The Wisps appeared twice in the distance and Ona wasn’t convinced. It looked too much like typical things these wandering fires were doing, but Tiyan looked restless and almost enthralled, like the spell promised him finding his sister well and alive, and the mere presence of the Wisps meant her safety and Tiyan’s victory.
She didn’t blame him… yet his ravenous trust was as naive as cruel – for him and only him. He was sure the solution hides in place where the gate to Ain’asel lets him into the fairy realm. But no one really returned – sane – from it. Who knows what dangers awaited him there – because the fact that it was dangerous was rather obvious.
And she couldn’t go with him.
Not because she was afraid. Not because she thought he would betray her when brusha speaks for him. Because she didn’t know how much time she still had – she knew only that she had little of it. Both their siblings were kidnapped. No one will ever put the other above someone else’s life.
If Ona decided to help Tiyan, Isnan wouldn’t make it. If Tiyan forgot about his sister, she would be sentenced to a gruesome death. No choices were easy in this macabre reality.
Tiyan’s usually brown eyes were burning white in the darkness and that alone reminded her of the white and blue flames that were devouring him.
Fae waited for him. For his flames. And somehow, Ona suspected that they won’t use them in a good way. At least not on behalf of humankind. Their plans may cause even more suffering. And Tiyan was – unwillingly – a key to that.
“Do you hear it?”
Ona looked at him surprised. He spoke for the first time today. It became a quite comfortable habit now, to not talk for hours. They didn’t feel the pressure to fill the silence with words. They didn’t need words. They were replaced by silent understanding of each other’s situation. Even if Ona never told him about Isnan, in fear he would ask.
About magic. About witchcraft.
People hated magic now. Ona wasn’t a witch herself, but Isnan was a very strong one, blessed by the goddess with healing power. Her good heart was supported by inner flame and strength of personality. She was ready to fight for her views and for those she loved. Ona only hoped she was the same.
But that’s what Tiyan meant. No wind. There was no wind. No branch moved. No rotten leaf whispered in the falling darkness, rustling silently.
The world seemed dead.
She nodded. She heard that. Listening to silence, she caught the lack of any life.
The night was coming, dark and unforgiving and Ona, as prepared as she was, suddenly felt the void in her chest. These trees were always dead… but not petrified forever, turned to stone, eternal and cold, lasting for centuries.
This was part of fae enchantment. And Ona somehow felt they are very close. Very close to Ain’asel. Which was in the North… but not in the definite meaning of it.
Tiyan’s eyes lit, he understood that too. Ona could sense how the repressed worries emanate from him. They were almost touchable.
And then, the time stopped.
First thing Ona felt, was an intense scent of blood. Heavy, hanging in the air with crimson notes; old blood which still was fresh enough to reek.
She couldn’t not observe how Tiyan changed – had to change – during the last two weeks. He decided to check on this, with a sullen, stern expression. Ona almost suspected that the fire which he burns with at night, slowly, very slowly hardens him.
The branches and snowed-up bushes opposed them, but both Tiyan and Ona managed to clear them away off their path, literally sensing the heavy atmosphere this part of the woods beamed with.
Something happened here. Something wrong, which still had a rotten scent of magic pushing everything down with its strength.
Tiyan was going first and so he saw it first as well.
Ona going in his footsteps emerged from the white overgrowth – she wasn’t ready though for the sight that spread before her, like a sick painting made with dark bark and blood.
A young man was tangled within the branches, spread legs, with bent spine, his skin on the back and hands sunk into the tree, like it wanted to swallow him. The tiny spring sprouts were growing off his skin, Ona saw with horror that straight from his veins. The blood pooled under him, slowly feeding hungry snow. The tiny sprouts seemed to eat him alive, Ona, realized. Some of them were digging back into his flesh, deeper, to return from where they came, trying to spread his veins.
The worst was though, that the man looked just at them, even without desperation anymore. He was still alive, goddess knows for how long.
Tiyan groaned, a small, pained sound. They approached the man, feeling aura around them tense and start to attack their minds.
Ona touched the tormented skin of the young human and she almost felt as he shivered from pain. She quickly withdrew.
“It’s my fault” Tiyan uttered, his eyes locked on the eyes of the man. Ona could see genuine guilt in them.
“You do realize, it were the fey” she didn’t want him again to fall into oblivion.
“The reminder” he spoke with a clenched throat. “They told me that I was too slow.”
Ona in the meantime inspected the young human. He was completely drained off blood, but somehow still lived. And she knew what must be done.
That wasn’t making it easier, though.
The man seeing her reach for the knife moaned. And she saw in his eyes a plea even stronger, a death wish so intense, that it moved her more than the sight of sprouts growing off his veins.
She caught a breath, gathering courage and before Tiyan could react, or even say something, she buried the knife in the still beating heart of the man.
The man made a pained wheeze. The branches from the tree that held him trapped immediately reached Ona, but as the life was leaving the human man, the less animated the tree was.
When his head laid on his chest, the branches started to slowly withdraw, less and less alive. Like wanting to catch the last bit of life, they dragged through blood that spread under man’s feet and then… they stopped to move at all.
“I am sure they want you to think it’s your fault,” summed Ona, still feeling unplasant sensation of how easily the knife sunk in the man’s heart.”But the more you torment yourself, the more unprepared you are for all that awaits you out there.”
She knew her words were harsh. But Tiyan was least guilty in all of it. Her first suspicions about him working for Ain’asel dwindled almost to zero. She was only seeing a desperate man, who was forced to go on a journey that was overgrowing him. Gifting him – or cursing – with strange powers, which he possibly didn’t know about.
She decided to tell him. Maybe then, if – when – they separate, he will know better what they might want from him.
In the distance ephemeral fires appeared.
Tiyan looked numbed but he saw them too. The Will-o’-the-Wisps danced over a small path leading to the grove of dead trees. Their open mouths, now seeming eyes again, were closing and opening, in eternal, hungry jig.
For flames Tiyan carried himself.
Ona found the sight of the Wisps strangely comforting. Maybe if they hurry, no reminders will be needed anymore. The last she would want was to be a reason of another death.
Even if she is just killed.
Even if sometimes… Death was a blessing.
“We need to tear him off this tree” Ona said heavily. “Bury him, at least under the branches.”
Tiyan nodded gravely and they started to slowly, carefully pull the man out. To give him last honors. And not allow anything to feast on his body.
At least that they could do.