Amber’s eyes slowly cracked open and a pained groan left her lips when she felt the light of candles too bright for her to handle. She closed her eyes again and tried to move her body, feeling all the aches in her joints and the strains that tightened her muscles. She opened her eyes again to find the brightness of the candles had dimmed down and slowly pushed herself up into a seating position, blinking wearily at her surroundings.
‘I ssssee you’re finally awake then,’ a man in his thirties suddenly appeared by her side, making her gasp, her throat was too dry to scream, in surprise. Amber stared into his snake eyes and parted her lips.
‘Stay away,’ she croaked and began coughing harshly. The man immediately held up a steaming bowl to her face.
‘Drink.’ Amber pushed the bowl away but he moved it closer to her. ‘Drink if you wissssssh to live.’ Amber stared at him, terrified of the way his green snake eyes stared her down, swallowing fearfully.
‘Is that a threat?’ she croaked and the man began laughing.
‘No, thissssssss issssssss medicine,’ he explained ‘Drink.’ Amber soon complied and began drinking the substance in the bowl, the man keeping a hold on the bowl for her. It smelt absolutely foul and the taste was too bitter for Amber to handle, that she pulled an extremely disgusted face, her tongue hanging out of her mouth. The man chuckled and Amber glared at him.
‘Who are you?’ she asked ‘What am I doing here?’ The man flickered out his black forked tongue briefly before placing the bowl down.
‘My name issssssss Sssssssiegfried,’ he hissed ‘Fifteen dayssssssss ago, your friendsssss brought you here ssssssso I could help you sssssssssurvive your Zzzzzenalpha Plague.’
‘Fifteen days?!’ Amber exclaimed with wide eyes ‘I’ve been comatose for fifteen days?!’
‘Any longer and I would have thought of you assssssss dead,’ Siegfried smirked at the cold shiver that passed Amber ‘Your friendsssss have been very busssssssssy trying to get rid of the Narwhine.’ There was an exclamation and a very loud thud outside.
‘I’m OK!’ Amber recognized Sarah’s catchphrase. Siegfried smirked to himself.
‘That one issssssss rather clumssssssy, it’ssssssssss very amusssssssssing,’ he said and Amber sighed tiredly.
‘One of these days she’s going to kill herself,’ she muttered.
‘Siegfried, we need a change of bandages for Sarah,’ Sheela said as she dragged Sarah, blood seeping through her trousers, inside. Sarah gasped as she saw Amber awake.
‘Amber!’ she cried with a new energy and launched herself on top of her, squashing the poor girl. Siegfried hissed near her ear, his tongue ticking the inside of it and Sarah screamed, falling off the bed. Amber coughed as soon as the weight was gone and Siegfried began laughing loudly as Sarah scrambled over to the other side of the hut. Sheela placed her hands on her hips and gave a stern glare to Siegfried.
‘Will you stop terrorizing her?’ she demanded rather loudly, ignoring the fact that Amber was out of her coma. Siegfried smirked as he patted Amber’s back soothingly to ease her coughs.
‘It’ssssssssss fun,’ he commented and Sheela sighed grumpily before looking at Amber.
‘Are you feeling alright, Amber?’ she asked and Amber nodded weakly.
‘You can ussssssssse the materialssssssss in there,’ Siegfried directed Sheela to the box that Sarah was hiding behind.
‘Thank you,’ Sheela sighed tiredly and yawned deeply ‘Please, stop bullying Sarah, she has bad nightmares already and I really don’t like dealing with her in the middle of the night.’ Siegfried just smirked and shrugged. As Sheela opened the box to sift through the clothing inside, Amber swung her legs over the bedside and got up to test her strength. She fell almost immediately and Siegfried grabbed her by the scruff to avoid her from damaging herself.
‘You need to ressssssst ssssssssome more,’ he said as he picked up the blanket that was hanging near the fire and tucked Amber into the bed. Amber yawned resignedly, she was still feeling a bit tired. Sheela watched as Siegfried apologized for the lack of a pillow but Amber fell asleep quite quickly. She tightened the makeshift bandages around Sarah’s legs and got up.
‘Siegfried, the Narwhine has caused an avalanche and Vienna and Saphira got trapped,’ she explained ‘Could you help me dig them out?’ Siegfried flickered his tongue out once and nodded, grabbing a worn leather jacket to pull over his bare chest. Grabbing a rusted shovel, he followed Sheela outside into the cold. Sheela grimaced as he had to walk through the snow in his bare feet and led him to the slope where a pile of snow was.
‘Thissssss doesssssn’t sssssssseem too bad,’ Siegfried shrugged as he began climbing the pile of snow and digging. Sheela watched, rubbing her bare arms underneath her shawl as she saw the lack of clothing that Siegfried had on.
‘You hardly wear any clothes,’ she spoke up ‘Surely you are cold if you’re a snake hybrid?’
‘I cannot stay outssssssside for more than ten minutessssss,’ Siegfried hissed ‘I’m going to dig assssssss much assssssss I can and you can do the ressssssst.’ Sheela nodded with a small shrug and continued to watch as Siegfried shovelled the snow off Saphira, grabbing her and letting her roll down the slope. Saphira gasped as she breathed in the fresh air and coughed.
‘Blimey…’ she rasped as Sheela bent down ‘They don’t make avalanches like they did back when I was eight…’
‘You frequently get caught up in these kinds of things?’ Sheela said in bewilderment.
‘Well, being a novice ice sorceress and all, yeah,’ Saphira shrugged ‘Not all spells come out right you know.’ A brief hurt look flickered across Sheela’s face and she turned away.
‘I suppose not,’ she agreed softly. The shovel landed next to her and Siegfried jumped off.
‘Ten minutessssss isssssss nearly over,’ was all he said before he retreated back into his hut. Sheela huffed as she picked up the shoulder and walked over to where Vienna’s lilac hair stood out.
‘Just a minute, Vienna,’ she said before digging the shovel into the snow and began clearing a way for Vienna so she can get out. Saphira shook herself out, as Sheela stopped shovelling to bend down to grab Vienna’s shoulders. She yanked the young werewolf out and began carrying her back to Siegfried’s hut, Saphira following her and shaking the snow out of her ears. Letting the barely breathing child down, Sheela began taking Vienna’s wet clothes off and wrapping her up in a dry blanket. She glared at Siegfried who watched closely.
‘What?’ he blinked.
‘Look away, you pervert,’ Sheela growled and Siegfried shrugged.
‘Nothing much to ssssssssee anyway,’ he shrugged ‘Ssssshe isssssss jussssst a child.’
‘Yes but it’s rude to stare,’ Saphira backed Sheela up. Siegfried stuck his tongue out in a childish manner before checking Amber’s temperature and taking another look at the cuts that she had on her torso.
‘The pusssssssss hassssssssss ceasssssssed leaking sssssssssso sssssssshe ssssssssshall recover within five dayssssssss,’ he said as he gently touched the nasty scars ‘Thesssssssse will remain on her body for the ressssssst of her life, I’m afraid.’
‘You can’t make anything to make the scars go away at least?’ Saphira frowned and tilted her head to the side.
‘Ssssssuch a prolonged treatment, there issssssss little I can do for her now,’ Siegfried shook his head ‘Sssssssshe will ssssssurvive assssssss long assssssss sssssssshe ressssssstsssssssss well.’
‘It’s as good as it gets Saphira,’ Sheela said to Saphira who growled softly under her breath.
‘She’s already got that scar on her shoulder from the sabre toothed tiger,’ Saphira muttered as she sat down next to Amber ‘What happened to that thing anyway?’
‘Oh, it just ran off,’ Sheela shrugged ‘It’s probably gone to find a territory or attempt to find a mate. Perhaps even try to return to the Queen.’
‘Poor thing,’ Saphira cooed as she sat in front of the fireplace to warm herself up. A loud note from the Narwhine shook the village and Siegfried hissed in displeasure, catching the jars and boxes that fell off the shelves from the sound wave.
‘Your attemptsssssssss to get rid of the Narwhine have failed ssssssssso far!’ he snapped at Sheela as she stood ‘What’sssssss next? The longer that thing sssssssstaysssssss the more people in thissssssss village get injured or killed!’
‘Why don’t you try fighting it?!’ Sarah challenged.
‘He’s cold blooded, Sarah, he can’t go outside for too long,’ Sheela said as she turned away from Siegfried and began pacing up and down the hut ‘It’s not as easy as you think, Siegfried. It’s huge! Massive! We’re only micro-organisms in comparison!’
‘I thought you were the leader,’ Siegfried hissed as he placed the jars and boxes back onto the shelves ‘You have the brainsssssss, think of sssssssssomething ssssssssmart.’
‘Fire spells don’t even work against it!’ Sheela began raising her voice ‘All my powerful fire spells drain my energy and I just collapse if I overexert myself!’ The hut remained silent as everyone knew that they couldn’t possibly suggest using weaker fire spells because of the Nightmare Blanket. Well, all except Siegfried.
‘You’re the leader,’ he hissed into her ear as he came up from behind ‘You need to take risssssssksssssss.’ Sheela turned sharply on her heel.
‘If you’re suggesting I do a suicide attack then please consider the consequences,’ she muttered to him ‘If I die, who do I pass the leadership too? Sarah? Pfft, you’ve seen how she’s like.’
‘Hey!’ Sarah interjected.
‘Amber? Look at her, she isn’t fit enough to take on such a role!’ Siegfried flickered his eyes to Amber briefly before staring back at Sheela. ‘Saphira? She’s too young. And so is Vienna. You?’ Sheela scoffed and turned away from Siegfried. ‘I can’t trust you,’ she said before storming out. She slammed the door harshly and Siegfried scoffed, flicking his tongue out at the door.
‘Ssssssome leader if ssssssssshe can’t even conssssssssider taking rissssssssksssssss,’ he muttered before going to the cauldron over the fireplace.
Sheela stormed through the blizzards that swept the village, keeping her shawl wrapped around her tightly. She eventually stopped at a sheltered place in between two huts, breathing evenly. Staring up at the large Narwhine above her, she grimaced as she thought about Siegfried’s suggestion. How dare he! She couldn’t possibly take any risks now, especially with her sister in desperate need of her guidance, her family waiting back home for her to return, her sisters to rescue from the Queen and oh so much more that she had to think about. She can’t die now! With a frustrated growl, she gripped the sides of her head to try and focus on a solution.
‘Come on, you’re supposed to be smart,’ she scolded herself, shaking her head ‘You can figure something out…’
‘Mother!’ Sheela winced as she heard a child’s cry. Looking up slowly, her eyes widened as she saw a young boy shaking his mother who had just collapsed. She saw the signs of the Crimset virus, little green scars on the body, on both child and mother. She steadily walked over and tried to find a pulse on the mother. It was a human, she realised in horror. Humans rarely survived the Crimset virus because it attacked the brain first ten to twelve hours after the person was infected. Humans were pathetically weak with diseases that went straight for the vital organs. It was a slow and agonising death. Sheela couldn’t tell if this poor human died, she couldn’t find a pulse, of frostbite, because of the Narwhine or because the dreaded virus finally put her out of her misery. Sheela studied the little boy and came to the conclusion that he had outlived his mother because of the werecat genes that battled the virus. He stared up with yellow cattish eyes and Sheela felt tears brimming in her eyes.
‘You poor child,’ she sobbed, picking him up swiftly and running back to Siegfried’s hut ‘SIEGFRIED!’ Siegfried just blinked at her as Sheela stormed into the hut with the child.
‘Back ssssssssso ssssssssssoon?’ he remarked.
‘Just treat him!’ Sheela shouted, thrusting the child into his arms. Siegfried staggered at the sudden weight, examining the green marks on the boy’s next. He hissed sympathetically before placing the young boy on a worktop next to the fireplace. The young werecat didn’t stop staring at Sheela who was choked up. Sarah reached out to hold her hand, yelping when Sheela squeezed it tightly.
‘Drink.’ Siegfried held up a broken mug to the boy’s lips. The werecat drank obediently, pulling away and hissing in disgust.
‘Don’t like it,’ he whined.
‘If you want to live, drink,’ Siegfried snapped. The werecat whined and Siegfried hissed angrily. ‘You’ll die! Drink!’
‘Siegfried, be gentle!’ Sheela suddenly snapped as she stormed over ‘He’s just a child!’ She pushed Siegfried aside and held the mug to the boy’s lips. He stared at her and opened his lips so he could sip the bitter medicine that Siegfried had prepared. Siegfried glowered at him.
‘Ssssssstupid kidssssss,’ he hissed distastefully to himself. The werecat coughed once he had finished the medicine and stuck his tongue out in disgust.
‘Hey, now,’ Sheela soothed as she picked up a jar of Siegfried’s honey ‘Here’s something sweet to take the taste away.’
‘Don’t take too much!’ Sheela glowered at Siegfried as she dipped a finger into the honey and let the boy suck it off. Siegfried raised an eyebrow. ‘You’d be sssssssssurprisssssed at how many medicinesssssssss require honey.’ Sheela rolled her eyes and put the jar of honey away.
‘Where’s my mother?’ the boy asked and Sheela flinched. Sheela hugged the boy tightly with a soft sob. Siegfried just raised an eyebrow at her, his tongue flicking out of his mouth once.
‘Sssssshe died, didn’t ssssshe?’ he hissed. Sheela nodded with a soft hiccup.
‘I’m so sorry but she couldn’t make it,’ she whispered to the young boy.
‘My mother’s dead?’ Sheela closed her eyes to avoid seeing the distraught in the boy’s eyes. She hugged the young child tightly, tears streaming down her cheek. She flinched when she recognized Siegfried’s cold and scaly hand rest upon her shoulder.
‘That mother risssssssked her life to sssssssave her child,’ he hissed ‘Why can you not risssssssk your life to sssssssave the innocent here?’ Sheela glared at him, cradling the young boy in her arms, rocking him up and down as he began sniffling for the loss of his mother. Her gaze lingered on Sarah for a moment and she remembered the time when she had protected her sister from bullies, risking her health and safety. She shook her head. That was different, nothing too much was at risk then. What if this suicide attack that Siegfried suggested failed? It would be a waste.
‘Sheela, ignore him,’ Saphira assured her while holding her hand ‘You don’t have to do anything that you’re not comfortable doing.’
‘We’re in an apocalypsssssssssssse here!’ Siegfried snapped and Saphira glared at him venomously ‘You can’t jussssssst refussssssse to do ssssssssomthing becaussssssse you’re not comfortable with it!’
‘She’s eighteen! She has a life ahead of her!’ Vienna snapped once she woke up fully.
‘Thissssssss whole village hasssssssss many people who have a life ahead of them!’ Siegfried snapped and began arguing viciously with the werewolves.
Sheela watched as the werecat clung onto her, sobbing into her dress. She continued petting his hair soothingly until she made eye contact with Sarah again. Gritting her teeth, she placed a soft kiss onto the boy’s forehead.
‘Take care.’ Siegfried stopped arguing with the girls as he heard the door open and watched as Sheela turned into her pegasus form to fly up to the Narwhine. Saphira’s eyes widened.
‘No, Sheela!’ she shouted, running out to chase after her. Sheela flew through the blizzards and into the Narwhine’s line of view. She snorted, her pearl white horn gleaming into a deep orange.
The Narwhine let out a high pitched moan and Sheela let out a powerful fire spell from her horn, the Nightmare Blanket weakening it so it was just a small spiral of fire that hit the Narwhine’s own horn. Siegfried sighed and shook his head.
‘Nope, sssssssssssssshe’ll jusssssssssssst let her energy run out again,’ he said with a sigh.
Sheela grunted as the spell left a small deformation in the horn of the Narwhine. She flew away to avoid the ice shards that the Narwhine began to shoot from its form. Sheela could feel fatigue getting to her already, the attack had drained more energy than usual because of the Nightmare Blanket. Her wings strained against the cold winds that surrounded the Narwhine like a barrier. She neighed loudly and sent another spiral of fire into the Narwhine. The Narwhine flicked its heard to cut the spell off, turning swiftly to hit Sheela with its tail. Sheela yelped as the tip of the tail hit her hoof, knocking her slightly off course. She spun a few metres across the air, pausing as she realised that she had accidentally landed on top of the Narwhine to take a breather. She snorted in surprise before spotting the Narwhine’s blowhole. She looked down to see Saphira and Vienna staring up at her, Siegfried inside his hut to avoid dying from the cold. Saphira’s fists were clenched in anticipation while Vienna’s hands were laced together to make a sort of prayer. Sheela stared at the blowhole thoughtfully and sighed.
‘It’s all I have left to use,’ she decided and muttered a quick fire spell under her breath. Saphira’s eyes widened when she saw Sheela’s body go up in flames after casting a weak fire spell. Sheela cried in pain as she dived into the Narwhine’s blowhole to go inside it and impact the most damage from inside. The Narwhine suddenly let out a pained roar, thrashing about and colliding into the mountains around it. Vienna dragged Saphira back into the hut before the avalanches could swallow them whole. The Narwhine collapsed next to the village as it lost its strength and let out a loud death rattle. The blizzard clouds parted to reveal the Nightmare Blanket’s scorching hot sun. In five quick minutes, it melted the Narwhine’s first skin, revealing the white blubber that was underneath. All the snow melted away and Siegfried poked his head out.
‘It worked,’ he commented. Most of the villagers slowly crept out and they scurried over to the Narwhine to scavenge from it. Siegfried pulled out his dagger to cut through the blubber, planning to take some to his hut to make into medicines. He paused as he tore through the blubber and spotted a charred humanoid body resting inside after burning through the trachea. He smirked. He quickly picked Sheela up and rushed her inside his hut, Sarah screaming when she saw it.
‘What is that?!’ she exclaimed.
‘Your sssssssisssssster,’ Siegfried replied and Sarah gaped.
‘Ssssssshe decided to take that rissssssk,’ Siegfried shrugged as he quickly mashed up the Narwhine blubber he had retrieved ‘Ssssssshe sssssssstill livesssssss, don’t worry.’ He hurriedly poured the mashed blubber into a bigger bowl and ran to and fro with ingredients until he had a thick white paste. Sitting next to Sheela, he smeared the paste over her chest first so it would sink into her heart to heal it first. He covered Sheela’s whole body with the paste, running out of paste when he had mostly done her face. By then the Narwhine was just a skeleton so there was no more blubber to make into paste. But Sheela was alive, fallen into a coma. Her naked body lay on the bed next to Amber, her hair still in the process of growing back.
‘Why have you stopped?’ Sarah asked as she watched Sheela’s silver hair growing from her scalp.
‘I’m out of passssssste,’ Siegfried replied ‘But sssssssshe’ll live.’
‘What?! You can’t just leave her face like that!’ Sarah shrieked.
‘I’m going to have to, there’sssssssss no more left and no more ingredientsssssssss to make more.’ Sarah huffed and folded her arms moodily. Siegfried placed a blanket over Sheela and stood up. Saphira and Vienna sat on either side of Sheela, holding her hands while Saphira sobbed.
‘I thought we were going to lose you…’ she whispered and wiped her tears away.