…and I am an awful liar. I wanted to get done with Unyielding Blue this week, but it’s proving a toughy. Here, you can have this piece of work while you wait.
Enjoy, as always,
PS: This is probably the biggest chapter in the history of ever.
Winter knows this place.
It feels familiar, resonating with her in her bones and her memory. She doesn’t remember where it is, in the same way that someone can’t remember exactly where an old haunt is in relation to the world- as if it were outside of time and space entirely and existed only in their memory until they discovered the path that led them there the first time.
But she does remember it. It seems as though it’s been forever since she last set foot here, and in some ways perhaps it has been. In the last few weeks she has changed- Summer has changed- they have both changed so much that it seems almost impossible to imagine it happening in so little a time.
But two weeks prior to this, who was she but a tiny voice in Summer’s head? Less a sister and more of an annoyance.
So her memories remind her, what little she can recollect. Something else presses at her.
“If you could use the gate, before, when we first came here- why did we need to use the stone one to get to the Shrine?” She asks quietly. The still dust in the room she is in- her old sanctuary of stone, all spells of defense broken- swallows the noise. But Summer hears her.
Idiot. My spells are short-range. The city we were in held enough life to power a jump to Spring’s shrine, yes, but to get back would require more life than that tiny village held. It isn’t so far from the shrine to here- and it took negligible life-force in order to come here. Use of pocket worlds takes just a little too long.
“And drains our life-force.”
The pillar is silent and still when she catches sight of it, picking her way through junk- shattered crystal from the guardian, broken shards of glass and equipment, torched books and ruined pages. The first thing Summer had done on arrival had been to set up a defensive ward. The second thing had been a strange locator spell, a simple search for Lord Autumn to be sure of where He was. After that she had fallen unconscious- the power required for both had been beyond her, in this place devoid of life.
Surprisingly, she had found herself again in Winter’s head.
Where are you going? Summer asks as Winter rounds a corner and opens a door leading out of the main hall- the main part of her sanctum.
“I don’t know,” Winter replies. “I don’t remember this place.”
She doesn’t, she realizes, the words true as she says them. This is a part of her sanctum she simply can’t remember existed. She steps over the broken crystal arm of her former guardian and steps through the door she opened.
It comes to her.
Her heart freezes in her chest, and the bitter clutch of memory drags at her breast. She clenches her fingers and creeps forward, numb with disbelief as all around her snow falls indoors.
This section is little more than hollowed rock. But grass grows- or grew- frosted over with snow and ice, enormous, thick plates of ice. Her feet stick to it. It’s comfortably cold here, in a way that grinds at her bones and soothes the aches of the day- or rather, of the night she switched with Summer.
Something had gone awry in her plans, somewhere. She had never meant to end up here.
She takes a few hesitant strides into the cavern, the room making her nervous. There’s something so familiar about it… Yet…
Her mind will not focus.
The whole thing feels off, as if there is something horrible going on beneath the surface. Something is trying to gain access to her mind, had been from the moment she set foot in the room. It disturbs her greatly- here in her sanctum she should be safe. Winter frowns, stops in the middle of the room- as far as she can tell. She is surrounded by tall, winter-touched trees. Is it this place that stirs up memory…?
Without thinking, Winter lets the presence invade her mind, and all at once she feels a flood- no, a torrent of memory. So powerful, so strong is it, that it drives her to her knees. Winter covers her eyes. It doesn’t help, but it makes her feel better. It rages in her soul, tearing into her mind and changing everything she thought she knew.
Winter? Summer asks worriedly. Of course she can’t know.
Memories. They flash through her head. A phantasm appears before her- she can feel it there, it’s Silky. Her eyes are shut, tears streaming down her near-human face, all eight hands- claws- clenched, lips pursed. She bares her fangs suddenly, and her expression is one of rage and pain, eyes snapping open, staring at Winter. Agony in that gaze, in her eyes.
“Why? Winter- why?”
Winter hears a voice, then, and shudders in shock when another phantom appears in front of her- she can feel, taste the scent of herself, and when her eyes snap open she realizes that she just passed through herself, as well.
“I- I don’t-” Her old self- Frost- whimpers. “I don’t k-know- Silk, I’m sorry, Summer told me to-”
“You’ve killed my people! Brothers, sisters, children-!”
A hollow feeling, her heart freezing solid, her mind, her body tense as a rod, Winter watches memory unfold.
Long-Frost steps away from Ever-Widowed, who chases her, striding towards her, claws outstretched. Her form is twisted in pain, her eyes streaming tears. Every part of Silk is clenched with grief.
\\We assumed you must not have been in control at the time.
This is what really happened. And I’ll show you one day, because I- and you- must remember this always.//
Summer’s voice cuts in. Winter!
Winter ignores it.
Frost raises her hands to ward the vengeful Queen off, falling to her knees and sobbing. But Ever-Widowed reaches her and scoops her up in four strong arms. The gesture might have looked tender if not for the razor sharp claws. If not for the claw at her throat, and the claws in her hair, forcing Winter-Long-Frost to stare into Silk’s eyes. The irises are vibrant red and the pupils are split. Her eyes are alien, and frighten the life out of the fourth season. Frost shuts her eyes tight.
“Look at me, Frost!” Silk shouts, her voice tight with anger. The claws clench, drawing red lines along Frost’s bare skin. Frost opens her eyes again. Her voice is weak, begging, almost.
“No. You will not call me by that name. I am Ever-Widowed, and you have betrayed me- you have betrayed all of my people. You cannot begin to comprehend what you have done! You’ve single-handedly killed off my entire race, all of my people are gone! Were it not for the eggs I carry- how can you not see? Are you so blind?”
“Silk!” Winter/Frost’s voice is trembling, almost a wail. “It hurts-”
“As it should!” Silk snarls, her grip tightening. Red drips down Winter-Long-Frost’s legs.
Frost begins to cry, sobbing helplessly in Silk’s grip. The Spider Queen’s fierce gaze softens, at the sight of Winter’s tears. Even so, her grip remains hard, rough, even as her limbs shake with rage.
“S-summer made me d-do it,” Winter whispers weakly. “D-don’t you k-know what it’s like? S-she hurts me in my h-head! I’m s-so s-sorry-”
“There is nothing you can say that will heal this ill deed, Winter,” Silk whispers. “To repay this monstrosity, you must pay with blood of your own. When you have a child, bring her to me.”
“W-what will you do-” Frost struggles in Silk’s grasp, but the Spider Queen shakes her savagely, and with a clipped sob of terror, Frost holds herself still again.
A clawed hand sets itself against Frost’s belly, against her womb. “She will be mine. Blood for blood.”
“You don’t know that my baby will be a girl!” Frost says weakly, but fiercely. She doesn’t know why she focuses on this.
“I do. Your child will be a woman, just as Summer’s shall be a boy. It is a part of the pattern, as sure as you will have four children between you. You cannot dispute it. You cannot argue with it. What will happen will happen, Long-Frost! As an immortal, you cannot fight your fate.”
“You’re an immortal too!” Frost whimpers. She hates herself for being so weak. “Why are you fighting yours?”
Silk’s eyes turn cold, and they freeze even Winter to her very core. “I am no immortal, Winter-Long-Frost. One day my children- my beautiful, lovely children- will feed on me, and the one who consumes my heart shall become the new Queen. When my body fails- and it will fail…”
“Silence, Winter-Long-Frost! You will be quiet when I am speaking!”
“Yes who, Frost?”
“Y-yes, miss Silk.”
A claw swipes Winter across the face, delivering a ringing slap and leaving a stinging track.
“Try again!” Silk hisses.
“AH! o-ow… y-yes, Ever-Widowed-”
“As I was saying- when my body fails, My child will take my place.”
Silk’s grip loosens, and she suddenly holds Winter close to herself. The girl sobs against Ever-Widowed’s chest, blood on her cheeks smeared by her tears. Something vital has changed in the Spider Queen’s stance, in the way she holds herself. As if the bite has gone from her entirely.
“Why have you done this to me?” Silk asks softly, her voice bare of edge. “Why, Winter, my love?”
“Had nothing to do with this, Long-Frost. I’ve told you, I’ve cajoled and pleaded with you not to listen to her, sweetness. And now all I’ve been taught, all tradition demands your blood and, curse you, I can’t do it. I can’t kill you to save my honor. I can’t punish you for doing what Summer told you. She is all you know.”
Frost sniffles and bites her lip, nestled close against Silk’s warm body.
“You must break away from her, Winter. She is a hard, awful monster, this Summer-Glory. She laughs in your head, and she won’t show herself, she won’t fight me.”
“I’m s-sorry-” Frost whispers.
“No. Do not be sorry. Become better. Become better than her, Winter. Don’t let her push you around! If I were anyone else, I would kill you! Do you understand now that Summer-Glory has nothing in mind for you but pain?” Silk’s voice is soft, but fierce all the same.
“I ha-hate her!” Winter blurts out, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her body is wracked by the tears, her sobs shaking her wretchedly. Her vision blurs and then her eyes shut again. “She’s s-so horrible!”
“She is who she is, Winter,” Ever-Widowed whispers. “I hate her as well. Do not let her tell you who to be, Winter, my heart. You are so much stronger than that. I will have my payment from you for this betrayal, and from Summer, too, but…”
“I love you, Silk,” Winter says, so softly she’s not sure if the Spider Queen can hear it.
But she does, because her hard, sharp gaze turns into a smile, and Winter knows that even if everything isn’t right yet, maybe it will be again soon.
“I cannot forgive you yet, but I understand why you’ve done this, Winter. I love you, too.”
Winter pants, blood dripping down her legs, her arms and her cheek. She’d fallen to her knees. She pushes herself up to her feet unsteadily, swaying, barely daring to believe that the memory is over. Winter?
Summer’s voice is worried, shaky as Winter feels.
“I can h-hear you,” Winter-Long-Frost whispers, barely audible.
“Memory,” Winter replies shortly. “I’m okay.”
Like hell! You’re covered in cuts!
Winter looks herself over, hands clenched. Everywhere, little scrapes and nicks cover her. Her fingers relax- she realizes her body may be cut, but it isn’t dead of blood loss yet, despite the trickles of red.
“I’ll heal,” Winter says with a sigh. “It was not a good memory.”
What was it about?
“Nothing.” She’s not sure how she’d feel about telling Summer any details. Or anything at all. She isn’t sure what she feels about anything, really.
Silk lied to her, Summer lied to her. Didn’t Summer share the same memories with Summer-Glory? It made sense. Of course she did. And yet….
Why had she lied?
Winter walks a few steps further into the white of the room, until the door behind her becomes obscured by snow falling, and a voice nothing like her sister’s echoes in her head. It sounds different, like a shadow of her own voice, all new frost and bitter cold.
\\If you want to learn the truth, keep walking, Winter-Long-Frost.//
Her hands shake for a few moments at the thought of another memory similar to the one she’d just experienced.
I am no coward, Winter thinks to herself weakly, curling her fingers into fists. She closes her eyes, and takes another step forward.
The world is spinning. Her head hurts, her hands and feet quake. She can smell something, a crisp, sickly sweet smell in the air. It nauseates her. She pushes herself back up to her feet, hands cloaked in uncertain frost. Fall stands before her, staring at her- staring at part of her. What’s wrong? From his face…
Slowly, with a growing feeling of dread, Winter looks down at her stomach, where Fall’s gaze lies.
The sight makes her reel. She sways where she stands, feeling the frost dissipate as she loses control, as she drops to her knees, as Summer screams in her head.
No! Winter, you idiot!
And Fall, staring at her coldly now, coldly, she realizes. His eyes are boring into her. She sways again, on her knees. Her hand comes away from her middle, covered in red. Her whole body shakes helplessly. She stares at Fall, uncomprehending, her mouth moving to frame a word.
And inside, a quiet, quiet voice whispers, so softly she can barely hear it: This is the way I will end. This is the way all of us will end.
Winter sobs, her breath coming out in a long, drawn out whimper. She realizes that here is an agonizing, burning pain in her middle, and part of her feels it needs to act- now.
There’s a heat in her belly, agonizing, hot, sticky, covered in blood- she can see it on her fingers, though she forces her eyes away from the hole where her stomach used to be.
Winter! Summer hisses. What the hell is going on? It feels like my- your- stomach- AAH. It hurts!
Winter’s hand glows with frost as she presses it against her awful wound. It takes mere moments for the pain to numb and the horrible flow of blood to cease, but those moments feel an eternity. Winter totters where she stands. Her lips feel numb, her head is filled with a hundred needles. Her vision blurs, and she pushes her hand further into the nasty hole where her belly should be, as much to remind her she still has a hand as to numb herself further.
What have you d-done? Summer whimpers.
Winter shakes her head grimly, and forces herself another step forward. Blood is dripping around her hand now.
Winter-Long-Frost takes a deep, shuddering breath, sending spikes of pain into the frayed nerves near her stomach. After a moment, that pain is gone too, and the cold overwhelms everything. Swaying, unable to steady herself, the fourth season staggers off through the snow.
Her crunching footsteps stop as she finds a door. She doesn’t dare remove her hand from her abdomen, but she reaches out with her free hand, grasps the handle, and tugs the door open.
It creaks, the hinges shuddering, then giving way, grinding into rust as she watches. In her dizzy vision, flecks of metal fall onto snow dappled with red. Her eyes half-shut. She feels cold the likes of which she’d never felt before consuming her. Her very bones ache with it.
She makes it through the door and into this new room, her breathing heavy, ragged at the edges. She doesn’t close the door after her- with the hinges gone, what’s the point?
The scent of iron is thick here. All around her it presses in, suffocating her, making her head spin. Where is she?
Her mind wavers, crumbles under the abuse, and she collapses to the floor.
Visions come and go. Voices work in and out of her awareness incessantly, sparking in her mind in flashes, sounds. Sometimes she opens her eyes, but she can’t see anything but the cold- a blue haze that crackles and hisses. Sometimes she thinks she can hear Summer calling her name.
The hissing darkness strikes at her, a snake of shadow biting at her head. The burning sensation in her stomach is getting worse as she loses concentration. She can feel her heart pounding in her chest, drumming away. She doesn’t remember dying.
But she doesn’t remember how or why she got here, she doesn’t remember where she is.
In the dark as she lies there, with no sense of time, her sickened thoughts turn again to Jane, to Silk, to the girl she left with the Spider Queen.
To Spring, who seemed so set in the future he refused to believe in the present. To Fall, who had hounded her and Summer both relentlessly as far back as she could truly remember. To the confusing, dizzying thought of death, of being reborn, of losing everything she had learned.
What had she learned?
She trembles, rolling onto her back, hand clutching a belly whole but drenched with sweat. Her eyes are open but see nothing, the crushing dark pressing in all about her like a vice.
The scent of it, so thick in the air- she can smell the earth, the tang of iron- her blood, or the room? It nauseates her. She rolls over onto her hands and knees, retching, and surprises herself by feeling something sticky on her hand as she reaches up to wipe her lips. The taste of blood and bile makes her cough.
Her hands burn. Her whole body burns. The ground here is iron- she can smell it!- and she feels her magic seeping away. Why did she come here?
Where is here?
Slowly, every moment a torturous eon, she rises to her feet. Her hands and feet feel blistered where they touched the ground, her knees feel raw and her fingernails feel split.
How long was she lying like that? An hour? A day?
She feels ravenous.
Not simply hungry, but starving.
There’s a searing pain where the cuts on her legs, arms and hands had brushed the iron on the floor. She can feel the burn of the poison metal running in her blood.
And above it all, she feels a queer cold enter her mind, familiar, clear and rational, and it says: unless I receive medical attention, I am going to die.
“Why did I build this place?” Winter whispers to no one, her voice without strength.
Her legs feel weak, but she finally decides to look for a lightsource. Groping blindly on the wall, her fingers touch the familiar plastic nub of a switch, and she presses on it desperately.
There’s a hum, and then she’s momentarily blinded by stabbing pain as the lights flare, and her eyes adjust. For a strange moment it feels as though she’s back in the circle of thorns, her first memory of the heat and the terrible light. But it’s cooler, calmer here, even though she feels dizzied and sick.
Despite the agony of her wounds and the unintentional iron cramps in her arms and legs, she feels safe. It’s ludicrous, but she feels completely secure.
The metal shines below her- she is indeed standing on a metal floor, an iron floor- the grey surface is ruddy, and shiny with both her sweat and the blood smeared on it. Her blood.
And, mere feet from where she lay, the floor ends abruptly and turns stone, like a cave. She totters towards it, nearly collapses as her legs try to trip her, ends up on her hands and knees again- this time on blessed rock. It’s smooth and cool on sorely abused skin. But it isn’t cool enough. She feels her skin- it’s burning up. Her whole body feels aflame. A shiver runs through her, and she fights down another wave of nausea.
There’s a desk, a stone desk set in the far wall, and before it, a chair. Wood, metal, stone. Living rock, worked marble, a metal throne and floor. She can’t wrap her mind around it. It just seems too much to bear.
Summer is dormant in her mind. Her mind-mate seems to have blacked out entirely from the pain of the metal. But not Winter. Had she always been this strong?
The hum of the ceiling lights- she wonders what powers them- is equaled only by the pounding in her head and chest.
Slowly she pushes herself to her feet again, gathering her strength. There are papers set on the desk. Paper. Not parchment. Why is that significant?
More important even than the paper is the trapped glow, and the feeling- waning with the poison of iron- of life. There are things in bottles on the desk, and she can feel- something. Stored something. Life.
In the bottles.
She stumbles, catches herself on the seat of the metal throne- it’s long and rigid, black metal that doesn’t feel like iron should. If anything, it feels the opposite. Cold. Calming.
She sits down and lies back for a few moments, catching breath that she didn’t know she had. The cool of the metal brings peace, soothes aches. But how can that be? She wonders. What type of metal is this?
The clear part of her mind shakes her. The papers have words written on them in a language she knows. They’re written in English. She’d written it down in English instead of Eldritch. And they are hers. She remembers writing them- albeit in a blurry fashion. The words grab at her.
It is clear now that my brothers have gone mad…
Her eyes don’t believe what they read. She can’t make sense of it now- the part of her mind still thinking clearly suggests she should drain something. Anything. Even the things in the bottles might do.
What are they?
She looks at one, a bottle all covered in designs- hexagons of crystal patterned into the glass. The label on it says something, and as she looks closer, she can see the glow inside of it pulsing at her as if alive.
And it is alive. She can feel it. It’s calling to her.
Paper. It’s important. The label says something, written in English again.
The human language. Or one of them.
Winter closes her eyes.
She only means to close them for a second, but when she opens them again, the world is spinning and her head is pounding worse than ever. The burning sensation has spread to her insides as well, she feels as if she is boiling from within.
Her whole body afire.
She feels sparks jumping on her arms and her legs, down her belly and back. They tingle as they pass over her, through her. Her eyes shut again.
Distilled life. She can feel it still, so close to her. It’s powerful. She should take it.
It would heal her. Help her heal. She needs it.
Without thinking, her hand slides around the crystal of the bottle. She reaches out with her mind, brushes the life in the bottle tentatively. She hasn’t fed in a while- not since before Summer’s turn came. Her fingers shake, tremble as she opens the conduit.
The life-force feels… strangely familiar. Her mouth is alive with the taste of lavender- and- and… the life energy is flooding her.
Feed, she thinks, as strongly as she can, letting her thoughts guide her desire and her power.
Her whole body is suddenly cooler. Her aches, her pains vanish- her fingers and toes are tingling, her eyes snap open. The sparks on her skin are blue. She feels blue, electricity flashing through her veins- pure, cold power. Her heart is hammering out a wild rhythm in her chest, and the force of the strength in her limbs makes her cry out- she can feel her body stiffen. She curls up into a ball and waits for the eruption of energy to subside.
Finally, after what seems like forever, she carefully lets her limbs relax.
Her body feels incredible. Every part of her- from her hands to her feet- feels strong. It’s more powerful than the orb she absorbed, more powerful than anything she has ever felt before- but it’s so familiar.
And it strikes her now, as she stares at the bottle and the glow within. The vial she’d taken- the potion she’d drunk from- it had tasted similar to this energy. Almost the same. That’s how she had taken Black Refuge.
This is the power from her memory. Her very fingertips crackle with it. As she starts to stand up- she realizes that her scars are burning, standing out lividly from her body as her magic fills her up. All she can hear is the sound of her heart beating and the slow crick crack of fresh frost on the metal near her.
Her mind is clear as crystal now. She can feel it. She’s at the peak of mental and physical power.
It takes an effort of will to stop herself from screaming out with it.
She almost stands, but reminds herself of the paper. Her words wait for her comprehension, written down as a note to herself. Whether a dire warning or mere field notes- she feels the urge to know more fresh in her heart.
Slowly, settling back down in her seat, fingers trembling with restrained energy, she spreads the papers before her and begins to read.