Home > Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(14)

Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(14)
Author: Kevin Hearne

The hallway reveals five bedrooms and a sixth room that serves as a bathroom. There’s no plumbing, of course; it’s simply a hole in the mountain. But the bedrooms reveal a bit more about the yeti. The rooms themselves are simple cubes of space where solid rock used to be, but the furnishings—a bed, table, and chair—are crafted entirely of ice. Furs are piled high on each of the beds, and more rest on the seat of each chair. But the styles of the furniture vary widely. Four of the yeti have tried to outdo one another with whorls and patterns in the ice, but one of them must value simplicity or feel incapable of competing against the others, for everything is of the clearest, most translucent ice I’ve ever seen.

Each room also contains three rectangular blocks of ice attached to the walls like paint canvases. These have been carved or etched or bound in breathtaking fashion, revealing new surprises depending on what angle you look at them from. The exception is the canvases of the Zen yeti: One ice painting is entirely pale-blue frost, another is clear with a cloudy white circle off-center to the right and a smaller blue circle nestled inside of that, and the last is a white expanse with nothing but a clear horizontal stripe running across it about a third of the way down from the top.

And in the midst of this wonderful dwelling made of rock, water, iron, and wood, the one thing that does not belong is the iPad sitting in the middle of the Zen yeti’s bedroom table. It’s an old model, but the gray plastic and silicone rectangle is an artifact of our time, our world, an anachronism in a place that shows no other sign of technology beyond the Iron Age. Somehow its presence is sinister to me, a tumor ready to metastasize and attack all life. That’s a silly notion, of course, for the only life here is my hound and me, and a single iPad is unlikely to turn into Skynet all by itself, especially without WiFi or a source of electricity.

I check the iPad and am unsurprised to discover that it’s dead, its battery drained and no method available to recharge it. What did the yeti see before the device died? Could that explain their absence somehow? More likely the yeti took it from a human mountain climber as a curiosity and its presence is of no significance.

“Whichever yeti calls this room her own,” I tell Orlaith, “she seeks peace. I hope we meet her first. If we meet them at all, that is. I’m sorry to find it empty.”

"Not true! Full of food."

“And mystery. Where have the yeti gone and when are they coming back?”

"Eat first. Get warm. Think later."

“It’s a hierarchy of need, isn’t it?”

"Higher what? FOOD, Granuaile."

I smile down at my hound. The concept of a hierarchy does not translate well into emotions or images without a need to worry about one’s place in it, and the word is meaningless to her.

“Yes, I suppose we might as well have a bite since we have to wait.”

"Wait long?"

“I hope not.” I’m already worried that I’ll never find them. “Are any of the smells more recent in here?”

"No. Still old."

The problem with Orlaith’s assessment is that she, like Oberon, has tremendous difficulty with concepts of time and numbers. Old, to her, might mean anything from years to a matter of days. The point might be moot—what I really need to know is when or even if the yeti will return—but I want to have a more accurate idea regardless. I set my weapons and the package of bacon on the table, strip out of my clothes—shivering despite my raised core temperature—and bind my shape to a black jaguar.

After a sneeze, I smell something like ape and woman and honeydew, frosted flowers floating brittle over old resentments and bones of frustration, gnawed on and discarded but not forgotten. I smell the furs and the tanning oils used to make them, and, more faintly, I note wood smoke and ash from fires put out days ago and lingering scents of cooked meat and grease.

Leaving the Zen room and padding down the hallway to the main hall, I intend to take a good sniff around the fire pit and try to figure out how long ago it was last used. Orlaith follows me, tail wagging.

"Go hunt now?"

I answer her mentally in the jaguar form, idly wondering if I sound different to her this way. "No, just having a look around. We will eat something from the freezer when I’m finished."

"Okay!"

Though I’m no expert, my best guess is that the pit was used a couple of days ago, not a very long time at all. Orlaith must think old means anything past a nap or two. But if they were here a couple of days ago, the yeti’s absence is easily explained by a hunting trip or … I don’t know, maybe they ski? Or thought they could use a vegetable side dish and went down the mountain to get some broccoli?

"I’ve smelled enough. Keep a lookout here for me? Let me know if you smell or hear anyone coming?"

"Where you going?"

"I’m going to shift back to human and start a fire while we wait, then we’ll put on something to eat."

"Good plan."

"I thought you might approve."

Shifted and dressed, I haul wood out of the storage area, along with some kindling, and use a candle to ignite it in the pit. A wide, yawning hole in the ceiling above the pit—unnoticed before, while I was more worried about what might be waiting in the hallway—acts as a chimney, and no doubt its egress is well disguised on the mountaintop.

I grab a musk deer carcass from the freezer and then thank all the gods below that Atticus isn’t around to see me try to spit it. We cooked a lot of things over open flames during my apprenticeship, but we never actually put anything on a spit. It’s an awkward business, and I realize that the movies never show you the spitting of raw meat. They always show it to you when the job has already been done and it’s almost ready to eat. Orlaith, sensing that I’m upset about my flailing incompetence, is so sweet that she tries to make me feel better.

"You do good, Granuaile," she says. "I can’t do it at all."

For the record: Cooking a frozen animal on a spit in a frozen yeti cave while you’re thinking about freezing takes a really long time. And all of it is time I do not feel I can afford while my father is possessed and people are dying in Thanjavur.

But it does give me the opportunity to review what I have seen. According to what Atticus told me, the yeti have been around for centuries. The bacon I brought ensures they will live yet longer. But what do they do for fun? Aside from carving the occasional ice sculpture and playing the odd fidchell game, how do they not go mad—especially when one considers that they’re siblings? I saw no reading material in my exploration of the cave. No card games. No evidence of The Settlers of Catan. Maybe they spend most of their time out of the cave, frolicking in the snow, animating snowmen and playing war games with them. That would be pretty fun, honestly. If I had their talents, I’d make a giant snow berserker and call him Snowdor. He’d have a Chill Blade of Harrowing and Hoarfrost Armor of Eternal Winter and—sweet gods below, I never should have let Atticus get me into gaming. But sometimes, when taking a break from my training, we’d fire up the PlayStation and slay digital monsters for a few hours, and inevitably it had colored my thinking.

I force myself to stop daydreaming of the ass-whupping Snowdor would deliver to his icy enemies, but because I still need something to distract myself from worrying that this delay will doom my father, I work with Orlaith on forms of the verb to be. I’ve noticed she often leaves it out of her sentences. I think we’ve scored a breakthrough when her ears perk up and she says, "Someone is coming!"

I clap a couple of times and say, “You are such a smart hound! You did that very well!”

"No, is not practice. Someone is coming. Real. Now."

“Oh! I think we should go behind the table, in case they get angry at trespassers.” I suddenly feel like Goldilocks caught eating porridge when the three bears come home. Perhaps I should update the old tale to “Redhead and the Five Yeti.”

I grab Scáthmhaide and hurry behind the table, the only available cover in the hall should the yeti throw or shoot before talking. With that in mind, I start to talk—yell, really—in Old Irish, so that they won’t be surprised by my presence.

“Welcome home! I come from Manannan Mac Lir to bring you bacon! I am Granuaile MacTiernan, a Druid of Gaia! Please come in and warm yourselves! I have a fire going!”

"Not moving now. Or they move quiet," Orlaith reports.

I repeat my friendly greeting and hope it carries well enough to be understood. We are some distance away and catercorner from the exit now, so there is a small sort of foyer outside my vision into which the yeti can step without my seeing them. I still know when they do, however, because the ambient light from outside darkens perceptibly, indicating the presence of something huge blocking it.

A flurry of snow blows into the room, some of it hissing and melting as it drifts near the fire pit, and then a solid mass of snow above eye level moves cautiously around the corner. A half-moon peeks around the stone.

“Hello!” I say. “Well met!” And I reiterate that I’m a Druid sent by Manannan Mac Lir, father of the yeti. I hold up the paper-wrapped package of bacon, then toss it gently onto the table.

The figure that steps out of the entrance and into my view appears to be my daydream of Snowdor come to life. It is an almost shapeless goliath of white powder, humanoid in figure but lacking features—except for the significant fact that it stands close to eight feet tall. It holds still, perhaps waiting to see if I will attack, and when I do not, its head turns slightly to take in the fire nearby.

“Oh, yes, sorry about that,” I say. “We didn’t know when you would return, and we were cold and hungry. I will of course replace all the wood and game that we used.”

The head turns back to me, and then a transformation begins. The figure remains still but sheds mass, as snow flies away from it like full-body dandruff at the mercy of gale-force winds. The snow escapes out the side of the mountain, leaving in its wake the true form of the yeti. It’s not as bulky and not quite as tall, but it is still the progeny of a frost giantess—and I use the pronoun it only because I don’t know if I’m looking at a male or female. My immediate guess is that it’s a male, because of the thicket of white fur dangling from the cheeks on down. It can’t be called a beard, can it, when the hair on the face is of the same thickness and consistency as the rest of the, uh, pelt? Maybe I should call it a mane. Its … well, let’s say his mane is gathered, braided, and looped through little circles of solid frosted ice, partly in a practical fashion to keep his nose and mouth clear of hair, but partly in an aesthetic arrangement that makes his face and neck wink with blue reflected light. Above the cheeks, the skin is a pale blue around deep-set dark eyes. The brow is white-furred, as is the forehead and all else, save the lips, palms, and tips of the fingers, which are also pale blue. He doesn’t have claws, but he does hold an exquisite knife in his right hand—no doubt the ice knife I had come to find.

Shaped like the khukuris employed by the Gurkhas of Nepal, it looks heavy and larger than something that could creditably be called a mere knife. It’s a knife that deserves modifiers like damn big or even huge f**king. And unless it’s a trick of the firelight, it shines from within along the top of the blade. The blade itself is a translucent blue along the cutting edge, frosted opaquely on the flat, but along the blunt edge it’s clear and smolders with a disturbing, unnatural red. I privately note that he had hidden it completely in snow until he saw I did not intend to attack.

He doesn’t trust me, however. He doesn’t smile and say howdy or welcome or gosh I’m glad you got dinner started. Instead, in a low thrum of a voice, he says in Old Irish, “Prove you are a Druid.”

He can’t see most of my tattoos, since I’m wearing a coat, but I show him the back of my right hand so that he can see the healing circle and the triskele.

“That is only ink. It is not proof. Remain where you are, but summon a piece of this wall to your hand.” He points to the wall behind him, the one opposite me. I nod at him, acknowledging the request, but hold up a hand, palm out, asking him to wait.

“Okay, I’ll need to remove my shoe.”

I have some energy stored in the metal knots of Scáthmhaide, but I don’t want to reveal that, and the point here is to prove that I’m a Druid and bound to the earth. Despite my elevated core temperature, my toes alternately leap up and curl in their attempt to shout, IT’S COLD, DAMN YOU, as they touch the frigid stone floor. But I draw power from the Himalayan elemental, focus on a fist-sized portion of the wall opposite, and begin my unbinding. It’s odd to speak the words in front of someone who can understand them besides Atticus, but of course it’s not the Old Irish language that makes me a Druid—it’s the binding to Gaia.

A fault line in the shape of a sphere appears, and then I bind the rock to the skin of my palm to make it fly across the room into my hand. A simple test of unbinding and binding, but not something that could be performed by many magic users apart from Druids. I hold up the baseball-sized hunk of granite for the yeti to see, and his lips spread in a satisfied grin. The teeth are somewhat sharp, but I wouldn’t characterize them as serrated razors or treacherous fangs or anything. I unbind the rock from my palm and set it down on the table.

“Good enough?” I ask. “Because I’d like to put my shoe back on before my foot freezes.”

“Yes, good enough. Welcome to our home, Druid, and thank you for making the journey. I am Skúfr Jötunson, third eldest of the yeti.” I blink in surprise at the name, and then I realize that they have followed Old Norse instead of Irish naming conventions, which makes sense, considering their mother. But instead of using a patronymic or matronymic surname, she chose to call them giant’s son.

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