In that one second Farenan was gone, pulled away under the ice by the current. I was relieved that it was over. I would never see his face again, but now there was a new realization. The only thing I had left to do was find my people. To go home. It scared me more than anything before.
I watched Nell pull the dagger from the ground. The snow began to fall again and the deafening quiet was gone. There was still the gaping crack in the ice, but the winter would soon cover it, leaving no sign that we were here.
Nell was still smiling from her attack on Farenan when she turned to the rest of us. The dagger was in her hand, she played with the sharp point of the blade. “I like the metal work on the handle. A good reward for a good days work.”
She placed the dagger in her belt and glared at me. I didn’t know what to do. Would she come with us to find the Articans or let us be to go our own way? I was sure it would be the later, but I had been wrong before.
“Next time you run off, try to leave me a clear trail so I can find you easier. I’m not a blood hound, I can’t sniff you out.” Nell addressed me in her normal condescending fashion. Nothing had seemed to change between us.
“Are you listening to me?” Nell’s hand swatted at my left ear. It startled me but didn’t hurt.
“Yes, I’m listening. Hit me again and see what happens.” I tromped off through the snow.
My rib was soar but didn’t have the stabbing pain like before. The warmth of my magic filled my side, healing my injury. Even though the pain had subsided, Arsan was still at my side helping me to walk. I didn’t need his help but I let him take my weight anyway. My body was tired and I was thankful for the rest.
“So that’s the thanks I get for saving your sorry ass? You humans are so ungrateful.” There was a sense of humor in her voice that only I would pick up, a playful challenge that I knew so well from her sister Delah. I smiled at the thought of my old friend.
The day was almost over by the time the fighting was done. The sun sat low in the sky casting tall shadows across the white snow beside me. I was exhausted and felt like I could sleep for weeks, but I didn’t want to stay here. Not where people had died. It was too eerie of a thought. I didn’t want to stick around to watch their souls rise to the heavens, so we moved on, away from this graveyard.
I mounted the mare, which I subconsciously named Lightning for the way she carried me to Ruan. Arsan and his sister rode together on the black stallion left behind by the dead Lord of the Dominion. I doubted Arsan would ever let Ruan out of his sight again. I wouldn’t blame him. I offered to share my saddle with Nell, but she refused to ride with me. “The beast stinks too much. I’d rather walk.”
“Have it your way.” I prodded Lightning into a trot and pushed our course deeper into the forest of Winter Land. Nell walked in the snow nearby, always keeping a vigilant eye out for danger.
The landscape didn’t seem to change much. It was always a white backdrop with a sprinkling of trees all around. Even the sun set didn’t cast its normal orange and purple colors here. It all stayed the same grey and blue tones of this never ending winter.
We rode as far as we could before the sun was too low to light our journey. Every once and a while we would come across some tracks in the snow. It was always a rabbit or a wolf, never anything that pointed the way to civilization.
Just when the light was crossing the boundary to darkness, we came across horse tracks that lead to the east. Or was it the west? I had a feeling that we were going in circles, but had lost all sense of direction. If it wasn’t for the sky, I wouldn’t have known up from down in these woods.
Arsan jumped from his horse to inspect the imprints in the snow. He had a grim look on his face when he turned to me. “They’re our tracks. We’ve gone in circles.”
I slumped in my saddle defeated. How was I supposed to lead everyone to the Articans, when I was only taking them on a journey in circles? How could we survive in this harsh land for long? We had no food. No shelter, and now that I had no idea where we were going, no sense of direction. I rubbed my face in my hands and brushed my hair back trying to control my emotions.
“Let’s make camp for the night.” Arsan’s voice was calming, soft. Something I needed right now.
By the time we had hobbled the horses so they could graze on what little they could find, Nell had already started a fire. The warmth of it drew me near. I sat down close to warm my hands. Ruan plopped down next to me and laid her head on my shoulder. Her stomach rumbled. “I’m hungry.”
“So am I.” I consoled her. “I’m sorry, but there is nothing to eat. Maybe in the morning we can hunt for some rabbit. Remember, we came across some tracks a while back?”
The feeling left me empty. It made my head hurt, an ache that wouldn’t go away. Maybe if we could get some sleep, it would be a little easier to ignore.
“Don’t look at me like that girl,” blurted out Nell. She had been standing on the other side of the fire with a sour look on her face. I could see she was in no mood to be bothered, but that was nothing new with her. She was always like that. “Fine… I’ll get you something to eat.”
Nell stomped off into the darkness, leaving our camp quiet and still. “How did you get her to do that?”
Ruan looked up at her brother shocked. She hadn’t experienced the harsh reality of Nell till now. The thought of her innocence made me smile. “What are you talking about? What did I make her do?”
“Nell doesn’t like to be helpful. In fact, Nell doesn’t like to help at all.” I explained smiling down at her.
Before our conversation was over, Nell tromped back into the clearing with a rabbit expertly skinned and skewered on a stick. She didn’t say anything to us while she cooked it. She wouldn’t even look Ruan in the eyes. Was there a change in her attitude, or was it just my imagination? Whether there was or not, something was happening. I could feel it, not just in her, but in everyone. I couldn’t put my finger on it yet.
With full bellies we laid close to the fire for warmth and tried to sleep. Next to me, Ruan’s breaths became shallow. I knew she was dreaming. I prayed it was of something good. Sleep didn’t come so easily for me though. Even with Nell standing guard all night, there was an odd haunting in the back of my mind. That same feeling that something was changing and I couldn’t put it aside to sleep. Something was coming. It made me anxious, fidgety. It was only getting worse by the hour.
“Go to sleep,” whispered Nell from the darkness nearby. “There’s nothing out there to worry about.”
“I can’t. I feel lost.”
Nell pulled something small out of her jacket pocket and tossed it beside me. “Maybe this will help.”
My fingers fumbled along the smooth edges of the cuff. She had saved it from Farenan. “How did you get this?”
Nell smiled and waved her fingers in the air. “It’s magic.”
Of course she wouldn’t tell. With the cuff fitting snuggly on my wrist I closed my eyes, feeling its power touching mine. It was calming and let me see the forest like I had never realized before. It held no secrets from me. I could feel it with my magic, see every tree and blade of grass with in a mile. Every snowflake that fell was counted and placed perfectly in this new world. The greatest feeling was not of the woods around me but of the direction that my magic wanted me to go. We finally had a path.
I closed my eyes and finally let go of my wondering mind. That’s when the dream came.
Darkness surrounded me like a warm winter glove. It must have been night time, but this was darker than any night I had ever experienced. No moon hung in the sky and the stars were all gone. I moved forward through the pitch black of night, feeling my way as I went. Tree’s loomed up in front of me, but I didn’t see them till they were inches from my face. Where was I? How did I get here?
So many questions rolled through my mind. Nothing seemed normal here, but then again, I didn’t know where here was. Maybe I had died? Couldn’t be. Last I remember I was perfectly fine. Or was I?
It seemed like I walked forever through the black forest, or maybe it was only minutes. Time seemed out of place, surging forward and falling back. I couldn’t tell how long it had been, but finally, through the darkness, I could see a small glimmer of light in the distance. I made my way toward it as fast as I could move safely. The light grew brighter and larger. I realized that it was the edge of the black forest and I was almost free of the night’s tomb.
I broke through the darkness, stumbled into the light of the moon. It cast a blue haze across the barren landscape. The stars looked different here. I knew the night sky at home, but here they made different symbols. I felt like they were forming words. I could almost read them.
I was faced with a vast open land of nothing. Ice covered the ground. Nothing grew there. No grass, no trees, nothing. It was as dead as the rabbit I had for dinner. I had no idea where I was, or what was the purpose of me being here, but I had a warm feeling in my chest that I was going the right way.
The wind began to whip all around me. Its silent force picked me up from the ground and cradled me safely in its grasp. I felt calm with it, like it was there to help me. Off it went. Shooting me like an arrow across the vast nothingness. I moved so fast the landscape passed me like a blur. I couldn’t make out any landmarks as I flew, not that there was anything to look at any way.
The mountains ahead loomed up in front of me at an alarming rate, but still I felt calm, like I was supposed to be there.
The wind stopped suddenly causing me to stumble a few steps before I caught myself. It deposited me at the foot of the highest peak. I didn’t know the name of the mountain, but a familiar feeling haunted my thoughts. I knew this place, vaguely. It had been in my dreams before, but not this clear. Only a distant memory of a place I once knew, or thought I knew.
I began to climb the rocks, carefully, trusting my feelings to guide me up the mountain side. I wanted to know what this place was and why it was so important to me.
The mountain felt like it stretched on forever. The peak was hidden by the cloud cover making the height impossible to tell, but I kept climbing. I wanted to know what I was here for and my mind told me to keep moving.
It wasn’t long before I felt the need to stop. I was about half way to the peak, just about where the snow began to stick to the ground, forming a ring around the mountain top. There wasn’t much around, blue skies, grey rocks and a few trees. The only things out of place were two large slabs of rock jutting out from the mountain side. I stumbled across the jagged ground toward them to get a better look.
The large rocks were smooth on the sides and formed a cave that looked almost like a doorway. It seemed man made to me. What was here that I was meant to see?
The cave was dark, impenetrable to my eyes. There was nothing that I could see. I would have to venture into the blackness to find out what was inside. It was a thought that scared me.
With a deep breath I moved a few steps forward, toward the cave mouth. The darkness seamed to reach out to me like a hand ready to pull me in. I didn’t want to go into the cave any more, it felt wrong. I shuffled back. My feet caught a rock and I stumbled backwards to the ground. I landed on my back looking up at the cave mouth. It wasn’t just the cave anymore, there were eyes. One pair then two. More eyes appearing until the darkness of the cave was filled with them. They made no noise, only stared at me.
“Who are you?” I yelled to them, frightened. “What do you want with me?”
There was no reply, only the silent gazes of the hundred eyes. I scurried to my feet, keeping my sights on the cave mouth. I feared that if I looked away they would come for me.
The wind began to blow and a howling swept through the mountain tops. It threatened to throw me from the mountain, but I stood firm, waiting, watching the eyes.
“Why have you brought me here?” My voice was lost in the roar of the wind, floating away without a response. The eyes glared, never leaving me. They seemed to be angry, but how I could tell, I didn’t know. I yelled one more time. “Who are you?”
They lunged for me, all the eyes at the same time. They flew from the cave mouth with wings like bats, sharp and jagged. I flapped my arms franticly as they surrounded the sky above my head. “Get away! Get away!”
My feet stumbled over the rocks on the ground again. I couldn’t catch myself and there was nothing to grab onto. The wind howled and pushed at me, forcing my off kilter body to fall from the mountain side. I screamed and reached for anything to stop my fall, but there was nothing, just air all around me.
As the ground loomed up below me, I felt something tugging at me, something that was telling me not to panic, but I was. How could I be calm when I was falling through the air? A scream escaped my lips just before my body impacted the ground, then my eyes opened and I was awake.