Chapter nine: Frozen Waters

It's cold. Where am I?

It's too dark. I can't see. I don't want to see. I don't want to know.

I don't want to remember.

Everything hurts. Am I alive? I hope I'm not. I hope that this is death.

Please, let me be dead. Please , God, don't let me

wake up.

Tayu shivered and pulled her blanket around her arms tightly. Something cold and wet brushed against her cheek, making her shiver again and bury her head into her blanket as well. A moment later, another cold brush swiped by her ear. She swatted at the thing instinctively, waking herself up with an unintended slap to the temple. After a moment of surprise, she looked down accusingly at the small figure lying in her bed. "Amy?" she hissed, not sure what she had done to deserve a slap in the face. The little girl didn't seem to notice, though, and only responded by stirring in her sleep and nestling further into the pillow tucked in her arms. Tayu watched for a minute longer, but her sister appeared to be legitimately asleep. She huffed impatiently and began to lay back down herself, but another cold prickle landed on her nose, making her jump. Feeling the small dot of wetness on her nose, she rubbed it away and turned to the open window to her right. It was pitch black outside, but the moon was nowhere to be found. It could have been any time in the morning. However, the streetlights below were most certainly illuminating the sky outside her window, but the pinpoints of light were steadily drifting down onto the white streets below in a horribly familiar pattern.

"No… already?" she grumbled, rubbing her eyes and reaching up to close the wooden shutters, grabbing for the bag of puckermint hidden behind a curtain while she was at it. "Winter's nearly over, for Pete's sakes. Why is it snowing now?" She tore a puckermint leaf in half and gritted her teeth as she swallowed. It was as foul as ever, but she had gotten better about letting it show. She set it carefully back in place with a bit of guilt.

She had gotten a small raise recently, but the extra money was mostly going to little satchels of puckermint. On one hand, she had learned that it took a much smaller amount of puckermint to ease her morning headaches. On the other, she was pretty sure that the herb peddler thought that she was an addict after buying two satchels at once a month ago. Actually, it was a miracle that she hadn't become an addict. She had heard that most could become dependent on the leaves after a few weeks, but she had been going for nearly half a year. She knew that she should look into a healer of some sort, but after the fiasco that Amun had tangled himself into, she was pretty sure that wasn't a good idea.

She turned back to the window, glaring at the flakes from the slats. The white snow drifting into her window used to fascinate her. It did not snow often in Bayr's humid climate, and when it did, it rarely stuck around for long. In fact, she had seen it cover the ground only once, when she was nine years old. She had the time of her life rolling snowballs and making angels in the ground at the orphanage—it was, in fact, one of her most vivid and precious memories. However, nowadays, the thought of walking outside in the cold weather made her wrinkle her nose in distaste and bury her head further back into her warm blanket.

"Mmm… Cold," she sighed to herself, tucking her legs up as far as she could without disturbing her sleeping sister. "Of course you have to come once I don't want you, don't you?"

The cold weather was one of the things that she used to look forward to. Now, though, she was so much more sensitive to the cold, and wasn't looking forward to the snow at all. Amun had warned her when they last spoke a week before that she should stay away from any sort of ice. Apparently, it didn't sit well with most merfolk and could make her break out in rashes. She had taken his word for it and kept away from the rare icy treat, though it was going to be a bit harder to ignore when it was falling from the sky. In fact…

She rubbed her nose, which was beginning to tingle uncomfortably. "Well," she grumbled, scooting out from under the covers and away from the window. "At least I don't have work." Making her way to the washbasin, she looked back into the mirror that hung above the water and gave a small smile at what she saw.

Since Amun had told her about her mixed blood nearly four months ago, she had been careful about being in the sunlight and being in the water more often. The results were amazing. Within a week of washing herself every night, she noticed her sunburns fading away. Not only that, but the few cuts and scrapes she managed to give herself in the kitchen would fade away within minutes of being soaked. Her hair, which was slowly growing back below her ears, had regained its luster, though it dried out more quickly than the rest of her. The most interesting difference, though, was the way her eyes changed. Though they still seemed to react to her emotions, they didn't appear to change as much as they did when her magic had first been unlocked. Before, they would change at her every thought. Now, they stayed at about the same blue-gray tone until something made her quite upset. She had managed to hide them from everyone but Amy and Ji so far, but Ji hadn't brought it up since, and Amy hadn't asked any questions. Hopefully, she could keep this going until she had an idea of what else to do. That seemed to be a pattern that was becoming awfully familiar in her life.

A faint cock's crow in the distance announced that the sun was about to rise. Tayu slumped back into the bed, still grumbling. "Bugger off," she complained, burying her face in her pillow. "I don't need any of this today." Another snowflake crept in and landed on the back of her neck. She grabbed the pillow and threw it on top of her head, screaming quietly into her mattress to resist the urge to scratch. "I'm sleeping right here until noon, you bloody thing, or else I'll have chicken and dumplings for breakfast!"

Amun chuckled to himself as she cursed the bird under her breath. In his crow body, it sounded like tiny croaks. It was rare to catch her with her guard so down; she had her cute moments after all. It almost made him want to bring the bird closer, but he didn't want to draw attention to himself. He was supposed to be on watch, and wasn't interested in turning his position around.

He hopped along the roof next to another crow, which ruffled its white breast in annoyance and took off to preen itself on another roof nearby. He ignored it and looked out over the dark ocean, where the sun was beginning to rise, though the light it gave off was too faint for human eyes to detect. His shift was almost over. His wife was probably wondering where he was—he had given her hints, but wasn't quite ready to spill the news. It was bad enough that he knew where she was. He could almost say the girl was safer without him…


He hopped in a circle, fluffing his wings to shake off the falling snow. He couldn't keep this up forever. At least two other Spirits were becoming suspicious, he had heard. He was fairly certain they wouldn't try to follow him, but on the off chance they succeeded, things could get out of hand very fast. What he needed was someone else to take care of her. But there was no one that he could trust quite yet. There was no real safe way to handle the situation—as soon as word got out, she would be completely vulnerable. The council was inefficient, too slow for such things. By the time that they met and decided what to do with her, she would be torn apart by the unseelie princes. No. He couldn't go to the Spirits. And he certainly couldn't go to his own kind—he knew exactly what he would have done in their places, and none of it would be good for the girl. She would be dead by morning.

And all of this because one man who should have known better couldn't keep his damned hands to himself.

He could always leave her, of course. No one was forcing him to protect her. After all, her magic was so torn and twisted that he himself didn't recognize it until he was literally on top of her. If he replaced the seal and let her go, she could probably live her life out with no one the wiser.

…But it was too late at this point. If word—when word got out that he knew about her, he would be in some rather deep shit indeed. Very, very deep shit. The kind of shit that he wouldn't be able to climb out of for the rest of his life if word got out at the wrong time to the wrong people. So he had to make sure word didn't get out. Not until he was ready for it. Not until she was ready for it.

Besides, the girl was interesting in her own way. She wasn't a remarkable girl by any means, but she had her ups and downs. And, even more curiously, those nightmares that she was having… They were what had originally prompted him to start staking out her apartment at night. It sounded like a very fey kind of trick to pull, after all. But now he was sure that it was, in fact, magic, but not of any fey. It was raw, wild magic, from the other end of the spectrum. Elf, dragon, Fates kind of magic. And, of course, the kind of magic that repelled him like the polar end of a magnet. The kind he couldn't touch or trace at all. On one hand, it didn't appear to me malicious, as he had expected. On the other, from the way it was affecting her, it didn't seem to care for her wellbeing. It had another purpose, and it wasn't one that was going to reveal itself to him anytime soon. But it did have a purpose, and it wasn't going to kill her off until it had its way. Probably.

So, for now, all he could do was shake the snow off of his back and wait. If there was anything that he had learned in his thousands of years, it was that time would tell all.

As the other crows on the rooftops stirred and took off for their morning circles, Amun followed suit, following for a short while before ducking into an alley to weave his way back home. A few minutes later, the murder settled back, just the same as before.

A white-breasted crow hopped back onto his spot that had so rudely been taken and continued preening itself. When it was satisfied that its feathers were in good order, it settled down for a quick nap. Though, anyone who was paying close enough attention would wonder why the bird kept one eye half-open, unblinking, staring into the window of a peculiar long-legged girl's apartment across the street. They might even say that its eyes glittered, looking more like a hungry wolf's than a crow's.

Author's Corner

The good news is that I'm not dead. The bad news is that I might as well be, for all the writing I've been doing.

I'm really sorry that I haven't been writing regularly. But the thing is, I really haven't been in the writing mood, and I would rather wait half a year and give you guys a somewhat-decent update than give you a horrible, choppy, half-assed chapter every month. If you really don't have that kind of patience, then I'm sorry, and this is probably not a story you want to keep up with. But I am writing, as slow as it may be. I'm just being a lot more careful about it.

So, long story short, this story is continuing, and will be until I get this finished and over with! How long that takes, however, is another story.

To everyone who's still keeping up with this, I love you, and you are perfect and beautiful, and don't let you tell yourself otherwise, unless you're me, in which case, if you're reading this, you need to get that boohiney in gear and get off of your A/Ns and into your homework young lady.

HiveOfHappenings: Thank you so much. _(:'3l )lL I'm going to do my best to see this through until the end! I can do it maybe, but again, thank you for the encouragement.

d12e8k6: ….Taadaaaaaaaaaaa- /is pelted with vegetables/

Kippy: Good job figuring out her origins! Although maybe I made it a bit too obvious… hmm… Anyway, no, the mother and child at the beginning of the story are not related to Tayu in the least! They were mostly there to give a kind of backstory to the Stepway itself and actually takes place several hundred years before this part of the story… All will be explained in due time! HOPEFULLY! Also, to answer your question, merfolk are not fey, though they are "related" in that they have the same kind of chaotic, self-serving magic. Basically, there are two types of magic, and merfolk + fey use one kind, elves + dragons use the other, and humans are kind of stuck in the middle, capable of using either but not having the capacity that the "pure" users have. It's kind of confusing, but it too will be explained! EVENTUALLY! ;3;

x-rayLady: The two stories are pretty different! The first one was pretty much a fluffy romance for the sake of romance, while this one is a bit more of an exploration/growing up/learning about things/thinking more about love and what it really means/also hey look fairies and dragons and whoa is that a talking cat wat? Kind of story. Except hopefully it doesn't get into depressing, moody stuff. That's what the talking cats are for. ;U

Ashmir: Thank you thank you thank you. :'3 I'm always a little worried that my new writings are totally different than before, but I guess it's good to hear that.

Thank you everyone, seriously. I would be lying if I said that I don't flip out a little bit every time I see a new review or like in my e-mail, especially when I'm on such long leaves without warning. I know I'm not the only one, so I'm just gonna put it out there that when I'm having a bad day, I just go through the reviews and notes that I've gotten and it just puts a huge happy smile on my face and makes everything just a little bit better.

Aaaaand now that I'm through being such a dork, while I haven't been writing as much as I'd like, I've been drawing a lot of very Stepway-related things! IF YOU ARE UNAFRAID OF SPOILERS, you can go to my tumblr, sketchy-sketchy, and search through posts tagged "The-Stepway". Again, MANY SPOILERS AHOY! SAIL AT YE OWN RISK! Alas very little of the blog is Stepway related I apologize.

-twerks into the sunset-