Chapter Ten

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          Siobhan grabbed her boots from beside the sheepskins the lionesses had given her to sleep in. Wren still slept in his own pile across the tent. It had taken hours to calm him down long enough to understand they needed to wait for first light. She knew she should wake him, the sun was beginning to peak from its slumber, but she decided to give him a few more minutes. She grabbed her and Elias' bags from the floor and stepped out of the tent.

Piles of snow coated the ground in a thick sheet of white. Tracks, both human and lioness, traveled throughout the camp. Siobhan pulled her cowl out of her bag and threw it over her head, pulling the hood up. Cold didn't bother her, not when frost sped through her blood at the use of her magic, but it still would cause her to fall ill like anyone else. She made note to ask if the lionesses could spare furs for the final stretch to Firnlan. At the very least, Wren would need them to stay warm.

Flurries drifted around her as she walked to the small corral holding the few horses the lionesses had. Children giggled and ran around her as if she were a game they were playing. They were funny creatures, shifter children. Compared to her childhood, they seemed free to be children. Not forced to endure endless classes on history and etiquette like Siobhan's childhood. She smiled, watching one copper haired boy intentionally fall in pile of snow, his sisters jumped on top. Until they reached sixteen, the children would still have their hair. After sixteen, they'd shave their heads and be marked with their prides tattoos. In a way, boys were lucky because they didn't have to deal with the deformities the pride insisted on having. Not that tattoos were a deformity, Siobhan simply felt they shouldn't be forced on anyone.

She leaned down and grabbed a handful of snow, smashing it into the ball. When she turned around, walking backwards, she launched it at the pile of shifters. Their high-pitched laughs echoed through the foothills as they started their own snowball fight. She smiled and turned back to her path toward the horses.

It didn't take her long to notice something was wrong. Lionesses didn't keep many horses, only a handful to pull their wagons. What need did they have of animals when they were animals themselves? If one died, it was easy to notice. Siobhan closed her eyes at the sight of a horse lying on its side in the middle of the snow. Though the legs of the standing horses and snow resting on the body of the prone horse blocked most of her view, she knew who it was.

Nyka.

Siobhan touched a hand to her chest and hopped over the wooden fencing. Zelick and Wren's horse nibbled on the grass hanging in buckets from the posts. Their saddles and bags Siobhan didn't care to keep any eye on still hung over the side of a fence, covered in snow. Life moved in slow motion from the wind brushing the braided manes of the shifter's horses, to the flurries sticking to loose strands of Siobhan's hair. Nyka could simply be sleeping. It wasn't uncommon for the old mare to sleep like a person. She was the most human horse Siobhan had ever met.

There was a time she wondered if the horse was a shifter who'd become stuck in their shift. There were legends of wild animals with the soul of a person who simply couldn't turn anymore. Nyka ate the same foods as Siobhan, tried to sleep in bed with her when she smuggled her into her room, and she swore the horse understood her. When Siobhan was sad, Nyka was there for comfort. When the dark would scare her, Nyka was there. She was a mother that Siobhan never knew.

But Nyka wasn't sleeping. The snow on her side continued to grow under the flurries and didn't move. Black eyes were wide, staring into the abyss of the world. Flies circled her face, her legs, and everywhere they could get a taste of the old horse's hide. Siobhan touched the horse's neck, stroking it.

"Oh Nyka," Siobhan whispered, dropping her and Elias' bags beside her.

Briana's voice came from behind her. "Her life force must've slipped in the night."

Draygon Frost | Book 1  | ✔️Where stories live. Discover now