Winter Haven's Dyrpath - 4. Chapter 4
I braced for the burn, pain just another part of life when you have something people want. Or you want something, because nothing ever comes for free, and crossing that barrier had to come at a cost. The light was warm, then warmer, like the sun on a summer’s day at noon and it stung my eyes just as badly so I squeezed them shut. Sweat sprang up on my forehead, and I shook as I took another step, sure that was when it would start.
A shadow fell over my face, cooling the warmth, and my foot came down onto something crunchy. I gasped, opening my eyes. The source of the light hid behind more trees, just like the one that had been floating in the sky above the path, but this golden radiance gleamed in random patterns in the air and striped the ground. I wiped my hand through some quickly but… nothing.
My skin was milky as always, not even a hint of pink.
The path was framed on either side by glowing rocks, and the snow crunched under my boots like gravel. Snow mounded between the trunks and into the distance. I scanned the trees, but the ill-omens were gone. It was so warm, I had to put my bag down and take off my extra clothes.
I dropped the ties of my bag into the snow and grimaced, my fingertips still chilled a dangerous white. I reached into the crunchy snow of the path to pick it up, then frowned. It was… warm. Well, not exactly, but not cold. It felt most like fluff, similar to soft fuzz from a broken cattail or shorn wool from a sheep before it was carded and spun.
Scooping up the tie, I closed my small pack and then slung it back over my shoulder. Was all the snow warm? I crept to the side of the path, wincing with each step no matter how gingerly I tried to place my feet. I reached over a glowing rock and touched the snow outside the path. “Brr!”
Nope, not all warm. Or not all snow here wasn’t real snow?
If only the witches or wizards who’d taken me had trained me rather than draining me. My magic had to be good for more than farm tokens, spelling livestock, and bewitching familiars.
“It is.” A deep voice behind me was the first indicator that I’d spoke aloud and that I wasn’t alone.
I whirled, heart racing, mouth agape and bent, poised to run… somewhere else. The voice was a young man’s, but the glowing being before me was a golden stag, with wide antlers that boasted many tips. So beautiful! He’d make a fine prize and provide many meals.
“I don’t think I’d like to be eaten, thanks. At least, not for dinner.”
Clamping my lips shut, I swallowed hard. Had I just offended him? Should I apologize? “Please forgive my words. I didn’t mean to say that aloud, and I would never dream of harming you.” A glowing stag as magestic as he? Never.
No matter how much my belly pinched with hunger.
A strange laugh, almost human, came out of the stag. “I bet you’re hungry.” I hadn’t said that aloud, I was sure of it. Maybe my expression gave me away? I always tried to hide how I felt, but I so often failed, leading to punishment. “Come.”
“Winter’s Haven, of course. Where else do you think this path goes? I was sent to bring you the rest of the way.”
“Who sent you?”
“You shall see,” was all he would say.
Fortunately, we didn’t have far to go. The path rose for a time, challenging the last of my stamina. I caught my breath when we emerged between the branches of two trees that interwove in an arch over the path and stared down into a dell.
Somehow, the land itself created a home for those who lived there. I saw structures in trees, like birdhouses but nearly human-sized, while some trees had huge arching roots that grew into tangled webs poking into the ground for round cottages, set with doors and everything! There were stone buildings along a rock wall, but I couldn’t see any seams at this distance, with vibrant mossy roofs that draped over the eaves.
All along the pathway were other beings in different forms. Some glowed white, or black, or white and black like the ill-omens who had guided me to the entry to Winter’s Haven while others gleamed gold like the stag who’d come to greet me. I gasped when one ill-omen, maybe even one of the ones who’d come to me, hopped out of her little wood hut in the branches of a tree and flew toward the ground.
Before she landed, a white and black swirl of magic surrounded her, and then she was a human. Pale skin, dark hair… she could be my long-lost sister, if my sisters actually looked like me. “Is that— Did she—” I couldn’t finish either question, because the stag at my side was now a young man with golden skin over solid muscles and sun-kissed hair, his eyes a light honey-brown just pressed from the hive.
“Welcome to Winter’s Haven. Once you stop having your magic syphoned, you’ll find your own form and begin to transform too, don’t worry.”
“I will?” Wait. “You’re a dyrpath?”
He smiled. “Yes, dyrpath can also be born on the longest day of the year, on the stroke of noon. And we were all once like you: scared, hungry, so new to a life free from the abuse that the outside world heaps upon dyrpath.”
“The gods, maybe, in recompense for the world’s cruelty, gave us Winter’s Haven as a refuge. We try to find and save others, but the protective magic means you have to make the choice to take the path toward a new life.”
At first, I’d just planned to run away. But maybe he was right, in the end, I was running toward something instead. The dreams I’d heard whispered for years gave me just enough hope to take the first step, and now here I was. Pure joy and relief, feelings so foreign but so powerful, took hold and tears stung my eyes even as I grinned. I turned toward the stag.
“Thank you for helping save me. My name is Jophiel. What’s yours?”
Yes, this is the end! I wanted to write just a short little holiday break story based off some pictures I had, but you know me, sweetness and light really isn't my thing. Ancalagon will resume next week!
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