CHAPTER 19 - DARKER
“Will you be alright?”
It surprised him, the gentleness in his voice. Clara shuddered as the night wind passed them beyond the woods. Torryn took his coat and placed the heavy fur on her shoulders.
“Please,” Clara waved her hand towards him, “It will weigh me down. I already have a lot on my hands.”
Torryn retreated his hands. He swung the coat back on his shoulders. He saw her smile against the darkness, where only the moon provided so little light. She was calm and composed, though there was a hint of distraught in her eyes, Torryn could not put a hand on it. The woods were still, as the other alphas walked ahead him.
Theodore, Aragon and Magnus were eager to witness such creature. He stayed behind as the alpha of the territory surveying what the their eyes failed to see. Torryn carefully followed their positions, as dictated by their ranks. If it meant that this was the only thing he did right as an alpha.
So far, they walked without a sign of threat. His position brought him closer to Clara.
“Did you tell her?” She asked, with a voice so soft, the sound of his feet on snapping twigs was louder. Worry was evident in her tone.
“No,” He replied.
Torryn swallowed hard. He did not want to keep such secret from Snow. He would have told her, if only Clara would have let him.
She’ll come for me if she knew. You know that, right?. He remembered Clara say.
“Thank you,” Clara smiled.
Torryn found himself with a lack of words to say. He nodded his head towards her, as guilt slowly began to creep in his chest.
Guilt. The damn feeling pulsed through his body, his heart beat and pushed the feeling away. But every time he closed his eyes, just to ease the dryness of his lids, he saw Snow.
Green eyes, angry and furious, just like the first time he saw her.
The Selection. He allowed himself to indulge in the memory. The very first time he met her, Snow’s energy burst like flames, putting the room in utter hostage. It almost made it hard to breathe. Those green eyes spelled hatred and contempt, a lifelong sentence.
What would she do when she found out? Will she ever forgive him?
It did not matter. He could live through her anger, just as long as she would be there to live through it all.
Torryn watched the three men stop before them. Aragon knelt on the packed soil, picking something from his fingers. He rubbed his find between his thumb and pointer finger before he pulled it up his nose for a sniff.
The three looked at Torryn and from his periphery, he saw Clara nod her head. It was a silent command. The Grimlake she-wolf lowered the hood, pulling the wool as it rested on her back.
She walked with every grace and dignity she could muster. And if these men could not see it, they certainly felt it.
“Gentlemen,” Clara nodded her head and pulled on the knot on her neck. Her hood fell down her back, her belly a prominent feat casting dark shadows down her legs.
She looked pale and spent. But as soon as she raised each hand, flames like the rays of sunset emerged from her palms. The tongues of flame licked her hands, down to the tips of her elbows.
Aragon glanced looks at the men beside him. That was all it took for the three men to shift to wolf form. Torryn just stood there, gazing at Celeste for a short while. He wanted to be in human form in case anything goes wrong.
Her flames brunt like midday sun beneath a small patch of clear forest ground. It looked effortless. The fire headed her command as the flames burnt a pale blue. Her dark brown eyes met Torryn.
Clara was calm, a smile painted her lips. But small details of her body gave her fear away. She was in severe fatigue. Her forehead was damp and glistening, so was her neck. She looked pale beneath her flames. Torryn felt her grow weary. The creases of her eyes was deep beneath her skin.
Torryn looked away walking to his post. He closed his eyes remnants of bright pale blue made his vision blur. Before his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he heard it.
A howl broke the silence. There was only the rustle of the leaves to the hum of wind, until a low piercing howl echoed through the trunks. He breathed in, the cold breeze proved to be his ally as traces of the creature woke his lungs.
As warm air emerged from his lips, he felt his skin burn. He wasn’t able to take off his clothes, when his wolf tore through him.
These woods. No wonder it looked familiar to her.
Snow found herself back where the void revealed itself in the Reaping.
Petals of Aconite hit her feet as she walked through the forest. The ball had a cut off piece, the purple petals had burnt marks signifying where the fire consumed it.
But whatever flame lit it must have not been strong enough. There were still a few pieces of petals fresh and damp. The elders would be interested in such find. If they could make an antidote against its fumes, then her deviance here tonight, would serve a good purpose.
Snow crushed the ball in her hands, stuffing it inside a pocket of her leather trousers. Just as she stood, extending her stiff knees, her eyes shot open to the sound.
She heard it, loud and clear.
The shrill howl made her fear worse things than just the dark. Her fingers were ice cold and as she tucked them under each arm the more cold they grew.
“What’s that?” Snow asked.
Snow felt trapped, as confused as Margaux proved to be.
“I don’t know.”
“Then why are we here?” Snow said.
She thought her sister had it all planned out. As they walk through the thick parts of the woods, Snow began to question her choices.
Her wooden bow strung around her back served useless, she thought. She couldn’t see anything in the dark. Only if she were in wolf form, her eyes would easily see through the blackness of night.
But what use would it be if she had eyes to see, but no hands to draw her arrows?
The only thing she was certain of was that the creature was close. From the sound it made, Snow was certain that it wasn’t far. The sound was bound east from where they stood. As they tread, braving through the darkness, she kept her eyes the widest she can, as if it would help her see.
Defying Torryn will be the greatest risk she has ever taken. She feared that she might have not broken, just a promise. She might have already broken his heart.
What would he say?
But she was to face whatever consequences in the morning, if they - she came out alive.
Her heart felt like dear weights dragging against her body. The abdomen that throbbed, she only braced with an assuring palm. She felt something warm seep between her legs as she walked.
“Over there,” Margaux whispered.
Her eyes failed her, she saw only the black of night. In the distance, her eyes searched for any trace of the creature. Despite not knowing what a Sallow looked like, she desperately sought for it. Snow only hoped to find a deviant figure in the darkness, to know where to aim her arrow.
She couldn’t see anything. But, there was a lull energy flowing through the woods in front of her. It was cold, piercing, and weightless. The aura smelled of old blood and rotting flesh.
“Snow,” Margaux called out to her, but she felt the energy pull her harder. Snow lifted a hand towards her sister requesting her silence when she walked towards the inviting force.
The coldness of the air around her made her breathe mist, a white cloud. It glimmered under what little light that came from the moon above her. It was freezing cold in Spring. Peculiar. She thought.
It was only then did she sense the plea in her sister’s voice when she saw the creature.
Its skin was a pale white, traces of blue-green veins crept under the thin yellow skin. Devoid of fur with fangs ripping from its mouth, the creature crouched, walking on its four limbs. Its arms were remarkably longer than its legs. A clean wound etched the skin on its arms. With a small patch of light the moon provided, the drops of blood were a shade of dark blue.
The Sallow circled her. It sniffed the air around Snow and paused to sit just a few steps in front of her.
This was her chance.
Slowly, she lifted her hands, pulling an arrow from her quiver. Slow painstakingly smooth movements possessed her limbs as she drew the arrow, aiming the sharp tip before the creature.
The Sallow just sat still, its shoulders drooping from its long neck. Her eyes widened as the creature bowed its head towards her.
Snow did not sense a threat.
The creature wasn’t showing dominance, but bowed before her in submission. The creature leaned its head, surveying her. The pitch black of its eyes met hers.
Snow thought hard and in an instant she knew what she needed to do.
If the Sallow was drawn to her, she’d walk towards the border and lead the creature there, where she can release it - or by some miracle drive it away. It was too close to the manor, where so many wolves lay asleep in their chambers.
Snow did not desire bloodshed either. If she could get rid of the creature that way, she would.
She took a short breath and sprung her idea into action. She stepped back as the creature slowly followed.
“What are you--
The Sallow flashed its teeth, as it heard Margaux’s voice. A growl filled with unrelenting aggression darted towards her.
“Shh,” She signaled towards her sister, as Snow waved towards the creature.
Its eyes circled, following the curve of her hands. Snow did not waste time as her steps came after the other. She felt hope flood her chest as the creature obediently followed her. For a brief moment she felt in control.
She was more than ready to end it. Her steps were faster and more sure as the Sallow became lenient towards her.
But before she could take another step, a strong growl emerged from afar.
It was a wolf.
The sound sent waves of energy through the trees until it reached them. The sudden force made the birds on the tree tops wake from their slumber. Their feathered wings fluttered from their nests as the winged creatures flew elsewhere.
If she did not have her eyes on the Sallow, she was certain it came from it. But the creature before her was still, occasionally gaping its teeth to show the yellow-tinged fangs.
It was only now that the Sallow grumbled to the foreign sound, a howl of another wolf.
It sniffed the air, sensing the difference that lay within it. Dripping saliva oozed down its mouth, as its eyes grew red. The Sallow gave a low silent growl, it gave one nod before her and ran - like it sought Snow’s permission before they part. Its nails dug beneath the ground, rustling the dried leaves as it ran.
Then, it was gone.
“Snow?” Margaux said just as soon as the creature left, “How did you do that?”
Snow shook her hand, easing the trembling fingers on her side. She closed her eyes desperately sewing together what happened in one single piece she could comprehend. Clenched fists rested against her temples, her cold fingers pulled against the locks easing the growing ache against her temples.
She wanted to follow it, but she was already breaking promises just by being there. Snow stood and walked towards Burnwood house. Her teeth bit down, her jaw cemented shut. She did not answer Margaux questions until they reached the clearing.
She felt empty, only thoughts remained in her head.
Who was that wolf?
What did the Sallow want from her? Where is Clara?
Just as her thoughts mentioned her name, a distant figure running from the woods flickered a warm light. As soon as Snow heard her voice, as soon as she saw the flickering fire in her hands, Snow’s legs bolted a sprint.
Clars was running from something.
Snow reduced the distance between them. Her sister tripped, screaming as a wolf, the biggest, the darkest, Snow has ever seen came so close to them. Its fur was black as night. The glimmering yellow against red veins of its eyes seemed to float through the dark.
The black wolf only needed to pounce and the creature would have already devoured them.
Just as Clara screamed another cry, three wolves emerged from the shadowy trunks, the alphas. Snow sensed them, one of them was Torryn. A sudden pang of guilt made her heart throb. The alphas’ dominance drew the black wolf’s eyes from them.
Snow came running right on time, as her legs brought her beside Clara. Snow’s knees hit the solid ground as she braced her sister’s trembling body. She knelt before her.
Clara was drenched. Her hunting tunic was soiled wet. Blood tinged fluid stained the cotton fabric of her hood.
Another scream lifted from her lips, Clara extended her head, her arms grabbing on to the roots of grass.
More blood spilled on Snow’s knees. She was trembling as she reached for her. They were huddled beneath a thick mound of grass, that provided so little shelter. But a short time with her sister under the safety of twigs and gree blades of grass was already generous.
“The baby,” She begged, “I’m having the baby.”
“What do I do?” Snow begged, “What do I do?!”
“Rogue --” Clara’s hands pointed towards the black wolf.
Another scream pierced the night, it wasn’t hers, nor the wolf’s, it was only Clara’s. Snow shielded the sound cupping her sister’s mouth.
“Shh,” Snow cried, “We need to be quiet.”
Tears welled in Snow’s eyes as she held on to what she could find. From her periphery, she saw the black wolf, its eyes a flickering beacon. She trusted the grass that stood above her head. The little protection it gave would be their salvation.
“I smell you, Void,” Margaux’s voice was brittle and fragile.
The sound distracted the Rogue as he locked his attention only in Margaux.
She stood only a few steps away from them. Her feet brushed on grass that was cut to her ankles. She stood where the grass could not hide her. Margaux’s eyes were open wide, vast and as dark as night. They reflected the yellow glow of the Rogue’s eyes. Its fur looked soiled and frizzy, it hovered like a patch of shadow on the dark greenery of thel meadow.
“The end of reaping marks the end of you and your people,”
Margaux’s trembling voice echoed the low growls of the beast.
“You hid us from the light, but you nurse a traitor within your midst. You hide her from us, the blood of the Druid fills her veins.”
Margaux’s voice sung a rhythmic chant as she spoke what she heard in the Rogue’s mind.
“She is no weapon against our race, but she’ll be a like disease, soiling your fields, consuming your souls, ending yours.”
The beast brimmed with overflowing force, radiating energy with every step. Margaux took a steady course back. Once again, Snow found herself torn between her sisters.
The alphas growled and began their onslaught against the shadowy figure. A bright red wolf dug its fangs down its dark fur. With its sheer size, the Rogue merely swung its body and the wolf flung to a patch of bare soil, a few yards back.
Snow felt the warm air brush her palm, the one that cupped Clara’s mouth. She looked down and saw the redness on her sister’s face as Clara began to push.
“Clara, please,” Snow implored, “I need you to stand. We need to go inside--
She only took in huffs of air before she began to push again. Snow hissed, the panic made her chest sore. Her heart trebbled a riot. She feared for the unborn cub, more than she feared for any of them.
“Clara, please?!” She pushed her lips beside Clara’s face, pulling in to whisper to her.
Meanwhile, the growls of the wolves streamed outpouring energy. But, their roars and yelps were but a haze of white noise to Snow.
Clara pushed again, her frail hand found Snow. With their hands joined, a clenching grip, Snow’s fear began to ease. The action brought Clara strength as she thrust her head up, separating her legs, using the remaining force she had to push.
“Fools,” Margaux spoke again, ”I’m here to end your suffering. I am helping you finish the plague that one of your wolves has started.”
Torryn’s wolf growled, as he launched towards the black wolf. His actions were fast, as the nails of his paws gripped beneath the dark flesh. Splatters of blood, stained the dry ground.
Drops of red flicked on her Margaux’s cheeks as she froze. She was still deep in the Rogue’s mind, reading the depths of his thoughts.
“I have searched for you, void,” Margaux said as Rogue settled back its eyes on her, ”because your end is near, as that of your children.”
The Rogue pounced on Margaux, unsheathing its sharp claws. The dark wolf scratched against her body, growling strong and low as its sharp nails dug into her skin.
Snow’s heart sank. The tears blurred her eyes, but only saw the dark figure there. Maragaux was pinned down as Torryn and another wolf dug their fangs into its back.
Snow’s father emerged from the woods, his golden mane like that of a lion framed his face. He growled as blistering force swooped the through the grass. With every fiber of his body, he too lunged at the Rogue, landing his teeth firm and strong against its skin.
Her father rapidly shook its head, ripping into the Rogue’s flesh, but no blood came. The black wolf only looked back, its eyes were blood red. His growl showed fangs studded on dark gums.
Each sharp canine dug into her father’s neck. Snow heard herself gasp as the golden wolf wimpered a helpless plea. Torryn came to him as he licked the marks where the Rogue’s fangs dug.
Margaux was still pinned down on the Rogue’s claws. It sniffed her, growling with every breath he took. He was ready to devour her.
Snow did not know what to do. She only heard the screams of her sisters.
Clara yanked her arm as she squeezed into her hand even stronger. Snow’s hand grew pale in her grip. She pushed again, blood flowed between her legs. Snow eyes trailed between Margaux and Clara, her eyes wandered searching, which among her sisters needed her more.
Snow felt herself torn once more.
Her heart throbbed a constant drum against her chest. Then, it wasn’t death she feared.
Snow feared doing nothing, as the rest of the people she loved had one leg propped on their graves. Her actions were indifferent. She only cowered just as her family needed her most.
She was about to burst in tears when her free hand brushed a nagging bulge on her pocket.
The leather conformed to the contents of her pocket. Snow’s hand trembling stiff, pulled the ball of Aconite petals from her pocket and watched as the purple sheaths call for her.
If it was the void he sought. Snow would give it to him. Then, with all the courage she could muster, Snow began to speak.
“Clara,” Her voice was stern and composed, “I need your flame.”
Snow brought the ball of Aconite in Clara’s view. She saw her sister nod as a cold fist grabbed Snow’s hand. The coldness was soon replaced by a calming warmth. Clara set the petals on fire in Snow’s hands.
Lilac fumes emerged from it.
Those were the last words she left her sister as she stood and walked out of the tall grass. Snow emerged into the light, metalic fumes floated from her hand.
Her steps were firm and sure as she walked towards the creature. The Rogue had its back against her. From her periphery, she saw Torryn bend an attacking stance towards her. The wolves all gathered behind him, mirroring his body in attempts to launch at the Rogue.
Purple smoke trailed in the dark night, it almost looked a dark gray under the moonlight.
Snow only held the burning petals, embracing the subtle warmth it gave it her. She brought the hand of Aconite smoke in front of her face, as she sniffed the metallic scent.
With her eyes now shut, Snow savored the smell of blood. She licked her lips wet as her tongue brushed the aching canines. The stench of the Aconite shifted to an inviting scent of death. She could not help but smile.
Her temples throbbed, her joints sleek as butter and her chest was light as the smoke that emerged from the Aconite petals.
As Snow opened her eyes, she saw the clearing like it was under broad daylight. She glanced at her hands. As her void emerged like white flames from her skin.
“Rogue,” She said.
The dark wolf retreated his claim on Margaux as he faced her, glowing yellow eyes met her. Snow faced the Rogue and spoke.
“I am the Void you seek.”