Disclaimer: Valdemar and concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey; lyrics are from the song "Be Still" by The Fray; this story and any original characters belong to their author.
Notes: Because I heard this song (on Criminal Minds, of all places), fell in love with it and couldn't not write something tragic with it! I will always, always be an angst bunny, apparently. But hey, at least it's something I'm good at, right? Haha.
Be Still follows some of the plethora of new characters that have been cropping up in my musebox of a head lately; Herald Kicha Burns and her Companion, Joti, and Herald Trish Medelsen and her Companion, Rorrim. Kicha and Joti will likely not make it into any other fics, but Trish and Rorrim might at some point in the future. Possibly. Maybe. idek lol. XD
:I think… I hate winter.:
"Yeah. Me too."
Be still and know that I'm with you,
Be still and know that I am here,
It had come on suddenly, fast, furious and inescapable; a sort of loud, cracking sound, followed by a rush air, the rumbling of the earth under their feet and a million tons of white powder bearing down on them.
Kicha and Joti had been ahead of their partners on the trail and were hit the hardest— much more harshly than Herald Trish and her Companion, Rorrim, had been. As soon as the realization of what was happening struck home Joti began a desperate spin, hooves sliding in her panic—but she wasn't fast enough. Her legs were swept out from under her before she could even begin to get out of the way.
She and Kicha rolled and tumbled violently, blinded by the snow and dirt, skin, hide and clothing tearing under the onslaught, bones snapping, and unable to even scream because their breath was entirely stolen away by the impact. Only barely did Kicha continue to cling to Joti's saddle and neck, managing to avoid being completely torn away from her Companion. If they were separated, she was certain they would never find each other again.
When they finally came to a stop, they were under ten feet of frozen mountaintop.
Be still and know that I'm with you,
Be still, be still, and know.
There was only darkness around them. But not the same as moonless nights or deep rock caverns. Instead it was a strange white-black, shadowy and disorienting, cloaking them beneath the mountain's snow.
At first Kicha could barely see anything in the gloom, but as her eyes adjusted she began to make out shapes. Most were sharp, jagged—they had somehow, miraculously, come to rest beneath several converging slabs of ice. The frozen sheets created a small pocket, saving them from being crushed and supplying them with a limited amount of precious air to breathe.
Her voice sounded muffled, the sound dulled by the insulating snow.
There was a long silence before Joti responded.
:Here… Chosen. To your left, I think...: A whuffed breath accompanied the mare's Mindvoice, as if to prove her words. But the sound was harsh, rough and tinged with pain.
Kicha immediately knew something was very seriously wrong. Shifting around carefully, she belly-crawled over to Joti's side.
The snow cave directly around the Companion was a little larger than where Kicha had come to a stop—big enough that she could sit up. So she did just that, leaning back against the icy wall even as she was reaching out, half-blind still, to feel for Joti.
After a moment of groping her hands met with soft hair, damp from the snow. Kicha sighed out a relieved noise—but that came to a crashing halt shortly after, when she ran one hand down Joti's face and across her nose.
Her fingers came away sticky, slick and coated in half-congealed blood.
When darkness comes upon you,
And covers you with fear and shame,
:What about you? Are you alright?:
"How badly, Joti?"
:I—I think my legs are broken.:
:…all of them.:
Be still and know that I'm with you,
And I will say your name.
Joti's injuries went beyond just her legs. Kicha wasn't a Healer, but even she could easily tell that much—despite the fact that she couldn't see well. The Companion's labored breathing made it clear that something was wrong in her chest, as did the blood that was freely dripping from her nostrils.
In the dark it was hard to assess more than that. Kicha could only feel her way around to take stock of the situation.
While she was free to move unencumbered, her blind fumbling clarified that Joti was half-buried: from mid-back downward the mare was encased in tightly-packed, crushing snow. Kicha felt along the hard ice wall, but there was no way she could dig Joti out, especially with just her bare hands.
:Chosen? My saddle is twisted. It's digging in. Could you…?:
Kicha almost laughed. They were trapped in an avalanche field, her legs were broken and they stood a good chance of freezing to death if they were lucky, and Joti was worried about her saddle?
Then again, with the amount of pain she was in, Kicha supposed the added bellyband pinching was probably pretty irritating. So rather than point out the irony of Joti's complaint, she simply felt around until she could locate the saddle buckles and, with a little trouble, pulled them all loose before shoving the saddle itself out of the way as much as possible.
Without responding, Kicha moved back around and sat again, closer to her Companion this time—until Joti could rest her head in her lap.
They were both silent for a long time after that.
If terror falls upon your bed,
And sleep no longer comes,
:I'm so tired…:
"I know. But we have to stay awake."
:I don't know if I can.:
"If we fall asleep we'll freeze to death."
:I'm half-frozen already.:
"But you're not dead yet."
:No… not yet.:
Remember all the words I said,
Be still, be still, and know.
It seemed like days later when Herald Trish's Voice abruptly broke into her mind, scattering Kicha's thoughts in an instant. There was a split second's pause before she responded—she was starting to feel a little foggy and disconnected. She shook her head, trying to clear the muzzy feeling, then swallowed faintly before forming a vague reply.
:Trish…? 'M 'ere…:
A wave of relief flooded from the other woman, but though Kicha's lips quirked into a slight smile, she couldn't echo the sentiment. Instead she lifted one hand to Joti's forehead and began stroking along the Companion's forelock gently, absently soothing her other half.
:Havens, Kicha, we thought you were dead! We haven't been able to feel you two in hours!:
:It's not your fault…: Kicha could almost feel Trish shaking her head. Her partner's worry was almost palpable. :Kicha, how's Joti? Rorrim says he's having trouble reaching her. Like she's barely there.:
Her hand paused in Joti's mane, then began moving again. She was quiet, listening to the harsh, rough way that the mare was breathing, the way the air rattled and rasped in her chest, the way it whistled when Joti exhaled, wheezing.
:She's hurt, Trish. She's hurt really badly.:
And when you go through the valley,
And the shadow comes down from the hill,
Joti hadn't said anything for a long time. The silence from her Companion made Kicha anxious, made her worry, because Joti was never quiet for long periods of time if she had any choice in the matter. She had always been very vocal, opinionated and unafraid to speak her mind. She loved to talk and chat, loved to laugh together. She loved using her Voice at every opportunity.
Now she was silent. Deathly silent, Kicha's mind supplied, but she banished the thought as quickly as it came.
The Companion was still breathing—Kicha could tell that much. She could hear her, gasping in short, sharp breaths in the darkness. The whooshing air puffed across her hand, whistled across the sleeve of her tunic, where her arm was resting by Joti's nose.
Joti was dying, that much she was sure of.
If morning never comes to be
Be still, be still, be still
:Kicha? Kicha, answer me!:
:Trish? 'M sleepy…:
:What? Sl—? No! Don't go to sleep! Stay awake, Kicha!:
Her thoughts were starting to become muzzy again. It was hard to think, hard to focus—but at least that way she couldn't feel the numbing pain that was beginning to set into her muscles—couldn't feel the way Joti was beginning to shiver and shake.
The cold was starting to seep past their defenses, she realized vaguely, thoughts foggy. It was making her muscles seize up, making Joti tremble—it was making the blood seeping from the mare's muzzle begin to freeze into crystals of ice in her short whiskers. Even their combined body heat in such a small space wasn't enough to keep them warm anymore.
:Kicha, listen—we've got villagers from nearby. We're going to try to dig you out, but… we're not sure where you are, exactly…:
Kicha shook her head, clearing her thoughts some. :I don't… I don't know how I can help with that. I don't know where I am, either.:
:I know. But keep your ears open, okay? We're going to start searching. If you hear us calling, tell me so I know you're nearby.:
She almost told Trish not to bother. It was obvious at this point that she and Joti weren't going to escape from their snowy prison. The ice-cave would be both the end of them and their tomb—at least until the next spring. Maybe then they could be recovered and buried properly in Haven.
She didn't say this, though.
Instead she replied with simply: :Okay.:
If you forget the way to go
And lose where you came from
Dying wasn't so bad, really. It was kind of… surprisingly warm and calm. She felt fuzzy, as if she were wrapped in a woolen blanket. Her legs and fingers were numb now, so they didn't hurt. And she hadn't heard any complaints from Joti in quite some time.
She also hadn't heard anything from Trish or their would-be rescuers, either.
Her voice came out a hoarse croak and she cleared her throat, then tried again only to come up with the same result. Finally she gave up, leaning her head back against the snow behind her again. Her movement seemed to wake Joti, though, for the Companion shifted her head in her lap, whuffing softly, the noise sounding pained.
One numb hand lifted to stroke down Joti's long nose again, comforting.
:I'm not… going to make it out of here…:
There was no point in feigning hope. Their situation was grave. They were going to die there.
If no one is standing beside you
Be still and know I am
It was some time later when Kicha realized she was falling asleep again. She couldn't seem to keep herself awake anymore—and the longer she continued to live the harder it was to fight off sleep. The air in their little pocket of snow was quickly running out now. Soon they would pass out and suffocate.
Or at least she would. Joti, she thought, wouldn't make it long enough to suffocate like that. No, instead her Companion was dying from her injuries, unable to breathe properly and suffering from obvious internal breathing. Kicha herself had managed to avoid serious injury—but Joti had taken the brunt of the avalanche.
Now even the trembling had subsided as Joti slowly succumbed to her wounds. In the darkness, Kicha couldn't see her, but she could feel the life slowly ebbing away, minute by minute, breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat.
It wouldn't be long now.
Be still and know that I'm with you
The last shuddering breath that Joti sucked into her damaged chest and lungs was wheezed and rattled loudly—then sighed out slowly, deeply as the Companion abruptly relaxed entirely. The weight on Kicha's legs suddenly increased—dead weight now, lifeless
But even before she recognized the new feeling, the sensation of loss hit her like a wave, slamming into her as the Bond that had existed between them snapped and vanished, dissipating into nothingness. Kicha could do nothing but sob.
Leaning over, she buried her face in Joti's mane, hugging her neck tightly.
And she stayed like that until the Shadow-Lover saw fit to take her, too.
She didn't have to wait for long.
Be still and know I am.