The woods seemed endless. Like they were closing around them, trapping them in a perfect circle, making them go after their own footsteps. Ona didn’t try to pull his secrets off him, and he was grateful for that. Though he was catching her gaze on himself, a watchful one, a bit distrustful, a bit curious.
Whatever she saw in him, was making her interested, more than before.
Tiyan slowly was getting numbed by monotony and his own worries. Only two days since the fey beast attacked them. The landscape was gloomy, and mentally devastating, in peculiar, soul-draining way. They hunted and had food, at least, the last animal though was almost not rotten and they had maybe more clean meat – but, due to that stronger, less pained, more agile. Deadly in its fury. A doubt entered even Ona’s eyes. No one wants to die, when has a goal to take.
Ona getting not only curious, but also restless. It was long since she heard her talking like in the beginning. Her eyes were sad and he knew, he felt, that she would go her way, if he ever found the passage. Her summons were elsewhere, not in Ain’asel. And Tiyan was an emphatic observer.
Maybe fae were showing him the path all the time… Maybe he was just a fool, and thanks to his foolishness, Mina may suffer. Maybe the night fires were always present, but he was blind to them.
He tormented himself, and his torture was painted with heavy, grey clouds during day and enchanted gleam during night – lighted up by their bonfire and moon reflecting in the snow. By the stars which looked down below, possibly pondering why he even tries. For stars, everything was short and irrelevant. For him, it lasted way too long.
When the sun started to set over second day, when they were both too tired to go on, he saw them. He really saw them, and his eyes lit with hopeful enthusiasm. At last. He would fall in the snow, straight on his knees, thanking the goddess, if he dared to lose them from sight.
Dancing in the air, small enchanted flames, blue, green and white – they seemed small and harmless. At first they looked like eyes, blinking at him, luring him, inviting him to spend time in their company. But as they came closer, Tiyan could see their tiny mouth; they moved, licked the flames and sucked in the air – no eyes, no faces, just mouth, mouth like holes, dark as night, surrounded by cold blaze.
“Ona” he caught her by the jacket; she looked in the direction he pointed out. Her faces immediately formed a frown, her lips tightly shut, like she wanted to bite through the array of the flames.
“What the fu—“
Tiyan shook his head. He couldn’t lose them now.
“I think… They are the Wisps. I heard about them in Inamora. They tend to send humans straight into fae hands. Making them lose their path, showing wrong ways.”
“I know what Wisps are,” whispered Ona. Her eyes never left the fires, which were coming closer. “Are they… the ones the fey promised you? If no…”
“I think so” Tiyan was sure of this, the first time during the whole journey.
“I think… it may be a trap” said doubtfully Ona, when the Wisps slowly arrived and surrounded Tiyan with their ghastly presence. Their mouths opened and released long tongues which started to check Tiyan, tasting him, leaving coal trails over his jacket, trousers and face. Ona looked at it, not sure if she should allow this, or pull out the iron. The fact that Tiyan just stood there, almost happy that he sees these sprites, crawled into her head with an image of him burning, enjoying the flames.
She would too – a sudden thought. It that was to save Isnan.
Tiyan heard something. A song. It was coming from nowhere, like sounding straight in his head. He saw the tilted head of Ona. Was she hearing it too? The song was sad, melancholic, pulling all dark cords that housed in his mind. This was a song of lost hopes and unfulfilled dreams. Freezing as the fae land, and somehow filled with certain desperate fire. Beautiful, and scary, like midnight fairy tales.
Song of oblivion, of empty passages in deep ice. Of hidden caverns awash by cold underground water. Of moonless fens which didn’t know the human presence.
And suddenly, Tiyan knew the direction. He felt it in his skull, under his eyelids and in his heart.
Delicious human… he was so slow… so blind on signs.
Tiyan swallowed. Hard. His mind was open, even if he didn’t clear it from all thoughts, even if he didn’t allow. More powerful spell worked here, something that was filling him in, taking his mind as a hostage. He felt dark presence in his head, darker than the Wisps.
He will witness our lord’s anger. He will witness it, whether he wants it or not.
The Wisps slowly disattached from him and flew in the direction which he knew was right.
It was not my fault, do not harm her. I couldn’t see.
It’s not his fault? Not her fault? It’ the fault of weak minds. But the blood spilled already. Tasty, tasty human blood.
Ona was looking at him with a doubtful expression. Her usually mossy green eyes, now turning deep aquamarine. He wanted to ask her so many times about it. But now, it seemed so irrelevant.
Please, do not harm her. I will do everything you wish for me. Just give me some more time.
Only a few nights, he heard a tingling laughter, his patience has limits and his anger… not.
When the small cold flames disappeared, he felt as places they touched on his skin started to burn, slightly, but painfully. He touched his face, smearing the coal trails over the skin.
Now I look like Ona, a crazy thought came to him and when their gazes met, he couldn’t stop a pained grin. He was afraid and that made him amused, in a dark way. This was so unreal, all of this. He went so far, showing how worthless he is, how many mistakes he made. How low his chances are, even if the Shadow won’t kill him and Mina on the first day of his presence in Ain’asel.
But he was going, even if he was scared. He passed the point of no return. The fear, the courage, the cowardice and will to survive, all merged in him into a pulp made of lack of choices, giving him strength to enter the cursed realm… and taking all hopes from him.
“You don’t look good” a crooked smile bloomed on Ona’s face.
“I look like you.”
“You will never look like me. Only if you spend a whole hour at night painting your face.”
This bad joke, told by Ona – who almost never joked – soothed his heart, in some odd, scary way. In a way that he never expected.
Do not harm her.
Of course they won’t. Otherwise he would never enter the passage leading to Ain’asel. And if they killed him, they would lose any chance to drag him there.
They needed him.
They needed him, for goodness’ sake.
He really hope they did as much as he thought.