Author's note: The incredible weirdness of this story can be explained; it's based on a dream I had. I wrote this in a great hurry for an art competition on a forum, and I haven't really edited it at all.
It took weeks; six bus trips, two ferry rides, a cable car and a rather long journey on foot, but finally Ryan was sitting in a café somewhere in the mountains, in a village consisting of three houses and the building he was in, drinking weak squash and waiting for the last leg of the journey to start.
His friend Masov was staring out of the window at the mountains.
"Only a few minutes now." she said.
"Yep." said Ryan.
"I think it's going to snow. Might make things harder."
She pushed her hair back behind her ears and sighed. "Are you going to say anything other than 'yep'?"
"Yep." he leaned forward and looked out the window. "It doesn't look like now to me."
"You've never been up here before, though."
"Is the weather really that hard to read?"
"If you're not used to it, yeah."
There was a clatter as another chair was pullled over, and a second boy joined them.
"Hi, gang." he said, completely seriously.
"Hi, Josh." muttered Ryan.
"Two people isn't really a gang, Josh." said Masov.
"Oh. Is three a gang?"
"No, I think you need at least four people to be a gang."
"Oh. Okay, then."
"Alright!" called their teacher. "Everything's set up now, so we're heading off in just a few minutes. Has everyone got their walking boots on?"
There was a chorus of affirmations and feet raised in demonstration.
"Good. Then I want everyone lined up outside, packs on, ready to go, in five minutes, alright?"
Fifteen chairs screeched across the floor, and fifteen fourteen-year-olds headed for the door.
"It'll be great once we're up there." remarked Masov once they were outside.
"Yeah!" said Josh. Masov rolled her eyes.
"Everyone here?" said the teacher, counting heads. "Alright then! Off we go!"
Ten minutes later, there were on their way up the track, already high enough that they were almost getting a birds eye view of the houses in the village below.
Ryan worked his way up carefully, avoiding the icy patches, with Masov on one side, making occasional remarks, generally relating to the state of the snow clouds or the names of the mountains in the distance, and Josh on the other, happily chatting away about whatever was on his mind, generally fottball or how much further they'd have to walk before they got where they were going.
On went the final leg of the journey.
Later that day, when they had stopped for the night (the last night before reaching the summit), it began to snow.
"I like it." said Josh, as all fifteen teenagers stood in front of the windows of the lodge. "It looks like feathers."
It never snowed at all further south; most of them had never seen it.
"Once you get used to it, it's just cold and wet." said Masov.
"D'you want to go out for a walk in it?" said Josh. Masov looked at him.
"Cold," she repeated. "And wet."
Ryan sighed and peeled his hand away from the glass. "I'll go." he said, wiping the misty handprint away with his sleeve."
"Really? Cool! I'll get my hat and stuff." said Josh.
Masov stared at Ryan as Josh ran away.
"Don't look at me that way, Maz."
Ryan and Josh trudged through the snow.
"Makes a nice crunching noise, doesn't it?" said Josh.
"Yeah." murmured Ryan.
"I didn't think it would sound that way. I though it would be softer, y'know?"
"Mm." said Ryan.
"But I guess it's really just ice, isn't it, and ice is hard, y'know? So-"
Something caught Ryan's attention. "What's that?" he said.
"What's what?" Josh frowned.
"That, over there." Ryan pointed ahead of them. "That silver thing."
Josh peered where Ryan was pointing. "I don't see anything."
"Just there, look!"
Ryan set off at a kind of jog towards the silver shining thing. Josh followed, arms held at strange positions to either side.
"Ryan, Ryan," he said. "They said not to go further than that tree, Ryan..."
Ryan stopped in front of a snow-covered rock and stared down at the silver thing peeping out at him. Josh came up behind him and bent over, panting.
"What is it?" he said.
"I'm not sure." said Ryan. He knelt down slowly and began scraping the snow away.
"Oh, cool!" said Josh as it was revealed.
It was long, even with part of it apparently inside the rock, and silver, and very, very shiny, like a mirror. It looked a little like two silver ropes wrapped around each other. Ryan finished pushing the snow away and sat back, admiring it from both sides.
"What is it?" said Josh. Ryan ignored him, and grasped the thing in both hands.
"Don't!" said Josh. "You might break it!"
Ryan tugged, but nothing happened. He tried again, but this time he pulled too hard and his gloved hands slipped off it, making him fall back into the snow. He swore, and pushed himself up to try again.
"Seriously, don't... it's too nice to break..." said Josh as Ryan slipped off his gloves and flexed his fingers.
He pulled on it again, and this time a few fragments of the rock around the thing – it was cracked, he noticed, as if the thing had been jammed in – broke loose and skittered down to land on the snow next to him. He ignored them, and pulled again; this time it came loose, and with one more tug it came out completely.
He fell back, triumphantly clutching it in one hand.
"Ryan..." said Josh, staring at the jagged hole in the rock.
For a moment there was stillness, and even the snowflakes seemed to pause in their journey to the ground, as if wondering what would happen.
Then there was a kind of soundless explosion, a flash of light somewhere in the distance, an enormous gust of wind, and suddenly the gentle snowfall was a blizzard.
Both boys threw their hands over their eyes to kind the snow out. Ryan struggled with his gloves, not wanting to let go of the silver thing.
"Ryan?" said Josn. "I'm going back, Ryan..." he took a few hesitant steps towards the lodge. Somewhere something bellowed, and Ryan thought maybe he heard a woman weeping. He definitely heard heavy breathing, and a crunching sound as something ran towards them over the snow. He forced himself to look up, just in time so see some huge dark shape, a horse, maybe, leaping towards Josh.
Then he looked away again, but still heard Josh screaming, and more bellows...
He peeped over his arm, and saw something, something with wild eyes and a dark fluid that might have been blood running down its face, stared back.
Then, he both worked out on his own and was told, he passed out.
Some time, presumably the next morning, Ryan woke up.
The thing, he noticed, was still in his hand. He spent a few moments admiring the way the light from the tiny window reflected off it before he remembered the night before.
Josh. Blizzard. Creature. Blood...
He sat up sharply, banging his head on the bottom of the bunk above him. "Crap."
A moment later, he was up, and dressing, and being annoyed that someone else had put him into his pyjamas. He was just getting to the stage at which opening the door would be the next logical step when someone knocked.
He looked at the silver thing in his hands, and decided, just as the door opened, that it really should be hidden somewhere. He shoved it under his pillow and turned to face the visitor.
"Oh, good." said the teacher. "You're up."
"Is Josh okay?" said Ryan.
The teacher looked uncomfortable. "We need to talk to you about that."
"We can't work out what happened. Josh keeps saying he was attacked by a horse."
"He can't have been – you can't get horses up here. It's too steep. But the funny thing is..." he stopped.
"The funny thing is, his... injuries almost look like... they could almost be hoofmarks."
The teacher stopped again, and turned to look out the window. He stood gazing into space for a while, then shook himself and turned back to look at Ryan.
"Ryan, what do you remember? What happened?"
Ryan stared at him and swallowed. "I don't know. I was sort of... semi-concious. I just heard him scream." he said, and it was almost true. Almost.
The teacher nodded slowly. "Can I see him?" said Ryan.
"Of course." Ryan started towards the door. "And Ryan, if you remember anything else, let us know, okay?"
Ryan nodded and gulped.
"Hello, Ryan!" said Josh, surprisingly brightly.
"Hi, Josh. You okay?"
"They gave me some painkillers, but I still hurt." he frowned. "I told them what happened, about that horse thing. They didn't believe me, though. They said I was hallucinating. You'll tell them it was there, though, won't you?"
"I didn't see it, Josh." lied Ryan. "I don't know what happened."
"But there was this huge horse thing!"
"Have you seen a doctor yet." said Ryan, trying to change the subject.
"There's one coming up from the village. I saw it, Ryan! And I know you saw it too!"
"The cold can make you see strange things." said Ryan, staring into space.
"The cold, Josh." Ryan stared at him. Josh stared back, and turned his head away.
Masov peered at the silver thing, so close that she could only see one eye at a time. Ryan watched her frown and move a wayward strand of hair back to it's proper place, and had an urge to snatch the thing back; it should not, he thought, be used as a mirror.
"It's certainly very odd." she concluded.
"And it was stuck in a rock?"
"Like someone had jammed it in there."
"Like the sword in the stone." said Masov. They both stared at it for a while.
"And there was something else." said Ryan after a while. "After I pulled it out. It was like – like everything exploded, and then the blizzard started, and then," he said. "Then something attacked Josh. And I saw it. I told him I didn't, but I did."
"The weather can change very quickly up here," said Masov, "But I have heard of things, monsters, living in the mountains. What did it look like?"
"Big. A lot like a horse. I think it was hurt, though – it had blood on it's face."
"You saw its face?"
Ryan nodded. "It looked at me. And it made this weird bellowing noise."
Masov sighed and laid the thing on the bed. "I can't think of anything like that offhand, and I've no idea what the silver thing is. You could try asking my uncle, though. He lives in that village we stopped in, remember?"
"The one before the really tiny one?" Ryan drew his legs up onto the leg.
"No, the one before that."
"If we go back tomorrow," she said; the teachers said they might have to do this because of Josh. "You could see him on Wednesday."
"I think you should leave it here, though." she gestured with her head at the silver thing. "Put it back where you found it."
Ryan picked it up. "Yeah," he said, staring at his strangely distorted reflection. "Yeah, I will."
The next morning, a few minutes before they were due to leave, Ryan stood in front of the rock with the jagged hole, the silver thing in his hands.
He knelt down and carefully brushed the snow away, then, after a pause, began to lay the thing down on the snow.
"Ryan!" called on of the teachers. "Get down here! It's time to go!"
Ryan jumped, and without really thinking about it shoved the thing in his rucksack. He was just swining it back over his shoulders when something rustled to the right.
He froze, then very slowly turned to face the sound.
"Please!" whispered a voice to the left, as he did so, then; "Ryan!" to the right, just as he swung round to face left. "Don't!" said the same voice, again from the right, and he turned to face it, feeling rather like a tennis spectator.
"Ryan!" said the voice, from the left again; then "Ryan!" from the right.
He stood facing straight on as the strange voice quietly called his name.
"Ryan... Ryan... Ryan... RYAN!"
The last call was a shout in a more recognisable voice. He turned, and saw the teacher stamping over the snow towards him. "Leaving now, Ryan!"
He took one more look at the strange place, then turned and walked away towards the reast of his group, trying not to look back, even when he heard a sound behind him like soft footsteps on the snow.
That night, sitting in a room with Josh, Ryan frowned.
"I feel like this is my fault." he said.
"It's not your fault." said Josh.
"Yes, it is. If I hadn't taken that thing out of the rock-"
"Was that real?" interrupted Josh. "I don't know what I'm supposed to have hallucinated any more."
Ryan slipped the silver thing out of his rucksack.
"Oh," breathed Josh, and then he was trying to reach the far side of the bed, as far away from the thing as possible.
"Put it away!"
"Ryan!" hissed Josh. "Please put it away!"
"Ryan," hissed Josh, "Please!"
His voice echoed around the small room, somehow becoming the strange, whispering voice from earlier in the day.
"Please, Ryan, Please..."
In an instant Ryan was on his feet and backing towards the opposite wall, towards the window. He reached it, and became aware that there were distant hoofbeats, getting closer and closer. He turned slowly, and saw a dark shape approaching, and realised that it was snowing, now, a blizzard, it had been fine only seconds before...
He stumbled back to his bag, almost falling to the floor, and thrust the silver thing inside, fumbling with the zip.
As he pulled it closed, the thing outside bellowed, and snow hit the window as if it had been kicked up in anger.
"Shh..." whispered a voice.
"Josh?" breathed Ryan. There was no answer. He turned to look at the bed; Josh was asleep, unconcious, maybe.
"Shh, shh..." said the voice.
Then a soft light gradually filled the room, forming into the shape of a woman in white. She tunred to look at him, just briefly, and Ryan had a glimpse of a jagged hole in her forehead, and the dark liquid (it could have been blood, but it seemed too dark) running down her face, before she turned back to Josh and moved her hands in some strange way.
And then she blurred, and there was nothing but light; then there was nothing.
Ryan heard a chorus of groans from other rooms as he sat in darkness.
"Powercut!" he heard one of the teachers shouting. "Don't worry, folks, it's just a powercut..."
"Well, he's certainly made a remarkable recovery." said the Doctor. "Do you always heal this fast?" he said to Josh, who merely looked at him, and then away. "I wonder."
He packed up the few things he'd got out, and turned to the teacher. "I'd keep him in bed, though, for today at least. He's obviously had a nasty shock."
Ryan watched from the doorway as he and the teacher walked towards him.
"Excuse me?" he said to the doctor as he passed. "Could I talk to you about something, please?"
"Is it to do with this young man?" the Doctor gestured towards Josh.
"Well, kind of."
"Alright then. Quickly, though."
Josh nodded, and, as the door was closed, he slipped the silver thing out of his rucksack.
"Is was wondering if you knew what this was."
"Oh, my." the doctor stared at it. "Where did you get it? And may I?" he held out a hand.
"I found it. Outside." said Ryan as he handed it over.
The doctor adjusted his glasses and gazed at it for a few minutes. He shook himself, then turned to the teacher.
"Some kind of native workmanship, perhaps?"
"The natives of these mountains aren't exactly known for their metal work." said the teacher. "Besides, it looks like glass to me, and then didn't have that at all."
"I'm not sure it is glass," said the doctor. "Or even metal, for that matter. It feels a little light to be solid metal, don't you think?" he handed it to the teacher.
"It could be hollow." she suggested, feeling the weight.
"Masov said her uncle might know."
"Ah, Masov. The native girl." Ryan nodded. "Yes, try that. Try and tell me if you find out what it is, won't you? I'm most intrigued."
Ryan nodded, and held out his hand to the teacher, who was staring intently at it.
"What? Oh, sorry." she said, and held it out."
As they turned and walked away, he thought maybe he heard the heavy breathing behind him. Without even turning to look, he ran.
Ryan was standing at the window, in a hotel this time, in the village where Masov's uncle lived.
"I called my uncle." said Masov behind him. "He says you're welcome to come over. I'm going to go and change."
"Mm? Okay, Maz." he said. She left, and he stared out at the street.
One woman caught his eye. She was wearing a white dress that seemed horribly familiar, and he hair was a reddish colour.
He noticed suddenly that she seemed slightly blurred, particularly when moving; like she was leaving a trail of ghostly imprints that quickly faded behind her. And, he noticed, she shielded her face every time she passed someone, like she was hiding something...
Then she stopped, and slowly turned to look at him. He hid, moving away from the window, crushing himself against the thick curtain, but he still saw the jagged hole in her forehead, and the blood running down her face, and that look of dismay and disappointment.
"Ryan?" called Maz from the next room. "You ready to go see my uncle?"
Masov's uncle was a good listener. He listened while Ryan told him about the night Josh was hurt, and the strange whispering voices, and the woman with blood on her face.
"Like a horse, you say?" he said finally.
"Hmm." he rubbed his chin with his hand. "And also like a woman?"
"I've heard of something like that."
"A monster?" said Masov. "Like the-"
"No," said her Uncle. "A spirit. The Namay-ali."
Ryan noticed that Masov was as mystified as himself.
"The legends saw that there were many of them within the mountains, but they were hunted almost to extinction by men."
"Why?" said Masov.
"Namay-ali means 'nameless one'. They need no name because they are perfect."
That didn't quite seem to make sense to Ryan, but he listened anyway.
"Each spirit has two parts; one good, one bad. One male, one female. One a wild, feral beast; the other a gentle, civilised being. Each contains a perfect balance between these two halves, and so the spirit as a whole is perfect when complete." he leaned forward in his chair and lifted a pen from the table. "The wild half, the bad half," he said as he began to draw, "Is male, and appears in the form of a giant creature like the horses found in the lowlands. The gentle half is female, and appears as a beautiful woman in white robes. The spirit can appear in either form, as the two halves are bound together by this." he held up the paper; he'd drawn the thing Ryan had found in the snow. "The horn. Whenever the complete spirit appears, it will have this."
"So why were they hunted? And how?" said Masov, "How can you hunt a spirit?"
"The legends say that the horn also allows them to manifest as a solid creature. Men who sought to achieve the perfection of the Namay-ali hunted them for their horns, but once the horn was removed the two halves were separated."
"The horn keeps them together?" said Ryan. "Like a paperclip?"
Masov's uncle smiled. "More like a staple; harder to separate, and removing it can cause damage to both halves." he sat back and continued. "Once they're separated, the wild half will manifest to hunt down it's lost horn, followed by the gentle half, doing it's best to repair the damage caused by the wild half. And so the men created a ritual to bind both halves in sleep, so they would remain dormant until," he paused. "Until the ritual site is disturbed."
Ryan thought of the rock, high in the mountains, with its jagged hole, and shuddered.
"However, the balance of the spirit can be restored by returning the horn, by leaving it at the site of the ritual."
"We did that," said Masov. "Well, Ryan did."
"Then all is well." said her Uncle. "And now things have been explained, you should return to your hotel." he gestured with one hand towards the door.
"Thank you, Uncle." said Masov. Ryan smiled timidly as he stood, still staring at the drawing of the horn.
"That was interesting." said Masov as they walked down the street. "I'm glad you left the horn behind, though."
"Oh, yeah." said Ryan. "About that..."
Masov stopped in her tracks. "You did leave it behind, didn't you?"
"Well... I was going to, but then that thing happened, and I got distracted..."
"You mean it's at the hotel?"
Masov's eyes got even wider. "Then where is it?"
"Ah... in my rucksack."
"That rucksack?" she motioned at it. "The one you're wearing?" Ryan nodded. She took a few steps back; if her eyes got any wider, Ryan thought, they'd pop out of her skull completely.
"Uh..." she said, and then she gave up on excuses, turned and ran.
"Maz?" Ryan called after her. "Where're you going, Maz? Maz?"
It was, he noticed, getting dark. And it was only three o'clock. A few snowflakes drifted down to the pavement around him. "Ah." he said, and turned to look behind him.
It was there, on the roof of the building, a giant horse, bigger than any horse he'd seen, with wild eyes, blood dripping from that hole in it's forehead, a red-gold mane and hooves somehow gripping the roof like claws.
Then he ran as fast as he could after Maz, and as the snowfall became a blizzard he heard it breathing, and it's hoofbeats on the pavement, getting more and more muffled as the snow fell.
He ran past surprised people shielding there eyes from the snow, past the hotel, and, in a foolish attempt to lose it, down an alley.
He reached the wall at the end and pressed himself against it as if he could somehow phase through it, but he was trapped. He turned slowly to face it.
It was gripping onto the fire escape of one of the buildings, staring own at him, heaving, and when it bellowed he could feel the vibrations through his feet.
He pulled his rucksack off his shoulders and fumbled with the zip.
"H-here," he said. "You can have it. I don't want it, I d-didn't mean to-"
It leapt down and crashed onto the concrete, cracking the surface as it landed, and bellowed again.
He held out the horn, gripping it so hard that it left ridges on his hand afterwards. "Please, just take it..."
It bellowed again, and took a few crashing steps towards him. Ryan closed his eyes and let his arm go limp. "Please..." he said.
Then, suddenly, she was there. "Shhh," she said. "Shh, shh..." and he wondered if she was talking to him or her other half.
He opened her eyes in time to see her pressed her hand against the gaping wound in it's forehead, then walk towards him. In the silence he heard a few drops of blood fall from her fingers to the concrete.
"Give it to me." he held out the blood covered hand. "Please, Ryan."
He held it out, and she smiled. "You should have listened."
And then she took it, and walked back to the wild half. She held it up, and both shapes blurred and shimmered so that instead of two wounds there was one, and the horn slotted back into it.
The complete spirit looked at him, and nodded it's head once before burring, and becoming light which faded away.
Ryan stood shakily and walked over to the spot where the blood had fallen from her fingers. It was still there; he bent down and touched it, and when he raised it to his face, he could see his face reflected in it.
Then, before he could even think, it blurred and faded away.