CHAPTER FIFTEEN: BLOOD-SHARD
The land was flooded crimson until there came one – a world-walker, and an ancient – who was an elemental of light, peace, and rebirth.
As I was dragged from my room, everything I could see turned into a blur. Whoever or whatever had a hold of me leapt from my second-story window toward the ground, dragging me by the ankle. I swallowed down the panic as it rose, forcing myself to take a deep breath as I passed through the window frame.
The world outside was white, covered in snow. It was barely more than a moment to fall from my window to the frozen ground, but in that time I guessed that however hard I might hit the ground, I didn’t want to take that kind of damage with normal human durability. I released the illusion of warmth from my mind, and focused on the cold air rushing across my skin, cutting into me.
I felt strength flow into my limbs, beyond anything a human body could have mustered. My fur, claws, horns, and fangs appeared almost instantly, and I tried to twist away from the hand that gripped me. My senses sharpened, and I noted the smooth black claws wrapped around my ankle. As blurs turned into clear details, I saw who had taken me.
He was halfway through a shift when I saw his face, and I was a couple seconds too late to see his human form. He’d apparently changed so that he could get into my room more easily. His skin rippled as I watched, and he was once again the monster that I’d seen on the night we’d gone to meet Sandra Snyder.
As we plummeted toward the white ground, still dented with my friend’s footprints, I got my arms underneath me to protect my head and neck from the impact of the fall. Blood-Shard hit the ground running and pulled me forward with lightning speed, taking me through starlit alleyways.
Within moments Blood-Shard had taken us to the edge of town and was dodging between trees. I bent forward and seized the other yeti’s wrist, digging my claws as deep as they would go into his flesh. Blood-Shard didn’t even slow down. He just growled, swung his arm so that I scraped against a tree. Even with my enhanced durability and pain tolerance, it felt as though the skin had been ripped off of me – one entire side of my body burned, especially when it brushed against the snow.
I don’t know how Blood-Shard was able to move so fast, but it was less than a minute from the moment that we left my bedroom until we entered a clearing and Blood-Shard slammed to a stop. He flung me past him, and my body twisted in mid-air before my back slammed against a thick tree. I heard the tree crack under the force, and felt shockwaves through my body that almost certainly would have killed me if I hadn’t transformed. As I was, it sent pain lancing through my body and knocked the air from my lungs. I fell to the ground and lay there, trying desperately to inhale.
When Blood-Shard spoke, it was in a voice that shook the ground. I saw the snow vibrate and shift, as though it were being sifted, and I felt the rumbling in the ground. A few birds flew from their treetop shelters. He didn’t seem to be shouting, but his voice blasted through the air regardless.
“I BELIEVED MYSELF THE LAST OF MY KIND,” he boomed. He stood upright, his teeth bared, and his eyes shining an icy shade of blue. I noticed the way that his broad muscles tensed beneath his fur, and every one of my instincts interpreted his stance and voice as brimming with rage. “IMAGINE MY SURPRISE UPON SEEING YOU, YOUNG TRAITOR.”
“I am no traitor,” I growled. My lungs had recovered more quickly than I’d expected, and my voice carried a rumbling bass tone that it never had before, though it was nothing compared to Blood-Shard’s. “I protect the innocent. I protect peace.”
Blood-Shard tilted his head to one side and let out a deep, slow laugh. “YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU PROTECT. DO YOU FOLLOW THE GUIDANCE OF THE HUNTERS?”
“I follow my own way,” I said, rising to my feet. I breathed deeply, letting the winter magic run through me so that it could help me stay calm, standing against the beast in front of me. We were both predators – beasts of ice and workers of death – and I refused to be intimidated. “We are few, who protect real peace, but we do so truly.” I had no idea what the freak I was saying. “A few select of the hunters. The witches, the stone man, the firebird.”
“THE FIREBIRD?” repeated Blood-Shard, growling in his throat. “THAT DECEIVER IS NOT TO BE TRUSTED.”
Somehow, despite the cold already running through me, that managed to send a chill down my spine. “What do you mean?”
Blood-Shard growled, and the snow shifted across all the ground I could see. “THEY CALLED HIM LIFE-GIVER, LONG AGO. THEY THOUGHT HIM A HEALER. TELL ME, YOUNGLING, HAS HE TOLD YOU HOW MANY EONS HE HAS WALKED UPON THIS WORLD?”
I frowned. “He says he’s more than two thousand years old.”
This time, Blood-Shard released a full-on guffawing laugh. The sound boomed through the air and caused snow, ice, and even a few small animals to fall from the trees. “AFTER SO LONG, STILL HE LIES. HE IS FAR MORE ANCIENT THAN HE PRETENDS, YOUNGLING.”
“How old is he?” I asked. Though I felt as though I’d only whispered the question, my voice still carried its growling undertones.
“EVEN I DO NOT KNOW,” growled Blood-Shard, fixing his stare on me. “BUT I KNOW THAT HE WALKED MANY WORLDS BEFORE THIS EARTH WAS YET FORMED.”
Finn was older than the earth itself?
“THE ANCIENTS CALLED HIS KIND LIFE-GIVERS. FIREBIRDS. PHOENIXES,” said the other yeti. “THEY ARE FEW, NO MORE THAN TWELVE NOW WALK THIS WORLD, THOUGH I EXPECT THERE ARE MORE ELSEWHERE. ALL OF THEM KEEP APART FROM MORTAL AFFAIRS, EXCEPT FOR THIS ONE. HIM, THEY ONCE CALLED APOLLO AND RA.”
I blinked at Blood-Shard and thought some words I never would have said in front of children. Or predators, in case they mistook surprise for lowered defenses.
“IT IS HE WHO WARRED AGAINST MY GRANDFATHER, THE WINTER KING,” boomed the yeti, circling around the clearing. “THE HUMANS CAME TO TAKE OUR WORLD, AND WE DEFENDED IT. THE FIREBIRD DESIRED TO LIVE AS A GOD OVER THEM, AND TO SLAY ALL OF US, HIS EQUALS.”
I listened, completely at a loss of how I ought to react.
Blood-Shard’s cruel, pale eyes narrowed, and he snarled, “THE HUMANS ARE ALIEN TO THIS WORLD, AS THE FIREBIRDS ARE. BUT YOU AND I – WE TRULY BELONG HERE, TO THIS WORLD THAT WAS TAKEN FROM US.”
I grimaced as the excessive volume caused my head to start hurting. The moment I felt it, Blood-Shard’s eyes narrowed further. He took a step towards me, and I took a step back. On his next step forward, Blood-Shard changed, much faster than I would have. He shrunk to about six feet tall, and for barely a second he was in the same form as me – human, but with the prominent yeti features such as claws, horns, and patches of fur. Then even those receded, and I was looking at a six-foot-tall man with wild jet-black hair. His eyes were still silvery-blue, and still as cruel as ever. His skin was some kind of semi-dark complexion – not quite Asian, but not quite…anything else. Despite the fact that he wore no clothes, the cold didn’t appear to bother him at all, even in human form.
“Our kind is nearly gone,” said the now-human Blood-Shard. His human voice was deep, rich, and smooth. “But we have a chance to rebuild our kingdom. If your presence was hidden from me for so many years, there may be others. I gave up hope of finding more of our kind long ago, but together we could search them all out.”
Blood-Shard smiled, and for a moment I could see how dangerous Blood-Shard would be if he ever capitalized on his charisma. He could start a war without even trying. The most dangerous thing about him, though, was that his smile looked entirely genuine. “The yetis need not die. Nor need we be – what is it they call us? The abominable snowmen?” He shook his head and chuckled. “We could build up a new nation, bring new life to this world. We could do much good. Live openly – not as vagabonds, and not as false gods.”
The cold might not have been affecting Blood-Shard, but it must have been getting to me. My heart was pounding, I felt crystals of ice in my blood, and every muscle of my body was shaking. They were tempting promises, alright. Living with others of my own kind, not having to be afraid that my family would catch me; that they would find out what I am.
Living without fear that my own family would execute me.
“What happened to your grandfather?” I asked, my voice a whisper. Faced with a man instead of a monster, the growl had died from my throat, and I felt my own yeti features beginning to slowly recede. I willed them to stay, however, to protect me from the cold
Blood-Shard’s smile faded, and his expression turned sorrowful. “He was foolish. When the rest of the elementals chose to go along with the firebird’s designs, he rebelled openly. He summoned aid from other worlds, and in so doing he invoked the wrath of a being he could not have imagined. One of few beings who still lives from those ancient times – when elementals were one with the world, rather than just living upon its face.”
“What was it?” I whispered.
“It is unwise to speak of such beings. They cling tightly to their vendettas, and the speaking of their names may reach their ears.” He took a few steps toward me. “But I will tell you this once: we call him the White Wolf.”
The sound of the name made me feel as though a knife had been plunged into my heart. I shivered. “I will be careful not to speak of it,” I told Blood-Shard. I meant it, too. It sounded like Blood-Shard was describing a god, and I had no desire to remind it that yetis like those it had once made war on were still hanging around down here on earth.
Blood-Shard nodded, and continued approaching me. “Good. You are learning.”
I noted the distance between me and the other yeti. Almost there. He was only a few feet away. He was almost within striking distance.
“Our kind has a second chance, now, young one,” said Blood-Shard softly. He stopped walking a mere two feet in front of me and held out one hand, palm up – an offer of peace and cooperation. I watched him for a moment, with his glowing blue eyes and his black hair shifting in the wind. I also saw his aura around him. The shape of a great beast, pure white and formed from torrents of snow as though he had his own personal blizzard. But I saw what I was looking for in his aura, too: darkness. Some of his ethereal snow was blackened ash.
He made a tempting offer, but he was still a remorseless serial killer. A destroyer and a monster, through and through.
I didn’t speak, I just lunged with speed that gave even my enhanced vision difficulty keeping up with its surroundings. I aimed my claws at his throat, intending to rip it out.
But even in human form, Blood-Shard was faster and stronger than me.
He grasped my wrists and slammed them into the tree behind me, pinning them above my head. I let out a guttural roar that shook the ground every bit as thoroughly as Blood-Shard’s own voice had done earlier. I struggled to wrench myself from his grasp, but he was too strong. He smiled down at me, his eyes glowing brighter and his teeth lengthening into fangs. “Yes, young one. Use that power. Feel it coursing through you.”
I summoned even more of my inner winter, sending it howling through my body and spirit like a gale, lashing at my every fiber and sending new strength into my limbs. But still, I couldn’t tear myself free from Blood-Shard’s grasp. I fought harder for the indignity of it, of being held down, even by another yeti, even by an elder of my kind. Warriors of the ice were not meant to be contained nor imprisoned, and certainly not so effortlessly or so smugly.
“RELEASE ME,” I bellowed.
Blood-Shard leaned in until I felt the power of his aura coming in contact with my own, making the air crackle with energy. It was ancient, powerful, and very clearly of winter, forged of the same force that made up my own strength. “You are yet foolish, youngling. I have won you already.”
I didn’t understand what he was talking about. I didn’t care. I lashed out, aiming a knee between Blood-Shard’s legs. He managed to keep both of my arms pinned with one hand, and he used the other to deflect my kick.
“You didn’t even notice, did you?” he asked. “You felt my anger, didn’t you? I felt your intent to kill me. The bonding is already begun, and your will is nothing before my own.”
There was a quiet noise, like a breeze, and almost faster than I could see, Blood-Shard transformed once again into his true yeti form, and was gone. He bounded into the forest, and I roared into the night sky in fury. I knew I couldn’t catch him, though I could feel where he was, as surely as I could feel where my own feet stood.
As I stood there, I realized that he was right about the bond. I closed my eyes, reaching out to the link of frozen energy that ran between us. I felt his anger, the same as mine. His fury at the usurpers that had slain our kin. And I saw what he had seen.
I opened my eyes and dropped to all fours, growling deep in my chest, and began the run back to the hunters’ home. I had seen something in Blood-Shard’s memories – a house in town with elementals gathered and cowering inside. Rifle-wielding hunters patrolled the hallways. I saw his memories of dozens of other such impromptu prisons; these were apparently standard practice for the hunters.