Hidden Heroes in the Fire
Flame staggered through the snow sinking in below her knees every step. She slipped off another small ledge and landed in a pile of soft snow. She didn’t think that she had ever been so cold. She hadn’t even known cold like this existed as she shook the snow off and stood up. She had been stumbling down the mountain and around this icy wasteland wearing only a short fire-colored dress with a low-cut back, small petal like cap sleeves, and a thin red ribbon that tied around her neck. It did little to keep her warm. She was grateful for the red slippers on her feet, but holes had begun to wear through the soft fabric and were now useless.
Wrapping her arms around herself tightly and shivering, Flame pushed forward, not having any hope for an end to her path. She didn’t know what else to do, but to press on. To give up and stop moving was to give in to death, but she was a fighter who wouldn’t just surrender.
A single tear trickled down Flame’s cheek and froze before it could even slip to her chin. The wind picked up and bit her bare arms, sending a chill up her spine. She wanted to scream at the cold, but knew it wouldn’t do any good. She vainly attempted to push her long orange streaked blonde hair out of her face as it whipped around with little icicles clinging to the individual strands. The frozen tear slid down her face and fell to the snow. This kind of cold could have killed an earth fairy by now, but a snow fairy would thrive out here the way she thrived at the lava pits.
The wind sliced through Flame’s dress, sending goose-bumps down her arms. She couldn’t help but think that the wind never blew like this back home in the fairy realm. During the winter, there were only little snow storms and mild temperatures didn’t stop the flowers from blooming.
She wondered what she had gotten herself into when she had made the choice to leave home and broke a few laws to get banished. Maybe she hadn’t made the right choice. She could never survive out here alone. She now understood why banishment was considered the same as death. A fairy wasn’t expected to survive in the human world.
Another involuntary shiver racked her whole body. She had begun to doubt herself the last couple of days, but stubbornness kept her numb feet shuffling forward. She had been out in the wild alone for only two days before she realized that she wasn’t nearly as strong, powerful, and independent as she once believed herself to be. Even worse, she had begun to miss the sounds of life and voices, sounds that had once annoyed her: The hum of fairy wings always beating and reminding you that you were never alone, the laughter of young ones who never give her solitude, the earth fairies always sweet-talking their plants or the insects, or even the sound of elder fairies nagging her for not following their ways. During these few weeks out in this barren world, Flame realized that some laws would have been worth keeping if it meant staying warm and safe with her mother.
She heard the howls of a wolf pack. The sound was clear and loud. The predators were closer than before. She began to fear that they might come after her. The winter had been so severe that the few deer and moose that she had seen had all been near starvation and their herds had been small. She wondered if the wolves would find enough prey to survive this winter, or if they would begin to hunt other things. Things like her.
Flame’s stomach rumbled, begging for food. She looked down at her thin waist and patted her tummy. She was getting hungry. She had plenty to drink from the snow, though she hated taking the cold substance into her body. It was food she worried about. Nothing was growing in this weather, not fruits or vegetables.
She spotted an old tree and pushed the snow aside underneath it. She found many fallen branches. Carefully pulling the bark from the branches, she broke them into small pieces. She struggled to chew the bark and managed to swallow. Her stomach groaned at the food, but bark was the only thing she could find to eat. She was grateful for that much. Deer were among the few others that could survive on bark if they had to, though she was sure they enjoyed it more than her. It had been what kept her going once it froze. The bark had a bittersweet taste and her body had to work hard to digest it, but she knew it could be worse. At least with this snow she wasn’t competing with the bugs for the bark. She had tasted bug droppings once before and she thought she was going to lose everything and blow pixie dust. She learned that even if the bark didn’t look like it had been chewed on she would break it up into little pieces and wash it before eating. Now the thought of washing anything in this cold was unbearable. To her relief, the bark was clean in winter. The melted snow washed away the debris and new snow kept her food safe.
Flame took another bite of bark, then dug through the snow for more. Her hand hit a pile of sticks and she thought ‘I’m flourishing! There’s a whole stock pile here.’ She pushed the snow away from it and gasped. Tears began to run down her cheeks again, freezing halfway, then sliding off as drops of ice. She stared down at a large pile of old bones. Hating all the death in this frozen world, she pushed the snow back over the bones. She had never seen death, although the fairy elders spoke of it. Not killing was an unspoken law that was never broken by her people back home. No one ever killed anyone, or intentionally hurt them. Without a violent death, a fairy lived forever. Flame had heard of two accidental deaths, one being a snail that someone had accidently crushed. There had been a funeral for the little guy the week before she was born. Another was an ice fairy who had become lost and wandered near the lava river that bordered the fairy realm a decade before she had been born, so she had never had to see it. She knew that some wild animals ate other creatures. If hungry enough, they might try to eat her. Before she was banished, that fact had seemed to be more of a human-tale. Now she was living the nightmare. Death surrounded her in many forms: Those who had already died and lay hidden under the snow, those that were slowly wasting away from starvation, and those who were stalking her to claim her life.
Flame jumped at the sound of paws running across the snow. She wondered if the wolves would come for the bones. She needed to get out of there. Now that her stomach was full, she stood and began trudging through the ice and snow again. She was still shivering and her fingers, which were growing number by the minute, took on a light blue tint. The remnants of her shoes wouldn’t last long and she began to worry about it. Lost in thought, she wondered what she might make to replace them.
The snowflakes whipped around Flame’s face, biting at her cheeks and eyes. Lost in thought, she didn’t realize she had stumbled onto the side of a lake from the limited view she got through her squinted eyes. Her foot slipped out from under her as she stepped on the ice, fell onto her back, and slid out onto the snow-covered ice. She whimpered with pain just as the ice cracked. She felt it splintering under her bare back.
Cautiously, she rolled to her stomach and attempted to crawl off the breaking ice, but it gave way and her left hand plunged into the icy water. She yelped again and yanked it out of the water. The shattering ice continued to spread. She had to get off of it now. She hadn’t thought her weight could break anything.
Looking around quickly, Flame tried to decide what to do. She felt that something else must have weakened the thick ice. The weak ice could have been a result of the extra heat from her body. Her temperature always ran higher then everyone else’s, even fire fairies like her. Though she didn’t feel the extra heat her body was giving her now, she knew it was the only reason she had survived this blizzard that had been raging for the last week.
Flame gingerly let her fire wings slide out of her back. She gasped as the cold wind ripped at them. How could it hurt so much? The snowflakes left a burning sensation as they gently landed on her wings, hurting more than the rain ever had and the wind pulled at her wings. She had always hated rain on her wings; it felt like little tiny needles stabbed through the delicate skin. This was worse, but she attempted to gently beat her wings. Squeezing her eyes shut to will away the pain, she attempted to push herself up.
The ice gave way under Flame’s hip and her spine dipped. She mentally chided herself for thinking about rain instead of flying to safety. Her wings fluttered harder; gradually her back began to rise. She pushed her wings with more energy, trying to compensate for the moist frigid air that made it hard to fly. Her wings felt stiff and likely to rip in this weather. She finally rose from the ice.
Hoping to find a safe place to land, she flew straight, not sure how long her wings would function and unwilling to test the limits. She hadn’t gone far before her wings ached with every flutter. Scanning the landscape, she looked for a safe place to land. Out here the trees were sparse. The few that were out were tall and leafless. Snow stretched as far as the eye could see and covered mountain cliffs to the east and north. She spotted a pine tree and sighed in relief. She could take shelter under its branches.
Flame landed and slid next to the tree to shield herself from the onslaught of snowflakes, then gently ran her hands over every inch of her numb wings to make sure there was no damage and to help warm them up. Most of the pain eased. She had torn her wing once on a thorn and had felt like she had been stabbed. Fairy wings were sensitive and took longer to heal than wounds on other parts of the body. This world had been so harsh that she had kept them carefully tucked away. The worst pain fairies could feel was losing their wings, or so she had heard. Most wouldn’t survive that ordeal and the few who did were never the same. To lose one’s wings was to have part of your heart cut out.
Once Flame was sure her wings were safe, she let them slide into her bare back. Dropping to her knees, she crawled under the tree for better shelter. She looked up through the branches and smiled at the birds and squirrels that were also huddled there. A rabbit hopped over and leaned against her side and a squirrel leapt down from the tree and curled up on her shoulder. She smiled again, grateful for the added warmth and the company. Before she knew it, most of the animals had come to perch on her or to curl up by her side. Because she was a fairy, the animals didn’t fear her.
She reached out, pushed the shallow layer of snow away from the dirt and attempted to light a fire. She began to hyperventilate when nothing happened. Usually she could easily will the fire to leap from her warm veins to her hands. Panicking inside, she stroked the little squirrel to warm her hand enough to light her fire. An hour must have passed before she could let a small flame burst from her hands and flickered delicately on the spot of dirt. It didn’t grow or shrink, and it didn’t need wood to burn. A few animals jumped away from the flame, but slowly eased back to her side.
Flame warmed her hand that had plunged into the lake by the flame. The water had already frozen and slid off her skin, but the chill had reached her bones. She began to breathe easier as the blue tint in her fingers began to fade. With time and patience, she would feel the fire spread through her veins again. She was still amazed she had made it this far. Tears of relief rolled down her cheeks. They didn’t freeze this time, but fell to the earth like gentle dew.
There had only been two times in her life when the fire had died in her veins: When she had thrown all of her fire to the outside of her body and been doused with cold water. The first time it had happened, she was playing with her fire-magic, testing her limits. A bear had fallen into a nearby pond causing water to cover her. She had passed out because of the pain. The second time was shortly after recovering, she had repeated that incident to prove that she could stay conscious. She’d gotten in trouble for doing that to herself. As a mere child, she had impressed the fairy elders that she had been strong enough to withstand the trauma. They had struggled to find the right punishment so that she would learn her lesson.
Flame supposed she never had really learned her lesson, but at least she was warm and safe for now. She still didn’t know what she would do in the morning, but she knew that she needed a plan. She never thought she would miss a place to call home, but in this frozen nightmare she saw how good her life had been, and how much others cared for her.
Flame shook her head. Those days were gone forever and nothing would bring them back. Determined to survive, she would make herself worthy of her new home this time. She was done being an ungrateful brat.
She unfolded her wings, stretched them then relaxed them around herself and the animals. Before long, they were all happily sleeping with the warmth of the small fire; even the stubborn little raven at the top of the tree who didn’t want to sleep next to the sparrow.
Flame yawned as she woke up, and waved her hand over the little fire that didn’t give off smoke or smell so the air was still clean and pure. The fire disappeared, leaving no trace that it had burnt there all night. She needed to get moving.
The animals all moved away as she got up and stretched. She patted the head of the little rabbit that was staring up at her. When she offered it a piece of bark, the bunny made some happy-sounding noises and ate the bark just like the deer did. She wished that she could eat the bark that easily, but reminded herself to be grateful that it was food that she could digest; otherwise, she would starve.
Flame looked up as the squirrel brushed against one of her wings, then licked it and wiped his tongue with his paws. He had discovered that her wings didn’t taste good. She laughed softly. She knew she took too much pride in her wings. They resembled a monarch butterfly’s wings, but the pattern made them look like fire. They were a little longer than her torso. She loved the way her wings seemed to dance with flames when she beat them. That is why her mother had given her the name Flame.
The wind slipped through the branches of the tree and stung her wings. She whimpered with a little shiver as she pulled her wings back in, tucking them away from the full cold that she was about to brave once again. She crawled out from under her tree.
Flame hadn’t made it far when she heard the now-familiar howling of the wolves. Turning around, she saw three white and gray coats darting down a rocky hill towards her. She gasped as a small wave of fear flooded her. She heard their hungry growls. They wanted to eat her. She turned to run, but tripped over a tree root and fell face-first into the snow. She gasped from the cold. She lay shivering for a second too long. By the time she got to her feet they were snapping at her dress. One jumped forward and his white fangs snapped in her face. She fell again. A scream escaped her lips and the wolves howled. She tried to push them away as one bit into her leg. She screamed again as drops of her blood melted the snow. Her heart pounded and she was afraid she was going to die as one of the wolves bit her arm. She attempted to bring the fire from her veins to her skin to protect her, but her shivering body wouldn’t even bring forth a small flame.