The moth-girl sniffed the fresh snow. Her nose wrinkled, following each of the scents as they departed in a thousand directions at once. Behind her, her brother held up a staff with many tinkling bones, rattling them and intoning prayers to ward the hungry ones off. It had worked well, so far. Their parents, armed with spears and bow, watched out for another ambush. Her shoulder still ached from the first one.
But they were getting closer.
The smells sang of many different things. A road of pain, a stride of anguish.
A struggle, not far from here. Her golden eyes lit up when they caught the outline of a city. Towers of smoke still rose from the flames that had devoured it once again.
Some sort of battle. And something still laying there… she could feel it from the twisted longing that permeated the underground.
Something large had erupted from the city like an overripe fruit.
It was gone now.
For the most part.
She stood up, relaying the news to her family. Where should they go? Foundling’s traces lead straight through the blasted settlement.
Her brother kept rattling his bones.
They could hold at bay some of the smallest of the hungry ones, but there was a big one right there… half-dead, most likely.
For the time being.
But if they did not, they could lose their traces to Foundling. And all this would have been for nothing.
And there was something else, making her cursed heart beat in its cavity of hollow bones, making her wings tremble with barely-restrained anxiety.
If they did not hurry, the Winter would swallow Foundling completely.
Thus, she lifted her neck and pointed straight ahead.
Her family followed her.
Walking in the snow felt even stranger now. Whatever it was that Elissa had given him was seemingly enough to sustain him, but it had the effect of dulling his senses. Besides the spell he had cast to hive him a hunch, point him in the right direction, each step fell with nary a sound, each breath barely reaching his lips.
He had been busy dying, after all.
What was on the other side?
Walking through the snow, stumbling against the trees from time to time as he regained his breath, he recalled a memory of a lot of time before.
He’d been spending the night out with Lenora.
This was just before their secret marriage.
A hot summer night, looking up at the stars, both the fast and slow ones, their naked bodies fitting into each other.
What do you think happens when we die, she had said.
“I don’t know. Not even now,” he rasped, putting his foot down. The hunch pulled him forward. He’d soon find their tracks, and then it was just a matter of going faster than them. Three men and a woman carrying Sadja… how fast could they walk?
Well unless they found a river. Then thins could get interesting.
But so far so good.
He just had to put one foot ahead of the other.
I don’t know, he had replied, playing with her dark hair. Didn’t they tell you?
She chuckled and kissed him on the forehead.
Spirits, how he missed those kisses.
We are made of light and dust, she replied, it’s why we can see the threads. They are the rhymes holding us all together. Your blood, the smith’s iron and our water. It’s all the same.
“Light and dust,” he mused, looking around him.
The grey trees stretched about in an endless procession, spreading like a plague, rooting up the world of Men and turning it into a blighted moss. Crimson sap fell from their branches, breeding tiny seeds that would turn into beasts. And the cursed flesh of the once-inhabitants turned into Eerie. As the Fae laughed and the Queen guided their procession down into yet another Tide.
No much light to find there.
He had managed to have a few good conversations with the wolf-girl, didn’t he?
They ate stale food together. Fought Eerie together and escaped together. And she had just hinted at a smile, when Cloria came out of the shadows to fuck it all up.
But yes, he had managed to find a little bit of light even there, so close to the Heart of the Forest.
Maybe, sometimes, the Queen was more merciful than She’d been given credit for.
And a few paces ahead, rows of footprints. Four of them. With a long tread of pressed snow which must have been their sled.
Maybe there was something to Elissa’s plan after all.
“I’m coming,” he huffed. Ignoring the seeping pain that began to eat away at his strength, he pulled through.
The blasted city did not welcome them. They speared through a group of small hungry ones, not larger than oranges, but already seeping in through the cracks and from the shadows beneath the collapsed buildings. She followed Foundling’s trail.
Sadja’s trail. She had given her a name. And her name was precious. She would cherish it, and make up for their mistakes.
On their way through the city she picked up more smells. Oil and grease and the covetous touch of molded iron, echoes of the world-as-was-before. Something inside her welcomed it, while most of her cursed flesh itched at the memory of steel.
Three men and a woman.
Her father stopped as well and they traded scents.
He recognized them. The same they had found at the burned spot all those days before. What were they doing here?
Could they be after Sadja as well?
They picked up their pace, but soon enough had to lay down and lay low, moving with the utmost care.
Collapsed on the side of a ruined building lay the still-burning carcass of a Great Hungry One.
It bore the signs of many battles: its dome-like carapace sported nine spears, bent and broken, but still there to eat away at its flesh. It smelled mercurial like Sadja’s blood.
She had most likely come this way.
The moth-girl stopped and looked at the huge, hulking monster.
Its abdomen still moved.
From its front a long stalk-like structure lay on the side of one of the streets. At its end, what used to be a woman’s corpse gripped at the ground, her black body half-hidden by the falling snow.
“….ohve,” it wailed, trying to reach for a point beyond sight and likely beyond hope.
The moth-girl held up one of her blessed bones and gave it a kiss.
Whatever that thing was, it was still cursed with some kind of death.
Sometimes the Queen was not as merciful as She appeared to be.
They gave the thing a wide berth.
And at the outskirt of the city she picked up Sadja’s smell once again.
She let out an excited call and her family replied with shrill hisses and excited clicks.
They’d find her.
She was sure.
Pic by HappyCockroachAuthor’s Notes: another short chapter. I hope you’ll be happy to see our moth girl back in action. Things are going to come to a head quite soon. Thanks for reading.