I pause at the top of the rocky gulley, to rest. The wind whips beads of sweat from my skin, drawing jagged lines of biting cold over my breasts and abdomen, flicking my hair across my eyes as I glance back. The gulley looks even steeper from above; too steep to safely climb back down on bare feet.
Beyond, the ridge-side drops away out of sight, and all I can see is the mighty glacier below; and then, vague and empty of detail, the grey and green of the valley.
How I came to that valley, I do not know; time and distance have faded equally, so that all I remember is the climb. Pounding heart, burning legs, tortured feet. They should be torn and bleeding; I should be frozen to the core from the relentless, icy wind. But my mind slips from the thought as soon as it forms. Nature is not the only power at work on this barren mountainside.
I raise my eyes over the barren slopes and buttresses of the surrounding range, to the ridges and crags that uphold its serrated peaks, raw and stark against the sky. The sun pours over and around one, making my eyes narrow. But it is weak, and it will rise no higher today.
Above, the sky deepens quickly, its familiar blue fading into an infinite vault overhead. I can feel every gush of chill air over my teeth, on my tongue, in my throat, as my sight roams further, inexorably, against my will.
Because I know what it is, that opposes the sun.
Mercifully the ridge still blocks most of the view that way; but already, I can see black clouds boiling almost overhead. They are reaching for me. The power that controls them will not be denied.
But though I am not ready, nevertheless I am resolved. I will face her. I am weak, and tired, and naked, a tiny mote upon the vastness of the mountain. But I will not turn back.
As my breath quietens, I look ahead. Somehow I know the way to go: not straight to the ridge-top, but across the tumultuous rocky waste of its side. With my forearm I clear the tears of cold from my eyes, and stagger on.
If there is a path it is invisible, and many times I have to retrace my steps to find a passable way. But slowly, the darkness above me grows as the ridge concedes to my gasping efforts.
Finally, I reach a vertical outcrop that blocks my way. I cannot see around it. I lean on it with both hands, craning my neck out over the precipice, looking for a foothold. What I see, makes me whimper with fear. There is a ledge. But to reach it will take an unconscionable stretch, above hundreds of yards of empty space, down, down, to the merciless rock below.
I lean my forehead on the cold granite before me, and close my eyes. My whole body is agony, from the bruises of my feet to the burning of my thighs, to the soreness of my hanging breasts, to the crushed ice that seems to envelop my neck and shoulders.
Eventually, I draw a sob-wracked breath, and step out. Somehow my fingers and toes are up to the task, and I am not plucked easily from the rock-face by the wind that buffets me and shrieks with spite. At the last moment my grip fails; but I fall only into the deep snow beyond the outcrop.
I squirm onto my hands and knees, away from its lashing jaws of cold, and raise my eyes.
The world is divided. The wind has driven the snow against a saddle to form a smooth curved edge running away from me, and up, towards the mountain's peak. Downwind to my right, the saddle falls precipitously to the sunlit head of the glacier. But on the other side the great drift shimmers with reflected lightning, beneath the storm piling its blackness high into the sky.
She is close. I can feel her; she is in everything that surrounds me: the cold, the hurt, and the threat. But I know she cannot kill me, cannot even do me harm, unless I allow her.
I stand. And walk. My feet sink enough into the snow to make headway as exhausting as the steepest climb, but at least my fingers are able to press onto its surface for balance, and so I fear less the emptiness close on my right side.
As the saddle gives way to the final climb the lightning grows closer, crackling directly overhead, threatening me; and the charged air tears at my gasping throat. Then, a bolt strikes the mountaintop directly, knocking me to my knees on the ice-cracked rock. And in the explosion, I hear another sound, a human sound: a scream. I wonder what it means.
But my determination cannot be quenched now. I climb on, my mind dull with fear and pain.
Then, suddenly, it is over. Upon a barren, sandy space, almost sheltered among the final shards of the peak, stands a flat cairn of stones, like a long-ruined altar. There is no-one here.
It is time. I stand and face the storm.
'I'm here,' I call, and my voice is lost in the wind and the thunder.
Her presence grows no stronger, but it finds focus before me, an arm's length away. Then, a ripple of lightning crashes from side to side, and she is there, a silhouette, perfectly dark against the dark clouds, fading instantly as the electricity dies.
'Why have you come?' she asks, and though her voice betrays her reality, still my blood finally feels the cold that is all around. My eyes fall, and my determination falters. But it is not her strength, nor her form, that has daunted me. Instead, something new has arisen within me. Something that will not allow me to do, what I came to do.
To destroy her.
I take a small step forward, driven by a new, implacable resolution.
I say, 'I want you.'
My hair flails briefly in my eyes as the wind gusts around my body; and then, suddenly, the lightning dies, and all is silent.
I can see nothing before me except ragged rock and churning cloud. But her aura flickers, almost disappears into the background of her own making. Is she shocked, perhaps awed, perhaps disbelieving? For how could she believe? How could she expect me to forgive the torture she has brought upon me? The endless nights of lonely misery; the fear, the shame; the knowledge that my undeniable inner nature contains not only me, but also her?
I wonder if I am alone now, upon the mountaintop. Though the clouds do not recede, they no longer threaten, and though the wind does not fade, it no longer bites.
And then, I feel a touch; on my shoulder. I flinch and look, but it is gone.
When it returns, I see the sun behind me pick out the faintest shadow of a finger, then two, as they trace gently down my upper arm. I shiver: but not with fear, or with cold.
'I want you too,' says her voice, quietly. My voice.
My hand lifts outward slowly; my knuckles bump gently on softness and warmth. I turn my palm forward, and my fingers find the top of her invisible hip. Her own fingers have curled behind my elbow, they are pulling slightly, and my hand flows inexorably around towards her back.
My breath quickens again. I can feel her closeness, simply in the shape of the wind. My other hand finds her other hip, easily, naturally. My desire is rising, and here, thousands of miles from anyone, there are no qualms to temper it.
Skin brushes, then presses, against skin, just below my navel, and hair entwines with hair. Almost at the same moment one nipple, then the other, finds the soft aureole of its shadow. I glance down in amazement, and the faintest brush of her nose against mine completes the rhapsody of sensation.
We both pause, breathing the warmth of each other's breath; knowing that although this moment cannot last, it must be honoured.
Then the lightning returns with a suddenness and violence that makes me start. Her lips have pressed onto mine, whiteness blazes inside my eyelids, lust explodes into my body. My forearms have circled around her, and hers around me.
Our lips are parting, our tongues are touching, and we both moan. One of my hands rises to the back of her neck, fingers curling among short, soft hairs to assure the covenant of our mouths.
So we writhe together, body flooding body, hips pushing hard to bring sensation to what lies beneath, hands roaming to revel in texture, shape, and motion. And our lips and tongues wind unbounded patterns that give temporary form to our love.
But the thrust of flesh upon flesh cannot now, cannot ever, be enough. Our lips part once, fall together, part again. My eyes open. I want to see her, and though all I see is shadow, I know that she can see me, and see the desperate passion in me. We are panting. I dart my tongue out to lick her lips; it collides with hers. We laugh.
One of her hands has come round to the front of my shoulder; it is pressing me away. I glance behind, to the crumbled altar of stone, and grasp what she might mean. With a sound of understanding and approval I turn, my hands dragging over her skin, and then I reach down, to steady myself as I lift a foot to climb.
But I was wrong. Her hands return to me suddenly, forcefully, from behind. With one, she cups the hang of one breast, with the other, she reaches defiantly downward. I hang my head, to watch, and the shadows of her arms and hands are stark against my sun-illuminated skin.
Her finger is inside. I gasp, then gasp again as she draws wetness from within and rubs it decisively on my clit. Her own breasts are touching my back, tantalising; her hips against my bottom, her power all around. As she repeats the motion of her finger, the hand of mine that is not bracing me against the stone reaches back to hold her against me. That she knows my fantasy, is no surprise. But so mighty is my desire, and so absolute its consummation, that every touch of her body, every flick of her finger, is a rapture.
My mouth is open, my breath is panting, with a grace note upon each exhalation, as we find a rhythm together. My bottom gently bumps against her, and without volition, I find that my hand has fallen between us, to wrap itself onto her pubic mound, to feel her wetness, to join her senses with mine. But it is her will that drives us, and I am content to allow it.
Higher. My head comes up, my back begins to arch. Her fingers know my every need, yet still I strain for more. Then, the sensations begin to find their own momentum. I am crying out. In moments, I know my body will release me, to soar away into the storm.
Suddenly, her fingers are no longer in synchrony with me. They have slowed, as though to prolong the final moment. But too soon!
'No!' I breathe. 'Please!' My hips spasm, trying to re-establish the movement. But she is just holding me now, her fingers gently pressing onto me. Ecstasy has flipped to an agony of loss.
'It's not your time, yet,' she says softly, by my ear. 'But it won't be long.' She is beside me; she turns my chin with a finger; its wetness is cold on my cheek. Her lips find mine, briefly. 'Trust me.'
I don't understand. The loss of her is impossible, and my arms reach for her, grasping, desperate. But she has moved past me, and her shadow lengthens onto the rock of the cairn.
'If you accept darkness,' she whispers, 'you become darkness.' I am stretching my hands out before me, trying to find her. I do not pause to listen, her voice is part of the wind; the words have no meaning, they are only a memento of what I have lost.
My fingers touch soft flesh; they press down hungrily, not knowing what part of her they have found. But then a stone turns underfoot, and I pitch forward. My neck and ear come up against her skin; the shadow before me resolves, and I know that I have fallen between the spread of her legs.
My hunger for her finds raging focus. She will know the ecstasy that she denied me, and then I will claim it back tenfold. My mouth leads me quickly down her inner thigh, and then without pause I lap greedily at her wetness. I waste not a moment exploring her, but thrust the flat of my tongue onto her clit, my nose among the roots of her hairs, and shake my head fiercely.
My reward is a convulsion of her hips, and a cry from her mouth. Her vulva is hot, streaming with desire for me. There will be no teasing escalation. I curl my tongue until its tip presses under and a little to one side of her clit, where I know she is sensitive, and with my whole head I thrust at her, once, again, and again.
Both of her hands are in my hair, holding, caressing, jolting with the spasms of silent rapture that course through her. My own hips are tipping back and forth in the empty air; one of my own hands is upon my body, finding exaltation in all that it touches. She is moaning; I am moaning with her, the sounds melding with the rumbling of nearby thunder. When I know that she is ready, I add an up-and-down flick of my tongue's very tip to the regular thrust of my head; and lightning crashes, drowning out her cries.
Then, I feel her body suddenly go still. I stop, letting her tip into ecstasy with only a gentle press of my tongue. The whole sky is arcing with white fire; and then, as her vagina convulses and she screams out, a bolt of heat and light explodes down onto the cairn of stone, flinging me away.
I am floating, among the clouds.
I have no body. I am vapour, and power. Endless power.
I can see the mountains, below. My mountains. My domain.
I see movement, on the highest peak. Someone stands there, a naked silhouette against the low sun.
She is here!
I stand before her, temporarily corporeal, though only a shadow to her sight. And I ask her, 'Why have you come?'
While she hesitates, a memory flickers in me, of ecstasy denied, of a promise, of words that made no sense. And before she speaks, I know my fate, and hers. Darkness was not upon this mountain, to be faced and destroyed. I had already accepted it, long before. All that remained, was to love.