25 - Sink
CHAPTER 25 - SINK
She knew something all of them didn’t.
Snow would close her eyes, shielding the dry green globes from the flickering light. Her eyes burned. All she could do was blink as often as she could. She had stared too long at the fading fire again.
Every time her eyes succumbed to the darkness, memories of her recent prey, Stella, surfaced. They weren’t in order rather random. The visions were flashes faster than lightning, but the weight of Stella’s heart pushed Snow further down. The pull of the memory was so strong it’s as if she lived it herself. The more these memories submersed itself into her mind, the more she looked at the world through Stella’s eyes.
It looked like the life of Rogues weren’t as hateful and as dark as she thought. Stella had her good days.
She was raised in a small village nestled beside a mountain. Her parents were farmers who tilled the land and grew crops, half of which they’d give to the community warehouse in the center of their village. It was for families who could not yet provide for their own food. Stella’s profound job at the age of eighteen was to deliver baskets of corn to the warehouse, have it registered under her parents name and return back home.
It was a life farm from crime and bloodshed. And as Snow reached the end of the trail of her memories, the darkest of stories began to reveal itself. Though Snow did not know how she came about this life, Stella never changed. Her love for her family stayed strong until the moment she died.
At the age of nineteen, Stella was sold to a rich family at the foot of the mountain. Her prime years of childbirth was among them, and her family refused a dowry too little to keep the small piece of land they own. Her husband, though gentle and soft spoken, became heavy with hands as soon as the sun sets. It was the time when he’d drink too much rum.
Stella was battered, lost two pregnancies and almost lost her son. Though she succeeded to spare her little boy, the cost was her freedom. One stab in the heart left her husband dead. With the bloody knife on her hand, she surrendered to the chieftain who sent her to a life in Amarkand.
There she’ll have a roof over her head, food in her belly.
Thunder made Snow flinch. The blinding light pierced the sky, almost casting daylight between the trunks. For a brief second, the forest brightened like midday. The wind, unforgiving, hit the forest floor in waves. She squinted to the debris that came with it. The embers fought, growing in brightness as the wind huffed all the more.
Thunder tore through the sky again. Yet, Snow did not even blink her eyes. She grew tired of fear. It did not seem to bother her anymore. She stayed to finish what she started after all. Her eyelids obeyed her as her vision returned to the black. And she was back in Stella’s world.
There was one memory she was trying to relive. Although, she had done it several times she could not seem to return to the same vision. Although she was sure, what the memory unfolded to her. She needed to see it again to believe it.
Stella’s life a few days before it ended revolved around feeding the Mad Wolf beneath the cellars.
The concept of Mad wolves were the stuff of tales, Snow thought. The ones that elders tell little cubs so they race to their beds before sundown. She knew very well because it was what Grimlake elders told her and her sisters. Snow knew as she grew up that Mad Wolves ceased to exist. The last account of one was during the Great War.
These beasts enraged of their wolf detested and left their human side and turned into creatures fueled by pure instinct and hunger for more power. In a brief while, Snow knew too well what they were. Simply through looking through Stella’s eyes.
Stella remained obedient. She would walk to the furthest stairs, down the celars, beneath the point where the sunlight touched. With pounds of fresh deer meat behind her back, she would not even complain. Her son was small for his age. She needed enough coins to buy enough food, a couple of coins more for shoes. But her bare foot would suffice the journey down to where the mad wolf was.
All she had to do was feed it. With a carcass of a whole deer dangling behind her back, the bruises on her shoulders grew calloused each day. In her memory, the one she fed was massive. Its fur torn and dangling like rotting flesh from its back. Its mouth studded with overgrown fangs that glistened in the frothing saliva from its lips.
The world beneath the cellars was not to be spoken of the moment she returns to her cell. There beneath the ground lay arrays of prison like chasms holding within it a mad wolf each. She would always know when they stairway would come near when the chains banging against the steel bars and solid stone would be audible. It was the work of a very wealthy man who wanted to breed mad wolves, but for the reason Stella knew nothing of.
Her only task was to bring it food. And everyday it was the same. Although she would often forget, in few occasions she would bring the beast something else.
There beneath the ground where chains and growls deafened her stood Helion’s Wall. Named after the chieftain of Amarkand, what little she could see of the wall stretched out as far as the fire from the torches allowed it. There, a portrait of offenders framed in wood hanged against the aged stone. Underneath each portrait was their name, their offense and bellow it hooks of their garments, strands of their hair, fabrics of their clothing, grossly anything that could hold their smell.
Stella was to bring a garment and let the mad wolf smell it right before it feasts on bone, blood and flesh.
Snow rubbed her eyes, her temples throbbing with another blow of thunder. Still, she could not believe what she discovered tucked away in Stella’s memory.
Everyday Stella would bring to the mad wolf, a worn out cloak that belonged to Dimitri Burnwood. He was a charged offender for slaughtering innocent Rogues beyond the territory.
Her cold hands clenched her stomach. Though, Snow hasn’t eaten anything she felt like she could throw up the world, her insides included. Beside Dimitri’s portrait was that or Torryn’s.
For whatever dream that her mind made up of a Burnwood Alpha whom she married, Torryn’s face, his eyes, his lips, the arch of his brow and the beautiful crease on his forehead above it was identical to that hidden in Stella’s memory. It gave her hope. Somehow, Torryn is real.
And, Snow needed more of it.
Although, her father may have not understood why she set the Rogue cub free, it was something she had to do. It wouldn’t be long before they come for her. She was sure to leave the cub her scent. A strand of fabric from her tunic wrapping the young Rogue’s wounds was a suitable vehicle.
She knew something all of them didn’t.
She needed more memories. Slowly, she’ll find out the truth herself. She was close by, the Rogues only needed to find her. The task of retrieving the memories would be easy.
She rubbed her hands above the dying embers and waited for her plan to unfold. Without the Crusaders nearby, she was not compelled to hold back.
Her heart grew restless, it beat a riot beneath her chest. And as her hair rustled beneath the wind, another bolt of lighting has not even made her blink twice. If it takes hundreds of lives to lead her back to the truth, she would might as kill through the remaining days of her life.
Snow’s lips curled up as she sensed a dominating energy. A strong stench of blood and rotting flesh came with the huff of wind and she knew her enemies were close. And slowly she felt her fingertips tingle.
The void responded to her call. And the air, though thick with dominating energy, rippled with the gravity of her void. Yet, she wasn’t afraid. Snow was rather thrilled. For the first time, her void gave her comfort. Despite feeling ecstatic, she was uneasy to the lightness of her shoulders. It was odd how she moved effortlessly, how it was easy to breathe despite the overpowering energy of those that pursue her.
Lightning struck again.
And in fragments of seconds, the forest appeared bright. There, from her periphery, shadows emerged from her line of sight. Surrounding her, overpowering her, they came to kill.
Their intentions were simple. They deemed to finish their task as fast as they can. It was six of them and one of her. Already in their wolf forms they marched into the makeshift shelter, where Snow still sore and cold cradled her bleeding wound.
Snow stood slowly. One firm hand on her bow another reaching for her arrow. This made her enemies angry. They scowled, surrounding her, consuming her with a heavy pull of their energy. It almost weighed her down. But Snow remained still. With a modulated, firm voice she began to speak.
“I know where you can find Torryn Burnwood,”
The Rogues snapped like an awakening from a trance. The name burned against her lips and heat rose from the depths of her being to the pale skin of her body. And Snow did not know saying his name out loud brought her such confidence, such power.
Now that Torryn’s real, she felt like she can do anything. And so she did.
The lightning provided her little light. But it would suffice. In a split second, she counted her opponents, knew where they stood. She felt them and her eyes confirmed her suspicion.
She was surrounded, just how she wanted it.
Snow did not wait one more moment, as soon as she knew where they were, she let the arrows fly. One. Two. One after the other as fast as lightning. Though her wound stung as she moved, she allowed the burning power from her chest echo through her body.
Her limbs glided to reflex.
The two wolves hit by night lock arrows weakened. They fought it, but as they stumbled on the damp soil, Snow took more arrows and began to hit them, again and again.
The remaining Rogues flung to where she stood. Snow ducked down, the act made her breath hitch. Her wounds were still fresh, but with all the force she can muster, she kicked the hearth of burning coals. This unraveled flickers of orange and yellow. The dust like embers caught the roof of the shelter on fire, as the rest landed on the Rogues too close to her.
And in the darkness beneath storm clouds, her flames brought her portion of the marshland to life. More arrows were nocked in the unyielding string of her bow. The pointed shafts of cypress and iron flew unrelenting, unforgiving. Snow almost heard herself grunt to each release.
On occasions that she missed her target, one firm touch, even a brush on their fur made them fall on all four legs. And sooner than she thought, her void was the only energy she felt amidst the chaos of rain and flame.
Everything seemed to move at a slow pace. Time stood still and as the roof of her makeshift shelter caught on fire, Snow only had one Rogue left to kill.
He was on his back as he shifted back to his human form. He pushed his legs under him, digging deep into the robust clay. His nakedness did not bother her.
She was a man of age. A neatly shaved beard and well kempt hair of gray and white framed his face. Before Snow could finish him, a whistle escaped his lips and in the stillness between marshes and springs of sulfur, the ground began to shake.
Before she could let him finish, an arrow made of iron landed on his head. And like plucking seasoned fruits from their branches, she easily took his life right from his skin.
Memories of the six Rogues began to flood her being. And, as she slouched down to the ground, weak and spent from her kill, an energy bitterly potent and strong emerged from the distance.
As her chest rose and fell, the ground below her feet trembled just as much as she did. It grew stronger, closer. And what’s left of her shelter burned down to the ground. There were enough flames for Snow to witness the massive creature before her.
Thunder came as soon as the lightning did. But Snow did not flinch, her body, then became rock solid. Her vision blurred, flashes of memories blinding her from the mad wolf in front of her. It roared, sending the hair on her nape to stand.
The sheer blow of sound from his mouth made her fall to her back. She braced the blow, her elbows like trembling foundations keeping her upright.
Snow shook the visions away. Clenching reality as tight as she could. She had to deal with this monster first.
Though blinded with memories and countless faces, she felt the beast draw near. One step vibrating through the ground like land plowed in time for spring. The warmth in her chest receded and the cold fingers of fear held her heart.
But before she could scream, a growl low and strong echoed the thunder.
Her vision cleared for a moment just in time for her to see the wolf with fur dark as storm clouds stand in between her and the mad wolf. Her eyes searched. Before she could lose her vision, she scanned the wolf too close to her.
He was a crusader. And on one hind leg a faint mark, a scar-like thickening emerged from his skin. It was a symbol.
The crusader was Five.
And as Five dug his claws deep in the mud, his energy blistered through the wind harshly forcing itself to every breathe. His energy enveloped her, as much as it did the mad wolf. It left her chest feeling hollow. It was a weightless tug of dominance demanding nothing but full surrender. The mad wolf felt it, too.
And as Five growled, the energy flowed in thick waves of vibrato. His voice was low and steady.
The energy crept lower, seeping into the depths of her heart. In response, her body tensed, her entire chest unfolding, her temples pounding.
Snow was not so sure who she feared more, the mad wolf or Five.
His eyes burned red.
There was no time for reason, no time for logic. His mind went blank, clear as the summer sky. As his wolf flowed in waves of power, Torryn stood back and eased his shoulders to the pull of his beast. It took him years to trust the wolf dwelling in his body. Years and years of cultivating that balance between human and wolf.
The woods stood witness. The angst in his voice, the sharp and profound way he moved, how he closed the distance between him and the mad wolf.
It was huge. The beast smelled of death and Torryn wasn’t sure if he looked nor smelled worse. Mad wolves are creatures who do not think. Despite having reached the full potential of their wolves. Their bodies may be bigger, faster, but as they are driven with only animal minds, they move with no purpose, no insight.
And, though it will be tedious to put this beast down, Torryn was up for it.
Now that the rest of the crusaders are miles from here, he didn’t mind holding back his dominance. He didn’t regret it either.
It exhilarated him. The sweet release of his wolf made his chest lighten. Torryn felt free. And what a way to celebrate his freedom. If he did this right. This fight will go straight to the books. He might brag about it to Dimitri in the near future.
But before he could think of any more foolish ideas, Torryn went straight to his task.
His body was only a third of the mad wolf’s yet he was more agile. Leading the beast from Snow, his paws brought him out to the shelter into the darkness of night. Knowing his terrain for the past days brought him the upper hand.
Torryn led the mad wolf to what seemed to be a previously barren river, now with harsh waves of rain and mud from the higher grounds. With the century old dam to his upper left, he could almost hear the angry waves shielded by the worn out rocks. The storm brewed heavy rainfall and risked the camp being washed out by the sheer force of water. The camp was just in time to leave for Burnwood before the flood water drown them all.
The mad wolf caught up to him just as the rocks barricading the body of water fell one by one. One massive claw caught his back and a surge of pain rush through his spine. Blood and saliva warmed his fur. The cold unending rain spreading the warm down to his hinds. Torryn leaps out from his enemies clasp, wielded his fangs and dug the sharp canines on the mad wolf’s neck.
He was panting just as much as the mad wolf did, but the monster was stronger. Not a hundred blows could slow him down.
The mad wolf’s eyes turned red, angst rippled through his growl but Torryn had the rain on his side. He returned to his task despite being slowed down by the open flesh on his back. Soon, his hind legs found the weakest boulder of the dam. Behind it, he could hear the echoes of raging water.
Though the dam was near its downfall, its walls stood smooth with moss and Torryn could not have a better grasp to dislodge the remaining rocks. The beast was drawing near and still the boulder won’t move.
Just as soon as Torryn felt all energy left his limbs. He heard her voice beside him.
“Let me do it,” Snow emerged from the dark a dagger in her hand. She bolted herself up from a weakened branch and searched for the crevice between the rocks.
Torryn’s eyes went back to his predator. He had no idea what force could knock this monster down, but he might as well try.
He gathered all the power in his chest, slowly radiating his dominance down to every strand of fur on his body. A low roar escaped his lips and he swore it was louder than the rain and thunder combined.
Recognizing Torryn’s dominance, the mad wolf ripped his gaze from Snow back to him. And as the monster faced Torryn, it reveled and exalted its own power. And, before both wolves battle each other to the grave. Snow’s voice pierced through the rain.
"Five! High ground! Now --
Before she could finish, a blow of cold, harsh water swept him from his feet and all is surrounded with forest debris and mud. Torryn’s body circled as he shifted, the Crusader armor providing little warmth. His body was a puppet to the current, hitting in crevices of the river with coarse rocks and brittle trunks shielding his every move.
The remaining air on his lungs briefly lifted his face from the water, the hematite mask allowing so little air in. But as he opened his eyes, a wolf emerged with sunlit golden streaks on her mane. Her hinds were embellished with thick mud and as the lightning struck again and again, her green eyes reflected it.
“Snow,” his mouth begged and as soon as he felt his body weigh down, he closed his eyes. And all weakness swallowed him.
Soft lips grazed his. The touch of skin to skin was raw and hungry.
He was breathless, each time his lips touched hers, he felt like his lungs could burst.
As he coughed up, blood tinged fresh water, he curled to his sides, letting more fluid gush out from his mouth. Torryn rubbed his lips, his mask ajar from his face. Though his vision still enveloped in darkness he felt his eyes shot open.
She saw me. Torryn struggled. Fear and panic made him sit up to his waist.
"Five, it’s me,” cold arms steadied him, as Snow’s voice became more audible, “It’s me. You’re okay.”
His hands searched his face. His mask was lifted just to reveal his jaws up to the tip of his nose and as he pulled his armor down his eyes squinted to the orange sky of sunrise. The clouds were gone and with so little light from the waking sun he searched her.
“You’re vow is kept,” Her voice assured him, “I did not see your face.”
And in his arms Torryn cradled her bare hips. Her skin was damp to his still drenched armor and relief slowly eased into him.
But as soon as his heart steadied, his eyes opened stunned and in awe of her naked body beside him.
Just as their eyes met, his heart fueled in riot once again.