Cover: Antlers

His hair and hood blend in with the blizzard, making it appear as if orbs of emerald are floating in space. Even the white case holding his longsword is barely visible, though he’s acutely aware of the weight of it in his hands. The snowfall increases as he climbs the mountain, trudging through deeper and deeper banks. Every time he feels his body begin to grow weary, he remembers all the tortures of his childhood, the strength and resilience it afforded him, steels his eyes and spirit, and continues. He hates more than anything to have all that progress beaten by anyone or anything. It will only mean he’s not prepared for what his mission is, and he hates the thought of having to go through an even harsher hell to do so.

     Your kind is not long for this world. Avinia’s primal world will return, and those with new era bloodlines shall all be extinguished.

     Those were the words his father said to his professors, to his classmates, and to him. He was in the vicinity when he heard those words. New era bloodlines. Ibri.

     I’m Ibri.

     Evic always had known of his father’s allegiance to The Pure. Or, rather, his desire to lead The Pure one day. One day soon. He also always understood he was Ibri. Still, he’s never experienced an attitude as powerful as his father’s to comprehend the absurdity of their relationship. Until he met Nuria. She was so disgustingly light and fun-loving compared to anyone else that he thought her existence was more repulsive than he initially thought.

     She fights for everyone. Ibri or not. And to have defeated my father, at that. Does that mean her purpose is stronger than his? Does that make hers more right? Or is she simply that powerful now? I didn’t go with her to those hills like she wanted. Whatever she experienced there, it made her what she is now.

     A threat…?

     Evic hunkers down behind a row of thick pine trees, blocking the blizzard from directly pelting him. He squats down and presses his back against the frozen bark, puffing warm breaths into the air.

     She and Reddic clearly developed a bond. Is it their bond that gave her the strength, or simply his teachings and nothing else? Would I be able to defeat her again if we fought now? Would I even want to fight her? Against all my instincts telling me not to, I still apologized.

     Evic shakes his head.

     Stop it, Evic! She is a target. That’s all that matters. I cannot allow anything to

     Heavy crunches in the snow slice into his inner monologue. He rises swiftly, unlocking and letting his case fall to the ground at the same time as his longsword floats from within it and into his grasp. He holds his ground as a grown elk approaches with lowered horns, gearing up to charge as its hooves scratch through the snowy bank.

     The elk points the top of its large antlers toward Evic and rushes right for him. The steadfast young man treats the snowy bank with same attitude, running through it effortlessly. He sidesteps the elk’s charge and slices clean through the base of the antlers, whirls in midair, and snatches the severed horns. The elk slams head first into the three trees Evic used as shields. The young Ibri drops the antlers as he jumps into the sky and kicks the elk’s head against the tree, turning the trees into his hammer. He slams his longsword through the elk’s head as it falls.

     –to interfere with my mission.

     He looks down at the antlers, the blood at their base spilling into the snow. He lifts them just when he hears more snow crunching. A fawn stares cautiously from behind snow-crusted shrubbery. Evic sees the fear and confusion in its eyes. The fawn is likely what the elk sought to defend, but now the deerling is on its own. He regards the weak creature with contempt, almost ready to put the child out of its misery. Instead, he yells, “Get out of here and fend for yourself! You stay here and you’ll end up–”

     The fawn flees.

     “–like your father.”

Evic’s hastened breathing clouds up the air in front of his face. He drops the antlers and stabs his sword into the snow, then digs through his backpack for a map, the bottom right corner saying “Welcome to Mount Handreau!”

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