Ashera: Chapter 20
NOTE: I hate writing shivering so I apologize in advance.
Ashera woke up early the next morning and helped the group pack up camp. A fresh layer of snow had fallen over the night, and it now blanketed all of the ground, including the ashes from the previous night’s fire.
Ashera frowned at the rest of the group. The snow reminded her of the amulet around her neck. “It’ll get colder the further we go up. The magic cold is already coming through,” she said. “Stay close to me.”
They started the hike up the mountain. The further up they went, the colder it became. Fox and Ryan were both shivering uncontrollably, trying anything to keep warm. Even Shadow-who had been jumping around and cheerfully playing in the snow piles that banked the edges of the path-was now mellow; his fur felt like ice. They had taken extra blankets and tarps out of their packs to try to use for cover, but they provided no aid; the magic paid no attention to the layers they adorned. So, they went on, freezing.
“Ryan, one of you two should keep the amulet on. It doesn’t do anything for me that I can’t do myself; I have my magic to keep me warm.”
Ryan was shaking his head before she had finished talking. “K-Keep it. We n-need you alive m-more than ever.”
Ashera nodded. There were a few things that were pointless to argue with Ryan about, and her safety was one of them. “Thank you,” she said.
“Of c-course.” Ryan grinned through the cold and planted a frigid kiss on Ashera’s cheek. His lips cooled both her face and her heart as she remembered what Fox had told her last night.
“Ryan, I need to talk to you about something.”
His face fell. “Oh?”
Ashera frowned, wondering how to put the complex thoughts that she could hardly figure out herself into words, Finally she said, “I have feelings for you, Ryan, please don’t get me wrong. A part of me has had feelings for you since the first moment that I met you, and I find myself falling harder for you everyday. But I also still have feelings for Bear and I feel like I’ve been lying to you this entire time. I feel like I haven’t told you the truth about all of this and I just don’t want to hurt you anymore.”
Ashera waited anxiously as Ryan thought this over for a moment. Then, he said, “You won’t hurt m-me.”
“N-No I’m serious,” he said. “I’m the one in c-control over m-my feelings. I won’t get h-hurt.”
“Listen!” he said, cutting her off. “D-Do you love him?’
She didn’t have to ask who he was referring to. “Yes.”
“D-Do you love m-me?”
Ryan laughed, shrugging his shoulders. “Then we’ll f-figure it out.” He smiled at Ashera, looking into her eyes. There was such warmth in them, so much fire despite the cold. She had always loved his eyes, how proud and light and beautiful they were. He placed a cool hand on her cheek. “We’ll f-figure it out, Ashera. I love you and I w-want you to b-be happy, so I’ll f-figure it out-with whatever h-happens.”
Ashera looked into his eyes and she pushed her face forward, pressing her lips to his. He was caught off guard, but he recovered quickly, kissing her back.
She pulled away. “I love you,” she said. And, for the first time, she truly believed that she meant it.
“I love you t-too Ashera,” he said. “I love you t-too.”
They continued up the mountain. It seemed like every step that Ashera took, the air around her became colder and colder. She wanted more than anything to give up-to go back home to where it was warm and comfortable and she could sleep or, better yet, to just lay down right here and fall asleep in the snow. They all did. But, Ashera had the amulet, which made her the strongest out of the four. So, she kept pushing them forward.
“Th-This isn’t so bad,” Ryan shivered, his arm draped around her shoulders.
“Sp-Speak for y-yours-self,” Fox said. At the beginning of the journey, she had been scouting ahead, but it was too cold for that now, and the group huddled close together to gain protection from Ashera’s amulet.
“We’ll b-be there s-soon,” Ashera said. “Th-Think about it. When we g-get back home, we’ll b-be heroes.”
Ryan grinned. “F-Finally. I’ve h-had en-nough of-f a n-normal existence-ce.”
“Th-This isn’t-t n-normal,” Fox pointed out.
“T-True.” Ryan laughed, a hoarse, horrible sound filled with the chattering of teeth. “B-But I w-wanted t-to m-make a d-difference and-d I d-did.” He smiled wider and Ashera gave him a soft kiss.
“You d-did,” Ashera said. “Even if we all d-die b-brutal, awful, t-terrible deaths, we made a d-difference by t-trying.”
Ryan and Fox both nodded. “It’d-d be b-better n-not t-to d-die th-though,” Ryan said.
“I know,” Ashera said. “Let’s j-just hope that we d-don’t run into any more f-frost giants then.”
“Let’s-s hope n-not,” Fox agreed with a grimace
They walked on. Ashera tried to focus on things other than the cold: Ryan’s arm around her shoulders, the crunch of snow underneath her boots, a bright blue bird perched on a boulder on the side of the path. But these things were barely a distraction, and she still found herself thinking of the ice, biting at her skin.
So, when this didn’t work, she tried to think of the goal ahead of them, what they were here for. Saria’s shining eyes, Bear’s smile; these things gave her hope. She pushed on ahead with more ferocity than ever.
As she walked, she thought back on one of her first memories of Saria. Ashera was younger, probably around eight years old. She had always been teased and excluded for not looking like the elven children in her tribe, of course, but it was then that she was starting to realize how different she really was. She hadn’t known what it meant when her friends called her “human”, only that it had been meant as an insult.
But it had all changed that day. Ashera had asked her father what the other kids meant, and he had told her everything. That she wasn’t an elf, that he hadn’t had her naturally with their mother-like he had with Saria-but that he had found her, abandoned in the middle of the woods.
Ashera had been so overcome with emotion. She had screamed and yelled and ran out of the house, swearing to never return. Running to the stables, she had prepared a horse and mounted it.
That’s when Saria had appeared in the doorway. She stood on her narrow legs, looking up at Ashera with her sparkling, perfect elven eyes. “Where are you going, Ashera?”
“I’m leaving,” Ashera said. “Move out of my way before I trample you.”
“Why are you leaving? Did I do something?”
“No, no, it’s not you Saria,” she said quickly. “It’s just that I...I don’t belong here anymore. Now move, I mean it.”
“You belong here.”
“I won’t move,” she said stubbornly, crossing her thin arms.
Ashera had sighed heavily. “Saria, I’m not like you. I don’t belong here and I never did. I’m going to find my real family.”
At this, tears filled Saria’s eyes. “But you’re my real family.”
Ashera froze. “No, I’m really not.”
“Yes you are.” Even as a young child, Saria had that same stubborness-that same fire that filled her eyes. She would carry it with her for the rest of her life. “And you always will be.”
Ashera looked down at the small elven child-her sister-standing before her, then to the horse, then back at her. Slowly, carefully, Ashera started to dismount.
As soon as her feet hit the ground, Ashera felt the impact on her back as Saria hugged her tightly. “Don’t leave again.”
“I won’t, Saria,” Ashera had said. “I won’t.”
It was the first time that Ashera had remembered knowing that she loved Sari; that it wasn’t just a given. She could be annoying and stubborn and loud, but she was her sister, and Ashera would always be there for her.
So, as they trekked up the mountain and the cold threatened to kill them all and all that Ashera wanted to do was lay down and die, the thought of Saria, alone and afraid in some cell, was the thing that kept her going.
Because, even more than ten years ago, Ashera had promised that she would always be there for her and that she would never leave her again.
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