Chapter Twenty-Two: White Stag

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Chapter Twenty-Two

White Stag

            When I opened my eyes I was no longer on the fire-scorched land where the battle took place. Instead, the scorched ground was covered in a light dusting of snow and the cold air was crisp and clear. The sweetness of it filled my aching lungs. My clothes were ruined and my weapons long gone, but there was no coldness or panic as I stood in the clearing, wide open for anyone to see.

            Stalks of grass sprung up despite the snow, the trees were thick and alive, holding up the snow with strong arm-like branches. From somewhere behind me there was birdsong and from somewhere in front of me a stream bubbled.

            I walked through the snow until I saw him. The Stag stood without a hint of the wounds Lydian gave him. I raced forward. He was alive; the world would be alright. Soren would be alright. He was alive. I stopped running when I met his large, somber eyes.

            He looked down at the snowy grass and I followed his gaze, amazed that I was looking down at myself and the burnt field below. Soren was breathing heavily, fighting his wounds while the power of the Permafrost began to regenerate his body. Seppo knelt over my limp body, shaking it desperately and screaming. I couldn't hear the words, but pain was written over his face. I ached to reach out and let him know I was okay, but there was nothing I could do as he screamed and cried. Soren, who was gathering his strength, finally managed to drag himself over to the Stag and I. He joined in the shaking and pled for me to wake.

            Warm breath blew against my cheek as the Stag came beside me. You have come far, young one. Thank you.

            "I don't understand," I said, my hands brushing the place on his flank where the wounds were supposed to be. The giant animal didn't flinch, but gazed levelly at me. "You're okay. You're not hurt. Why aren't you waking up? Don't you realize without you everything will fall apart? I saw it."

            He blinked at me slowly, eyelashes full of falling snow. You will see.

            A rush of images flashed inside my head. In an empty hollow surrounded by trees, a tawny doe grunted as she gave birth to a male fawn whiter than the snow. She nuzzled him as he wailed, the coldness of the world hitting his thin, soft skin for the first time, until he stood on shaky legs. He followed after his mother until they were out of the hollow and into the newly created world.

            Then the years sped up, the fawn now a young buck with fuzz on his antlers. His fur was brighter than the sun and with each step life sprang from his hooves, climbing out into the earth. His leaping rhythm was the heartbeat of the earth.

            Time passed and more creatures came from the hollow; right from the spot the Stag was born. Humans with their feeble bodies and intelligent brains, normal animals with their fur and claws, and the Folk: lindworms and giants, svartelves and goblins all climbed out of the hollow. They were good and bad and everything in between. The normal animals, the humans, they all went south of the place where the Stag was born, while the Folk, the gods, and every other monster went north. As they trekked, one by one, the land to the south grew warm and teemed with life while the northern land froze with deadly beauty. The line between the north and the south grew and grew until they became two separate worlds, distinct of one another, but only a step away.

            The young Stag raced across the Permafrost, the ground turning to ice wherever his hooves touched as goblins chased after it; it died and was reborn again and again, the cycle continuing without its end. Until now.

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