Eamon throws his axe into the ice above his head. He hits a perfect depression in the wall, and the ice grips his axe. Pulling up hard, he kicks the bear-claw toes of his climbing boots into the ice a few feet higher up. Like some kind of arctic cat, he scales the frozen Ring.
He repeats the practiced motion, over and over. Each time, Eamon makes sure to insert an ice screw level with his waist and secure his rope to it. Just a precaution should he fall. Not that he ever has.
Bit by painstaking bit, the top of the Ring nears. Although he knows he shouldn’t, that it goes against the primary rule of ice climbing, Eamon can’t resist: He looks down at the hundreds of feet of sheer ice below him.
Even in the dim moonlight, the site amazes him. The Ring is a near-perfect, mountainous circle of ice at the center of this last remaining land above the seas, New North. The view makes the risk of climbing -- punishable by exile into the Boundary-lands -- worthwhile, he thinks. That, and the edge it will provide him in the Tests.
Eamon looks back up. Despite the cramps in his hands and calves, he smiles a little. Only a few feet left to the summit. Just one more swing of his axe, and he’ll be standing on the peak, staring down at New North.
He drives his axe hard into a concavity in the ice. But Eamon is too hasty. For the first time in his life, he misreads the ice. The axe doesn’t hold. It slips out of the giant wall of ice.
Sliding backwards, he plummets twelve feet. He bounces off sharp outcroppings that lacerate his skin. His descent is stopped only by an ice screw, his rope, and his harness. Dangling upside down in the frigid midnight air, hundreds of feet from the ground, he starts to pull himself upright on his rope. Just as he manages to right himself, he sees that his rope is frayed.
How, Eamon can’t imagine. He had made the rope himself with sealskin, and was certain of its strength. But really, the reason doesn’t matter. All that matters is how he’ll climb the remaining twenty feet with an injured body and a worthless rope.
He begins to unhook himself from his harness, and the slight pressure makes the rope unravel further. Just before it snaps and yanks him down with it, he swings his axe into the ice. Shaking and bleeding, he clings to the face of the ice wall with only his axes and his bear-claw boots. He has no choice but to climb back up, this time creeping inch by inch.
Stupid. He should never have risked the Ring, no matter the advantage gained for the Tests. He needs to win the Archon spot, to make sure he can act on what he’s learned, but he didn’t need to try the Ring. Because of his cockiness and thirst for glory, he now stands to lose everything, whether by death or exile. The Tests are not worth his life. And this is not worth what it will do to Eva.
He sees the summit. As he plans out how he’ll hoist his damaged body over the lip, a silhouette of a figure appears against the backdrop of the moon. Instinct tells him to scale back down; he doesn’t want to face the Ring-guards and certain exile. But he knows his only chance of survival is surrender.
“Over here,” he calls out.
The figure moves toward him, leans toward the edge, and stretches out a hand.
Eamon leaves one of his axes in the ice so he can reach out his hand. “Thank the Gods, you’re here.”
As the figure clasps Eamon’s hand, his face becomes clear.
“What are you doing out here?” Eamon asks, too confused to be scared.
“I’m so sorry, Eamon. You were never meant to make it this far.”
The figure lets go. And Eamon falls from the Ring into the darkness.I.
Year 242, A.H.
I watch the night fall. The polar darkness descends more quickly than usual for early spring, and I am suddenly freezing. I try to relax, but shiver uncontrollably instead and not just from the cold. Fear of getting caught out here has literally got me shaking.
My breath forms an icy cloud. I should be sitting around the hearth with my family and friends, not risking the frigid winds and ice encrusting the turret or the punishment for disobeying the Lex by coming out here after the None bell. Especially tonight, the Feast of the Tests. But here I stand, hundreds of feet above the ground.
I have good reason. I need to get a final glimpse of New North before morning comes -- alone -- and no one will look for me here. The steep, ice-laden staircase to the turret is too dangerous a climb at night for nearly anyone. Anyone other than me and Eamon, that is, who grew up scaling its heights and knew its stony crevices and dizzying turns intimately. The turret was our special place.
Eamon, my twin. I can barely even think his name. I’m not ready yet.
The glistening Aerie spreads out before me, the fortress of ice and stone at the center of New North. It is the place where all the Founding families live and work and learn and worship. It is home.
I stare out at the frozen land. Just over the turret’s edge, I see the ice-walls of the School with its fancifully carved ice-windows gleaming in the low moonlight. I spot the imposing ice-spires of the Basilick, the place for worship and instruction on the Lex. Only a glimpse of the Ark in the far distance makes me smile. The only metal and glass structure on New North, the Ark is our most precious site, where most of the island’s food is grown. Within its warm, humid walls, I had hoped to find my calling.
No more. The innocent Maiden who longed for a peaceful life in the Ark is gone. She died on the Ring with Eamon, and I became someone else. But sometimes I don’t recognize the determined girl that replaced her, the one who insists on pursuing her dead brother’s dreams of Testing. And neither do my poor parents.
I take a deep breath and another glimpse. Encircled by the mountainous icy Ring and set off by the dark Boundary-lands beyond, the Aerie resembles a diamond. Well, it should look precious since it’s the last true civilization left on earth after the Healing. The rest of the world lies beneath the seas, a casualty of mankind’s corruption.
The Ring. I can’t avoid looking at it any longer. Not if I want to say a proper goodbye to Eamon before I set off for the Tests. I gaze at its steep, jagged ice-cliffs -- created only two hundred years ago, when the earth flooded in the Healing and the few, remaining arctic islands collided into a single land -- but it’s not enough. I need to get a closer look -- as eye-level as possible -- and stare straight at the place that killed my brother.
Lifting up my heavy fur cloak and my long Feast-day skirts, I step up onto the ledge of the turret. I’ve been up here hundreds of times before, but it takes me a tick to get my footing. My delicate, ceremonial shoes don’t have the same grip as my kamiks.
The moon is generous with her light, and I can see clear across the Aerie to the Ring. I can even make out the place from which Eamon fell. Bracing myself, I face the spot head-on. It looks oddly beautiful in the pale blue moonlight, not murderous like I thought it would.
I stretch out my hands toward the place. Then I close my eyes for a brief tick, hoping to imprint the image on my mind forever. As if I could take Eamon with me on the Tests tomorrow.
“Eva! Get down from there!”
I don’t need to turn around to recognize Lukas. I’ve spent the past few months training with Eamon’s former Companion -- an expert in survival beyond the Ring -- and I’d know his voice anywhere.
“I’m fine, Lukas. Leave me be. You know better than anyone I can handle this ledge,” I say, irritated at the interruption. Even though I’m a Maiden of the Aerie and Lukas is just a Boundary Companion -- making it within my rights to speak to him in whatever manner I see fit -- I don’t ever talk to him so harshly. I have too much respect for him. And too many memories of the friendship that he and Eamon and I shared. But I need to do this right now. Alone.
“You’re not fine, Eva. That snow is igluksaq. One more step and you’ll fall.” It isn’t Lukas’ words that scare me; it’s his tone. I have never heard him anything but completely calm. That, and the fact that he knows snow better than anyone, suddenly terrifies me.
I cannot move. If the snow is truly igluksaq, then even one minuscule, incorrect movement will send me sliding off the ledge and flying hundreds of feet down. Just like Eamon.
“Stay still,” he orders.
I can hear Lukas running across the turret. His hand clamps down on my arm and pulls me down toward him. We fall backwards onto the turret on top of each other, both of us breathing heavily. I struggle out of his bear-like grip and turn around.
I look into his dark eyes. “I just wanted --”
Lukas interjects. “I know what you wanted, Eva. To be close to Eamon.”
He alone understands what Eamon’s death has done to me. And I think I know what Eamon’s death has done to Lukas.
“Yes,” I answer.
“You know, Eva, you don’t have to scale turret walls or Test to be close to him. Eamon will always be with you. His spirit is anirniq. Or animus, as you Aerie say.”
His words cut right through me, and I have to stop myself from sobbing. I’ve spent the past few months trying so hard to be strong, trying to push down the desperate sadness I feel at Eamon’s death and trying to prove I can fulfill his Testing dream for him, that Lukas’ words nearly bring me to the brink. I can’t have that. So I stand up, brush the snow off my gown, and grasp onto the least sad thing I can think of.
“Let me guess, my mother sent you up here to fetch me for the Feast. I can almost hear her.” I raise my voice up several octaves to my mother’s ridiculously high pitch, an affectation she thinks makes her sound like the ideal Lady as described by the Lex. “‘How dare Eva break the Lex tonight? After all she’s done to embarrass this family.’”
Lukas chuckles a little, indulging me. He understands what I’m doing. “No, she didn’t order me up here. I volunteered for the job.”
“No one else was up for the task of the turret at night?”
“Fair enough.” His smile fades. “We should go down. They’re all waiting for you to begin the Feast of Tests. Maiden of the bell.”
Lukas offers me his arm. I gather the long folds of my cloak and gown and take a firm hold of his elbow. He places his other hand over mine. Together, down the precipitous, winding stairs, we descend.
Excerpted from Relic (The Books of Eva I) by Heather Terrell. Copyright © 2013 by Heather Terrell. Excerpted by permission of Soho Teen, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.