Her heart pounded in her chest, echoing in her head. Her breath came out in short, heavy puffs, misting in the air. Snow and pine needles crunched under her feet as she ducked under several low-hanging branches. She could see it ahead of her, a column of lazy smoke drifting from the chimney. Just as she entered the clearing, a low howl bounced off the trees behind her. She froze, her heart pounding faster and louder.
“You’ve fought long enough, child. Just surrender and your pain will cease,” a deep voice called from somewhere behind the trees. She covered her ears, her face breaking into a grimace.
“Don’t fight it, child. You can’t avoid your destiny,” the voice continued. She let out a guttural cry, tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. She somehow managed to summon enough strength to take a few more steps towards the tiny building.
“Listen to me, child. You were born for this. Just come back with me. I’ll take you someplace safer,” the deep voice spoke again, this time accompanied by a dark-cloaked figure, his hand extended towards her. In the stark white landscape, the figure stood out like a sore thumb. He wore a long, black coat that touched the snow covered ground at his feet. The collar was turned up, brushing his jaw. His hands were covered by a pair of black leather gloves. His dark hair was cut close to his scalp. His pale face and handsome features stood out against the dark of his outfit. Only his deep blue eyes marked him as one of Them. She turned towards him for a second, her face softening. Her tears had begun to freeze on her cheeks. She reached for his hand, taking one hesitant step towards him. He opened his mouth to speak again, but she cringed and took two steps away from him. She swiped at her tears and turned away from him, striding confidently towards the tiny shack. She held her head high, but her body quivered with sobs. She hesitated as she touched the handle of the door, but only for a second. She turned the handle and stepped inside, the door separating the deep darkness within from the stark white without. The man strode to the door, pressing his hand against the thick, dark wood.
“I feel we may never convince that girl of the danger she is in,” he sighed, lowering his head. A single tear dripped from his chin before he turned and merged back into the shadows of the trees.
On the other side of the door, the girl sank down to the floor, her back pressed against the thick door. She covered her face with her hands and shook gently with silent sobs. A wrinkled hand reached out of the darkness to touch her shoulder.
“Now, now, child. We mustn’t cry over such small things,” an ancient voice spoke from somewhere above the hand. The girl swiped at her tears and sniffled a little. She looked towards the origin of the voice.
“I just don’t understand why They must always send him. It’s like torture every time I see him again. I know he holds the secret to finding my memories, but I also know he will stop at nothing to keep them from me. And it hurts. I can just see someone in the corner of my mind, but I can’t make them out. I sense a connection to him, but I’ve no idea what it means,” she sighed, gesturing absentmindedly with her hands.
“It will all soon be fixed, child,” the ancient voice said.
“Now that you’ve arrived, we can fix everything,” another ancient voice spoke from her other side. A dim light flickered in front of the second voice, revealing a wrinkled face and white, frizzy hair. The light slowly formed a sphere, a picture coming into focus within it. As the picture focused, she caught a glimpse of it. A young boy and a young girl sat on a wooden floor, laughing and playing with wooden toys. They were much younger, but there was no mistaking that she was the little girl. And the little boy was the man she had seen outside. She gasped, her lips forming words, but nothing coming out. A searing pain shot through her head as a wrinkled hand touched the sphere. She gripped her head between her hands as she squeezed her eyes shut. The wrinkled hand on her shoulder pressed her firmly against the door. Through her eyelashes, she could just barely see the sphere changing as a set of wrinkled hands manipulated it. She clenched her teeth tightly as the hands touched it one last time. She heard an unearthly scream just as she blacked out.
The man’s coat dragged the ground as he took one slow step after another. He recalled their meeting in the clearing, how she had almost touched him. If she would just trust him, he could fix this whole mess. But she didn’t remember him. He didn’t know what They had done to her, but he wasn’t going to let it stay that way. Suddenly, he heard an unearthly scream. He froze in his tracks, lifting his head. A low howl echoed through the trees and he knew. He knew what They had done to her. Without a second thought, he ran back to the clearing, snow crunching beneath his boots. Forget orders. He ducked under a few branches. He was going to find Them. And he was going to make Them regret the day they touched his baby sister.
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