Winter Princess (3,200 words) The young girl, knew she was in trouble. Blood dripped down her back, staining the normally brilliant white jacket, a colourful pink. The Raiders that were bearing down on her seemed to double in number, as her vision blurred. Even without the throbbing headache, and the feeling that her head would burst every time her heart pumped another bit of blood through her body, she knew she had a concussion. Her tiara felt cold and very, very, heavy on her brow. Despite all of that, she still had to fight. Fight, and fight, and fight. If she didn’t she was dead. It was nice to have a very simple problem to deal with for a change, the very sensible voice in the back of her head thought. Screaming from a badly bruised shoulder, she raised her hands over head. She reached into the hot, raging power that had clamped onto her soul. The power inside her, that allowed her to fight, wasn’t her. It was something else. They had given it to her years ago. She loved the feeling of it, she loved the power it gave her. She loved the sense of pride and hope it gave her. But it wasn’t a part of her. It was something else. She called to it now, using her voice, her body, and every ounce of will power she possessed. “Winters Peace!” she screamed to the night. With the silly name calling, the ridiculous pose, and the too tight, too small clothes she was wearing, she might have looked like a silly magical school girl from a Japanese cartoon, right down to a silver tiara in her short hair. Considering it was Halloween night, she fit right in with all the other costumes. Only the bruised face, bloody and torn clothes, and the noiseless creatures charging her, detracted from the image. A blinding white light erupted from her hands. It filled the alleyway. The girl didn’t feel its effects, she wasn’t blinded by the light, or freeze as the horrifying coldness of the light froze everything it touched. The Raiders that were attacking her, were another matter. Creatures of unreal shadow, they cowered from the brilliant light, their ethereal bodies dissolving as the light broke there bonds in this reality. The bitter cold shattered their bloody silvery claws. They fell like melting icicles to the ground, and lay there unable to ever again rend the young girls flesh. She finally collapsed. On a surprisingly warm Halloween night, in a dingy Toronto alleyway, the young girl fell onto the frost encrusted pavement, as glass shattered by the sudden, intense cold, fell to the ground. She couldn’t stay there long, she had to find Lord Isling. But she could rest, letting the magic that empowered her heal some of her wounds. Just a few minutes, and she could stop him. Cradling her head in her arms, ignoring the blood dripping down her back, she fell asleep. *** “Winter Princess,” a voice spoke to her. It dragged her out of the darkness of sleep. She tried to ignore it, she hurt too much. Sleep was better. Sleep was peaceful, painless. “Winter Princess, wake up,” The voice insisted. Her free arm rose to cover her ears, to block out the voice of her mentor. The bruised and swollen shoulder moved a few inches before every nerve shrieked in red hot pain. Winter Princess gasped in agony, her eyes wide as she tried not to scream. “Winter Princess, let me heal your wounds,” said her mentor, Messenger. Laying very still, trying not to move any part of her injured body, she relaxed and closed her eyes again. Messenger spoke in an unknown language. She felt her body heat up, as he summoned the soul of the Earth into her, healing her worst wounds. The bruises that covered her body slowly vanished. The worst ones weren’t healed completely, but they shrank and became a horrible greenish colour, as if they’d occurred several weeks ago. The skin of her wounded back, torn open by a Sightless, regrew quickly. It was itching, and hot to the touch, but it wasn’t bleeding anymore, and it wouldn’t reopen. Her head still ached, but it was bearable now. She’d survive. She’d be able to fight. Again. “Thank you, Messenger,” she said, standing up. “I have to find Lord Isling. He knows who I am. We have to stop him before he can leave reality at dawn.” Messenger shook his head sadly. “You don’t have to do anything.” “What!” Winter Princess exclaimed. “Did you get him already?” “No, he is alive, but he is not your concern anymore,” Messenger said. “You will not be dealing with the any of the Raider Lords again.” Winter Princess stared at him in shock. “B-but he knows who I am. He could attack my family, my friends. I have to stop them.” Messenger once more shook his head. “The Raiders of Reality are no longer your concern. Jennifer Latham, we made a grave error when we gave you the power of the Winter Princess. I am now forced to correct it.” Winter Princess cut in before he could continue. “What do you mean, correct?” she asked suddenly scared. “We gave you the power. It was not meant for you. I made a mistake. We now know who the real Winter Princess is. To give her the birthright, we must take it from you. You will be unharmed, merely returning to your former status as a normal human,” he hastened to add. Normal again. How long had she longed to just be able to just be normal? No more hiding bruises from people like some abused kid. No more therapy, because her parents thought she was a rebellious gang banger. She might be able to finish high school now. No more social service workers asking if her parents are beating her. Her mother wouldn’t have to cry every time she missed another family gathering because she was running off to save someone. Her father might talk to her again. Her brother might be alive, if he hadn’t followed her a year ago. She might be able to work things out with them now. If she was normal she could at least try. She could live without the feeling of satisfaction knowing she saved someone. They were going to give the job to the proper girl this time. They’d always wondered why she took so long to pick up the skills. She still needed to think about using her powers. It wasn’t as instinctive as they’d said it should be. The feeling of joy she felt whenever she did kill a Raider would be missed. But she could live without it. The rage she felt when she reached for the power that gave her those feelings scared her sometimes long after the joy had left. She could live without it. This was almost a dream come true. There was only one small problem. “Lord Isling still knows who I am. He’ll come looking for me,” she told him. “Let me keep the powers for just one more night. Let me kill Lord Isling, and I’ll hand the power to you on a silver platter.” “No,” he said. “Jennifer, the true Winter Princess, is in grave danger. We need to give her the powers immediately or she will be unprepared to face it. I am sorry, but I need to take them from you.” “What about my danger!” Jennifer said. “I fought for you. For two years I fought. My brother died trying to help me, and if you take the power from me, the rest of my family and I will probably die the same way. Give me just five more hours. One way or another it’s all I need.” Any other words died in her throat. She’d faced death before, but she’d never stated it so openly. But it was true. All she needed was to find Lord Isling, and one of them would die. It was as simple as that. Messenger shook his head fiercely. “I cannot give you five hours, or even one hour. The Winter Princess is in deadly danger now, and must be protected. I will take your powers, now.” “My parents could die if the other Raider Lords learn who I am,” she pleaded. “The true Winter Princess will protect them as she will protect all reality in this area,” he told her. “That is her job. You are once more a human. You will have the same protection and abilities as all other humans, no more, no less. Once the Raider Lords learn you are unable to fight them, they will ignore you as inconsequential.” Jennifer stared at him in shock. She wanted to cry, but pride kept her eyes dry. “You don’t fight many Raiders. Every one of them that I have met, would hunt down and kill every mosquito it could, if a single bug bothered them. I’ve killed too many of their creatures, and stopped too many of their plans. They’ll hunt me down and if I’m lucky rip my throat out. I need the powers, or I need protection.” Messenger tilted his head slightly, looking like he was seriously considering what she said. Jennifer allowed herself a little bit of hope, maybe he’d let her keep the power, just a bit longer. She screamed as his hand plunged into her chest. She felt his hand moving through her, like ice. It didn’t hurt, not physically, but she screamed in agony. Her soul was pierced by it. It tore through her, like a knife. Her essence, her spirit, twisted away from the hand, trying to protect itself. Her body shook in terror, paralyzed by shock. She felt his hand close on the power that had connected with her soul. It hadn’t joined her soul like they told her it would, but they were still connected by whatever energy allowed the power to exist. The Messengers hand moved along the seam, feeling where the power and the soul connected. Jennifer tried to concentrate on anything else. Her mind was gibbering in terror at what was happening. It wasn’t possible, it kept saying. This wasn’t happening. Even as her soul was poked and prodded, Jennifer had to hold onto her mind. She had to stay sane. She thought of her mother and her father waiting for her at home. She had to protect them now. More then ever she had to protect them. The thoughts were driven from her head, as the hand sliced the connections between the power and her soul. The cuts and bruises, she had felt over the years, were nothing compared to this. Even being stabbed by a burning sword was comfortable to the pain that raced through her. Those had only happened to the body, a body could heal. It would be scared, and ache in winter, but it could heal. Her soul was torn. Every place that the power had made a connection was torn open. Everywhere the power touched her soul, was torn. Messenger may have been trying to be gentle, but he wanted the power unharmed. If he had to make a cut, it was Jennifer’s soul that was cut. If something had to be torn, it was Jennifer who bled. It was Jennifer who screamed. Messenger finally removed his hand. Jennifer briefly saw a glowing ball of light in the palm of his hand. She collapsed on the ground once more. Her soul, her mind unable to handle what had happened. She was wearing her ordinary clothes again. Faded old blue jeans, a thick leather jacket, ear muffs, and thin woolen gloves. Nothing special about them, nothing special about her. Just another underage girl who looked like she had had too much to drink, and couldn’t make it home. “I know this may seem cruel,” he said leaning over her. “But believe me it had to be done. Go home and be with your family.” Jennifer just watched him out of her unblinking eyes as he vanished into the night. *** Later, she didn’t know how long, Jennifer got to her feet. She was weak, exhausted, empty, and in pain. Her body was fine. The bruises she had she could deal with. But her soul, her mind felt shredded. She couldn’t think clearly. Only two things kept going through her mind. Don’t stay still, was one of them. She had to get out of the alley. The other was louder, more insistent, protect your family. Staggering she left the alley. The street was alive with people. Many of them in costumes. All of them going to or from some Halloween party, enjoying the Friday night. Jennifer tried to walk properly. Not drawing attention to herself. The past two years she had been obsessed with not drawing attention to herself. With her body virtually healed trying to walk in a straight line should be easy. But her mind wasn't in it. It was trying to figure out what happened. One moment powerful, a Princess of the world, protector of reality. The next, a little girl again, who had been thrown to the wolves. How could she protect her family? Her soul ached. It felt like different. Empty almost. The power had been a part of it for so long, now it was gone. The only thing in her now, was, her. It didn't feel like it would be enough. She could still feel Messengers hand in her chest. That was the worst. It had touched her soul, tore it apart, as if it was inconvenient. The wounds he had caused it burned. You shouldn't be able to feel your soul. A physical person shouldn't be able to tear it up. It was filthy. Unnatural. Wrong. As she clutched her body, hunched over, trying to protect it from the world, she barely noticed what was happening around her. Raiders had circled her. Normally they wouldn't appear in the open. Only Raider Lords could pass themselves off as humans. But this was Halloween. People would see their malformed limbs, unnatural blotchy skin, even the tails and tentacles as some elaborate costume. They walked beside her, in front of her, and behind her, as if they weren't aware of each other. Jennifer saw them glancing at each other, watching her, and the crowd, out of their too many eyes. Shadows moved on the sidewalk, leering at her, with their insane faces. They watched her, and waited to strike. Lord Isling had called out all his forces. She wasn't going to make it home alive. They'd attack soon, not caring about the crowd. They knew the Guardians would make whatever happened seem like a natural occurrence. The dead would remain dead, but the masquerade would continue. They'd mourn her, and any others once a year in their elaborate ceremonies, but she'd still be dead. Something small and fast flew past her face. It whispered in her ear, "Death." She couldn't wait any longer, she ran. A tall, thin, boneless creature, a mockery of a man, tried to stop her, as she bolted into traffic. If she had been Winter Princess, she would have ripped its tentacles off. But she wasn't strong enough now. As it tried to capture her with its too long arm, she ducked and slid under its legs. She scrambled back to her feet and charged into the heavy traffic. Cars honked, and brakes squealed, as she tried not to be run over. It would be a quicker death under a cars wheel, but she didn't want to die. If she could make it home, she could convince her parents to flee the city. She would make them leave, somehow. If they could just get to another part of the country, the Raider Lords wouldn't know her there. She'd just be another human. She had to get her family away from Toronto. A loud bang, and the sound of crumpled metal rose up behind her. A car must have hit a hard Raider. She couldn't risk looking back. Jumping over the hood of a stopped car she narrowly missed being run over by a truck. Finally she made it to the other side of the road. Turning to run down the sidewalk and slammed into a small man. Jennifer started screaming. The man adjusted his glasses with one hand. His other hand grabbed Jennifer's arm. She beat at him with her free hand, and kicked him as hard as she could. The man was actually shorter than her own tiny five foot four body. He also looked like a hard breeze could knock him over. Despite this he didn't even blink as she slammed her hand into face, or flinch as she broke her toes kicking his legs. He picked her up in his arms and casually tossed her far into an alley. As she flew through the air, she thought she heard someone yelling, then screams. Any other sounds were cut off as she hit the ground. She knew enough to keep her body limp, and tried to roll as soon as her body was on the ground. Protecting her head with her arms, her jacket and jeans were ripped and shredded as she slide and rolled on the pavement. Jessica stopped rolling by hitting a wall. She felt her bruised shoulder dislocate. She started screaming again. "Jessica," a pleasant voice called out. "I've waited so long for this moment," Lord Isling said walking down the alley. His small, nerdy physical form walked down the alley. His servants, inhuman, unintelligent Raiders marched just behind him. Jessica got to her feet. She drew her hunting knife from its sheath. She wasn't going to let them take her so easily. "Is this the point where I say, 'do you really think that will do you any good?'" Lord Isling asked. "I have only recently started watching your tv, and I don't think I know all my lines." She didn't answer him. She could probably keep him talking for hours. The Raider Lords where intelligent, but they weren't rational. They were chaos. They wanted to be entertained. She had seen what they considered entertainment. She wouldn't let that happen to her. Lord Isling had expected her to try to kill herself. She could here the shadow Raider breathing behind her. It would stop the knife from plunging into her heart, or slicing her wrist. They knew she would consider that the only rational choice. So she improvised. Jessica spun around, striking at the shadow Raider with the knife. It wouldn't hurt the creature, but the Raider was a simple animal. It would see the attack and react accordingly. She felt the creatures silver claws pierce her body. The six long, jagged claws, destroyed everything in their path. There was no way she would be taken alive. Jessica coughed, and started to laugh, blood dripped from her mouth. She could hear Lord Isling screaming in fury behind her. She couldn't save her parents. But she hadn't let Lord Isling have a total victory. Maybe she'd see her brother. She hoped he'd be waiting for her. They could wait for their parents together. As her blood drained out of her body, she hoped her parents deaths would be just as quick.