Blood drips from Garan’s mouth, dying the snow red. He holds his hand against his stomach, refusing to let his intestines drop to the ground.
“God, help me.”
The words gurgle from his throat, a gasped whisper in the air. The battle rages on around him, and he thinks he sees his brother fighting off two of the raiders. They are pushing him back. They will slay him, kill him like a dog like they have killed Garan.
“Dear God, do not let me die.”
He cannot. He cannot, not when his brother needs him. Now is not his time, he’s sure. Now is not his brother’s time.
His hand is slippery with blood. As always, God offers him no answer. How many men ask God for help at their death’s beds, and how many receive it? He is forsaken. He is damned. He should have known.
“Devil, help me.”
He waits, wondering if he’ll be answered. His brother parries two blows, but then his sword skitters across the ground. The raiders step towards him. Garan doubles over in pain, pressing his forehead into the blood-splattered snow.
“Do not let me die. Whatever God is out there, whatever demon. Please. I can’t die like this,” he hisses through his teeth, eyes closed tight. “Take whatever you want from me, but do not let me die.”
A sudden chill goes through the air. The pain in his gut ceases. Slowly, Garan lifts his head. Everything has stopped. The raiders have his brother cornered. They’re about to gut him, but each of them is frozen in place. The snow falling from the sky hangs suspended in air. Even his blood has stopped pumping, a strange ache in his chest where his blood has stopped pumping.
He sees something out of the corner of his eye, but when he turns his head towards it, it disappears.
He can feel it behind him, hot breath on his neck, but he does not dare to move. This could be his only chance.
“I will offer anything,” Garan says slowly. “Whatever it is you want. I only need to save my brother.”
Something tickles his spine.
“Is it my soul you want?”
There are no words, but somehow Garan knows it is the truth. That is what this beast wants, and he cannot refuse it.
“Will you allow me to save my brother?”
Some strange affirmation rings through his body.
“Then take it.”
The tickling of his spine turns to sharp pain. It feels as though each bone is being ripped from his body, and he can do nothing but scream. Pain, immeasurable pain. It is in his spine, in his gums, in his fingers, in his head. He pushes his fingers deep into the snow and watches as his fingers lengthen, the very bones of them sharpening. His mouth feels larger. And then something rips through his skull. It pierces through the flesh, grows from the bone itself. He reaches up and feels the sharp bones jutting from temples, pointing this way and that way, and as they grow outward, he can see them.
Time roars back to him suddenly. His brother dodges a raider’s knife, but he is trapped. Slowly, Garan rises from the snow. His body aches, but it is good. He is healed. His wounds turned to blood-stained, scarless skin. One of the raiders stops and points to him, drawing the attention of the others.
Garan smiles. He is strong. He can save his brother. But more than anything, he is hungry.