Chapter 44Mature

"I still cant believe we lost the ship" Simon complained for the hundredth time.

Rayna's ignored him and focused on the weight of the flare gun in her pocket.  A forceful gust of wind  rustled her hair and rattled her teeth. She struggled to maintain her balance as nature created another mammoth snow drift.  Her fingers twitched as she debated whether or not she could use the gun to signal for help.  Currently, they were lost in an icy fortress just waiting to freeze to death, that should have been reason enough, but on second thought she shot it, the others might attempt a risky rescue and damage her ship in the process, and probably die themselves. She went back and forth between her own selfish desperation, and logical reasoning, after a few minutes she deduced that with the visibility shot to hell it was too risky to give any more thought to. Rayna glanced worriedly at Simon. They would just have to find some other way back to the Asterius. Annoyed at herself for wasting valuable time, she increased her speed to compensate for lagging behind with indecision.

"Please take my hand, you're going to tire yourself trudging through this." Simon's teeth shattered as he spoke.

Rayna shot him a dark look.

"Fine, captain, then at least let us go find shelter. We've been at this for hours now."

She waved Simon off, and trudged onward. She just needed silence, and time to come up with a plan. A high pitched whistle, caused her ears to ring in protest. She had neither silence nor time. And now, she was about to lose the Asterius and anything that she had gained in her efforts to escape a watery grave. Perhaps this was karma's way of mocking her for cheating death in the first place. "I'm not going to drown, I'm going to freeze. Least it was my own doing this time. But you Simon, shouldn't be here. Now we're both damned. Now my ship is damned."

Simon cleared his throat. "Don't say such things Captain. The negativity can only-" 

"Argh! This whole operation is damned."

Rayna shook her head bitterly, allowing the snow to fall from her hair once more "Stupid, Stupid, Visketr." She blinked away snowflakes , then squinted to survey the land. Up ahead a few yards was a cave that they might seek refuge in. A tiny shred of hope. She could almost feel Simon beam as he shook his finger eagerly. "All hope is not lost Captain!"

Rayna was skeptical, however she kept her  doubts to herself  as she lead the way towards it.  They continued onward until she heard a feint whisper upon approaching the cave. "Rayna,"  She jolted in response. She paused and then turned about slowly. Simon eyed her suspiciously.

"I'll be right there Simon. I need a moment to...relieve myself."

Simon blushed, but stayed put as she sought out the voice. It called her once more, sounding more melodious than the first time. "Raaay na," it echoed.

Rayna's pace quickened until she was at a full sprint.  She had to be coming upon something soon. There was a drop off in the near distance, and nothing to conceal a person, yet she heard the voice again. There were no footprints in the snow, no evidence of any other people in proximity to them. Her joy and wonder were crushed with the heavy weight of reality sinking in. It had to be the wind, or her imagination.

"Min Kjare."

Rayna whipped her head up. That... was real? It had to be. "Uncle?" She cried out, scanning the area, until her eyes caught on a silvery figure, arms outstretched.

"Come min kjare, I'll protect you."

She basked in the glorious sight of her uncle alive and well. It had to mind trick, but how could she not indulge herself, especially knowing death awaited her at every corner?  "How?"  Her mouth formed the single word, though a million more swam through her head.

Lawson laughed as if her question had been absurd. "How?"

He was mocking her, and yet that voice... It was the most comforting thing she had ever heard. All she could possibly wish for... Rayna pushed through the heavy snow, never taking her eyes off of him. If she so much as blinked he might disappear.

"Almost there." She encouraged herself. Her limbs were growing numb. Her hand reached out to her uncle, she could almost touch him now.  She grinned in anticipation. One more step was all she needed to take. Rayna was yanked back before she could embrace her uncle. She turned and starred daggers at Simon.

"Have you lost your bloody mind?" Simon pointed to the ground, about two feet in front of her was a rocky drop off, she guessed to be about fifty feet down. She searched Lawson, with a question in her eyes. He merely smirked before disappearing in the wake of another gust of wind. Rayna's heart sank.

Simon grabbed hold of her shoulder and forced her to turn around and meet his gaze. She shoved him off. "Mind yourself quartermaster. It's best you don't touch me when I'm angry, or ever if you wish to keep that hand!"

Simon's breath was labored. He released her arm and shied away. "With all due respect Captain, have you lost your wits?  You nearly took an icy plunge to your death just than."

Rayna bristled. "I was going to stop. Do you think I'd really go over the edge?" She let out a panicked giggle. "My, you must be crazy."

Simon gaped.

"Better close your mouth, your tongue might freeze in these conditions."

-"You were calling out for someone."

Rayna shot him a steely glare.

-"Its fine, I wont push the subject. Though if you are seeing ....things, maybe you should see the doctor. I'm sure its something that can be easily remedied."

"Like hell! Listen nothing happened back there. Okay? Nothing!"

Simon tensed. "I think its unwise to carry on like-"

- "Nothing happened!"

Simon groaned, but refrained from offering up anymore advice. They continued on in a stiff silence, until they reached they reached the cave.

"Careful," Simon instructed, motioning towards a thick curtain of icicles that hung in low  in the middle of the entry way.  They were careful to enter the cave slowly, so as not to shatter the ice. The dirt floor was frozen, and the rock walls ridden with ice and snow, but the protection from the wind chill made the conditions much  more bearable.

Rayna leaned against the wall of the cave. Her eyes grew heavy as she fought sleep. Simon moved closer to her, until his shoulder brushed hers. She began to doze. Sometime later she was awoken by the sound of ice cracking. Footsteps.

On impulse, Rayna reached out towards Simon but at the last second remembered herself and dropped her hand. Simon was quick to wake and went on the defense immediately. He unsheathed his sword and prepared to brandish it on whatever lie behind the curtain of ice. They waited. An onslaught of fresh powder flew into the cave, followed by a ghostly howl. Rayna flexed her fingers, which caused the makeshift talons on her glove to extend and retract in a nerve induced frenzy. Her knees felt as if they would buckle any moment. She steadied her breath and shifted her weight in anticipation.

Simon cleared his throat. "Perhaps it was a false alarm?"

Before Rayna could reply the icicles shattered to the floor, crashing like glass in a million tiny fragments, accompanied by an onslaught of snow.  A pale willowy figure stood in the midst of the commotion.

Even in the darkness of the cage, the woman's skin held a soft ethereal glow, offsetting the long ebony waves of her hair. Her lips were a pale blue, though plump and prompting. Her eyes  danced over Rayna, but quickly grew bored with her when she caught sight of Simon. Without any shame, she allowed her gaze to slowly travel the length of his body. The corners of her mouth tilted upwards in appreciation, she motioned with one finger for Simon to come forward. He returned her attention with a glassy stare. His sword clattered to the ground. He bowed respectfully.

This was no ordinary woman, this was the most beautiful creature Simon had ever laid eyes upon, a Goddess in the flesh. He intended to approach her, but he remained where he stood. He blinked down at his boots and tried again. He remained immobile. He glanced up at the angelic woman once more. If only his brain would cooperate, and his feet would act upon the simple task of walking, he could caress her cheek, and feel the silk of her hair as it slipped through his fingers. He sighed longingly.

Rayna scoffed, and raised her fists. So the woman was pretty, tall, yet softened with curves, sultry and wide eyed - but as far as Rayna could tell it wasn't cause enough to drop your defenses and throw common sense out the window. She elbowed Simon to try to break him of his trance. "Snap out of it! She's pretty but it doesn't justify losing your wits, for God's sake. She's but a common seductress, she's not drop dead gorgeous! "Before Rayna could drive her point home, a heavy weight pushed her forward. Rayna slowly tore her gaze away from the woman and shrieked as Simon's unconscious body tumbled to the floor. She glared accusingly at the seductress, but was met with a transformation.

The woman's enchanting eyes narrowed into black slits and her soft smile curled into a cruel sneer. Her forked tongue ran over her sharpened canines, barbarically piercing it until blood ran down the sides of her mouth. The creature arched her back, and moaned wretchedly, delighting in the raw, metallic taste of it.

Without hesitation, Rayna retrieved Simon's sword and charged the woman until the blade buried itself in her abdomen. The creature laughed when Rayna pulled back with a clean blade. Rayna was horrified to see that the creature hadn't even a wound mark afterwards. She dropped the sword.

"Want to try again?"

Rayna backed into the wall. "What do you want?"

"What you intruders have taken from me, and then some!"

Rayna shook her head. "We haven't taken anything!"

"You lie!" It hissed and charged.

Rayna closed her eyes, she hadn't a split second to react. Death was inevitable.

"Fight!" A harsh voice whispered. Rayna ignored it, it was just the monster goading her.  She pleaded with the Gods for a quick death. "Fight!" This time the voice was more pronounced. A male voice. Rayna's body shook with a violent tremor. Her mind checked out, she was only dimly aware of her hand reaching for the flare gun in her holster. Though she was witnessing this as a spectator. It didn't take long for her soul to flee her body.

Rayna watched in awe as her hand aimed the flare gun at the creature. Just as the monster closed in on her, she squeezed the trigger. There was a brilliant flash of light and a sharp wail. Rayna felt as if she were falling from the sky at an impossible speed, until suddenly she felt her muscles strain and her stomach clench. She doubled over in pain, her fingers dropped the flare gun. The first breath she took back in her own body was undeniably painful, her lungs felt as if they were on fire. She took in the crisp cold air and dropped to her hands and knees. Her head hung low as she tried to comprehend the situation.

The End

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