Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022 (Now available for pre-order from Amazon)
The Tupilaq climbed the mountain upon legs made of hardy roots. It held the last of Luui’s breath in a knot of whale meat and human blood, pushing the oxygen to its empty head, feeding the barnacle eye as it bounded up Qaqqaq’s ever-growing slopes. Naalanngitsoq gave it a push every now and again, lifting it over the longer stretches, brushing the surface snow from its path as the tiny Tupilaq climbed, and climbed, and climbed. Once, as if pausing to catch its breath, the Tupilaq turned its barnacle eye down the mountain, trembling as if suddenly in doubt. What was its purpose? What was it supposed to find? And would it not be better for everyone if it ran back down the mountain to be eaten by the hungry spirit?
Naalanngitsoq flushed that last thought from the Tupilaq’s mind as it flurried through the gaps and cracks in the lemming’s skull and encouraged the tiny creature back onto the path with a gentle, but insistent, thump upon its rump – wherever that might be.
The Tupilaq shivered the last of Assagissat’s rebellious thoughts out of its empty head and continued on its way.
While Luui might have struggled with the continuous upwards motion of the mountain, might even have despaired at the thought of forever climbing, never reaching one’s goal, the Tupilaq thought nothing about it.
The Tupilaq thought nothing at all.
And yet, empty-headed, without a care in the world, when the Tupilaq finally stumbled upon that which Luui had instructed it to find, the sight of the great bear covered in ice, was enough to make it stop, make it stare, and to shrink behind a small boulder of ice.
The Tupilaq was empty-headed, but it was not stupid.
Sermilissuaq, the great polar bear covered in ice, was truly massive.
It filled a cirque carved into the side of the mountain, just below the summit. The air around the bear shimmered with motes of ice, thin flurries of powder snow, and dust particles drifting down from the pujoralak trapped in a pocket of super-frozen air under the crooked peak of Qaqqaq. The dust repelled the ice and snow to float freely in the air above the bear.
The Tupilaq stared at the bear, at its glacier flanks of jagged sheaths of ice ready to fall and crash upon the mountain. The bear wore a beard – more ice, sharp, edges glinting in the moonlight. When the bear moved, creaking and groaning just like the sea ice heaving in the grip of Greenland’s tidal waters, the very tips of its beard splintered on the ground, crashing and smashing, leaving drifts in its path. The Tupilaq shivered once again as the bear lifted a great paw – a crenulated chandelier of ice – until Naalanngitsoq blocked the bear from the Tupilaq’s view with a soft flurry of snow.
The bear settled with more crashing and smashing, sending tremors through the mountain, and small avalanches of snow down the sides of Qaqqaq, as if shedding water when crawling out of the sea onto a floe of ice. Naalanngitsoq turned the Tupilaq around to send it on its way, back down the mountain to report on what it had seen to Luui.
The Tupilaq tumbled down the mountain.
The Tupilaq stumbled.
Naalanngitsoq lifted the tiny creature out of a hollow, scooped it up and over a sinkhole in the snow. Then, as the Tupilaq’s knotty legs failed it, she carried it down a long slope, skimming above the surface of the snow, and leaving a long plume of sparkling crystals behind it, like vapour trails from a jet plane.
Neither the Tupilaq nor Naalanngitsoq could shout, but the wind could whistle, and she pushed streams of air through rock crevices and ice clefts whenever they passed them, warning Luui that they were on their way.
The shaman’s daughter spied them as Naalanngitsoq lifted the Tupilaq over a stubborn ridge of granite. She climbed the slope to greet them, digging the adze of her ice axe into the firmer patches of snow as the slope steepened. She paused to cut steps when the slope turned vertical. Digging and cutting slowed her down, and Assagissat soon overtook her, scuttling across the snow, pincers snapping as the Tupilaq raced towards them.
“Assagissat,” Luui said. Then again, shouting, “Assagissat!”
But the spirit didn’t listen, and it didn’t stop.
Whatever information the Tupilaq had, whatever it might tell Luui when she looked deep into its barnacle eye was lost when Assagissat plucked the Tupilaq from Naalanngitsoq, clutching it in its pincer as it opened its mouth. Assagissat’s human head grew large in anticipation of eating the Tupilaq, and, as the magic bound inside the Tupilaq’s tiny body spilled over Assagissat’s pincers, Assagissat’s mouth widened, her teeth extended – stiletto sharp – as it bit through the lemming skull, tore into the whale meat, the blood, and the breath of the shaman’s daughter. Assagissat staggered on the mountain, reeling one way and then the other, eyes wide and shining at the exquisite taste, the exotic, almost erotic burst of magic on its tongue.
“Naamik!” Luui cried, as she cut another step up the mountain. She cut two more, and then a fourth as she climbed as fast as she could to wrestle the remains of the Tupilaq from Assagissat’s clutches, with the desperate hope of gleaning some morsel of knowledge from what remained of the creature’s short-lived soul.
And then Luui stopped.
“Assagissat?” she said, as the spirit turned to face her.
Helper spirits, Luui knew, could be fickle things, as Assagissat had proved when she devoured the Tupilaq’s head and chest. But Luui struggled to remember when she last saw such a predatory look on a friendly spirit, and never directed at her.
“Wait a second,” she said, as Assagissat took a step towards her. “We should talk about this.”
And then Luui realised there was nothing more to talk about.
Luui was right. The Tupilaq tasted better than anything Assagissat had ever eaten. And as she scuttled towards the shaman’s daughter, Luui understood that her helper spirit had magic on her tongue. She had tasted Luui’s breath, drank of Luui’s blood, and as the magic crackled and sparked upon Assagissat’s tongue, there was nothing – not a thing – in the world that could ever satisfy Assagissat’s hunger for the blood, the breath, and the bones of the shaman’s daughter.
“Okay,” Luui breathed, suddenly cold as the exertion of the climb seeped out of her body as she stood still and stared at Assagissat’s pincers, imagining their bite, clamped around her body, as Assagissat’s head grew even larger, her mouth even wider, and her teeth – those stiletto slivers – even sharper.
Luui risked a quick glance over her shoulder. She spent a generous second to curse and lament the ground she would lose when Assagissat forced her back down the mountain.
But then Assagissat was upon her and there was nothing left to do but…
“Jump, Luui! Jump!”
Perhaps it was the echo of her father’s voice on the mountain, or the huff and stink of dark magic on Assagissat’s breath, but even without a familiar voice, or those awful pincers and stiletto teeth, Luui took the only course available to her.
To be continued on December 18
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
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