Extra short. But in a reasonable fashion, and a reasonable timeframe after the last. Almost done with chapter 30. Let’s try to at least get a chapter out a week, hm?
“Silk-” Winter starts quietly. There’s so much she wants to say now she could burst. The overwhelming feelings are turning her legs to jelly.
“You are a child,” her old friend replies sternly. “You meddle with powers you don’t even know how to control.
Winter says nothing to that, holding still and letting the Spider Queen talk. It takes everything she has to bite her tongue, and hold her words back.
“I can tell you what you need to know, in return for something.”
“What do I need to give you?” Winter asks immediately. “I’ll do it. I don’t care what it is- I owe Jane this. I can’t leave her-… I can’t…”
“Do you promise to agree to the terms no matter what they are?” Silk asks softly, her voice suddenly tender. “You may not like them once you hear them.”
“I’d give anything!” Winter says fiercely. “Just name them!”
Idiot, Summer hisses. Do you really mean that?
Winter, for her part, ignores her mind-mate. Of course she means it. This is Silky she’s dealing with, not some dangerous stranger.
“Bear my eggs before you reincarnate,” Silk whispers. “That is all.”
Before Winter can find her wits again and answer, her old friend changes the subject. Winter feels her heart sink, freeze in her chest before her friend even speaks. Silk’s arms are loose around her now, as if in sympathy.
“No matter how hard you try, you cannot bring Jane back now,” Silk begins slowly. “She is out of your reach.”
Winter struggles in vain, staring at the broken, battered body of her Servant, days and days dead.
“I told you I would tell you what you need to know, Winter,” Silk replies solemnly. “And I’m telling you right now that what you wish is utterly impossible. The dead, once led from the Cycle, cannot find their way back again when they eventually return. Without a doubt, Jane and Goliath are already finding their paths to the shells they will next take.”
“T-that trade is unfair,” Winter whispers weakly, feeling the power fading from her, and cold despair taking its place. “Y-you tricked me.”
“Winter, I am not done talking yet,” Silk says mildly, voice soft. “There are a few things that I must tell you regarding your brothers and your sister…”
“I already know Spring is insane,” Winter snaps. “What else could there be?”
Silk seems to hesitate far too long. Silence.
“You didn’t know, did you,” Winter whispers. “You damn well had no idea.”
“Spring’s stability has never been without question,” Silk starts slowly, haltingly. “But why-”
“He threatened to kill me. He wants the illmetal bead so he can erase Fall from existence and break the Cycle of the Seasons or something,” Winter interjects bitterly. “He’s obviously gone batshit.”
Well duh, Summer snipes. Seriously, what part of his total mental breakdown didn’t you expect?
Silk loosens her clawed grip further. “That’s why you wanted Jane to come back…”
“I owe her,” Winter corrects. “She saved me. It’s a debt, and she’s a friend.”
“Servants that die are reincarnated unless they are called back within hours of their deaths, Winter. They aren’t like humans or animals, whose fragile souls break apart. They are like you, Winter, and they are like me. We are guardians of this place, its custodians and watchers. And a Servant, once killed, will come back in time on its own. Not in your life perhaps, but in your successor’s life.”
“I won’t see her again,” Winter says flatly. “And I can’t pay her back.”
“You don’t need to pay her, Winter. That balance was reset the first time. Or have you forgotten already what you did for her?”
“It’s not right!” Winter snaps, shrugging herself free from Silk’s grip and whirling on her friend. “Don’t you understand that?”
Silk’s stance, loose before, hardens, as well as her face. Those eyes are steel, and under their unwavering gaze, Winter’s legs shake.
“And would killing yourself make that better?” Ever-Widowed snarls. Her voice is dripping with fury. “Tell me, Winter-Long-Frost, did you really expect that by sacrificing yourself you could bring your friend back? Would you really pay any price?”
“What are you-” Winter starts, but Summer interrupts her.
She’s saying that you’d kill yourself, you dope! Life for life, right? Did you think you were an exception to the rules?
“No,” Winter says under her breath. “I never knew the rules.” The rage is fading. She takes a deep breath, letting the chilling feeling of her power spread all over her again and replace the anger with cold.
“But what do I do?” She asks out loud.
Her legs tremble, and the world around her spins.
“Who can I trust?” She whispers, almost to herself, almost too quiet for anyone but Summer to hear.
“Trust in yourself,” Silk says quietly. “Trust in your sister. Trust in Autumn and his ability to pull himself back from the brink.”
Oh come on. Whoever he was he isn’t that man anymore.
“No. There is no ‘but’. Autumn is your brother- he shares your tenacity and force of personality. Spring is a slippery snake, but worse than that, he is set. He believes without a doubt that Autumn cannot be saved, and in giving up hope, he will only perpetuate this broken Cycle instead of shatter it, as he seems to intend.”
“How can you know?” Winter whispers weakly.
“I’ve lived a long time, Winter of the Seasons,” Ever-Widowed replies gently. “Trust me.”
Winter sags, biting her lip. Then a part of her hardens. She straightens. “I have to stop him. I have to stop both of them. I have to get back my sister’s child.”
Finally, something we agree on.
She takes a deep, deep breath, steadying herself.
Silk looks at her carefully, then nods, as if she’s made up her mind. “Good. Stronger than before. Are you done running?”
“I hardly think I can stop either of my wayward brothers by standing here,” Winter says grimly.
Her love reaches out and pulls Winter close, six arms locked around her for a few moments.
Silk’s skin is smooth, free of wrinkles, and comfortably chilly. Her hands are chitinous and hard, but gentle where they touch Winter’s bare arms, legs and back.
“You’re a mess, but your will is enough, Winter,” Silk says softly. “There’s so much for you to learn yet. Come back when you are done, and we can talk.”
“You act so sure,” Winter whispers, burying her face against the Spider Queen’s neck. “I might not come back.”
“So much drama,” Silk snips, her voice almost playful. “Relax, Winter-Long-Frost. You’ll come back. After all…”
She whispers something, a clicking, a chittering that Summer doesn’t understand. Winter nods, though, smiling tentatively. She leans up on the tips of her toes and gives Silk a quick, tender kiss, and then steps away, unsure.
Silk, for her part, smiles back. There’s something sad in her eyes, though, and Summer feels as though something is wrong as Winter turns away.
Something is very wrong.
What did she say? Summer asks.
Winter doesn’t answer.
She walks to the edge of the cavern, to the great stone doors that had shut her in with Jane so long ago. Her hands touch the stone warily. “Do you remember how to cast that gate spell you used- the one that took us here?”
Yeah. Where do you need to go? I’ve got enough juice in me for one more jump. And you haven’t answered me.
“It’s nothing you’d understand,” Winter replies quietly. “And we need to go to Spring’s shrine again.”
What do you- oh, no. Thomas!
Summer uses Winter’s arms, as her sister gives her control. She reaches out and draws a shimmering trail in the air before her, focusing her own energy in Winter’s fingers.
“That b-burns,” Winter stammers, startled.
Yeah, is all Summer replies. The line splits apart down the middle, showing a scintillating abyss. I dunno what this will feel like for you…. It’s a bit hot for me, so… just prepare yourself.
Without hesitation, Winter strides through the gate. There’s a gasp, and then she’s gone.
The world is blindingly hot, when she returns. Her entire body is covered in sweat, and the power inside of her feels suppressed, as if the heat is simply too much for it to compete with.
Her skin feels like one giant blister.
She reacts, pushing her power outward like a shield, sheathing herself in the chill as fast as she can, swaying on the spot, wondering if maybe she took a wrong turn somewhere in the gate, or if Summer’s formulae had been off.
A searing hot coal drops down from above, and as she takes in her bearings, it explodes in front of her from the contrast in hot and cold, bursting into steam and smoke.
Where is she? Did Summer’s gate spell go wrong? She looks around at the lacquered wood, at the hungry flames.
No. She’s in the right place.
The shrine is on fire.
It’s a roaring all around her, the wood, the mighty oak, is going up in flames, orange and red and yellow licking all about her. Her skin feels cooked.
Winter! You have to get out of here! This much heat will make you faint!
“Not without Thomas or the girl,” she whispers, looking around her desperately, choking, gagging on the smoke. Where would they be?
Where would he hide them?
She floods the area around her with cold, forming a clear sphere- the smoke around her drops to the floor, suddenly unable to rise, and the boards under her creak and hiss, threatening to crack and give way under her. The stress of sudden cold after being red hot is almost too much.
Finally she can see, and the inferno near her is parted. But all around her, it leaps on, flickering, dancing. It looks hot, it looks as though she should be dead.
She can feel it through the cold around her.
You can feel them, can’t you? You can feel their life-force.
Winter isn’t sure what she feels, at first. As she stands there, though, in the midst of the flames and the terrible heat trying to feast on her, battering at her sheltered, personal tundra, she realizes that she can feel them. She can almost taste them. The girl, dirty and scared, Thomas, determined and… hurt… ? And… terrified.
They aren’t in the Shrine. She can feel them outside of it.
Trap, Summer says, as Winter strides through the blaze. But who…?
Winter knows the answer. She strides out of the Shrine, heart pounding.
Her answer stares her in the face as she pushes open the briefly burning front door. It’s dark, darker than natural, and oppressively so.
Standing in the courtyard, eyes triumphant, is none other than Fall. At His feet lies the urchin girl. Standing before her fallen form is Thomas- hopeless, helpless. In Falls hands sleeps Summer’s child.