Saturday, January 23, 2016

DARK WINTER I A short story by Mina J. Moore


****UNEDITED****

The trees reached for me as I traveled the icy path to the cemetery beyond.  Crooked branches scratched at the wool, which comprised my winter coat.  The lace at my neck itched but I knew it was from nerves and not discomfort.  I proceeded more slowly when the wind howled ahead, moving the white earth and causing me to lift my scarf to my nose.  A dim light gave me some comfort but not enough to obscure the terror in my heart.  

Katara

My boots halted as my ears strained to hear my name once again.  Keen scenes came with unprecedented gifts; those you wished at times did not exist.  He was here.  The love of my eternal life lay somewhere underneath the frozen ground. 

Just that quickly, the call was gone, only coming once and faintly.  I cursed the state of his weakness.   I knew he was more dead than alive.  How could he not be, given the condition of his…

Katara…

This time I hiked up my skirts and ran.  I ran toward the soft whisper coming from the graves beyond.  This could not be my mind playing a cruel game.   Sin was alive and he needed me to save him.  My next breath was halted as a lonely figure moved toward me, the lantern in it’s bony hand swaying in the strong breeze.  It had to be the groundskeeper.  How could I be so na├»ve to think this place would be deserted?  I picked up speed and presently myself.

“Excuse me but I am in search of a fresh grave.  Possibly a few days.”  I knew I would find it on my own but needed the old man to not suspect what I was really about. 

He raised his light and studied my face.  He must have noted the rich cloth of my coat and the fur of my boots because he smiled, presenting a  few broken teeth, and held out his hand for an offering.  I scowled but obliged him for the sake of removing him from my quest. 

“There be a new one down the path to yer left.  It be the only one this week.  Must no be a vera popular bloke aye.  Nay but one attended the site.  Sad I tell ye.”

I watched as he shuffled away, griping the gold coin to his side and taking the lantern’s light with him.  Looking to make certain I was alone, I focused on the space ahead and my eyes dilated to give me the vision I needed to move ahead quickly.  The area was barren save for a small bench.  The grave was unmarked but I could sense the beating heart far below. 

I backed away, still terrified at the thought of what had been done to him.  How could a being so vile exist?  But I knew it did.  It crept along its existence torturing and killing for the mere chance to have me.  I would never succumb to the whims of my demented father.  To mate me to one such as he was blasphemy.  My tears fell uncontrollably as I remembered my mother’s sobs as I lay in a feigned death.  One I plotted in order to flee my destiny. 

Sidore was king among his kind.  But I would welcome death before becoming his bride.  He wasn’t a man but a beast that thrived on the blood of others.   Wiping my useless tears, I fell to my knees and pawed at the frozen earth, cursing my inability to crack the surface.  In my current state I would be powerless.  Brute strength was needed and I sorely lacked it.  I was still grateful for the spell that protected my soul from being discovered.  But it would only last long enough for me to break Sin out of his torturous imprisonment and run far away. 

A slight movement alerted me and I faltered when the enormous shadow fell over me in the moonlight.  I was found.  Now my death would surely come.  I would kill myself before I would be taken. 

The beast spread it’s wings and howled at the pregnant clouds, causing my teeth to chatter in fear.  I didn’t cringe for myself but for the thought that my beloved would continue to dwell below, alone and in pain for all eternity.    The animal moved toward me, it’s fangs dripping with fresh blood.  My hands came up as I rose slowly.

“Do not fear me mortal.  I have come to lend you assistance.”

I didn’t hear him correctly.  My senses must have left me.  He followed my gaze to his fangs. 

“Tis not the blood of an innocent.  I battled to reach you.”  His voice boomed though the open space even though he merely whispered.

“But how did you find me and why—”

“The one who gave you protection, Zena, summoned me to follow.  She knew you would have need.”

I nodded, not believing Zena capable of giving me to that which I ran from.  How could she betray me? 
My own blood. 
Yes, my cousin was a sorceress.  She had been gifted with the power at a very early age while I wallowed in failure.  My power was cursed and unruly which is why I couldn’t understand why my sire had promised me to one so rich and elevated.  Of course it was said that my beauty couldn’t be rivaled.  I didn’t think such things important and never saw myself as such.  Cursing it daily is what I did because it brought me here, to this desolate place where darkness and death were happily married. 

The beast reached toward me, his eyes softening with both sympathy and awe.
His claws retracted and his blunt fingers touched my hair.  It was too far past my waist and a nuisance. 
“I could understand his fascination of you.  Such beauty…”
I pulled back.  “I loathe it and would choose happiness ten times over.”
He sat back on his haunches and the hint of a mile touched his leathered face, making the huge under bite of his features almost comical.  Such animals were not bred to show signs of mirth, their composition made for battle and terror. 
“I understand your plight and that is why I am here to help you.”
I grimaced, not understanding the reason. “Who are you and why would you oppose your king, your own kind?”
He stood to his full ten feet.  “I am Zor, brother to the king and I detest him and his rule.  He stands for everything I do not.”
My hand came to my mouth in disbelief.  “You should have been the successor.  Everyone thinks you dead!”
He turned giving me his back.  “And it is as I wish.  No one save you and a few others know. “  He glanced back.  “You now hold a valuable secret as do I.”
I comprehended the trust he was granting me in sharing his identity.  If Sidore found him to be alive his head was a good as gone.  Zor’s very breath threatened Sidore’s kingship. 
 I watched the snow shift under the coming storm.  We had to hurry. 
“I see the pain in your eyes, Katara.  The one you love suffers and we must remedy that immediately.  Come.”  He motioned with his arm.  I followed, wondering how this was all going to play out.  Zor was alive and that signified a huge relief for the Gargoyle race.  They lived in fear and oppression, most in hiding.  If Zor could over through his sibling and take his rightful place, all would be well.  My betrothal would be void and I would be free to marry Sin. 
“Your heart is beating too quickly.  You need calm for what is ahead. “ Zor turned abruptly.  “Why do you not embrace your gift?”
I tilted my head in confusion.  “My gift is shameful.  Zena will tell you.”
He shook his head.  “No.  Your gift is too great for your own comprehension.  It is you who is holding it at bay.  The fear of not being able to contain it.”
I moved past him.  “You don’t know anything about me.  I am not—“
“Zena told me about your incident.  I wasn’t your fault.”
“It was!” I whirled on him, unleashing the anger he didn’t deserve.
“Katara, your mentor was a fool.  He should have known you were not ready yet he pressured you to continue.  He was responsible for the outcome.”
“And now he is blind because of me, a vagabond who resigned his post.  Do you think I can continue as such?”
Zor scowled at the ground.  “You will see it in time.  Now we have work to do.”

I stood in numb silence as Zor pounded the cold ground with his bare fists. The wide fissure granted us access to the iron coffin several feet below.  His arms shook as he parted the earth, jumping in to lift the offensive metal.  Sin had gone silent and I suffered my agony in silence, waiting for the lid to open and expose the man I had loved for the better part of my life. 
Zor placed him gently before me, an offering for me alone but I couldn’t’ bear to do it.  My hands would not move no matter how badly my head screamed for me to break Sin free of his prison.  Zor understood and stood behind me, strong hands moving to do the deed.

I stumbled toward Sin, tears blurring my vision and giving me a semblance of consolation that I could not see my love clearly. 
“Sin…” I sobbed.  My hand reached out feeling his cold skin.  The only feature proving his identity was the brilliant blue of his eyes staring at me with renewed hope, then terror when he glanced at Zor.
I squeezed his shoulder.  “It is fine, love.  Zor is on our side.”
His eyes widened at the name. 
“We need to depart.  I have a fortress to the North where your beloved can recover.” Zor deep voice sounded behind me.

I looked away from Sin and wondered how we could travel in such conditions.  Sin looked to be dead if not for the constant movement of those eyes.  His features were gaunt and drawn after several days in this godforsaken hell.  I thanked the resilience of his race.  He would need to feed and very soon.   I pulled my sleeve back to reveal my wrist.  Zor stopped me before I could avail Sin of my blood.
“No, Katara.  In his state he will drain you.  I have come prepared.”
I moved back and watched as Zor removed a pouch from his sack.  It was blood.  The liquid was dark and plentiful.  The small squeak from below alerted me and I started as Sin made the first movement since we had unearthed him.  His hand reached for the bag, fingers curling in supplication. 
“Turn away, Katata.  This will not be pleasant to witness.”
I stood and came closer.  “I will not.  How much worse can it be than seeing him sucked in and gaunt with death?  I will watch him grow stronger.  I need to.”
Zor didn’t appear to be at ease but he nodded and places the bag at Sin’s lips.  With incredible vigor, he ripped the thing with his fangs and drank greedily.  I watched as his beautiful blue eyes rolled back in his head, making it appear as if he were possessed by a demon.  His entire body trembled and torqued into an impossible pattern.  My and covered my mouth and I didn’t realize until it was over that I sagged to the ground with unbearable sadness.  The cold slowly crept into my limbs as my wits came back.  Sin was still but his features had filled somewhat and his coloring was better.  His gaze turned to me then his eyes fluttered shut.
I felt Zor’s soft grip on my shoulder.  “He will rest now.  It’s the process of revival.  We must leave before we are discovered.”
“Yes,” I whispered. 
I didn’t notice when Zor single-handedly cradled both Sin and I into the crook of his massive arms nor did I stir when he levitated, moving us through the frigid night sky.  I must have dozed or maybe it was the upheaval of the last few days that finally took their toll on my sanity. 

Next I found myself ensconced in a very soft bed, a grand fire roaring to my left, it’s warmth taking the cold from my body.  Someone sat in a chair just a few feet away from me.  As my vision cleared I realized it was Zena. 
“Katara.  It is I, Zena.  You have been asleep for over two hours.”
I sat up slowly, still groggy from my rest.  “Sin…”
“He is well.  We fed him once more.  A servant offered his services for nourishment—”
I bolted. “Is he well?”
Zena came closer and sat on the bed next to me. “Do not worry.  The second feeding is always better.  He will need need several more but all in due time.”
I looked around the spacious room. “I don’t understand.  How do you know Zor and how long have you sheltered him?
Zena rose and walked toward the fire.  “He has been under my protection since his brother ascended.  He had to make everyone believe he was dead.