26 - Awaken
Her claws dug deep into the tan-gray mud. The scent of sulfur rose with every step. Snow’s wolf shifted just as she realized that Five began to see more than he should.
She was taken aback that Five wasn’t breathing. Snow needed to wake him, and hands were better at helping people up than paws.
The encounter with the Mad wolf took all her strength and as the water from the dam began to rise, they had no choice but to tread to high ground.
The climb up the mountain drained her. With occasional flashes of memory after her recent kill, she wondered how she survived it. She was nauseous, beyond exhausted and cold.
The rain wasn’t on their side.
As the downpour pressed them down even further to the ground, Snow’s body, even her wolf, succumbed to the raoring clouds. Her body shifted from trembling jerks to frozen stillness.
As her fur lay submerged beneath forest murk, another flash of memory surfaced.
It was a haze of blood and screams. The memories of the men she killed, flowed like raging water. The waves crashed unforgiving. Pleading eyes faced her. Visions of torn out flesh, wide open screaming mouths, crackles of snapping bones came to into view.
Her wolf yelped, a cry out out into the woods where Five came running after her. His wolf was as dark as the gray clouds above them. Just as he reached her, she felt him shift, a sudden transition of energy lifted from the air.
“The v-visions will pass,” he was breathless. The cold made him stutter, “it’s easier to handle it, if you shift back.”
His lips were closer to her ear, as he begged, “p-please shift.”
Snow could hear him clearly. The sound made her eyes bolt open. The resemblance of his voice, the airy rumble with every word reminded her of Torryn. It wasn’t just his tone, the way he took a breath before he spoke, nor the roll and slide of his tongue. It was the way he made her feel. And by the sound of his lips, the energy brimming from his skin, he must be the man she married.
As his hand caressed the drenched fur on her back, Snow shifted. Without warning, the ice cold water dripped down her skin. A sharp scream gushed out of her mouth.
Her chest fought the blow of the rain, rising and falling with the waves that her body took it. And no matter how hard she pushed the feeling away, she felt defeated. Her eyes blurred with tears and all emptiness tore out from her chest. Snow’s body now trembled giving way to every cry and every desperate plea she kept for so long.
And for a short while she let herself unravel.
Her body felt beaten. Like the drops of rain felt like stones thrown at her, the drops slamming against her flesh. And all of a sudden she couldn’t breathe. She didn’t fight it rather followed it until she became a frail blossom, waiting to be uprooted from the ground.
Closing her eyes, Snow’s body lay weak. And with every bout of air, she pushed out her lungs, she humbly called on death.
A dark, empty void feasted on her chest. As soon as she felt that she was about to fall into it, strong hands cupped her body, lifting her from the ground.
Snow winced, feeling the skin on her neck burn against the cool rainwater. It’s where Torryn’s mark would have been.
Her eyes squinted shut, but the rain did not cease to knock against the weak lids. The scent of wood and pine filled her lungs. She liked the smell of the woods. And as consciousness slipped from her grasp, Snow dreamt she was back in between the tall trunks with towering greenery above her.
There she called out Torryn’s name.
Worn and spent, his body slammed into wet marble. Moss and overgrowth served a cushion to the sudden fall. His limbs trembled. A mist of white vapor escaped his lips. He found Snow’s wolf shivering beside him.
“We’re here,” he told her.
Torryn knew she couldn’t hear him. He closed his eyes, letting the rain lightly tap his cheeks. His shoulders loosened. And there he lay at peace beside her.
But as quickly as it came, all calmness left him, his thoughts went back to Snow.
He has put her into this suffering. It was an ordeal, the things they’d do to ensure her safety. How he wished that Spring Soltice would pass, so all of this can come to an end. And he’ll be able to be tell her all the things he knew.
The flesh on his back stung against the cold floor. His open skin and whatever may lie beneath it torn from the mad wolf attack remained tender. The wound that used to be raw and fresh, now turned numb. Torryn couldn’t feel anything, even his legs.
The roof above them allowed little rain to reach them. But despite the condition of the old ruin, he was relieved to have found the abandoned fortress.
Margaux did a great deal of telling him where it was. She had to speak of it several times for Torryn to remember. Although the woods against the thick rain resembled nothing of what she described, heading east proved to be a wise decision. Margaux’s patience as short as it was saved them both.
With every strength left in his body, his knee lifted. Slowly he pushed his body up. Snow was pale and cold. She mimicked death, but the rise and fall of her chest reassured him.
Take the spiral staircase behind the west corner. The farthest room from the hallway. If anything happens, both of you must meet me there. Hide your face. Never reveal who you are.
His breath hitched. Torryn could not see her suffer any longer. The deception they forced onto her made his stomach turn. Lies were thrown all over the place with hopes of keeping her safe.
Guilt shot up his spine, and a mass building up his throat brought him to sit. Torryn couldn’t even look at her face.
His submission to the ground gave him enough strength to carry her again. And as her full weight rested on his arms, Torryn noticed a lightness to her. It seemed like she weighed less and less. He gritted his teeth. Before his tears could fall from his lids, he promised her that her pale cheeks will see the sun again and her lips will no longer be a pale white. Her cheeks will soon flush with color and he’ll be by her side.
“You can have all the meat you want, little bird,” he smiled a brief while with pain and guilt dripping from his, “when all this comes to pass. You’ll gain all the life I made you lose.”
And no matter how heavy her load would get, he’d still carry her.
He’ll carry her whole world.
As soon as the rain stopped, she ran with a jar in her hands to the nearest spring. The clay exterior held her grip well enough.
It rained like the whole sky was an ocean. It flowed in harsh waves, waxing and waning. The world beneathe it left with no choice.
The clear sky shall not deceive her. It was a dark gray, almost black at the distance. Peaking steaks of lightning preceded hums of thunder. The next rain fall was close.
Her feet were cold as each pale limb found the path to her destination. Snow knelt in fornt of a clear spring. Drops of fresh water echoed as it began to fill the clay vessel. The weight of her loot strained her shoulders. Her body has never been this weak.
But with so little food that they had, they had to eat in rations until the storm passes. With no where else to go because of the flood and rain, Snow and Five had to make do of what they had. As the lid of the jar brimmed with liquid, she raised it towards her body. Embracing the heavy load, pulling it closer to her body made it easier to carry.
Carefully, as to not waste a single drop, she walked back to their shelter. It’s been three days since she woke. Though her head was light, her body in pain, she had to lend Five a hand.
With the wound on his back still red and swollen, he wasn’t able to do much.
The wound appeared days old. A high fever convinced him that Snow could at least have it stitched. Sap from the river moss along the edges of the open flesh would helped it dry quicker.
The storm brought a sense of normality back in her life. The moment she woke up, all she did was make sure they had enough water to drink and that the rugs and blankets dried beside the fire.
Five hasn’t spoken to her. He’d scavenge the whole morning, searched for firewood and the remaining edible food left.
She was eating again. Jars of pickled root bulb in the cellars sustained them. Barrels of aging wine helped her sleep. A smile softened her face as she lifted it to face the sky.
A patch of clear sky peeked through the woods, revealing the moon beyond the dark gray clouds. Her insides warmed. Finally, the sky is starting to clear up. It was a glorious sight as the moon grew almost full.
Her feet stopped on a brick path. Overgrowth between the crevices licked the skin of her feet like claws of reality pulling her back. Sudden panic almost made her lose her grip.
“Spring solstice,” pale lips parted.
The wind tore through the branches in reply. It swerved the growing curls of brown, almost touching her shoulders. The cold breeze turned her breath to mist. Fear shot through her eyes with the sudden realization.
They weren’t close to a pledged territory. Once the flood and storm clear before full moon, both of them will be hunted down.
But the flood water is still too deep.
She desperately assured herself. Snow wasn’t sure why she was trembling.
Was it because of fear? Or the cold.
Another huff of mist rolled out from her lips. Her fingers turning solid as she laid the vase safely down the grass. It was a long time ago since she felt this biting cold.
As her breathing paced, she rested her hand on her chest. There fingers cold and shivering brushed her skin.
She circled, scanning the woods. Seaking the eyes who made her feel like she was being watched.
A branch snapped behind her. The hair on her nape stood as she turned to face it. In broad daylight, she saw the entirety of the creature before her.
The Sallow behaved in ways similar to the first time she saw it.
Its eyes, pitch black almonds, peeked towards her in submission. Walking on all its limbs, with skin devoid of fur, the bluish vessels showed beneath its skin. Such sight should make her scream and run. But as it bowed its head before her with ears sharp and pointed towards its back, Snow is taken back to that night she lost everything.
“You’re real.” She said.
Snow could not believe such creature existed. Having seen one in the distant corners of her memory.
Her first kill.
She was convinced that all of it wasn't real or so they said it was.
The creature reduced the distance between them.
She wasn’t certain why it stood in submission before her. Its claws dug into the ground. The agitation showing through its stance. Scar marks red, but already scarring surrounded its body. Snow stepped back as it writhed its head back and forth towards her.
Startled, she took another step back. Her foot stumbled into the clay jar. She fell down brick path. With her back on the cold ground and the jar of water spilling water on her cloak.
Snow shielded her face as the creature came closer.
The sight was appalling, but she sensed no aggression from the Sallow. She squinted her eyes just as its face was mere inches towards hers. It sniffed her and did nothing more. Clouds of cold air kissed the palm of her hand.
She slowly peeled her eyes open. The creature was still before her bowing its head. So, Snow did the unimaginable.
A pale hand cold and trembling reached out towards the Sallow. Its pitch black eyes closely watching the extended palm. Snow could not bare to watch so shut her eyes and eased her hand.
Just as she stopped reaching, her fingers tingled to what felt like solid ice.
Without warning, a strong pull of energy flowed through her. It made her mouth gape. It was like lightning coursing through her maker her bolt her eyes wide open.
Snow expected to see the treetops, a silhouette of branches against the white blinding sky above her.
Blinking her eyes just as she’s certain they were open, she paused to stare into the farthest light she could see. And began to bask, in a world through someone else’s eyes.
There must be no way around the flood. Margaux should have been here by now.
Torryn stood guard most days to ease his anxiousness. He scouted where the water touched around the ruin of the abandoned wolf house. He traced the banks of flood water and saw that it was receding fast. Scanning the vicinity, no trace of the rogue wolves were found. Except for a few rusted spears and worn out hunting cloaks, no other sign of life was found.
Torryn did all this to ease his mind. Each day he woke up with the fear that there’d be no water left separating them from the mainland. And they’d both be in danger once again.
Each day he’d look out into the sky fearing the sight of a full moon.
It’s a short three days.
He sighed as he opened another glass jar of pickled bulbs. He stoked the fire, keeping the room warm before she returned. Embers from the coal glowed a flaming sunset with a few huffs of smoke emerging from it.
Margaux stacked supplies in a hidden compartment across them. Making sure to keep slabs of the Elder tree wood that held fire without much smoke. There kept loaves of fermented sour bread, wool blankets that must have smelled of Grimlake.
Snow remained unsuspecting. She was always silent, only the rain and wind talked through the walls of limestone.
Through the mask he still wore, he watched her closely. Despite what happened, she looked more of herself. From the moment she first saw her up to now, strands of hair would always fall down her face. And, she wouldn’t even bother to brush it aside. Green eyes peeked through the loose spiral strands. Her gaze soft and innocent.
Torryn pulled a strip of cloth and brought himself to stand, He walked passed the toppled bookshelves, tattered leather furniture, broken marbled figures and other remains of what seemed to be an old drawing room. With the ceiling still intact with only a few cracks, water would only drip in lazy droplets down the floor.
He passed the cold dampen hallways, walking through walls that were green with moss and overgrowth. Roots hung like limping strands before him, he tucked his head and proceeded down the stairs. Another set of steps down the lowest parts of the ruin hid a submerged level where clear water rippled through the walls. Steam danced above the warm liquid, bubbles and streaks of water marked the spring at the far side.
He unhooked the metal locks of his armor, settled on the dry ground beside his feet. He loosened his belt, unclasped the metal straps to his boots and walked into the water.
The heat coursing through his skin could almost burn him. But as his body settled into the gnawing warmth, his body relaxed.
He used the strip of cloth and carefully rubbed where his back stung. He gasped as he pulled against a stitch, but eventually regained his calm.
He was exhausted. Torryn grew tired of lying. He could not speak to her. Could not even comfort her. The curves of her face remained serene still, but he felt her. He knew being in the shadows wasn’t easy.
Snow is always so accepting, so easily swayed, so kind. She did not deserve to be treated this way.
But if he told her the truth, she would not be able to bear it.
Using the cloth to dampen his face, he sighed against the warm wet fabric and allowed his eyes to rest against the heat. Blisters on his neck stung. It marked where his mask held its place. He closed his eyes and prayed for Margaux’s return.
There’s a sleeping lacquer hidden among the loaves of bread. It is sealed and the vial must be broken to be used. Place a few drops in her water and she’ll fall into a deep sleep. I’ll fetch her and bring her home.
“Little bird,” he raised his face, not letting the tears fall down his cheeks, “I’ll keep you safe.”
It will be difficult from now on. She’s wise. Snow will soon discover that it’s him.
The flood water around them receded swiftly each day. Soon, Margaux will come for her. He closed his eyes and let the idea settle in his chest. He walked out of the water. Strapping his armor back against his wet skin.
He walked back to the room where the coals grew red. Before he entered, he stopped by the hidden compartment, where the loaves of bread tucked in a chest under soiled curtains. There he sought for the vial of sleeping lacquer.
A haze of white light made her blink fast.
Blurred outlines of fog and tree trunks, rocks and soil in a mix of visions so vivid and sharp flashed before her. The moon, a shining beacon, full and bright stood alone in the starlit sky.
Slowly she breathed in a forceful pull shocked her body in icy water. The water engulfed her, she felt the liquid weigh her limbs down. The sound of broken crackling ice filled her ears. And as her eyes emerged from the water, the moon’s round perfect edges wobbled and turned beneath the ripples of lake water. She reached out into the surface where the light touched.
It was blinding. Snow squinted her eyes and as she slowly opened them, she was somewhere else.
It was dark, but warmer than the water was. Instead of seeing anything, nor hearing anything, her lips felt warm drops that smelled of iron. The liquid oozed down her tongue, down her throat until she swallowed.
The the sounds of waves, the rustle of the wind, even the crickets, and the crackle of firewood, Snow heard them all at once. Her chest expanded, her throat that smelled of blood opened to let air in. She breathed hard, a glutton for the cool wind coursing through her lungs.
Her lips parted and closed. Her tongue gliding and the taste of blood startled her.
“Stand,” A woman’s voice spoke beside her.
A chill blew through her nape. She did as she’s told. Snow slowly opened her eyes and was immersed in a hue of yellow. The candles lit the room well enough, but beyond the shadows she could still see.
“Your eyes will need no light.” The voice made her shudder, “bask in your reflection.”
Her body moved even if she did not will it too. Her limbs raised like a puppet, her legs pushing her up. She stood up straight but wasn’t able to. She lost her balance, falling face first from where she stood. But before her head could hit the ground, she saw limbs, pale and slender halting her fall.
Snow saw hands that resembled of wolves. There were no fur, no claws, only naked pale skin. She raised her head and saw the reflection before her.
She stared at the mirror long and hard. The Sallow she saw a while ago stood in front of her. Her breathing paired the rise and fall of its chest. But it wasn’t the creature’s reflection she was most drawn to.
Beside her a fair woman with hair as dark as night that spanned her back, down her feet stood.
“I have seen you worship me,” she spoke, “and because of it I brought you favor. Because of this, wolven men grew envious of you. So they threw you into the frozen river to die.”
Her eyes a pitch black reflected a glare of light. She stared at the Sallow through the mirror. Her expressions lifeless and stern. Porcelain skin reflected not one shade of gray. No shadow rested against it.
“I pulled you out knowing you do not deserve your death, but your heart has stopped long before I could find you.” She raised her palm, revealing a cut that dripped of blood.
“I have turned you into a Sallow instead by letting your lifeless body taste druid blood. Though, I cannot give you life, I can hide you from death.”
Anne of the North. Druid of death.
Is this what you want to show me?
Just as she thought of the words, Snow’s eyes tore from the darkness, a blinding light casts a haze.
Now, she was seeing a different vision.
Flashes of lightning pierced the sky. The storm tested the might of tree trunks. The forest floor turned into an ocean of soft clay.
The Sallow’s limbs pierced the rain and darkness, passing through fallen bodies of forestry. A scream echoed along with thunder. The Sallow though heartless and cold felt its body pulse. His master needs him. Shrieks and cries became louder as the creature drenched in forest filth reached the tower’s peak.
Just as he arrived, the woman with hair as dark as night, lay breathless on the floor. Her face what was once a solid lifeless porcelain now glistened with sweat. She sobbed a soft cry with every breathe. Her serene face now stormed an emotion of deep sadness. She bit her lip as the footsteps of the Sallow hushed her pleas.
Leaning against the wall, she pulled herself up to sit. Her hands trembling, but swiftly pulled out something from blood soiled sheets.
A cry like a cub’s howl echoed through the walls. Suckling breaths between high pitched wails reduced the thunder into a hum.
The woman’s face, though a reflection of pain and exhaustion softened. A smile replaced the gaping lips. Her eyes glistening bright as she pulled the infant close.
“My heart,” She smiled as she bowed her head down to the weeping child.
Tears flowed down her eyes, letting her cheek rest against its small chest. The woman’s hands held small hands and kissed them one by one. The palms became white as Snow. Its skin now washed out a pale white. If not for the pink of her lips and flush of her cheeks, the baby looked white as death.
And as small hands writhed its own rhythm clasping the fingers of her mother, a white colorless flame enveloped it.
“Now your hands can wield me,” The woman chuckled, “How undeserving this world is to have you.”
Snow’s eyes now overwhelmed by what she had witnessed closed and burnt. But before she lost all strength she asked it.
The child. Where is he now?
The Sallow, heeding her command, pulled Snow’s vision from the tower. She blinked until she visions became clear, a dusty gray now a vivid image.
The creature now staring into a lush green woodland rested itself behind the blades of tall grass. The forest smelled of morning dew, wild lilies and hints of mint. The colors of the forest were a vibrant spring. Though remnants of heavy rainfall showed. Broken twigs and fallen leaves did not stain the forest’s beauty. The curious creature sniffed and followed the pulling scent. Scattered rocks and rubble flashed before her eyes.
Then she realized that the Sallow was helping her see. Like her sould can occupy it like a vessel and see with its eyes. Even all its visions, all that life has let it pass.
It was letting her see.
Show me the child.
She grew impatient. The creature obeyed and quickened its steps. It stopped when one of its claws stepped on a fallen branch. The crackle made the creature flinch. It raised its eyes showing Snow its answer.
Stunned and lost for words, Snow just watched the girl standing before her. She was thin and pale, shadows cast a dull cast below her eyes.
Startled and confused, the girl stood still on the brick pathway, her jar of water on the ground behind her.
Pale cheeks peeked through dark brown curls. The frizzy tips just above her shoulders. Green eyes flickered as she spoke.
Through the Sallows eyes, she saw herself in the woods, the towering ruins of the old wolf house peaking behind her.
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