Chapter 10 - The Second Meeting
Winter stared at the man dumbly for a moment, before coming to her senses and grabbing his hand. A nice, warm, tingling sensation curled in her stomach.
"Are you alright?" Irvine asked, glancing around her face for traces of her fall.
Winter nodded quickly. Her mind racing, was this him? The boy from all those years ago? He couldn't be, that Irvine didn't have a sister.
'But she's young enough to have been born after you left,' her conscience justified
"Ah, yes. I'm fine. You just remind me of someone I used to know." Winter explained carefully. Irvine smiled
"Someone nice I hope," he said with a laugh.
"Oh yes, he was very nice." Winter replied, and for a moment her mind drifted back ten years and she thought of the kind, sad little boy. Winter found she was warming to the man before her, whether he was the boy from her past or not. He reminded her of him, which simply wouldn't do.
"I must be going now," Winter decided.
"Aww," whined Lily "But I like you, I decided! Can't you stay with us for a while?"
Winter shook her head quickly. She didn't want to be around these humans. Especially Irvine; If he was her Irvine, she could be in danger.
"Come on Lily, you mustn't bother people," Irvine tried to tug the little girl away but she wasn't having any of it.
"Please Miss! Won't you stay for just a little while. I don't want to go home yet, I have chores to do and I don't want to do chores on a day like today,"
Winter jumped in before Irvine could say anything else,
"Well, I have a couple of things I still have to buy, if your brother is okay with it, you can tag along. Its not very interesting though,"
"Anything is better than chores!" squealed Lily in delight. "Oh, please Irvine. Please!"
The man looked at Winter with a weary expression.
"Are you sure that's ok?" he asked,
Winter was surprised that she had agreed to allowing them to stay with her while she did her shopping, clearly the humans were wearing her down. She nodded in clarification.
"Yes, that fine with me but if I'm not much of a talker," She said, giving herself an escape route if she didn't feel like talking.
Lily bonced on the spot, squealing with delight. "Oh thank you! By the way, are you going anywhere near the food market, because we passed a pork bun place on our way here and they smelt awesome and Irvine promised me I could have one if we passed it later. He didn't want to get it then because he was lazy and the line was long,"
Winter shot the girl a look of amazement as Lily took a deep breath having spat out the most recent speech without pausing to breathe. Irvine shook his head.
"She doesn't stop you know," he told Winter. "Not even in her sleep. It's a nightmare,"
"I can only imagine," Winter mumbled as they started walking towards the food market.
"I have to get some eggs and tea and fresh milk as well as a couple of other stuff, so yes,in all probability that does mean you'll get a pork bun."
Winter noticed a change in the people around her as she walked to the food stalls with company. Normally while she was at the market, unless it was the book man or the grocer, people kept a wide birth and whispered loudly as she walked past. Winter would just shrug it off and ignore them, making people more curious about her snow white hair, strange coloured eyes and spooky markings. She didn't understand that it made her seem more aloof and hard to approach which made the rumours about her circulate faster. At the moment however, people weren't keeping their birth as much. In fact, it was more like she was just another one of the throngs of people milling in market square. It was amazing what having others by your side could do.
"Winter, do you mind me calling you Winter? Mum always tells me that I should people 'Mr' or 'Miss'; did you want me to call you that?" Lily paused in her talking for a moment while she looked expectantly at Winter. Surprised that she was able to speak at all, Winter just shook her head.
"Oh good! Anyway; Winter, why do you look so funny?" Lily blurted out. Winter nearly stumbled, caught un-aware by the question. People didn't normally ask her directly what the reason was for her strange appearance."
"Lily!" admonished Irvine, "You shouldn't ask questions like that. It's rude,"
"No, thats alright," Winter jumped in, "I really don't mind. People don't normally ask me, they just gossip about it so I was a bit surprised thats all."
Lily poked her tongue out at her older brother, who rolled his eyes. While that exchange was going on, Winter tried to think of a way that she could tell the story that she'd created to protect her identity without frightening away these humans.
"Well, the short version is that one night I was a home with my family, and then we got attacked by a Spirit who'd had his home destroyed by hunters earlier that day. It set my house on fire and everyone inside died. I escaped and as I ran from the house the Spirit caught me and put a curse on me; then it left. I eventually tracked it down and made it tell me how to break the curse, but it said that there wasn't a way to break it - just a way to stop it. It showed me the markings that you see on my arms, and told me to say a spell when I'm drawing them on and that would hold it back for as long as the markings last." Winter tried to speak quickly, she didn't like the story because it made her kin out to be evil and the more she told it, the worse she felt. She also didn't like lying to people, which was something she'd learned from Mana. Before their meeting, she'd been very comfortable with it.
"Wow!" Lily gasped, "Thats amazing! Does that mean that your white hair was part of the curse?" she wanted to clarify.
"Nope, born with white hair," Winter didn't mind answering that question as much as the last since she was answering truthfully.
"Really? Thats strange," Irvine commented. Winter nodded in agreement.
"It is rather, but I like it."
"The bun shop!" Lily squealed as she spotted the shop she'd desperatly wanted to go to. "Can I have some money Irvine? Can I?" With a fond chuckle that only a brother who is many years senior to his sibling can make, Irvine handed the little girl some money and watched as she dashed off to buy her pork bun.
"Out of curiousity, what was the curse? If you don't mind me asking," Irvine glanced at Winter. He very obviously wanted to know, but Winter wasn't really sure how to answer. It wasn't a question often posed to her. In fact, the last person who asked her had been Mana, about two years ago.
"It was that I had to live out the rest of my days as the very thing I and my family were fighting against," Winter said causiously.
Irvine looked horrified and taken aback. "Spirits can do that? Turn humans into other Spirits?"
Winter paused, thinking.
"I don't think all of them can, just the really strong or old ones. I haven't met anyone else who had it happen to them, so it can't be that common."
"But what if it was?" Irvine turned a little green, "What if everytime we killed a Spirit we were actually killing a human?"
The spirit part of Winter almost liked that idea. 'Good' it thought 'it would serve you humans right after all the pain and agony that you've inflicted on us,' she thought for the briefest of seconds before the human part of her that had grown after years of living in their company chasied herself, 'Thats not very kind,' it said, 'Besides, the Spirits aren't all good either, a war wasn't the best way how to handle things,'
Winter stood silently while fighting her internal battle and she did so, she realised what an impact living with humans for the past four years had made on her.
"Oh, you're back Lily," Irvine interrupted Winter's musings.
"The man was nice and gave me an extra one," Lily smiled smugly and clutched her pork buns to her chest.
After their stop at the pork bun stand, Winter quickly finished her shopping. She learned that Irvine actually lived in the city all year round, and his sister was here with their father selling crops and stock and buying other things they'd need for the coming winter. Lily and the rest of Irvine's family lived out of town on a farm, but when he'd become old enough he tried his hand at going to the big city and earning his own way. At present, it wasn't enough to write home about but it was enough to live on. Winter couldn't help but feel that this was the Irvine, the one from ten years ago. The pieces fit after all; lived on a farm, right name, right age but that meant that she had to be extremely causious around him to not reveal her secret.
Eventually, Winter had to say goodbye to the siblings and hurry home, but not before Lily made her promise to come and visit her dads stall in the next week. Winter agreed to drop by, and she couldn't stop herself from thinking that as soon as she saw their father she would know for sure if this Irvine was her Irvine. She arrived home in a bustle of snow and cold wind, and was shocked to find Mana and a strange man sitting in the kitchen.
Chapter Number Ten - Next time we get to find out what the letter is that Jason has for Winter.
PS - To any people who jumped straight to this chapter, in case you're interested I added more to the previous chapter about Mana and Jason - if want to read a bit more about them, its there :)