Delane could climb anything – the carved beams of her spindly, two-floor home, or the salt-scrubbed face of the city watch tower, or the craggy face of the leaning mountain behind the city – so long as there was nothing in her pockets.
She had fallen off her roof once, misplaced her foot on the edge of the slick shingles and jerked to an almost-stop on fingertips that had held a good place a moment before, slapped her back against the paved street. Her ribs had burned, suddenly locked tight around lungs that had forgotten what it was like to touch air and balked at the idea of relearning. She had thrown up as soon as she managed a whole breath, and her head hurt for days. But within an hour she was back on the roof.
She had nearly slipped down the side of the tower once, climbing too fast to beat Arna to the top. Arna had been clattering inside the stone walls, winding up and up the circular stairs that so lazily reached for the top, while Delane hung one-handed off the cracked edge of the stone. She had reached too far, and lost her foothold jumping for this perfect stone. Her heartbeat was clattering in time with Arna’s steps, abandoning Delane to the trouble she had wedged herself into. And for half a moment, she considered just letting go. She could only fall so far, and she thought she had recovered from worse.
On the mountain, she had scrabbled hard against a sudden slide of pebbles where she thought that the stone would hold smooth. The wind dragged her shirt off her shoulders while she slid, toes and knees and elbows and fingers taking such a long time to find their hold. For a full breath, she slid, and then her right knee caught there, and her left hand caught here, and her right foot kicked against the air. Delane had laughed and tested her new position to see how well it would hold her if she started upward again.
She was not afraid of falling.
But the slip of something from her pocket grated against the bones of her hands. The long fall it took turned her stomach. The clink of it bouncing off stones too far below her echoed down her spine.
After, when she felt the space the thing used to fill more sharply than she had ever felt the object itself, she couldn’t shake the seeping aloneness that spread from the place where it had fallen.