Tiyan slept through the night, not being bothered by the intense cold – or worse things, which creeped and crawled in darkness. His mind needed rest, a break from pain and suffering – and the best means of transport when escaping from oneself – is sleep.

Ona didn’t wake him up to change her guard, she stubbornly stayed at her post, even though she had probably endured many such nights – sleepless, heavy as lead, poisonous as mercury.

Building a makeshift house out of snow gave them an advantage against the wind and cold. What had tormented Tiyan for two nights, two cruel nights without sleep and with an overwhelming sense of guilt, was stripped of its tiredness to throw his consciousness into action.

Ona didn’t even look a little tired. As if a sleepless night was as natural to her as melting snow over a fire, which she was doing now. Her painted face looked fierce and uncompromising in the light of the icy morning.

“Water” Tiyan was stating a fact rather than asking a question. He sat down next to her, on the fallen branch of the tree they had built their shelter next to the night before.

“Sometimes it can be drunk” She wasn’t really in the mood to talk. Tiyan felt a little hurt, or rather he would have if it weren’t for the reality they were in.

After leaving the winter house, the wind bit his cheeks like a mad dog. There was more snow – Ona temporarily shoveled it away from the entrance.

Tiyan wasn’t really good at countering sarcasm. Mina was much better at it, even though they were five years apart. Mina was strong. Stronger. Tiyan was beginning to see the irony in this.

“Do you know roughly where to look for your sister?” Ona asked suddenly, her gaze lingering on Tiyan, then falling to the ground.

Did she also have unremembered nightmares that night?

Or maybe she remembered too many of them?

“I know the direction. Roughly” Tiyan still couldn’t decide whether to tell Ona about the irrefutable fact that Mina had not got lost  but had been cruelly kidnapped, and his own steps were leading him into the very mouth of the beast.

Would she still want to accompany him if she knew how much she would put herself at risk by being close to him? The Fae could kill her like they killed his parents – for fun, to motivate him, or vice versa. They needed him. But not her. She was another person who could be surrounded by roots and branches.

Tell her.

No.

“Roughly,” Ona nodded. A slight smile on her dark face. “You are truly amazing.”

Tiyan snorted.

“I’m lost, but definitely not amazing.”

“You are amazing. You don’t know the way, but you’re walking. Like in an old children’s book I once read. About an endless journey. About a journey without a destination, or rather with a goal that is unattainable.”

Tiyan frowned.

“Are you sure this was a children’s book?”

“Oh yes,” a smile on her face, light, sad. “But this is my interpretation. In the book, the wolf and the fox went berry picking together.”

Tiyan suddenly thought that Ona was not involved in the war. In the slaughter. She was not part of the battlefield, flowing with blood. She didn’t watch her comrades die because of her. Her childhood was spent waiting, just like the mayor’s wife’s and daughter’s.

And this was much worse. He went to war – to slaughter – as a boy, it was dangerous, yes, he could have died. But he learned to act when he was ten. He saw his hands stained with blood. He heard the screams of his friend, whose arm was eaten by a small, wonderful monster. And he saw how the spell, the glamour, brought warriors to their knees.

Ona, when she was a child, waited. She was too young to go to war – to slaughter – too young to take up the call of duty. She  was maybe six  years old when the Fae came for the humans.

He was too young too. Way too young. It harmed him, like a razor sliding through the throat.

She waited. She was losing hope. She waited again.

That’s probably why – when her world was in ruins, she took action. And Tiyan, not reading the stories about the fox and the wolf going out to pick berries, afraid that someone would not come back – just wanted to stop acting. The war – the slaughter – left him with a hole in his heart and a lack of courage.

He hated being a coward. He hated being guilty.

“I didn’t read much,” he blurted out nonsense.

“You must have read fairy tales to your sister.”

Fairy tales.

Nightmares.

“No. No fairy tales. She was afraid of them. But yes,” Tiyan admitted. “Stories about knights. About dragons. I liked them best, and so did she.”

“And when you were a boy… How old are you?” She tilted her head in a funny way, but her eyes remained serious.

“Twenty” barely passed his lips. War Child. A child of the times in between.

She looked at him for a moment. so intensely that Tiyan felt uncomfortable.

“You were there,” she nodded. “Were you there?” as if she wanted to make sure.’

Tiyan pulled his cap over his head. The wind stopped for a moment, only to return with increased force.

“Together with my father. And a mother.”

She didn’t ask any more. There was silence, not a heavy, uncomfortable silence. But calm, full of understanding. She took the pot of water off the fire and handed him a small, broken cup.

“Here. Warm yourself up. You’re probably all stiff after spending the night in this house.”

Tiyan took the cup gratefully.

“Your backpack is very roomy,” he decided to joke.

“Oh yes” She grabbed her backpack and slowly started to open it. “Do you want to see what treasures I have hidden here?”

“I’m scared,” Tiyan laughed for the first time in many days. Or months.

“And you should. But there’s also something there… That should cheer you up a little. Legend has it that things like this improve your mood.”

Tiyan raised an eyebrow.

“I held it for a long time. It must be molded” sparkles in her eyes. Mischievous sparkles.

Tiyan sighed.

“In our situation, eating molded things from your backpack is still better than eating rotting animals.”

“Oddly enough, it didn’t rot. And it should. Maybe it’s the frost.”

She took out a piece of… something, wrapped tightly in cloth.

“I told myself I would eat one piece every year I have lived. Thanksgiving feast. And a promise that I won’t get myself killed.”

She unraveled the knot and Tiyan saw a brown plaque.

“It’s very rare. I’ve got it… no matter how I’ve got it. Now… it’s irrelevant” her eyes shifted, she quickly handed him the unknown treat. Her smiled faded for while, like the sun hidden behind the passing cloud.

Something dark in her past. Another dark spot.

“But… anyway, try it yourself. I don’t know how it’s done, but…”

Tiyan carefully broke off a piece and looked at it. There were white spots on the brown background.

“However, mold.”

“No, it’s not. You can try. I don’t know how, but it’s still edible. Maybe we’ll get sick after fourty years, but now… Eat.”

“Won’t you want to celebrate another year with it?”

She laughed.

“I just want to see your face when you try.”

Tiyan carefully, very carefully, put the piece into his mouth.

What he felt, after years of eating cooked leftovers, was… terrifying. He wasn’t ready for this. He swallowed a piece, almost choking – while coughing, he waved his hand with a mug at her to pour water. She quickly filled his cup.

“What’s that?” he managed to choke out.

“An invention from the capital, before the war.”

The slaughter.

“They call it chocolate.”

“Goddess, that was…”

“Good.”

“And you only manage to eat a little bit every year?”

Ona’s smile faded. Tiyan immediately realized that he had said something stupid.

“I have to,” she replied, her face pale. “Otherwise… I won’t be able to live through it all.”

And Tiyan knew exactly what she meant.

2 Replies to “Atom: Darkness’ Call – I”

  1. I’m enjoying their interaction. You are doing a great job taking the necessary time and building trust between the two and friendship. And chocolate! I’m addicted! 💖
    Are you redoing the part about the knights, right? Because the text seemed familiar to me, but different at the same time. Because I remember it ended in cligghanger. 🧐

    1. Yes, I am redoing it, giving them more time 🙂 So they know each other better, and attach to each other. They will take some more chapters and some psychological struggles ^^
      Thank you 🙂

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