The Long Winter – Pt 3
Three days earlier Myst had stood at the snow covered pass with her new companions waiting as the Ancions and Human leaders gave long and boring speeches about putting aside differences and working together, while Fallon’s dying words sounded in her mind like distant drumming.
She’d tried to tell them, but Fallon’s last magic had withstood all her attempts at its undoing and circumventing. She clenched her fists. He’d loved her, but he’d still betrayed her, binding her with magic to a cause that was not her own. She wondered when she’d betray her companions.
Now they stood at the ancient stone bridge spanning Corrolay’s Chasm. Myst’s skin prickled, her nose heavy with the Wasteland’s acrid scent, the musky smell of sweat and fear and the odorous tang of danger, while Fallon’s words, ‘Trust no-one,’ continued their monotonous drumming, making it difficult to concentrate.
‘Are you sure this is the only way across?’ said Clave, the human leader.
‘Yes, unless you want to take your chances down there,’ said Myst, pointing towards the inky shadow that lay beneath the bridge, while rubbing her forehead.
‘No,’ said Evarin, his chocolate skin almost black against the white backdrop of snow.
‘We don’t believe that would be a good idea,’ said Calais, standing next to his brother, as light as Evarin was dark.
The wolves in the company growled their assent.
Clave smiled, ‘The bridge it is. Andreyez, you lead. Everyone else, weapons at ready.’
‘Yer all right, Wolf Girl?’ said Andreyez the Hunter in his lilting voice.
‘Chew this, it should help,’ he said, producing some bright green leaves.
‘Peppermint,’ he said, stepping onto the decrepit narrow stone bridge, two arrows resting against the string in readiness. Behind him in single file was Clave, followed by Myst, with Evarin and Calais just behind and the rest behind them. The strong smell of peppermint cleared her head and dulled the sound of Fallon’s incessant words. One advantage of still being in human form meant that Myst and the other Guqula had the ability to force a partial change, turn their fingers into claws as deadly and as long as small short swords.
Toothed tentacles exploded from the abyss attacking them in a rush of wind when they were more than halfway across. Myst’s black claws sliced through the tentacle whipping towards her like a striking snake, close enough for her to see the hundreds of mouths with serrated teeth on its underside. She pirouetted out of the way of another, dancing along the narrow bridge, her claws cutting and slicing through every tentacle that came close.
Evarin and Calais were a blur of movement; Andreyez exchanged his bow for double edged short swords; a toothed tentacle cut through Clave’s midsection, spilling out his entrails. He stumbled, dropping his sword as another tentacle dragged him to the edge. Lunging, Myst caught hold of his arm.
‘Sword!’ he gasped, reaching for it as she slid it towards him. ‘I’m already a dead man, Myst. Let me go, I’ll do as much damage as I can! Go!’
Myst opened her hand, watching him bare his teeth in a grin as he fell into the darkness, wielding his sword.
‘He’ll die fighting. Best death a warrior can have,’ said Andreyez, grabbing her arm and pulling her to her feet. ‘Let’s go!’
The tentacles departed with Clave and the bridge was clear. They ran across and onwards until they were dropping with exhaustion, and then Andreyez pushed them even further on until they were on the lee side of the mountain.
‘Why didn’t you warn us, Myst?’ snarled Calais, fury in every line of his body.
‘Because I didn’t know!’ she snarled in return, ready to strike him.
‘We’ll camp here,’ said Andreyez, taking charge and stepping between them. ‘It wasn’t yer fault. The Wasteland poison has changed the land. You did all you could.’
‘It wasn’t enough!’
‘It was plenty. Clave died with honour. We survived. Can you see any landmarks, Wolf Girl?’
‘Trust no-one,’ Fallon’s voice whispered, as she looked out into the valley that had once been her home. She shook her head. ‘Nothing.’
‘What about the Lake?’
‘It’s…,’ she tried again to tell them, but the words would not come, it was as if her lips were frozen shut. ‘It’s not important,’ she said, aware of Andreyez’ eyes upon her. ‘Trust no-one,’ Fallon’s voice whispered.
She shivered, moving away and blinking back tears as she stood on the edge, looking down. One step and she could end it here and now, but she’d already tried and knew that Fallon’s magic wouldn’t let her kill herself. Sighing, she examined her hand against the backdrop of snow.
‘Nine days,’ said Andreyez, coming to stand beside her. ‘Guqula never stay human for longer than five.’
‘Trust no-one,’ thundered Fallon’s voice in her mind, the pain of it making her gasp.
Andreyez guided her trembling form away from the edge. ‘You’re under a geis, Wolf Girl and there’s naught you can do about it. They don’t know because you can’t tell.’
‘How can you know?’
‘I see it wrapped around your aura – it’s like you’re in chains. Take first watch and take this,’ he said, offering her a small package, ‘It’ll help with the headaches.’
‘You could give it to me later.’
‘You’ll be gone, Wolf Girl.’
She stared at him, trying to form the words, but unable.
‘It’s okay. I trust you, Wolf Girl. Just leave us a track to follow. When you face it, you won’t be alone.’
‘Love – it can tear us apart or bind us together. What will you choose, Myst?’