I switch off the bedside light, blink until my eyes adjust and navigate the bedroom in darkness to the window. I pull the curtains open wide. Moonlight floods in, bathing the room in pale white light. I slide the heavy glass doors silently along their runners until they find their final resting place with a satisfying muted thunk. The summer breeze is pleasant, not cold in the slightest, yet I feel goosebumps freckle my arm.
Death is coming for me tonight. The cold is the prelude to her arrival.
I look to the horizon for comfort and see the shadow of the mountain against the night sky. For my entire life, her shape has remained unchanged. I’d always thought of her as my mountain, lying languidly, listless. I don’t own her of course; I’m not a queen, nobody owns a mountain, no, I have an alliance with her. She agrees to lay there, a constant guardian. I agree to watch her slumber, climb her ridges, traverse her ravines, keep her breathing, ready to move. She’s always been there for me. And I, her.
I notice small fractals of ice form on the glass of the balcony balustrades. Death is here. Black vapours pulled from the night itself coalesce into a corporeal figure floating before me, blocking the view of my beautiful sleeping giant.
"It's time to collect." Death hisses in a hundred languages at once.
I pick out English and respond in kind. "Not today."
Death smiles at me, incredulous.
I smile right back. "Do you wish to take me tonight or withdraw?"
"Withdraw? No. I intend to take you, now. As is the way of things. I do not withdraw."
That's all I need to hear. "I have an Emissary. Gifted to me by my mother at birth, before you took her.”
Death floated silently. I thought of the picture of a newborn me on my mother's breast, moments before she passed. The joy on her face, the tears in her eyes. The moment of transference.
Death hissed. "An Emissary? Impossible."
I spoke the words that had come to me in dreams every night of my life. "Rise protector. By the prophecy of the Grand Maiden, protect me."
With that, the ground shakes, and a thunderous rumble crashes across the valley growing louder as it washes past us.
Death dissipates then reforms facing the mountain. My Mountain. The horizon breaks, bows and sinks as we watch my protector stand to her full height, my mountain, standing tall, dark against the night sky.