Her eyes observed him from under the scarfs, which she pushed deep onto her nose. The cold intensified, like winter decided to torment them even more, trying to beat them. Yet they managed to find a circle made of amassed stones, which worked for them as a roof and walls. A touch of luck, second this night. Winter disliked them, but it didn’t mean they were supposed to die. They were only tested.
He was tested.
His hands were all scratched up, so as soon as they managed to find the hiding, she pulled out bandages and helped him to put them on. Her own wounds were not as serious as amount of blood could indicate. She bandaged them too, cleaning both first with freshly melted water.
It didn’t bit her. She will not catch the rot. But it could.
But now, when he rested near the fire, flames well guarded by solid walls, Ona couldn’t not think about intensitity of hatred the fey beast felt for him. It looked like it was almost personal vengeance. Hatred lit up by something she saw only by the glimpse of an eyes… but it engraved in her mind immediately.
Because she knew the sign that was burned up with scars under Tiyan’s chest, under his heart. When she stood over him in the moonlight and his skin wsa still exposed, she saw it in the dim light.
It was carved over tree barks, left in stone circles. It was painted on the walls of abandonded buildings. Sometimes, by the lesser folk. Sometimes, with devotion, by humans. She knew people who made a cult over fae and fae gods.
And these people had her sister now.
It was the sign of the fey king. The brusha beast, shadow creature, eating its own tail.
How and why it was carved in her companion’s skin? It made her cautious again. How much did she know about Tiyan? Only things he told her. His nice and almost clumsy way of being could be only a camouflage. He could be one of fae’s willing servants. Maybe he was sent for her… or Insan.
Why? Because she killed many lesser faeries and she could guide him now to her sister. And what would be a better revenge than leading a fey servant to Insan and let him kill her on her eyes?
Tiyan didn’t look like fairy ally though. Especially this night. As always silent, as always closed in his thoughts, now, even more. The meeting with the creature really shook him and she knew he wasn’t pretending. In his eyes, she saw an utter and pure shock.
But her doubts could be still valid.
A cloud of chill escaped her mouth and she pulled the scarf up. At least the stones protected them from worst wind.
He was digging a hole with a stick, just in the light snow, painting undeciphered shapes. His mood somber, sullen. He looked pressed, and she thought that maybe she isn’t pondering about the fey beast… but his own goals. His own mission.
“Tell me about your sister” she decided it was the best way to start this. “Where she is? Where have you lost her?”
He looked at her, fast gaze, almost fearful. But it quickly was replaced by pain, which she knew – as well – was real. He looked like he was battling his own emotions, but evidently decided that if she saved his life… she deserves some truth.
“The fae kidnapped her” his voice was dull.
Ah yes. That was something she suspected.
“That’s why you go north” she guessed. “You want to enter Ain’asel.”
This was so stupid, so suicidal, that she felt all of it at once: respect for his sacrifice, pity for him being a fool, and fear – that he really thought prying his sister from the heart of this nightmare was even a good idea. It was mad.
She probably was already dead.
“Of course” he smiled bitterly. “But I won’t get there. Not if I still aim north.”
Ona watched him intensely, until he spoke again.
“I know that it’s said to be there. But I have a strange feeling that I go wrong way. The fae told me… that I should go after Will-o’-the-Wisps. I haven’t seen even one.”
Ona took the blanket with herself and sat closer to fire, putting freezing hands over the flames. Slowly, the warmth, slight and delicate, slid into her skin with tendrils of relief.
“I heard… that Ain’asel is everywhere” Ona decided to share that with him. Even if the Unseelie blackmailed him with his sister’s life to kill Insan, she really prefered to not judge him that fast.
She was judged way too often already. And she wanted to give him a chance. Anyone could be pulled into darkness, with threat and pain. Unwillingly. If that was the truth, it was not his fault.
“I am a green bean” he smiled meekly at her. “In my village, no one really wanted to talk about fae realm. It was “far, too far, like a bad dream”.”
“And you?” the shadows played with Ona’s feature in really peculiar way. Reflecting in her green eyes with stars and moons. Now, they were paler. Like it changed colors. Which, was true, in fact.
“Me too. Imagine that. Someone who can’t even look reality in the eyes, goes to save someone from a place that he pushed down so deep, that it disappeared for him.”
“Such things don’t like to be forgotten.”
“Oh, definitely. They like to be seen in full sun, while they take cotrol over your life.”
Ona also took the stick and started to paint with it on the snow as well. On the bark of the tree leading to her city, before it was taken by force by the enemy, she once saw the brusha beast. It was carved by someone, and she didn’t even know what it was. Back then, she was green bean too. She was young, and was sure that her father, almost always absent, knows all answers and saves her from all black spells. A warrior, who fought the immortals, and was victorious. She wanted to be like him, so much.
A week later, the fae invaded Feirne.
And she saw more that day, that she was able to take.
The question was pushing on her lips. After all, better to confront him now. Try to change his mind, if he serves the fey. She knew he was a good yet lost soul. She could feel it, deep. He didn’t deserved being used by darkness.
If it was even true. So much she didn’t know about him.
“What is the sign you wear?” she asked, slowly, her tone involuntarily ominous and low. “The one that creature wanted to claw from your body?”
Tiyan looked more resigned than shocked. It was painted so well on his face, that she could believe him in anything in this moment. He started to pull something from under his jacket and shirt. Where he managed to find it, he showed her.
A small pendant. On a black cord, made from bronze. A bit tarnished, yet still recognizable. The brusha creature, of course. The sign of the fae king. The sign of the Shadow.
“Mina had it when I found her. I don’t know what it is, but I have it burned out in my skin. And I don’t even want to guess, what does that mean.”
Ona took the pendant. The brusha looked at her with empty eyes. Swallowing its tail with an uncanny, almost perverse expression.
“This is the fae sign” she shook her head. “Are you sure you never were in Ain’asel? Maybe they took you…”
“No” cut suddenly Tiyan. “I am not the fae born. No one stole me after birth.”
“And you don’t even remember the creation of this huge scar? I saw it, Tiyan, it had to hurt.”
“No” Tiyan seemed to sink in himself. Maybe he really didn’t. Or he repressed it so deeply, because it was so painful, so traumatic, that he preferred to forget, rather than allow it to surge in his memories.
The silence reigned between them again. Ona was almost sure she had right to him. She saw genuine fear and insecurity which couldn’t be feigned. He could be manipulated, but was not vile by himself.
But she didn’t expect from him to tell her everything, nor she thought he will tell her more. Perhaps taking him to Arelt, was not the best idea, Initially, maybe was. But now, when she knew him better and when she was aware of his own scores to settle, it was amost wrong.
It would be, like she killed his sister.
That would be inhuman. And Ona was a human, from bone and red blood.
The night suddenly bursted with a wild blaze. Ona, sitting on watch, looked, terrified, as flames sudenly envelop Tiyan, bright, almost white, with blue hues. She felt the immense heat that reaching her, was melting snow under her feet. It was hot, very hot, and smelled of burning wood. She was ready to start to put out the fire with her blanket, or try to quench it with the snow…
… Tiyan didn’t scream. His clothes were untouched. His face was calm as he slept, and when the flames licked his face, she saw a serene smile on it, like he welcomed the fire and enjoyed it’s hot caress.
Ona slowly approached, shocked, almost sure that it all is an illusion, and Tiyan will become a black debris on her eyes.
But he didn’t. He just burned, like he was himself made of flames. Like bathing in them. Like manifesting primal strength of the elements.
Ona felt… she didn’t know what she felt.
But she knew that it may attract the fae, if didn’t attract them already.
Perhaps that’s why he travelled to Ain’asel.
To feed their curiosity and darkness with bright flames.