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.