Lily woke up. Which was a surprise.
She found herself half buried under rocks at the base of the cliff, staring up at the sheer mountain face above her. All around her were enormous chunks of stone that could’ve crushed her easily but somehow missed, one of them just inches from her head. She had, however, been pelted with smaller rocks, and her entire body felt like one big bruise. She was also bleeding from several lacerations, including one that ran down her temple, all the way to her chin. Her entire face was coated with half-dried blood.
Carefully, in order to not budge any of the boulders, Lily extricated herself from the debris. Pain shot up her left arm as she put weight on it to climb to her feet, and she realized her wrist had been broken. But it wasn’t misaligned, so it must’ve been a small fracture. She could splint it, she thought, and still use the hand for some things while the break healed. Miraculously, she found no other broken bones, except perhaps a couple toes. But those she could do nothing about.
Lily found her pack about seven feet away, resting at the unmoving feet of one of the hunters, who’d been completely crushed by the largest boulder from the rockslide. His friend was a few paces farther on, a mess of blood and brain matter, where his skull had been shattered from a brutal impact. Lily grabbed her bag, shook off the rubble, and slung it over her shoulder. It was in relatively good shape—though some of her food tins felt warped—unlike her bow. The body of the bow had been snapped clean through.
She couldn’t fix it. She didn’t know how.
Sighing, Lily fingered the machete on her belt. It was her only remaining weapon.
It’ll have to do. I can’t take a detour to find another bow or a gun. I’m too close to the cage now. And the weather…
A few tiny flakes of snow were swirling around in the air, and the temperature, already cold to begin with, had noticeably plunged in the time Lily had been unconscious. Which, judging by the amount of light, hadn’t been more than ten or fifteen minutes. The Winter queen had realized her gambit with the frost hunters had failed yet again, so she was trying to make it impossible for Lily to reach Yellowstone before the deep snows set in.
Lily couldn’t let that happen. If she didn’t release the Summer queen before the end of the year, then millions of people around the world would die over the winter. The power grids had been wiped out a few months ago—no one had heat—and food distribution was dwindling as farms failed and food companies ran out of gas for deliveries. And that was just in the United States. It was far, far worse in other countries. There were some European countries that had nearly been wiped off the map by the nukes. They had no infrastructure left. People were scavenging.
Shaking off a lingering dizziness—she almost certainly had a concussion from that fall—Lily pulled out her map, checked her current location, and then hurried back onto the path she’d marked. She had miles and miles left to go in order to pass through the mountains and reach the park, and even after she reached the park, she’d have to follow yet another path to find the Shoshone Geyser Basin. The queen’s cage was hidden underneath one of the geysers there, using geothermal energy to combat winter’s magic. Lily had to find that geyser and get very, very close to it in order to wake the queen.
And she had to do it very, very soon.
The snowfall was growing thicker.