The fire burned low, fighting the frost-bitten earth below it and the slush walls around it for its right to live on the frozen fields of Faern. A lone woman sat huddled up beside it, a thick blanket thrown over her shoulders, the last of a warm cup of soup in her hands. Above her, the stars stretched on forever, in an endless sky.
Tomorrow she'd be back in civilization. She wasn't looking forward to what was waiting for her there, but at least she'd be warm again.
“Come to Faern,” they'd said. “It was a pristine land of untouched wilderness,” they'd said. “The perfect place to reconnect with the goddesses and return to her roots.”
Well they had left out the part where it was cold. It was cold from dawn to dusk. It was cold from dusk till dawn. It was cold when she got up in the morning. It was cold when she ate lunch at midday. It was cold when she went to bed.
Was it beautiful? Sure.
Was it full of holy sites? Yeah, probably.
Was it a place she wanted to spend her sabbatical? She'd certainly thought so when she'd left the warm city of Elmirin many miles south of here. She'd never seen snow before. It had seemed like such a novelty as she and her old mentor had planned the trip. Now, if she never saw snow again in this lifetime, it would be too soon.
But as much as she was looking forward to being warm in a proper city, she wasn't looking forward to her arrival in Selven. It was one of the goddesses'
That was the other reason her mentor had encouraged she come here. She was a Druid, yet she was already over twenty and had yet to find her bond beast, the animal who held the other half of her soul. Most Druids found their beasts by the time they were twelve. Usually, this was how one discovered they were a druid. An animal talking to you was an obvious indicator, after all.
She had been left at a druid temple as a child. Their tradition of testing all their wards at age thirteen was the only reason she knew she was one at all. In truth, most days she wondered if the elders hadn't made a mistake when they had tested her back then.
“A druid's partner almost always comes from the same lands they themselves do,” her teacher had often said when she had suggested as much to him. That was the final reason she'd been sent to this frozen land.
Supposedly, her birth mother had hailed from Faern, had fled the destruction of the Ice Wyrm twenty-two years ago with nothing but her young child.
If she really was a druid, her companion would be here if it was anywhere.
Which is why she should be hopeful that her bond beast would be in the Selven menagerie.
She should be.
Instead all she felt was dread.
What if it wasn't here either? What if she wasn't actually a druid? What if she really only had half a soul? Could she really go back if she didn't find her partner here?
“Cold.” A voice grumbled. “So cold.”
“Is someone out there?” She shouted into the night. Who would be traveling in the dark like this? Even natives of Faern tried not to travel in the dark, when it was impossible to tell if you stepped on solid ground of razor thin ice.
“Too cold,” the voice mumbled. It was a deep voice, a man's probably. But she didn't see anyone in the direction it was coming from. Maybe they were just on the other side of the snowbank? She stood, trying to see.
A shadow slunk around the bank. “Hungry too. When did I last find food? Was it that seal?”
He wasn't talking to her, didn't seem to have noticed her either. But in the dark, who knew what would happen to him. She had a perfectly good fire, and some trail rations remained from her trip that she wasn't going to need tomorrow.
“Hey!” She shouted after him. “Over here!”
The shadow stopped. “Is that woman yelling at me?”
“Yes, you! What are you doing in the dark? Rest the night here.”
“O-okay?” The shadow moved closer. “Me?”
“Of course,” she started to say, but the words caught in her throat as the shadow put it's first paw into the light of the fire.
It was no man that stood before her, but a Faern Husky.
He stood a little less than shoulder height, with dense white and black fur. Ice blue eyes watched her from across the fire, his head down as uncertain as she was about what was happening. Faern Huskies were famous for being fierce, huge dogs. They ran wild all throughout the ice fields of Faern, hunting mammoth and elk with ease. They were known to fight ice drakes for territory but usually gave humans wide birth. Natives of Faern were said to have worshiped the beasts once, and they were still the emblem of the region.
And one had just spoken to her.
“You would let me rest here?” the husky asked.
She nodded mutely.
The dog approached the fire ring, lying beside the warmth. “You, you understand me?”
“Yes,” she said slowly. “And you understand me?”
“Yes.” He dropped his head between his paws, a lazy yawn escaping his lips. “Interesting.”
She pulled her blanket tighter around her shoulders. Was this really happening? Was this really her partner?
“You said you were hungry?” she asked.
His head perked back up. “Yes?”
She pulled a piece of jerky from her bag. “Would you like this?”
He stood and stalked around the fire, sniffing the dried meat in her hands. “May I?”
She nodded, holding it out for him. He reached out to take it, but as he did, a glowing circle of ice blue appeared around the two of them. In that moment, her eyes met his.
And she knew. She knew where this one went, she would be safe. She would be cared for. She would be home.
There is a small shop at the edge of town. To find it one need only to turn right off the main thoroughfare, then turn right again, then left. An alley should open between two shops, a narrow space that turns and twists as it winds deeper into the unknown. If one was to explore all the way to the...