Winter Haven's Dyrpath - 3. Chapter 3
The glowing tree began to grow and lift above the ground. “W-what is that?” The snow was swirling around us, and I forgot my intention to ignore the ill-omen and refuse to speak to it or listen as it spoke to me. I was freezing to death, and this was magic I had never seen. The lights I’d gone toward, knowing all along they were not the lanterns swinging on the roof eaves of the townsfolk I’d never met and who would probably refuse to shelter me anyway, set the large clearing alight in swirls of blues, greens, and glowing gold.
“Winter Haven,” she answered.
My lips parted on a sharp inhale, and I stared in shock. Winter Haven was a myth. Snow that wasn’t cold, food grew year-round, a make believe world that existed for those pure in spirit as a refuge from this miserable existence.
I took a step back. “That’s not possible,” I whispered.
“Why nooot?” This time the ill-omen was joined by another, their question echoed between them. I knew it; I knew I’d heard more than one beak pecking in my nightmares.
“Winter Haven doesn’t exist. It’s not real; it can’t be.” I hugged my bag to my stomach, the tiny parcel of my spare belongings fitting in the concave space as I hunched against the whistling blizzard pounding against my back. The ice drove against my skin where my woolen scarf had slipped down and my hair, twisted into its customary knot, exposed the scarred back of my neck where the hedge crone had cut me each day to steal my magic.
“It is,” one ill-omen said. “It doooes,” said the other at the same time. Their dark wings flapped, sending their all white bodies gliding across the clearing on silent drafts. “Youuu knewww,” they called. “It’s truuuth.”
I watched, fear and awe and the slightest kernel of hope inside me as their wings dipped inside those glowing, swirling lights. The barrier around them broke, and beams shot out. The gold sparkled, the green and blue intertwined under and around it. It moved faster than they flew, a blink all it took to reach me, and I screamed and cringed down into a ball, my eyes screwed shut.
Nothing burned. No warlock’s fire, no witch’s curse. No enchantment to draw on my magic and use it to fuel their spell or bind familiars to their bidding while I writhed in agony as parts of me were wrenched away. Gasping, trembling with cold that turned my limbs heavy and clumsy along with fear that froze me stiffer than the strongest of blizzard gales, I dared peek with one eye.
The light had stopped, right in front of me, a scant hair’s breadth from my shoe tips. If I just uncurled my fingers from around my knees, I would touch the golden light that rained down from the glowing green and blue strand that led back to that twisting, turning tree and the pathway under it. The path I could now see was before me.
“What does it want?” I whispered.
“To free youuu,” they called from their new perches in limbs of the tree guarding Winter’s Haven.
“How?” Dyrpath were never free; to a villager or city dweller, all magical kin were the same, useful for what they could provide or do depending on their power to conjure. Dyrpath were only born on the longest night of the year and that gave us the most power, but the connection to animals made us tainted, and our ability to be siphoned made us ill-luck. Power we could share, but it never went well in the end for those who stole it.
“Be whooo youuu are.”
To be born a dyrpath was to be blamed for both being powerful and for the harm stealing that power did to the very ones who stole it, all while being reviled… for what? Being having a connection to animals and hearing their thoughts and feelings? I had never understood my crime and had always hoped that the many magic users in my family would lead to someone who was different, who would understand me, truly make me an apprentice in more than name.
But I could neither find a home to welcome me nor run away from the torture of my daily existence without being dragged back to the next family member who decided they would make use of whatever drops of power they were willing to plunder. The last summer and fall of trying to befriend some of the villagers, only to have any solace I’d made ripped away when I was sent on to the frozen wasteland that was Cousin Vado’s had broken me from trying again.
Maybe I’d finally given up and this was all just a fever dream as I froze on a snowbank. The light looked so pretty, and so warm too.
“Be whooo youuu are.”
I unfolded carefully, still clutching my pack, and took a breath. What did I have to lose? Nothing to go back to but pain. I gingerly touched the back of my neck, then glanced at the swirling darkness behind me. I shook my head.
Even if the light was certain death, it would be better than the attic and the shed. And what if it were true? What if Winter Haven did exist?
What if there truly was a place to be free? My life had been one of fear and obedience, but maybe, deep down, I had some bravery and curiosity left inside me.
Heart pounding, I stepped inside the light.
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