Snow fell softly covering the tracks he so dearly needed to follow. He cursed quietly to himself for not heeding the warnings sooner. The snow began to fall slightly harder muffling his footsteps and giving the forest a sense of muted white, as if all color was gone from the world. Suddenly, there lying in the path of the footprints was a body of a man. A sheen of ice coated the dead man’s face giving him an almost angelic appearance. The dark tattered clothes of the corpse were covered in a dusting of snow. He knelt down and gently brushed the layer of ice off the dead mans face. “I’m sorry” he sobbed; “I could have saved you.” He sat there looking down at the body, as if he had nothing left to live for. There was a small voice in the back of his mind whispering to him that something was amiss. He stood up slowly and turned.
There, resting against a tree was a feather. It was not an ordinary feather though. Every time he moved or took his eyes away it changed colors, shifting from a wintery blue to a blood-like crimson. He leaned over to pick it up. Something stopped him; it was as if a higher power was urging him to leave it where it was. Instead of heeding the warnings, as he normally would have, he threw them to the back of his mind and gracefully scooped up the feather. He held it with the tenderness of a man who had lost much.
He glimpsed something else shimmering beneath the snow. The man bent down, as he reached for it, the feather, as if of its own accord, floated out of his hand, and buried its quill in the snow. He reached over to pick it up. The second his fingers touched, the feather dissolved into the snow. With a cry of anguish the man began digging frantically in the hopes he would find it. Suddenly he felt something, but his hopes where dashed, for he had only uncovered a sheet of ice. Sobbing he covered his face with his hands, content to wallow in his defeat. A scratching sound, almost as if a cat where sharpening its claws, interrupted his grief. He looked around but saw nothing. Prepared to descend back into his failure, he glanced down and there it was scrawled in the ice.
He grew tense and looked up at the stars, then collapsed on the ground, motionless. His body was never discovered.
Ferrin sat up with a snap drenched in cold sweat. After a moment of horrific panic, he calmed down. The dreams had been worse then usual this past week, as if the demons that haunted him had been angered by something. He in vain tried to drift back to sleep, but restlessness urged him to start his day early. He rose up and dawned his many layers of clothing so as not to freeze the moment he stepped outside. Ferrin was not a big man but he had a wiry strength about him that people often underestimated. Strapping on a peculiar looking sword, he stepped out into the predawn twilight; the sound of snow crunching under his boots was the only thing to break the silence. He glanced up at the flag flying from the battlements. It was rippling vigorously in the biting wind, so it was a strain to depict the black snake silhouetted by a wintery blue, the lord of the castle’s coat of arms.
Ferrin stalked over and began quietly tapping on the barracks door, slowly with much grumbling the rest of the ranger corps staggered awake. “Saddle your horses,” whispered Ferrin. “ We must be away before the guards get back to there posts, Gillian’s orders.” His commands where quickly obeyed as he went to get his own horse. His horse’s name was Vapor and had been gifted to Ferrin when he was a mere colt. He was a large gray Destriar, though he could outrun the fastest sprinter.
Ferrin saddled his horse and went to meet the rest of the corps by the East gate. The gate swung open on well-oiled hinges, Ferrin drew up his color in an attempt to keep the biting wind away. They silently led their horses across the clearing headed for the near by forest. With an unsaid command they saddled up and at a brisk trot disappeared into the falling snow. By the time the sentry’s had changed posts, the falling snow had already erased all traces of there leaving.
Ferrin pushed them at a brisk pace until midday, snow continued to fall, no one spoke for fear of breaking the velvety silence. After a short brake to water the horses, they rode on, the trees started to become more numerous and of a different kind. The mountains, that until now had closed them in, began to shrink and turn into rolling hills covered in snow. One of the younger rangers, a mere boy named Brom, remarked quietly, “My whole life and I’ve never left these mountains until now.” Some of the men chuckled in response. Brom unfazed asked. “Where are we headed?”
“To the highlands.” Replied Ferrin.
The hooded figure next to Ferrin seemed to suddenly snap awake at these words, “What? You do know what that means, don’t you?”
“Yes I do,” replied Ferrin calmly, “and I know that you do as well Seth.”
Seth gave Ferrin a searing glare and stormed off into the gathering darkness.
“Where’s he going?” exclaimed Brom.
“Leave him be,” Muttered Ferrin. “He’ll be back.”
Seth galloped through the trees, the forest seemed to be suffocating and the only thought in his mind was to find somewhere clear. He began to panic as the trees became almost impenetrable. Suddenly he burst into a glen. Beams of moonlight reflected off ice coated trees. The grass was covered in a layer of frost, giving it a crystalline appearance and making each blade a knife made of ice, as though the world was frozen in time, isolated form everything else. Nothing moved. Nothing broke the eerie silence.
Seth dismounted and tied his horse to one of the trees at the edge of the glen. He noticed how every tree was identical as if the stark white bark and skeletal branches had been sculpted from stone.
“I’m tired of Ferrin leading us on suicide missions!” growled Seth to himself.
“He has no regard for anyone but himself. I’ve been in the ranger corps for decades and who gets the head spot? Oh no, not the veteran who single handedly saved the corps. No they give it to the lordling with the fancy sword. Who is Ferrin? He never did anything. So why on earth is he calling the shots?”
Seth sat in the middle of the glen, slowly letting his rage subside. He turned to get his horse, but there was nothing there. Where his horse had been, only frost remained! Seth stood for a moment motionless. He heard a sound barely audible at the edge of his hearing. He whirled around, dagger in hand! With a sound like braking glass, the skeletal trees parted and out of the abyss beyond, stepped a pale figure. It had a likeness to a man, but its body was made out of milky white branches. It turned to face Seth. When their eyes met, somehow Seth knew those eyes where the last thing he would ever see. They were a brilliant green, but they burned with a darkness so ancient that all beauty was lost. As much as he wanted to, Seth couldn’t remove his gaze. His body froze, like a cornered mouse unable to escape. He noticed all the frost around this creature had melted away, the exposed greenery was like an explosion of color in the ice.
“Close your eyes Seth” he said to himself. “Close your eyes and all this will be gone, you’ll wake up in the glen.”
He closed his eyes and a sound like a thousand whispers greeted his ears. When he opened them again the creature was right up against him. He could feel warmth emitting from it though it brought him no relief. The frost at his feet melted soaking through his woolen boots. The whispering grew louder deadening all other sounds. The creature reached out and latched onto Seth with an iron like grip.
“Where is he?” Shrieked the creature. The voice seemed to come from ever direction, and it slithered like a spider on silk.
“Wh, who?” Seth stammered.
The creature’s eyes rolled back in its head and in a voice murky with power recited, “He who leads through a shadow, he who smiles through a frown, he who does evil in the name of good.”
“I know no such man!” Cried Seth. “What is his name?” The creature lifted up its free hand and placed it on Seth’s head. “What are you doing screamed Seth? Stop!” He was suddenly overwhelmed with images and emotions of Ferrin. The images stopped. Without removing its hand the creature locked eyes with him.
“Thank you it rasped, but I no longer have use of you.” And with careless ease it crushed Seth’s skull.
His red, steaming blood splashed on the grass, melting away their razor sharp edges. When Ferrin and the rest of the corps came looking for him, all they found where frosty blades stained red.
A short story by, Tristan G. Maritin