My eyes fluttered open and for a second, I couldn’t see anything but darkness. I blinked for a few times, trying to get my bearing, and when I saw the snow falling just outside my window, memories from the battle flooded my mind.
“Ah. You’re finally awake.”
Dalan’s voice echoed and I realized he was sitting beside my bed. I tried moving but I felt searing pain throughout my body. My throat was dry and my eyes still stung.
“You won’t be able to move for a while,” he said as he gently raised my head so I could drink water. “That technique altered the landscape and weather of both White and Black Division. You almost lost your life.”
I thought I’d be able to recover much easier after years of training and mastering that technique but what I did that day was beyond what I had expected. No wonder I couldn’t move at all. I felt so tired I wanted to sleep again but I wanted to know what happened.
“K-Krystal . . .” I asked but my voice was so hoarse it sounded like a croak.
“She’s with Isaz,” he replied. “I think he’s explaining everything to her.”
Knowing that she was safe dissipated the worry I had in my chest. I wanted to ask more questions but my eyelids were getting heavier. Dalan adjusted the blanket and put his hand on my eyes.
“Sleep first, My Lady,” he whispered. “Leave the rest to us.”
And I drifted back to a long slumber.
“How’s White Division?” I asked.
Farah flipped the pages of her book, checking each detail carefully. “We’re currently rebuilding the capital since it sustained the most damaged.” She paused. “Well, actually, almost everything was destroyed.”
“And the humdrums?”
“The Senshins agreed to help. They said they could erase their memories from that day using some sort of devices.”
I was just informed about how they helped us during the battle but I didn’t allow them to greet me. No way in freezing hell I’d let other tribes see me in this state. However, I sent Hideo, their current leader according to Isaz, a letter of gratitude for their help.
“And the rest of Flame Spectre?”
“Hilda and Riyo, along with the Aquarius and Underworld gangs, are currently tracking those who allied themselves to Flame Spectre,” she answered. “And Lady Winter, Isaz is asking what you’re going to do with those . . . ah, spoils of war.”
I could see the disgust on her face even though she tried hard to hide it. After that technique, most of Flame Spectre’s members disintegrated into snow but their eyes remained intact. I remembered nothing was left the first time I did it, but maybe due to the extent and range I managed that day, it wasn’t as effective before. Hence, those eyes became spoils of war.
Remembering that made my stomach churn. Gross.
“I will go to the war council room later,” I said and she immediately noted it.
“I’ll inform them,” she said and started walking away from me. However, before she could leave my room, she halted and turned around. “By the way, Lady Krystal is here.”
She nodded. “After they rebuilt the White Division. But for now, I’m staying in East Black.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll provide a house for you and your friends there.”
She subtly smiled and I felt warm after seeing that. Making her happy was the only thing that mattered to me.
“So, how did you meet them?” I asked and her eyes twinkled.
She started narrating how she met her friends when she went to East Black. I just listened and laughed occasionally when she complained about how they act sometimes but I was sure she was happy to be with them.
‘I’m sorry but I also have another family waiting for me.’
When she said that after I fought with Pierre, I admit, I got hurt, but looking at how she talked about them and how they were protective of her, I realized that they were, indeed, a family.
“—and then, Kelsey—"
“Ah, Hale’s sister, right?” I commented but the mention of his name made her grumble. I raised my brow and looked at her suspiciously. “Do you like him?”
“No!” she cried indignantly and I chuckled at her response.
“Oh, so you hate him?”
She looked at the other side and pouted. “No,” she muttered.
As if on cue, Hale stormed into my room with a huge grin on his face, and behind him was Dalan.
“Winter! You’re awake—!”
He abruptly halted and almost stumbled when he saw Krystal in front of me. She scowled at him and he smirked in return.
“Oh, the Ice Goddess is here,” he said.
I could tell she hated that moniker because she looked like she was about to murder Hale. When I saw them teaming up during their fight with Rage, I thought they were getting along but I never knew their relationship was like this.
“Don’t you know how to knock?” she growled.
He shrugged. “They never taught that here.”
Krystal looked like she would explode in anger already but she managed to give me one last glance and her expression softened for a bit.
“I’ll go now,” she said. “See you in a few days.”
She walked away, giving Hale a dirty look, and finally stormed off. Hale chuckled as he raised his hands and followed her outside.
‘Hale, go easy on her,’ I reminded.
‘But she’s more difficult than you, Winter.’
Dalan stood by the door, watching the two marched on the hallway. He heaved a sigh and thrust his hand toward their direction. I heard Krystal yelping and I frowned at him.
“What? I’m only helping him,” he said.
When I looked at my window, they were already outside and Hale continued following her. I chuckled upon seeing them. It felt like I was watching two toddlers getting on each other’s nerves.
“I thought you’d end up with him,” Dalan said. He stood beside me and we watched as those two throw balls of snow at each other.
I raised my eyebrow at him. “Why?”
“You know, that thing about keeping the bloodline pure. Ice could only be with ice.”
“Ah, that.” Krystal threw a huge clump of snow at Hale. “At first, I thought about, too. But I only see him as an annoying little brother. Besides, it would still be pure. He seems fond of her.”
“I have a lot to do and think about,” I replied. “That’s not my priority.”
“Heh, spoken like a true leader,” he teased. “As expected from you, Lady Winter.”
I frowned at him but he just snickered. He started walking away, as if he was already done teasing me.
“You should find someone, too,” I said, “or you’ll end up like Riyo.”
He turned and smirked. “And you might end up like Hilda.”
“Heh. Should we grow old like them?”
“Why? You want to be together?”
The next thing I knew, he was already in front of me. He held my chin and gently raised it, his face inches away from mine.
“Oh, Lady, stop tempting me,” he whispered. “I might do something impolite.”
“I’m not,” I replied.
“If you say so,” he chuckled.
And that moment, I knew I wouldn’t end up like Hilda.
Wintry trees lined up the snow-coated pavements, the arctic sky looking like a blank canvas, winter flowers and plants adding colors, making White Division as pristine as a new world waiting to be discovered.
“Is everything ready?” I asked, my breath forming in visible vapor.
“Yes, My Lady,” Dalan responded.
We arrived at the newly built manor in the center of White Division, flags of the ten attributes’ emblem hanging on the poles.
On the right side, Hale and Krystal looked at each other after calling me in unison. I still couldn’t get used to how they address me now but they said they had to . . . as my new righthand people.
Isaz, Hilda and Riyo became my advisers while Gerald and Aaron officially retired. They said they were proud of how I handled the tribe during the civil war and they would still support me as long as they could, but their era had ended with my father’s death.
“It’s time for you to choose the people who would stand by your side,” said Gerald.
“Lead us well, Lady Winter,” Aaron added and they both bowed at me.
Both of them wanted to focus on their family and even though their retirement meant loss of powerful commanders, I respected their wishes. Besides, I already had people in mind as their replacement.
I suppressed a grin as they continued bickering. They looked cute together, though Krystal would probably frown at me if I said that.
“Raise the banner,” I ordered and the two of them raced toward the switch.
“Ah. Youth,” Dale remarked as he watched Hale and Krystal.
Hundreds of Huntres gathered in front of the manor, waiting for my appearance. I walked toward the balcony and faced them . . . my family . . . the people I have to protect for the rest of my life.
“Huntres!” I bellowed and the Alveria family emblem fluttered above me.
This wasn’t a war preparation. I wasn’t a rebellion leader. This time, I was just a fellow Huntres who was glad the war was finally over.
And for the first time, I flashed a smile in front of a huge crowd.
“We’re finally home,” I softly said.
Some cheered so loud it made the ground tremble. Others were silently crying, emotions overwhelming them. A few elders looked up at the sky, a wistful smile on their faces as they stared at the snow falling on them.
The civil war made us divided, but it also taught us a lesson. That despite having different beliefs and attributes, we are still from the same tribe and the only ones who could help us are ourselves. I hope the next generations would look back at this time and realize how beautiful it would be if the Huntres divisions could be united once again, just like Yllka and Ivankov had done centuries ago.
I walked back inside and realized Krystal and Hale weren’t there anymore. Maybe she went to her friends and he followed her. Meanwhile, Dalan remained standing near the balcony. I turned and met his gaze.
“Hmm? What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Well, I’m tempting you,” I retorted.
He just stared at me for a few seconds and laughed out loud afterwards. He advanced at me as if the wind was carrying him.
“Oh, you better not take that back, My Lady,” he whispered.
I smiled behind his face. “You’re warm,” I muttered. “I like that.”
My eyes drifted to the drizzle of snow outside, blanketing the treetops with snow caps. It looked like it would be colder than usual tonight.
Seeing the long winter made me remember Mom’s words.
"Winter, the ice will never melt. As long as we are here, this place will always be as white as the snow."
This time, I felt contentment and not anger.
Mom, Dad, as long as I am here, this place will never be in hell again. The ice and snow will never melt. I promise.
Everybody was moving, swords and armors cluttering, soldiers shouting at each other about their orders, while I sat on the center of the war council room.
Hale said most of the gangs against Flame Spectre went to the War of Best. Isaz, Riyo and Hilda were also deployed as reinforcements.
You are our trump card, Isaz reminded before going. I tried calming myself down but I couldn’t. I was restless.
After years and years of planning my revenge, the day has finally come.
The commotion outside felt like getting faraway, as if silence was slowly consuming me. The thought of seeing Krystal flooded me with so many emotions at once.
Dalan’s voice jarred me back to reality. He was pointing at the White Division map, showing where our current reinforcements were.
“How about Gerald?” I asked.
He smirked. “Oh, he’s doing great. By the way, Aaron, your dad’s other right-hand man joined the battle.”
“Yes. Apparently, his daughter is one of your sister’s members.”
That thought made me realize how everyone on her ‘gang’ were seemingly connected to the rebellion. I wasn’t sure if fate was pulling some strings but I was still thankful that she had people who could support her.
Dalan donned his armor once the horn signaling our move blew. I wore my white fur coat and marched with him to the village’s entrance where Farah was waiting with the carriage.
“Lady Winter,” she greeted.
I thought I’d get battle jitters as we trooped to White Division but, surprisingly, I felt calm. I just wanted all of these to end so I could be with my family.
“Thought you’d lose control by now,” Dalan commented as he fiddled with the rings on his fingers.
“Those old bats would kill me if I can’t control my emotions,” I retorted and he let out a chuckle.
“Finally acting like a grown-up, huh?” he commented. “Oh, pardon my impertinence, My Lady.”
We were still about half a mile away from the border but I could already hear the chaos in the White Division. We saw battles from opposing factions, even humdrums who seemed confused and scared of what was happening, along the way.
From the window, I saw Farah standing up, her spear on her hand. He thrust it on the ground and seconds later, vines as thick as a human body sprouted, coiling people who had attributes allied with Flame Spectre. Dalan also put his hand outside the window, creating miniature tornadoes.
It got worse when we reached the border. Bodies sprawled lifeless on the ground. Cries of fear and pain could be heard everywhere.
Lightning crackled. The ground trembled, creating elevations and depression. Shadows and blinding light appeared out of nowhere. Plants were growing everywhere, even on people. Poison filled the air. Water sprinkled and burst. The wind was blowing violently, tearing everything on its path . . .
. . . and at the center of destruction, glaciers and wall of ice withstanding the columns and sea of fiery flames.
“There,” Dalan pointed as fighters allied with Flame Spectre marched toward the capital.
Three people stood between the fighters and the center of the battle. According to Dalan, those were the leaders of gangs with wind, water and earth attributes. Our allies.
I breathed deeply and felt the power coursing through my veins. My fingertips twitched, the sensation filling my body with memories of intense training. A thick wall of ice emerged between the three leaders and the enemies, freezing their feet as ice fissures crept on the ground.
Confused faces greeted us as they looked at our direction but I kept my head held high. As I took a step, the ground froze. I could feel the temperature continuously dropping but my body was burning with rage.
‘N-no way . . .’
I abruptly stopped when I heard that voice. My heart started racing. Despite not knowing how she would sound like after growing up, I knew it was her.
It was Krystal’s voice.
From our right side, several meters away from us, Isaz stood beside a group of girls. He smiled at me as he looked at the girl who seemed like she had seen a ghost.
“Go,” Dalan said. “Leave the rest to me.”
Before I could protest, a breeze pushed me forward.
Seeing her all grown up made it hard to breathe. She looked like a mess. Her hair was in tangles, scratches and bruises covered her skin, and her clothes were still singeing, but in my eyes, she still looked like that six-year-old kid I left all alone.
She looked at me in disbelief. I couldn’t blame her. Maybe she thought I was dead. That I left her alone. I wanted to hug her but I knew my responsibilities should be my priority. The fire was already engulfing the whole place and I need to save it before anything else.
“Let’s talk later,” I said, my voice shaking. “For now, I need to fight these guys.”
I charged at the center of chaos, freezing fire, water and ground along the way. Standing inside a ring of fire so hot it burned the edges of my coat was Pierre, a sinister smile pasted on his face.
“So you are really alive,” he said as fire continued to dance around him. “Very well, Alveria. Your bloodline will end with your death.”
Seeing his face reminded me of that painful memory. I remembered how Mom and Dad protected us by sacrificing their lives. If it weren’t for him, they might still be alive.
I smiled at him as I clenched my fist. “If you can kill me.” I stomped my right foot and the flame surrounding him froze. “And now, I will take back everything you have stolen from me.”
The frozen flames broke into pieces as I clenched my fist, and they flew at his direction. Fire erupted at his feet, instantly evaporating the chunks of ice. Malice glinted in his eyes as he thrust his hands on the ground, creating crevices with magma-like liquid bursting below.
“Fellow comrades and allies!” I roared as I glared at Pierre.
I could feel my comrades’ gazes boring into me, waiting for my final order, their hopes and dreams weighing on my shoulders.
“Let’s finish this battle and claim what once was ours!”
Their battle cries made the ground tremble, sending shivers down my spine. Despite not seeing what was happening behind me, I knew they were getting into formations we had practiced over and over again. However, before they could do any damage to the upper members of Flame Spectre, Pierre let out a sickening roar.
The sea of fire expanded until it incinerated the arrows flying at their direction, leaving nothing but ashes.
“You think you can defeat me with that?” he taunted as fire continued rising, now about three or four meters tall.
“I will do everything to reclaim our place, our honor and the peace between the Huntres’ divisions,” I seethed, “even if it means killing you and your followers.”
He suddenly bellowed in laughter. “Your parents can’t even touch me. They died without doing anything. Like those other fools who fought but didn’t accomplish anything. They died as nobody.”
I wanted to lunged at him but I knew he was just messing with my emotions. Just like what Isaz had told me, Pierre had a way to manipulate people through their anger and pain . . . and I wouldn’t fall for that anymore.
Pierre created another column of fire and I froze it immediately. However, when it crumbled, he wasn’t there anymore. He just escaped.
I was about to follow him but something caught my attention. Glancing at the left side, I saw Krystal walking toward me. The girls who were with her a while ago were looking at us with worried expressions so I tried accessing their minds, knowing that all of them had ice attributes.
‘Are you her comrades?’ I asked as I kept a distance from Pierre. ‘Y-yes,’ the one holding a wooden sword answered. Ah. That must be Gerald’s daughter. ‘I’m amazed you found each other.’ ‘W-what do you mean?’ ‘For the Huntres tribe, only those who possess the Ice attribute can use the inner voice,’ I explained. ‘And only those who can communicate through their minds have the right to rule a tribe.’
Unlike this fraud, I wanted to add.
‘Why?’ asked the girl with the tattoo on her arms. ‘Because before the Flame Spectre, the one who ruled the Huntres tribe was the Ice Division,’ I said, ‘the Alveria family.’
I managed a smile when a saw their expressions—a mixture of horror, shock and confusion.
‘B-but I heard Rage and Pierre can use their inner voice,’ she returned. ‘Paano nangyari ‘yon?’
Hearing that question made me snort in disgust. I heard they tried accessing their inner voices to prove that they were capable, too, but they couldn’t even use it properly. For ice attribute users, it came as easy as breathing, but for them, it must be excruciating to even try.
‘That’s why you can hear them,’ I said. ‘They can’t even close their minds. I don’t know how they managed to use their inner voice but I’m pretty sure they can’t use it properly. Right, Pierre?’
Another column of fire erupted, revealing his position. What an idiot.
I glanced at Krystal again, just a few meters away from me, as she tried to keep the small fries from my direction. Meanwhile, Pierre started walking toward us and the smirk on his face was gone.
‘I see. So your younger sister is still alive. I’m going to burn the both of you.’
A cry of pain caught Krystal off-guard and Pierre immediately used that moment to create a freakish fire. It surrounded the both of us but I managed to freeze the other half.
‘Go,’ I said after seeing the disturbance happening at her members’ direction. ‘They need you.’ ‘But—’ ‘I can handle him. Go.’
She gritted her teeth but when she heard another shout, she stormed toward them and I also saw Hale helping. They must be getting along based on how their attacks complimented each other.
I looked back at Pierre who just burned a Huntres into ashes. My heart sank upon seeing that and I almost lost my control.
Easy, Winter. Timing. I needed the right time to finish him with my technique.
With a thrust, a block of ice emerged from the ground where he was standing and before he could balance himself, I made the ice explode into fragments, sending him flying to the building’s pillars, but everything turned into ashes. He stood up, rage burning in his eyes.
“Don’t underestimate my fire, brat.”
And before I could throw another attack, the whole city had already been engulfed by his fire.
It felt like I was already in hell.
My eyes stung. The heat was consuming the oxygen around, making it harder to breathe. I needed to save my stamina for my last attack but at this rate, I’d be burned before I could do it.
‘Don’t die. Please.’
And then I heard her voice.
Krystal’s voice was shaking and for a moment, I wanted to hit myself for thinking that way.
I am the Huntres’ leader. I am needed by everyone. I have to be stronger so I could protect all of them.
‘I won’t,’ I said. ‘I promise.’
Pierre was grinning like a madman, as if he had already won.
“And don’t underestimate my ice, Pierre. It may cost you your life.”
With my newfound resolve, the White Division became a frozen city.
Pierre almost became an ice statue except he managed to free himself. I thought he’d charged at me but I was caught off-guard when he turned to the place where most of our force were.
But I was already a step behind.
Balls of fire appeared over his head and flew at their direction. I was about to freeze everything again when Isaz, Riyo and Hilda stood in front of the Huntres. The fireballs solidified into pieces of large rocks and fell to the ground with a thud, creating tremors.
“Mukhang nakakalimutan mong nandito rin kami,” Isaz said. He clenched his hand and the rocks were shattered into ice fragments.
“I’m your opponent,” I declared after running to his direction, “and I told you, don’t underestimate my ice!”
Now is the right time.
Isaz sensed what I was going to do and ordered everyone to run away from us but they were still too close. I heard them shouting about forming a barrier and maybe, that would be enough to save them from the destruction.
“Prepare yourself,” I muttered.
With my remaining strength, I channeled my anger, guilt, and pain into my hands. My eyes throbbed and my fingertips crackled. With a thunderous roar, I let the ice and my emotions take over me.
My life flashed before my eyes. Suddenly, I was a child again. Krystal and I were there, watching our parents fight against Pierre and Flame Spectre.
“Why?” Krystal asked.
“We’re going to lose everything.”
Mom’s eyes met mine. She was bleeding badly but she was more worried about us.
‘I’m sorry . . . Glace,’ Dad groaned. ‘G-go away and find our daughters. P-protect them.’
I wanted to shout and tell them to run but my voice wouldn’t come out. Krystal was shaking in fear and I realized I needed to be strong for her sake.
Mom looked at our direction again, but this time, she smiled—the last smile she could give to me.
‘Protect your sister, Winter. I love you.’
And then she jumped on top of Dad, protecting him until the end.
Energy left my body and I collapsed on my knees but the soft powder cushioned my fall. I thought I was still having flashbacks when I saw the whole placed turned into white. Nothing remained within my radius, as if everything had vanished without any trace. Slowly looking up, I felt something falling on my face and I realized it was snowing.
"Winter, the ice will never melt. As long as we are here, this place will always be as white as the snow."
Mom’s words echoed in my head and tears trickled down my face.
“It’s over . . .” I mumbled. “Mom . . . Dad . . . it’s over . . .”
There was only silence and I didn’t mind but someone broke it by calling my name.
“Winter!” Krystal cried and before I could turn into her direction, she jumped at me and gave me a hug.
I chocked back a sob as I hugged her back as tightly as I could. It was getting harder to breathe but I didn’t care. I had waited years for this moment.
“Ah. You’re warm,” I whispered.
“You, too,” she sobbed. “I’m cold so please don’t let go.”
I caressed her hair and hugged her tighter. “If anything happens, I’ll protect you with my life and I’ll always be by your side. I’m sorry,” I said as my voice cracked. “I’m sorry breaking my promise. I’m sorry for leaving you all alone. Please forgive me.”
She shook her head. “That’s okay. You’re alive,” she muttered between her sobs. “That’s what matters to me.”
“Krystal . . .”
“I miss you.”
Despite the tears in my eyes, I managed a smile. “I miss you, too.”
After years of being under an oppressive reign and wrathful flames, winter has finally come.
My fingertips tingled. I could feel the power coursing through my body. The moment I opened my eyes, every tree was half-frozen, while the other half was reduced to snow.
I collapsed on my knees, the energy seeping from my body. The barrier separating me from the village crumbled into huge blocks of ice and I heard footsteps approaching my direction.
“There may have been progress,” Isaz said as he stared at the trees covered in ice and snow, “but it is still not safe to be used during a fight.”
I cursed under my breath. I knew it was still far from perfect but it had been a year since I accidentally did that technique. After that incident, the elders said it would be a huge advantage if I could master it, but it wasn’t too easy.
When we went back to the village that day, I stayed unconscious for five days. When I woke up, my body felt like frozen and burning at the same time. And I couldn’t move at all.
Dalan explained everything to the elders, asking if that was a trait of the Alveria family. Isaz said he didn’t know about it until I did it.
After two weeks, I could finally move my body but I got tired easily. I never thought that technique would reduced me to this and for the first time since Krystal’s disappearance, I was scared.
I only recovered completely after two months. Isaz said I should train regularly to get back in shape and I did. The truth was, even though I was scared of that immensely powerful technique, I wanted to know how I did it. Because if I had that power, I knew I could protect everyone.
“Rest first,” Isaz added as he looked at the other direction.
Dalan appeared behind him and kneeled in front of me. I glared at Isaz but he was already walking away.
“I can walk on my own,” I grumbled but he just scoffed at me.
“Well, I’m here because we know you can’t. Please pardon me, Lady Winter,” he retorted as he carried me on his arms.
I glared at him and almost wanted to freeze him right on the spot. I wished Hale was here. At least I could control that kid.
After training more rigorously, the burden on my body wasn’t that bad compared to the first incident. This time, I wouldn’t be able to move only for a few hours instead of weeks.
He laid me on my bed, lit the fireplace to keep the room warm and closed the curtains.
“You can go now,” I ordered.
He chuckled in return, and I felt a gentle breeze brushing my face. “Rest well, My Lady.”
As the door closed, I fell asleep and dreamed about Krystal.
“Do it,” Isaz demanded as he stood between the trees.
A bead of sweat trickled down my face. “But . . .”
“You need to have an absolute control on that power, or else, you’ll hurt your comrades, too.”
Two freezing years after I did that technique accidentally, I finally managed to execute it. However, Isaz wanted me to control it thoroughly. My heart pounded as he stood from a distance, telling me to unleash that technique with him there.
I remembered the sensation I felt that day. My head was clouded with rage as those bastards killed the kid without remorse. I remembered wanting to do the same and then it happened.
I was about to channel that feeling when a loud bang interrupted me. The wall of earth separating this place from the village started trembling. Isaz and I exchanged looks and he walked toward cliff Hilda created.
“Sir Isaz! Winter!”
That was Hale’s voice.
Isaz froze a portion of the cliff and broke it. Hale came running, wide-eyed, terror and excitement on his face. He looked like he ran all the way here as he was covered in sweat and soot.
“What happened?” I asked.
He seemed to have trouble talking after that dash. His wild eyes found it difficult to focus, looking back and forth to Isaz and me. It was an unusual sight. Hale never looked this restless. He cleared his throat and drew a shaky breath.
“I found her,” he finally said.
“Who?” Isaz asked.
Hale smiled at us and I realized what he was talking about.
“I found your sister,” he softly said. “I found Krystal.”
It was hard to listen to his stories without tearing up. All this time, I believed Krystal was still alive, but deep in my heart, there was a hint of doubt. What if she wasn’t?What if she had died that day?
Hearing it from him completely erased those what-ifs and it felt like a thorn had been pulled from my chest. Krystal . . . my baby sister . . . she was alive.
“She must be 19 now,” I mumbled as tears continued streaming down my face. “I didn’t even see her growing up.”
Hale said he saw her in East Black walking alone. He said he looked like me and he felt something strange in her so he followed her. She ended up in a rundown house but she ran away almost immediately.
“What? Then where is she now?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure she’s still in East Black,” he replied. “She must have felt my presence since I came a bit close to her but I’m sure I can track her again.”
“Promise me you’ll look for her,” I said.
“I will. I promised,” he responded and that made me relax for a bit. “Oh, I think she’s also planning to start a gang.”
He suppressed a chuckle. “A gang. She was muttering that while on her way to that house.”
I still saw Krystal as a child and hearing that she wanted to form a gang made me remember the kid that was killed two years ago. That thought sent shivers down my spine.
“She must have heard about the War of Best,” Isaz said after staying quiet for a while.
He stood by the windows, staring blankly outside. A shadow passed over his face and for a second, he looked sad and guilty, the same face he showed when he found me.
“You were lucky because you grew up here,” he muttered, “but that kid doesn’t know her powers yet. She must have been shocked when it manifested. She needs training.”
Imagining Krystal alone for years, scared and battered, confused with her attribute, and thinking her family was dead felt like a boulder was thrown at me. They should have found her instead of me. At least, I could survive by myself. I could endure the burden. But that kid . . . she must have been through a rough life.
“Isaz,” I called, my voice trembling, “please . . . help her. I don’t want . . . I don’t want to lose her again.”
His expression looked pained as mine but he held it better. He flashed a quick smile and bowed at me.
“I will,” he said. “Don’t worry, I will take care of her.”
There was a moment of silence in the room but I breathed deeply and found my resolve.
“Riyo, Hilda, Dalan,” I called. “Come here. I know all of you are listening.”
All three of them came inside the room: Hilda materialized from the floor as the ground emerged in front of me; Riyo entered from the doorway; and Dalan came down from the roof and sat on the windowsill near Isaz.
“It’s time to start this war,” I declared. “Inform all our allies. In a few months, we will attack the White Division. We will reclaim what’s ours and I will end this tragic fire.”
They all hailed me and proceeded to the war council room.
I stayed in my office for a while, thinking about the impending bloodbath. I pulled out a photo I hadn’t seen since I was a child.
“Mom, Dad,” I whispered as I stared at the only family photo we had. “I can finally avenge your death.”
Krystal, please wait for me. After this, let’s be together again.
She nodded and quietly walked away. A second after, Dalan came in, bringing a gust inside my office.
“You seem fond of them,” he commented as he turned his head toward the door.
I shrugged. “They are useful,” I said.
It had been two years since we recruited Faye and Reya. At first, everyone wanted to punish them for what Flame Spectre had done but the elders and I managed to convince them that they would be an asset to us. It turned out that was easy. Those two showed their sincerity and earned the trust of our warriors.
“Any news about Isaz and Hale?” I asked.
Dalan shook his head and I sighed in return. Those two had not submitted any report for the past few weeks. Hale was still quietly protecting his sister while tracking the movements of the powerful gangs in the East. Meanwhile, Isaz brought a terrible news on his last report. Leo died several years ago. He just learned it last month when someone from the black market recognized his name.
“Losing Leo means years of delay,” Dalan commented.
“Yeah. He must have created a lot of weapons but we don’t know where he stored it.”
“Isaz must be tracking that child.”
If I remembered correctly, Leo said he left the child, Minerva’s daughter, in an orphanage and would get her again once he’s ready. Maybe the kid was adopted by him, I don’t know, but I hope he didn’t break his promise. Minerva meant a lot to the Huntres and I wanted to honor her by making her daughter safe.
“Let’s go, Lady.”
I draped my fur coat over my shoulders and followed him outside. Warriors bowed and parted as we passed by. Looking over the training grounds, I saw some children were being thrown by a cyclone while others were trapped in water prisons. That brought back some unpleasant memories.
The mirage covering and protecting the village dissipated as we went out of the boundary. Along with Dalan, two Hunters marched with me, concealing their weapons between their clothes and bodies. Meanwhile, I had to wear a cloak to hide my eyes and face.
According to our shadows, Gerald couldn’t get out of White Division because Flame Spectre was pressuring his wife to keep an eye on him. He had information about them but he was stuck in his house and dojo, gangs and officers constantly monitoring his movements.
Initially, Isaz didn’t want me to proceed but I insisted. I was sheltered in that village long enough. I wanted to see the world and I wanted to know what I could do with this power. Also, Krystal . . .
We couldn’t board the train so we opted to walk. It would take us about two days assuming we wouldn’t have any hindrances along the way.
“My Lady,” Dalan whispered.
I didn’t notice the Hunters who were leading the way came to a halt. There was a commotion going on but before I could see anything, Dalan pulled me away.
“There might be some Flame Spectre members,” he muttered after we hid behind a rundown house. “We should be careful.”
Faye and Reya scouted the crowd and after some time, they returned to us.
“Only humdrums,” Reya reported.
“We can proceed,” added Faye.
The four of us pushed through the crowd, trying to be as natural as possible, but one of the leaders, I suppose, said something that made some look at our direction.
“Hey, you in the cloak!” he yelled. “Are you an old lady? C’mere you hag!”
I took a quick look and I almost grimaced. His bald head was almost shining and his gold front teeth weren’t helping. He was wearing a black vest that looked two-size smaller than his body, making his belly protrude. Two guns hung on his waist band and he pulled the one on the right, aiming it at our direction.
Some yelped while others scampered away. After the crowd parted, I saw what the commotion was all about. Several old people lied unconscious on the ground, their things scattered and ruined, while the gang members continued laughing and destroying their other possessions.
My eyes dimmed for a second and they started shivering but before I could lose control, Dalan tapped my shoulder, snapping me out of my anger.
“Leave these insignificant hoodlums to us,” he mumbled.
The leader started walking toward our direction but he suddenly stumbled and crash to the ground, face first. Others started flying and slamming against walls and trees while some noticed their clothes burning.
Bystanders helped the elders get to their feet and I hoped all of them were alive. Those hooligans deserved death but I didn’t want to waste my energy in them.
“Let’s go,” I muttered and the three of them nodded.
Camping for two nights on the trees were a lot more difficult than I had expected. Fortunately, we arrived at the boundary of White and Black Divisions before sundown.
Memories flooded my mind almost immediately. The pavements covered in ankle-deep snow. The winter trees. Houses made of ice and covered with plants. Looking at its current state now, I couldn’t see the place I once considered my home anymore.
More buildings and houses were built. Trains and weird-looking vehicles filled the place with engine sounds. Lightning crackled but there were no signs of rain. The searing heat was almost unbearable. But what made my heart sink was the enormous building at the center. It was the exact copy of the previous administration’s headquarters, except for the insignia of Flame Spectre fluttering at the top and the lamp posts in front burning with different colors of flame.
The heat was making me lightheaded but I tugged my hood lower to hide my face as more officers showed up. Faye and Reya had to hide, too, since they were wanted by the Flame Spectre.
Gerald said he’d leave a note to someone but I doubt that would be easy knowing all eyes were on him. We were about to look for him when someone suddenly screamed. About fifty meters away from us, several people started gathering.
Faye and Reya exchanged looks but before they could volunteer to scout, I started walking toward the crowd.
“Hush, Reya,” I warned. “You two should hide instead. They might recognize you. We need you to find Gerald.”
“But . . .”
“I’ll go with her,” Dalan said.
We tread through the increasing crowd and saw gang members being apprehended. However, I knew this wasn’t an ordinary one. They might have hidden it from the humdrums but beneath the thin layer of lenses, their purple and blue irises burned with rage. They caught Huntresses with attributes opposing Flame Spectre.
A kid, about eleven in age, managed to escape from an officer’s grasp. He grabbed a wooden sword from a girl who was watching nearby and pointed it at the three officers walking toward him.
A sinister smile escaped the middle officer’s lips. He pulled out his gun that must be a veinas and pointed it at the kid. My fingertips started tingling but something happened before I could do anything.
The officer on the left suddenly collapsed, tiny fragments of ice forming on his chest. The other officers stared at each other in confusion but I swore a saw a blade swung at his direction before that happened.
‘Don’t be hasty, Winter,’ a familiar voice said, echoing inside my head. ‘Gerald?’ I called as I scanned the crowd. ‘Where are you?’
Then, someone held my hand. No, someone passed a note to me. It was the girl who got her wooden sword stolen.
‘That’s Clove,’ Gerald explained. ‘She doesn’t know anything yet but she listens well. Now, go. Leave the small fry to us.’
After several seconds of silence, I agreed. ‘Alright. Be safe.’
Dalan and I met with Faye and Reya who managed to get more information about Flame Spectre. According to them, those bastards were planning to host a battle royale where gangs could eliminate each other. As much as I hate them, I think they would succeed, knowing how bloodthirsty the gangs were. Also, it would make their jobs much easier as they wouldn’t have to deal with those troublemakers by themselves.
We marched to the border but Dalan pulled us toward the nearest alley. Few seconds later, the officers, along with the gang they captured appeared. The lead officer was swearing nonstop, raging about the incident a while ago. He yanked the kid from the line and glared at him.
“This is all your fault,” he hissed.
I was too stunned to process everything. The next thing I knew, the kid was already consumed by fire and turned into nothing but ashes after the officer shot him in the chest.
Blood rushed to my head and I stifled a scream. My body went numb with pain. My head throbbed as if it was getting drilled. The moment I opened my eyes, everything was already covered in white.
“Lady Winter . . . you . . .”
Dalan looked shocked, scared even. I shifted my gaze to the officers’ direction and I couldn’t understand what happened at first. The prisoners were unconscious but I could see that they were still breathing. The officers were nowhere to be found. The ground became white—no, they were covered with . . . with snow.
“W-what happened?” I weakly asked, as I clung to Dalan’s arm.
He flinched and I saw his arm getting slowly frozen so I immediately let him go. I stared at my hands, still burning cold, and my fingertips fizzling.
“Did I . . .”
“T-they didn’t freeze. They just exploded into snow,” he softly said. “You, Lady Winter, reduced them to nothing.”
Upon hearing his words, my mind went blank and my consciousness slipped away.
“Fire attribute?” I asked, unsure if I heard that right but Farah nodded. “Are you sure?” “Yes, Lady,” she said. “Riyo is already waiting for you.” “I’ll be there in a minute.” I breathed deeply and braced myself. After I ordered a lot of missions for every faction, some managed to save and persuade former allies to be on our side. But what caught my attention was what happened during Dalan’s, a wind attribute user, mission in the South Black Division. Treading through the training grounds, I saw some warrior throwing curious looks at the elder’s shack. The word about apprehended fire attribute users must have spread through the village. They parted when they saw me coming, silently bowing and saluting as I passed by. Lady Winter is here,” one of the guards announced and the door swung open. With careful steps, I approached the shack’s center and my fingers twinged upon seeing flames on their daggers, casting eerie shadows on the wall. “Halt, Winter,” Riyo ordered, his tone quite dangerous. That was when I realized I had already frozen half of the shack’s interior. With difficulty, I calmed myself, thinking about the elders’ words as they were training me. It took me at least several minutes before I completely controlled my rage. Just then, a gentle breeze blew. Emerging from the shadows was Dalan himself, his dark hair loosely tied into a bun, and a permanent scowl on his face. His clothes still singeing but he didn’t seem to be hurt. The rings on his fingers, his veinas, glinted in the dark. For a 24-year old guy, he looked older than his age. Dalan served as the leader of the wind attribute users in the village. They respect and listen to him. He was here before Isaz brought me here but he wasn’t the type to associate himself to others. He liked working alone in missions but this time, I appointed him to be the head of a group. I told their group to quell the disturbance after gangs started pillaging some villages in the South Black. The White government didn’t care about the Black Division anyway and gangs kept rising in numbers as the years passed by. “They ran away,” he said while glancing at the two woman who were currently in a water prison. “What do you mean?” “They were running away from Flame Spectre.” My gaze darted to the water prison housing the fire attribute users. Slowly, I approached them and that was when I saw their eyes—there was fear in their eyes. “Speak,” I demanded and Riyo opened a portion of the water prison, just in front of their faces. The girl on the right, shorter and slimmer than the other one, trembled. She looked at their weapons lying beside Riyo’s feet and drew a shaky breath. “They are wrong,” she muttered. “I . . . I d-don’t want to see that anymore.” Riyo and I exchanged looks as we tried to understand what she meant. I was about to ask another question when the taller girl started telling everything after the other one whimpered. “O-our eldest sister . . . s-she pleaded Allen to stop burning villages in the South . . . but that monster,” she choked back her tears, trying not to sound shaken but it was quite evident, “h-he burned her to crisp.” My throat felt dry, as if someone just poured a flaming drink in my mouth, after hearing her story. She continued, telling us that the Flame Spectre used gangs all over Black Division to threaten those who dared oppose the White government, but my mind drifted away. The mention of their sister made me think of Krystal. They saw their sister burned to her death and for a second, I pictured young Krystal being surrounded by raging flames, yelling my name. I tried pushing that thought at the back of my mind but the guilt was slowly creeping into my heart. “—ter!” Dalan’s voice jarred me back to reality and the shack was already glittering in ice crystals, stalagmites and stalactites growing from the roof and floor. The two girls stared at me in terror while Dalan was already holding my right arm, trying to knock some sense into me. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, looking at Riyo who must be disappointed after I let my power overwhelm me. Again. “Dalan,” he called and Dalan nodded. He escorted me out of the shack and back to my office in the manor. We were silent the whole time but I could still hear and feel the ice crackling on my fingertips. “Are they trustworthy?” I asked, almost in whispers, when we got in front of my office. He let go of my arm. “I still don’t know,” he answered. “But I can’t just watch them get killed. Besides, not all who have fire attributes swore their loyalty and allegiance to Pierre and Flame Spectre.” He stopped for a few seconds; a hint of hesitation passed over his face. “They have their own set of beliefs and principles, just like how not every wind attribute user pledged themselves to us.” His words struck something inside me. All these years, my indiscriminate hatred to fire attribute users grew stronger, ignoring the thought that some of them might not want this to happen. I thought after being officially appointed as the leader of the rebellion force and the Huntres tribe when I turned 20, I’d be less immature, yet I still couldn’t control this rage and I let my emotions overpower me. “I know you have a lot on your plate,” he continued, “but you have to stay rational.” A gentle wind brushed my skin, sending pleasant thoughts in my head. “You should protect everyone who shares the same beliefs as yours, even if they are from divisions you hated all your life.” Just then, a quick smile escaped his lips, something I didn’t expect to see from him. “After all, you are the rightful leader of the Huntres tribe, Lady Winter.” The rightful leader, huh? Those words terrified me before. Honestly, they still do, but I had already accepted my fate. I knew it was the only way for me to survive and to protect everyone. He started walking away but before he could disappear from my sight, I called his name. “Dalan.” He turned. “Tell Riyo to give me the details once they finish questioning them.” “Of course,” he replied while bowing. “I will.” With a new-found motivation, I entered my office and planned for our next move. *** “Are you insane?” Hale smiled as if he already knew that that would be my reaction. He just returned from his trip and turned the information he got over the elders. He came rushing to my office, telling me stories about the girl he thinks is his sister. But what surprised me was what he did. “But it worked!” he beamed. According to him, a commotion broke out as three members of Flame Spectre got challenged by a gang, who didn’t know who they were. He was following the kid for three years, protecting her from harm whenever she’s defenseless, while trying to prove that she was, indeed, her sister. “Still, how could you just give a kid a veinas? That was dangerous,” I argued after telling me that he handed her a chain whip. “She needs it,” he returned. “And I already know that she’s really my sister.” A wistful yet pained smile appeared on his face. “Kelsey is . . . Kelsey is alive and safe.” I couldn’t say anything anymore after I saw his expression. Just like him, I felt guilty, too, for leaving Krystal alone. At least, he had found her remaining family. I’m happy for him, really, but there was a part of me that gets envious every time he talks about her. Before I could lose myself to these emotions again, I breathed slowly and stood up. He followed me and we went to the training grounds but we halted when we saw Dalan walking toward our direction. “I’ll go ahead,” Hale mentioned and he started walking away. Dale slightly bowed and looked at me. “They’re clean,” he reported. After he apprehended the two fire attribute users, Riyo and Hilda interrogated them and asked for some information that we could use against Flame Spectre. “I see. That’s good, then.” “They want to see you,” he added, making me raise my eyebrow. “Why?” He didn’t answer my question and just walked so I had to follow him. The girls were still in the shack but they weren’t imprisoned anymore. They wore the usual clothing of the force and they kneeled when they saw me. “They want to swear loyalty to you, my Lady,” Dalan said and before I could say anything, the girls started talking. “I, Faye,” the shorter girl said. “And I, Reya,” the taller one added. “Renounces our allegiance to Flame Spectre and swears to be a loyal subject to you, Winter Alveria, the rightful leader of the Huntres tribe. Hail!” they yelled in unison. That day, I learned about betrayal and loyalty. That day, fire and ice, for once, became allies.