CHAPTER 17- BURN
She held the cup of cold fluid in her hands as the drops of humidity wet her fingers. Snow sipped on the glass as the sweet nectar veered down her throat. Her eyes shot open with the sudden surge of sugar in her bloodstream. Snow managed another gulp as she coughed at the unworldly taste.
“What is this?” Snow asked Brida.
It was reaching midday when the wind huffed warm air into the great hall. The guests were already feasting at the banquet, but Snow could not push herself to eat. It was not like her. Snow could make out the smell of charred meat from where she sat. At this rate she would have eaten the whole plate. Brida was observant enough to have noted her hesitation beside the dining table.
“I’m not sure, Milady,” The girl shook her head, “The elders saw me pour broth for you and immediately told me to send you this drink instead. I’m not certain what brew it is.”
“Well, it’s not poison, is it?” She teased as she saw the panic in Brida’s eyes.
Snow laughed as she felt her chest grow warm. The sugar was doing her good as the coldness from her fingers receded. Brida, on the other hand, grew pale and fidgety. Snow was about to ask her what’s wrong when she immediately dismissed herself. The sudden heat must have had this effect on people.
Snow sniffed the drink and smelled wild berries and citrus. There was a hint of mint and rosemary as she took another sip. The liquid had a subtle tang when it first touched her lips but so quickly replaced with a prominent sweetness. She had to sip small amounts of the fluid just to keep drinking it. She liked it, nonetheless.
“How is our great huntress?” Clara sat beside her with a plate of cheese and bread in her hand. Snow backed away with the sudden stench that filled her nostrils.
“Get that away from me,” Snow placed the cup of fluid on her nose to shield the smell of aged cheese. The hint of mint and mixed berry stopped her from getting nauseous.
“What? It’s good!” Clara teased. She held out the plate to Snow’s direction. She immediately withdrew the action as Clara hungrily consumed her meal. Snow quickly sipped the sweet liquid to stop herself from getting more nauseous.
“Something’s wrong with me,” Snow said as she gulped.
“Something is always wrong with you,” Clara laughed, “Something is always wrong with me.”
Without another word, Clara snapped her fingers as a small flame floated above her palm. The flame was as red as the bleeding sunrise. And Snow knew it was one of the harmless and most comforting flames Clara can make. Her flames ranged from a subtle warmth to a scorching blaze. You could see it in the color of the flame. If her hands lit a bright blue, it was to step away.
Snow watched her sister toast the bread with the sunset flame emerging from her fingers. The cheese atop almost melted. No matter how far Clara was from the dining table her food would always be warm.
“I’d love that ability,” Snow said as Clara bit into the warm bread. Melted cheese oozed from beside her lips as she grinned.
“Don’t worry honey, I’ll roast all those smoked meat for you before we head home.” Clara replied.
Snow felt a growing ache in her chest as she felt a sudden weight land on her shoulders. It was the last day she’ll be with her sisters before they head back home. She basked in Clara’s blond hair and soft blushing skin before she looked down at her drink. Tears welled from the corners of her eyes as she took another sip.
Just as the two Grimlakes sat in silence, a group of women with long flowing gowns passed them. One of them had her chin up when she caught sight of the flame in Clara’s hands. She immediately stopped and whispered to the woman beside her. The two exchanged amused looks at each other, while the rest smirked. Snow was about to smile back at them when she caught a foul expression on their faces. The women stared down Clara.
“Grimlake whores,” One of them walked to close for Snow to hear.
And just as the women left, Snow noticed the flame on Clara’s fingers glimmer a pale blue. The bread caught in flames as black powder fell on her plate. Clara’s skin flushed, the veins in her eyes injected red. By the light, Snow saw how her temples pulsed.
She had to do something before her sister burst into flames. Snow thought quick as she placed her cup on the ground. She took Clara’s plate in her hands protecting the ceramic from the blue flames on her hands. Her skin stung as she reached out to touch Clara’s belly. Snow knew her sisters could not come this close to Clara while she was enraged. It was only Snow who could resist her blue flames.
“What are you going to name him?” Snow asked. Clara caught Snow’s eyes and immediately her flames were gone. Her chest rose and fell as the redness of her skin reduced to a blushing peach.
Clara cleared her throat brushing the black powder from her lap.
“I-I don’t know. It’s usually the males who name their offspring,” Clara shook her head, “Arden has not sent me a single word.”
Snow felt something sharp stab her chest with the mention of Arden Sawyer.
Her hand felt cold against Clara’s warmth. Then she too could not resist the tears from forming in her eyes.
Her sister’s unexpected union with a Sawyer struck their family hard. It only meant that Clara was to set sail with her mate or be left back home. The nomad clan that lived on ships docked the mainland only every other full moon.
With Clara being the second wife of the Sawyer alpha, word broke out, how a mere woodland she-wolf come across such man on if his stature. His first wife who was unable to bear cubs was furious. Snow recalled how such a phase took a toll on her family, how Clara went home crying, with marks of whips and bruises on her skin.
The map of black and blue on her back was still fresh in her mind.
Clara lost honor and was never to re-marry if she decides to separate with him.
Despite all that, Clara kept the baby.
“When will he be back?” Snow asked.
“It is not certain,” Clara braced the ice-cold skin where Snow touched her, “You’re always too cold.”
“Do you still sense him?” Snow felt Clara’s skin warm her palms. Her sister’s hands were trembling as it held on to Snow.
“Yes, I do,” Clara smiled, “He calls to me and casts me visions of open water most of the time. It’s amazing how two wolves have that connection once they have marked each other.”
Snow felt the scar on her neck grow warm. With the memory of Torryn’s fangs gripping her skin, Snow felt her heart swell. The visions. She did not have those. The skin on her forehead tensed.
“Torryn has marked me,” Snow asked, “But I have not marked him.”
“It takes time,” Clara rubbed her palms warm, “Has he repelled you?”
“Repelled?” Snow asked back.
Snow gulped as she felt her heart race. She thought hard and still, Clara’s words did not seem to be comprehensible to her. She shook her head, avoiding Clara’s gaze. Her sister let out a soft giggle as she noticed Clara survey her face. Clara pulled on to Snow’s arms, then tugged on her chin as she studied her. Finally, Clara saw Torryn’s bite marks on her neck.
Her warm fingers traced the mark. Snow felt the scar throb. Clara nodded her head a faint smile lined her lips.
“Have you not attempted to mark him?” She asked.
Snow shook her head, embarrassed by her lack of knowledge. She could only look down once Clara was finished. The faint panic interlaced in Clara’s voice made Snow swallow hard. Her heartbeat became a loud growing thump.
“No,” she spoke, her voice was soft and brittle.
“That explains it,” Her sister rubbed her shoulders, attempting to console her, “I apologize. As your eldest sister, I have not taught you such things.”
“You were going through so much before we left... With your union and the baby,” Snow finally met her eyes, “I could not bear to speak to you.”
Clara nodded as she rested her hands-on Snow’s shoulders. The she wolf’s gaze did not part from Snow as she began to speak.
“Marking is important,” Clara began, “But is not required for a union. Once both of you have consummated the marriage, the rest will just follow.”
Snow watched her sister peer into her eyes before she continued.
“Torryn has consumed the marriage, hasn’t he?”
“Consumed?” Snow’s head tilted.
“Has he bed you?”
The question made Snow’s cheeks burn. She nodded her head, unable to speak with the sudden warmth on her face. She cleared her throat as she tried her best to reply.
“He has,” Snow hid the panic in her voice as she struggled to say it as casually as she can, “I’m very much consumed.”
Snow did not realize what she has said when it was too late. Clara was already in yelps of laughter as her amusement left Snow blank and confused. Clara’s belly bounced as her shoulders bobbed. She was laughing so hard, Snow worried that Clara might have held her breathe too long. Snow opened her mouth, squinted her eyes unsure of what to say. She could only chuckle as her hand firmly held her forehead.
Once Clara came back to her senses, she lightly nudged Snow’s shoulders as she explained.
“Marking comes after,” She giggled, “Once you’ve marked each other you will be able to communicate through each other’s minds. You’ll be able to feel the beat of each other’s heart a mile away. It’s like seeing through someone else’s eyes.”
“Repel?” Snow recalled, “How –
“Differences in energy,” Clara answered cutting her off, “You cannot mark each other if both of you are not on the same level of energy.”
Snow’s nose scrunched. She scratched her chin in confusion.
“For instance,” Clare expounded, “My energy has repelled Arden once or twice. The poor man passed out with the taste of my blood. Don’t worry. It may happen. It may not happen.”
“I guess my blood did not repelled Torryn,” Snow’s fingers landed on the bite marks on her neck.
“I see that,” Clara nodded her head, “His mark suits you. Come, warm your hands.”
Without another word, Clara snatched Snow’s hands from her lap and placed her flamed palm close to her fingers. The flame licked Snow’s skin as a crowd gathered before them. They intently watched Clara sprout flames from her hands, tongues of orange and yellow bouncing from her palm.
Snow heard the spectators mumble. She gulped in the sudden panic. But Clara kept going, letting the crowd see the fire she breathed from her hands. As the flames emerged from her skin, the warmth it gave replaced the fear in Snow’s chest.
As Clara played with the fire danching from her palm, she smiled not minding the biting stares people had on her. Snow watched her sister and thought to herself that this was the kind of woman she aspired to become.
And In that moment, Snow witnessed how brave her sister was.
He could barely breathe.
The energy flowing from Magnus and Aragon was a cloud of condensed, heavy air. It made his chest ache. Theodore Everett coughed as he shook his head. Torryn crossed his legs from where he sat. He drank casually on the wine glass, taking sips of cold fluid to console the building mass on his throat.
Kaius had already taken his leave. He claimed that he needed to refill his glass. Without another minute to spare, he left.
Just across Torryn, the two alphas had been deep in conversation. He nudged his shoulder to Theodore. Although the man was many years his senior, both were outcasts in the discussion. Theodore stared at him scrunching his forehead.
“I can’t bloody breathe,” Theodore said. His breath was dry and forced. Torryn heard the noise from his throat.
“Let’s leave,” Torryn replied. Theodore nodded his head as both men began to stand.
Just as Torryn settled his glass on the wooden table before them, Aragon eyed his direction.
“My men and I have found traces of a bigger threat,” His voice was composed and stern.
Torryn sat back down feeling the weight of Aragon’s stare. Theodore was about to turn his back from Snow’s father when he pulled the old man from the arm urging him to sit back down.
Theodore sighed and found his spot beside Torryn.
“How many Rogues?” Torryn asked.
“But they’re not just plain Rogues. Their wolf form is different,” Aragon replied, “I’ve tracked one, but I’m not certain if it lives.”
“They have no fur, their snouts are narrower, shorter,” Magnus elaborated, “I have seen such creature. It was roaming around my territory a few years back. It was remarkably smaller then.”
“So, it grew?” Theodore probed, “What in heaven’s name are we talking about?”
“I have found traces of these blue-blooded creatures just as I entered your woods,” Aragon stared at Torryn,
“It’s in my woods.” His lips parted as fear struck his chest.
Torryn gritted his jaw as it dawned on him. He has failed to keep his territory secure. His body stiffened. Frustration weighed his thoughts down.
“I expected so much from you,” Aragon spat the words.
“Where is it?” Torryn rubbed his temples as he spoke.
“West border,” Magnus answered. The man shook his head.
He brushed their smug looks taking in big gulps of liquor from his glass. Alcohol warmed his insides as he breathed hard.
Disappointing, I know. Torryn thought.
He can feel sorry for himself later. He needed to find whatever threat this was. He needed to keep his people safe.
Snow was running through those woods. Damn it. The thought made his fist clench. He bit his lip.
How could he have put her - all of them through this?
“I’ll have it killed by dawn,” Torryn said.
“Easy, young one,” Magnus chuckled, “We are not talking about a rogue.”
“Then what in bloody hell is it??” Theodore grew impatient.
“We need fire,” Aragon interrupted, “Lots of it, as it is drawn to it. Weapons cannot pierce its thick coat, ropes will not hold it down. We must be quick. And, no one must know. We cannot cause alarm just as the celebrations have concluded.”
“We call in as few men as possible,” Magnus nodded.
“Fire,” Torryn asked, “I’ll have my men gather fire wood by –
“No, it’s too suspicious. Think, boy!” Magnus’ voice growled low and stern.
Torryn submitted to his dominance as the alpha’s eyes shot open. Torryn could only swallow down his words as he gulped against the mass on his throat.
“Enough,” Aragon raised his hand as Magnus began to growl, “I have hunted these creatures for centuries and it’s only now that I’ve seen its tracks. The boy has not seen creatures like this, Magnus. It is not his fault.”
They called him a boy.
Torryn rubbed his lids as his eyes burned in anger. It was one thing to be reprimanded for his actions but letting the Grimlake alpha stand up for him was another thing. He felt his stomach burn as bitter liquid spilled from his insides to his throat. He bit his lip and clenched his fist shut.
“My daughter, Clara, can come,” Aragon’s eyes were stuck on his glass as he studied the dark purple liquid.
“Your daughters that’s a piece of history I live for,” Wolfram raised his glass to Snow’s father as Aragon looked straight into his eyes. He smirked and nudged his glass to the Wolfram alpha.
The clang of the glass was sharp and strong, Torryn thought the fragile vessel might break.
“Wait, what exactly are these creatures?”
Theodore asked his voice was slow and modulated pausing as each word left his lips. He grew intolerant to their attempts to disregard him. Clearly, Aragon and Magnus took lengths to not mention the creature.
But, Torryn already knew what it was.
“Furless creatures with short snouted faces and drawn to fire,” Torryn said, “I’ve only heard of it from my grandmother’s stories to keep me and my brother in our beds. Could it be?”
Aragon nodded towards him. Torryn saw his wolf fang around the Grimlake alpha’s neck, this time it was just above the ivory emblem on his chest.
“It’s a Sallow,” Aragon said. His voice a crippling chill as he touched his lip to the glass.
“Are you certain of this?” Theodore held his temples, his elbows propped on to his knee.
“There’s only one way to find out,” Torryn answered for him. Aragon breathed slow his chest rose in fell before he placed his glass on the table.
“Before dawn, we hunt,” Aragon said.
Torryn nodded, his palmed shielding his eyes. His lungs gasped in air as he rubbed his lids slow and steady. Shame and embarrassment of his lack of foresight began to engulf him. What kind of Alpha was he?
He only knew how to kill, not lead.
Torryn’s eyes grew red as Magnus spoke, “Isn’t that beautiful.”
Torryn’s vision was a blur when he removed his fingers from his eyes. He paused letting his eyes adjust to the flicker from the distance. His gaze caught glimpse of the crowd forming across the room. Flashes of warm light peeled in between bodies of wolves that came close to it to watch. From the curious eyes surrounding the source of light, Torryn sensed Snow. He leaned in to watch as the four men stood.
After leaving his glass empty, Torryn followed them. Heat rose to his chest as he pulled on the buttons that held his coat. He released the smooth knobs and let the humid air land on his skin.
From where he stood, he saw Clara with burning flames in her hands. Snow was sitting beside her. She was stiff as a board and Torryn sensed the fear swelling in her chest.
Little bird. In his mind, he called for her.
The mark he made on her skin was visible as the burning flames shed light on her face. Torryn didn’t expect a response, for his mark on her was only as strong if she had marked him as well. In wolf form, they would have communicated with ease. But in human form, his voice will just be a soft whisper.
The mix of energy in the atmosphere will make it even harder for her to hear him.
A sudden softness warmed his face as he smiled. He watched her search for him. How could she have known that he was calling for her.
Torryn intently watched her as the crowd grew around them. He was a good distance from her when her eyes caught his. He smiled and began to speak to her through his thoughts.
Did you mean it, when you said you loved me?
Snow subtly rolled her eyes to his question. Torryn knew she heard him. He bit his lip as he grinned. She tried her best to distract herself. She bent down and to the floor cupped her glass. The flames on Clara’s palms vanished as Snow began to sip on the pale red liquid.
Clara lifted her plate and began to nibble on her bread. The crowd was dead silent as Snow’s sister giggled. It took a while before the spectators resumed their previous undertaking.
Snow adjusted her seat still with the glass of the liquid in her hands.
Torryn thought it was familiar. A grin broke the stiffness of his jaws as he began to chuckle. Still, he stood there staring at her just as the crowd has left leaving him in full view.
He rubbed the back of his neck and watched her sip the drink. Her green eyes glared at him. She sensed his amusement as she studied the drink.
Foxberry Cider. That’s a very powerful drink, little bird.
Snow noticed him tease. She raised a brow and took another sip. Torryn could not help but laugh. He walked towards her just as she filled her lips with the sweet nectar.
And as soon as he was in front of her, he bent down from where she sat and whispered. She just took another sip as he spoke in her ear.
“Legend says, Foxberry Cider helps pregnant she-wolves bear twins.”
Snow stiffened. Her eyes shot open. Before Torryn could straighten his back, splatters of pale red liquid sprayed from her lips.
It was nearing sunset when the crowd gathered back to the clearing where a bonfire burst in flames. She and her sisters were all lined up. Each one of them, now with a golden laurel crown on top of their heads. The five stepped forward as the elders announced their arrival.
The drums beat in unison, a rhythm that echoed Snow’s heartbeat. The final ceremony of the Reaping was about to take place. The killing of the first stag was bestowed upon the victors.
Snow sighed. She has not been in a Reaping with so much rituals.
They were to choose their chosen stag from a herd before them. There was about eight to ten bucks on the clearing, each with weights on their body.
Snow had her recurve bow on her hands. She brushed against the leather arm guard as she pulled an arrow from her quiver. Celeste nodded at her direction as drums ceased to play their rhythmic hum.
The silence almost made Snow deaf. There was only the wind and the crackle of the wood against the burning fire. She glanced one look at her sisters.
This reminded her of the Selection. The last time she stood beside them, she had a trembling bird in her hands that she needed to kill.
Now, wasn’t any different.
Her father darted his dark eyes at her. The shadows of his face made him look older for his age. His gaze was unwavering it made Snow nervous.
“It’s time,” Willow stood beside her.
Her sister looked at their selection of prey. And as she found the one she liked. Willow raised her hand with palms upward to the sky. She was urging the animal towards her. Like a hypnotized victim, the animal came treading towards them.
Just as the onlookers began to comprehend what her sister has done, they broke in unruly muffled whispers.
Snow stiffened as Willow continued to speak in incomprehensible chants. Snow began to feel nauseous. The stares of people around her were too much. The contents of her stomach stung her throat, as the bitter liquid found its way to her lips.
When Snow thought that nothing could get any worse, Clara with her palms slithering with hungry blue flames stepped forward. This left, Snow breathless.
The stag was only a few yards from Snow when its pitch-black eyes met hers. She nocked her arrow. The sharp tip was coated with flammable crude oil as the smell made Snow queasy. Clara’s flames were a few steps in fornt of Snow. The tongues of burning cyan faced her arrow.
Snow extended a full draw as the fumes of crude stung her chest. As she exhaled, she released the arrow.
The crowd did not know what to do.
The reaction from the wolves was between shock and joy. Snow was too weak to comprehend it. She felt her knees wobble as a haze blurred her vision. The world around her spun as she felt the grass cushion the side of her face. She heard her sisters calling her name.
And as soon as she sensed his voice darkness consumed her. She lay on the warm ground, weak and spent, as she dremt of a young cub with green eyes.