I stroked the soft fur of the yeti as I clung to its broad shoulders. It was really an amazing creature when it wasn’t trying to kill you. It walked slowly next to Arsan as we made our way down the north side of the mountain.
The wind had stopped howling and the sun was bright overhead. My magic lay dormant not detecting any danger, but there was still one thing that kept me watching vigilantly. The red mist that kept appearing. It didn’t set off my magic but it wasn’t showing itself either. What was it following us for?
“How long are you going to keep that thing?” Arsan scowled. “It smells terrible.”
Peaking over the shoulder of the yeti I shrugged my shoulders. “When we reach the tree line again I suppose.”
“If that is what you wish?”
Arsan shook his head. He seemed comforted though by the yeti’s presence. His eyes didn’t glance around like they had done before and his shoulders were slouched, relaxed. We should have been watching though.
Just like that, Delah was there standing between me and Arsan. She had come out of nowhere, like a mist in the sea of snow, silent like the night. She must have escaped the monastery and come back to find us. I was thoroughly confused but I didn’t care. Delah was here now taking care of me again. My heart jumped with joy at the sight of her.
“Didn’t you ever learn how to scare a yeti? For crying out loud, you were bound to come across one sooner or later.” Delah threw her hands in the air. “Now, you’re ridding one like a child.”
I was startled by the way she spoke. It was harsh and condescending, nothing like the Delah that I had grown up with all those years. Caught off guard, I didn’t know how to respond. My words failed me. Only my thoughts remained, jumbled and confused. She, of all people should know what I had learned about the mountains. She was the one who had taught me.
“Well, get down from there before you get bugs.” Delah tromped off through the snow leaving me unable to speak.
“Isn’t that your friend?” Asked Arsan.
I shook my head. It looked like her, but she was acting strange. Delah was always soft spoken. A calm thinker with a way of making people smile. This new Delah was nothing like that.
I watched Delah move as we followed her through the snow. There was something about her that was different, physically, the way she moved. There was almost a stomping motion as she walked. Not the soft glide that I pictured floating along the ground. And her hair, it was a deep fire read that she wore in long waves down her back. A braid circled the crest of her forehead to keep the hair out of her eyes. The woman I had left at the monastery always wore her pale strawberry hair, stick straight in a long braid down her back. Much like I did. I was beginning to think this person was not Delah.
None of that bothered me as much as one thing. I couldn’t push past the fact that the woman that was relentlessly leading us down the mountain side and into the forested area had pale skin, not unlike my own. My Delah was tan. You can’t wash away a tan in two days no matter how hard you try.
No, this was not my Delah. She looked just like her, but it was not her. I didn’t know who this impostor was, but I intended to find out. Somehow I would find out.
We had been walking for several hours through thick forest and underbrush. I was forced to leave the yeti where the snow ceased to cover the ground. Giving it a good pet on the head, I released it from my services and continued on foot.
The canopy over head was thick enough to stop most the snow from reaching the ground, but it also stopped most of the light from reaching the ground as well. It was dark under the trees, shadowed and quiet. I wouldn’t have minded it so much, but after the last couple of day’s events I was a little jumpy. The dark only heightened my anxiety. With every shadow that moved, I was sure that something was there to attack me. On more than one occasion, I had stumbled at the sound of a bush rustling in the wind. Delah had laughed at me, poking fun of my fright.
On top of the gloominess of our surroundings, the pace the red head had been keeping was quick and I was winded from over exerting myself. I needed to rest, but there seemed to be no rest in sight. She would probably force me to walk until my legs feel off. Maybe even laugh at my misfortune. I didn’t know which was worse.
Arsan noticed my struggle and laced his fingers between mine to help pull me along. It wasn’t helping though. He glared at the back of the red head. “Hey, we need to rest. We can’t keep this pace up.”
The woman halted suddenly at the sound of Arsan’s voice. She glared over her shoulder at him, her forehead set, eyes piercing. She looked put out by his words, like she wanted to beat him for speaking to her. A sly smile appeared on her face suddenly. It was forced and unnatural. “Why didn’t you say so sooner?”
She sauntered over to the nearest fallen log and plopped herself down. Quickly, she had a small fire going. The flames licked at the ground, melting the cold dirt all around. Arsan and I huddle around it, warming our numb frozen fingers. The warmth felt good, welcoming.
My stomach grumbled. I wrapped my arm around my waist to muffle the sound. The only thing worse than being hungry was the silence, it was like torture. Delah never spoke, not that she would have anything nice to say, but a little friendly conversation would help pass the time. At least when we were on the run from impending doom my adrenalin was pumping and my body was filled with excitement. My mind couldn’t stand the silence any longer. I would take my chances if it meant gathering information. The silence screamed in my head telling me to speak. “So when were you planning on telling us who you are?”
The red head laughed. “If you must have a name to call me then I suppose you can call me Nell.”
She seemed pleased with her answer. All though I now knew her name I still didn’t know what she was or why she looked just like Delah. I opened my mouth to speak but was bluntly cut off by Nell. “I take it from the dumbfounded look on your face that my dear sister hasn’t explained anything to you. She was always useless. She enjoyed spending time in this weak and pathetic human body than what she was created to do.”
“I don’t understand. What was she created to do?” My mind was so confused.
“She was created to serve the ancients, of course.” Nell crossed her hands over her chest with a smug look on her face. She acted like she had known some secret that no one else knew.
“That explains a lot.” I had never known why Delah was so loyal to me. She had no reason to be, but this information gave me more insight into the fury’s origins.
Nell stood, facing us from the other side of the fire, her eyes glaring, piercing sharp like always. She held her hand out over the flame. It jumped up into her palm and danced on her pale skin without burning her. As she did this, her eyes watched me, never leaving my face. Finally she spoke. “I take it that you have the blood of the ancients running through your veins? What are you? Dominion, Lantian?”
“Artican.” I said softly.
Nell’s palm closed around the flame, extinguishing it. Smoke lingered around her palm till she blew it away like dust in the wind. Her body faded into smoke that was as white as the snow. She had no physical body. No definition to any of her features. I couldn’t tell where her face was.
Quickly, it moved over the fire to stop in front of us. There was something familiar about this scene. I recognized this form from the night before. Was she the red smoke I had seen before I went to sleep.
Her body turned solid again. For a moment we stood face to face staring into each other’s eyes, neither one willing to turn away.
“Impossible. Give me your hand.” Nell grabbed my hand from my side. She closed her eyes, breathing out as she let her magic flow through her fingers. I could feel her warmth, it was strange. As quickly as it had touched my life source it recoiled back into Nell’s fingers. She dropped my hand quickly. “Impossible. Your coloring is too dark to be Artican, but yet I feel it in your veins.”
“Well, it’s true, which means you have to obey me.”
“I’m a fury. Created by the leaders of the old world one hundred and fifty years ago and left here to keep balance in this land. That means, little girlie, that I’m older than you and you have to listen to me.” Nell crossed her hands over her chest and smiled smugly again.
The rudeness of her words dripped from her mouth with distain. I wanted to push her into the fire, to watch her skin turn to mist and float away. What did I ever do to deserve this kind of treatment? Her anger towards me was unfounded, but I stayed my hands, focused on the inner calm in my mind. “So you’ve been sent here to keep me alive. Who sent you? Why?”
She was still staring into my eyes with a look that would frighten even a grown man. I wasn’t afraid, not in the slightest. The warmth from my magic surged through me, using my anger as strength to stand up to her. I was about ready to ask her the question again when she finally responded. “The Ancients foresaw your coming. I didn’t believe you at first, an Artican without the white hair and blue eyes. They created me and my sister to help you in your quest. I do say my sister faired time better than I did, but I am the stronger warrior, so I will save you.”
My thoughts mulled over what Nell was saying. Would this never end? When would I be free from this endless game of cat and mouse? “The danger is near, isn’t it?”
The words slipped out with such a calm demeanor that I scared myself. I felt numb.
“His name is Farenan. He is full of dark magic and yes, he is coming. I can sense his approach, his evil touch in the world. He has a way of tracking you. I don’t know what it is, but it’s strong.” Nell’s calm voice matched mine. For the first time since we met I wasn’t mad at her and it felt strange. In fact I was grateful for her intuition. If she could tell when Farenan was getting close we would always be one step ahead.
Guilt filled my emotions. Maybe I was too hard on her, judging her before I knew her true nature. I took a deep breath and cleared my thoughts. If we were to travel together, then I would need to learn to keep an open mind. If there was one thing I had learned in the past few days, nothing was as it seemed.
“We should get moving.” Nell walked away from the clearing.