Sanctum of Snow and Blood
A fight for survival
The yells of the people sound like a thousand bees buzzing around me. I flail through the crowd. Hands shoot forward from every angle, fingers snake around my arms and legs. Someone has grabbed a hold of my ankle. I kick, maybe they will let go? My heartbeat hammers, almost as if my heart is about to abandon me, spring from my chest and flee down a nearby alley. I can’t breathe, I can’t. It feels like swimming, but the water is not clear. It’s like swimming in ink at the dead of night, and I’m drowning. Someone pulls at my clothes, the ground gets nearer and then I’m laying down, a stone lodges itself into my side. It digs into a rib, tears at my skin. I raise my head - only slightly - it's heavy, like lifting a sack of bricks. I crack an eye open, only just a sliver. The light dims as people gather around me. The voices sliver their way in and out of my ears, tangling and interchanging. Only fragments slip through. A sharp pain blooms my stomach, my sight flickers and coughs ripple through me as I hunch in on myself. One of the villagers is laughing, a rumble from deep within his chest. It sounds like a threat.
“Kick her! – must be punished – an abomination – traitor – spy from Ildres!”I fight to keep my head up, to keep my eyes open. Another kick hits my stomach and a cry rips itself from my throat. This time the crowd cheers him on. Luka. Bile rises in my throat, I try to swallow, to force it back down, but it’s already a lost fight. They all know now. They know and now they will not rest before my head is on a spike on the town walls, for all to see. Jumbled, panicked thoughts fly through my mind; I retch up my breakfast on the dirt-road beneath. The smell hits my nose as a disgusted mumble swerves through the crowd. My throat burns as I gasp for air. Cracking my eyes open is a challenge and when I force them open, dots dance all around me. His eyes meet mine, the brown no longer looks warm to me as it used to. Danger echoes through my thoughts. Stones dig into the palms of my hands, I claw at them, but I don't get anywhere. He shoots me a wicked grin as his boot makes contact with my jaw. A loud crack rings through the air, my entire head throbs. I might just throw up again. I put my hand on the ground in front of me, the green of my skin stands out amongst the fair-skinned villagers. Blotches of light skin litter my complexion, it switches back and forth crashing against each other like waves. Almost as if it has its own life. I prop myself up on the other elbow. Maybe I can get away. The world tilts as I raise myself up, little by little. A scream tears out of me; my back burns as a kick send me tumbling down, my hands slip and the world slows as I head for the ground, facefirst. It’s a challenge to even breathe. The small puffs of air I do manage to get out blows up the dust from the road and my ribs throb. I can't help but cough. Dry hands grab my aching jaw and yank my head to the side. Then another hand meets my cheek and the slap echoes between the small houses. Tears spill over my cheeks and I suck in a breath of air, adrenaline rushes through my veins and I open my eyes. A sneer greets me. “You’ll get what you deserve, you half-breed scum” Luka spits out the sentence like it is poison on his lips. The words nearly sting more than the pulsing pain in my jaw. Heat rises within me; my hands shake from the anger and embarrassment. I bare my fangs at him, and he stumbles back slightly, his expression falters. Some of the fire dims in his eyes and he looks shaken, but the wicked smile grows back on his face in record time. His eyes flicker from my face and to something behind me, then I feel a sharp pain on my skull. The villagers roar as I head for the ground once again. Luka’s face blurs; his mouth is moving. My brows furrow slightly - why is there not any sound? My face hit the gravel before my eyes shut completely.
━▲━A sudden breath tears into my lungs. I gasp as I shoot up from where I'm lying, eyes flying wide open. Flashes of angry screaming humans pop through my mind. It’s quiet, and I can hardly see. I squeeze my eyes shut and rub them one after the other with the back of my hand. My head is pounding. This time, the room I’m in doesn’t appear blurry. It’s cramped, and it smells like a wet cellar. There’s a heavy dark oak door in front of me. I’m on a hard, wooden bench. It’s placed against one of the stone walls. The only source of light is a couple of sunrays shining in through a tiny, bar-covered window to my left. Where am I? My head goes woozy as I push myself up. My entire body aches and I groan as the pain hits me with full force. Black spots dance in front of me as I try and make sense of everything. I clear my throat; it’s sore and dry as I try to swallow. It feels like I’ve munched down the entirety of the southern desert. Perhaps gurgled with a bit of vomit as well. It looks like a cell and that's exactly the one thing which would make sense. My heart is racing, I don’t recall how I even got here. I must have fainted. But how long have I been out for? Faint red lines show on my ankle, I’m bleeding. I reach out to press my fingers against it. Still wet. Maybe I’d been out for a couple of minutes, maybe even close to an hour. “H-Hello?” I call out, my voice cracks and bounces off the walls in the small room. Nothing seems to be happening on the other side of the wooden door. The noise of turmoil can be heard outside the window though, it’s getting louder. No one answers me. One foot after the other, I place a hand to support myself. My knees buckle and I react without thinking; my hand shoots out to grab onto a protruding stone from the wall and I stay upright my clinging onto it. I grunt with every step I take towards the window. There’s grass and gravel outside; and a lot of feet. Yelling. Someone is yelling. “Why don’t we just kill her now, eh? I reckon I can finish her right here.” A heavy-set man is shouting and grunting while some guards cling on to him. Three men are struggling, one on each arm and one around his stomach. He can’t reach all the way around though. “Why are you letting that thing rest!” “I promise you all, she’s one of them damn spies from Ildres!” He raises his voice and whips his head around to look at some of the on-lookers that have gathered. “I bet she’s sent back information about all of you lot to the Iwachi, none of you’s safe, you hear me!” A crowd has gathered by now, they’re all staring wide-eyed at the crazed man. He twists and turns in the guards hold, trying to snake his way out of their tight grip. I hold on to one of the bars to support myself. Green and clawed and very much not human. I draw back my hand, almost as if I’ve been burned. A woman looks me in the eyes as I tear my gaze from my hand. Her eyes are wide, and her face is frozen, her eyebrows drawn down. But she doesn’t look angry. No, she looks scared. A loud bang echoes through the cell, I flinch and throw myself down with my arms caged over my head for protection. Footsteps. Boots scuffle along the worn stone floor; it’s only one person. I peek out from behind my arms, expecting a guard but- “Come on Amelia,” her voice is hushed and hurried, she grabs my wrist and pulls. “Get up!” Her eyes are wild and when she pulls me up from the floor, I let myself be pulled along behind the tiny, young woman. Dana Famir, the younger sister of Luka Famir. They’re both from the same neighbourhood as me. She drags me through the door and out into the cramped and dark hallway. My eyes go wide as I realise that we’re in the basement of the town-jail. “Where are you- where are we going?” I whisper, but she only shushes me as she quickens her pace. She's determined to hold onto my wrist, her curly black hair whips around her as she looks over her shoulder and then into the hall on the right-hand side. I stumble along and we reach the stairs. “Hurry, would you?” she almost sneers at me, but she doesn’t look at me while tossing the command my way. We reach the ground floor, but no one is here. There’s usually a handful of guards but for some reason, it’s empty. We step around the nearby desk and only then does she let go of my arm. There’s a handprint on it from her holding on so tight. I rub my aching wrist and turn to walk after her when something catches my eye. It’s a guard. He’s passed out on the floor behind the desk, next to him is what seems to be – or – no, yeah it is – it’s the pieces of a chair. I whip my head to look at Dana, but she’s already off and heading straight for the back door, she doesn’t even glance in the guard’s direction. Did she assault the jail-guard with a chair? “Look we don’t have much time” Dana starts, “the other guards are out holding back old man D’Lachen” The commotion is still happening in the front, I can faintly hear D’Lachen’s yells. Dana drags me out into the alley, then along another road. It’s all back roads and alleys, all quiet at this time of day. She stops abruptly a few minutes after, I stumble and almost smack into her back. “I don’t mean to be rude, but could you maybe get a hold of…” Dana looks at me, an eyebrow raised as she waves her hands up and down in the air in front of me, “… that.” Oh yeah, I’m still green. She looks at me as if she expects something, her brown eyes have an intense shine to them. Her chest is rising and falling quickly, and she has a faint blush on her cheeks from all the power-walking we’ve just done, though it’s hardly showing on her darker complexion. She raises an eyebrow at me – Oh, I’m staring. I shake my head as I try to focus enough to get some words out. “I- it’s hard to control when I’m emotional?” I trail off, I’m not sure what to say. She sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose and then she throws a glance over her shoulder. The alley behind her is dirty and narrow, litter is spread around the edges in piles resembling those snow make when the howling winter wind forces it into every nook and cranny. The buildings look worn, vines crawl up and down the walls, weaving between each other and over bare spots and cracks in the paint. There’s laundry hanging on several wires that are suspended between the windows on each side. A mischievous grin blooms on Dana's face as she eyes the fabrics and then me, she clicks her tongue loudly. “What?” I ask, my eyes are wide as I say the word carefully. “Grab that, will you?” Dana points at what's seemingly a table cloth. What does she need that for? “Look, getting a tall Iwachi-looking girl out of Kellan in broad daylight is nearly impossible.” Out of Kellan? I shake my head and look at her. “Stop furrowing your brows at me, do you want to die or what?” With her arms crossed and an eyebrow raised, she shoots me a look that tells me she knows she's right. I shake my head again. It would definitely be in my best interest to not die. “Great!” she exclaims as she throws her hands up in the air. “Then be a darling and grab the bloody piece of fabric, will you?” She says, pointing a finger at the table cloth. We drape it over me as if it was a cape and somehow make it to the outskirts of town. I limp most of the way, trying to hold back groans and whimpers as I accidentally brush against my full-blooming bruises. Dana isn’t saying much, only the occasional direction, some muttering or a sigh here and there. Some people stare; my heartbeat quickens whenever someone glances in our direction for more than a second. We do look strange though, I’ll give them that. We must be a peculiar sight. A tall person with a ratty old piece of cloth thrown over their head; no arms insight and ripped, bloody clothes. As well as a small southern looking girl - which is rare enough in itself in Kellan - but the way she’s muttering under her breath would throw anyone off. A woman glares at Dana and mutters something before scattering off as fast as her feet can take her. I only catch one word though: curse. For some reason, there are still some northern people who believe that the shrines in the south still work. Some theorize that the leaders of Wodila’hei send up magic-users to take over Edrea. That’s just ridiculous though; the world hasn’t seen a single magic-user in over a hundred years. Dana doesn’t notice the weird elderly lady; she’s walking a few steps ahead of me, pushing herself up on her tippy toes to look over the heads of the few people in front of us. I want to ask her what’s going on, but I think it's better to stay silent. I do my best to stay close behind her as she zigzags her way through the streets and the people. She leads us to a deserted road and a farm on the outskirts of town. “Wait here, don’t draw attention alright?” Dana turns towards the farm. I grab her arm, her eyes shoot to meet mine, they’re wide and awaiting. My arm is still green. I draw my hand back under the table cloth. “Sorry,” I say, “I just – where are you going?” “We need food and water if we want to survive a long trip.” I linger as she walks off in the direction of the main house, she sets running the last part of the way there. Her statement plays through my mind, “we” replays the most though. No one else is on the gravel road. A small bit of the tension trapped in my shoulders bleeds out, finally, I can take off the table cloth and stretch my arms. But if someone comes, I shouldn’t be standing here. There’s a small area of trees on the other side of the road. It’s quite overgrown, there are bushes and low hanging trees. Tall grass. I stumble towards it, it’s ideal for hiding. Shallow breaths puff out of me as I crouch behind a bush. The world tilts slightly as I stumble and land on my hip and I flinch. At least I’m out of sight. Birds fly by, they’re chirping. Small sounds come from all around me. My hands shake as I reach for a strand of grass, my claws are still there. They won’t go away unless I calm down, my heart still pumps and I fiddle with my claws. My arms are wrapped around my legs in an attempt to look smaller, just in case. “Amelia?!” Dana’s shout tears my eyes off the grass in my hands. She has her arms full off bread and what looks to be a water skin. Her eyes dash around, and her voice jumps as she shouts my name again. “Over here!” She twirls around and her gaze turns sour as she spots my hand waving in the air. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” She mutters as she takes a few steps towards my hide-out bush. “Get up, we’re going now, no time to waste.” Before I’m on my feet, she’s already walked off in the opposite direction of the town. Pain shoots through my legs as I run slightly to catch up, gripping onto my disguise as the wind nearly blows the ratty fabric off my head. “About that – uhm – where are we going?” I pant out as I slow down beside her. Without looking at me, she smacks some bread against my stomach, I fumble as I try not to drop it. “And why are you coming?” “I’m coming because I just helped an actual half-breed escape its cell” Dana sneers, I flinch. “And I don’t know if you recall, but that was right after I had assaulted a prison guard.” I mutter a low okay as she slows down a bit, I copy her pace. I’m not sure where we’re going, and the road doesn’t look familiar at all. We must be on the road which heads north, but I could be wrong. I’ve only ever taken the east road out of Kellan, that’s the one that takes you to the capital city of Edrea. “I don’t understand why you would risk everything to save me,” I turn my head right and look at her, she makes a point of not looking back at me though. Her eyes are transfixed on something ahead of her. The only thing there is the road and some trees though. “Trust me, I don’t understand it either” she mutters as she glances at me. Her eyebrows are knitted close together and she’s frowning, but she looks away again, her head hanging slightly. I let the conversation die out, she’s not giving me any answers. We walk in silence for what feels like hours, the sun is closing in on the horizon and the skies are painted in a pleasant array of hues. Orange, pink and purple gradients adorn the sky, the clouds almost look black in contrast. Dana is walking ahead of me by a few meters as if she doesn’t want to be seen with me, but by now we’ve been in the forest for hours, there's no one else here. The forest is thick and dark, the trees here have low hanging leaves. Shadow crawls along the grass, warping and everchanging as the sunlight disappears behind the treetops. Threatening figures jump at me from all angles, it almost feels like the trees are watching us. Or maybe something else is. Leaves crunch under my feet as I speed up, looking over my shoulder every few seconds just to be sure that we’re alone. Dana is too far away for my comfort, she shoots me a look when I appear beside her. “I think someone might be watching us” I explain. She lets out a huff as she rolls her eyes, muttering something along the lines of me being a scaredy cat and paranoid. “I’m not paranoid!” I insist. The hairs on my neck stand up and I look behind me again, but there’s nothing there. “What? Did you see something?” Dana asks as she pushes aside a branch that’s in our way. The path here is narrow and I pull back to let her pass first. “No, I haven’t seen anything but-“ Dana let’s go of the branch and it whammies me right in the stomach. I let out a small oof, Dana looks back at me and snorts lightly under her breath when she sees me toppled over. I push back the branch and set after her, sighing and shaking my head. “Heard something?” “No, but-“ “So what seems to be the problem then?” “I haven’t actually seen or heard anything-“ I duck to avoid other low hanging branches as I follow Dana, “but my gut is telling me that something’s wrong.” I let go of the branch that attacked my stomach; the leaves rustle as a slight breeze blows its way past us. “Right now, I’d listen to that gut-feeling. I always detect more when I’m – you know – like this” “What? When you’re big, green and have yellow eyes?” Dana says, her tone is off. She doesn’t sound hostile, it’s hard to pinpoint but she sounds guarded. “Yes, exactly,” I mutter. The atmosphere between us has taken a turn for the worse and my mind clouds with worry and doubt. The mention of my whole situation seemed to unnerve her, which doesn’t make sense. At least it doesn’t make sense after she risked her neck to break me out of jail. It wasn’t just from any jail either because she helped me escape from the one her parents and brother help run. I don't say anything else, and neither does she. My fingers tap against my right arm as we continue to walk, ducking under and jumping over various obstacles. Big mossy stones start appearing more. They’re slippery and all-around a health-hazard, at least that’s what I jokingly say to Dana after I manage to down myself after stepping on one. She doesn’t laugh though, only nods and continues walking, leaving me to sit on the cold, damp ground. The back of my pant legs are littered with small pieces of grass and bugs, but Dana is already disappearing between the trees. I give chase, panting as I run after her. It hurts to heave in the air as I do right now, even my ribs are sore after the day I’ve had. “We should probably find a place to sleep.” The words stumble out of me almost as I breathe in shallow breaths and my face scrunches up, it takes longer to catch my breath than I would like. “I know. There’s a small clearing up ahead.” Dana points directly in front of us, I crane my neck, but I can't see it. If anything, the trees are more crowded. I turn to Dana, but right before I’m about to speak I clamp my mouth shut. She's intimidating and though I’m a head taller than her, it feels like she’s towering over me. But she’s right, we make it to a clearing right as the sun sets. We scramble to find some branches. I pull the out the string that holds the top of my blouse together and we make a tiny tent from that and the table cloth I stole. We both fit in there, though everything below my knees sticks out from the tent. Dana’s back is pressed lightly against mine, she shuffles around quite a bit. A low rumble rips through the silence, my heart thumbs as I push myself up. But then the sound stops, Dana starts mumbling and sighing. Oh. That was a snore. Dana was just snoring. I thump back down on the cold and hard ground, but even as I let sleep overtake me, the hairs on my neck still stand and the feeling of being watched hasn’t left me
━▲━Birdsong weaves its way through the lively forest, I crack my eyes open. I groan in pain as I try and stifle a yawn. I almost forgot everything about yesterday, but the sharp pain from my jaw reminds me. It hurts when I ghost my fingers over it as lightly as I can; it sparks a reaction from my tear ducts, and I wipe at my face before the tears get a chance to run down my cheeks. I try and sit up, but something pins me down by my stomach, it’s heavy and warm. A sleeping Dana. A blush creeps up my neck and my cheeks burn. She’s laying with her arms over me, using both her hands and my stomach as a pillow. I manage to move her away, cradling her head as I lower her to the ground. It’s hard to crawl out from the tiny tent without waking her up. I hold back a groan, I can feel some of my wounds tear as I manoeuvre out. Dana talks to me more while we walk. She even cracks a joke, but something still feels off. My entire body aches with every step I take, but I power through it. We gather some wood throughout the day as we move further into the forest. Much of it is damp, so we leave it in the scorching sunlight to dry. When the sun sets, we’ve already set up our improvised tent, made a small fire to bring us warmth and then we go to sleep. Throughout the day, I haven’t been able to stop looking over my shoulder. Maybe I am just paranoid; at least that’s what I hope.
━▲━I wake up to Dana shaking my shoulder repeatably, I groan and roll over on my stomach. The tent is so small so I end up with half of my body weight on top of Dana's legs. It's barely light outside, the birds are chirping their wakeup songs and I rub my eyes. “Amelia we need to move,” Dana says. Her voice is low and steady and her worry is painted on her face. “I think you might've been onto something – you can hit me with the told you so – My neck has been prickling, we're definitely being watched.” My eyes widen as I look at her. When I take a closer look, she has dark circles under her eyes and her hair is a mess. I probably look just as ruffed up though. Dana leans in close and drops her voice down to a low whisper. “We should get a move on,” she says, eyeing over her shoulder discretely. I look around as well, my stomach churns and I suddenly feel more uneasy than I have the last couple of days. I squint at the trees, but I can’t really make much out. “Don’t look around like that!” Dana hisses, her tone is anything but calm, but her body language is the opposite. She’s smiling at me; a big and brilliant smile, which is utterly unsettling. “Act like nothing is wrong, someone might be watching.” “Also, you’re back to human-looking - or well – mostly.” Dana crawls out and takes down our makeshift tent, humming a bit to herself as she goes along. My entire body feels like it’s humming with adrenaline when I try and eye my arm in a non-incriminating manner, almost as if I’m just examining the dirt on there. I suck in a breath of air, pale skin peeks out from under the dirt and dried blood splotches. My nails are still thick and sharp, but otherwise, I look human. My body aches as I push myself up fro the hard ground and I go to work. I end up packing our limited food supply and the water skin. We trek through the forest, whispering to each other in hushed voices as we go along. The noises from the forest bring paranoia and panic with every snap of a twig and every rustle of leaves. We walk as fast as we can, over and under and through everything that’s in our path. We even wade through a stream, and though my feet are drenching wet, it’s nice to cool off a bit. Dana fills the water skin with the fast running water from the stream, claiming that it’s relatively safe to drink. At least it’s better than no water. “So, um- could you tell me where we’re headed?” I whisper in her direction, breaking the silence between us. I’m panting rather hard but she doesn’t pay it any attention. My side is aching from all the fast-paced walking. I try to mask my shortness of breath though, Dana seems to have no trouble and my ears burn from the rallying sound that escapes me. “Ever heard of Halivaara?” she whispers back. “The frozen wasteland to the north?” I question. The disbelief and confusion I’m feeling shine through in the way I whisper-shout it. “Yes exactly.” She answers, “my parents told me it has some sort of sanctuary in one of its towns” I furrow my brows. I’ve never heard of this so-called sanctuary before. As far as I know, the only ones who live there are the Iwachi outcasts who aren’t even welcome in Ildres. My legs were longer yesterday, and though I’m still slightly taller than Dana, I’m having a hard time keeping up. Dana suddenly stops and I stumble and almost fall over her leg. Before us are a lot of fallen trees all laying over each other, creating a complicated barrier. I groan at the sight of it. Dana is already scouting the area to check if we can take another route nearby. But she comes back with her head down, sighing loudly and shaking her head as she looks at me. “Bloody perfect,” she mutters, “we have to pass over here, seems to be the easiest way.” I turn my head and look at the giant wall-like mess of trees, widening my eyes. I look back and forth from her and the trees a couple of times. She catches my insinuation, huffs and stalks over to the base of the mess. The tree trunks are mossy and muddy, as well as overgrown. Some of the trees have kept growing even after falling and it has created a strange look of tree crowns facing the right way, even though the tree trunk is parallel with the ground. “If anyone of us is going to have a problem with this obstacle-“ Dana says, as she swings a leg over the first trunk and hitches herself up skilfully- “it’s not going to be me.” I set after her, she's already meters above the ground. My foot slips as I step down on a thick trunk. Dana swears at me as I tumble down. A branch saves me as I grip onto it and avoid the muddy ground below me. A twig snaps somewhere close, but Dana is going as steady as ever, no broken branches in sight. Then a sharp intake of air sounds behind me. With a pounding heart and a dry mouth, I whip my head around. Please let it be nothing. But around 20 meters away is a broad-shouldered man in full leather with a crossbow in his hands pointed straight at us; his eyes narrow as he cocks the arrow in place. “Dana get down!” I scream as he fires the arrow, it swerves through the air and it graces the skin on my forearm as I throw myself out of its path. I cradle it as I do something utterly reckless; I run straight at him. He scrambles back and tries to get another arrow ready, but he’s fumbling too much. My heart and head pounds and I head for him, red etch my vision and a deep burning overtakes my skin. It bleeds over with green, taking over my arms and hands. I don’t even acknowledge it, I don’t care. Red etches my vision as my upper lip curls back in a vicious snarl. He finally gets the arrow knocked in place and he takes aim. Dana yells behind me, it steals his attention for only a millisecond. I surge forward and hammer my fist straight into his windpipe. He chokes and I grab his crossbow and I yank it out from his grasp, tossing it behind me forcefully. It lands with a hard thump. I raise my fist again, but he’s faster. My ears ring as the backside of his hand smacks me in the temple. He’s bigger than me, even in my Iwachi form. Dana shouts profanities as I go down, she sounds frantic. I make out a smirk on my attackers scarred face, my head is spinning. He leans over me; his eyes are icy blue and so cold. “Ready to meet your end?” he cackles, his eyes look crazed and I shake as I try and claw my way back. He brings something shiny out from behind him. I squint to try and focus. It’s a knife. Dana is yelling louder now, but he doesn’t pay attention to her anymore. “This really was easy money,” he says as he leans down over me. With a raised head I try to look brave, but I know he can hear my breath hitch and see the frantic rising and falling of my chest. He leans in close. The cold, sharp metal of the blade rests on my throat. “Pleasure doing business with you.” My chest tightens and I squeeze my eyes shut as the cold metal is pressed harder against my skin. The blade pierces, it burns and throbs all at the same time. Warm tears trickle down and I fight the need to breathe. But even though I worry about me, I worry about Dana more. He’s chuckling above me but then a whistle sounds and he slumps over me, an elbow in my stomach and warm liquid dripping on my face. When I crack an eye open, I'm face to face with the pale skin of his neck. It’s dripping dark crimson blood from where an arrow has pierced through his wind-pipe; he splutters as he takes in rallying breaths of air. Bile rises in my throat at the sight and I throw him off me as I turn my head to puke. The crossbow tumbles onto the grass and Dana's breath shudders and jumps. She looks at her shaking hands in horror, eyes wide and tears swelling. She falls to her knees and squeezes her eyes shut; one single tear trickles down her cheek. “Thanks.” I choke on the word as it tumbles out. I try to catch my breath, to get my breathing under control, but I shudder and shake. I look down at the assailant. The sound of his rallying breath has stopped, his eyes almost look like they’re staring off into another realm. He’s completely still. I get up as fast as I dare, black spots dance around me but I don’t care right now. I cradle Dana’s sobbing frame tightly against me, patting her back. “It’s okay, we’re okay” I murmur, my mouth pressed up against her hair. I try to calm her down with more reassuring words and soon she stops sobbing loudly. My fingers paint patterns on her back and I whisper in her ear and craddle her head against my neck. Her sobs ebb out and she is reduced to silent tears. I draw back but I keep my hold on her shoulder and her face. Her eyes are red and puffy and her cheeks are stained in tear-trails. She ducks out of my hold and her head drops; a hand wipes the snot from her nose. “We should keep moving.” She stutters a bit as she forces the words out, she wipes the tear stains away as well and tries to put on a brave face. I furrow my brows. We’ve just had a near-death experience, resting would be better. “We have to.” She reasons, almost as if she’d heard my thoughts. “There could be someone else out there, what if he wasn’t alone?” “You’re right,” I admit, her shoulders unclench and the tenseness bleeds away from her frame. “We should see if he has anything useful.” I let Dana sit on the ground as I move towards his body. His blonde hair is splayed on the dirt around him, tangled in the grass and twigs. He’s as pale as snow now. His neck is craned in an unnatural angle and the arrow is still protruding from it; its tip is buried in the ground. Most of his clothes are bloodied, but his cloak and his boots were mostly spared. I gag as I pull the shoes of him. They look to be my size, they’re a well-needed step up from the old and ratty ones I’m wearing right now. I tug the cloak out from beneath his legs and untie the stained top from around his neck and tear it off with fumbling hands. “Those boots are for riding,” Dana says. I look at her in confusion and she sighs. “He must’ve ridden a horse here, we could use that.” I feel dumb when she points out the obvious. We’re quite far away from any town and he found us without knowing exactly where we were. Of course, he had a horse. I shuffle through his pockets, taking the few marks of copper he has on him. My fingers grace over what feels like a piece of crumpled paper. I pull it out. It’s laced with red, but I can make out a couple of letters. “Uh- where do you suppose it is then?” I ask her as I start unfolding the note as best as I can. I smooth it on the surface of my leg, something is drawn on the other side. I freeze up as I turn it over. “My best guess would be-“ she shifts and points with a limp arm to the trees behind me, the direction he came from- “that it would be over there somewhere.” I nod at Dana, but I don’t even look at where she’s pointing. My eyes are locked on the crude drawing on the paper. It’s a figure with big fangs, lines down her face over each eye and pointy ears. It’s a wanted poster. They’ve offered 500 gold to anyone who could bring my head back. “What’s that?” Dana is looking at me, she almost looks concerned when I finally tear my eyes away from the damaged paper in my hands. I offer it to her. She scans the page over quickly, then her eyes zero in and her face slackens when she realises. The paper is torn from my grip, her face is almost pressed against the yellowed piece of paper as she reads the faded text. “Did you-“ Dana swallows hard and tries again –“did you read what it said?” “Just the bounty,” I mutter. I look up at her face and her expression is odd, alarming even. “Why?” I ask, “does it say something else as well?” Dana looks at me, her head is hanging low. Her eyebrows are tilted, and she looks like she might cry again. But then she squares her shoulders, takes a deep breath and her mask is back on. “Yeah, it says that you – um” She trails off, I raise my eyebrows and nod, encouraging her to continue. “It says you kidnapped me out of revenge?” It sounds more like a question than the statement we both know it is. Dana’s voice jumps an octave during the sentence, and she looks guilty. She sighs at the paper, not meeting my eyes again. “Does it say why?” I ask. It doesn’t make sense. How would I get revenge by kidnapping a girl who lives near me? For all they know, we don’t even know each other except for a few exchanges of pleasantries on the street - which is the truth. Dana opens her mouth to answer, but she falters slightly. The hesitation in her body language only worries me more. They could’ve written all sorts of horror stories about the “evil half-breed.” “No,” she answers, my head jerks up at the revelation. “It doesn’t say anything else.” I’m about to ask her if she’s certain, but the words get stuck in my throat. She doesn’t say anything else and the entire atmosphere almost feels like we’re mourning the find of the poster. She stuffs the paper in her pant pocket. “We should really get going now though,” she says. I just nod. I change into the boots as quickly as I can, but Dana ends up having to lace them for me; my claws haven’t gone away. I insist she takes the cloak. She’s been shivering since she killed him, and even though it might be because of the shock and not the cold, I still make sure she’s draped in the navy fabric before we take off. We take his arrows and quivers as well as his crossbow before we leave. I chose to carry it for a while, I don’t want to force Dana to even look at it. We make it to a tiny clearing, he wasn’t very careful with moving around and the path he’d taken stands out clearly. Scuff marks from his boots litter the ground and there’s an irregular abundance of broken twigs and branches are strewn all over; some are still dangling from where he’s snapped them. Just as Dana predicted, there’s a horse there. A beautiful white horse with a leather saddle and a tightly braided mane. I end up sitting firmly in the saddle with Dana seated in front of me. I blush slightly from the closeness. Unfortunately, the blonde man didn’t have a double saddle. That would’ve been handy right around now though. Dana holds the reigns and I lock my arms around her stomach as we ride off.
━▲━Dana and I realise rather fast that it’s quite hard to ride a horse the way we’re doing it. I must do the leg part and she has to manage the reigns. We have to do it all in sync, so it matches, and the horse won’t just throw us off. We find a path around the wall of fallen trees after almost an hour, and then we ride straight in the direction of Hinall, the northernmost town in Edrea. From there, we plan on crossing into Halivaara. Dana tells me, that the town we’re heading for is called Arcmore, and it accepts refugees from all over Morlea; human, half-breed and Iwachi alike. After hours of riding through the forest, we stop. My backside aches even more than it did yesterday, I’m not used to riding anymore and that can be felt clearly when I dismount the horse. I’m out of practice with everything about it, and I stumble down. Unlike Dana, who dismounted with so much grace that I couldn’t even hear her feet touch the ground. Dana doesn’t laugh at me when I almost go face-first into the ground, she’s already begun setting up camp. I tie the horse to a nearby tree, to make sure it won’t run away during the night. “If we get up at first light tomorrow, we’ll be able to reach Hinall before the shops close,” Dana says, not looking up from her handiwork. It’s colder today than the other nights. I nod at Dana’s statement, but she doesn’t look at me, so I end up saying “great” as well. “Maybe we should try to make a small fire?” I ask as I head over to pick up some sticks and other flammable things. “Sure, we could use the heat,” Dana says. Her voice is as cold as the starry night and when I turn to look at her, she’s frozen in place and starring into the air. Tears sparkle on her cheeks, but she wipes at them aggressively, shakes her head and goes back to tying up the stained table cloth. I linger back, hesitating and debating whether I should say something. Then she looks stern and I decide to just leave her. She needs time to process and being pestered by me won’t help. It takes longer to light the fire tonight; Dana ends up falling asleep in the tent before it’s even lit. When I come in, she’s shivering and mumbling in her sleep. Her hair is all over the place and her face is scrunched up in dismay. The cape is fastened around her neck but it’s laying away from her. I lay down next to her, and after debating whether I should do it or not, I reach over her and grab the cape. It’s soft and heavy and she stops whimpering when I drape it over her. Tonight, I’ll be fine. I lay my head on a tiny bit of the cape and close my eyes, praying that I’ll fall asleep fast.
━▲━The next day ends up being uneventful in contrast to the journey we’ve had so far. I wake up at the crack of dawn, disoriented and confused until I look at Dana. She’s whimpering like she did last night, and she’s writhing and twisting in her sleep. I sigh and try to rub the sleep out of my eyes. My neck aches and it feels like someone chose to punch me square in the face with a brick. “Dana, it’s just a nightmare,” I whisper. Poking her does the trick; her eyes split open rapidly, they’re wide and panicked. Before I can say anything, she slams her arm into my throat and topples me over. My world tilts and turns and my head and the ground collide, sending shockwaves through my tired mind. An eep escapes me, and I scream from the shock. When Dana finally realises what’s going on, she backs away. We’re both hyperventilating. The look she sends me is nothing short of seething. “Why would you do that?” She says, taking a deep breath. The pressure of her arm leaves my windpipe and I take a big gulp of air, I cough violently as I push myself up. “Sorry,” I mutter, “I thought you were having a nightmare.” I massage my violated and abused windpipe, it aches and only adds to the thudding pain I feel all over my body. I’m littered in bruises and scratches by now, this one will be a nice addition to my growing collection. “I wasn’t,” Dana answers. We both know she’s lying, but I keep my mouth shut. We pack up our humble camp in a few minutes. I end up wearing the table cloth as a cape, so I don’t have to carry it. We eat the last of our bread for breakfast. After double-checking that we have everything, we leave on the back of our stolen-goods horse, setting course for Hinall. We ride until the first signs of civilisation pops up, it turns out we weren't that far away from the town. Three hours on horseback is more than enough though, and when we finally reach the outskirts of the tiny oasis, my bum is sore and aching. The town is colourful and lively, there are people everywhere tending to their own business. The houses are small and nestled together, they’re all built of wood. Not odd when you consider that Hinall is a lumber-town. I drag my feet along the cobblestones of the main road, Dana is walking behind me with the horse on his leash. The street is narrow, not compared to the other streets here, but compared to those in Kellan. It snakes its way between the wooden houses, twisting and turning the further it gets. Flags are hanging from multiple windows; the iconic red Edrean flag with lion print. Potted plants adorn all the entrances, there are even a couple of hanging ferns over some of the doors. I’m so preoccupied with staring that I don’t even notice all the heads turning when we walk by, at least not until Dana points it out. There’s a market square, in the middle of the town; colourful booths have been set up in the shadows where the vendors are lounging, hoping for customers to come by. Dana ends up walking off and leaving me with the horse, whom I’ve ended up naming Fay. Dana thought it was stupid – she even shook her head at me – but it only seemed right to give him a name. We decide to rent a room from a woman named Ms. Gerali. She has the fiercest red hair I’ve ever seen, and she looks otherworldly in her big green dress and the flowers that are weaved in her braids. Dana jokingly asks me if we’re related while tugging at my hair. I point out that mine is more orange, but she won’t listen. Ms. Gerali shows us the room, which is in her own home in the middle of the town. It's in the attic with one big bed, although quite old and tattered. But we don’t complain, the rent for one night is less than the price of 5 loaves of bread. We go to bed at the end of the day, well-fed and newly washed. My hair hasn’t been this clean for days. Dana is sitting on the edge of the bed, combing her hair. I’m already lying under the thin blanket Ms. Gerali provided us. “Um- Dana I just wanted to ask about the place we’re going,” I begin, but I trail off unsure of how to ask properly. “Arcmore, you mean?” Dana asks. She looks at me over her shoulder while pulling forcefully on the comb, but it's stuck in her dark curls. I nod, peeking up at her. “It’s cold there, but quite nice for anyone on the run,” she grunts out while working on the back part of her hair. I listen intensely as Dana continues. “It’s controlled by some Iwachi who were thrown out of Ildres,” she says, “My parents complain that some of the half-breeds they tried to catch fled there.” “Are you staying as well then?” I ask. The question I’ve wanted to ask the entire time. “I’m not sure,” she says. Her gaze drops away from my face, and silence grows between us. My heart drops. I hadn’t expected anything else – except for a no – but it still wasn’t the answer I hoped for. “Sleep well,” I say, curling closer in on myself under the blanket. Dana blows out the candle and we’re plunged into darkness. The mattress bounces as she settles in. We lay back to back and I can’t see anything now. I sigh and snuggle into my arms; I use them as a pillow since the bed has none. “Goodnight” Dana whispers back. A smile creeps onto my face as I close my eyes.
━▲━We depart Hinall in the early morning hours and say our farewells to Ms. Gerali, who sends us off with a small bag of food, a prayer, a blanket each and an overenthusiastic wave. Fog drapes over the town like a thick, white blanket, lit up by the sun peeking over the roofs. The rhythmic clacking of Fay’s hooves against the cobblestones echoes through the empty streets, breaking the silence of the sleeping village. The trip to Arcmore should take two days, but we’ll only make it in time if we ride the entirety of the hours with daylight. We can’t afford to stay in the cold for too long, but it’s impossible to reach the town in one day. There’s no way Fay has enough energy for that. The first hours of riding go by smoothly, as we work together better than yesterday. I cling onto Dana's torso as best I can; the terrain is rocky and it’s challenging to hang on without the reins. The further we get, the more the temperature drops and soon I can see my own breath hovering in the air in front of me as I shiver in the worn leather saddle. Dana is shaking as well, though she has the thick cape wrapped around her. I don’t have that luxury. I’m wearing the table cloth as a cape, but it’s tattered from our journey and the fabric is so thin that I almost forget it’s even there. I’ve also volunteered to have crossbow duty for today. I grow more awkward for every minute we ride in silence. I readjust every few minutes, trying to get comfortable but I just want to stretch my legs and walk around. Not that that’s necessarily possible right now. I strain to focus on anything else – anything! – but even mere minutes without stretching and flexing my leg muscles feels like holding my breath for hours and the restlessness only haunts me more. “Amelia, I’m really not trying to be rude here-“ Dana starts. My head snaps up from where I’m intensely staring at my right leg as if sending it the death glare would make it stop twitching. “But to put it lightly, you’re bloody annoying right around now.” “I’m sorry it’s just- just my legs,” I stutter, not entirely ready for Dana’s brash comment. She hums in agreement. “Yes, I noticed it was your legs.” She doesn’t look back at me, but I can almost hear her eyes roll. “Should we stop for a minute?” She says, her tone softens as she tugs at the reins. “There’s a stream up ahead, I’m sure the horse needs water.” “Thanks, that would be nice” I mumble. I try to keep my legs still but to no avail, but Dana doesn’t comment any further. We stop not long after near a freshwater spring. The slow trickle of the stream and the rustling of the leaves make for very calming background noise. When I finally get to hop down from the saddle and stretch my legs, I let out a slow groan. I stroll around in circles for a bit. Dana leads Fay to the stream and though she hasn’t mentioned it, I can see that she’s walking rather stiff, she’s in pain as well. I lock my eyes on my feet, I’m placing them heel to toe as I walk; it’s oddly calming. The grass is yellow and dry, there are multiple bald spots with nothing but mud. The Laicha mountains peek up over the treetops. The weather is clear today, and I can see the snow on the top. It looks just as cold up there as it feels down here. I hum a slow tune as I keep wandering about until something crumbles under my foot and I stop dead in my tracks. It’s a piece of paper, or rather, the bloodied piece of paper. Dana must’ve dropped it. it has a crooked fold from where I stepped on it and a muddy bootprint as well. I nearly call out to Dana to ask her if she wants it back when something catches my eyes. There’s quite a bit of text under the drawing, more than just the information about the kidnapping. My eyes trail over the words, I reread them. But it doesn’t change what it says.
Wanted: Dead or Alive. Amelia Ovidssen. Half-breed, red hair, pale skin. Armed and dangerous. Kidnapped the hero Dana Famir as revenge for being reported to the authorities by her.My eyes lock in on the last sentence. I’m hyperventilating, frantically searching for any other text, anything but it says nothing else. I look up at her, she’s laughing at Fay, he’s splashing water everywhere. Dana laughs louder. I’m frozen in place, my eyes strain from staring at her so hard and my hands are shaking, rattling the paper back and forth. She did this to me. What did I ever do to her? Dana’s laugh rings through the entire forest, then she calls my name. I don’t answer her, I’m not sure what sound would come out if I did. My entire body hums with anger and the need to scream wells up within me, I bite my lip hard to keep it in. When she doesn’t receive an answer, Dana throws a glance over her shoulder. Her bright smile slides off her face when her eyes flicker to where I’m clenching the paper tightly in my hands. Her posture turns rigid and her face dark. “Amelia, it’s not what you think!” She calls out frantically. She sets running towards me, stumbling over stones, twigs and her own feet. The rage swells within me and I try to control my breathing. My skin stings and ripples as green overtakes it. The taste of iron flows through my mouth as my fangs pierce my lip. The sound of ripping paper tears through the air and when I look down, my claws have shredded the corner of the wanted poster. Dana’s footsteps falter as my upper lip pulls back in a sneer. “How could you,” I scream out. My voice wobbles and jumps like a rabbit on the run. “How could you!” “I- it- please just let me explain!” Dana pleads with me, she halts a few meters away from me, her warm eyes are filled with despair and grief and her shoulders hunch in on themselves. “Explain what?” The volume of my voice is so loud that Dana flinches as I yell at her. I tower over her as I take a step forward. “What do you want to explain, huh? That I’m a monster, a good for nothing half-breed?” “No!” she exclaims, she steps closer and reaches out to hold my hand. “Do not touch me,” I sneer, “don’t you dare!” “Please listen, it was a mistake, Amelia!” Tears are trickling down her cheeks now, but I feel nothing but fury as they fall to the ground. She doesn’t even have anything to cry for. “I am so sorry.” “My brother- he- he forced me, please Amelia.” She’s sobbing now. “He overheard me, threatened to tell my father if I didn’t. He- he said he’d have me charged for aiding a traitor!” “I know I shouldn’t have said anything, I do and I’m sorry!” Her cries fall on deaf ears. Emptiness overtakes me as I stare off into the trees, her words dance around me in a hurried and jumbled mess that I almost don’t register. “I don’t think half-breeds are monsters, least of all you!” she says, her lower lip wobbles. I want to comfort her, but I don’t. She doesn’t deserve it. “Good-“ I say, my voice is cold and devoid of any emotion as I glare at her. “Because I think we can agree that you’re the only monster here.” I walk straight past her and I almost knock her over when I bump my shoulder into hers. She yells my name over and over, but I don’t look back. I grab Fay by the reigns and haul myself up, shooting Dana a last glance. “Go back to the humans, they’ll hail you as the hero you are.” I spit the words at her then I let out a sharp, humourless laugh. “You could even say you took down the horribly dangerous half-breed.” Dana runs after me as I set off, but I gallop at full speed, I don’t give her a chance to catch up. The carefully constructed wall I’ve built to keep the emotions in cracks and only now do I let the tears flow freely. Sobs rip through my body like riptides and when I’ve put some distance between us, I slow down and stop completely. I curl myself against Fay’s neck, nuzzling my face into his mane. It’s not particularly soft, but his warmth comforts me as I slide my hands through his hair, undoing the messy braids. I shake as I try to hold the cries in, but it feels like I have no control over my tear ducts, and I give in as I slide off his back and throw myself onto the grass. It’s entirely too cold to be lying on the ground and the crossbow digs into my back, but I pay it no mind. I almost choke on my own saliva as I scream at the sky, scream at myself and most of all scream at Dana. I know I’m stupid for already missing her, and I feel bad for yelling at her. She deserved it and would have deserved more than that, but I still regret it even after repeating it out loud to myself over and over until I simply can’t anymore. At one point, I’m no longer capable of crying, as if I’ve run out of tears and my eyes are as dry as the desert Dana’s family used to call home. I just lay in silence now, Fay is munching on some grass beside me. Well, at least I’m silent, but the bustling of the forest around me almost feels mocking. It just reminds me why I’m not saying anything, and it reminds me that I’m not currently bickering entertainingly with a person I thought was becoming my friend. I snort and let out a sharp cackle of a laugh, slamming my arms against the ground. How pathetic and naïve can one person possibly be? Thoughts flash through my mind; I fly up from where I'm laying. Pain shoots through my aching body but I ignore it and get up on my feet; I’ll never reach Arcmore if I spend all my time wallowing around in self-pity. I clap Fay on the side of the neck and pull myself up and swing my leg over. It must be around midday, the sun is high in the sky, which means I’ve wasted valuable time crying and feeling sorry for myself. I ride off at a low pace, I don’t want to push Fay further after I made him gallop. I don’t make it far before I hear something that chills me to the bones. The unmistakable sound of a wolf howl tears through the silence and with it follows answers from all around me. My heart picks up its speed as I realize. The northern white-wolf. It only howls when it’s in danger or – I take a big gulp of air – when it’s found prey that needs to be killed. I whip my head around, expecting to be jumped at any time, but there’s nothing there. When a familiar scream rips through the silence I finally realize. I’m not on the menu tonight, Dana is. And no matter how much I wish to never see her face again, I know I can’t possibly ride off knowing I let her meet her end like that, without even trying to help. I turn Fay around and for the second time set into a full gallop. My heart hammers as fast as his hooves hit the ground and it feels like we’re flying. The forest is nothing but a blur of greens, browns and yellows as I call her name with everything I have. My voice cracks and my throat aches. The wolves howl over and over, drowning out any other noise. Then Dana screams out my name and it sounds like she’s close. I falter when I see her, she’s clinging onto a thick branch with both of her arms and under her is a fury of white fur and teeth snapping at her feet. They're wild and ravenous and one of them latches onto her cape, pulling it downwards with all of its strength. I reach for the crossbow and an arrow and struggle to knock it in place, and I can barely aim. I’m shaking like a leaf. I take a deep breath and pull the trigger; the arrow burrows itself deep into the flesh of the wolf’s shoulder. At once, the wolf-pack freezes, then they snap their heads to me and they advance, their heavy paws thunder against the ground. Fay sets off, a panicked neigh escapes him, and I cling on for dear life as he jumps and tramples through the pack. But instead of running to safety, he goes in circles. A wolf leaps at us and buries its teeth deep within Fay’s flank. Black spots flicker before me as Fay throws me off and I hit the ground hard, the world spins and bile rise in my throat as I fight to get up. Dana screams as she falls and I tear my eyes away from where the wolves have thrown themselves onto Fay, tears well up as he goes down. I shake my head, he’s already gone. I stumble towards Dana, running as fast as I can. It spins and turns and twists, stones seem to move just to trip me, but I finally latch onto Dana’s arm and I pull her with me as I run. My feet won’t move properly, I try my best to focus. It feels like we’re running in water. We’re not putting enough distance between us and the beasts, but we keep stumbling. Dana let’s out a scream as she trips and we both go down, tumbling on the ground. I cling to her, curling myself around her as I hear a couple of wolves come at us. This is it. This is where my journey ends. I can feel something breathe on my leg and then a blinding white pain shoots through my calf as a wolf chomps down on it, I cry out in pain and try to kick it off. A loud growl echoes through the forest and then the wolf let’s go of my leg with a whimper. Blood trickles down my skin and drip into the grass and I wail as the pain engulfs me and burns through my body. Dana shakes me and points in front of us and I almost snap at her until I see it; the wolves run off with their tails between their legs. A shaky breath tears through me, and I look at her with wide eyes. She looks just as baffled. I shake and whimper as I push myself up. Dana surges forward to examine the wound, it’s gushing blood at an alarming rate and my head is spinning. “Are you okay?” Her hands flutter all around the bitemark and she tears a piece of her cape of and wraps it around my leg tightly. “I’m sorry that’s a dumb question I know, I’m really sor-" She cuts herself off mid-sentence. Her hand shoots out and she latches onto my shoulder with a tight grip. Then she points a shaky finger upwards. Something has cast a shadow over us; a creature's fur is blocking the view of the sky, but it is way too big to be a wolf. When it lowers its head I realise I'm wrong; it is a wolf and it's the largest wolf I’ve ever seen in my life. It towers above the trees and its fur glows like a thousand bright blue stars. It nudges me with its damp snout and my eyes roll back in my head and I collide with the hard ground.
━▲━Next thing I feel is harsh wind swirling around me and cold air biting at my nose. Something warm and soft is under me, and as I crack an eye open, I'm met with the wonderous sight of gleaming blue fur. The forest flies by as I'm rocked up and down repetitively, a rhythmic thumping fills the air as the glowing wolf dashes through the forest. I bury my face in the soft coat. It smells like morning dew and autumn air.
━▲━I'm roused from the darkness of my slumber when my shoulder is shook forcefully. “Wake up,” A whispering voice breaks through and I shoot up, knocking my head into something, hard. Two wide, emerald eyes peek down at me, it’s a young woman. Her skin is deep green and she has light marking down her cheeks and short and ragged black hair. An Iwachi. Her marks resemble my own. “It’s okay, you’re safe.” She says, her voice is warm and comforting and I close my eyes again and slump back down on the mattress I've been sleeping on. “What happened, where am I?” I mutter out, my eyes flicker over her face. "Who are you?" "So many questions," the woman chuckles slightly, "My name is Yael and you're in my home. I found you outside in the cold not long ago." "As for what happened, I was hoping you could tell me that,” she says, smiling slightly. “When you arrived you were mumbling about something blue.” I shoot up again, heart hammering and hands sweaty. Memories come flooding back. Wolves – Dana – Blood and… a giant wolf. "I- I think-" I sit up and rub my eyes as I try to understand the pictures flashing through my head. "This might sound ridiculous..." "Try me," Yael smiles at me with a knowing look in her eyes. When I take a closer look, the white's of her eyes aren't white. They're yellow. "I think I was on the back of a-" I let out a sharp laugh as I pinch my nose, "A giant, glowing wolf." My cheeks burn from embarrassment as I peek up to look at her. "That's not the first time I've heard that story, the myth of the Cadekiero is common around these parts" Yael smiles with a smile that makes me think she knows more than what she tells me. A comforting hand rests on my shoulder and she squeezes it reassuringly. "The Cadekiero?" The words stumble over my lips, the pronunciation feels odd and foreign. "We call her the guardian of the north" she answers, but I'm almost more confused than before. "Your companion mentioned the creature as well." I almost shoot up from the bed at the mention of Dana, but Yael's warm hand and steady gaze keep me grounded on the mattress. Yael must've noticed my reaction though, a warm and bright smile paints itself over her features. “Would you like to see her?” she asks me, “She’s in the next room over, she woke up not long ago.” My throat is dry, and I just nod. She pushes me back down and tells me to rest and my eyes slide shut. My leg is throbbing and my head feels like it’s just seconds from splitting in half. A flurry of curly hair and short limbs launch at me suddenly and then I have my arms full. Dana hugs me tight and I hug back, snaking my arms around her waist. I bury my nose in her hair and it smells like absolute garbage. I pull back and cough, my ribs hurt from the effort, but I manage to shake out a laugh. “What?” Dana says, eyes crinkling as she smiles. “You reek of death and destruction,” my tone is teasing, and she just shakes her head at me, shooting me a warm smile. Then I look around and I realise that something is off. The room is filled with furs and three’s a fire nearby with a pot roasting over it. Yael is tending to it. Nothing looks vaguely familiar, not even the architecture. It's dark outside, I can make out a bit golden gate and the thick of snow on the bushes right outside the small glass window. “Dana, where are we?” I ask, she takes my hands in hers and she trails her fingertips over my skin as she looks deep into eyes. “We’re in Arcmore.” The meaning behind her words doesn’t hit me right away. My mind works it over for seconds before it dawns on me and when it does, I surge forward to capture her in an even tighter hug than before. I don’t even care about the way my leg aches as I pull her closer or how dry my throat is when I let out the most genuine laughter, I’ve ever heard myself produce.
We made it.