Fire and Ice

All things outside of Thar Shaddin.
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Fire and Ice

Post by Ash » Tue May 07, 2013 3:45 pm

Summer, 122PW

The wind and sky hit the tips of black feathers, ruffling as the raven bearing them crowed. Beside it was another raven, larger and faster, flapping its wings just ahead of the smaller. Ash had always been the slower of the two, and her brother had a habit of flying just ahead of her, teasing her and trying to convince her to push herself harder than she felt she was capable of. Though she was used to losing this game, she flapped her wings and felt a warm air current beneath her. She rose over her brother and then swooped in front of him. He pushed past her easily, taunting her by flapping his tail feathers in front, slowing himself down and then moving beyond her again. Beneath her the gulf waters lurched and sloshed unfavorably, stretching on for miles.

The circle of shaman elders had spoken. It was the daughter and son of the missing woman who would venture to the mainland and scout. They were to do nothing but bring back information to the shaman elders, knowledge that would turn the tide and bring back their mother. Ash could envision all of the tribe's finest warriors returning from the mainland with Mother in their grasp. The thought was comforting, and kept her from slipping into her fear of the mainland. Her quick mind told her the likelihood of this scenario was slim at best, but she pushed that aside the best she could, focusing on just the image, just the thought.

In her claws, she was holding a long knife for Soot's use. She hoped that he would not need to use it on their journey. She had a feeling that with all he had to prove, their scouting trip would turn out to be much worse. Ash's goal was to prevent Soot from getting them both killed, along with Mother. How she was going to accomplish this feat, she wasn't sure.

"There is a legend from long ago that tells of a great beast, a creature that breathes ice and governs all of winter. Passed down by our people, we possess only one clue to its existence: a single egg. The beast's eggs turn to stone in the absence of the mother. We must bring back the scales of this beast, and only then will the egg reawaken, and hatch our guardian and savior." The elder shaman had spoken many prayers before Ash and Soot had left. The twins were not to go near this beast if they proved its sudden appearance. They were "too inexperienced and too full of naivety" to handle such a monster. The whole prospect made Ash nervous. She knew her brother too well to expect him to see a monster and fly away from it like nothing had happened, not least of all because it could be keeping Mother prisoner.

Still, she realized there was not a whole lot he could do while naked, and she thanked the shaman elders in her head for making them go without boats. Flying was much faster and more efficient than going by canoe. They would return with information, perhaps even a scale or two if they were lucky. At worst, they would die by the beast.

The trip was scheduled to take only three days. One to fly over, one to search the land, and the other to fly back. Ash hoped it stayed that way.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Soot » Wed May 08, 2013 12:55 am

Scouting. A true Hazanyii warrior did not scout. Soot had been chewing over the assignment, warring honor with a child's responsibility in his head. Did they truly still count him as a child? Had they given the trip to them because they were young and hardy, or because they didn't want to waste any of the seasoned warriors? He was angry. He was proud. He had been given a mission. He had been sent with Ash.

The smaller raven beside him, behind him, occasionally ahead (though not for long) was one he had both counted on and dismissed for years. She was a girl. She was almost useless, clinging to him because she knew his worth (as in time all the village must), but by and large unable to do anything on her own. Had they sent Soot alone it might have been his first step into manhood. But with her along? He didn't get it.

He wrestled with those thoughts as they flew, baiting Ash by habit rather than purpose; it was as it always was. He'd considered loosing his bird bowels in her face more than once, but had withheld the urge. If it caused her to need to land because she was too slow to dodge, he just knew she'd go whining on about it to the elders later. That was how she was. Sisters. Better he'd a younger brother to take with him than a younger sister. Girls were useless.

Disdainful glances down showed him the water spread below them. The flight would be the worst part, and as hours stretched he felt himself more resentful of the inclusion of her sister. He could half the time if it was him alone on the flight. She was so slow. His frustration grew and expanded. The sight of land close enough to touch down upon was welcomed with several loud caws. He left her behind, then, intent upon reaching the shore as quickly as possible. It wasn't that he wanted to rest, or anything. He wasn't that tired. He was transforming back into human shape before he landed. It was an impressive sight, he knew. That was why he did it. Though he wouldn't tell anyone, it had taken hours and hours of practice in order to land on his feet. It hurt more than a usual transformation, as he had to force it to go a certain way, but that didn't matter at all.

He turned and stood, hands on his hips, waiting for Ash to catch up. He was grinning, his expression taunting.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Ash » Wed May 08, 2013 4:43 pm

The flight was long, and her wings hurt. Despite the amount of flying she did on a daily basis, long trips were agony. Her brother somehow had the energy to just keep going without breaking a sweat, though she realized that as a raven, neither of them were capable of sweating. During the last half hour of the trip, Ash let her brother fly several meters ahead of her, slowly falling behind him as they fought a small breeze. Ash knew that Soot was annoyed that the shaman elders had sent the siblings together. She knew that he was annoyed he wasn't supposed to kill anything, that he wasn't allowed to bring his clothes and equipment with him by canoe. She knew that she was already slowing him down, and felt bad that she wasn't a stronger flyer. Part of her wished she had been born male, so that she might have the stamina to keep up with her coming of age brother.

As they approached the mainland, the fog of distance began to clear. Ash knew that they would be able to spot important features of the land by air that they would never be able to on foot. So, she cawed loudly when he excitedly crowed and swooped down to land. He sent a small gust of wind blowing upward at her, and she flew around it, slowly scanning the ground as her zealous brother moved to land.

The mist from the water had been much colder than usual coming in, but Ash had never been this far away from the island before. She wished suddenly that she had, as it was impossible to say whether any of the things she noticed were changes, or if they had always been that way. The shoreline, for instance, suggested that the land was eroding rapidly. There were tall trees that were quickly being flooded, trees that were not meant to live underwater. In the distance, pieces of thick, white ice were floating on the surface, like little white petals. It was a time of year when all of the water should have been melted. It was a time of bounty, when the sun was strong and the fish were supposed to be jumping. She didn't see any fish.

Then, while her brother ran on foot far beneath her, she saw a patch of black trees and rising smoke. It looked like it could have been a village, or just a gather point. Ash had never interacted with other tribes, but she knew from her parents that such coastal people existed. After seeing the black patch, Ash dipped in flight and came in to land.

Without the showmanship of Soot, Ash landed on a pine branch just ahead of her running brother, who was going in the wrong direction. She crowed at him, bouncing onto the ground and shifting into a maturing human girl in his path. She stood from her bent-kneed posture and folded her arms over the mounds that could hardly be called breasts.
"Soot! Wrong way!" She spoke faux-assertively, a tone that she almost never took with anybody else. Though easy to fold, she was not going to let her brother get them killed, and was certainly not going to let brother dumb-dumb lead the way. Ash usually played navigator. She handed him the knife that she'd been carrying in her claws.

"I saw a camp east of us. I think we should check it," she said, and began walking east before her brother could protest.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Soot » Sat May 11, 2013 12:49 am

Soot was breathing hard. He tried not to show it. His body wasn't offput by his desires, and as he was still overheated from the long flight his all too human skin started to bead with sweat. The pretense that he wasn't at all affected by strain was something he was quite familiar with, and he tossed his hair from his face with a scowl.

He took the knife and spun it -- a childish move since weapons were not toys -- before turning east. "We should still look around the area," he said, insistent. In such regards Ash got the best of him, though he'd never admit to it or accept it gracefully. Though he was alert and lightfooted as he came abreast of her, his head was still lowered in a sulk. "I wanted to circle around to it."

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Ash » Tue May 28, 2013 7:07 pm

Since Ash hadn't done any idiotic acrobatics during her landing, she did was barely beginning to sweat at all. usually, after a flight and a transformation, she would sweat at least a little bit. Today, her heart was beating quickly and hard in her chest, but the cool coastal air lifted most of the moisture from her body very quickly. Ash liked to be human in this kind of air.

She was a touch nervous because she had never actually set foot on the mainland before. It felt the same beneath her feet as the island; that was comforting. "I am looking around the area," she said. She was, despite his distraction. Her immediate reaction was that the plant life appeared to be the same as the island, although there were taller trees. "L..hm..." she mumbled. "Let's make an arc then; keep an eye out for anything weird."

Ash shifted her direction a bit so they were facing more south. She liked making her brother happy, and making him feel smart, even though she was usually the brains of the operation. Covering a wider search area with an arc was not a bad idea, anyway. "And stay with me. There might be something dangerous here that we can't see," she said, with quite a vague explanation. She knew that Soot would be tempted to run off and search by himself. That was a bad plan.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Soot » Mon Jun 24, 2013 3:50 pm

Ash always tried to take charge of situations, given half a breath to do so. Endless chattering seemed to fall from her tongue, leaving Soot the unhappy recipient. Of course he'd stick by her; she couldn't be trusted to take care of herself. She was a girl, after all, and not one trained to combat or hunting. Not that there were many women trained to either these days. All of them were needed for the domestic tasks, since they had started to see fewer and fewer children born each year. That was part of why it was important they complete the assignment given by the elders. Mother's disappearance, too, demanded it.

Soot had let Ash have her say, and the moved in the direction she'd indicated. He kept his knife firmly in grip, and his body loose and ready to react to any threat. He left occasional sign as they walked in order to better acclimate himself to the foreign forest. For a long space of time he saw nothing of note or concern. It was mundane enough that he scaled trees every so often to check their position relative to the village seen from the air. An hour and a half had passed before he caught sight of something else nearby.

"There's a camp," he said as he dropped from the lowest branches of the wide-trunked tree. "A little out of the way, but there's fresh smoke."

Without waiting for her reply or blessing, he turned and started walking that way. "C'mon, sis."

It was another twenty minutes before he came upon the little camp he'd seen. It was not what he'd expected. There were two ragged shelters that looked as if they'd been built by a retarded cripple, and what's more they looked as if they'd been about for awhile. There was a scent of rot in the air, and old blood. Concern was triggered, instinctively, in Soot's gut at the last. The smoldering wreck of a fire was the last of it. Something was wrong. The camp looked deserted, but more than that it looked too old. It looked as if it should have been abandoned months ago, and certainly shouldn't have burning embers still left to the fire.

"Oh," someone said.

Soot immediately put himself between the voice and Ash.

"Greetings," someone else said, making too many syllables of the word.

A third one lingered on the far side of the camp, in the foiliage. It didn't speak, but Soot could smell it. Could smell all of them. They were people, but garbed in rotting skins and smelling unwashed. There was a sense of unclean to them that he couldn't quite put to rest. Worse than that, he and Ash were surrounded by them. He put out his free hand slightly back and to the side, ready to move to defend against multiple threats should he need to. "We're from the island," he said. "We didn't mean to trespass."

The skins they wore were tattered things, hiding their eyes from easy sight. They were almost smeared to his sight, as if the skins had been half melted; he couldn't tell what animals they'd been taken from.

He was wrong, in any case. They were not people at all, but skinwalkers taken by disturbed spirits roused by the troubles that plagued the area. They could not be reasoned with. They could not be satisfied.

They were not peaceful.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Ash » Wed Jul 24, 2013 3:56 pm

When Ash had spotted the camp site from the air, she had feared the worst. The burning scent on the wind was not one of a controlled camp fire. Rather, it carried the stink of burning flesh and the bodies of animals. As they moved toward it on foot, that horrible collection of memories and sensory information flooded her, a wave overcoming her and making her hold her nose. She kept in front of her brother, emboldened by a sense of purpose, though fear floated through her blood and gave her chills.

"Oh," said a voice. It was close to her, and she instinctively moved behind her brother as he moved forward; he was the one with the knife. She was not a fighter, never had been.

Whatever these people were, they were not like Soot and Ash. They were not birds, and more than that they did not appear to be proper people either. Ash had never encountered such a reeking smell before. There was fear plastered all over it, and that fear did not stem from the people themselves. The skins were not proper animals. They were morphed, twisted and plagued by some illness that rendered them horrific.

Soot explained. Ash bowed her head, staring up at them from a lowered posture. She could not manage to lock eyes with any of them for further study.

"Um.." she whispered, but could not force more words to come out. There was anxiety muddying her usual shyness. She knew that something was wrong. She prepared to bolt.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Soot » Wed Jul 24, 2013 4:18 pm

"Yes?"
"Yes."
"Yeeeees?"

Which was speaking when wasn't quite so easy to decipher. That was wrong. Soot had a hunter's attunement to prey, and inability to tell what direction sound was coming from was something a boy would do. Not Soot. He was nearly a man, would be after he came back successful from this hunt, because he would come back successful. So why was his gut suddenly doubting that fact? He stepped back, slow, knowing Ash would move with him. She was his shadow. It was the only reason he considered fighting at all; she wouldn't get in his way should things go sour.

"So we'll be leaving," he said, backing up.

"Chkrrkrrk," someone said.

It wasn't the right kind of sound Soot expected to hear out of someone who didn't mean them harm. It really wasn't a sound that should've come out of someone, period, but that wasn't the sort of thing Soot tended to notice. He loosened his grip a little on his knife -- didn't do it squeeze it like you were strangling a rabbit -- and took another step back.

The one in front of him seemed to smear a little more as it took two small, quick steps forward.

"Friends?" He said, that melted individual who peered at Soot with the eyes of a demon.

"Yes. Friends," Soot said, because he didn't know what else to say.

The loose circle the men had made around the two raven shifters tightened, and the first tingle of magic hit the air like hot ozone and static electricity.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Ash » Tue Dec 31, 2013 7:15 am

Ash followed the lead of her brother. Her heartbeat was thick in her throat as she waited for the signal to run. Her movements were almost painfully slow. She moved in a way that a deer might while knowingly caught in the gaze of a predator. The stench of her own fear clogged her senses, making Soot's voice feel far away. Even as they spoke the word "friend" to the twins, Ash did not feel any sense of relief. For a minute she stopped breathing, and then the answer.

The skinwalker furthest away in the circle threw some sort of powder. A blast of white dust sprayed at them, and Ash's reflexes were her saving grace. She swung her arm around her brother and pulled him backward with her to the ground. Ash didn't know what that powder was, but she had a feeling it was not something friendly.

"GO!" she shouted. Her voice garbled in the thickening air as an unfamiliar magic plagued their surroundings. One of the men was a large, black beast out of nightmare. It had glowing, predatory eyes and began to toss its head backward. Possessed, it rolled its neck and slapped its jaws opened and closed as if trying to crack its own spine. The sky seemed to darken. Ash did not wait to see what would happen next. She could feel an unwanted transformation, and tiny feathers began to flush down her arms.
Fly.

She could not push herself past her half form, so she ran. Scales crept down her legs and talons began to push out her fingernails.
"Soot!" Her scream was desperate while she ran, struggling to breathe. "I can't change!"
Behind her she could hear the dangerous paws of three beasts. They might have been wolves. They might have been lions. They were deformed, distorted and pushed past their original states. Something evil had taken them all, something was horribly amiss on this shore.
Ash headed for the cliff, hoping desperately that Soot had had the sense to transform and fly above her.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Soot » Thu Jan 02, 2014 1:16 am

Ash's voice was loud, and it went straight from Soot's ears to his feet. He went, and when he passed Ash he grabbed her by the hand and yanked her with him. She was too slow, she was always too slow and it was always up to Soot to make sure she didn't get hurt or -- or -- her quills were suddenly pushing against his hand, pricking his skin. She couldn't change. Ayana save them both, she couldn't change.

He changed.

Immediately, he loosed his bowls into the face and gaping maw of the thing in the lead, flapping up over the snapping teeth. He held his knife in one foot, the other he kept up close to his body. He gained altitude tossed his knife, twisted and changed, grabbed the knife and stuck it in and out of one of the other things. He changed back before the curving fingers and gnashing teeth could get hold of him, hoping with all of his might that he had their attention and that Ash was okay. She had to be okay. He didn't dare look, flying low and away with at least one of them on his tail, literally.

It wasn't until he tried to veer up to look back that he realized one of them had gotten him on his shoulderblade, because it wasn't working right. He couldn't feel it yet, not the blast of pain that he knew would eventually follow, once they were out of this mess. Then he saw her, and he saw that one of the things was right on her heels, and he knew he had to go back. He wished with all of his might that he could talk properly in raven form, that he could curse at her, tell her to change, tell her to run, tell her to do something that would mean survival for her -- for both of them. He wheeled and flew into the back of the thing that was behind her, getting a peck in and raking it with his free foot. He cawed, loud and jeering, wishingwantingwaiting for her to change.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Ash » Sat Jan 25, 2014 4:23 am

Above her Ash heard the calls of her brother, crowing with an urgency that demanded her escape. The alarm spread through her fingertips and the feather-like quills covering her hands jutted outward further as they grew. Her hair was turned from braided to spiked in moments, flowing past her human hairline all the way to the center of her spine. She could feel a beak forming on her face and then was unable to scream properly.

The monsters ran behind her, roaring and snapping at her taloned feet. She heard something tear, and a burning sensation poured into her throat and made the fear race down her spine like she was being ripped to pieces. The cliff drew closer, closer, and at its edge she leaped from it.

In that moment, as quick as it was, she felt death draw so close she could touch it. Time slowed down. The wind brushed her face like feathers. As it did, feathers were created, and rushed down her body as if they had already been there, sleeping beneath her skin.

Time restored, and the updraft caught her wings with force. The raven rose along the current, meeting her brother in midair. Her foot was bleeding; it looked like an entire toe might be missing. She shook in the air as the heat became pain, and crowed in desperation. Below, the skinwalkers snapped their jaws in the air. One of them had slipped from the cliff, and was climbing back up the edge.

She hoped that Soot knew where he was going, because she could barely focus on flight.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Soot » Mon Jan 27, 2014 8:15 pm

The first step was to escape. The second was to help Ash. The third was resuming their mission. This knowledge passed through Soot's mind like lightning bolts, striking repeatedly between each of his heartbeats. He chivvied her with voice, by cutting too close around her. Their feathers brushed, and even when she wobbled and cried out he did not stop. He couldn't, because if they did not lose the skinwalkers by sight, then they would be hunted. Skinwalkers were evil. They would follow. They would chase because these were somehow worse than what they should be, and that sickness spoke down to Soot's bones, both as a man and a hunter. He had to protect --

Air cut around the flow of wings, around the mass of a body that was not raven. Too late, Soot started to move, but realizing that his dodge would spell disaster for Ash, he instead spiraled, turning in time to catch an eagle's talons in his own.

The force of it was enough to take him from the air, and he couldn't see enough to check on the status of the other two. Shame warred with panic; how had he forgotten that skinwalkers could choose any shape, at any time? How had he forgotten that their tricks --

The smell of ozone hit him, and then pain down his side. Without thinking he changed, mid air, catching up his dagger and plunging it towards the body of the skinwalker. Too late. A hand caught his wrist, and then the two of them were scrabbling in midair until at last they shifted and broke away. Ayana forgive him true, but for the first time in his life he wished to be bigger, more than a taunting raven. It was true that ravens were smarter than eagles, that they could taunt and steal the others' kills, but pound for pound a raven could not compete with an eagle. Especially not when it was a skinwalker.

Climbing, he looked frantically about for Ash, his screams nothing more than raucous caws as he spotted the other two catching up; coupled with the one behind him, circling around, he didn't know how they would make it out alive. They had to try.

Unless she flew faster somehow, he would not make it back to her before they did.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Ash » Thu Jan 30, 2014 8:59 pm

Ash stuck close to her brother, not bothering to look to the sides. They flew in the opposite direction of the shore, heading in a straight line home. It had taken a while to get here from the island, but it was the only haven they could count on. The rest of the shoreline might very well have been covered in more skinwalkers. Ash looked down to the cliff side briefly. The one that had taken her toe was not there anymore.

A chorus of screeching shot through her wingtips. Adrenaline flushed the pain from her system and survival mechanisms deep within her took hold. Ash let the air carry her to the side as a black, broken eagle flashed past her. She could hear the sounds of shifting and the struggling of flesh against flesh from her brother. There were caws and screams and distorted yells in the wind. An animal she thought could be an owl or a falcon flashed toward her and she dove. The only hope was her maneuverability, but there were too many in the air. She could only count three, but three was plenty to overpower and eat two ravens. They were in trouble. They were going to die.

Ash and Soot were not warriors. There was a reason the elders had sent them only to scout. Ash felt shame as she danced through the air toward her brother. In a desperate move, she grabbed a finger and bit as hard as she could, piercing skin. The skinwalker's flesh was abnormally soft, like it had been dead a long time and was rotting away. It tasted horrific. The blood was black.

Something hit her hard in the side, and she fell through the air. She felt herself shift against her will back to a half-breed, then to human, then again to raven. Her body hurt. She felt vomit rise as vertigo and pain swirled in her head.

There was the sound of an owl-beast flying toward her, and she felt talons on her body. Grabbing desperately with her claws, she realized too late that she was not human. Another shift. Half-raven. Quills like new feathers shot out her skin, and she swiped at her surprised carrier with her long, unnatural talons. The skinwalker bled, and Ash free fell into the lake.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Soot » Mon Feb 03, 2014 9:43 pm

Was it strange that Soot had never been taught how to fight in the air?

The thought was fleeting, there and gone as he struggled to get his bearings -- was he even supposed to, or just look for his enemies, his sole ally? -- missed the timing to help Ash and was hit again, hard enough for a spike of pain to wash through his wing and to shock him back into human form. Couldn't keep it up. He put his blade into the gaping hooked beak that threatened to tear at his neck and face, and then he was diving in raven form, dagger once more clutched in his foot. He was tiring. He knew the skinwalkers would outlast him, would outfly him, would outmatch him in a contest of strength.

He did not see Ash. She wasn't anywhere. If he couldn't see her, he couldn't help her. If he looked for her, he would die. He would die, because now they were converging on him. The urge to fight, to go to his death fighting if need be, raged through him with the power of the Chukchik River after snowmelt. But if he was dead, who would find Ash? Who would take her home, whether she was dead or alive?

He snapped out of his dive below the level of trees, turning away from the coast as an owl blocked him from the side. The trees were tall, thin and numerous, their growth hampered by the bitter cold of winter. He was more agile than an eagle, and his wingspan smaller than an owl's. He didn't see the third skinwalker, and did not look for it; he had to concentrate on his own weaving path through the trees lest he cripple himself by flying into one. He snapped up around a hump in the land, nearly clipping himself on a tree in the process, and did not stop to think as he saw the soggy, barely thawed, leaf covered slough on the other side. He was desperate, and not so far ahead of the skinwalkers to have much of a choice. He changed, and took one last gulped breath as he plunged feet first into the icy cold.

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Re: Fire and Ice

Post by Ash » Sat Jul 25, 2015 12:34 am

The water was freezing. It flowed right into her nose and down her throat as Ash desperately tried to gasp for air. She opened her eyes and could not see the surface. Somehow, in the air she had been turned around. Instinct took over, and she kicked her legs frantically to right herself. Sunlight hit her face. She kicked toward it, quickly chilling in the water.

It seemed to take longer than it should have. She was not sure she would make it until at last, her head broke free into the air and she heaved a horrible, choking breath in. As her vision started to clear, she spit out water and took many heaving breaths, clearing her lungs of water.

Ash started to swim toward what looked like trees in the distance. Her energy seemed to drain out of her as the water kept her naked body afloat. The chill seeped through her skin and into her bones. Her blood cooled. Her vision felt out of focus.

One stroke after another, Ash kept going, pushing toward her brother. They surely had not flown far from the shoreline, but every movement seemed to take three times as much out of her as usual. She started to feel sleepy, and her head went under. She pushed back up with her legs and choked on the water, moving forward. Despite her efforts, every minute her head would fall beneath the water and she would have to recover again.

Until at last, she could not. Her head went under, and all she could do was choke on the water, moving her arms as if in slow motion, struggling to reach the surface.

White scales.
Out of the water, she could not breathe. She felt dream taking her, while a current of slick white carried her along.

It left her on a rocky beach. Darkness covered her vision, and she called her brother to her in spirit.

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