Demimind: Chapter 32

Short and sweet. Enjoy Chapter 32, I’ll see about a bonus update on Friday or sooner, to make up for my illness last week. ❤

Love you all,

-Eris

(32) Season’s Refuge

In time, things change. In time, Summer, Winter, Fall and Spring make the journey to Season’s Refuge along with Silk. Thomas and the orphaned girl already live there- they’d transferred shortly after the… well, the Resolution.

Season’s Refuge stands on a low field, and rises near fifty feet up from the earth. The courtyard is enormous and open- no iron gates bar entry by foot. The walls are worn from disrepair. The path up to the great wooden doors is weathered. In the courtyard a great oak tree snakes up to the sky, and as a wind blows across the plains its branches sway and creak.

It’s Winter who leads Fall- who carries Summer’s baby- past the worn walls girding the courtyard. He stumbles on cloven hooves, trying to keep up with her, bent over almost comically as he leans down to follow her beyond the worn walls and onto the path.

The baby, who Summer had promises to name once she found one she liked, is sound asleep. Fall had taken to him instantly, to Winter’s surprise- and despite the poor experiences the infant may have had when he was kidnapped by Fall, the baby boy had been able to sleep soundly every night, and didn’t seem perturbed at all by the horned man’s care.

“Really,” He says quietly. “You could pretend to show a little restraint, you know. Have some reverence for your home.”

Silk, just clearing the courtyard and obviously a little uncomfortable, trails along behind the pair of them slowly.

Winter ignores them both, shoving the big doors open one handed and stepping into the Refuge, letting Fall’s hand go as she races inside.

It’s exactly as she pictured it, as she remembers it. Still, Winter’s eyes tear up as she takes a step into the great hall. Columns stretch up into forever. Before her, an immense stone table with finely crafted wooden chairs set around it, for more than two score guests to sit at. It strikes her at once as both wonderful and horribly lonely at the same time. It’s a bit of a relief that she’ll never have to be all alone now, not with Summer and Autumn and Spring here.

Dust has been disturbed- everything is neat and tidy. The Seasons rarely actually used the great hall for anything other than entertaining guests. The only people who actually ate things at it were Fall, whose energy was always decaying, Summer, who enjoyed the tastes, and any servants they might keep around. Said servants were all long gone by now, surely.

The stone here is near soft underfoot from overuse, but still sparkles in Winter’s eyes. She hugs herself then, slowing down, taking everything in at once.

“Miss Winter?” A voice calls. “Miiss?”

Winter looks up and around, and smiles when she spots Miri, dwarfed by the great stone table she sits at.

The girl smiles back, but it’s clear something is on her mind. She’s sharp, Winter thinks to herself. I hope she’s done well here with Thomas.

“Miss Winter? I dreamed you were going to come today,” She says shyly. “You’re gonna come live with me an’ Thomas now, aren’t you?”

Winter grins and nods. “Mhm! Where is he, do you know?”

Miri shrugs indifferently. “He’s around here somewhere. This place is big!”

Independent, too, Summer murmurs admiringly. I wonder who taught her that?

Winter turns to go look for him. Miri’s hand on her arm stops her dead.

Winter stares at her uncertainly. “Yes?”

“Your baby, Miss Winter?” Miri asks quietly.

“It’s not my-”

“She’s in trouble.”

Winter blinks. There’s a certainty in the child’s eyes that’s just plain disconcerting. And she?

A cry from the direction of the courtyard takes Winter’s attention, and it’s Summer who shifts, pushing Winter out of the way and taking over.

She runs across the stone of the hall, throws open the door to the castle and finds Fall standing there, backing away into the hall. A mass of people is gathered before the courtyard- a score in all. A few men stand around in white armor holding torches, swords or spears.  Women bearing bags of goods or food, maybe personal belongings, women holding babies or holding the hands of children.

They gather together. It’s midday- the torches can’t be to provide mere illumination.

“We’ve drawn quite a crowd,” Fall says wryly.

Someone steps forward from the gathered people. His blond hair is familiar to Summer, as are his eyes.

His armor shines, and his voice is steady. In one hand he holds a torch, the other a long knife. “We are the descendants of the Ivory Templar, journeyed here from Wheel. We’ve come to take back Black Refuge in our ancestors’ names.”

Let me handle this, Spring urges.

“Miss Summer?” Thomas whispers, right next to her ear.

She jumps, then steps aside as he brushes past her.

Looks like that job is being taken care of, Fall observes to Spring. Aloud, he says “Careful, Tom.”

Thomas just grins back at him before he stands in front of the man. All he carries is the haft of his spear.

“What’s your name, sir?” He asks politely.

Winter shifts in while Summer isn’t paying attention, and she reaches out for the baby. Fall hands him to her gently.

The child hadn’t cried once the entire way to Season’s Refuge.

“I am called Mark Danehood. And you?” Mark’s tone is wary.

“I go by Thomas. Just Thomas,” He replies easily. His entire posture is relaxed, and his completely nonthreatening attitude seems to take Mark by surprise. Still, he recovers.

“Well, just Thomas, who do you stand with?”

“I should think that’s pretty obvious, sir,” Thomas says, with just a hint of reproach. “I’m standing with the Seasons.”

“This land is ours by right,” Mark says quietly. “If you are with the Seasons, you stand against us.”

“I’m sure we can work something out,” Thomas says lightly. His posture is open, and Winter wants to tug him out of harms’ way.

But something in his stance eases her fears. This is a man who has been through more than mere mortals can dream, Winter remembers. Still…

It isn’t until he turns his head slightly and winks at Fall that she lets herself relax.

Winter cradles the baby in her arms thoughtfully before she walks back into the Refuge.

Thomas can probably handle this, especially with Fall at his back.

What’s important is that you got my son out of that potentially nasty situation, Summer whispers. But how did the girl know that was going to happen? And how did they get here?

Portal, Winter replies as the idea strikes her. They came here through the portal, journeyed from Everspring to Season’s Refuge, probably almost the same time we set out.

Still, something else doesn’t quite fit.

“Miri?” Winter calls.

“Miss Winter!” Miri’s voice calls back excitedly. “I’m in the study! Come see!”

Winter remembers where the study is by sheer luck. Summer nudges her in the direction of the door. It opens as if on greased hinges, swinging silently aside. Winter takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and steps inside.

Her eyes open again, and what she sees takes her breath away. Stacks and stacks of books, piled high, teetering here and there. There are so many of them that it makes her dizzy, stretching high into the air, some on shelves, some on the tile floor.

Miri sits in the middle of the room, legs crossed, grinning widely and holding a book. It’s title is in Eldritch, and Winter recognizes it as Poems, Songs and Sonnets from Ages. It appears ragged around the edges, as though it has definitely seen better days. The paper is old and  yellowed.

“Look!” Miri giggles. “It’s like the words you and Miss Summer use.”

“You can’t read that-” Winter starts, but Summer silences her. Miri opens the book and, flashing Winter a grin, begins to read.

No, not to read. To sing, in a wavering, but soft, pretty voice.

“Souls in cycle, follow along

Writ for wrote

Word for song

Souls in cycle, lead my heart

From place to place

From past to start

Beginning to end

First and now last

Find my heart in a looking glass

When demi of mind meets demi of soul

Push both together

And make them whole.”

Miri finishes, giggling, obviously pleased with herself. Then she frowns a bit. “What does it mean, Miss Winter?”

Winter blinks, smiles down at her and shakes her head. “It’s just a song. It’s a nice song, though.”

Like hell. That’s the song Fall taught you, Summer says flatly.

Yeah, Winter replies quietly. I think I understand what he meant by it, too.

Miri shrugs, though, obviously not accepting Winter’s answer, but not questioning it openly either. She stands up again. “Can I have it? The book, I mean?”

Summer’s baby stirs in Winter’s grip. Winter finds herself wondering at who his father could have been, and she’s so lost in thought that she almost forgets Miri’s question altogether.

“Mm? Oh! Yes, of course! You live here too!” Winter says hastily. “Just… well, be careful with it.”

“Yes, Miss Winter,” Miri says quickly, and scurries off, the book tucked under her arm.

What did he mean? Summer asks curiously, prompting her. Winter is about to answer her when she hears a clicking on the tile behind her.

Winter turns, and finds Silk standing in front of her, all of her arms folded.

“Half a mind and half a soul, both here together as one,” Silk says quietly. “With the Cycle broken and mended, with everything you could ever ask for right here…. can you forgive me, from so long ago?”

Winter blinks, then takes in a breath. In that instant, Silky puts a clawed finger to her lips, hushing her instantly. “No, don’t talk yet. I haven’t told you what I did and what I am asking of you. I haven’t told you what you’ve done.”

Winter quiets herself, curbing her own curiosity while Summer grumbles.

“Winter,” Silk says quietly. “Your daughter is mine by blood right. That is the oath I made to you long ago, that I would take your child.”

Winter nods slowly.

“The child you carry is yours as much as it is Summer’s,” Silk whispers. “Being of your blood, she is mine now by my law.”

Now wait just a second! Summer snarls in Winter’s head. Winter shakes herself, trying to make sense of it.

“What are you talking about?” She asks finally, heart sinking. “This child is a boy.”

“The boy is the dominant soul, yes,” Silk replies gently. “But underneath his shell and in his heart beats your blood, and with your blood a piece of you, Winter, as much as he is a piece of Summer.”

“How…?” Winter starts weakly.

“There was no union between you and any mortal man,” Silk says, and her voice is tempered by guilt. “Nor was there any such union between Summer and another. You two are bound together, but more than that- when your souls touched, I…” Silk closes her eyes for a moment, opens them again, her posture relaxing, claws falling to her sides. “I took advantage of your vulnerability. I used magic- my peoples’ magic- to create a child within you. I worried- and foolishly- that you would be incapable of having a child on your own so…” She pauses and then sighs. “I… violated your trust, my love.”

“Spells like that exist?” Winter asks, stunned, horrified, and wondering all at once. “And you cast one on me- you used magic on me without me knowing it?”

“It… It is more that I provided a spark for your own magic to use. But it was a spark made of all Seasons, from pieces of their magic that I plucked and spun together,” Silk says quietly. “All of you- Summer, Winter, Autumn, Spring- every one of you is a part of this being. Four children in one.”

“Why did you do this?” Winter pries, frowning. “Silk, you were- are- one of my most trusted friends.  Why? And why keep it from me, or from Summer?”

“You wouldn’t remember,” Silk says quietly. “And hopefully now you will never have reason to. It’s fine now- it’s worked out the way it needed to.”

“I don’t understand,” Winter says wearily. “But by now I think I’m used to that. I’ll figure it out later.”

“Are you going to run?” Silk asks quietly, as Winter starts to turn. There’s something almost desperate, something soft and hurt in her voice. Winter isn’t angry. She’s hurt. Like Silk is.

Feelings fight, boil and die in Winter’s heart. Running now feels like the only thing she can do… It’s too much for her to deal with right now, if she could just…

She’s a spider, Summer warns. She’ll lie and manipulate to get her way. I told you I had a bad feeling about her.

Winter wrestles with herself, takes another step, pauses. She’ll betray you again.

Summer means well. She means the best for her sister, truly she does. But…

Winter shakes her head, frowns, and stops, arms folded. “No,” She says finally, breaking into a grin. “I think I’ll walk.”

She turns to face Silk and reaches out. Silk stretches out her own clawed fingers to meet the fourth Season’s tentatively, gazing down at Winter, clearly a little worried for her love’s sanity. “Winter?”

“I don’t forgive you now,” Winter answers slowly. “And I’m not sure what to think. But I’d rather we found out together. I’ve spent too long without you, for all that I remember- that I’m starting to remember doing with you. I trust you, Silk, and I’m disappointed in you for not telling me the truth, but I won’t leave without you. And we won’t be gone forever.”

She cracks a smile, then, her eyes meeting Silk’s. For a moment, her heart skips a beat and she feels light. Silk returns the smile, obviously confused, but relieved. “Come on,” Winter says gently. “I think you’ve done enough moping.”

She grasps Silk’s hand and leads her away from the study, with the Seasons’ baby in the crook of her arm, unsure of where she’s going, but certain of where she belongs.

Demimind: Chapter 15

(15)Of Spring and Healing

Summer stumbles when the change hits her. Winter’s body disappears- Summer’s pregnancy weakened body stumbles forward. Her hands slap the ground- she can’t seem to find her breath.

No one moves to help her either- Thomas is determined to look the other way, the mute man just stands and stares, and Fall, who seems to be taking some sort of bizarre revenge on Glory through her, just sits on the bed and pretends she doesn’t exist.

She manages to sit up, but her whole body feels raw, and her stomach- her womb- feels as if it’s been sliced open. She rubs her belly to make sure this isn’t the case. It isn’t- though she has blood on her hand when she takes it away. Summer takes a deep breath, and breathes it out slowly.

Feeling okay?

“Yes,” She lies, coughing once and giving herself a weak smile. “I’m feeling just fine, Winter.”

Thomas clears his throat. “I don’t suppose you’d care to put some clothes on?”

Summer blushes. She catches Fall smiling and snaps a glare in his direction. Then she closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. Drawing on the life in the room, she materializes a gauzy shirt and skirt, made out of summer gossamer and fading sunbeams. She slips into them easily, and they tighten snug about her figure, shining bright and literally blindingly beautiful.

“Better,” She says quietly. “You can look now, Thomas.”

He turns back toward her, obviously relieved that she’s wearing something more than her skin. Fall looks at her directly now too, half a smile on his face.

“For the record, I’d rather you were seeing me improper than leaving me to stumble and smack the ground,” Summer comments dryly. “Though admittedly I don’t plan on being so weak next time that I fall like that.”

Fall folds his arms and just watches her. Thomas leans down and offers a hand, which she accepts gratefully. She feels about a hundred pounds lighter with the baby gone. And strangely empty.

Thomas pulls her to her feet with frightening ease. “Miss, you’ve lost weight,” He says, trying a grin.

She offers him weak smile in return. “How untoward of you to notice.”

He blushes, but holds her smile until Fall coughs meaningfully.

“Summer, you’ve a task before you,” He points out.

“We need to be somewhere with more life to it,” She replies. “There isn’t enough for me to heal something like that. Not at my present power.”

A voice, at the door makes everyone jump. “I have something that might help.”

Spring walks into the shack boldly, his green skin and brown-tipped hair bright in the cool light of the moon shining through the window. When he arrives at the center of the room, he reaches into a pocket in his jeans and tugs out a flower- a rose, in fact. He sets it on the table. Summer stares at it.

It isn’t a normal rose. It glows brightly, and seems made of incandescent light rather than actual flower.

“Where did you get this?” She asks.

“What is it?” Fall demands. “Why are you here, brother? Are you for us or against us?”

“I am what I am,” Spring says quietly. “I am neither for you nor against you. I cannot help you and I cannot hurt you. I don’t much appreciate what you will do in the future, brother.”

“How could you know?” Summer asks sharply. “And you haven’t answered my question.”

Thomas remains silent, watching the display, face blank. Whether he knows what’s going on and is remaining quiet or is just confused isn’t obvious.

Spring smiles. “I am a product of past, present and future, my dear sister and brother. I am here, there, and all around, waiting for my time to come. That’s always how it’s been- so!” He rubs his hands together.

“Let’s get down to business,” He says seriously. “That rose is something special to you, Summer, is it not? I took the liberty of liberating it from your past self. You’re calling her Glory at this point, are you not?”

“Yes,” Fall says slowly. “What in the time of the Cycle are you going on about?”

“Patience. I’ll explain,” Spring soothes. “First, answer my question, Summer.”

“Yes,” Summer says, narrowing her eyes. She reaches over and picks up the rose. “I believe I remember now.”

“Excellent.”

“I remember you stealing this from me and disappearing,” She says sharply. “Start explaining.”

“I did not actually steal it from you,” Spring says cheerfully. “That was me from another timeline.”

“Horseshit,” Summer growls. “I didn’t fall for it then, I won’t fall for it now. This ‘timeline’ business is a myth. If there is one, there’s only one.”

Spring sighs a little, but looks amused at Summer’s deduction. “It’d be easier if just once you would believe me. You’re right, of course. The truth of it is that  there is no difference between the us of now and the us of later- not really. We are all predestined to do the things we eventually do. Summer from here- Glory- knows this, and seeks to set it all in motion. She needn’t bother, she would do it whether or not she tried to avoid it.”

He nods at Fall. “You, dear brother, will become a monster eventually. There is nothing that can stop that.” He glances at Summer. “And you, dear sister, will redeem yourself- or try to- for your past sins by killing Fall when he becomes the Moonlord. It’s a part of the grand Cycle, something we’ve done for ages. The Seasons are at war with one another. They can work together, but only for a time and only towards one goal- the destruction of one another.”

“How do you know?” Thomas asks suddenly, arms folded. “That sounds a little ridiculous, milord. Shouldn’t you at least try to fight it?”

“Well-” Spring starts, but Fall cuts him off.

“It’s obvious rubbish,” Fall snaps. “After hearing about what I’ve done? There’s nothing in this world that’d make me go that far off the deep end.”

Spring shrugs, then gives Summer a smile. “Bring that rose along with you, when you visit the shrine tomorrow.”

Summer sighs and sets the rose back on the table. “Fine, brother. But you’ll have a lot of explaining to do in the future.”

Spring steps back and takes an expansive bow. “Just don’t use it all up at once.”

He straightens, then vanishes in the breeze, taking another step backward and disappearing completely. A few leaves drift to the floor with his passage.

What a tool, Winter comments. He’s nothing like he’ll be later.

“Yeah,” Summer says quietly. She turns to the mute man, who stares at her. “Ready?”

He nods. His dark eyes flash at her. Something about his stare makes her more than a little uncomfortable.

Still, Winter wants him healed. She owes Winter a lot. Much more than this  healing could repay. She has to start somewhere… May as well be here.

She takes a deep breath and reaches inside of herself. Then, drawing a hand around the tight ball of her power, she weaves threads around her fingers and casts them out around her, making sure they touch everything but the man. Her eyes close, then open and open wide.

-You see me,- He says silently. -Will you still help me?-

What’s going on? He just lost a tongue, Winter wonders. Are you okay? You’ve been standing here for a while now.

Summer breaks out in a sweat, but doesn’t let the fear show on her face.

The man is not a man. He is a dragon. Or she. The voice is feminine, and cloaked in a mental hiss. She can’t make out the creature’s scales to know whether it’s evil or good. She can’t remember which scales mean what anyway.

“Yeah, I guess I will,” She says quietly. “Open your mouth.”

The man-illusion opens its mouth, baring the gaping hole. Taking another deep breath, Summer pushes her hand- still covered in glowing threads- into the illusory man’s mouth. She feels a dragon tongue curl around her hand and flick her arm. Razor sharp teeth hedge in her hand. She feels her legs shaking, and keeps them still.

Summer?

Thomas can only see her stuffing her hand into the illusion’s mouth, but he feels something must be wrong. “Milady, what-”

“Now bite,” She says, eyes shut tight. “And swallow.”

Well. Blood for blood-

The dragon bites down, severing Summer’s hand at the wrist. The tongue curls around the severed limb and the creature swallows it whole.

Had she judged right? Summer can’t help but wonder that, stepping back, one hand clutching the bleeding stump where her hand used to be and calmly applying pressure. Thomas is shouting, scrabbling for his sword- his iron armor lies on the stand in the corner of the shack. Fall is rising from his seat, a mixture of fury and concern written across normally placid features.

Summer feels her blood streaming past her fingers. Only for a moment. Through force of will she cuts the flow, using a single thread she saved- and connected to the rose- to hold her blood in place with her power.

She still feels woozy, and searing pain climbs up her arm in waves.

There’s an interminable pause, and Summer gets the feeling that perhaps she’d failed- but then the dragon’s scales rip through skin that was never there.

She sees Thomas shrink back. The illusory man fades, and the shack crumbles as the dragon regains its normal height, length, temperament and power all at once.

Fall stands firm, though his face goes white.

“Oh,” He says weakly.

She’s a dragon? Wasn’t expecting that, Winter remarks. Her mental voice is shaky, weak with pain. Summer had almost forgotten that it transfered through their link. She’s feeling shaky herself.

Summer sways on her feet. She can feel her body, now doubly weakened, almost stumble. Fear from the dragon’s presence is making it even harder to keep her balance. She leans against the table as bits of the shack’s roof rain down.

In the moonlight the dragon’s black scales gleam. An enormous, sinuous tail, ending in a long spade, flicks out spines reflexively as the creature stretches. Beryl eyes stare at her, a feral glimmer in them.

Summer has to commend Thomas on his bravery. He steps forward, having recovered his iron armor and struggled into the shoulders of it, at least. His sword is drawn too, though the tip weaves and he seems to be shaking in his boots.

Fall shakes his head slowly, clearly disbelieving it.

Summer, for her part, draws on the power of the Rose, letting the thread thicken. She wraps her arm in it, slowly, concentrating as hard as she can, drawing out the faint outline of her hand in her mind. Now heal.

Her hand reforms, skin and bone wrapped in one, tendons and nerves all coiling into place, fingers next, nails. Her skin, pale and pink, contrasts sharply with the bronze of her form, but at least it’s functional. Well, technically. She can’t move it just yet, and-

A familiar dragon muzzle opens in front of her, baring dagger-long teeth. It snaps closed an inch from her face. She hears Thomas drop his sword and scramble trying to pick it up.

-Are you frightened?- The dragon hisses, its tail flicking this way and that, curling and twisting like an agitated snake. Blood shines on its teeth as its lips curl back.

Yes, Winter whispers.

“No,” Summer says calmly, looking up and into its eyes. It’s not really a lie. Fear is knotted in her belly. But she doesn’t feel afraid.

-Why?- The voice roars in her head. The dragon hisses, its tongue flashing out and flicking across Summer’s face like a slap. Its saliva stings and burns like acid. But Summer simply stands there, still leaning on the table. There’s a burning trail across one bronze cheek, but she reaches up and wipes it off with her uninjured hand.

“You don’t scare me. I saved you. There is a binding on you now. You can’t hurt me.”

Are you sure? Winter hisses. I mean, are you really sure?

Summer tries to ignore her.

-I could crush you,- The black dragon growls. -You are lower than dust. I needed your help, but that doesn’t mean I am beholden to you, season Summer. You may have risen among humans, but you are no match for a dragon!-

“I never said I was,” Summer says mildly. “I have shed blood for you. I expect you to do the same for me. You should know how it works.”

The dragon hisses, long and low.

“You can’t harm me again,” Summer says simply.

-Just give me the chance,- It snarls.

“Open your mouth,” Summer says quietly.

The dragon roars at her.

Summer waits patiently until it’s done, and then slips her other hand into its mouth, letting it hover just above the dragon’s tongue.

It tries to snap its jaws shut, but something stops its mouth from closing all the way. It strains and hisses, clawing tracks in the dirt with its foreclaws. But it can’t manage it. She knew it wouldn’t be able to, somehow.

Summer watches the dragon struggle. Only when it stops moving entirely and just glares at her does she withdraw her hand. She meets its gaze steadily and pats it on the muzzle. “I healed you. It cost me deeply.”

-You’ll regenerate fully within the hour,- The dragon sneers. -What cost is that?-

“I drain things I love constantly in order to save myself. That is the cost. You know the balance- you’re a dragon, not a fool,” Summer says sternly. “You are being brash, you are filled with the arrogance of your race, and you know it. You wish you could control it, you want to thank me, but how does a dragon thank someone? It can’t. Everything is a dragon’s toy. I am not your toy, dragon. I am your equal. I saved your life of my own will. You are bound to me.”

The dragon answers with sullen silence. It snorts, puffing a cloud of acrid, sulfurous smoke from its nostrils.

Summer strokes its muzzle still, eyes watering. “It’s okay,” She murmurs quietly, wiping her eyes with the back of her recently regenerated hand. “You were in pain. You don’t want to trust me. It’s okay. I’m here to help. I wouldn’t have saved you otherwise.”

-They lied to me,- The dragon says, hissing softly. Its tail settles on the ground with a thud, and it settles lower. -They promised gold, tribute. They trapped me with a Word.-

Without quite realizing why, the dragon has moved closer and set its head next to Summer. The creature is enormous- almost a full thirty feet in length from head to tailtip. Its wings are little more than ornamental- no monster that size could ever fly without the aid of magic.

“Who?” Summer asks, voice soft as a gentle wind blowing through summer wildflowers. “Who did this to you?”

-The Slayers. The ones at Black Refuge. Humans.

“Well,” Fall says weakly. “That’d explain a lot, actually.”