Trembling, dirty hands closed over Tiyan’s throat. All he was able to see were maddened eyes, thick beard and horns, long ram horns, growing from the forehead and biting through the skin on the sides of the occiput.
Tiyan instinctively grabbed the hands which suffocated him and tried to push the attacker off. But even if the man seemed frail and visibly in pain, he didn’t plan to leave him alone. His grasp became stronger, like Tiyan’s struggle only lighted more desperation in him.
“Get off me!” groaned Tiyan, but that pushed air from his lungs and he suddenly caught himself not being able to breathe. He tried to kick the man with a boot, but his legs reached the void.
His moves started to become spasmodic, his vision blurring. The man above him started to elicit words that meant nothing. The fear clenched over Tiyan’s heart, which started to beat slower… slower with each second.
And Tiyan started to quietly slip into an embrace of nothingness. He knew he was dying, he felt as his body stopped to react to the tightening grip of the man who was laying on him, pinning him to the ground with his weight. The man’s hands felt like talons, pushing under his skin, pulling his lungs out. His feet were still digging in the ground, but with less strength. He was dying. He really was.
His brain almost closed off, when he felt something move in him. And he couldn’t unhear words, whispering in his head. They were silent, more felt than heard, touchable, like spiderweb, with the spider sitting in the middle. Dark, alluring, urging. Giving a dubious helping hand.
We are your stars.
We are your gods.
You are our slave.
The fire will set you free.
If you are not afraid.
He was afraid, very. He was dying. And he heard voices, a madness before death. Something was amassing in him. Something which was pulling non existent strings in his soul, something dark. Something.
… p o w e r f u l .
He tossed, his hands closed again on the attacker’s arms. And he heard a howl, wild, pained, shocked.
The hands released his throat, his trachea open again, air, beautiful, fresh, cold air again entering his pained lungs. He caught his neck and took a few wild breaths in. And threw up, a pulp made of mushrooms, still not digested fully, landed between his knees.
The man was backing off, and when Tiyan looked at him with wild gaze, afraid and still not knowing what happened, he saw that his hands, in place where he caught him, are a burned mess, scorched meat and open tissue.
Tiyan threw up again, this time with nothing. He felt like he was about to spit both his lungs and stomach, the smell of cooked human meat was ugly, wrong.
The man though had to be mad, completely mad, because he threw himself at vomiting Tiyan again. Tiyan tried to pull the dagger or the knife, anything, when he felt the heavy body on himself again, the open wounds closing around his mouth, Tiyan gagged at the intense scent and taste of human meat in his mouth. The man howled.
And then, he fell, with an arrow in his neck.
Tiyan would throw up again, if he didn’t have enough already.
His vision was blurred, his mind had to shut off, flooded with sensations. When he looked up though, he saw something that brought him finally to the world of the living.
The woman, no, more a young teenager, maybe seventeen years old, her wild, long, unruly hair were joined in white braids, and she had hundreds of them. Bones were attached to them, hanging on the strings, making a cackling sound as she went. Her eyes were fiercely blue, and through the eyeline, her skin was painted, with thick black color. Her face was tattooed almost in every place, and where it was not, she had metal beads, pinned into the skin.
And she carried the bow, her arrow killing the mad man.
“Oh, please, do not worry about me” she approached the smoking body and pulled the arrow with a violent move. “Puke. I won’t judge you.”
But Tiyan had enough. He really had.
The girl seemed to not care about his presenc when she pulled the man on his back and started to examine him. She searched his pockets and carefully caressed the horns on his head.
“He was already lost. The horns, you see? They grew and grew and forced into his head. He was already dead, only the spell kept him alive.”
“What are you even doing here? Don’t you know that this is dangerous?”
“Well..yes. Kind of” he didn’t intend to tell the unknown person about his mission, not now, and not ever.
“You aren’t a talker, are you?” she raised her eyes on him. “But good, you shouldn’t. Was it done by you?” she pointed at the still burning wounds.
“Yes” Tiyan still didn’t know how it happened, what a curse it was, but he didn’t even plan to reveal that before this woman as well. “I threw him in the fire.”
She smelled the air.
“Indeed. The fire” she regarded him for a short time, gazing at the burned out bonfire, like guessing he lies. Tiyan felt judged and he didn’t like it. Not when he seemingly used a dark spell, not when he heard voices in his head.
And definitely not when he had vomits on his shirt.
“You are lucky” she told him, her voice tinted with confidence. “These people, deadlings, are often prowling here. Their imperative is to kill and only kill. They are like walking corpses, even if they still are alive. He would kill you, and go to search for another prey.”
“What a pointless death” Tiyan couldn’t form a clever sentence, but this came to him as easy as a pie.
The girl regarded him again, this time closer. Her eyes slid on his dirty clothes, which were all in mud. She had to come to the conclusion that he isn’t very interesting after all, because she attached the bow to her back and turned to the entrance of the stables.
“Good luck then. Don’t allow anyone to kill you pointlessly.”
She opened the door which creaked violently and the afternoon sun entered the building, almost hurting Tiyan’s eyes.
She was already on the path, when Tiyan caught up with her. She looked at him with badly concealed annoyance.
“I thought you were guarding you back.”
“You seem to know this road well.”
“Yes, in fact” she narrowed her painted eyes.
“Could you show me how to tread it… without being killed that easily?”
“Where have you lived so far?”
“Two days of walk from here” admitted Tiyan. The girl scoffed.
“You really are a fresh pear, freshly picked from the tree. Green like grass.”
Tiyan should feel offended, but he didn’t. She was right after all. He never moved farther than the Inamora in the valley, or neighboring settlements, since he was a young child. Now, comparing himself to his parents, who traveled the whole Avras, he wasn’t green, even, he was white. A tiny bud in the cotton wool.
And he shouldn’t trust the first woman he met on the road. She saved his life, but one never knew who was an enemy and who was a friend. If a word such as friend still existed in this road’s vocabulary.
“You know that this poor man was easy on you compared to what breathes and walks through this area?”
“Possibly. I am maybe green, but I am aware of what lurks in the darkness. Sometimes our village was attacked by monsters.”
“Monsters… You are so young. Not by age. By experience” she formed a crooked smile, which suited her painted face very well. “Where do you even go, do you have any goal?”
“Well…” Tiyan waved with his hand in the north. “There” to the fae land, he thought ironically. He really was going there and now he was almost killed by something that he should fight and win in mere seconds, at least is he plans to enter the raven nest. If he planned to help Mina, he had to deal with it better.
“Who would guess?” the girl shook his head over his stupidity. “There. I have good news for you, Green Boy, there are even more dangers. You are in the best place to start, but there is best way to end.”
Tiyan’s expression had to be filled with doubt, because she added.
“If you help me when I need it, I can push you through.”
Tiyan wanted to agree immediately, but suddenly, this kind of deal reminded him of the fairies. It had to be visibly painted on his face, because she laughed. Sharp and amused laughter.
“I am not luring you into a trap. But I appreciate your concern. You would be a fool, if you weren’t concerned. Consider it a deal. I will need someone… later. But it will be a small favor compared to the fact that you will live. And I can assure you that I am a human. I can cut myself, my blood is not blue.”
Something in him knew she was telling the truth. But the girl, seeing him hesitating, pulled the sharp knife and cut her finger, precisely and fast. The human blood appeared, a crimson blood. It trickled on the ground and stained the snow red.
Tiyan could hear as his heart started to beat faster. With company, he will have a better chance to live through. He really didn’t know most of the dangers here. And no fae could fake the blood color. That was one of their disadvantages – they could become anyone, thanks to glamour… but they couldn’t hide the blue than ran through their veins.
“As long as you won’t take my life, and help me to avoid death, I will pay you up” he eventually said. “And as long as it won’t cause me to go off the track.”
“You have a goal,” she nodded. “I can respect that, even if that carries you away from a safe home.”
My home isn’t safe, he thought, bitterly, it isn’t even home now.
“Keep yourself a few steps back.”
“Why? Are you afraid that I will attack you? You saved my life!”
“No. You stink. A lot. You definitely need to bathe and fast, if we are to keep each other company.”
He let her speak, it harmed no one. She obviously was a ‘talker’. He should maybe think more about why she adopted him so easily. Why she just proposed him the company. But alone here, he would not make it, the incident that just happened, made him painfully aware, that lonely human has much less chances than two. Everything better than darkness creeping under the skin.
We are your stars.
We are your gods.
You are our slave.
What did that even was? It terrified him more, than a possibility, that the new found guide will gut him alive while he sleeps. It was surely connected with the fey, they passed something on him, something that was either to help him appear in their palace… or made him suffer even more. Whatever it was, it burned and it burned with vicious flame.
“Ah, and I will of course tell you before what help I meant. I am not a fae, and I don’t drag people into impossibilities. You will have choice. I won’t go after you, if you won’t agree.”
A badly concealed fear over unknown power engraved in his face, hidden under his thick scarves. But he gave out a smile at her words, a sad one, but it crooked his lips in almost morbid way.
And the snow started falling, hiding their footprints under fresh white sheet. And silence would reign among the boughs and branches if not the tongue of his new companion, happy that it can move after long… long time of complete loneliness.