Tiyan slept this night. With deep slumber, his nightmares made way to the horror of life, retreating, like rats leaving the sinking ship.

When he awakened, the morning still hid before the sun, trees bathed in faint darkness. The village slept, their dreams infested with something he had to face in a wake.

He still was only partially willing to go. He was not a hero, he never was. For goddess’ mercy, even hunting an anglor was an effort for him, not to mention other, more dangerous animals. But deep down he knew that if he didn’t come, Mina would lose her soul – forever, without a chance of return, in any form, in any shape. And the fairies will come for him, either way. He doesn’t have the luxury in escaping into lack of courage. Into something that would turn his own heart against him.

Mina needed him. She surely trusted him and his absence would shatter her and that he would never forgive himself. He stood in the point of no turning back. And he couldn’t even look behind.

Everytime he looked back, he was seeing horrors.

The village was peaceful, when he left the house. He didn’t have many belongings, not ones that he would need on the path to the realm of the fey. He equipped himself with bronze weapons, and hid an iron dagger in boot, just in case. He will not appear there, without even the slightest and even most laughable advantage. He took the sack and packed it with warm clothes. He was aware that he can’t sleep in the snow. The inns weren’t working anymore, yet even abandoned inn offered a moderately warm place to spend the night, and maybe even things left by the leaving or dead people.

But warm clothes always were needed, the winter was harsh, enchanted, pure and dangerous, just like the fae’s hearts.

He took the herbs as well. Tinder too. Maybe there will be dry hay in the abandoned building or a cave which could be filled with branches, perfect as kindling. Of water he didn’t need to worry, the humans learned to drink it from winter itself, even if there was a slight worry that spellbound snow could affect their organisms.

Tiyan didn’t want to go, but he was already passing the threshold – and the house seemed empty and dead. His old life, as hard as it was, was over. Now he had to fight, to bite any future from the throat of Ain’asel.

No one ever made a map to the fey realm. But he knew in which direction to go, and he hoped the promised Will-o’-the-Wisps will be present to show him a more detailed path.

Korr walked slowly to him. Tiyan would want to have him by his side. But he knew that fae would use him against him, harm him, or just kill.

“Go. Find Noyd. I can’t take you with me. I don’t want you to suffer.

The dog’s brown eyes regarded him, not blaming, but confused and lost. Tiyan never told him to go away.

Now, he has only seen mist, normal, mundane and not enchanted mist, which was making his departure from Inamora much less heartbreaking.

The border of the forest and the village was marked by a huge dolmen, which stood near the meek stream with a small wooden bridge flipped from side to side. Like through fog, he remembered how Gravir Markon was building it, so the kids could toss the bread to fishes. It was life before darkness, before fae, when he was still too young. Before his own baptism of blood, during the last and only battle between humans and Unseelie, in which he lost innocence and hope that he is good. That he is good person at all.

Do not think about it. Do not turn back, there are monsters.

He felt as the new resignation crept in, fueled by memories. Do not think. The past is long gone. He stood in place, fixed the light bag on his shoulders and aimed for the bridge, to enter the woods. The main road started to lead in more or less the right direction only if he passed the forest. Then, he will be able to look for the dancing fires.

“Tiyan… Tiyan!”

Oh.

No.

Please, no.

“Tiyan…” he was sure that Noyd observed him and his house to make sure he wouldn’t do anything stupid. But he saw a bucket with snow and he understood she was gathering it to boil it at home. Korr was tangling between her legs, unsure of to who to go.

“Noyd…”

“You go hunting?”

“More or less.”

She gazed behind him and seeing the packed bag, she narrowed brows.

“You leave” this was more a statement than a question, disappointment painted on her face.

“I must. I should have been left before my family died.”

“It won’t change anything” her locks slipped from the warm hat and now fell on her forehead, a fox child, ginger like autumn. “You always leave when you should stay. I hoped now…”

“They have Mina” he cut her and her cat-like, green eyes opened wider, a glint of understanding creeping into her features.

“How do you know?”

“One of them visited me at night. She wanted me to go and rescue her.”

Noyd shook her head, with disbelief on his stupidity.

“You know it’s a trap?” another rhetorical question.

“Of course it’s a trap,” he laughed bitterly. “But do I have a choice?”

Noyd regarded him for a moment, like engraving his features in her mind, like remembering how he looks, or just trying to gaze into his soul, to see how much of it is just desperation and how much bravery.

“No. You don’t” she eventually said.

Tiyan didn’t want look in her eyes, but when he gazed into them, he saw something new in them. Worry. Fear. And all mixed with pride and relief.

“Do not let them kill you.”

“I will try to not let them kill us both.”

“When you return…”

“If I return…”

She looked again at him, intensely. And walked over to him, embraced his neck with her arms.

“If you return. Promise me.”

She slowly got closer, almost frightened. Doubtful. Like not knowing if it’s the good time, if it’s right. But kissed him passionately, a last kiss before the war.

“I promise,” he muttered in her mouth. Inhaling her scent of mint and old herbs. Of the fireplace. And safety.

I promise. I will try. Though I don’t know. So much, I don’t know.

His eyes filled with unwanted tears, her chest pressed tightly to his own. Her hands in his hair. And her tongue in his mouth. And a promise that bound them again.

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