It was so cold.
The young man clutched his frozen fingers into the icy ground and tried to pull himself up. With a groan, he collapsed into the snow again. His leaf and leather made clothing was soaked through and he couldn't find his fur-lined jacket anywhere.
They always said Kutlaus was a benevolent father to his children, but the moment he fell into the ice filled stream, the young man knew the god who ruled the forest had turned his back on him. Or perhaps he had turned his back upon the god long ago. Who knew anymore?
But he wasn't going to let Kutlaus ignore him. He'd find his own way, frozen stream or no. He clawed his way up to the surface, breaking the ice as he went. He got himself up onto the shore. There was no need for Kutlaus to protect him. He could save himself if needed.
If only he could find dry clothing.
Or a fire.
Anything to rid himself of the never ending cold. How long had he been lying there now? A few minutes? An hour. He couldn't tell anymore.
Perhaps it was Luana, the night and winter goddess, he should be cursing instead. Or all of them for that matter.
"Cursing all of us, are you, Rafe?" a light honeyesque, female voice said.
A chill ran up Rafe's spine at the words, one entirely different from the water freezing into icicles in his hair.
He gathered the strength to look up and saw before him, a black lace robe floating about her person, covering every bit of her, including her face, save for her pale as death bare feet. Everything around them stilled, as though the forest itself was holding it's breath. She took silent steps toward him and knelt at his side, pushing aside the hood of her robe to reveal a ghost white face with haunting, unblinking, black eyes with black streaks running down her face like permanent streams of tears.
"Stula," he breathed.
Her black lips smirked. "You evaded me in the stream. I was to escort you from there."
"Save... myself..." he muttered, teeth chattering.
Stula tilted her head to the side, considering him. "So young, yet so strong to escape your fate in the water," she mused. "Well, young Rafe, what would you like to do?"
Rafe stared at her. "What would I like to do?"
"Your heart is growing weaker as we speak. Your body cannot gather heat, and you have minutes, if that, left of your short little life. Once it is through, I can escort you to the next life, the one others have only wondered about but never seen. Or, you are strong. I can use someone strong to do my bidding. Find others like you who try to avoid my arrival," she explained calmly.
"Serve the goddess of death?" Rafe asked.
"And change and maturity," she said. "But yes, death."
"What do I get?"
"Immortality in this world, a new life, strength, magic, freedom when I do not need you."
Rafe shivered, then nodded his head once.
That was all Stula needed. She placed a hand upon his chest a new blast of cold seared through him. He cried out as her magic pierced his body. Upon his arm, a black image of a skeleton's hand holding a rose etched into his skin and he groaned from the wound. When it was completed, a black glow hovered around it, then sank into his body.
Stula stepped back and smiled.
Rafe no longer felt the cold, but then, something cracked from inside of him. He cried out. It happened again, then again, then again, until he was writhing and screaming in pain. He didn't know how long it lasted, but once it was through, he found he now stood upon four legs, and a warm fur coat covered his body.
The clouds above parted and the bright full moon shone through the darkness. The pain subsided, and something else stirred within his chest. A calling.
"You'll get used to the transformation, and will be able to call upon it as you wish," Stula said. She opened her arms as though in invitation.
From his mouth came a long, loud, howl, and he felt free.
And he was hungry.
I wanted to write this piece for last month's flash fiction, but it never came to me! This character, Rafe, from my current work in progress has been swirling about in my head but I haven't been able to see him clearly until recently. This was fun for me to dig into his back story a bit, and to reveal one of the deities for this world's religion I hadn't explored much yet. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
Also, if you're buying some books - check out this offer (and others) from Barnes and Noble, good May 9-15, 2018! (Yes, it's an affiliated link. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!)
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