Chapter 33: Thawing

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Snow pressed into the side of my face. The cold prickled and hurt. But it was just another, lesser hurt compared to the cuff burns on my wrists and the pain in my shoulder, so I didn't spare much thought for it. I was too tired. It was the paradox between the extra pain lying on my side put on my shoulder versus the faint relief of the numbing cold that dominated my half-consciousness.

That was all there was. The snow and the darkness and the pain, and the overwhelming relief of knowing it was over.

I wasn't sure how long it had been since the man who left me here had knocked on a nearby door and talked quietly to someone before walking away; drifting in and out, it was hard to hold onto anything solid. I guess a while, if I was starting to go numb. At any rate, I'm sure my impression that it had been hours by the time the door opened again was not correct.

But it felt that way, as warm light cut through the darkness and someone spoke.

"A messenger left a delivery? Outside?" This voice felt familiar and soothing. Everything ached more in comparison.

"Sorry miss, I asked if he wanted to bring it in and he said it was to be left outside for the guests. I figured you're the guests, miss."

"I suppose. There is something out there — bring a lantern?"

"Here." That was a male voice, someone else. Too many people to care about. I stopped paying attention and reached for sleep.

A sharp scream jolted the darkness. Light flared behind my eyelids.

Suddenly warm hands pulled my head from the snow, felt my neck and wrists. They were quick movements, panicked. The scream crumbled into heaving, sobbing gasps, pulling in air for another burst.

"Stop that! She's alive." It was whoever touched me, in a voice that tried to sound commanding but still shook. "Help me."

Arms wrapped around me and lifted me up. I struggled but all my limbs felt weak. I don't think the person carrying me even noticed.

"My god."

"She's alright."

"She is not alright."

The voices around me varied — panicked, shocked, grim. I was still barely conscious but the touching and the scared voices triggered every instinct still working.

"Get away!" My voice was hoarse and startled even me. "Get away get away get away—" I flailed, panicked. Screaming and pleading hadn't stopped Iso.

"Put her down!"

"My god," someone said again.

"She's terrified, listen to her!"

As I choked trying to refill my lungs, the arms gently released me. My own arms gave out as I tried to support myself and then I was lying down, shaking.

There was more noise, instructions being shouted, people being called in. It set me on edge, but at least jolted me more fully awake.

It was suffocatingly warm. I drew in lungfuls of heat to thaw my body. Melting snow left wet tracks down my face and soaked my clothes.

Blinking water out of my eyes, I saw the reddish cast of a nearby fire over my vision and felt warm, hard ground beneath me. I coughed and tried desperately to figure out where I was.

As I calmed down, the constant stream of reassurances being murmured to me came into focus. "Morie, look at me. It's okay. Talk to me. You're safe."

I knew that voice, that soothing voice from earlier. I trembled, wanting to believe it. "Nemia?" My voice cracked.

"I'm here," she answered. Her hands took mine, squeezed my cold fingers in her warm ones.

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