*AUTHOR NOTE* – I was recently laid off, so my life has been flipped upside down and I missed my chapter six date release. Please enjoy the full chapter today. Regularly scheduled posts will commence on Saturday.
“What is this?” Alexandros as he slowly stood.
His eyes had not left the coffin as the alarm in his voice cut through the quiet murmuring of the guests.
The First Elder’s lip twitched as Alexandros spoke, clearly irritated at his tone. There was no help for it however; to chastise him in front of the crowds would only cause them to gossip further. It also did not escape him that many in the Great Hall were unfamiliar with Glaciem’s beginnings in the Village. Instead, he chose to smile coldly at Alexandros as he explained.
“This is where we first found Glaciem. She was bound in chains, in a stone coffin half buried in the earth just within the borders of the Forest.”
Alexandros looked down at her questioningly and the uneasy feeling in her stomach grew.
“Why did you bring this here?” She whispered to the Elders.
Their robes created a great wall of black which blocked her view on both sides. She could not see Bick at all.
The Second Mulier spoke, her voice gentle and comforting. “The Elders have come to the agreement that your grave sight is no longer necessary. We wish for it to be destroyed and in doing so, you shall step untethered into your place as guardian of the Village UnNamed.”
At the sound of Glaciem’s breath catching, the Second continued, her hands raised comfortingly as she tried to soothe her concern.
“Your past is your past, Glaciem, and we wish for it to remain in your past. No longer shall you attempt to remember it. No longer shall you strive for the other Elements. No longer shall you focus on what was, for tonight marks your commitment to the newest chapter of your life. A life that protects and sees to the needs of the Village UnNamed. A life centered around the well being of your new people. All who come here forsake their past and join their histories with ours. This is the Law of the Village. It is now time for you to do the same.”
Glaciem stood. Her heart was pounding loudly enough in her chest to make her wonder if anyone else could hear it. Her stomach rolled and twisted uncomfortably, whatever relief she had experienced earlier on the balcony was long gone. The guests were quiet save the occasional whisper. All were waiting to hear what she would say. She looked at the coffin silently before reaching out a hand to touch it. She rested her hand upon the thick stone. She wanted to feel the metal and rock that had bound her for so long, though she could not say why.
Time stopped. Glaciem inhaled sharply as sizzling electricity sparked up from the coffin and through her fingers. Her body tensed and a wave of both frigid cold and blinding heat washed over her, igniting every sense she possessed. All movement apart from her own had ceased, entirely frozen. She looked around the room. Apart from the markings on her palms which were glowing brighter than she had ever seen, all color in the room had grown dull and listless. She looked down at the coffin beneath her hand. The beam of light she had seen in her vision now filled the coffin once more, glowing with such intensity that she was nearly forced to cover her face with her hands. With each passing moment, everything grew sharper and more clear to her eyes.
The Whispers flooded her mind, their voices urgent and rushed, but she could not understand what they were saying to her, no matter how hard she strained to hear. The floor beneath her groaned and when she looked down, she could see all life beneath the surface of the earth, the ground having vanished, the floor a chasm stretching well beyond her line of sight. The roots of plants and trees cracked and snapped as they traveled in and out of her view.
My vision. Glaciem breathed out slowly, unsure if she should be comforted by the thought or afraid.
This time was different, however. The Forest had come to her, she had not come to it. She could see through the walls of the Great Hall and beyond the gates of the Village. She could hear the trees racing towards her, a great tide in the form of wood and leaf.
She began to sway in time with the Whispers’ voices. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head as she desperately tried to understand what they were saying.
What was that word? She thought, clenching her teeth as she tried to make it out.
As she did another voice rang out above the rest.
I found you.
The wide eyes of a boy opened and narrowed as they locked onto hers. He grinned widely, his teeth blindingly white. He whispered a single word.
It came suddenly and clearly to her mind. Her eyes snapped open and the face of the boy faded from her mind. Someone was shaking her arm.
She looked over and realized Alexandros was calling her name, though no sound came forth from his mouth. She moved her hand away from the coffin and the light faded away as all noise and color came rushing back into focus.
“Glaciem!” He said urgently.
She pressed a hand to her forehead, the word still clear in her mind.
“Are you alright?” He asked her, his voice thick with concern.
She did not answer him, but looked at the coffin in alarm, then to Alexandros, and finally to the First Hominem.
What must I protect?
Her heart pounded as her stomach knotted, sick with the knowledge. The Elders would not take kindly to what she had to say. She held her breath as she squinted through the sea of black, searching for Bick.
She caught his gaze, panicked. He watched her with unwavering eyes, leaning forward in his seat, preparing to run to her side at a moment’s notice should she call for him. His silent support provided her the courage she needed and she stared back at him unwaveringly before forcing herself to meet the eyes of the First as she argued with the voice of the boy, still ringing in her ears.
Protect what? She pleaded with her vision.
“I can’t.” She said it with finality.
Though her hands still shook with the shock of her vision, her voice sounded different to her. It sounded older. It was clear and strong. It did not waver.
It was the voice of a Child of the Forest.
The First Hominem looked at her coldly, “Do you defy the decision of the Elders?”
“Forgive me, Sir, but I fear I must in this matter.” She did not hesitate in answering him.
Please. She shouted the words as loudly as she could in her mind. What must I protect?
Though she still did not fully understand, she knew without question that she could not do the thing the Elders were asking her to do. She could not neglect the boy’s words, nor could she ignore the Forests’ anguish. No amount of threatening from the First Elder could convince her to do otherwise. She kept her gaze locked with the First’s, still silently trying to figure out what the Whispers wanted.
The guests immediately began to talk in hushed tones which grew in volume until the whole room echoed with their voices. Never before had someone dared to blatantly disobey the First Hominem, let alone the Elders entirely and especially not during a betrothal ceremony in front of the whole Village. The Elders merely stared at her in either surprise, disbelief, confusion, and anger. They were all too shocked to speak or move.
“I see now that I have failed to make my intentions clear to you, Daughter of the Forest.” The First Elder said after a moment, his voice loud enough to be heard over the noise.
“And what intention was that?” Glaciem asked, not caring for the edge in his voice.
“You will marry into the Village, and you will pledge your loyalty to us.” The First Hominem snapped. “Your coffin will be destroyed. It will be as it has been for all who pass through our gates and seek refuge here. All are required to forsake their past lives and those who do not are thrown out. This is the Law of the Village. I will not suffer the wrath of the Forest by throwing you out, so you see there is no other option for you or us. Do not waste the years we have given you by tossing them to the ground to be trodden upon like refuse. We have all sacrificed much in order for this night to come to fruition, it is folly for you to assume that you should not sacrifice something as well.”
Glaciem stared at the First Hominem, her jaws clenched. She could not back down and knew he could not either.
“Why do you suppose you have never been permitted to go back to the Forest?” The First continued, his lips curling into an ugly grimace. “From the moment we found you, we saw the opportunity you were to us, to the Village. From the very beginning, we have been working, I have been working, to establish your place here in this Village. Not in the Forest.”
Glaciem swallowed as she considered what he said. But I have been to the Forest.
And I found you. The voice of the boy wafted into her mind once more, his words floating lazily through the black of her thoughts like the smoke of a snuffed out flame.
“What have I done?” She whispered to herself quietly.
“Glaciem, you need to think about what you’re saying.” Alexandros said as he placed his hand on her back, his voice urgent. “Do you understand what you’re risking? You will not be allowed to stay here if you do not obey.”
“Then I will not stay here.” She replied, turning to study his face.
She could see the disappointment in his eyes.
“I’m sorry.” She whispered before turning back to address the Elders.
She was filled with regret, remorse, anger, confusion, and sadness. Regret at having gone into the Forest without first consulting Narratus or Bick. Remorse for having allowed Alexandros the false hope that they would experience anything but a difficult life together if they did marry. Anger at the First for his unwavering and selfish demands. Confusion at the words of the boy who she had met in the Forest in her vision. Sadness that she knew now with complete certainty that she would never see Narratus ever again.
“I shall leave by my own choice and in doing so, not incur the wrath of the Forest upon the Village. It will be no fault of yours if I leave willingly.”
Yes. The voice of the boy whispered gleefully.
Be quiet. She growled back.
Alexandros let his hand drop away from her. He was silent, but the sting of her words was evident on his face.
“I’m sorry, Alexandros.” She said again, her voice sincere.
Would that I could make you understand.
She turned and walked past the end of the table. When she reached the crowds of people, they parted quickly to make way for her. She made for the large doors, still wide open.
“You will come back, Daughter of the Forest!” The First Hominem called after her, his voice a solid command.
I will not.
She stopped walking, and turned around to face him. “I beg you leave, First Elder of the Village UnNamed. I cannot allow the destruction of this coffin, strange though this might seem to you. While I cannot explain it, I can only insist that it remain intact and protected within the borders of the Old Forest. You must trust me in this matter. In all other things, I shall obey you and pledge my loyalty to you and to this, my home. Return my coffin to its place within the Forest and I shall submit to you willingly and gladly.”
The boy grimaced at her words and hissed. Protect!
I am trying. She hissed back. I am protecting what I can.
Fire licked at her insides, growing and pulsing within her. She scanned the people in the room, looking for Bick. She could not find him; Narratus’ seat vacant once again. Would he have stood by her, she wondered. She did not know. He had been threatened by the First Elder and therefore may not have been at liberty to defend her at all.
We do not protect the coffin.
Glaciem furrowed at the boy’s revelation. Then what must I protect?
She spoke again, her voice filled with a silent, desperate request for the Elders to understand. “Please believe me when I tell you I am truly indebted to you for the many kindnesses you have shown me during the last ten years. You brought me back to health when I would have died, nursed me when I was sick, clothed me when I was naked, gave me a home when I had none. For these things I shall be forever grateful. For reasons I do not fully understand myself, however, I am not able to abide by the Laws of the Village in the manner you ask of me.”
She held her breath, hoping this would be enough to convince them of the gravity of what she felt, but she knew after her conversation with the First it wouldn’t be. She was signing away her life in the Village in resisting what they demanded. She looked around again for Bick and her heart broke as she bitterly accepted the fact that she wouldn’t be able to say goodbye.
Her eyes shifted to fall on Alexandros. He pursed his lips as he looked back, a look on his face that she couldn’t quite recognize. After a moment, he left the table and made his way towards her, weaving through people. When he was close enough he took her hand in his. He continued to stare deeply into her eyes, searching, seeking, but for what she was uncertain. Finally, he took a deep breath and looked back to the Elders.
“I cannot accept your proposal to betroth myself to Glaciem if it is under a circumstance in which she is forced. You can see she is conflicted, please hear her and grant her the request she is now beseeching of you. She would never disobey the Laws of the Village in so drastic a manner if she did not feel truly convicted of it. You cannot expect her to abide by the rules set by humans for humans when she herself is something entirely different. We do not know how our laws might be in conflict with the laws of the Forest.”
Glaciem squeezed his hand in silent gratitude.
“We have already considered these things, Alexandros of the Northern Waters and the Elders have decided regardless of her race, the Laws will be kept.” The Ninth Mulier replied, her voice cracking as she tried to make herself loud enough to be heard. “Traditions and laws are what bind this Village together in harmony! All who come to us must discard their past in whatever way the Elders require of them, regardless of who they are. This is the Law of the Village! We cannot and shall not allow it to be marred and weakened with compromise and disobedience.”
“This is not a matter of weakness or disobedience!” Alexandros argued, raising his voice above hers, “Nor it is a matter of setting aside her past so she might be in union with the Village. This is something greater and I feel you know it in your hearts to be so. Why do you insist upon it?”
“We insist upon it because we have no other choice. To exile the Daughter of the Forest would be to declare war on the Forest. To allow her exception to our laws would be to declare war upon our conscience! You can see the predicament that has been brought upon us in having discovered her, but to have left her in that grave would have also invited upon us the wrath of the Forest.”
The Ninth Mulier paused, the severity of the situation evident in her eyes.
“We choose to believe these things have happened for a purpose. The Elders have accepted this fate and we now expect nothing less from the creature who brought this burden upon us in the first place!”
“The Ninth is correct.” The First Elder nodded his head in agreement. “You shall not leave, Glaciem. You must accept that your future is now tied to the Village. You may not leave.”
He nodded to the guard standing at the foot of the coffin who bowed briefly before gripping the spiked maul he had been brought to him. He raised it above his head, pausing as he looked to the First for the command to bring it down on the coffin.
The boy looked at Glaciem urgently. Protect!
The First looked back to Glaciem, his voice solid ice. “You shall be married into our people according to the will of Elders. And the coffin shall be destroyed.”
The guard tensed as he took his final aim.
“No!” Glaciem cried.
Protect what? She screamed the words in her mind.
Her entire body was on fire now and it burned and simmered as she jumped forward to stop the guard. As she did, a flash of wood and steel flew past her, cutting through the air with a metallic ring.
The guard swayed heavily, the maul still raised above his head. He looked down at the arrow protruding out of his chest. It had penetrated his armor and hit him directly in the heart. Looking up, he coughed. Blood spattered the coffin and table. His knees gave way as he crumpled to the ground, dead. The maul crashed heavily to the floor, the sound echoing loudly against the walls.
The Great Hall was quiet as all watched the blood seep out from underneath the guard’s body. Glaciem released the breath she had been holding in. Alexandros looked at her, his eyes wide before they both turned towards the direction the arrow had come from.
There, between the open doors of the hall, Bick stood tall and unflinching. His jaw was clenched as he held his bow firmly, still aimed towards the guards, another arrow notched and ready for release.
“Get the people out.” Bick said, his order directed towards his father.
The First Elder looked at him incredulously, his nostrils flaring. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again without saying anything. Bick tightened his grip on the bow.
“Get the people out. Now.” Bick repeated, growling quietly, his green eyes flashing.
“What have you done?” The Second Mulier shrieked in horror as she looked over the table at the dead man, a stream of blood now flowing from both his wound and mouth.
“Get them OUT!” Bick barked, the command ringing through the hall this time.
The guests stood almost simultaneously to leave of their own accord, brushing past Bick hurriedly. No one made a sound as they moved, the only noise coming from the shuffling of shoes against the stone floors and the rustle of dresses.
Glaciem watched them, her shoulders hunched in apprehension, the weight of their shock at Bick’s action heavy in the air.
The beloved son of the First has defied the orders of the Elders in defense of an outsider. In defense of me.
He protects. The boy murmured quietly.
She turned back towards Bick. If her conversation with his father was any indication, there was little hope that he would be merciful towards his son, his will as unbending with him as he had been with her. She bit her lip, knowing Bick understood this. He had acted to protect her, had spilled blood, even at the risk of his own exile or worse, death.
When the last guest had vacated the building, Bick walked forward slowly, his bow still aimed at the guards, who now gathered in front of the Elders’ table protectively, blocking them from harm. He stopped when he reached Glaciem and Alexandros. He met Glaciem’s eyes briefly, his nod to her near imperceptible, before shifting to look back at the Elders.
The First Hominem had not spoken since the guard had dropped dead. He was taller than the men before him. He looked at the three in the center of the room, inhaling heavily, his shoulders flaring with every breath. When he did speak, his voice was impeded by his gritted teeth.
“You have killed one of your own.” He whispered in disbelief. “Do you not know that spilling the blood of the Village is punishable by death?”
“The Daughter of the Forest has told you she will not consent to your demands.” Bick said, his voice strong. “You do not have the right to force Glaciem into compliance.” The words rang clear, mighty, resonating against the ceiling and walls.
Do you not plead for mercy from the punishment of your own crime, brother? Will you not also protect yourself?
Glaciem sneered inwardly at the boy’s words. Protects what? She asked once more.
The First Elder’s eyes widened at his son’s defiance before he laughed loudly. “And who are you to tell me what I do and do not have the right to do?” His tone was condescending as he walked around the table and past the guards, challenging his son. “You do not know what it is to rule. You do not know what it is to keep order, nor the sacrifices everyone is required to make so we might keep that order. You have spent your life at play, locked away, deep within the walls. You have been protected because of the Elders you now threaten. You have been protected because of me. Do you think you can just step into a position of authority because your playmate is now old enough to think on her own?”
Bick’s jaw clenched as he kept his bow raised, the arrow still pointing in the direction of the coffin, taking care to keep his mother out of his line of fire. Glaciem could see the tremor in Bick’s arms; he was struggling, a silent war waging just beneath the surface of his skin.
Finally, Bick replied, his voice still level, though not as loud. “Glaciem was always old enough to think on her own. She is older than you, father, and has lived enough of our lifetimes to be worthy of the Elders’ respect in all things, not least being her desire to keep that coffin you have stolen from the Forest intact.”
The First Hominem eyes flashed in anger. Ignoring Bick’s comment, he replied, “You have raised your hand against your own blood, you know the punishment is death.”
“I know.” Bick whispered, his eyes glistening with tears.
Father and son stood, nose to nose, their profiles perfect mirrors of the other. The First gently placed a hand on Bick’s shoulder. There was finality in his voice as he spoke, though it was saturated with sadness and disappointment.
“Lower your weapon, and I shall offer you exile instead. If you do not lower it, I will have no choice but to sentence you according to the Laws of the Village.”
Bick swallowed and slowly lowered his arms, the arrow still notched, though no longer taunt within the strings of the bow. He searched his father’s eyes.
“Please.” Bick’s request was clear; spare the coffin.
Glaciem watched intently, her muscles tensed and ready to spring in between Bick and the First. She shifted her eyes to the Elders’ beyond, watching their reaction. As she looked, she saw another guard silently take the maul from the ground and raise it up.
“Bick!” She shouted, her eyes darting from him to the coffin.
Bick’s training shone through as his bow moved up, the arrow released faster than Glaciem thought possible. It flew straight through the guard’s hand and pinned him against the side of the table. His cries of pain echoed through the hall.
The First Hominem whirled around and looked at the guard in alarm. His wife caught his glance.
She shook her head desperately. “Do not do this thing.” She begged, her voice breaking.
Her plea fell on deaf ears, for whatever pity and mercy the First had felt only moments before now vanished at the sight of his own flesh and blood once more deliberately defying his beloved laws. He turned himself back around to face his son, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his fists, steeling his resolve. When he opened his eyes, they were ignited with wild anger. His gaze fell on Bick.
He declared his verdict in an anguished voice, his vows to the Laws of the Village outweighing the love he bore towards his child.
“Strong Heart, Son of the First Elder, you are sentenced according to the Laws of the Village, by the authority of your father!” His voice cracked on the last word and he drew a long, silver dagger from his cloak and drove it down towards his son’s neck. “Forgive me.” He breathed, the pain he felt clear in his voice.
Bick watched the dagger fly towards him in silence, neither shifting his weight to avoid the knife or raising his arm to block the blow, relinquishing himself to his father’s will.
Glaciem and Alexandros sprang forward, both crying out in alarm. Glaciem flung her hands forward and from behind her, every cup that held water tipped on its side, spilling the liquid. As the water flew through the air and towards the First Hominem, it stiffened into sharp shards. They tore through his body and cloak as he screamed in agony, the dagger dropping to the floor. Bick, unharmed, turned to Glaciem, his eyes wide.
For a moment, no one moved. Then, as if with one mind, the guards in front of the Elders sprang both towards Glaciem and towards the coffin, intent on exacting justice in the name of their fallen Elder.
“The coffin!” Glaciem screamed at Bick, refusing to think about what she had just done. “Protect the coffin!”
Bick’s lip trembled as he nodded and ran to the front of the room and loosed another arrow from his bow, another guard slumping to the ground in response. The others jumped to the side, avoiding Bick’s bow as he jumped onto the table with the momentum of his speed. As soon as he landed, the guards tried to pull him back down. He kicked at their heads and shoulders, sending them sprawling to the ground, before spearing arrows into those who were too fast for his feet. The Elders behind him screamed as they rushed to move away from the fight. They ran to the sides of the room, seeking refuge wherever they could find it.
Satisfied at seeing Bick by the coffin, Glaciem turned around. Alexandros had left her side and was moving swiftly towards the great doors. Her heart sank as she watched dozens of armed men streaming through, the shouting from within the Great Halls having alerted them to action.
Alexandros swung his fist into the chest of the first guard he came upon. His arm was strong and the impact knocked the unsuspecting man down. He took up the sword the fallen man had been carrying and deftly swung it up to catch another guard, his skill as a Northern swordsman immediately evident. The blow sliced cleanly through the man, killing him instantly.
Glaciem called the water back to her before running to Alexandros to offer him aid. The water elongated into a thick rod that bore spiked balls on either end and together, they began to stave off the guards. She twisted and flipped her staff with ease, worked fluidly as she caught a man in the stomach and then another under the heels. She tried to ignore the sounds of the spikes cutting into their flesh, the ripping sound settling heavily in her ears, but to stop now would mean death for her, Bick and Alexandros.
“Alexandros, move!” She barked.
He jumped away from her as she bent down to the ground and forced all of her breath out of her lungs at once. A jagged sheet of ice covered the ground before her, thousands of sinister spikes rising underneath the men’s feet. As they slipped and fell, she could hear the splintering sound of the ice renting their armor and skin, the sound of cracking bones echoing in her chest.
The ice on the floor had removed a dozen men, but it did little to slow the steady stream of guards forcing their way into the Great Hall. The Village UnNamed was large and the Elders were well-prepared for attack. She knew there would be no way for the three of them to defend the coffin alone.
Would that there was someone else.
She grit her teeth wretchedly as she and Alexandros backed up together, stabbing and hacking, spinning and crying out when they missed their mark and were cut by their enemies’ weapons. She watched Alexandros from the corner of her eye. His abilities were well beyond what she might have thought they were, regardless of his origins from the Northern Waters. He was graceful in his movements, his sword weaving in and out of the men so fluidly many did not even see it enter their sides and leave. It was only after they fell to the ground, clutching at the blood pouring from their bodies did they realize they had been cut down.
“Do you regret me?” She called out to him, flinching as a blade grazed her cheek, a thin red line forming instantly.
She jumped over a dead man and threw her staff down upon another’s head. His head collapsed, and blood sprayed across the skirt of her dress.
“Would it matter if I did at this point?” He asked as he wrenched his sword free from the bones of a guard’s leg.
“Of course it matters!” Glaciem growled. She pivoted towards him and grabbed his tunic, pulling him closer. “I can clear a way for you to leave.”
She peered deeply into his eyes, her own flashing with silver fire. If she could ensure that at least one of them made it out alive, she would do everything in her power to make that happen.
“Do you regret me?” She asked again, breathing heavily.
Alexandros stopped to grasp her hand and pressed it briefly to his chest before pulling away to block the sword of another guard. As the man fell, Alexandros turned and met her gaze again.
They both turned at the sound of Bick calling to them. He was still on top of the table next to the coffin, his arrows long since gone. He had pulled the ceremonial blade he was wearing from its sheath. The guards who had originally been guarding the Elders were the first to fall at his hand, but for every guard he killed, another three had taken their place. He was losing ground, unable to keep them away from the coffin alone.
“Stay here, I’ll go to him!” Alexandros said as he rushed away to join Bick.
Glaciem was about to protest when she crashed into the ground, a guard having taken advantage of her pause in movement to push her down. She grunted from the impact, desperately trying to push the man’s weight off of her, but he was far too heavy. She growled and dug her fingers into his armor.
Glaciem watched the man’s eyes go wide as she felt the impact of the water tear into his back. She stared at him as his mouth opened in a silent cry of pain before his body went limp and fell to the side. She pushed away from him and stood up, turning around, taking in the carnage in the Great Hall. The stench of death was everywhere.
For a moment she stood still, unable to move as she watched Bick and Alexandros fight, their teeth bared, guards falling down before them with gashes through their necks, hearts, and guts. Through it all, the boy continued with his incessant chant, the hiss of his voice burning in her ears.
She clenched her jaw. It was by the boys’ bidding that the night had come to this, she realized ruefully, but she still could not fathom the repercussions of having allowed the coffin to break; the dread sending waves of nausea through her stomach whenever she dwelt on it.
“I am protecting the coffin!” She snarled back.
The fire in her belly began to rise up one more, overcoming her limbs, spreading through her body to the tips of her fingers and toes. The burn grew to an agonizing level and she whimpered from the pain. Her hands went to her chest as her heart began to beat wildly. She tried to move, to continue to fight, but her legs would not listen.
It is not the coffin that we protect.
Glaciem dropped to her knees. She dry heaved once, then twice, before she started coughing so violently she could barely catch her breath. She looked up as panic coursed through her. Everything was slowing, time no longer passing as it should. Bick and Alexandros’ arms were raised, swords glinting above their heads, but from Glaciem’s perspective, it looked as if they weren’t moving at all.
“What then must I protect?” She asked, helplessly, the words leaving her mouth in strained shudders.
Her sight began to sharpen and magnify everything around her. She could see every fiber in the fabric of the tunics of the men on the ground, every strand of hair that had fallen from their heads. Their blood was richer than she had ever seen and even her own hands seemed strange to her, the blue markings glimmering with an almost metallic sheen.
The fire continued to grow hotter within her as it slowly centered itself back into the depths of her belly. Though there was no breeze, the sound of rushing wind filled the Great Hall as trees groaned and creaked. She pressed her hands to her ears, trying to drown out the chaos. The Whispers comforted and soothed her, their gentle words and soothing thoughts in stark contrast to the sounds of the men dying beside her.
We protect you. The boy whispered in her ear.
Glaciem groaned at the words, but even as she did, she could feel herself growing more calm as the smell of moist earth filled her nostrils, the force of some unknown yet known thing overcoming her, possessing her. Her mind cleared as her heartbeat began to slow, beating rhythmically and with ease in her chest. The burning in her stomach still grew, but with every breath she took, she began to gain control over it as the flames curled languidly against her ribs. She took one last deep breath before rising to her feet.
The boy grinned once more as he watched her. We protect you. He said once more, his voice triumphant.
As she stood, time raced back to normalcy before her eyes, the fight still waging in full force. She, however, was not normal. She lifted her hands up, the creaking of trees aching and popping in time with her movements, the fire in her gut a welcome and relished sensation. Its flame brushed gently against the very corners of her Spirit. She could see the air moving before her in great currents and could taste the earth beneath her feet. It was rich, alive, and hers to command at will. It was all hers to command.
Glaciem turned away from Bick and Alexandros slowly and aimed her hands at the men running toward her. She tensed before pushing her hands forward, forcing the air towards them at great speed. The guards flew back, landing heavily and grunting as their backs cracked against the stone floor. No sooner had they fallen, she reached out to grab invisible ropes, pulling them to her with every bit of strength she could muster.
We have found you. We protect you.
From outside the Hall, something roared, loud and horrifying. The sound began to mix with the Village as shrieks and cries pierced the air from outside the Great Hall, the walls doing little to muffle the sounds of terror. Something terrible was outside and it was moving towards the Great Hall. The guards who had not been pushed down by Glaciem stopped fighting and turned around, their swords held tightly and raised to defend themselves from what was coming. Alexandros and Bick also stopped and looked in astonishment at Glaciem.
Glaciem saw nothing but the Forest. She was no longer herself, but rather a part of the earth. The Whispers were her own and they sang and hummed as she pulled the trees closer.
Come. She beckoned. Come and protect.
Come. The boy beckoned in unison. Come and protect.
She swayed with the movement of the trees as the roots traveled closer. They were reaching for her, seeking her, anticipating her commands hungrily. They had yearned to hear her voice, and would delay their master in her desires.
When the sounds outside had reached a near deafening level, Glaciem abruptly dropped her hands to her sides, releasing the tethers that had been pulling her trees to her. All was quiet. Those outside had either run away or were too petrified to cry out. The men inside remained still, poised for whatever horror waiting for them. Glaciem turned around and looked at Bick and Alexandros, her head tilted to the side, her expression serene and relaxed.
“They have come to protect what is Theirs.” She said quietly, her voice low and monotone, her eyes glazed as she spoke. “They have come to protect me.”
She doubled over, the fire in her center now too great to contain. She grit her teeth in pain before throwing her head back. She screamed. The sound was inhuman and all who heard it felt cold dread seeping deep into their bones. Several of the guards dropped to their knees in fear.
A great billow of fire burst from Glaciem’s mouth, the heat blistering the skin of anyone standing too close as it rose to the vaulted ceilings in great plumes. Every window in the Great Hall shattered and giant branches reached through the now empty panes and grabbed at the guards, branches impaling limb, head, and chest. Many of the men chose to escape rather than fight, turning to exit the way they had come, their bravery evaporating with each passing second. The moment they left the building, monstrous trees with twisted roots pulled them into the ground, their cries muffled by the dirt that now buried them alive.
Glaciem turned her eyes to the Elders, to those who had tried to destroy what her Forest considered precious. The branches reached out and grabbed at the Sixth, Eighth and Ninth, who had all three been hiding underneath the table. They shrieked as their bodies were dragged across the floor, their fingernails ripping and cracking as they clawed at the ground, leaving behind trails of blood as they desperately tried to save themselves from the Trees. The roots flung their bodies into the air and let them drop back to the ground. The Elders landed heavily with wet thuds as their bones snapped and their necks twisted, their wide open eyes clouding over as all life left them.
Bick stared in horror at what was happening, his mouth dropped open in dismay. His eyes traveled down to Glaciem, but she was no longer Glaciem. She was instead a creature he did not recognize at all. Her eyes were closed and her palms held out. Long vine-like roots had wrapped themselves around her legs, anchoring her to the ground. Her face was calm, but there was something terrible about the way she looked; neither living nor dead.
The full symbol of the Elementals burned brightly from her hands, but this was not the work of a Child of the Forest. The Blessed People protected, they did not destroy. They did not kill. No, this was not killing, this was murder. This was wild, uncontrolled power, feral and brutal.
Bick jumped down from the coffin. “Stay here!” He shouted at Alexandros, who was also staring at the carnage before him.
He turned and looked numbly at Bick. His jaw was clenched tightly enough for the muscles in his face to twitch, the wind was blowing so wildly it flung his hair in every direction. He nodded.
Bick shielded his face with his hands, and ran towards Glaciem, jumping over bodies and tree roots. The elements were everywhere, accosting him with water, earth, and wind. He moved as swiftly as he could, his eyes focused only on Glaciem. He had to get to her.
“Glaciem!” He shouted, trying to make his voice reach her.
The air was thick with leaves. A funnel of wind was blowing furiously around her, making it impossible for him to see if she could hear him. From her back the beginnings of great, feathered wings stretched outwards, ready to catch the first updraft of air.
“Glaciem, please! You must stop!” Bick begged, not knowing what else to say to her, too desperate to think clearly. “Please, listen to me!”
A root wrapped around his feet and pulled. He landed heavily on his back, the wind knocked from his lungs. He rolled over and tried to breathe as he inched his way towards her. The funnel of air pushed against him, forcing him to lean all of his weight into it in order to keep from being blown back.
“I need you to come back, Glaciem! Please!”
He lifted his hand to reach through the tornado protecting Glaciem. It was spinning so powerfully it ripped at his skin, tearing and slicing into it without mercy. He forced himself to keep pushing, clenching his teeth together and gritting through the pain. Blood poured down his arm and into the tunnel, turning it a deep red as layers of skin shredded away. His fingers brushed against her ankle, her skin so hot he wondered that her clothing had not caught on fire.
At his touch, Glaciem gasped and dropped heavily to the ground, the air around her swirling away into nothingness. Everything she had been controlling crashed heavily into the ground. Bick pushed himself to his knees and caught her as she fell.
He cradled her in his arms. Everything calmed, the trees freezing in place as their roots sank back into the ground. He held her tightly, ignoring the white hot pain in his hand. He pressed his lips to her forehead, refusing to pull away. Glaciem moaned and opened her eyes, looking up at Bick in confusion.
Alexandros rushed to join them, breathless. His face was gashed deeply and he was limping badly. He knelt down next to Glaciem, pausing before cupping her head with his hands. He searched her face intently before moving his hand down to grip her frigid fingers, the heat from moments before gone entirely.
Bick looked at the Great Hall. It was overrun with trees, puddles of water, leaves, and bodies. What wasn’t covered in blood was covered in scorch marks. From the corner of his eye, he saw the surviving Elders silently creeping out from behind chairs, tables, and pillars, fearing they would be seen. He saw his mother, the Second. Her eyes passed over him briefly and he could not bear to watch her as she scanned the room, looking for her husband. Bick looked back down at Glaciem.
She sat up, leaning against him as she held her head with one hand, the other hand still held tightly by Alexandros. Suddenly, she froze in Bick’s arms, looking at him sharply, terror written across her face.
“Narratus.” She whispered.