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.