The Longest Night part 3 and uploading news
I'm also uploading a selection of my favorites to ff.net, so sorry for the spam there too. ^^;
On the new fic front! Here's a new part of The Longest Night!
It's about here that I run into a really huge problem with posting as I finish each scene. >.< Specifically, Hope forgives Snow WAY too fast at the beginning. When it was just that one part it was fine, because I'd never have gotten to it otherwise, but now I realize that sub-plot should have gone along for a while before being resolved. First because it would better mirror the game plot, but more importantly because it just feels like there's this blank area where there should be a character arc and there's nothing because I went and resolved it. But of course I can't go back and fix it because I already posted the first part. Shit.
Although since Nana-chan is likely the only one reading this: Do you mind if I rewrite parts of it? Argh... But at the same time I'm not supposed to be agonizing over this. It's an experiment! I should just write it!
Anyway, got along a little in the plot, such as it is. Stopping there because I'm pretty sure the next thing I have to do is bring in Lightning and Sazh (and hair!chocobo!) but so help me I don't know what I'm doing with them.
Hope’s head is throbbing when he wakes. He tries to will the pain away, but the chill in the air makes it impossible to lie still for long.
The wolf is gone, leaving him groping in the dark for that warm bulk. His heart stutters and pounds as he creeps to the mouth of the shallow cave. The wolf cannot be long gone or he would have frozen in his sleep. He cannot be alone.
Where the snow has drifted into their narrow cave he finds a black stain of blood and the remains of a rabbit. It’s not hard to guess what brought the small corpse here to the mouth of their cave. The head is gone, and he looks quickly away from the torn stump.
Outside Snow is rolling himself in the snow. Hope leans out to look, holding his breath because he is almost under the sky again. He can tell when Snow spots him because he stops, legs in the air, looking as undignified as the majestic archetype of wolfkind possibly can. He shakes himself and paws snow over his muzzle before trotting back, fur now whiter and cleaner than the trampled snow.
Hope wraps his arms around the wolf’s neck and leans into that solid bulk. Even faintly damp, Snow is warm enough that his shivering subsides.
“It wasn’t something like you, something partly-human, was it?” Hope asks, of the dead rabbit. He has to ask. He will keep wondering if he doesn’t ask, and then he will never be able to keep it down.
It is an unerringly human gesture when Snow shakes his head ‘no,’ and Hope trusts that answer.
The meat is still warm. Hope has hunted for himself, but he has never eaten the meat raw before. He wonders how the part of Snow that seems human feels killing rabbits with his teeth, or if being a wolf makes it easy. He wonders if the family Snow is bringing him home to is really a wolf pack, and simply eating raw meat will soon become too easy to think about. Hope washes the meat down with handfuls of snow, coppery-sweet with blood, but it isn’t enough to completely dull the throbbing in his head.
Snow licks his face and hands clean.
Hope spends the rest of that short day clinging to Snow’s back. The terrain is not so rough as to shake him loose as he presses his face into Snow’s fur, hiding from the sky. They pause only when they cross thin streams that run like veins under the snow. Snow breaks the ice and stands over Hope to protect him while he drinks, though the water is so cold it makes his teeth hurt.
It takes three days to cross the valley, even with Snow’s tireless loping pace. In that time Hope lives on raw meat and ice-cold water, and must always be huddled close to Snow against the cold. The nights should be getting shorter now, but it doesn’t feel that way. The nights still fall fast and heavy, squeezing the weak daylight hours between them.
If not for Snow, he thinks, he would not have to flee from the hunters. He would not have to be out under the sky that stares down at him. Snow might have saved his life, might be protecting him even now, but wouldn’t he still be home with his mother if the wolf hadn’t appeared at all?
But Snow isn’t just a wolf. When Hope closes his eyes to sleep he can feel the shape of the man inside the wolf’s skin. Though he feels no less small and lost, the low murmur of a human voice tells him he is protected from anything.
As the third night falls, and Snow find them another hole to hide in, Hope lifts his head enough to find that there are hunters at the edge of the valley.
The hunters, each dressed in the uniform shirts of black and red that match the one Hope met in the forest, are patrolling the high ground. Hope can see them from where he crouches in the dark, protected by Snow’s bulk, but none come down to root them out of their shelter.
Hackles raise silently against his arm when the hunters reach the edge of their patrol which brings them closest to the cave, and he feels an answering hunch in his own shoulders as he tries to be smaller.
Without breaking stride, without peering down into the pockets of hiding places for their quary, they move off again, walking in an unending pattern which covers the edge of the valley, but no further.
Hope leans into Snow, feeling the silent vibrations of a growl warm his bones.
“What do we do now?” Why were they after Snow, anyway? Was it simply because he was more than a wolf? Hope doesn’t dare think he will be safe if he walks into the territory they patrol by himself. Somehow he is sure they will know he was with Snow. He is marked now as Snow’s companion.
Leaning into that solid bulk, Hope reaches up to scratch behind Snow’s ears.
Snow twists to look at him at last, his warm breath pushing Hope’s hair back with a disbelieving huff.
He isn’t a wolf. Hope knows that, but the part of him that is a wolf goes deeper than that thick fur. He hunts like a wolf. He rolls in the snow and shakes himself clean, after. He may indulge in long-suffering sighs that sound absurdly human, but when he growls it is an animal sound, one Hope cannot imagine could ever translate into human words.
When Snow’s chin is tucked over his shoulder, Hope can’t say if the gesture reminds him more of man or beast. In any case, he wraps his arms around Snow’s shoulders and leans into that solid weight.
“What do we do?” He knows Snow can’t answer, but squeezes his eyes closed pressing his face into white fur until the world is blackness. He’s blind now, it’s safe for the man inside the wolf to come out. “They’re all around the valley, aren’t they?” Somehow he knows it. He can’t shake the feeling of being trapped by more than the sky.
“I had hoped to outrace their messengers.”
“What do we do?” Hope whispers a third time, though now he’s more than half sure there is no answer, that their choices are to be trapped or fight for their lives. “Can’t we sneak by them in the night? Can we turn and go back?”
“They’ll see your warmth in the dark. And there are things that peer down through the pinholes of the stars. No, I will take you a safer way.”
He won’t say anything more, but when the sun rises he heards Hope out under the unforgiving sky once again.
It’s not far, and yet Hope is sure, if there is something peering through the pinholes of the stars, it must also watch during the starkness of the day. He huddles into Snow and wishes he had his own white fur to blend into the snow.
For the first time they take shelter before night falls, but this time the crack in the Earth where they hide is deep and twists away down into the dark and past sight.
The passage is marked with words, though the carvings are so old they have nearly been worn back into the walls. All Hope can read is ‘The East Way,’ which answers none of his questions and only raises more. The path is worn down to a smooth rut in the stone floor.
The ceiling is low here, so low that Snow’s pricked-up ears nearly touch it. Hope must slip from Snow’s back and walk beside him. Too soon he is lost in complete darkness, with nothing but Snow’s shoulder under his hand to guide his way. He can’t be sure if Snow sees in the dark or simply knows this way by heart.
The path is smooth and open beneath his feet, but Hope cannot help taking each step carefully, expecting the path to become rough or littered with unseen rocks.
Hope wonders why the solid shoulder under his hand remains that of a wolf. He keeps expecting to feel a human hand leading him instead.. He certainly can’t see Snow right now, which seems to be one of the rules to whatever magic controls Snow’s form.
After some endless stretch of time perhaps his eyes adjust, perhaps light finds a way in, but Hope finds he can see the outline of Snow’s shoulder, and the smooth rounded shape of the underground path.
And then a low light ahead, in the distance, welcoming him in. And then the tunnel opens into a wide expanse and there is light enough for him to see.
Light is caught and redoubles in crystals that grow from the walls and floor, and in places lights like hang from the ceiling, like patches of starry sky trapped far underground.
There are arrows carved into the floor here and there, marking out paths with the signposts long worn away into nothing. Straight ahead of the path Snow chooses, the brightest light redoubles and shines from a crystal shaped like an upright coffin, set like a marker between the branching paths.
The crystal may truly be a coffin. As Hope moves closer he can see a woman inside, frozen in a seemingly peaceful repose. Hope hesitates, but Snow keeps moving forward as if drawn to the coffin, stepping from under his hand.
Snow rears up on his hind legs, taller than any man Hope has ever seen, taller than the coffin itself, and rests his front paws on the unyielding crystal. The light shines through his fur, and for the first time Hope thinks he can see, faint as a ghost in white robes, the man inside the wolf’s skin. Even though he cannot see Snow’s face, even though it is a decidedly doggy whine that rents the air, Hope feels that he should know that heartbroken expression.
Hope steps from the path and dares to touch the coffin himself. It is cold as dead stone under his fingers, too cold to contain a living maiden, he thinks. He looks up into the impossibly blue eyes of the wolf, and finds he knows something about his inscrutable companion after all. Something that Snow would never say, even if he knew to ask and Snow was allowed to answer.
He should have known the whole time that Snow might be under a curse. He already guessed that Snow couldn’t be some capricious being stealing him from his home in the guise of a wolf for fun or out of boredom. Hope doesn’t know what to do, but to stand up on his toes, reaching up to touch Snow’s shoulder in comfort.
“I’m sorry.” Though he cannot find the words to say what for. Though he is sure there it is nothing within his power that will help Snow. “I’m sorry.”