Noyd jumped over the fallen log, Tiyan jumped after her. The forest seemed to sparkle as the sun shone through the branches like jewels between spread fingers. Tiyan felt the sun enter his eyelids and blind him for a moment, only to release him suddenly when the leaves dimmed the light.
“My mother said it is unwise to look at the sun,” Noyd said with a light, friendly sneer. “You could lose your eyes.”
Tiyan’s face lit up with one of his special smiles with which he broke the hearts of adults: light, innocent. Puppy smile.
The forest was their second home. It surrounded Inamora and stretched throughout the Vennklan Valley. Bright and safe during the day because the villages were undisturbed by predators; mysterious and tempting at night. The perfect place for children to disappear into the thicket, recklessly – and bravely – and then suddenly reappear for supper, guided by instinct and their inner compass.
Tiyan has had such a compass since he learned to walk. He always knew where he was, he didn’t even have to look to see. Noyd said he was a wizard. She herself got lost easily as they entered the dense forest.
“You’re a mage, not a knight,” she laughed. “You don’t have to have a sword. Magic is enough.”
Tiyan preferred the sword. He had never held a sword in his hand, but he felt that he could fight, save damsels in distress and compete in tournaments,
The magic was strange. Too wild for him. Too chaotic. At least the sword had shape and lay securely in one’s hand.
Besides, real mages didn’t exist. There were only witches, but they were blessed by the goddess. And they were only girls.
Tiyan wouldn’t want to be a medic anyway, like the witches did. The blood scared him a bit.
Noyd joked about how he would become a knight when he was afraid of blood. Knights shed blood. In war and defending damsels in distress.
Tiyan didn’t know how to respond to this, so he got offended and didn’t talk to Noyd until she dragged him away for another escapade.
“Where are we?” Noyd, despite her warning, looked straight at the sun.
“You’ll lose your eyes,” Tiyan grinned.
Noyd gave him a killer smile.
“I think I know where; we should reach Nagava soon.”
Nagava was a small river flowing through the forest. It was the outflow of the Solma, which stretched far, far away to the sea in the west.
“We’ll be able to get our feet wet,” he added because he was a little tired.
Noyd ran, so he followed her – soon they saw a river, surrounded by grass and stones, shallow enough at the ford for them to get wet.
Tiyan entered first, delighted to feel the clean water washing his feet. The sun was shining, warm and bright, and the forest looked like something out of a fairy tale. Tiyan went deeper, the water reached his knees.
But he heard no answer.
“Noyd?” he turned around, because it was very out of character for his friend to fall silent at the climax of the fun..
With a questioning eyebrow raised.
And then he saw the flames.
Noyd stood by the water, her mouth open in a silent scream, her body ravaged by fire so intense it was white. Her arms were spread to her sides, as if she wanted to embrace the flames and embrace him, to share the burning embers with him.
And Noyd… moved towards him.
He screamed for a long, long time. Millenia, eons. Screamed until he couldn’t scream anymore, his voice choking in his throat.
Until he felt fire on his skin.
He woke up, disoriented, scared and still half-asleep. The warmth embraced him with heat, and the scent of burn reached his nostrils, and the feeling of water dripping over his head.
He watched with horror, how the white hot flames crawled over his body. He was ready to scream, sure that he is only numbed by shock and the pain will come soon, but it didn’t and Tiyan slowly raised up, sitting on the blanket. His clothes, his warm thick jacket and pants, were unaffected, the fire, even if he felt its heat, wasn’t burning him.
It was in some way… beautiful. Like the dance of the light and shadows. The snow melted around him, but the fire didn’t drown in water, it was water which started to evaporate.
It was that hot.
And it was both scaring him and hypnotizing. The flames licked his fingers, untamed and wild.
His gaze darted at Ona. In fear, in doubt. This was the same fire that burned the deadling, making a pulp from his arms. It was the same fire that he didn’t tell her about. He was almost sure that if she saw it, she would either leave him on the road, not allowing him nearby.
Or… the worst scenario was that she would think he is cursed or is a servant of the Fae… and he knew her maybe not long enough, but he was sure she would kill him then.
His eyes moved with the flames, which didn’t harm him, at all, almost kissing him, placing tender caress on his skin.
And thought crept into his mind. Wild, unnatural and mad. If he was able to do that, how could it help him to pry Mina from the talons of Ain’asel? How much these burning white could harm the fey? But mostly, how much they knew about it and why they wanted it so much for themselves? Because he was sure that this, nothing else, is making him so valuable in their eyes.
It scared him, but something deep in his soul protested before this fear. Use it. He felt almost… like the fire speaks to him to give himself to this, how it tempts him. But that… was scaring him even more.
Ona slept. He at least thought so.
Her half-lidded eyes observed him, though. Pierced him, like daggers. Green eyes in a blackened face, so dark, that almost invisible.
But she didn’t say anything.
The flames seemed to sink into Tiyan’s skin. Disappearing, like mist. He caught himself holding breath. He almost felt as his lungs sucked in air, when he inhaled. The scent of heat dispersed, like the fire never was there.
He felt a huge bile forming in his throat. This was evil. This was not a gift.
But he wanted, suddenly, for it to not be a dream. He needed everything to save his sister. Even if his heart protested and squeezed at the possibilities.
He hated killing. He hated magic. But the imagination of screaming Mina, tortured by the beautiful darkness, was enough for him to hate enough to take the Fae’s life.