The sharp blade caught in between the strands of her hair.
One hand held the stubborn curls in a firm grip, the other held the leather handle of the knife. Snow heard strands of her hair pluck, ringing a tune as the brown curls rested against the sharpened blade. She shut her eyes and all she could see was the headstone that held Margaux's name.
Rippling fury consumed her as she pushed the piercing metal through her hair. She felt her head grow light as the strands fell to her feet. Now, curls of dark brown that still smelled of lavender scattered on her bedroom floor.
One of the Rogues injured her deeply in battle.
The brown locks snapped as she slid the blade through her nape. Snow could not face a mirror. She could not bear to look at herself. She was trembling, throbbing, on the brink of emptiness that she could not escape from. Frizzed jagged ends lined the tips of her hair. The blade and its sheer weight landed on stone as her body followed. She dropped, back sliding against the wall with both hands on her face, shoulders bobbing.
Her chest marked a bottomless pit, it ached and how it made her curse. All hurt she could possibly bear, now dripped as tears run down her cheeks. It was like a river overflowing against the bank, a helpless, screaming, inaudible cry that could almost fill the room but shamefully obscure.
Everything caved in. As she slammed closed fists on her chest, she felt the tower echo the firm thuds of skin against skin.
She gulped in air, wondering when will every shameful, pathetic breathe end. She slammed her back against the stone wall. The sharp edges of the bricks indented against her skin. The physical pain was inferior compared to the one that she had in her chest.
Snow could only think of one memory of Margaux.
She bit her lip as visions of the Reaping surfaced in her mind. Margaux was happy in those woods. She was giggling in short brief moments during the hunt. She was perfectly fine.
Snow remembered how her sister's hands intricately braided her hair. Though the locks lay stubborn, Margaux did it anyway. Every stroke, every brush, hurt. Snow could not bear to keep the long curls.
It was a shame, if all of it were just a dream.
I'll be under an oak tree.
Snow remembered, how her voice sounded like, how the edges of her lips would occasionally raise to accommodate her words, how her eyebrows would twitch every time she began to read minds.
"Under an oak tree," Her lips trembled. Another clenched fist hit her chest.
Every memory, every truth she ever held dear was lost. Snow's grasp in reality was slipping away as everything became uncertain. And something more than sadness, more than doubt crept into her heart. It was a force stronger than a void. And for years she suppressed it, the one thing she dread going back to.
It was the feeling she had whenever they'd drag her into the dungeon. And, now fear has come back from the ashes to haunt her.
Clara's voice came after a knock on the door. Snow darted her eyes at it, wishing the damn wood didn't exist. Snow wanted to be left alone. She did not have the energy to talk in the language of lies nor did she have the stomach to listen to it.
Lies, all of it.
Snow knew what she saw, what she went threw. She knew a man named Torryn. She was the mate of an alpha of Burnwood. She was married to him. The union that shaped her life, shaped her entire being.
He tamed her void, and even called it beautiful.
No matter how absurd it was she became contented in the belief that perhaps his eyes were indeed hazel. Because how Snow loved that color, just as much as she loved him.
And, it disappointed her. The days she spent awake she mourned over a man whom she met for just days, or have never met at all. All the while, Margaux's death lay in the shadows. Snow felt nauseous. All those tears wasted for a man she did not know, could have been for someone she knew all her life.
Snow was cuddled on one corner, her cheek leaning against the rough wall when the door flew open. Cool morning breeze swooped into the room, strands flicked in a whorl, like fine sand. The strands of her hair tossed in small cyclones of wind as her sister entered. The cool breeze cut through the humid air.
"Snow, the ceremony is in five minutes."
Five minutes. Snow thought.
They gave her so little time to mourn.
She brushed her tears, gather whatever hair strand still damp on the floor and stood to her feet. In five minutes, she will become her father's beta. Whatever emotion, sadness left in her soul, it needed to wait. Her pack needed her. She can always cry later.
"I- I was just preparing the offering," She lied. Snow lifted her hands, in them locks of brown, a dark chocolate color covered her fingers.
"You're offering your hair?!" Clara, wide eyed and furious. Snow could almost see her palms burst in flames.
The she wolves took pride in the length of their hair. It was never cut, nor manipulated. The elders were the only ones who were permitted to trim a short length. By what she did, Snow has insulted her sisters, her elders and most likely her father. There were no she-wolves with short hair. By the amount she has cut, there was no denying the deed has took its course. There was no turning back.
"It'll grow back." Snow answered as she shrugged her shoulders.
"Snow, what has gotten into you--
"They're just a couple of strands. It was supposed to be my offering." She answered, heat rose to her face.
"Why can't you just do as you're told?!" Clara mirrored her voice with enough assertion, Snow felt the room weigh down. Her sister's hands lit a warm flame.
"Do what I'm told?" Snow felt her void, rip through her chest, "Isn't that what everybody seems to do around here, to tell me what to do. Have you thought of telling me the truth perhaps?"
"What more do you want to know?!" The flames on her hands turned blue.
"No, Clara," Snow answered, "It's not what I want to know. It's what I need to know."
Snow felt the tears drip down her cheeks, her heart pounding within a frail chest. It lay open, her words flowing like white water against the rapids. Snow gulped.
It's been forever since she spoke her mind. She laid her heart out for the first time since she could remember. It felt refreshing.
What conspired left Clara speechless, her eyes watery and red, lips parted as she breathed in. Before she could speak, the head elder came into Snow's door, with shears on one hand and a wooden brush on the other.
"Oh, you have started cutting?" Snow, nodded and stared at the woman in confusion. She was slouched to her back, her hair braided a silver weave. It held up a bun on her temples. Small bones of birds and lizards dangled down her neck.
"Y-yes, Milday," she answered.
"You're cut is lopsided," The elder laughed as Clara stared at them both still in a speechless stare, "But, I think we can fix it."
The woman headed towards a vacant chair. Snow escorted the woman, holding her hand towards the seat. She bowed her head towards Clara whose mouth still gaped.
Immediately, her sister reciprocated the greeting and excused herself. Snow's eyes met that of the elder. Her face was aged, no scars were in sight. Her hair was tucked on one end, a braid that coiled on a bun atop her temples. There was an array of bones around her neck but Snow only noted the green sheen of her eyes.
Snow smiled. A wry greeting as she tugged on the ragged ends of her hair.
"Come," Snow stiffened as she sat on the floor in front of the elder. Her back was towards the woman. Snow heard metal rub against metal ad the woman began to prep the shears.
Snow considered herself lucky, the woman could not see the flush of her cheeks.
"If you wanted something, all you have to do is ask." The elder patted her shoulder.
Losing a sister wasn't easy. All that she craved were small acts of kindness and affection. The elder began to loosen the tangles on frizzed ends, tugged on it and began to cut. It was only then that she felt the woman's hand brush through her hair, did Snow began to breathe.
"It's the first time, I saw you speak your mind." The woman asked. Snow felt her palms sweat, her heart beat fast. The feeling was unusual for Snow.
A great weight lifted off her chest by just saying a couple of words. The woman began to cut the jagged ends as Snow held a calming hand on her chest. Snaps of the blade rung against her ear as the dull side of the shears rested on her neck. The cold metal eased the building heat on her skin.
"You should do that often," the old woman chuckled.
"Are you sure about this?" Dimitri propped his chin on his hand.
Torryn only nodded as he reached for the flask of rum. He poured a generous amount, watching the sides of the clear glass mist against the cold fluid. With one gulp, he drank of what he poured letting the alcohol warm his chest.
Rubbing a side of his cheek where the scar across his face ended, Dimitri's back rested against his seat only to lean forward just as soon as the guests left. His elbow rested on the dining table. It was filled with empty platters, duck bones towered on the plates, wine glasses sipped empty. This gave the two brothers time to speak alone.
"Taking my place among the Crusaders won't be easy," His brother' eyebrows scrunched, "You won't be able to exercise dominance, where the group goes, you go. You'll be at one with the men, no sudden outbursts of force, just pure unison energy."
"I know what to do," Torryn finished his glass, he firmly placed the glass on the table.
He could almost break the glass as he reached for another helping of rum. Taking his brother's place will be a good leverage, it kept him far from Burnwood and far from thoughts of Snow.
The Crusaders were nameless vigilantes. They are silent assassins working directly under the council of alphas making sure the ordinances, laws and its violators were accounted for. No one even thought they existed. Ever since Dimitri left to join the group, he kept his identity hidden for years. No one knows of his whereabouts. When asked, he could not even point out who, and from what nation the other men belonged to.
"You won't know these men," Dimitri continued, "You'll have to learn to trust. Can you do that Torryn?"
"I'm a fast learner."
His chest grew heavy with guilt each passing day. Torryn shook his head as his lips softly but firmly spoke the words. He'd wake up in his sleep. A dream of Snow screaming inside a stone cell would make his head throb.
His imprint on her was still strong, despite days apart from her. He'd occasionally see visions of her sobbing in her sleep, slamming closed fists on her chest. What he did if, not destroyed her, damaged her. And it was because of him. There was nothing he could do. He can't just march into her life again, attempt to risk her safety again.
Either way, he will break her. Torryn could only hope that it starts to hurt less each day for them both. He squinted his eyes suppressing another vision.
"If you're certain," His brother sighed, "Take as many men with you."
"You need them here in Burnwood," Torryn replied, "I'll go alone."
Dimitry chuckled, his fingers rubbing the insides of his eyes, "You're starting to sound like me."
He smirked as she shook his head, "You're starting to sound like an alpha."
Torryn brushed a finger against his lip, feeling the wetness the rum left. His fingers found Snow's ring on his chest. The black diamond glimmered beneath his touch. It was on a silver chain around his neck. He'd touch it everytime he felt like he needed her.
The edges of his lips raised as he watched his brother. He couldn't believe his eyes. Dimitri kept his hair long, his eyebrows reminded him of their father. The scar on his face rose a small bulge on his skin. He was dressed in maroon, the elders did their best to prepare him for the occasion. Everybody seemed to be pleased of his return.
Finally, Torryn could breathe.
"Damn it," his brother answered.
Both laughed, shoulders bobbing, chest heaving with each breathe. It's been a while since Torryn felt like home. His chest stung as he thought of it. For he knew home would not be complete without her. He clenched his fists as he pushed against the chair to come to a stand. He bowed towards Dimitri, a clenched fist lay atop his chest.
"Leaving so soon?"
Torryn only smiled. Before he could exit the hall, Dimitri asked one final question.
He faced his brother, reciprocated his smile. Torryn chuckled before he spoke.
"Do whatever it is the elders want, keep intruders out, and that..."
Torryn pointed at the iron crest resting on Dimitri's chest. A flame symbol intricately embossed on the metal sheet cast shadows against the polished steal. The crest of Burnwood suited him, Torryn thought.
He smirked, "That's heavier than you think."
The Armory reeked of rust and old leather.
After a month of not having her around, he could not bear to take one step into the room where he was last with her. The guests were still in the main hall and the alphas would be looking for him. They'd send their farewells, ask how he's fairing without his wife and other questions he wasn't ready to answer.
In the mirror that spanned his torso up to his waist, Torryn saw how much his hair lengthened. His men shaved what's left of his beard as it became a mass of unruly bush below his nose, surrounding his lips down to his chin. His fingers rubbed the stubbles on his skin.
Torryn kept his hair long like Dimitri. However, he let Alfred trim the hair on the base of his nape making his head feel lighter still mainting the length of hair above his head. He'd pull it in a ponytail keeping the strands from his face.
Between his fingers, he balanced a metal blade. For weeks, he trained how to throw them. Torryn needed to learn how to fight in human form as well.
Being in wolf form alone did not provide much, his breathing paced, his shoulders tensed.Torryn cleared his throat, pulled on to his tunic as he remembered that night.
If only he had the arms to carry her out of there, he'd do it.
Torryn slammed a closed fist on the table, as the metal blades flew from where they lay. The brute force made each one jump. It's been a while since he fought. His body was growing stiff. Torryn carefully picked up the blades and chose the ones light enough to carry to the journey. He grabbed battle tunics, leather satchels, blade holders, boots and headed to his chambers.
Just as he closed the doors, warm air clung to his skin. His hands maneuvered in the locks, bolting it shut. He undressed, tugging on to the coat embroidered in golden thread forming swans and flowers on his shoulders. Only Snow's ring dangling on a silver chain was left on his body. The garment dropped to the floor as a battle armor took its place.
The armor was his brother's. Thin metal plates, an alloy of hematite stone and iron, made the armor light and pliable. It clung like second skin. The fabric fit his chest as he pulled the hem down to his waist. Torryn thought the trousers fit him well. He honestly thought that his brother was taller. The garment fit like it was made for him.
He proceeded on laying the metal bodice, snapping the locks securing the armor in place. He sheathed the blades on to the leather holder on his waist, ensuring each one is secure.
Torryn faced the mirror one last time, the darkness under his eyes was pronounced. It reminded him of the nights he lay awake thinking of her.
Aragon and Margux would be with Crusaders by dawn. He needed to pick up his pace if he planned to join them. Dimitri's horse was by the stables waiting.
The journey to Amarkand would take him the entire night. He gazed at the window and saw the moon was high up. The light was on his side.
The Grimlake alpha left him a map of the shortcut through the mountains, it would cut his journey by half. Soon Torryn would be with them, get his thoughts off of shame and guilt.
The plan was simple. Torryn spoke it in his head, day and night.
He would join them both. Stand at bay with the Crusaders until he is summoned by the Grimlake alpha. In his mind, Torryn would call out to Margaux. The Grimlake she-wolf would find him among the men, picked like a needle in a haystack.
Under Aragon's leadership the Crusaders will surround the Rogue villages ensuring no wolf traverses the border. The group will be under Dimitri's power. Torryn would be safe, hidden just as Snow is. The three of them can keep the Rogues far from Burnwood and Grimlake until Spring Soltice ends.
No one will know about the Rogue's death. Snow's safety will be ensured.
With Dimitri left as the alpha of Burnwood, Torryn could not deny the lightness he felt. It was like a weight lifted from his shoulders.
He brought the headgear to his face, securing the metal plate where it masked his face and nose down to his chin. The hood rested on top his head as he attached the garment tight to the hooks on his shoulders.
Under the layer of fabric, Torryn did not expect to see much. On the mirror, his reflection flashed before him, Dimitri could be his twin. Their bodies were identical it was the way he stood that set him apart from his brother. He straightened his back, tilted his head like Dimitri would. It was almost convincing.
Torryn only hoped that no one would notice the difference.
The chalice contained the darkest wine Snow has ever seen. It was from a glass jar brewed in the cellar. The smell was strong and putrid. She doubt it was edible.
In it, her father's blood formed a ripple as it touched the surface. The drops of crimson disappeared in the abyss of black. Snow swirled the fluid, mixing the it in the liquor.
Drinking the blood of your relatives, isn't that a funny tradition.
She touched the edge of the golden flask on her lips. Snow did not dare breathe through her nose. She squinted her eyes and began to drink.
The bitter liquid stung her lips down her throat. The heat rested on her chest. It made her shoulders light. Snow was thankful that the fluid was strong enough to mask the taste of blood. Just as finished it, she felt a sudden calmness rush through her. Snow wasn't sure if it was the alcohol or the crude weight of her new rank.
"Feel anything?" Her father asked.
Snow nodded, a smile rose to her lips, "The alcohol is strong on this one."
"That's not alcohol," His hand took the cup from her hands as they flushed red, "That's the blood of an alpha."
"That's an unpleasant thought," Snow touched her lips.
Her eyes shot open with the sudden verbalization of her thoughts. She stiffened knowing she could not take back her words. She was expecting her father to snag a hurtful remark in return. Instead, Aragon only extended his head, laughing to her words.
"Wolves would pay a great price for that drop of blood in their wine," He replied.
"Why?" Snow spoke, chuckling as she rubbed her chest where it grew warm.
"That, my dear, is liquid courage." Aragon's grin was new to her.
"Oh, so that's what courage tastes like," She answered, "No wonder, I'm such a coward. I'd never drink something as nasty as that."
Her father only continued his chortle.
The ceremony ended as soon as the Grimlake alpha placed the empty chalice on the wooden table before them. The incense still burned as her sisters rose from where they sat. Snow glanced at Clara, who only looked away.
She wanted to apologize but couldn't. It's not that she was scared to. It's just that, Snow felt there was nothing to be sorry for.
The battle armor her father gave fit her perfectly. It was made for her, it seemed. It gave her limbs enough freedom to move. It was light, yet the solid plates where sturdy. Laying on her shoulders, a fabric forming her hood was clipped.
Her hair wasn't unruly against the quiver on her back. Snow shifted her head, tilted it from one side to the other. Her head felt lighter. Cutting her hair was the best decision she has made in days.
All that weight needed to go. The elder only trimmed the ends, making sure they where in line. The curls fell right below her chin. It did not need much tending to.
Snow walked towards the main hall, the elders and her sisters behind her. Her father was by her side as she became his beta.
Before they could step out, Aragon held out something in her hand. Something cold hidden between his fingers.
She took it in her hands, raised it to her line of vision.
Atop her palm, she saw a golden crescent moon. It dangled on a hook. The ornament was small, it needed enough light to see.
"It's an earring," Aragon said.
"Where's the other one?" She asked.
"Margaux wore it the night she passed."
Through the cold of the night as they walked towards the wood. The horses where tied to a branch beside the main road. Snow took one last look at the manor. There against the porch, Clara had a warm flame on her hand as she waved. Snow raised her palm towards her in farewell.
Despite the lack of light, Snow threaded the golden chain on the lobe of her ear. She felt its weight. Somehow it made her feel Margaux was near.
"Where are we going, father?" She asked.
"To Amarkand," He answered, "Come, the Crusaders are waiting for us."