Six Breaths

I took six breaths of winter air, in the night.


The days are short in the winter, and the sun sets early. In the twilight between day and night she slid between the trees, dancing through the falling snowflakes, pale and golden and dark and burning so very brightly that the snow could not touch her, kicking up the falling leaves and running her hands over the rough winter bark. I took a breath, inhaled loam and death, the turned leaves and the rough undying trees; high notes of mirth. I exhaled my uncertainty.


She was standing in the snow, dappled with shadows, her eyes dark and bright, brilliant and bottomless. Her foot was poised over the ice-glazed crust, so lightly I could believe she would run on top of it, leaving no prints. I took a breath, scented the air, fir and cedar and cold crisp snowfall; an undertone of blood. I exhaled my own desires.


Under a full winter moon, the night as bright as the forges of the hollow gods, the stars stabbing lances of light and the snow a blanket that seared the eyes, I did not see her. I saw only what she had left behind, torn in two, one half bones and blood melting the snow, the other untouched. Unmarred. I took a breath, savored the fresh copper-edged scent of blood, an offering interlaced with the unmistakable scent of her. I exhaled my hunger.


In the shadow of the castle on the hill, her eyes glittered like silver arrows, flashing deadly in the night. She clung to the shadows, invisible, slipping from darkness to darkness. There was ice on the walls and ice on the water. I took a breath, breathing ice into my lungs, the trace and travel of her movements on my tongue. I exhaled my anticipation.


It was dark, the low overhanging clouds extinguishing moon and stars and leaving only the faint phosphorescent gleam of the misted air. She hesitated, silhouetted dark in the fog, turned her head from side to side. Her hair was hoar-frosted, the sound of ice glittering on the strands quick and sharp as they followed her gaze. I took a breath, drew in the ancient heaviness of the mist, the rich damp flavor of the night, darkness and ice shards and still silent night; the tang of sweat. I exhaled my emptiness.


I woke in the night, with the dawn on the horizon rising red as blood, opened my eyes and opened them again. She stood over me, her silver arrow eyes triumphant, her teeth icicle sharp as she closed them on my neck. I did not struggle. I never meant to struggle. I took a breath, and it was blood and ice and fire, death and rebirth, longing and fulfillment. I exhaled only her.

The dawn rose, and broke, and the night was gone.

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