I really liked this chapter. its all about death and sex and self hatred and being unable to relate to your family. Basically things quite close to my heart.
Big Bad Wolf
The afternoon seemed endless. It had been formed of empty, searingly blue skies and featureless landscapes that seemed to feed into themselves, so that Nina could not be sure that she hadn’t walked in a giant circle, watched only by a static sun and the distant hovering hawks.
Nina felt the sun as a weight, bearing down on the heavy clothing that she wore. She refused to expose herself any further though, and just drank steady sips of water as she tramped the hours underfoot. Her reasoning was this – the air itself felt somehow chilled, so that if the sun were to pass behind a cloud then there would be nothing left but cold. The oppressing heat was a false jollity, one that would be crushed by ice she felt sure. It was a very peculiar feeling that, in sixteen years of adventures, of never stopping, she had felt only once before - or so the saying goes.
Except that she hadn’t, because it was the feeling that always came from inside, that - no matter where she was - swarmed up and invaded her muscles with heavy self awareness, with twitching incongruity. It was the memories that came first, unwanted and unrelated they brought the feeling with them and they crowded out her peripheral vision so that her eyes tunnelled forward and she had to be careful where she stepped. So that everything slowed down and speeded up at once and you had to stop to think about everything that you did from moment to moment. Because even when you were curled up against the shielding warmth of a frost giant in a bed of furs it’ll still course through you and you’ll have nothing to stop it.
She misses that frost giant, misses the frozen reaches in the far south where she had found him, although she realises that the affection is probably born as much from location as it was from true happiness. She was not happy there, she knows, because she had gone as far as she possibly could go from where she started but she was still herself. She doesn’t like to say his name, to even think it, because it upsets her – because she knows that she will never do better. Because, as far as she travelled, as protected as she could be, the memories crowded in, the feeling fuzzed through her nerves and she knew that she couldn’t stop, because stopping meant death, one way or another, by her own hand or by the weight of existence, and so she had had to leave.
Too young, she thinks, but Nina is not sure that those thoughts are Nina’s, are hers. She knew exactly what she was doing, which is the worst of the problems because it gives her no excuse. Others she could forgive, at that age, but she was aware – she knew that she was. And what s the worst thing that she could have done? Exactly what she did. Every time.
It comes up in her vision, swimming into hazy focus that darts from a solid gaze and remains present even in the cleansing glare of the sun. Closing her eyes is no proof. Fenris is there, all flesh and hands and touches that are almost still good to feel. Watching where she should have stepped in, where she should have stopped. She feels the crunch of bones that are not hers. She feels the touch of hands that are not hers. She feels the shapes her mouth made. She feels the stupidity of separate events intertwined irrevocably in her mind and she knows that she was wrong. Every time.
She should not have picked the fights that she picked. She should not have said the things that she said. She should not have let the fights that she didn’t pick go unpicked. She should not have let her sister climb trees. She should not have done with Fenris what she did with him. Despite everything.
* * *
The smell of sweat and sex was still imprinted on her clothing. There had not been enough time, once she had awoken, to change or do anything except steal away. There was nothing that she could have changed into anyway, she had not come forearmed. She hadn’t known that this was how these things worked - that it stayed with you, stayed on you, once all was done.
What she did understand was the sound of something moving quickly that didn’t want to be heard. Nina didn’t wake the one who slept by her because it didn’t seem right – to taint the thing that they had just done with violence and death. As well as that, though, she didn’t want to have to explain, just yet, the scars that he had uncovered. There had been no time before, or rather during, and she was willing to keep it that way for as long as she could. The truth was that the places aimed at by those who wanted you dead were, on Nina, almost untouched. No-one ever got close.
She didn’t have armour with her, she rarely wore it anyway, but she was armed because she was always armed. She didn’t feel right if she wasn’t, so she had bought some small weapons along to the secluded, private place that they had found; and it only just occurred to her that she had already bloodied the night by doing so, like she did with everything. She shouldn’t have tried.
They had chosen the place that they had chosen to do the things that they had done because it was close to the camp but hidden from it. A place for those who might rely on the clan, but not want the clan to know of what they were doing. They had forgotten, briefly, about the disappearances, but now Nina remembered – because those were exactly the requirements, she imagined, of whatever it was, and she hated to think that there was anything she and it might share. Even though the facts were staring her in the face.
As they had tracked west with the deer that had tracked west with the growth of spring in a customary migration that they called the Slow Hunt, the Fenrir clan of the Wolfstar had been hunted themselves. They had, at first, been unable to distinguish it from the ordinary small tragedies of life on the woodland paths. A child goes missing – lost or drowned or tumbled from a ledge – and no-one can ever say where they have gone except for the senseless, squawking carrion crows that feast upon their corpses. Flesh is returned to the earth that sustained it and it breaks the hearts of the parents, but everyone else, while sad, silently count their own children and try not to remember the dead amongst the depleted ranks.
This year it was worse than normal, though. It was not just those children too young to have learnt how not to die that went missing, and it was more than was normal too – even for the harshest of years. When children old enough to be adults were amongst the lost then the leaders knew that they had a problem. By the time that the first adult was abducted the realisation that no-one knew how to stop what was happening had already set in and the tension was starting to build.
There were all sorts of explanations for what it was that was preying on them – a monster, a fiend, a fairy or even all three – but Nina didn’t pay attention to them. It didn’t matter to her what it was because it hadn’t had to overpower her father to take him, he had just given up. He had seen an exit and he had taken it, like it was the most sensible thing in the world. Now she was an orphan, with two healthy sisters old enough to look after each other fine – thank you. The clan kept moving and they kept moving with it. They’d known what to do for a long time, long before their father had walked out into the forest.
Nina’s mother had been killed, violently, in some piece of minor internecine warfare – a clan rivalry that could only be settled by blood. Her mother had shed a lot of it, as had her opponent and the many other fighters around them and it had all mixed together into glistening pools in the mud around their distorted bodies. And this had been seen to be correct. The price was paid, the feud was over. Her mother, staring at nothing, had seemed to be smiling at least – although maybe that was in response to the intimate way in which the spear which had killed her was thrust through her body. It had confirmed what her father had always thought – that he was no match for that kind of power. Which is why he walked out into the forest in the way that he did, quietly and with an air of dignity misplaced. And he never came back, because no-one could fault you for being bested by a monster.
Except Nina, who knew that it was something that would never happen to her, as tempting as it might seem. Which is another reason that she didn’t want to wake Fenris; because if she couldn’t defeat it on her own then she didn’t want to defeat it and if it was going to kill her and scatter what she was to the dew-soaked wind then she didn’t want his death on her hands too. The heady, ripe smell of her sweat and sex that was imprinted on her clothes, that was mixed now with the scent of the dew on the ground and the leaves, just made her more determined to do this. It combined and contrived to make her think that she was already dead, that the blow had already been struck, her essence had already been spilled and wasted and that she just didn’t know how to stop moving.
It was still dark and quiet, but she had been sure of the sound. So now, she listened out for more, making sure not to relegate anything important to the background noises of the woods. Instead, she crept in the direction that she had heard it come from and she searched the ground for traces of something to track. She knew already that it was something stealthy that she was chasing, but she hoped that whatever – whoever – it had carried off with it was not so eager to be unseen. It didn’t seem to wild a conclusion; she found the trail. Her blood pumped stronger.
The way that the trail was laid, heavy footfall in places interspersed by nothing, let her know that whatever she was chasing had wings, but it was not strong enough to carry off its prey outright. It made sense, because how else would it have been able to track the Wolfstar undetected for so long. It made sense, because everyone knew how treacherous and depraved the fairies were.
The moonlight didn’t help things, but Nina felt she was in her element anyway so it didn’t matter much. She had enough clues to go on and the darkness only added to the dirt and the feeling that this moment was one that she would have missed had she succumbed to inertia and stayed where she was. That this moment was one that was unique, one that was special, that this moment was the sort of moment that would make her feel more alive. It was almost leisurely - or at least in slow motion - that she ducked beneath the swooping dive of the bird-beast; reached out and grabbed its trailing tail, jerked it towards her snapping it out of its arc and gutted it on an upswing.
She had been aware of it for a while but had continued onward, ignoring it and acting as if she owned the place. Merely keeping a tab on its position. Looking at it now, dead and dripping black ichor where the blade had parted its scales, she wondered what she was facing that could command such as this as its servant. It almost certainly knew that she was coming now, as well but there was nothing that she could do about that.
Whatever it was, it chose to ignore her presence and her murderous acts – maybe because it knew the effect that it would have when she finally saw it. Because, when Nina crept at last to the edge of the small grove that held the monster and its prey, she froze. The boy before the monster, broken limbed but still alive and slowly moving she knew as Johann, Lars’ son and a friend of her sister Mia. The being standing above him she knew as nothing other than beauty.
One of the ways that the world works is that the individual cannot fundamentally change it by way of their actions, by their will alone. It’s all part of the pact that was made by the Marzipan Princess, back when the world was young and time was in an abundant supply. Or at least it might be – the legends tend to be more obscure and less like a rule-book, so they could mean a lot of things. But, this isn’t really the right place to recount mythology so lets just say that the Marzipan Princess, if she was ever really alive, was the last person who could change the world through individual power alone. The outside world, that is, not just the world as it relates to them – the constructed world – and she changed it so that there would not be the likes of her again. The age of Heroes was at an end, and a new age of heroes begun. And so on.
Of course, individuals can still change the world, it’s just that now they have to be a bit more creative – it’s not just about destiny or sheer might anymore, it has to be done through the minds of others. So that what the world is is not empirically changed, but the way that the world is seen; if you can make other see it the way you see it yourself, then it doesn’t matter what it is that they see. It made the tyrants go away for a while - but when they came back, like weeds they were stronger because their roots had had to go deeper. And now they lived in people’s minds, too, so they stayed alive long after you thought they were dead.
And this all has relevance to the creature that was beauty because the creature that was beauty was a demon, and a demon was something that changed the rules just by being where it was. They had to, it was in their nature. To even enter a world from the gaps between infinities where they resided required the rules of that world to be change so as to allow something so unnatural its existence at all.
As she watched, Nina understood what it was doing and why it was doing it. It was taking souls because it needed them – and this seemed right and well. She could sympathise and she wasn’t sure why but she felt disgusted by it as much as she felt accepting. Was it the beasts allure? Was it the treacherous heat that still coursed her thighs? Whatever it was, she watched unmoving as it reached down and broke the boy at its feet. It shattered his life in a single shock of gore and she still didn’t move, although she knew even before then that she could. She could. Well now she had no excuse, she knew what to do.
She was quick about it – the thin, almost invisible lines welling up and blossoming with red before the pain even hit. The shock was good – the pain stopped her thinking and instead fed into the push that made her move, that made her welcome death if that was what was to come. It was easy now – because it would be much harder later – so she was eager to see how close the thing could get to killing her once and for all.
When it was mentioned before about the way that one person could not change the way that reality works it was not an idle digression. Neither was the talk about the effects of demons and their kind unnecessary. Because when Nina killed the creature – drowning the lungs that it didn’t know it had with an inrush of its own pulsing blood – she did something that no-one was supposed to be able to do, but she did it precisely because it was there to be done. Yet even landing the killing blow she knew that she had failed, that she could have saved the life of her clansman. Now it was just another memory to fill her mind when she didn’t need it to be there. To torture herself with in the arms of someone who made no promises to look after her.