Mina was tangled in branches, which protruded from the tree, her snow-touched skin was pale… but there was no blood. No wounds.

She was not wounded.

Tiyan started frantically releasing her from her prison. Branches at first were closing over her body, but his effort bore fruits – they started to let her go, like the spells that animated them weakened. She was cold, so cold, he had no idea how long she was outside without thick clothes protecting her from the icy wind. She fell into his arms, her lips paler than skin, which made his heart clenched with worry.

But she was not wounded. They toyed with him in his dreams.

He heard a noise, a branch cracked and he turned frantically, expecting faeries to be there, watching as he struggled. But there was nothing, only the wind. Wind which was becoming stronger and was biting deeper.

He took her in his arms and carried her to their house, his feet barely keeping balance on the snow. He was relieved that she was not dead, but he knew it’s not the end. They won’t stop. He was painfully aware of that. He once almost fell, when he stumbled on a root, but keeping Mina close, he managed to keep his fumbling feet in rule. Gazing once more at the dark woods, he entered the house, the wind splashing against the closed door with full force.

He delicately laid her on the armchair and started swiftly preparing something warm to drink. He tossed the herbs she got from Dolsa into the mug and put the kettle on the stove. Then, returned to Mina and began to rub her arms and legs to help the circulation flow.

If he was able, now, he would send some fae to the pit where they crawled from.

“Tiyan…” she murmured and blinked at him. His eyes, brown, like his own, were filled with resignation, which he heard in her voice before.

“I am here, Mina” he uttered, taking her face in his hands. “No one will ever do that again” he really hoped it didn’t sound fake.

“The fairies… they… gave me something…”

Tiyan felt as the wave of cold washes over him. He heard about the fae gifts. Enchanted, dark gifts. No one should ever take anything from them, but most often, they had no choice. They were an equivalent of being under their spell. The gifts could bring immense luck, but it quickly was becoming a torment, a magic which takes much more than it gives.  Nothing was free in the fairy world. Humans now were more wary and were not eager to take anything by free will. But… there always was another way.

He almost stopped her hand, when she started to pull something from under her shirt.

“No, Mina…”

“I must give it to you” she pressed and he gave in. With a darkened expression, he watched as she pulled… a pendant. A silver rune, with black cord.

“They said… it’s for you.”

Tiyan unwillingly took it in his fingers. The metal was cold in his fingers, the strange engravement on the surface. He lifted it closer, to inspect. An uncanny animal, swallowing its own tail, looking at him with almost human eyes, on half human, half feral face. Tiyan felt as his heart skipped a beat and traveled to his throat.

He knew that sign.

“What did they say?” He heard the water being ready and putting a large blanket on Mina’s arms, tucking in her cold feet and quickly prepared a hot herbal tea, which he handed to her. She slowly took the beverage and started to drink, with small, timid sips.

“They said… Tiyan, I don’t know…”

“Please. I must know” he was almost afraid that he is pushing too hard, after all what she went through. But she took it much better than he ever would. She was braver, stronger than him.

“They said that the shadow awaits you and… that your soul doesn’t belong to you anymore.”

Shadow. The shadow the fairies mentioned back then, in the forest.

Alina Markon had to hear the noises because she entered the room, with her silver hair looking windswept, eyelids heavy. When she saw Mina, tucked in the blanket, with almost blue lips and pale skin, she rushed to her. Her deep worry was visible clearly on her worn-up face. 

Still remembering his dream, Tiyan started to suspect, that Mina is enchanted and her strength comes from being under a fey spell. The fey magic was dangerous, but as anything spellbound, could dissipate after some time. He was aware that only High Fae could use magic that doesn’t disappear after time. Small folk, as dangerous as they were, were more limited. But they were enough powerful to make a living nightmare from his life.

“What happened?” a fear in Alina’s voice, when she was inspecting her daughter, with trembling hands checking her skin for wounds and for worse, deeper injuries. She turned to Tiyan, with mute question painted on her face.

“They took her. I found her in the trap made of branches” the voice caught up in his throat.

It’s your fault.

They are after you.

Alina had to think the same, but she was last to blame anyone. Tiyan knew she didn’t blame him, that she didn’t even think of doing so. But he blamed himself tenfold. If he just died, none would suffer. They would not torment them all now, they would not even know about Mina.

Mina slowly sipped the tea, while Alina sat next to her, additionally warming her with her own body. She didn’t ask more. It was obvious that it was not the end. Tiyan, filled with sickening guilt, pretending that he had to check locks in the backyard – which was partially true – scurried from the room. The pendant was heavy in his hand.

He knew this sign so well.

He had it since he remembered, engraved on his own skin. A scar that looked like it was burned in his flesh. Just on his chest, under the heart.

He closed his eyes. He didn’t dare to throw away the pendant, so he hid it deep in his pocket. The night was already crawling through his life.

And it didn’t begin during that moment, when the fairies hunted him down.

He checked the backyard door – they were safely locked – and supported himself over them. He felt like a coward, and he hated himself fo that. If they come, he won’t run again. He will face them. They said he is protected. He will try to spread this protection over his family.

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