After a recent avalanche, the mountain glimmered. Only a little, on the face of it people rarely see. This far north, people were few and far between, but those who chose to live in the last true wild place on Earth had keen eyes for anything that wasn’t the colour of snow.
Jolaine managed to drag her brother out, despite his protests that it was too dangerous. “There was an avalanche, Jo,” he said. “You think that shit’s stable enough to climb?”
“If we don’t go now, someone else will beat us to it,” Jolaine said, packing her rope and ice picks and crampons. “People used to come here on a gold rush, Liam. You think they found all of it?”
“You don’t know that that’s gold in them hills,” Liam drawled. “Could be…”
“What? Diamonds? Gems? Mithril? It’s shiny, whatever it is, and that means it’s worth something. Don’t be a pussy. We came up here for adventure. Well, adventure isn’t sitting in the freezing cold all day wishing we had the internet back. Be like your hero. Like Jack London. Or that McCandless kid.”
“Chris McCandless died in the wild. So will we if we go treasure hunting in unstable mountains.”
“Well I’m going,” said Jolaine, slamming her trunk shut. The snow tires and 4-wheel drive would get her closer, if not up the mountain. “You can help or you can watch me go.”
Liam ground his teeth. Then he grabbed his climbing gear.
The truck got them to the foot of the mountain, or near enough. The snow was rising almost above the wheels, and Liam had to tell Jolaine to stop if they ever wanted to back that thing out again.
They fitted their snow shoes and began padding across the densely-packed snow. They sunk in a foot or two with each step. They trudged slowly but determinedly, watching the glimmering whatever-it-was on the mountain face high above, caught by the rising sun.
At last they reached an incline too steep to walk, so they began to climb. They fitted their rope, Jolene going first, and used their picks and crampons to edge their way up.
“Can you still see it?” Liam called. Snow like cold salt splashed against his cheeks.
“I think so,” Jolaine called back down. “But … maybe stop yelling.”
Liam thought of a retort, but kept silent.
Yes, Jolaine could still see it. The light, the golden glow, it was getting brighter, closer. She squinted up at the drizzling snow, against the sun at the top of the sky–it was all so bright–and she began climbing faster, jamming her picks into the icy cliff, faster, harder, pulling herself with a burst of adrenaline. She was almost there. Another couple–
When she smashed her pick into the cliff face, it bounced right back off. The loss of momentum made her lose her footing, her crampon scraping but not catching, and she began twisting sideways. She barely kept herself from screaming as she lost her grip and slid down the mountain, crashing against the ice wall, sending snow sleet into Liam’s face–
But he managed to catch her. The safety pin held, coupled with Liam’s grip strength, and together they got Jolaine back in an upright position.
“Thanks,” she huffed. Liam couldn’t hear her–the wind at this altitude was loud in his ears, already muffled by his hat and hood. But he knew what she said.
Liam went first now. When he reached the part Jolaine had trouble with, he carefully searched for a place to dig his pick. Something was dense here, denser than rock. Diamond? He brushed the snow away with his mitt. It didn’t look like rock or ice or diamonds. It looked more like… scales.
“Is something burning?” Jolaine called up.
“What?” Liam called back.
“We’re on a frozen mountain. Nothing’s…”
But he could smell it too. Was the glimmering a campfire? Was someone stuck up here after the avalanche? If so, that was far more important than gold (at least to him). So he smashed the pick into the scaly mountain surface as hard as he could, again and again, trying to find purchase. At last, he broke through!
And the mountain rumbled.
“Fuck!” Jolaine shouted. “Fuck, we’re fucked!”
Snow was shedding from the mountain like water from a shaking dog. The mountain shook, too. Liam held onto his picks as tight as he could, praying silently, and then… he felt a splash of something warm on his face. Not warm. Hot. Hot and red. It was coming out of the place he dug his pick.
The last thing they saw was two wings snapping out of the snow and stretching high into the air, great and wide like the mountain could fly. And from around the mountaintop of gold uncurled a titanic serpent, shuffling off snow and shattering long-settled ice until it reared its snake-like head and breathed a torrent of flame into the Yukon sky.
Day 316’s three random writing prompt categories were, “‘Is something burning?'” “Hold this,” and, “DRAGONS.”
I mean, obviously there was a dragon in the mountains.