‘Winter, you mentioned a voice. Tell me.’ said Antrandis as they walked through the underbrush, following the fading trail left by the newcomers the morning before.
She glanced at him furtively, an unexpected nervous energy growing within her. Dipping her head under a low branch, she spoke, ‘We can wait until we return, it is a part of those issues I mentioned. There is no need to discuss…’
Without warning, a sharp lancing pain shot through her head and she stumbled, gasping. She blindly dropped to a knee, her vision clouded. She felt his hand on her shoulder, steadying her as she struggled to return to her feet.
Antrandis quickly lifted her and held her against him in silence until she steadied.
Feeling her legs settle under her, he looked at her eyes, quickly looking from one to the other, ‘Winter?’
She lifted her head, a feeling of calm spreading through her as she returned his gaze.
The nervous energy returned along with a fiery heat within her, she glanced at his lips, a quick look that did not go unnoticed, ‘May I? Please, just once.’
He smiled gently while reaching out and sliding a few errant hairs back over her ear, brushing his fingertips back along her jaw. Her eyes closed as she moved with the touch, being drawn to him. She felt his lips on hers, the sensation like fire running through her body, disorienting and grounding her all at the same time. All the tension and confusion was replaced with a blissful silence. Then it was gone, the pressure of his lips on hers, but the fire remained, burning deeply inside of her.
Winter shivered slightly, she opened her eyes to see his stormy blue so close. She drew in the edge of her lower lip, tasting, her legs uncharacteristically weak as her heart thundered in her ears. He was so close, his fingertips were still at her jaw, tilting her face to his.
‘We are sorry, Winter. It has taken us this long to realise.’
‘You are sounding like Lady Silvan.’
He smiled, ‘I am talking on behalf of Sian and myself.’
She attempted to pull away, but the intensity in his eyes held her arrested and in place.
‘We have missed you, Winter.’
Winter tried her best to look away, but couldn’t, ‘What of you, Antrandis?’
‘I have missed you.’
As he spoke, the fire inside her flared. She could hear a gentle laughter. She frowned slightly as she thought.
‘You have cut yourself off, not once had you done so to such a degree. I thought time would help, or maybe you were trying to come to terms with your returned power.’ he watched her eyes, barely the span of a hand between them, ‘Tell me of the voice you have been hearing.’
Winter met his eyes and knew that she could not escape, even her own body was rejecting the delay of the inevitable. She swallowed hard and once again the nervous energy built within her along with a palpable sensation of anticipation. With a small smile, she spoke.
‘I feel like I am broken, somehow. I hear a voice, it is my own. It speaks to me, like a whisper on the wind. When my powers are weaker, such as now with the eclipse, I can clearly hear her speaking. Last night she told me that I must be at your side. During the festivities the night before, when the eclipse was strongest, when the ones we are tracking arrived…’ she looked at him, a worried expression on her face, ‘During the eclipse, she spoke to me. She told me things that did not make sense. And last night, Silias asked the same of me.’
‘What did she ask?’
‘She asked me if I was sure that I was tethered to the goddess Lumos.’ she said, looking into his eyes, ‘I am sure I am, but. No, I am sure.’ she said as she nodded to herself.
Antrandis slowly released her and gestured for her to continue walking, ‘How long have you been feeling this way? Having this voice whispering to you?’
She glanced at him, a frown on her face, ‘Always, even in the old world. But since my restraints have been removed it has become stronger. Significantly.’
Antrandis nodded to himself as he listened to her words, ‘What does this voice speak of?’
She looked at him as they walked, keeping an eye on the trail that led back into the forest.
‘It speaks of you, but I try my best to shut it out. It tells me things that only you would know.’
Antrandis looked at her, ‘Only things I would know?’
‘Does this voice compel you to do anything? Or has it done so in the past?’ asked Antrandis.
She met his eyes as he held a branch back, allowing her through, ‘During this eclipse was the first time it did more than speak. When I slept, I woke to find myself standing at the entrance to your rooms, sweating, confused and.’ she quickly stole a glance at him, ‘And aroused. I, I think it is trying to make me question myself. At the time, I felt.’ she kept her head forwards, ‘I had an overwhelming urge to enter and follow my instincts as I had done in the past.’
Antrandis looked at her, ‘Aroused? How would you describe the voice you are hearing? Are you sure it is not from an outside influence?’
She thought for a moment in silence as they walked, relieved that he did not pursue the track of her thoughts, ‘No, it is a part of me that I can’t feel or see, it tries to talk to me from the shadows. It plays to my desires, such as when I think of you or Sian. It knows and understands things that I have difficulty with. Sometimes I have the sensation that it is more of what I should be, then what I am now.’
She thought for a moment longer, ‘I sometimes feel that I should be the voice, and she should be where I am now. Or that she is a part of me that has been subdued. It is hard to explain. Just that it has always been this way.’
‘Yes, from the beginning. From the moment I first opened my eyes in this form.’
Winter frowned as she walked among the trees, stepping along beside him as room allowed.
‘There used to be a lot of anger and rage, and when the world was consumed and our master was no more, there was silence. Once the Three found us and I was restored as I am now, the voice became rational. For the duration of my punishment, Lumos shackled my power and only occasionally I could hear the whispers, though none held malice or contempt as before.’
Winter stopped and looked to the sky through the trees. ‘It is trying to tell me something important, to make me aware.’
‘Have you conversed with Lumos about this, she would be able to…’
Winter shook her head abruptly, interrupting him, ‘No, Antrandis.’ she met his eyes, ‘I am as she wants me and expects me to be. I am a tool. A tool that does not function correctly, or as intended, is no longer fit for use.’ she smiled sadly, ‘I can not afford to have her replace me or to take me away from you.’
She looked into his eyes, ‘I must not speak to her about this. I will battle one thousand voices for eternity just to remain nearby. Even if it is only to see you from a distance. I beg of you Antrandis, do not discuss this with the goddess.’
Antrandis watched her as she walked ahead a few steps. Her eyes on the ground, searching for the signs of a trail. A niggling suspicion grew in his thoughts, ‘Winter, are you sure you are tethered to Lumos?’
She looked at him with confusion, ‘I am unable to see. I have never been able to see, all I can do is feel the intent of my master. You ask me this, and truthfully, since my power has been restored, I have a vagueness. The rules that Lumos bound me with,’ she frowned lightly, ‘For so long, they defined my capacity and capability. Now there is a void. But without being bound to a master, I would not be here.’ she closed her eyes, ‘Whispers, but I can’t make sense of them, they are too distant.’
Winter smiled, watching Antrandis, ‘There was a time, when you would not hesitate. But then, I have never spoken of this to anyone.’
Antrandis smiled, ‘No more hiding, Winter.’
‘Is that your will, my lord?’ she said, returning the smile.
‘It is a request. My will is another matter.’
‘I will refrain from my recent actions. Can you tell me of your will?’
He smiled, watching her as she came closer, ‘My will, I must confer with another first.’
Winter’s eyes narrowed as she took another step closer, ‘Sian?’
Antrandis shook his head, ‘After we return, whenever you are free, you are to stay at our side, in our company.’
‘Is that your will, or another request?’ she said as she looked at him warily.
Winter took another step forward, her voice a playful whisper as the distance closed between them, ‘What of your will, my Lord Antrandis?’
‘Once we have returned to Meliandra. But for now,’ he reached out and touched her cheek gently. His fingertips again on her jaw, drawing her in until she was resting against him, her eyes locked onto his own. Antrandis pressed his lips against Winter’s, kissing her gently before breaking away. ‘You have never stopped being special to me.’
‘Antrandis?’ she whispered.
‘I know your concern. It is unfounded.’ he said to her quietly.
She looked at him with a conflicted expression, ‘Sian?’
‘Sian and I are of the same mind.’
Winter stared at him, ‘The same mind?’ a small smile twisted her lips, ‘I have been a fool, have I not?’ she rubbed her temples as she quietly laughed at herself.
Winter looked at him and nodded, ‘And relief.’
She sighed, trying her best to mask her embarrassment, ‘Antrandis, I have one last question, you may feel it misplaced, or unusual. But, it troubles me.’
She watched him as he gestured to continue, ‘Which is she? Sian or Snowshadow? Did the Sian of the old world return or did Snowshadow receive the memories of Sian from times past?’
Antrandis stared at her with fascination, ‘I believe it is best that you discuss this with Sian, herself. To have the conversation that should have taken place five years ago.’
Winter looked at him with wide eyes, ‘I, I couldn’t, I…’
He held out a calming hand, ‘Snowshadow regained the missing fragment of her soul, she was reunited with the memories of her previous life as Sian.’
He shook his head in amazement, watching her expression shift. She nodded slowly, processing his words. She looked at him with embarrassment, ‘My lord Antrandis, your command?’
‘Continue to accompany me. We will finish backtracking this trail. We are not the only ones who looked out from that vantage where we met you. Those that Silvan mentioned stood here yesterday before venturing into the valley. As soon as we have seen the site of their arrival I will head down into the valley and search for Silvast.’
‘Afterwards I would like you to head to the ruins, there was smoke rising from them earlier. Maybe a campfire. Investigate, but stay safe. Once you are satisfied, re-join the search for Silvast.’
She nodded with a smile, the first genuine smile that had came to her lips in five years.