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Adventure Fantasy Teens & Young Adult

Alaris' footsteps crunch against the snow. She tried to even out the weight of her body with every step she took, but the bow and arrows she carried made it hard to walk silently. The council had limited rations again, and her sisters were starving. First, they had limited the townsfolks' water supply, only turning it on every few days, and then they had taken their food. 

She tries not to be bitter, but it was hard not to be when she heard council members throw lavish parties for their friends while people struggled to survive in the town they had created. 

A sound echoed behind her, chasing the thoughts from her mind. She ducked, unthinking, as she slid between a tree and a bush and took aim. Her eyes wander, hoping to see a deer or another large animal that would feed her family for a while. 

She hears it.

A growl followed by a roar that shook the tree above her. She shuddered, grasping her bow tighter, and she maintained her aim. A bear if she was lucky. If not, then the creature. Her mind raced with thoughts of the beast that had terrorized their town for years. People had called it a wolf, a bear, something horrid and cunning that had taken many people's lives, including her mother. 

The shadow of it falls first, closer to the tree than she'd like to imagine. She got the briefest glance of dark fur and sent her arrow flying. She listened for the sound of the arrow sinking against the flesh, but it never came. She stares in horror as it embeds itself in a tree behind the creature, which is more wolf-like than a bear. 

She refuses to scream as the creature steps closer to her. 

Her hands shake as she notches another arrow. She scrambles back, making it only a foot before her feet betray her, and she trips over a lone branch of the bush. 

The creature is almost on top of her.

She closes her eyes and shoots. 

She hears the arrow hit its mark and listens for a howl of pain, but nothing. 

She opens one of her eyes and sees him.

There, lying in the snow, is a man, nearly naked save for the fur pants he wears, staring at the arrow in his leg. 

He's beautiful, she thinks. His dark skin starkly contrasts against the white snow. His eyes are brown, wide and full of wonder, a sea of darkness she yearns to fall into. 

"You shot me." His voice is melodious and deep. Shock drips from every word.

"I'm sorry." Alaris stutters out, "I thought- You were." She can't finish the sentence, her mind trying to assemble all the pieces before it. 

"It's you." She grabs another arrow, notching it in her bow, "You're the monster. You've been attacking my people for years." 

The man holds his hands up in surrender. 

"I'm not a monster." He sighs, "But I am not human."

"You killed my mother." 

The man shakes his head. 

"I didn't." He defends, "Your councilmen did." 

"No." Alaris' hands tremble, but his words ring true in her mind. Despite what they had told her family, she never truly believed her mother would have been killed by the creature. Her mother never ventured into the woods alone and would've never been that far from town. 

"I can prove it." He says imploringly.

"You tried to kill me." Her voice is stern, and she forces her hands to stop shaking, glaring at the man.

"I didn't know you were here. I thought you were a deer, I was trying to scare you off." 

He's convincing. She'll give him that. 

"Please. You have to believe me." His pleading shifts something in her heart. 

"What do you know about the councilmen?" She asks, taking the arrow from the bow and placing it back in her bag. 

"I know how they did it and I can take you there." His brows furrow, serious as he speaks. "But, I can't walk that far with my leg like this." 

"I can take you to the village-" 

"They'll kill me." He cuts her off.

"What would you have me do?" She asks. 

"There's a witchwoman who lives up there." He points up the mountain, "help me get to her and I'll tell you how to stop the councilmen." 

"How do I know you're telling the truth?"

"I wwon’t hurt you." The answer is more honest than Alaris expects. "But to make it worth your while," he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a few pieces of gold, "I can pay you, my weight in gold, to take back to your village. Even if my information doesn't pan out, you'll be able to take care of yourself and your family." 

Those few pieces of gold could pay for their family for the rest of winter. Alaris eyes the gold, thinking of her younger sisters' sunken faces as she nods. 

"I'll help you." 

She helps the man to his feet, noting how warm his skin feels against hers. She notes how his hands slid perfectly into her own, a sense of familiarity flooding her mind. She ignores it as they walk through the snow, the creature keeping pace with her. 

They walk silently for a few minutes, the creature pausing occasionally, his head cocked. 

"What do you hear?" She asks him. 

He shakes his head. 

"It's probably nothing. Just blood loss." He gives her a wry grin. 

She doesn't believe him but lets him change the subject. 

"I'm sorry about your leg."

"You don't sound sorry at all." He laughs. "It's good to know you're still a good shot." 

She pauses.

"Still?" She questions. 

He looks at her in confusion before he realizes what he said. 

"Slip of the tongue." He shrugs. Alaris eyes him as they continue walking.

They walk for nearly two hours in silence. Alaris had never been this far from the town, never bothered to reach this far up the mountain. 

There was a break in the trees ahead, and Alaris could see it. 

The cabin was old, not dilapidated, but it had seen better days. Ivy covered the front of it, except for the two small windows. Smoke rose from the chimney in small curls, making the cabin look picturesque in the winter woods. 

The man strode forward without hesitation, and Alaris stumbled her way behind him. 

He opened the door, not bothering to knock and wait. 

Inside, the cabin was warm. A green couch and red chair sat on a rug in front of the fireplace. Behind them, Alaris could see the beginning of the kitchen, a small wooden table. The walls were stacked high with shelves, each containing many small vials and bottles in various colors.

"Yleth, you could learn to knock." An old croaking voice said. A woman stepped out from the kitchen, her body small and frail, but Alaris didn't doubt the power emanating from her. 

Alaris realized she had never asked the man for his name. She tested it out, relaxing at the ease with which the word came from her mouth. The name reminded Alaris of home. 

Long silver hair draped down the woman's body. Silver eyes met Alaris' scanning, searching for something Alaris didn't yet have. 

"You brought her here." There was no question in the woman's voice. 

"Yes." Yleth answers.

"Why?" 

"I shot him." Alaris adds.

The woman looked down at Yleth's leg and laughed. 

"Quite the reunion. So what do you need me for?" 

Yleth smiles at her, a beaming smile full of teeth, and rips the arrow out of his leg. He walks to one of the shelves and grabs a clear liquid vial. 

Alaris doesn't have time to process that he lied. He could walk perfectly fine before he's spritzing the vial's contents on her with his fingertips. 

"What are you doing!" She shouts. The liquid is cool against her skin, disappearing as soon as it lands, leaving her dry. She wants to yell at him to stop, but memories flood her mind like they have been held back. Her mind is full of memories of her and Yleth. Nights spent in the forest, under the light of the moon. Days spent here in the cabin with the old woman Alaris remembers is named Ragna. 

"What is this?" She asks as another memory takes over. 

A memory, but through different eyes. In the memory, she's running with Yleth down the mountainside. They're racing back to her father's home, that's filled with pictures of the two of them. One of the pictures depicts their wedding, something she had long waited for.

"Who are you?" She asks Yleth. 

The sound of a whistle stops him before he can answer. 

Alaris can hear men shouting outside, the sound of machinery following it. There's a silence, followed by a high keening sound before one of the windows shatters. 

A flaming arrow embeds itself in the wall behind Yleth, and he runs, tackling Alaris to the ground. Another arrow pierces the air where she had just stood. 

Alaris looks at the window in confusion. Ragna disappears in a huff of smoke. 

Just beyond the window are the ten councilmen, all armed with weapons aimed at the witch's cabin. 

"What's going on?" She cries. 

"I'm your husband." Yleth holds her tight. She wants to disagree, but the memories flooding her mind say otherwise. She's stuck trying to focus on him even as the memories barrage her mind. 

"Your town used to be filled with creatures like us, maybe it still is, but these councilmen, they stole the townspeoples memories, they forced them to forget what we are. What you are." He holds her closer, "They tricked the people into believing it was me, they poisoned all of you using their water system, locked away all your memories, and are leaving you all to die." 

"Why don't I remember anything?" She asks, even as more memories flood her mind. 

"Ragna helped me, she's the one who locked away your memories and told me how to bring them back." Yleth rises from the floor and helps Alaris to her feet. They stumble towards the kitchen, where only one covered window blocks the view from outside. 

"Come out, wolf man!" One of the council members yells. "Come on out and we won't hurt her."

"You need to free the town. Remind them of who they were." 

"You lied to me." That is all Alaris can get out. 

"I'm sorry." Yleth strokes her cheek, "I lied to get you here, but only because Ragna created this place, warded it against all magic, even her own. You would've gotten your memories back even without her potion. I couldn't very well walk into town." 

"Come out before we burn the whole place down!" 

Another arrow flies through the broken window. 

The memories, Alaris allows herself to think, are real. She holds Yleth tightly as the memories of their lives together overwhelm her. Tears spring as she lets the memories dance across her mind. Memories she had treasured so much that she never wanted to let go of them again. 

"Come out before-" 

"You kill her. I got it!" Yleth growled a sound Alaris found new and familiar all at once. It was like meeting for the first time again. 

"Promise me, you'll get this to the people." He shoves something in the pocket of her pants. She refuses to break eye contact with him as he nods. 

"They won't hurt you if you pretend not to know anything. Pretend as though you don't know anything." He commands. He kisses her forehead and walks towards the councilmen. 

"Where are you going?" 

He smiles back at her, a warm, genuine thing that has her heart unfurling in her chest. 

"To save our people." He takes two more steps before he turns around, "I love you." 

He doesn't wait for her to respond before he steps out the door. Shock overwhelms her, but she can feel it, the love pulsing through her veins. Excitement fills her body at the thought of being able to say it back. 

She hears him talking to the council. 

"She doesn't know anything yet." 

"Are you sure, wolf man?" Another member asks. 

"Certain." He growls, "Ask her yourself." 

"Alaris!" A voice booms, "come out here!" 

She doesn't have to fake the shaking that emanates from her body. Every one of the council members sits on a horse. Each man has a weapon, from a bow and arrow to knives. She even spots guns in a few of their hands. 

"Are you okay, my dear?" One of the councilmen asks, he hardly recognizes him, usually, they only see the councilmen when they deliver their tithes or when the council has something to announce.

She's too shaky to say anything. She glances at Yleth, whose eyes are trained on her. 

"Do you know this man?" The same councilman asks. 

As she shakes her head, she forces her eyes to go wide to do what Yleth said. 

"No, sir." She lies. 

"Good." The councilman asks. 

A shot rings, Yleth stays standing for only two seconds before he falls back, his blood painting the snow red. 

"Are we to trust her?" One of the councilmen asks as Alaris stands frozen, seeing her husband's body. Tears flow down her face, and she lets out a scream.

"She's only a woman." 

She's given a pelt and sat upon one of the councilmen's horses. Her eyes remain on Yleth's body as they return to town. 

The councilmen arrange themselves in their seated circle at the Court House. The large room allowed them to put ten thrones in the room set in a semicircle, each in front of a large stained glass window. Alaris stands in the middle, unseeing, as her father is escorted in. 

"What have you done to my daughter!" He demands as soon as he sees her. He gathers her in his arms. She allows the tears to fall freely, if only for a moment. 

"We saved your daughter, Mr. Uryist, from the wolf man. You would be wise to remember that." 

"I apologize." His voice is filled with nothing but contempt as he says it. "Thank you for bringing her home." 

"Of course, Mr. Uryist. She will return with you for the time being. Tomorrow morning we will question her." 

"Thank you." Her father turns to guide her out of the room. On the way out, a glimmer of gold catches Alaris' eye. 

The Well.

The town's water source, only used when the council says, sends water into each household, into every spout in town. 

They haven't used it in days. 

A courtier is by it, turning one of the levers, allowing water to flow into the city. During tithing, Alaris had seen it happen before but paid little attention to it.

Alaris pats her pockets and feels the small bag Yleth had placed in her pocket. If the councilmen had used the water to erase the townsfolks' memories, she could use it to bring them back. 

She pulls the small bag out of her pocket and walks to the Well. She hears someone yelling behind her, a cacophony of voices screaming as she opens the bag. 

Arms wrap around her, forcing her back. The dark powder falls, still contained in the bag. She breaks one arm free of the person holding her back and catches the bag. Her mind is on autopilot as she stomps on the person's foot, hearing them yowl in pain as they release her. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees her father being restrained. 

She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath before sending the bag flying. 

The water in the well sparks and smokes when the bag touches it. 

"Stop the water!" A councilman yells. The young courtier tries to push the lever back into its original place, and Amaris feels her hopes being dashed. 

One of the windows behind the councilman shatters. 

A large creature, nearly the size of a bear but with the body of a wolf, storms into the room. It hurls itself at the young courtier, quickly tackling him to the ground. Yleth pushes his body weight against the lever until it snaps, the broken piece falling to the ground. 

"Yleth!" Amaris shouts. Yleth transforms from wolf to man with a smile on his face. 

The councilmen yell from behind them, but the damage is done. 

"Those people will never see you as anything but a monster!" One of the councilmen yells from his throne. 

"That may be so." Yleth rises to his full height, towering over the council members. "But at least they are free." 

Alaris hears a roar outside, followed by several others. The ground shakes as creatures storm the Court House. The townspeople, she realized, were those who got their memories back. 

The council never stood a chance.

Alaris knows they're exiled, never to be seen in their lands again, but she doesn't give much thought to them a few weeks later. The people have been working hard to restore their town and re-learn the powers they had once forgotten. 

They voted to begin anew with a council of their own. Members of the community arrange laws to keep the townspeople safe. They offered Yleth a position on the board that he refused. 

"My wife would make a much better councilwoman." 

It is a few months later, as she's alone in her father's home when Yleth enters the house. 

They had seen much of each other since everything was settled. Still, the rekindling of their marriage was something Alaris looked forward to. 

"My Lady." Yleth's voice was sweet. 

"Yes?" Alaris answers in kind. 

"Care to go on a run with me?" He asks. Alaris walks outside with him and smiles. 

She shifts into her wolf form and sees a smile on her husband's face before she takes off running. 

September 11, 2023 06:00

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