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"Something is wrong with that mountain," Fala announced suddenly. She stopped her snow-unicorn to peer up the slopes.
"What?" Dareg said as he wheeled back to face her.
A rumpled line of mountains stretched along the horizon, skirted with dark green spruces lit by the mid-morning sun. Fala traced her finger along a line of paler green where young spruces had recolonized an old fire trace. "There, where the young spruces point to that notch between the mountains," she said. "Look just above it, to the right -- those tan marks weren't there the last time I rode circuit here."
Dareg frowned. "I don't remember seeing those either," he said. His hazel eyes narrowed as he peered at the strange signs: four long lines of tan raking down the face of the mountain below the peak, and three more visible on the flank where a spur led down to a long ridge. "What do you think caused them?"
"I don't know for sure," Fala said. "I think something must have killed all the plants up there, or else uncovered a layer of stone with a more yellowish color. It's an odd time of year for landslides; those happen more often in spring." She shook her head. "I still don't know the conditions around Itrelir as well as I know Itadesh, though; I've only been riding circuit here for a few years."
"You know them well enough," Dareg said. "I didn't spot those new marks, and I grew up here. You have sharp eyes, ranger."
Fala noted that Dareg had started calling her "ranger" more often than "young ranger" recently. She smiled. Then her snow-unicorn jigged underneath her. "Hare-thorn, stand," she commanded.
"What are you doing?" Dareg asked as Fala pulled her feet up onto the saddle.
"I want to get a better look," she said, standing up with care. Balanced atop the massive snow-unicorn, Fala could see over the nearby trees to gain a long, clear view of the mountains. Then she dropped back into her seat. "I think that's bare earth or rock up there, not just dead plants."
"I want to get a better look too. Let's ride up there and examine those marks at close range," said Dareg.
This story came out of the March 2011 Muse Fusion. It was inspired by a picture prompt from Ellen Million (her painting "Trees") and later edited by her. This section can be sponsored for $38.25 or 38 Torn World Credits; the whole story can be sponsored for $63.25 or 63 TWC.
Here is where the relationship between Fala and Dareg really gets started, although she has admired him for some time. I wanted to show that. I also wanted to write a wilderness adventure and give a good close look at the Others. So this story pulls together a lot of important threads.