Marian woke and an age-long gasp filled her lungs.
She sat up, rain-soaked, peering through a bed of roots at the dying wood below, then examining a pair of hands she didn’t recognize as her own, but which seemed to belong to her. Her mind felt bombarded, by memories, by unnamed urgency, by silent unease that filled the air, a screeching at the edge of her mind.
This was Elodria, but changed from the last time she’d seen it.
A deep pain radiated through her ribs, and Marian doubled over. I watched this happen, she realized, squinting through the pain to gaze out at the sundered sky. I watched, but I wasn’t conscious.
It was like waking from a dream, if one could wake into a living nightmare.
A cry rose in her throat, whether to call out for help or to express the feeling of death that pierced through to her soul, she couldn’t tell. But the cry fell short and she clutched at the roots underneath her, her eyes widening as a series of recent events flashed through her memory.
Just like that, she knew what she had to do.
Her fingers splayed, and that was the only signal the Mother Tree needed. The roots expanded, making way for her to float gently back down to the ground. Then, she was running headlong through the forest, skirting shadow remnants of dryads, scaling oversized logs and slipping across the rain-slicked moss that coated everything in sight. Her body protested, fire shooting through her muscles, but she pushed faster, knowing her time was limited.
This is worse than I imagined. If only she and Amnar had stopped Aythinia the first time around. It was all coming back to her now, the black wretch of a woman who lead the wolves of Brys; Marian’s own horrid death, an accident that should’ve been preventable; Cleandra’s memories were there, too, filtering up through inklings of a story, one that felt familiar and yet distant, a life not her own.
And yet, I had been dormant inside this woman. Her legs burned and her muscles begged her to stop. The castle was within sight, but she refused to slow. This body remembers paths I’ve never known.
Marian’s pace slowed a little as she passed through the gate. No longer running, her steps fell somber on the bloodstained grass as she took in the sight of a hundred dead wolves on the ground, their fur an array of colors coated in rust. It was strange, yet familiar. Cleandra’s memories told her these were Nymuë’s wolves, that their transformation had been entirely magical.
How far removed they are from the wolves of Brys. She stepped gingerly through the courtyard, realizing she was likely retracing Amnar’s steps as he’d carried her limp body out to the forest’s center. I’ll have to find him… who knows what he’ll do? Something told her he’d seek out his half-sister, which couldn’t end well.
But first, she had important business to attend.
She found Nymuë’s body where it’d fallen, face-down in the rain. At first, she hesitated to move the body, but she sensed the girl’s soul was already gone.
The rift in the sky, however, was not gone. If anything, it’d grown larger, drawing countless souls into its gaping mouth, while issuing foul, black sludge down upon the world below. We don’t have much time… this place will be gone before long. Her eyes darted around the bloodied garden, and she knew she had no option but to use the castle itself for her spell.
Reaching for Nymuë’s broken form, she rolled the girl over, cradled her close, and stood up with a groan. This body is smaller than my old one. It took all her strength to lift the corpse, but Marian was able to carry her the short distance across the grass before she had to stop at the tower door. She sat the girl’s body down and sighed, then opened the door and dragged Nymuë the rest of the way inside.
That should do. But as she gazed around and contemplated the spell she would need to cast, her heart grew heavy. She turned and rushed back outside, crossing the garden and returning to the courtyard, her eyes roving over the fallen, emaciated corpses. Marian’s frown deepened and she shook her head.
Crestfallen, she returned to the tower and began her spell. None of the bodies of the fallen would do, for they were far too ruined for her purposes—though she could heal any body of its wounds, what a horrific awakening that would be.
She paused mid-chant, staring down at Nymuë’s pale face.
I promised. Her gut clenched. Why would I promise the impossible?
She pressed her lips together and made a small noise of distaste. “Marian,” she chided herself. “You are the daughter of a star. Stop pining over mortal affairs and address the matter at hand.”
Then, she began her spell anew, channeling her very spirit into every word.
This time, they would not fail.
~ ~ ~