The bitter cold tore at my skin as I walked the trail. I couldn’t tell if it was dawn, noon, dusk…the blankness of snow and sky were a shroud over time. Only nightfall was apparent, when the clouds turned to coal and the snow to sapphires.
The mountains were so thick with snowdrifts that all visible landmarks had vanished. Footprints seemed to disappear as quickly as you made them. My guide was ahead of my somewhere. There was a figure in the snow that I was following, at least. Perhaps it wasn’t him. Perhaps it was some Yeti, or ice-giant, or a mountain troll…but he was a little too small, or at least, he looked it from this distance. Perspective, too, was a lost cause.
Eventually I caught up, and found that it was indeed my guide, bundled in furs, his face scarcely visible. He was beginning to set up camp.
“No!” I refused. “I’m going on. I know that we are near, I feel it.”
He yelled at me as I stormed away. He would not go on, for night was drawing. I knew he was right, that I would likely die in pursuit of my goal. And yet every impulse said that by morning it would vanish. After all I had been here before. This hopeless quest had taken years off my life, stolen my family, my academic reputation, my very self. The obsession would not be sated until I had found proof of the vision I had seen. The beautiful gates, stretching into the heavens, crowned in clouds, and inside, skies of lapis blue, and the heat of the sun, so warm, the fragrance of otherworldly plants so green, flowers so bright, fruits so ripe and sweet…it was heaven – the gates to Shambhala.
But all had faded. They had blamed the cold, the delirium of hypothermia. I had seen the beautiful gates again only in dreams, and my memory could not recreate their true beauty and power.
I forged ahead, though the cold was gripping my limbs, the acid in my muscles dragging me back. The drifts of snow were deepening, and I felt as though I might be engulfed at any moment. Darkness came over me, at first I thought that night had fallen, but I realised that I had entered a tunnel of ice and snow, high enough to walk through even standing at full height. I forced my weary legs to continue, and my tired mind to register the glinting of a dim and distant light upon the glittering cut-glass edges of the ice cave. The light was coming from beyond, sparkling along the facets of ice, from somewhere far ahead. I fell to my knees, overcome with cold and exhaustion, but I crawled onward. The tunnel floor began to rise on an incline, toward the light, and I saw brilliant sunlight. Too brilliant to be filtered through the snow-burdened clouds. I could hear birdsong, water trickling, voices laughing and quiet songs of prayer and celebration. I knew it could only be a trick, my desperate mind calling up long-forgotten memories, but the voices were familiar ones; my wife, my son and daughter, playing and laughing.
A breeze caught my frozen face, and it was warm, and fragrant. Soft spices, exotic fruits, sea salt, fresh rainwater on spring grass. I was pulled to my feet by a stranger, he was hooded in brightly coloured silk, his face obscured. He did not speak to me, but ushered me on, supporting my weight. I felt the cold ebb away, replaced by the warmth of sunlight seeping into my bones, and I felt light and full of energy. I looked back, for a moment I was afraid, but the ice-cave behind me was snowed under.
There was no turning back.
(Prompts: snowstorm, excavation)