It was the dream of all cherished dreams. She stood before him and gazed, her smooth, green eyes glowing in the darkness. Her hair shone in gold, like a suncoloured fawn, her cheeks rose red. She reached for him, delicate, white hands extending out against the night.
Had she really come back to him?
He trudged forward, his feet sinking into the thick snow, snow as soft as an angel’s wing, and suddenly he tumbled and she was gone.
‘No, wait!’ he shouted. His breath heaved, his heart banged. He heard a soft scrape and turned.
Here she was again, behind him now, the same emerald eyes, the same sunset hair glittered with snowflakes.
‘Come,’ she whispered, and he did.
She led him further into the forest, deeper into the dark, the branches of the Whispering Trees brushing against him, their milky leaves fluttering down like the snow.
As he looked back he saw his own invisible track winding through the Icelands, curling for miles until it vanished in a wash of white. The last castle fortress of Amelie flickered through the mist like a fantastical mirage and then, in a gust of leaves and snow, it was gone.
She was here. He blinked at her up ahead, her silky form, that fiery hair. She was wearing the white dress she’d been in when death had snatched her up and her feet were bare, just as they had been then too.
What had brought her back? And how?
She moved forward, between the trees, and again she was gone. ‘Evelina!’ he shouted. ‘Stop!’
He ran to where she’d been and circled frantically, snowflakes whipping into his eyes. All he could see now were the twisting, swaying branches of the trees and the vast and dismal stretch of snow.
‘Where are you?’
She laughed, shrill and mocking. He looked up. There she was, not behind him or in front, but above him, hovering in the icy air. She sauntered on the winds, her arms and legs twisting and lengthening out from her body like serpents. Above her, the coal-coloured clouds shifted and churned and she whirled herself around like a bloodythirsty dancer.
‘No,’ he whispered to himself. He knew what she had become. He had seen them before. Now, she was one. ‘Eveline, no.’
She snarled, her eyes like glass now, her hair coiling around her like vines, powdering white fingers wiggling at him.
He saw her teeth and drew his sword, quickly, swiftly, the skating sound of the steel lost in the wind.
‘Eveline, please,’ he said. She laughed again, her manic stare falling down on him. He stepped backwards, sword poised, but he knew he couldn’t do it. Couldn’t face her like this. She would give chase, he knew, but it was better than the fight.
He gave her a final, longing glance, one that said, I still love you, even so, and turned, fleeing as fast as he could, into the dark, white depths of the Whispering Forest.
* * *