PEST OF THE UMBRA KINGDOM
THE ARCHANGEL’S DARKNESS
A boy and a beast stared at one another, former clad only in thin cloth, knee-deep in freezing snow, latter being over two meters tall, with massive fangs sticking out of its maw and furred, warm body, growling lowly at the boy. It snowed all around, landscape brushed in nothing but white, with only faint edges of distant mountains and hills popping out of the mist. The boy’s body was shaking, not due to fear but the heart-chilling cold. It seeped into every part of his body, slowly taking over him. He lost the feeling in his feet entirely, unsure whether they are still there. For some reason, he was unable to look downwards and check. His eyes, as though frozen in time, were unable to look away from the beast’s. Each time he’d exhale, breath would be clearly painted before his eyes. It would rise like smoke, slowly scattering in the wind. Snowflakes fell one after another, each more beautiful than the last, but he couldn’t afford to admire their beauty. He felt caged, stuck to the singular spot, unable to either move forward or run away. He could only stare at the massive beast and let the cold take over him. After his legs, it was his fingers, then his hands, then his arms. The cold slowly inched from the edges of his body toward his heart. Layers of frost had already built up on top of his skin, turning it eerily pale with a tint of cyan. It didn’t take long for the boy to turn into an ice statue, yet he didn’t die. He couldn’t understand it. He was frozen - of that he was certain - encased within the ever-thickening block of ice, yet he was still alive. He wasn’t breathing. He could feel his heart wasn’t beating. Yet he was alive. He couldn’t understand the oddities. The beast slowly inched closer and closer, one step at the time, each shaking the ground beneath. Had the boy’s heart still been beating, he was certain it would be leaping out of his chest by now. The beast leaned in closer, its wolf-shaped head mere inches away from the boy’s face. It suddenly stopped growling, its crimson eyes dimming. The boy saw, of all things, pity inside those eyes. Pain. The beast suddenly moved, opening its maw wide, exposing two rows of sharp teeth. Just as the boy was preparing to be swallowed, a warm current surged from the beast’s mouth, melting away the ice. Boy felt his heart beat again, his blood beginning to cruise through his veins. It was no longer cold. It was warm. Very, very warm.
Lino opened his eyes, his thoughts muddled and confused. It took a moment for his eyes to gain focus and for his vision to unclog the blurriness. The first thing he saw was thick, wooden ceiling with panels. It was dark wood he couldn’t recognize. Moving his gaze away sideways, it landed on the closed doors made out of the same wood. He realized that light was coming from someplace and tried to sit up. However, he quickly realized it was impossible. His body simply wouldn’t listen to him, remaining completely still. He whimpered silently, growing even more confused than before. Inspecting the other side, he only saw a paneled window over which a curtain was drawn. He didn’t recognize the place; the last thing he remembered was a horizon of white and chill permeating his bones. As his memories surged, he remembered Ally being carried away, his eyes widening. He urged his body over and over again to move yet it wouldn’t listen; stuck lying there in silence, in a place he didn’t know, he felt helpless, powerless. He remained conscious for a few minutes before falling back asleep. The room remained as silent as before, not a sound besides the faint crackling of fire to be heard.
Waking up from the dreamless sleep, the first thing Lino felt was a warm, thin hand wrapped around his, fingers tangled together. He groaned lowly, still unable to move, looking sideways. There, golden hair spilled over the bed sheets like satin, unveiling partly the familiar face beneath. Ally was lying asleep on the chair besides the bed, her head on it, snoring lowly. She seemed both at peace and deeply pained at the same time from what little of her expression Lino could see. Her fingers were clutched tightly against his, as though afraid he would disappear. Lino’s lips slowly curled up in a warm smile, his eyes glistening gently.
“H-hey, Ally,” he mumbled weakly, his throat hurting. “Hey.” he managed to shake his hand for a moment which seemed to have startled Ally who suddenly jumped up, screaming lowly. After a brief moment of confusion, her eyes found Lino was staring right back. She froze in a spot for a second before running over and throwing herself at him, burying her head into his chest while sobbing lowly. “Oh god. That hurts! M-move, it hurts!”
“R-right, sorry,” she said, getting off quickly. “Water! Right, water!” she exclaimed as she spun in spot, trying to locate the cup. Lino felt his throat getting slightly better as mildly warm liquid flew down gently. “H-how are you feeling?” she asked, sitting on the chair, shuffling for a moment and grabbing his hand yet again.
“... sweaty. Eew. Why is it so hot in here?” Lino asked, finally realizing it.
“Uh? Yeah, let me, uh let me open the window,” she said, hurrying over and drawing back the curtains. “You were,” she said as she reached for the handle to open the window. “Shaking... a lot. So I figured you were cold, and I decided to throw more wood onto the fire.”
“I was... shaking?” Lino asked, thinking back to his dream that he was already beginning to forget.
“Right.” she nodded, hurrying back to the chair. “I put like three blankets on you, but you were still shaking for some reason.”
“... where am I?” he asked.
“It’s uh, it’s Barry’s cottage.” Ally replied.
“Barry the butcher?” Lino said, arching his brow. “What are we doing here? No, wait, back up first. What happened after I passed out?”
“... I, uh, I begged Sis Roa to help you,” Ally said, suddenly avoiding his eyes, her lips trembling faintly. “After a while, she seemed to take pity on you and brought you in from the cold. Barry happened to be inside at the time and he offered you this room until you got better.”
“... that ox took pity on me?” Lino mumbled, feeling slightly confused. “That doesn’t sound like her.”
“Well, I don’t think a dead kid would look good for her. She probably just did it for herself.” though Lino felt something was off, he decided not to question any further and figure it out on his own later. “Anyway, how are you feeling?” she asked, smiling faintly.
“... I’m fine, I guess. How long was I out?” he asked.
“A few days. It’s Monday.” Ally replied.
“... did... did she punish you for sneaking out with me?” Lino asked with a worried tone.
“Ha ha, why are you worry about that silly,” Ally laughed heartily before replying further. “Of course she has. She locked me up in a cellar for an entire day after we settled you. I was so worried that something would happen to you and I wouldn’t be there.”
“... should I pretend to be comatose more so Barry lets us stay here?” Lino asked, smiling shrewdly.
“Yeah, you can do that. But he’ll kick us out tomorrow anyway, so...”
“Right. Nobody’s that good of a person, huh.” Lino said, sighing. “I guess I’ll abuse the kindness till tomorrow, then.”
“Good idea,” Ally said, smiling. “Are you hungry? I managed to grab some pork he was gonna throw away if you’re interested.”
“Pork? As in... meat?!” Lino asked, growing excited.
“Ho ho, I didn’t think you’d like meat that much.” Ally teased, reached down beneath the bed and pulling out two plates with scattered bits of meat and bone in them. “Want me to feed you?”
“I desperately want to say no,” Lino said, his cheeks blushing slightly. “But I literally can’t move my arms more than an inch.”
“You’re adorable when you’re shy!” Ally exclaimed, smiling, taking a few bits of meat and sitting next to Lino on bed, helping him sit up before slowly feeding him.
“... it’s good.” Lino said after swallowing.
“... of course it is,” Ally said. “It’s meat! And a cute girl is feeding you it no less!”
“... wow, you just called yourself cute. That’s lame.” Lino said, rolling his eyes.
“Hey, who’s the guy always saying he’s going to become the best blacksmith in the world?”
“That’s because I will.”
“... are you, then, saying that I’m not cute?” Ally asked, arcing her brow.
“...” Lino grew mute for a moment, unable to answer. “That’s unfair! You can’t ask me that!!” he cried out in the end.
“... pft, ha ha ha, aah, and I was really hoping you’d say yes.” she said, still giggling.
“...” Lino remained silent, eating his meat while occasionally stealing glances at her. The next few minutes were spent in complete silence, as Ally fed him with a warm smile. Warmth seemed to have transferred over as Lino felt his cheeks and ears and neck burn while not even the cold winter’s wind blowing through the window could seem to chill him.
“You should get more rest,” Ally said as they finished up both plates. “I’ll wake you up when we’re about to be kicked out.”
“Yeah, you do that. I’d rather not wake up with my ass freezing out in the snow... again.”
“Want me to sing to you?” she asked as she tucked him in gently.
“Eeeeh, why? I really want to sing to you.”
“You’re a terrible singer, that’s why!”
“Liar! You’ve never heard me sing! How would you know if I’m a terrible singer or not?”
“... I... I... I heard you that one time in the kitchen!”
“I’ve never sang in the kitchen,” she said, looking down for a moment. “I haven’t sang since... I came here, actually.”
“... d-do you want to sing?” Lino asked meekly.
“... I do, actually.” Ally said, looking back at him with a faint smile. “Will you listen?”
“... I will.” Lino said.
“And promise you won’t laugh!”
“Tsk.” Ally clicked her tongue after which she coughed a few times to clear her throat, sitting upright. “My mom taught me this song,” she explained. “And she used to sing it to me every time I was sick. She never told me the name though.”
“What do you call it?” Lino asked.
“... it sounds lovely.”
“I’ll start now.”
“Khm,” she coughed yet again, taking a deep breath before her voice seeped out in melodic tune, low and clear and warm.
“Let the dreams lull you away,
Let the dreams steal your pain,
Let the dreams show you a better place,
Let the dreams carry you away..
Let the dreams be near and warm,
Let them be full of love and hope,
Let the dreams open the doors
Let them show you a whole new world...
Lino didn’t realize when he fell asleep, nor did he know how much time had passed till he woke up. He only knew that Ally was no longer in the room and that the window was closed yet again with the curtains drawn over it. He attempted to move slowly and his body responded to the commands, albeit a bit lethargic. It took a few minutes for his muscles to warm up and a few more until every bone in his body was cracked and he felt like he could walk slowly while supporting himself against the wall. Getting up, he slowly walked over toward the doors, intending to surprise Ally with his quick recovery. Exiting the room, he found himself in a short hallway leading to several other rooms. He heard voices coming from one of them and decided to head over there. The doors were left slightly ajar so he peered inside only to see Sister Roa and a large, fat man - Barry, he recognized - sitting around the table, drinking and chatting.
“... how do you like your new furniture?” the man asked while laughing.
“Oh, it’s incredibly comfortable!” Sister Roa replied. “Makes me wonder why I haven’t thought of this before.”
“Well, I wanted to suggest it for a while now but... I didn’t know whether you would go for it...” the man said.
“Oh well, at least we’ve found common ground now,” Sister Roa said, laughing. “Where is she anyway?”
“In the room,” the man pointed behind him. “Still crying.”
“Don’t worry, she’ll get over it,” Sister Roa said. “I find it more amazing how readily she agreed.”
“She really cares for that kid,” the man laughed yet again. “The moment you said you will help him, she agreed. She won’t say anything, right?”
“She won’t,” Sister Roa said. “So long as the boy’s here, she’ll stay silent.”
“Ho ho, good, good,” the man said. “Let’s keep the kid alive, then, because I enjoy her too much.”
“Ha ha, very well. I’ll make sure he stays alive... barely.”
Lino listened in on the conversation, his mouth agape, mind in absolute chaos. Though very young, he still understood what they were talking about. He felt his heart break and shatter into countless pieces, his whole being besieged by an array of emotions, ranging from pain to guilt and anger. He wanted to burst in and kill them both, yet his feet wouldn’t listen. Rather, his mind was too busy with coping and trying to understand everything to be ordering his body to move around. He only felt his whole world break apart right then and there, and he was desperately seeking for a way to repair it, lest it remains broken till the end of time.