Chapter 2 (Kayden)

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Kayden Branimir raced up the mountainside with Eka, snow kicking up beneath her fur-lined boots, the wind burning cold against her rosy cheeks. For a blissful moment, she forgot who she was. She couldn't remember the last time her heart had soared like a hawk through a valley, and—

A snowball exploded in Kayden's face.

"You—" Stumbling, Kayden caught up to Eka and tackled the girl into a snowdrift. Eka's laughter sang through the air, and if Kayden could bottle up the sound and listen to it every dawn, she would.

Breathless, Eka turned onto her side and propped herself up on one elbow, peering down at her.

"Something wrong?" Kayden asked, brushing snowflakes from her hair.

"Not that I'm aware of."

"Then why are you looking at me like that?" A blush crept over her cheeks, but she hoped Eka wouldn't notice. "Knock it off."

Eka's lips quirked up into the smallest grin. "What goes through your mind when you see me?"

Kayden choked on her own spit, spluttering. The question chased away her thoughts, and she tried to rein them back in, but the task was near impossible with Eka staring at her like that. The girl was all sharp angles with even sharper green eyes, and right now, those eyes were so close to cutting away the ice surrounding her heart. Kayden opened her mouth, but then she closed it, trapping words she could never say as she glanced away.

She wanted to tell Eka that looking at her was like late night bonfires caressing her skin, the taste of warm cider on her lips, and the twinkling of stars and everything good in this frozen world. Then, as suddenly as the snowball that had collided with her face, the thought of him ruined the moment. It was always him putting the distance between her and Eka—the dead boy with the same sharp, green eyes that could carve their way into her soul.

"Do I really make you that speechless?" Eka prodded.

Kayden reached into her pocket, needing something to fiddle with. She grasped the torbit leaves that were tucked away and realized her mistake too late.

Eka followed the movement, and the light in her gaze dulled. "You're thinking of him again, aren't you?"

Instead of answering, Kayden stood. "We shouldn't go to the cliff today. Let's—"

"He was my brother," Eka said, tone icier than the howling wind. "I will pay my respects."

Kayden swallowed hard, but the lump of guilt in her throat refused to budge. Out of everything she could have said to Eka, why, oh why did she have to say that? Eka's older brother, Jesse, had been dead for years now, but time couldn't heal this wound, and Kayden doubted it ever would.

Eka led the way, the silence between them stretching until it nearly shattered the wall Kayden had created to protect herself. As they trudged on, Kayden's nails dug into her palms, but her gloves softened the pain. Removing them, she welcomed the deep bite. The scars that decorated her hands and disappeared beneath her sleeves reminded her of who she was, and—more importantly—why she could never have Eka the way she wanted to.

When they reached their destination, Kayden knelt in the snow at the bottom of the jagged cliff, the coldness seeping through her clothing as she glanced up at the ledge of frost ferns her best friend had fallen from. That was what she told herself.

Jesse had fallen, and there was nothing more to it.

Beside her, Eka dragged her fingers through the snow and clenched it tightly in her fist. Kayden reached hesitantly for Eka's hand and gave it a squeeze, running her thumb along the girl's soft skin that was absent of scars.

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