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ATOM: Darkness’ Call – IV

The sun was going to set completely in the next half an hour.

Tiyan could feel almost touchable tension in Ona. She strode with wide steps, which he would have hard to keep up to, if not his longer legs. At the same time, she was silent, even more than before. Tiyan could easily see that she got lost completely in whatever her thoughts were circling around. She didn’t even graced him with one look, but her gaze was washing over each larger bough, each steep slope that could hide… something.

Tiyan observed that Ona, when anxious, loses every will to talk, she just concentrates on the path, possibly mulling over what she could do differently – or, what may await them. She was similar to him in that. He preferred to not talk about what torments him. To hide his worry, so others didn’t see it. He very often felt helpless, but he liked to deal with it at own pace. Yet, somehow, Ona’s silence was unnerving him. She was almost always more talkative. Last days proved that she can be quiet like stone.

The burned forest gave way to open space. Before, it probably was a meadow, now the ground was covered with thick snow, which will probably catch their feet and slow them down. Thinking about the beast they left behind, being so easily visible from afar, with snow everywhere, which could turn their possible escape into a broken mess, Tiyan felt as if something grew in him. A tree of doubt, a root of fear.

“I feel like we took the worst possible path” he rose a brow, his tone not even inquisitive. It had the strength of all his frustration that piled up since they saw the circle made of animal bodies. It boiled in him, this undone, which he would even prefer to take on his chest. He almost felt the eyes on an unknown creature on his back. And judging from tense expression of Ona, she did too.

She looked at him, first time in a long. Her skin was this time paler under the paint. Suddenly Tiyan was attacked by an odd thought – if she paints it all over again while he sleeps. It never was coming off. Like plastered to her face.

“I was sure we did well” she replied, her eyes narrowed, wind tossing snow at her, which looked like freckles on her black make-up. “But this open meadow doesn’t look good.”

“Honestly? It looks like a plate.”

Ona nodded. Serious nod. With a stern face, which in incoming darkness looked even more ominous.

“We could come back. But I sense it would be even more stupid. We need to leave this meadow and dive into the woods, there” she pointed at the mass of the trees that silhouetted in the faint light. “We need to rest… and I need to set up few traps.”

Traps. Of course. She indeed felt the invisible eyes on them. When you hunt long enough, you start learning it, like sixth sense.

“We will become hunters instead of the prey” he muttered to himself, but Ona looked like she heard it – she nodded almost invisibly.

They left the forest of burnt-out trunks and started to wade through the snow. It was ridiculous but completely predictable, that in open space snow will be more prominent. That understanding didn’t ease Tiyan’s muscles and heart, though.

They didn’t even pass the fourth part of the way, when a howl pierced the air.

Ona stood like petrified. Tiyan stopped in a midstep.

The howl was not pained, like rotten wolf’s one. It was filled with morbid joy – whatever made this sound, it did it for purpose, to let its prey know its there. To make them fear. It faded quickly, to sound again,  this time longer, finished with an amused, cruel cackle.

Ona looked at Tiyan. He gazed at her and he knew, just knew his face is even paler than hers.

Now, Tiyan would prefer it to be Fae. Because with them he could bargain, supporting himself on the fact that he is awaited in Ain’asel. He could tell them that the Shadow won’t like it if they killed him, or took any body part from him – which could be after all very vital to Shadow’s needs. Of course he knew nothing of his purpose. But there was still hope, if they met them. Even for Ona, is he persuaded them, that he needs her to survive on the road.

This… this was like a bad dream. Caught on an open meadow in a falling darkness, only two people, with a wild beast lurking not far from them. He thought if Ona often was in such a situation, and something told him that yes. And that… she never got used to it.

They resumed walking silently, now Tiyan keeping up to her much better. The darkness crept slowly over them, changing distant trees into massive bodies only awaiting their misstep. The stars, well-known constellations, spread over dark sky and soon, the moon and them, were an only light that shone over their snowy path.

As the time passed and the tree group wasn’t closer, they stopped looking at each other again, their steps turning faster and faster, until they started to almost run, feeling the eyes of the night on their backs. Faster. As much as snow allowed. As much as cold around them allowed to their lungs. Tiyan felt as the chill creeps into him and freezes inside, like  pools filled with wintery water. His lungs soon started to hurt.

He also felt as his heart beat even quicker than his steps, and the sweat under his cap and pounding panic in his whole body. If Ona was running, they had to be in deadly danger; he allowed her to lead and choose the best path. Clearest and shortest.

They passed half the way. And then Ona turned to him and the sound reached him, like cracking ice, and snow, and heavy thumps, like a sharp yoik. Something landed near them, and Ona tossed him on the side, like he was not a grown up man but a rag doll.

“Fuck” he groaned, when he fell on his knees and buried with his hands in the freezing snow, additionally peeling skin on both of them.

When he turned to Ona, though, he quickly forgot about his hands.

Between them, a large beast rose, larger than them both. Silent like a cloud promising rain and lightning. Its black skin was glistening in the night light, large part of it covered with sicklish rot, moss growing on its stomach and legs. It smelled, awfully, like decomposing corpses. And stood on two legs, while it walked slowly to Ona.

The huntress didn’t attack first, watching its moves, like she calculated where to go through its defence of long sharp talons and deadly teeth. But even she didn’t expect what happened. The beast fixed its maw in something that just had to be a smile and tossed something under Ona’s feet.

Tiyan had sharp eyes so he immediately recognized it.

Small, maimed body of a squirrel, half flayed with a precise talon.

Tiyan felt as his limbs became weaker. That was the fey beast.

And they probably had no chance against it.

He pulled the knife, hoping his experience in hunting will be enough to fend himself. And the creature slowly, very slowly, turned to him. Its maw still grinning viciously, when it put one talon into its mouth and licked it from squirrel blood.

Damn. That was sick, Tiyan thought. His gaze met the dark eyes of the beast, and he saw in them twisted hunger and something more, something darker… the pain mixed with strange enjoyment. A mad eyes of something lost.

Ona attacked from behind, while the creature looked distracted, her fingers catching in the thick fur, sliding a bit over rotting skin. Her right hand piercing the back of the beast with a long knife. It buried with a loud smack into fungi infested flesh. Tearing sound added to it, when the back splintered, to show the open bones. Ona pushed deeper, slicing further.

Oh goddess. The rot was reaching deep.

Maybe they have a chance.

The beast turned back and almost casually grabbed her by her neck, raising her up, effortessly. It tossed her on the side, with a wide grin, like the wound she made was only a slight laceration. Like keeping her for later. Ona groaned lowly when she met the ground – snow allowing her to not break anything. She rolled over  as soon as she met the earth, to amortize the fall, and dragged up, to reach for the bow, fast, fast movement. She was in a good distance to shoot, her eyes fixed on the beast, gleaming with unnatural glint in the moonlit darkness. She swallowed, hard. Her neck stained with blood in place where talons scratched, like prolongation of her face paint.

The animal howled, deafingly, in pure rage and completely forgetting Ona, it threw itself onTiyan, choosing him over her in time of one breath. It reached him in even less, fast, faster than its state should’ve allowed.

Ona saw her chance. She pulled her arrow with deadly efficiency, not wondering why the beast just left her aside, and taking the bow, she drew the arrow on a string. Aimed, all in a few seconds too.

For him though, all felt like in slow motion. The fey beast jumped on Tiyan, so slowly, like it was falling on him for hours. Tiyan lost balance, his knife fell off his hand. His breath choked him, when the beast started to dig into his clothes. Tiyan wanted to pull the dagger, but the creature pinned the hand that held it to the ground.

Ona fired for the first time. Her hands sure, not shaking.

The beast seemed to only barely acknowledge the arrow which stung in its arm, trying to tear Tiyan’s clothes. Was was that, a frantic thought passed his mind. What it is even doing. He tried to push the large head which dripped with saliva, but it grabbed his other hand too, and pinned them both behind his head with one paw, in a parody of a lover’s hold. Tiyan wanted to scream, do something, toss or try to free his hands, but he found himself almost enchanted by the fire in the beast’s eyes, and its work over his clothes. It felt like it wants to dig its way to his flesh, but also odd, strange, almost personal. A cry of protest caught in his throat.

At las it found what it was looking for. Tiyan realized that the beast looked straight at his mark, which was so similar to the pendant he got from Mina, a burnt-out scar. It looked at it, with odd intelligence in his eyes and growled; a dangerous, repressed, low sound. Its eyes alight, with hating flame. Like it hated the mark more than it hated him, or humans. Or anything.

It seemed like it had to look at it, tempted by it, almost allured, lighting it own hatred, before it shreds him to pieces.

It reached his chest, just when the scar was.

It was about to bury its claws into it, also, like in slow motion.

And then, Ona’s arrow pierced its heart from behind, just through the bones, in a place where her knife wounded it before. 

The beast screamed. It was pure scream, human one, pained, disappointed. Hurt. Tiyan, freeing his hands from the almost intimate grasp, crawled back, in shock. He looked at his chest, almost sure he’ll find an open wound, but nothing indicated the beast managed to harm him.

Ona was slowly approaching, like she knew that the creature can’t harm anyone. Not now. She reached the fey beast which was now shaking in death throes, like a puppet on a string, and grabbing it by the fur in its neck, she slit its throat, deep, scraping againts the spine. She needed few cuts to get through thick skin, which on its neck wasn’t that devoured by fungi, but when the knife scratched on bone, Ona growled in relief, her voice so similar to the animal’s one. Blood gushed, thick and dark – looking black in the dark.

The sound the beast made, Tiyan would remember for long years to come – not exactly pained. rather disappointed, that it didn’t manage to kill him. A funeral dirge for itself, filled with longing.

And it thumped on the ground, its head completely sinking in the snow.

Ona looked at Tiyan with a specific, undeciphered expression, in the darkness she looked for a moment unnatural, wild and haunted.

“It wanted you. Deeply” she uttered, now allowing tension to creep into her voice, making her lose the dark aura. “And we are alive thanks to that.”

Tiyan didn’t know if he was happy about it.

But he definitely was happy to not be dead.

2 Comments on “ATOM: Darkness’ Call – IV”

  1. Wow! What a chapter, Lorian. Wonderful! 💗 Tense! For a moment I thought that Ona was going to die saving him, but I’m glad they saved themselves. And thanks to Tiyan and his power ( correct?;) )
    That was the part where you stopped, right? When you decided to rewrite. It looks great!! 😎

    PS: Thank you so much for the core!! 🥰

    1. Thank you! 😀 And not exactly power – it was more the beast’s hatred for everything Fae. He sensed them in Tiyan.
      And I decided to rewrite long ago, actually :>

      No problem, always happy to help!

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