn.” Her hand clasped his, palm as calloused as his own—though hers were from spear and shrivebow, not pick and chisel. The lantern-light threw the planes of her face into harsh relief, sharp as an axe blade against the dark. “This is the place?”
Storn swallowed the sudden wild urge to say No, no, there’s been a mistake, I’ve changed my mind— “Y-yes.” His eyes came clear at last, and he frowned, trying to see past the lantern’s glare. “Ah, where is—?”
The lamplight flared and flickered, sending shadows swirling. With a whumph, the flame roared high out of the lantern in unnatural streamers, spiralling round Jia’s arm and into the dark beyond.
Storn found that his back was pressed hard against the rock wall. Jia only turned her head, looking back the way she had come. “Firechild,” she said, mildly.
The sound of the halting skip-step came again, and the scent of smoke grew stronger. One step, two; and stop. “Weight,” said a voice, dry, cracking; Storn was reminded of flame licking kindling, cinders in ashes, and the sound of his sister through stone. “Slow, slow and heavy. Stone on the fire.”
“It’s all right.” Neither Jia’s hand nor her voice wavered, though ribbons of fire twined through her fingers. “It cannot put you out.”
Another step. “Promise?” The flames quavered.
“I promise,” Jia said, and Storn looked away from her face, feeling like an intruder in his own mine.
The flames died back, all at once. The darkness seemed to leap forward, filling the void where the light had been—darkness, and something more solid than darkness. The figure was short, bulkier than Storn had expected from the sound of the footsteps; then he realised that the broad, rounded shoulders and wide girth were layers upon layers of sackcloth, roughly shaped into enveloping cloaks and drenched in a sharp-smelling flame-retardant chemical. Smoke curled up in thin plumes where smouldering embers nibbled the coarse material. As the figure came forward, the cloak-layers shuffled, spitting sparks.
“Firekin,” said Storn, bringing his hands up to touch his forehead in reverence. “I am—” and the rest of the words died in his throat, because the figure’s face had come into the light, and it was—
It was an it. There was no telling whether it was male or female, young or old. All had been eaten by fire.
“Mountain’s brother,” said the firekin, in that broken, ash-dry voice. A single small, bright, penetrating eye looked out at Storn from the slabbed ruins of its face. “But not stone yourself.” Its gaze slid past him to the wall behind. “Ah,” it breathed, wind stirring embers.
Storn became aware that Jia was looking at him, her face closed and cold. “I— I’m honoured,” he stuttered, hastily completing the reverence gesture and dropping his hands to his sides. “I— er—” The firekin had already slipped round him, the hot air in its wake near-searing against Storn’s skin, and was running twisted hands over the wall, muttering to itself.
“Yes, ah, yes yes. Here, and here.” The embers around the hem of the firekin’s robe grew brighter. “Heat here, yes, and this will go first, brightly running, ah!” The small form shuddered with delight, wriggling like a petted dog. The blackened stumps of its fingers stroked the metal streaks of Elanthe’s words. “Bright on the stone, then stone running like fire!” Its hand followed the twisting silver lines of a poem across Elanthe’s wall, and onto the surrounding natural stone of the tunnel. To Storn’s surprise, it started sidling back along the tunnel, away from Elanthe, all of its attention evidently fixed on ordinary scarred stone. “And here, yes, more, all up here, deep rock, waiting for fire, fire in the veins, yes, here, here!” The embers grew into yellow tongues, licking hungrily up the cloth.
“Enough!” Jia’s voice cracked whiplike across the flames; they flickered and bowed low. “That’s enough, firechild,” she said again, more gently. “Come back. Not those walls, only this, here.” She started to lay her palm against Elanthe’s wall, but—casting a glance at Storn—stopped and let her hand drop before she touched it. “You need to melt here, to the hollow beyond.”
“No, no.” The firekin didn’t turn, still probing at the tunnel wall. “Here, look, better. Here, deep metal, deep veins for fire, brightness! There,” it jerked its head dismissively at Elanthe’s wall, “just flesh, fat, catches fast, flares, eyes go up pfffst!”—a rushing crackle-pop of sparks flew from the robe—”into steam. Dull, dull!”
“You aren’t to burn her!” Storn said in alarm. The firekin looked at him, mask-like features neutral, without evident comprehension. “That’s my sister there!”
The firekin’s bright eye turned to fix on him. “Your sister, everywhere,” it said. “Is Mountain!”
“Well, yes. But she’s also a girl, a woman I mean, here.” Storn put his hand on the wall. “Elanthe.”
Sparks hissed from the firekin’s robe, and it hissed too, an impatient sound. “No, no,” it said. “Mountain!”
“Elanthe,” Storn corrected, through a throat gone tight and hot. “She has a name, like you do.”
“Am Fuel,” the firekin said, offhand, and out of the corner of his eye Storn thought he saw Jia flinch, the slightest movement. “All, always, Fuel. And she,” it waved one hand, indicating the tunnel in general, “is Mountain. Says is!”
“Firechild,” Jia said, both eyebrows rising, “can you hear the stonekin?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Fuel snapped. It cast an aggrieved look at Storn. “Your sister, big, loud, heavy. Distracting, very!”
Storn met Jia’s eyes. “How is that even possible?” he asked. “They’re so different—” Even as he spoke, his mind raced ahead—if Elanthe could hear them, if they could talk—
“Stupid, stupid,” said Fuel, rolling its eye as though inviting the mountain to share in its exasperation. “Mountain knows fire, of course. Go down, deep, stone is fire, fire is stone, all one.” It laughed, a merry crackle as of twigs burning. “Fire at the heart of the world!”
“Firekin, Fuel, listen,” Storn said, crouching down to put himself at its eye-level. “What is Elanthe saying? Does she understand that we’re moving her, why we have to do it?”
“Mountain doesn’t say. Mountain is.” Fuel clicked its tongue, a dismissive sound. “But no matter, no need.”
“Firechild,” Jia said, her tone even and patient, “please concentrate. Try to talk to—to Mountain, for Overseer Storn, and for me. I know you don’t fully understand, but—”
“Do! Is you, you who don’t!” Fuel shook its head. “You, you see what is not, not what is. Girl is not. Mountain is. And Mountain can’t move.” It absently touched a streak of copper with one fingertip; the metal shivered and started to seep down the dark stone. Storn felt a slight, low vibration through the soles of his shoes, and Fuel snatched its hand back from the rock. “No need to understand, no need to explain, talk. Aren’t moving Mountain.”
Storn swallowed, his tongue feeling thick in his mouth. “Elanthe says she doesn’t want to be moved?” He could say that to the council. Sorry, Elanthe says . . .
“Listen, listen, you don’t listen!” Fuel turned away from the wall in a strange, jerky movement, as though forcing itself away from some tempting treasure. “Mountain doesn’t say. Mountain doesn’t want. Mountain is, just is!” It raised its head, glaring fiercely into the ceiling. “Could hate you, Mountain!” it cried, thin voice cracking, fire rising from its sleeves. “Could! For being right, whole, being allowed!”
“Firech—” Jia started to say, voice rising—but even before she finished the name, the flames died. Fuel slumped down to the floor with its head in its hands. Jia went down with it, hands on the thin shoulders.
The firekin’s face was hidden. Smoke curled up from the nape of its neck. “Can’t move Mountain. Mountain does not move. Mountain does not do. You want doing, must melt Mountain, flesh from stone, girl from Mountain. Could do that—fire changes, all things. Am destroyer.” The blackened fingers clenched. “Wrong,” Fuel whispered. “Am wrong. I do, not like Mountain, that only is. But not do this, won’t. Mountain is. Girl is not.”
“Elanthe—” Storn closed his eyes, steeling himself, then made himself look at the huddled firekin, and ask the question he had to. “She doesn’t remember anything? Remember—me?”
The firekin lifted its head a little, looking at him over the edge of its arm for a long moment before speaking. “Mountain doesn’t remember.” Its voice hung in the darkness, soft as falling ash. “Remembering is doing. Mountain doesn’t do, mountain is. Like fire is, like water, air.” It paused, throat working, as though struggling to find words. “Mountain is memory. Is herself and her brother, then, now, always. Mountain is love for you, from fire to sky.” It buried its face again, hands tightening on its knees. “Could burn,” it said, muffled. “Stone into flesh. Destroyed. Could. Won’t.”
The soft sound of Jia’s caught breath sounded loud in the silence. She was looking at the hem of its robes. The, dark, cold, unlit hem. “It would seem, Overseer,” Jia said, her voice as calm as ever, belying the naked wonder creeping over her face, “that we have reached an impasse. You and I cannot remove the stone ourselves, after all.”
Mountain is love for you. Storn tried to think of the words he would say to the waiting townsfolk, the words that would break their hopes, the failure—but all other words were gone from his mind. Just, Mountain is love for you.
“I will not burn,” muttered Fuel. “I won’t!” Jia stroked its shoulder; it recoiled as though she’d burned it, and she jerked her hand back. “Don’t gloat,” it snarled.
Jia folded her hands carefully in her lap, but didn’t move away. When she spoke, her voice was low, pitched only for Fuel, but the darkness carried her words. “I don’t care if you hate me.”
Elanthe loved him, and nothing else mattered. Such a relief, to drop the burden that had weighed on him for years, so long that he had not realised how heavy it had been. Elanthe still loved him; ceaseless, unchanging. Nothing would change, ever. The town would remember its debts, even as it died; he would always be provided for, out of memory for who he and his sister had been. They would drift away, leaving him alone in a ghost town. He would live out his days on the mountain that was his sister, the mountain that loved him. Such sweet relief, such as he’d never known. . . .
No. He’d felt like this once before, so relieved to make the decision to not act, to not change.
Then, he’d been six years old, shaking with fear of the dark, gaping mine shaft. His sister, eight years old, standing at the edge of the dark, her hand outstretched. Offering him a life bound to hers, using their love to keep her tied to human timescales, and useful. Asking him to change their sunlit relationship into a thing of cold darkness and words on stone. No, he’d decided, turning away in relief, such relief. The memory would have to be enough. He’d keep just the memory, and let her go.
Are you a coward, Storn?
Elanthe’s clear voice on the wind, calling from the mine shaft, the elder-sibling note of challenge that could not be ignored. His sister’s voice, familiar, fond, beloved.
And so he’d turned, of course, and taken her hand, and gone under the mountain.
Are you a coward, Storn?
Elanthe’s half-remembered face in the sun, blurred by long, identical years of darkness, and stone, and the comfortable routine of carving words into unhearing rock.
The empty mine-carts; the hungry eyes of the children.
“Fuel,” Storn said, voice echoing loud and harsh in the mine. He stood, picking up the lantern Jia had abandoned, and turned the dial so that the flame bloomed like a flower on the wick. The light caught in the firekin’s startled eye, a miniature tongue of fire reflected in the black pupil. “Tell me about the fire at the heart of the world.”
Jia was on her feet in one smooth motion, her hand hard and painful on his wrist. “Overseer.”
“The fire, Fuel,” Storn said. “Can’t you feel it, even now, burning?”
“Don’t,” whispered Fuel. “Don’t.”
Jia’s fingers grated the bones of his arm together. “Overseer, what are you doing?”
“My duty,” he said, without looking at her. He moved the lamp, like dangling a bone in front of a dog; Fuel’s eye tracked the motion. “The fire, Fuel, deep under the earth. Where the stone becomes fire, remember?” Embers winked into life in the darkness, outlining the edge of its robe.
Jia’s thumb jabbed into a pressure point, forcing his hand open; the lantern clattered to the ground, going out. “Storn,” she said, in the sudden darkness, “If she lives, she’ll hate you for it.”
“I know,” Storn said. “And yes, I do care.”
Fuel made a small noise, half-moan, half-whine, and the flame flared back into life on the wick, leaping up with impossible vigor.
“Anyway.” Storn met her fierce eyes. “You don’t need to pretend that’s your concern.”
“And you don’t need to pretend,” Jia said, cold as ice, “that you don’t want to see her face again.”
“Yes,” Storn said.
For a moment, they stared at each other, unspeaking, Fuel’s growing light playing over their faces.
“I am going to do my duty,” Storn said, each word carefully formed and precise. “What about you, Captain?”
Jia stooped, scooping up the lantern, and thrust it into his arms. “You want to see what duty looks like, Overseer?” she hissed, for a moment sounding very much like the firekin. “Then watch. And be ready to go to her.” She stepped forward, seizing Fuel’s thin arms and pulling it to its feet. It swayed, sparks leaping around its form.
“Am trying!” it said desperately, looking up into her face. “Am trying to be person!”
“I know, firechild.” Jia hands went to its shoulders, grasping the cloth.
Fuel shook its head, its gaze sliding past her, into the rock. “Forgive me, Mountain, am fuel, am for burning, must, must, like you, as I am, be—!”
Jia’s face was set, hard, frozen. “Be, then,” she said, and pulled the sackcloth cloaks from Fuel’s shoulders.
The firekin shouted in triumph and pain, and went up in a pillar of fire. The flames roared from its flesh. Storn flung up his hands to protect his face—bashing himself with the lantern—but there was no blast of heat, only a gentle warmth against his upraised arms.
“This, this is duty, Overseer!” Jia was a dark shape against the red light of Fuel’s burning. Fire whirled around her, ruffling her hair and lifting her clothes, but she, like Storn himself, was untouched by the heat. Only Fuel burned, skin crackling, oily smoke rising with the smell of roasting meat. Over the roar of the flames, Storn heard it laugh, in pure joy.
Jia wrapped herself around the firekin, holding it in a tight embrace. The flames veered aside from her, dying out where she pressed against Fuel. The firekin’s laugh turned into a wail, terror and anger, as she enveloped the small form, stopping it from burning where she touched. It flailed and twisted, trying to get free, but she held it tight, one arm keeping it bundled against her, its face pressed against her shoulder. Her other hand slid down from Fuel’s hand—immediately, the palm burst into flame—to hold its wrist, arm outstretched.
“Burn!” shrieked Fuel, all of its fire now leaping from its hand, the only place Jia was leaving uncovered and free. “Let me burn! Let me—”
Jia twisted, and slapped Fuel’s white-hot palm against the stone wall.
The floor bucked, pitching Storn to his knees. Jia stumbled, but kept Fuel’s hand pressed against the now glowing wall. The mountain shook in outrage as Fuel’s hand sank into the molten rock. Rocks cracked and fell from the tunnel roof onto them.
“Elanthe!” Storn cried out, shielding his head—and the earthquake checked at his voice, dying away. Lava pooled around Fuel’s and Jia’s feet, the oozing black crust splitting with cracks of yellow-hot light.
“Enough!” shouted Jia, closing her hand fully over Fuel’s. For an instant, flame blazed between her fingers, and her face spasmed with pain—and then Fuel let out a scream of pure horror, wrenching itself away from her. The firekin fell, lava writhing snake-like out from under it. For a split second, flame blazed up from the curled form—and Jia flung the discarded robes over it, and Fuel’s fire went out, totally.
The light of the lantern was black after the firekin’s conflagration. Storn stumbled forward, random bright spots flashing in his vision. “Elanthe, Elanthe!”
Black, contorted ropes of lava twisted down the wall and across the floor, still warm, heat haze shimmering in the air above them. A cracking, pinging sound came from them as they cooled. Nothing remained of Storn’s childhood carvings in the wall. Elanthe’s melted words streaked the rock.
In the centre of the wall, the hole gaped, black and void.
“Mama . . . ,” whimpered a dry, rasping voice, and Storn’s heart moved sideways in his chest—but the words did not come from the other side of the wall. Fuel was curled in Jia’s lap, stick-frail limbs clutching at her. Blood and watery fluid oozed from cracks in its charred skin. “Mama!”
“Jennet, my Jennet, my dear heart . . .” Her warrior’s face was wet with tears. Her arms rocked the sackcloth-enveloped form. “I have you, my love, I won’t let go, hush now. . . .”
“Mama, I burned you, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I hurt you. . . .”
“It’s nothing, dear heart, quiet now.”
“I hurt my mama, I burned her, burned her in fire . . . fire. . . . I burned, I hurt. . . .” The firekin’s voice trailed off, turned dreamy. “But it was a beautiful fire. Such a beautiful fire. . . .”
“Jennet,” said Jia, her voice breaking on the name.
“Not,” whispered the firekin, and embers started to glow again along the hem of the robes. “Not. Remember now. Am Fuel.”
“Elanthe?” said Storn, into the darkness of the hole. He started to raise the lantern, then thought of eyes that had been in darkness for decades, and shielded it again. “Elanthe, it’s me, it’s Storn!” Reaching through the hole was like brushing through a curtain of fire; a thin film of searing air rising from the superheated rock rim, shocking coolness inside the hollow itself. His fingers brushed—bars, he thought dazedly, did they put bars around her? I don’t remember that. Twisting, ridged bars, like horn, like. . .
Fingernails. Fingernails growing from hands that had not moved for decades, fingernails curving and curling, growing with nothing to restrain them but the stone walls themselves. A cage of her own fingernails.
They were dry, brittle, breaking under his hands. A terrible, foetid smell. His fingers curled around a stone-cold arm, so frail he could span it with finger and thumb. Skin so thin he could feel the blood moving underneath. Light, so light, the mountain was not heavy after all. So easy to move.
She was rigid, rigid as death. He couldn’t uncurl her limbs or spine from their locked, twisted position. Her skin looked like a dead thing, grey with ingrained grime, mottled and lumped with decades-old pressure sores. She was hairless, not even eyebrows remaining, and her face was just a scraping of flesh over the skull beneath, and she was beautiful, so beautiful, his beautiful sister.
Storn held her and wept, his tears cutting white tracks through the grit covering her skin.
Someone was talking, he became aware, babbling nonsense words and names and saying that it was all right now, everything would be all right, she would see, there would be a beautiful new mountain, a new place, don’t hate him, please don’t hate him, they would be happy, he promised, he would make it all right for her, she’d have a new mountain to explore and the town would thrive and they would talk together, they would be so happy. . . .
Gradually, Storn realised that it was him, his own voice.
And then, less than a whisper, just a shape of breath against his chest: Storn.
Elanthe’s eyes were pale as quartz, the pupils contracted tightly, light-blinded in the almost-dark of the mine. But her face was dry, and her eyes looked up at him, and one hand moved fractionally, joints shaking with the terrible grating of bone on bone, towards his face, her fleshless lips struggled with geological slowness to move, to smile. . . .
Jia’s hand touched his elbow. “Overseer,” she said.
“I’m not sorry,” he said to her, his eyes never leaving his sister’s face.
“As I wouldn’t have been,” Jia said, perfectly controlled. “All is well?”
Elanthe’s heart beat, slowly, against his own rib cage. “Yes. Oh, yes.” His nose was running. He didn’t care. “Look, look, she’s fine.” He turned to face Jia and Fuel, showing them his precious burden. “She’s fine, she’ll be fine, she’s fine. . . .”
Fuel looked at him, and there was pure scorn in that immobile face and blazing eye. Storn’s hands clenched a little, drawing Elanthe protectively away—but Fuel never even glanced at her, nor she at it. Fuel’s attention moved to the rock overhead; Elanthe’s pale gaze never wavered from Storn’s face, not even when the firekin’s hand stroked once, gently, shaking, down the furrowed tunnel wall, leaving a trail of scorched stone in its wake.
Fuel turned its back on them all, looking down into the empty hollow. Elanthe’s curled, contorted hands rested leaf-light on Storn’s chest.
“Let us take her out,” Jia said, all brisk efficiency. “You can carry—? Good. Let’s go.” She motioned Storn forward into the tunnel, and started after him—then he heard her footsteps pause. He turned to look back, and saw her poised, looking back at the ruined wall and the faint, glimmering embers of the firekin, unmoving beside the unseen hole.
“Firechild?” Jia called. “It’s time to leave the mountain now.”
“Can’t,” said the harsh, crackling voice. “Changed, forever, stone into flesh, gone. Girl is. Mountain is not.”