24 - Embers
CHAPTER 24 - EMBERS
It. Her father made it seem like these people weren’t living. Snow thought.
She gulped as her chest rose to the gush of wind. It hasn’t been a day since her last kill and the Grimlake alpha already made new orders. Snow dragged her body and stood on her feet. Without laying one more look on the Crusaders, she left the main tent, leaving the other wolves deep in discussion.
The rain did not stop. It will not be long before the swamp overflows and drown their camp in mud.
Her leather boots made twigs and damp leaves, crush and snap. Her delicate weight proving to press down patches of clay where she stood. Despite the rain, the air remained humid. There was so little solace the breeze gave. Snow could feel her hair cling to her nape, her chest throbbing with the new death order.
She was headed into the woods where the newly captured Rogue cub was chained.
The young cub was just hunting when one of the Crusaders found him. In panic, the Rogue engaged attack resulting an avulsed wound on one of the Crusader’s arms. It was an injury easy to mend. A few stitches here and there and a good helping of rum to cleanse the wound. That would fix the problem.
But, her father thought it fitting for the young cub to learn his lesson.
Death was his verdict.
And, not any other death, it was death through her void.
Her fingers clenched against her tunic, drops of cold rain tapping on to her shoulders. This cub has nothing to do with all of this.
Why does he want her to do it? What memory, this young soul can give him? What does he want?
Her cheeks burnt. It has been days since she surrendered to the scorching heat of the sun. This made her skin peel, dry patches rested on her forehead, red flushed skin on her nose and cheeks. Despite the cold trickling drop landing on her skin, they still burnt red.
Snow’s fingers felt numb, but she clenched them harder. Her teeth clasped shut, as she walked to the woods where the cub was.
The young Rogue was trembling when she got there, the pale patches of fur engulfed in the brown of clay and swamp water. The cub whimpered with the sight of her.
Snow just stood there.
Not knowing what to do, her hands where on her waist as she studied him. In utter surrender, she simply admitted that she did not know anything at all. She was floating on air.
At that point, nothing felt real.
She thought she had a life all wolves envied.
She was married to an alpha, almost with-child, won a reaping. She finally talked to her sisters, she was about to be an aunt. It was all making sense, until one day, she had to wake up.
All of it wasn’t real. Again and again, she’d convince herself.
Under the rain, her foot felt the wet soil drain her. She wiped her forehead where a stubborn drop almost seeped into her eyes. Snow knew right there and then that she had no idea what was true and what was not. To obey, is the only thing she is certain of.
“Hey, little cub,” She faced him, her voice soft and calm. She studied him and found no trace of dominance. She could not kill someone like this. The cub showed her no aggression, only fear. This made the task even harder. At that moment, there was no such thing as Pledged or Rogue. This young cub was not any different from the rest of them.
This young cub was not any different from her.
Where is this aggression from her father coming from?
There is no doubt that their enemies grow in unthinkable proportions. Everyday, there’s news of Rogues barging into territories with claws heavy of anger.
From her memory, these things don’t happen. A rebellion was a thing of the past, Rogues were wise enough, not upset the alphas. But they seemed braver now. They might be on the brink of another war and she was in the middle of nowhere, deciding what to do with a Rogue cub.
The orders were simple. She just needs to obey. She should stop thinking, start looking the cub in the eye and simply do as she’s told. The wind lifted the damp curls from her back. Sulfur filled her lungs, but she breathed in anyway. She closed her eyes and surrendered to the loosing battle.
As her vision blackened in darkness, a memory of Torryn sitting with the alphas rose into vision.
Snow lost it.
She shook her head as hard as she could with one swift motion. The vivid memory made her light headed.
If such person existed, if an alpha named Torryn was real, he would have been a great decision maker. He did not mind what others thought of him. He was a deviant, a slave of his own principles.
What would he do? She asked herself.
Snow opened her eyes and saw the young cub tremble. It whined as its legs placed a good distance between them. The rust painted a brick red sheen on the fur of his neck. The skin beneath the chains were red. It blistered where the cold metal held it. The more he struggled the more the chains strangled him.
Snow’s palm raised in front of her, pursing her lips making sounds close to a hush.
“Listen, little one,” Snow said, “No dying today.”
The cub lay on its belly frozen. Yelps and whines continued to escape his lips. Snow knew what to do. She just needed a little help.
“You need to shift,” she added, “The chains are too big for your human form. You’ll slip right out. I’ll handle the rest.”
Both wolves eyed each other for a long while. The wind rustled the leaves above them, another huff of sulfur made her eyes water. But the cub did not move a muscle. It lay there in front of Snow with eyes terrified still fixed on the thick woodland to her left.
Then she knew.
“You would have done that earlier, wouldn’t you?” The cub yelped affirming Snow’s suspicion.
Someone’s guarding you. She thought.
Slowly Snow raised her finger, asking for the cub’s silence and slowly walked towards him.
It has been a long while since his last shift to wolf form.
The lush silver mane around his neck was now a dark gray. It was almost black. He watched his reflection intently on an untouched puddle beside where he shifted. He retraced his footsteps in the mud. From human footprints to harsh jagged claws. He could not believe what he’s seeing.
Before him, his reflection revealed a dark gray wolf, no one would know it was him. Except for his hazel eyes, the distinguishing marks on his fur lost in dark fur.
The Crusaders needed to keep their identities hidden despite shifting to wolf form. And this, Torryn knew was pure witchcraft. He could not believe what he just did. It was almost impossible.
The armor they all wore remained after they have shifted. Not a single tear on the plates and sheets of hematite. He wore his brother’s and still the sorcery surrounding it remained. ′X’ taught him how to use it to his best advantage.
Shifting in Crusader armor was a skill. It took Torryn, several tries to get it right. And as his claws firmly rooted in wet clay, he succeeded to shift into this wolf with fur as dark as thunder clouds.
Beside him, X shifted as well. He made it seem easy.
Both wolves eyed each other, their fur in a shade identical hue of midnight gray. The only thing that distinguished them both was the color of their eyes. X was a bright shade of blue. It reminded Torryn of the summer sky.
Torryn’s brown eyes landed on his reflection. He studied it again and found no marker, not a single sign of Torryn remained.
X nudged his head towards the woods and Torryn knew it was his turn to guard their prisoner. IV already stood guard the entire morning. It’s about time he rests.
Taking orders was still new to him. He never complained, though. There were more difficult tasks. Controlling his dominance was excruciatingly tedious. The Crusaders felt him, as he did them. One sudden change in energy, and all of them would feel it. After being reprimanded, several times, he felt his head was already on the chopping block. They did not mind sacrificing one stupid Crusader.
No, dominance. Just one unison energy.
It was like a mantra in his head.
Every step he took, his limbs pulsed the sound of his heartbeat. How he longed to run around in his beast, savoring the force of every muscle. His pace quickened. The faster his paws replaced the other, his wolf heart beat harder. Slowly, his energy surrounded him. As soon as he felt the building force, he eased into his limbs digging each paw in the soft damp earth.
Each day, he learned something new. The task of leveling himself within the energy of other wolves did him good. He learned that by this, tracking, communication and field surveying became easier.
Ground coverage, trail mapping were more efficient since all of them knew what all their energies felt like.
IV was nearby, Torryn could feel him. But within the woods, his wolf sensed something even more.
He walked closer to where it was. It felt like a warm gush of air, an energy he was so used to. The more he walked towards it, the more his wolf felt at ease.
Between the trunks, his eyes found her. And out of nowhere, his wolf felt young again. He could feel his shoulders lighten, his body at ease and loose.
Snow was ducked to the ground, her hair flowing along with what little breeze the forest trees allowed. Her back faced his line of vision, her skin a pale white on her spine.
Torryn was close enough to sense a nagging threat.
The Rogue cub was too close to her. Her hands held the chain while the wolf growled to the scent of her newness. This child may be the calmest he has ever seen for a young cub with poor impulse control. One wrong move and Snow would have her hands torn out by his canines.
Torryn could not contain his anger. What was she doing?
“Shift, now.” her voice was but a whisper, but Torryn could hear her clearly.
Snow grew impatient. She lighty tugged on the metal chain around his neck, and the wolf growled again.
The energy in his chest rose and fell. It was the tide that would soon overflow. If the Rogue cub did anything to her, let alone touch her, it would send his wolf mad. He suddenly did not care about the others. The Crusaders would have to reprimand him again. There’s no way this Rogue wolf would lay a hand on Snow. Torryn will make sure of it.
Before his wolf could emerge from the woods, the cub shifted. Snow’s hands were quick. She slipped the boy’s head from the chains. His dark brown hair almost strangled between the loops of steel. He was thin, small for his age and had the deepest creases on his eyes. The arch of his ribs cast a shadow on his skin. He ducked down, sheltering a wounded arm. It bled staining the earth beneath him.
Snow propped the boy up, pulling him from his shoulder, “You need to run. Do you understand?”
The boy looked at her, dumbfounded. The cub’s eyes remained blank. With one hand grasping his bleeding arm, his face turned pale.
He was losing blood. Torryn thought.
He felt his wolf growl, his lips vibrating to the soft gurgles of his chest. Snow sensed his dominance and Torryn did not regret it. She quickly ripped a strip of her tunic, leaving the jagged ends of the fabric undone. She used the long garment to wrap the Rogue’s wounds.
And right there and then, his wolf sensed the grave mistake she has made.
Just as she pulled the cub to his feet, Torryn lunged forward just a few steps from the cub. The sudden outburst of energy, made the young Rogue scramble to his feet and start running.
“No!” Torryn heard her scream. She held on to him. Her thin fingers grabbing on to his fur. Torryn’s reflexes were fast, he shrugged her giving in to the itching force of his wolf.
Snow did her best to stop him, but it was too late. Torryn knew his wolf was sharper. He anticipated the young cub’s escape and knew exactly where his feeble legs would take him. One leap, and the cub lay in front of Torryn, trapped and out of breath.
With nowhere else to go, the cub crawled like a ball on the ground just in time as Torryn unsheathed his talons from his lips. Saliva dripped along with the rain, thick drops landing on the child’s skin.
The thrill of the kill fired his insides. There was no turning back. But before he lavished his kill, he sensed something. It was a familiar growing energy, he knew too well.
“Do not harm him, Crusader.” Her voice was firm and unrelenting.
As she spoke, she stood in front of Torryn, sizing him up like his wolf was a mere prey to her. Snow’s energy flowed from her body. It radiated from the air between them down to the ground beneath her. Torryn’s chest now brimmed with warmth. What anger was remained there, now replaced with a feeling of submission.
It was like seeing her for the first time.
He looked at her, and saw the she-wolf he imprinted.
Without another word from her, Torryn dismissed his dominance. His wolf cowered like a slave in her presence.
Torryn has not witnessed his wolf respond to a command like this. He would have smiled if he could. It was to his advantage that he was in wolf form. This way she could not see him smiling like a boy beneath fur and fangs.
His beast is fueled with pure instinct. It did not heed mercy, nor reason. One word from her is all it took.
His wolf sat before her as Snow pulled the cub back to his feet. With slow, easy steps, the Rogue left.
Torryn in the mean time, distracted himself. The other wolves cannot find out about this. He eased himself, taking down his walls, letting the wind carry brush through his fur.
"Five,” his heart plummeted in panic to her voice.
“Such a dumb one are you?” Snow said.
Torryn cocked his head to one side and asked himself the very reason why he was the dumb one. Snow left the Rogue her scent, she shouldn’t be the one doing the scolding.
The very thought of other Rogues catching her scent made his insides turn. He was back on his paws. His heart pounded a rising beat. His eyes grew red.
“I did that on purpose,” Snow coughed as she leaned on a tree trunk. She stepped back and let her body drop.
Something’s wrong. Torryn slowly closed the distance between them.
“You will not speak a word, about this.” She ordered as she grimaced with the pain radiating from her chest.
Torryn’s wolf wined in terror. Such weak act almost made him sick. And then, he smelled it. A pool of dark crimson emerged from Snow’s side. The blood pool grew just below her breast soaking the leather in deep red. Snow peeled the tattered leather, scent of iron filled Torryn’s lungs.
“If my father asks what happened, let me answer,” She giggled with arched brows hiding her pain, “Not that you can talk or anything.”
She coughed, more blood oozed from her skin. As Torry crawled closer, his eyes glanced down.
His heart sank as he saw his claws drenched in Snow’s blood.
Her vision reduced to black and white as she rejoined the rest of the wolves.
Sitting down sent a bolt of lightning through her body as she winced. The wounds Five left was now wrapped beneath layers of cloth, she pulled from her tent. The leather did not even stain. She was light headed. Her fingers trembling to reach for a cup of rum. She did not pack a numbing brew with her. Her fingers clenched the cold chalice and swallowed hard. Alcohol, now, sinking deep in her blood stream.
From the tables of candles, jars of alcohol and smoked meat. Snow saw him. Five was the most peculiar of them all. It’s like he was never been one of them. His actions were less refined. He fought like the forest did not mind the noise. The damn wolf had his claws ripping through her skin.
It was not him that she’s worried of, though.
Snow was sitting too close to her father. She hoped he was too distracted to smell the blood pooling on her sides.
Meanwhile, she tried her best to suppress the pain, finishing her glass in uninterrupted gulps. She flinched as Aragon Grimlake began to speak.
“Burnwood needs our help,” Snow’s eyes shot open as she listened, “The young Alpha requests we guard their borders. If anyone protests to that, I am all ears.”
“Is the Sallow still lurking in their woods?” III asked.
“I have no answer to that,” the Grimlake alpha replied.
“How many men are injured, Sire?”
“The past few weeks, took a toll on their numbers. The Rogues keep pushing through their territory.” He answered, a bland expression on his face.
Her father was lacking sleep. Snow watched her father’s eyes grew dark. He was surveying the wolves until his gaze landed on the wolf to his left.
Aragon was staring directly at Five. Snow gulped.
Her deviance was not to be found out. They would leave and she would simply say the Rogue cub escaped. Drops of sweat formed on her forehead as she took another sip of rum.
“When do we leave?”
“As soon as we are able,” Her father answered.
“Tonight?” Snow mumbled. She cleared her throat as her father’s eyes darted towards her. He surveyed her and one shake of his head made Snow tremble in fear.
“Alright,” He chuckled, “All those able, can pack their bags and leave with me.”
Snow sighed as she slowly stood from her seat. They can all just disappear in plain sight and her plan with the Rogue wolf resolve on its own. She had one goal in setting the cub lose. And it pleased her more that she has spared one life, despite the expense of her own.
“Why are you bleeding?”
Snow froze. Her father dragged her arm and lifted it, revealing the patch of cloth dampened in blood. She winced as the shear pull of his arm disturbed the wound. A shot of pain ripping through her skin.
“Answer,” His command made Snow’s eyes water. She could not lie to her father. Aragon grabbed her shoulders, easing her into a seat where her back can lean against a slab of wood.
The Crusaders rushed towards her. Two of which already had their needle threaded.
“The wound needs to be sewn, Sire.” One of the female Crusaders knelt beside Snow. Aragon Grimlake nodded and studied her wounds once more.
A splash of rum made Snow’s wound burn. She clenched her teeth, but yelps of scream still escaped her lips. She gasped in air. Her chest rose and fell, aggravating the pain. The cycle would just go on.
Her father’s eyes bolted open as he sniffed her tunic once the Crusaders rid Snow of clothing. Now, a thin fabric lay above her breasts. The Crusader’s hand was swift. Before Snow could catch her breath, sharp steel needles tugged against her skin. After one scream, cries followed, but her eyes were on her father.
"Five,” His eyes were fixed on her wounds, but his voice called out from the distance, “I smell blood from your hands.”
Snow saw Aragon’s face turn red. Her heart, knocking through her chest. He knows. She thought. Before Five could take one step.
Snow gulped and suppressed one more cry as she spoke.
“I set the cub free.”
His hands were as heavy as the satchels he carried.
Torryn just finished loading one of the horses, when the last of the wolves disappeared in the woods. The fire that brought them warmth a while ago, now crackled low in the embers. Small tongues of flames surfaced from what little fuel the burnt ashed gave. He glanced at the dulled glow of the pit and found Snow facing it. The orange lull of the coals framed her face.
Not even the harsh shadows, reduced her beauty.
There was nothing they could do. Her deviance to the Grimlake alpha silenced the Crusaders. No one wanted anything to do with her.
“Your defiance is treason to your nation.” Torryn recalled Aragon speak.
Snow did not speak a word, did not answer back, did not give one explanation. Torryn knew she had something brilliant in that mind of hers. He could not see it. All he saw was flecks of light landing on her face. The fire will soon die down. And as it approached midnight the only light guiding their journey was from the moon.
He gulped, easing the dryness of his throat. He could clearly remember what the Grimlake alpha said:
“Whatever game this is to you, Snow, wake up. No one’s going to save you. Putting this camp in danger is selfish. You can march through hell and back, but drag no one with you. You, a traitor, shall finish what you started. You shall stay in these woods until you gather the bones of the Rogues coming for you.”
Torryn watched as the Crusaders finished stitching her wounds. Her skin red and damp between threads of black. Her wound was wrapped, a paste of herbs lining her skin. The Crusaders that helped her only nodded her direction and started to pack.
Snow sat up as soon as they left. With utter defeat weighing down her shoulders. She sat close to the fire and stared blankly at the flaming tongues as the Crusaders tore down the camp.
Torryn’s hands undid the knots of his horse. His feet, a weight as heavy as the world, drag him as he walked away from her. Aragon’s orders will not be defied twice tonight.
He clenched his fist and surrendered to the thought that he was a crude fighter. His actions were all over the place. He simply won his battles with dominance and aggression. He actually thought he was good at this. Torryn shook his head as the woods engulfed him. Not a flicker from Snow’s fire was in sight.
There was only the sound of the wind, hooves on damp ground and his heart. It ached for her. Torryn could not stand to be parted from her again. Before guilt consumed him, Aragon emerged from the trail of wolves. A hooded wolf stood beside him.
“Your lack of care wounded my daughter,” a rough low voice made Aragon Grimlake more threatening. Torryn cowered before him, his submission was shameful.
“I was --
“Surrender your horse, leave enough food with you,” The Grimlake alpha interrupted him before, he could continue. Torryn was confused.
The hooded wolf stepped towards him and held out a pale slender hand.
“Protect her,” The expression on Aragon’s face softened, “Stay with her until the threats in Burnwood cease. I will send word to you, keep hidden until then.”
He bit his lip and savored the sweet sanctuary of being able to see his mate again. Torryn’s chest lifted as he placed the rope on the hooded wolf’s hands. There was something off about her.
Torryn sensed a familiar energy, and only guessed.
“Margaux,” Torryn nodded his head towards the hooded wolf. The wolf had his back towards Torryn when he spoke. The wolf paused for a little while and soon slowly faced him once more, strands of loose dark hair, emerging from the thick cotton.
With one flick of her hand, Margaux’s hood landed on her shoulders. From the shadows, he saw her, sharp jaw chiseled by the moonlight and a scar bantered across her face.
Despite the thickened flesh, Margaux remained beautiful, a reflection of Snow almost.
“Torryn,” Margaux replied, nodding her head towards him, “you flatter me.”
And we’re back! 😂
I’m open to questions, complaints and protests. By all means, leave a comment. 😂
Congratulations! You got this far. It won’t be long before Snow starts to figure out the truth. ❤
Looking forward to the Snow + Torryn time next chapters.
And how the hell... will these two wolves keep each other safe until the chaos dies down in Burnwood. Ugh.