Friday 5 July 2013

Snow Griffin

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Snow Griffin takes place in the world of the White.

Bar your doors against the winter, little ones, stock your larder and your wood pile, for with the worst winter winds come the White, and the White will whisper your death till your heart and soul believe it, till dead you truly are.

This is a fantasy world, with gods and magic, but one in which certain scholars are beginning to try and explain away natural phenomena with logic, and science. Their conclusion that the White are just a folk tale, a metaphor for snow and a caution against venturing out in the dead of winter, happens to coincide with something darker riling up the all-too-real White.

But that's just background. Magic is definitely real, and most folk are happy to remain superstitious, warm and alive. Heat keeps the White at bay, so the tales say. We join our party of hunters and fire mages as they take a break from tracking a mythical snow griffin, as they discuss what they believe...


"I will believe in snow griffins when I see one," Freya said, "just as I believe in the White because I have seen them."
Borin scoffed, "You are barely old enough to take your own wages, when did you ever see the White?"
She hesitated, watching the tongue of magic flame lick around her fingers for a moment before she replied.
"When I was eight we lived at the foot of the Horned Mountains. The winter was particularly long that year and as the cold dragged on and the stocks ran out, my father decided we would journey south, where the snow might have receded and we might find shelter and food. My mother begged him to change his mind, that the spring may come any day. But that very night there was another snowfall.
"Father took it as a sign the winter was far from ready to release its dogged grip. He insisted we wrap ourselves in furs and leave at the first sign of sun."
"Why not go by himself," Borin interrupted, "why risk you all?"
"He was not sure he would survive a single trip, let alone two. Before we left he pried loose a floorboard and revealed a secret bottle of Avain Brandy even my mother had not known about. It warmed us and cheered us a little as we stepped out into the dead, white world."
Parnell nodded, "I have heard of people drinking spirits to fend off the White. It muddles a man's reasoning, brings fierier, animal thoughts to the fore."
"I don't know if that was my father's thinking, or just something to buoy up our spirits. I imagine you might have to drink a great deal to have no reasoning thoughts to tempt the White, enough that you are as likely to get lost in the snow and die regardless. Anyway, we headed south; father, mother, me and my older sister.
"Half a day through the snow and we still saw no sign of spring. The going was hard and father had to carry me, tired as I was. My sister and mother were tired too, but with my short legs I found the snow harder going. Then the whispers started, like the wind through trees or blowing about the fur of your hood, but shaping words. Barely heard, but there all the same, and strangely calming even though we all knew the stories.
"I think we were afraid, but so tired at the same time. My sister stumbled and fell. And my father turned so that I saw my mother help her up. Then mother stopped and sagged into the snow herself. She looked at us with such helpless eyes, and I felt my father sinking to the ground too, with me still in his arms."
Freya paused. The fire in her palm sizzled once, as if a drop of water had fallen into it, but when she looked up again her eyes were dry.
"My mother started singing, as she did when we went to sleep. An old song I no longer know the words to, old words that I never knew the meaning of. I felt the cold soaking in, like water into a sponge, as if it belonged there. But something didn't agree, something in my core pushed back. My mother's song rang and echoed through my mind and as I slipped into the cold I felt something take flight in my chest. Something as painful as a burning ember.
"I saw them then, the White. Wisps of air, flurries of snow in the shape of lithe little people, dancing around us, leaning in to caress us and whisper in our ears. The one before my face fluttered backwards as I croaked out my pain. Pain which welled in my chest, bursting out as my mother's song continued to swell in my mind even though I could see her lips were blue and unmoving.
"I don't remember what happened next very well, I stumbled in pain and fear and grief, and the snow melted wherever I stepped. Eventually I came to a village and they took me in, cared for me and healed me. There was a shaman among them who recognised the magic in me for what it was.
"When the snows finally receded far enough, the villagers went looking for my family and found nought but husks."
The party was silent.
Borin coughed, "Yes, well."
"I would dearly like to know the song your mother sang," Parnell said.
"I do not remember it. I think I dream of it, sometimes, and wake shivering."