Flames lick the ground behind her, lascivious tongues of flame laving furrows of black and red and she stumbles her way from the forest, towards the road. The heat is oppressive, a dance that’s spun out of her control; what she thought she had held firmly under her thumb is writhing its way out, a filament at a time. Each breath weighs in her lungs after it tears through her throat, like swallowing dry bricks of gun powder, particle filled combustibles that float back through her cracked lips as she wheezes out and huffs, and digs for just a few more strides.
It was a game, just a game, she thinks, desperately searching for a path through the underbrush to lead her to fresh air. Her shoulders hunch forward as branches creak and crack and crash, the groan of the trees before they lose their limbs rumbling Earth gods challenging her to outrun their burning, wayward children. She has overstayed her welcome in this land.
A flash, matte black, a split second glimpse when she dashes around a half hidden lump of a log. She changes direction mid-stride, careening with feckless abandon, high stepping across the hot ground lest she be caught up by something hidden under the ashy debris.
She bursts through the tree line, tries to whoop and ends bent double, hacking and spitting polluted breath. She decides that breathing freely is freedom bellow enough. Before she pulls herself upright, she catches a susurrus from the corner of her ear that has nothing to do with fire. She looks up.
A dusting of snow glitters across the road, frozen motes dancing upwards on a wafting breeze. Coalescing, they swirl hypnotically, snaking across the asphalt away from her. She watches, rapt, as these snow snakes meet and twirl upwards, ribboning together, a form emerging from their wintry midst.
As the trees stood as Earth gods, so she too is a goddess, a goddess of the Sky, of Snow and of Ice. Her hair is carved in glittering whorls; her smile, when it breaks across her face, is tantalizing, terrifying, in equal measure.
“You must cross the road, at some point.” Her words strike the air with the ting of falling icicles, and the girl blanches.
“But…but…I would freeze. I have no protection.” She is not ready to be frozen in place, she does not want to be molded as this beautiful goddess is molded. Not yet.
The glacial goddess inclines her head. “This is the truth. I am implacable, yet not without mercy. You may bring a spark with you when you cross, so that you may remain fluid.”
Nervous now, the girl starts at a sting on her ankle, automatically reaching down towards the tender spot. A teardrop of flame clings to her finger, clambers into her palm with a purpose of movement and sits there, warming without harming, and glows happily.
“This will protect me?” she asks, although she already feels tenderly towards the tiny drop, and wants to protect it in turn.
“If you do not forget to nurture it.”
“Then I will cross.” She places a bare foot on the frozen road, and takes a tentative step.