Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
- The Old Astronomer to His Pupil, Sarah Williams
The pain was everywhere, white hot and crackling, radiating from her left side in waves of nauseating agony. Slick warmth at her temple felt cold in the unwelcome breeze, her mind foggy as she tried to recall what had happened. Fingers scrabbled for purchase, finding froze wetness that yielded to her touch. Snow. What the ...?
Clarity fought for dominance as the memories sank in, overriding the sharp tang of winter pine on the air, the metallic taste that could only be blood on her tongue. She remembered ... the city festival in summer, the rumble of passing combustion engines under-cutting the sound of street performers and pedestrian chatter, the acrid rasp of petrol always present beneath the scent of gourmet burgers and fudge. She remembered the impact of a shoulder against her own, knocking her sideways into the road; a friend's hand grasping at her sleeve; the screech of brakes, the screams of others, the expletive-filled curse of a driver who couldn't stop in time; her last sight being Ria's eyes as the car mowed them both down ... Ria. Where was she?
The urgent need to find her best friend forced her eyes open to blinding white that stung like grit. Face down. Got it. Bracing herself, she pushed up onto her knees, crying out with guttural expression as the pain in her side exploded in answer to the injudicious motion. Spots danced before her eyes, threatening to overwhelm her with the staccato thud of her own heartbeat echoing through her head. She sagged back against her heels, slumping to her right instinctively. She didn't dare look down at herself, afraid of what she might find. Judging by the throb in her head, she'd been badly injured. The crackling lance of sheer agony from her side did not contradict that impression.
Still fighting to stay conscious, she forced her gaze to focus. The blinding white dimmed just enough to be discernible, all around her jumbled and uneven, broken up with the jut of debris from beneath. Wooden spars, bright cloth, blood ... Something awful had happened here. Unbidden, her eyes rose to the sky, shocked to find not the familiar city buildings rising above her, but the dark gloom of snow-covered mountains bordering a night sky littered with unfamiliar stars. Unfamiliar stars, and two moons.
"What the fuck ...?"
A low groan nearby tore her gaze from the panic-inducing sky to the settling snow at her right hand. What she had taken for nothing more than a crumpled scatter of cloth shifted, revealing the pale face she had been worrying over since her rattled brain had managed to find some coherence. Ria's blonde hair was dark with blood, plastered to the side of her face with icy crystals of snow that glittered in the moonlight. She sprawled on her side, whimpering at the movement jostled what had to be at least one broken bone in her right leg.
"Rory?" Ria's voice was painfully weak in the unnerving stillness. "Wh ... what happened?"
Rory blinked, trying to clear her vision. "There was a ... car ..."
She could hear what sounded like voices in the distance, see lights dancing over the snow far below them. She wanted to call to them, but there was no strength in her voice, in her body. The spots before her eyes grew darker as she slumped forward into the snow, unmoved even by the stabbing pain in her side. The last thing she was aware of was Ria's voice, harsh in the deafening silence, calling for help as the mountains rumbled above them.