Chapter 02

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She knew that she was drowning, that she was dying and Elise didn't care. Through the forest she had run, escaping those men after they'd...hurt her. Her dress had been torn away, something that was of little worry as she dared to escape certain death, her arms and legs marred by the strength of men who stole what they wanted. She hadn't seen the massive river when she'd fallen, she had been too worried about watching her back when she tumbled in head first, knocking more injuries into her body as she slammed into the crunching, icy layer, and plunged into the frigid depths.

The water was cold, icy and sharp as she entered the river. It washed away the blood, washed away the visible marks from the dirt that had caked itself beneath her nails as she'd clawed her way to freedom from them. She freed herself from their cruelty, only to be left to die of her own demise in the winter stricken river.

The waves pulled her down, and she began to go numb. She could still feel their hands though, all over her clean skin as they ripped her dress, pulled her away from safety and took away the things she'd held most sacred, most important to herself in her life. Elise watched the moons above begin to falter with the waves of the river and closed her eyes in a moment of surrender. She could die beneath the Elin, the moon of her goddess, with a blessing of minimal pain as she went. Soon, she would sing her thanks to the goddess that had given her so much in her short life, had given her the taste of riches. Soon.

If Sho'l hadn't been assigned to that patrol that night, the girl might have died right then. No one bothered to check the river, because no one was dumb enough to get close to it this time of year. The ice that covered the top of the river was barely thick enough to hold the weight of the swallows that swooped around, and thin enough to swallow up grown men if they dared venture. But he had checked anyway, because he had a nagging thought in his mind that he should.

He had heard the screams, far off in the trees that stretched toward Taela, but hadn't known what to make of it. Often the fairy folk would make noises to draw in men to their death, in an effort to feed their ancient hungers for flesh. But he'd known that something was wrong, something didn't add up quite right. He had heard the fairies mimic elves, humans, and fae before, and it had never sounded like this.

The only indication that she was in the river was the moons light reflecting off of her hair, the color of fresh snow beneath the water. There hadn't been any hesitation; he threw his massive coat aside and removed his winter boots before diving in head first, his only goal saving this poor girl.

The frozen reaches of the water invaded his senses, making him send up a silent prayer to the god of winter to help him save this girl, get her to safety before he grew too numb to feel her. Her outstretched arm came within his grasp and he pulled her to him, her bare form seemingly fragile with the lack of consciousness. He kicked upward, ignoring the desire his body now had to just stop trying, to let himself give in to the freezing reaches. He could hear the sirens calling from further in the river, the depths of which even the bravest of men didn't try to find. The songs began to warp his mind, but he could see the cresting moons light ahead.

Sho'l shot out of the water in a huff, his teeth chattering, his hands trembling with such force he was sure he'd drop the girl back into the waters. But he was able to regain his grip on her, forcing his way through the knee-high snow, the violent blusters that threatened to end them both.

He poured her into his massive coat, ignoring her bare skin covered in bruises that too closely resembled hands, and tightly bound it around her small frame. He stuffed his boots back on and scooped her up, only allowing himself a moment to warm his hands with his quivering breath. It would have been a five minute run back to the village on a good day; he couldn't think about how much longer it would be in the snow with the dead weight of the girl in his arms. But he was determined to save her when he saw the weak tendrils of breath seep up from her slightly agape mouth. He would save this girl. He had to, because more than anything he had noticed, more than the crunching snow that froze his wet legs, he had seen something he had never seen before.

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