The sun glittered of the new fallen snow as Vin made his way down to the lake. He carried two water skins to fill at the lake. As he walked down the path he scared off some snow geese. It was unusual for them to be around this time of year but Vin guessed there was enough food for them to stick around. At least he would be able to get something that would make Ezra happy. After filling the skins he went back to camp and made sure his horse had everything it would need. Vin didn't keep him tied up and the horse was free to wander. The horse was trained to come when Vin whistled. Vin grabbed some jerked beef and pulled off a bite. He picked up his bow that was leaning against the tree and headed out. Vin knew if he wanted to get the geese he'd have to wait patiently behind cover for hours. Vin walked along the lake and noticed where the geese were swimming. He made his way over to that side and scared them into flight. The half elf settled behind some brush and got comfortable. Last night he was bale to get two deer and a boar as they came to the lake to drink. He'd dressed the carcasses before going to sleep and they were hanging in trees no to far from camp. The cold weather would keep the meet from spoiling. Vin decided if the geese cooperated he'd head back in the morning. Now all he had to do was wait.
+ + + + + + +
Jaydee was up early to check on Mystra. Last night they made sure all the windows and doors were shut so she couldn't leave. The little dragon still couldn't use her wing but Nathan assured her she'd be all right. Jaydee walked into the common room to find Mystra sitting on the windowsill looking out the window.
"I know you want Vin," Jaydee said as he picked her up. "He'll be back tomorrow."
Today Buck was going to take Jaydee ice fishing on the small lake close to town. Jaydee didn't want to go because he had to watch Mystra. Ezra said he'd watch her since he planned on staying inside. Chris just shook his head when the bard said he wouldn't step outside again until spring.
Jaydee took Mystra into the kitchen and made some breakfast. He made enough oatmeal for everyone knowing they would wake soon. He gave Mystra the bone from last night's ham. She was contentedly chewing on it when Chris walked in.
"She try getting away again?" Chris asked.
"No she's behaving," Jaydee replied. "Want some oatmeal?"
"Sounds good," Chris said.
Soon after Chris arrived the others wandered into the kitchen. Buck asked if he was ready to go. Jaydee said as soon as he got a couple more layers of clothes. Jaydee left and Buck sat down to eat.
"I appreciate this Buck," Chris said.
"I knew the kid was disappointed he couldn't go with Vin," Buck said. "This will make it up to him."
Jaydee came back bundled in warm clothes. Buck laughed when he saw the kid could hardly walk. The rogue grabbed the fishing gear he'd put out last night. Buck said they'd be back by the afternoon as they headed out the door. That left the security of the town to Chris, Josiah, Nathan and Ezra. Chris knew he could count on Ezra if anything happened but Chris knew nothing would. They'd been lucky so far and no trolls had been spotted on patrol. Chris sat at the kitchen table sipping tea wondering what Vin was doing.
+ + + + + + +
Now Vin knew why he hated to hunt geese. They were stupid creatures and were scared of everything. Twice Vin was about to shoot when something scared them into flight. The day warmed up considerably but clouds started rolling in around noon. These same clouds later in the day dropped a fine rain. Vin sat huddled in the cloak Chris gave him. The thick wool kept off most of the water but Vin could feel it beginning to soak through the thick fabric. He was about to call it quits when the geese swam close to where he was hiding. Vin didn't want to disappoint Ezra since he'd asked specifically for a goose dinner. Vin slowly raised his bow as they came closer. When they were in range Vin shot three arrows in rapid succession. All of them hit their mark as the other geese flew off in a panic. Vin had tied a thin cord to each arrow and he patiently pulled the geese towards shore. Vin smiled as he pulled the arrows from the geese. He said an elven blessing and thanked the geese for their sacrifice. Vin tied them together by their feet and slung them over his back. He made his way back to camp and decided he'd pack up in the morning. The rain was starting to turn to snow as the late afternoon temperature dropped. Vin felt better for is time alone and wanted to get back to his friends.
He placed his left foot down and heard a loud metallic click. Suddenly steel jaws closed around his calf and Vin screamed in pain as he fell. Vin lay on his back panting from the pain in his leg. He couldn't believe he'd stepped in a trap. Vin sat up slowly to check the damage. The trap held his lower leg securely in its jaws. Vin was just glad he'd decided to wear his leather boots and not Chris's moccasins. The metal teeth had punctured his skin and he could feel the blood running down his leg. The ranger checked the trap for a release lever. When he couldn't find one he cursed who ever owned the trap. Vin was just glad this type of trap was only meant to hold the leg and he was pretty sure it wasn't broken. He searched the area for a stick he could used to open the trap. There weren't any big enough close by and he was forced to use his bow. He jammed one end between the teeth close to his leg and began to pull. The jaws reluctantly parted and Vin thought he was set. When the bow snapped he screamed as the teeth bit into his leg again. Vin slumped back and looked at the sky. The snow was beginning to fall harder and Vin shivered in his wet clothes. Vin knew that if he didn't free himself he was going to be in trouble.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was sitting the tavern when the rain started. A few of the locals sought refuge in the warm building. Ezra was playing cards over at the corner table. Chris glanced towards him and saw the bard had a sizable pile of coins in front of him. Well actually in front of Mystra. She was sitting on the table guarding Ezra's winnings. The mercenary expected Jaydee and Buck back fairly quickly. He knew Buck only went out to keep Jaydee busy. Chris knew his long time friend would rather be spending a cold day curled up with a warm and willing female. Chris glanced out the window and hoped Vin was holed up somewhere dry. As he stared out the window he saw Buck and Jaydee walk by. He got up and left the tavern. He made his way over to their cottage to see how the fishing went.
"Hey Chris," Jaydee greeted. The red cheeked young man held up a string of fish. "Look how many we got."
"We'll eat good tonight," Josiah said.
"Damn my ass is frozen," Buck complained as he stood with his back to the fire.
"I said we didn't have to go," Jaydee pointed out. "I would have stayed here and watched Mystra."
"I'm only teasing," Buck said as he walked over to Jaydee and ruffled his hair. "Speaking of Mystra where is she?"
"She's over at the tavern guarding Ezra's winnings," Chris said.
"He does realize he won' t be able to get it back from her," Josiah said.
"Yeah he will," Jaydee said. "Ezra will distract her with something else."
"Yeah he's good at that," Buck agreed.
Josiah and Jaydee took the fish into the kitchen to clean them. Nathan came back from a near by farm saying the snow was really starting to come down. Chris looked out the window with a scowl on his face it was starting to get dark.
"He'll be okay," Buck said knowing whom Chris was thinking about.
"Yeah," Chris said.
Chris went to the sideboard and poured himself some whiskey. He held up the decanter and Buck nodded. Chris filled a glass for him and handed it to Buck. Chris walked over to the couch and sat down. Buck added another log to the fire then joined Chris. Soon the savory aroma of spiced fished filled the cottage. Nathan came out to tell them dinner was ready when Ezra burst through the door holding a roaring Mystra.
"Nathan," he cried as he raced towards the cleric. "Do something."
"What happened?" Chris demanded as Nathan took Mystra.
"I don't know," Ezra said. "She was playing with the coins when she started to screech."
"Nathan?" Jaydee asked standing next to him.
"I can't find anything wrong," the cleric said looking at them.
"Look," Buck said pointing to Mystra.
The little dragon was quiet but kept licking her left leg. Nathan gently pushed her head away but could find nothing.
"There's nothing there," Nathan said.
"Well if she isn't hurt then that means...." Jaydee started and looked at Chris.
"Shit," he cursed. "Buck get the horses ready."
"Right," Buck said grabbing his cloak and heading out the door.
"I'll give him a hand," Jaydee said.
"We're not going to be able to see anything," Ezra protested.
"Stay here if you want, I'm going," Chris said angrily.
"Chris let me finish," Ezra said just as angrily. "I was going to say I will procure as many lanterns as this small town has to offer."
"I'm sorry Ezra," Chris apologized. "It's just..."
"I understand," Ezra commented as he walked away.
"I'll go round up everything I'll need," Nathan said as he headed for his room.
"Josiah see if you can get Mystra to give you an idea where Vin is," Chris said.
Josiah tried but he only image he got were trees and snow. In the distance he could see a lake. The image she showed could be anywhere. Mystra got frustrated that Josiah didn't understand and flew over to the mirror. She whistled and touched the mirror.
"What is she doing?" Chris asked.
"I don't know Chris," Josiah said. "All I could get from her was snow, trees, and a lake."
"Damn," Chris said, "We have no idea which way to search."
Jaydee and Buck returned and said the horses were ready. Jaydee noticed Mystra over by the mirror hitting it trying to get their attention. Nobody would look at her and he knew how she felt. They hardly ever listened to him either. Jaydee picked her up and he was caught in her gaze. She kept showing him images of a mirror than a lake, mirror, lake, mirror, lake.
"Mirror Lake," Jaydee blurted out.
"What?" Buck asked.
"That's what she's been trying to tell us," Jaydee exclaimed as Mystra gave a shrill whistle.
"Let's ride," Chris said.
Vin lay back on the snow panting from his latest attempted to free his leg. The leg was throbbing to the beat of his heart making it hard to think. When he checked the bleeding it had slowed down and Vin suspected it was because of the cold. Vin lay there for a few minutes when he heard a roar in the distance. The half elf cursed the familiar call and wished it were wolves. The wolves he could at least reason with, there was no reasoning with a hungry orc. Vin sat up and started brushing the snow from around the trap. He knew there would be a chain anchoring it. He found the chain buried in the unyielding earth. Vin began to dig at the dirt with his hands. He had a knife in his belt but didn't want to break his only weapon against the orcs. Vin found this funny and started to laugh. There was no way he could hold off a pack of orcs with his leg caught in a trap with only a knife.
Vin clawed the frozen dirt around the chain in desperation. He never noticed when he pulled several fingernails off in the attempt. When he realized he was getting nowhere he grabbed the exposed chain and started pulling. Vin screamed in frustration as he slumped back to the ground. He realized that was a mistake too late when he heard the orcs bellow in the distance. The elf wasn't afraid to die he just never expected to go like this. Tears leaked from Vin's closed eyes and froze on his lashes.
"I'm sorry Chris."
+ + + + + + +
Chris cursed the snow as it continued to fall. Their progress was already slow because of the dark. He guessed they were at least two hours from Mirror Lake. Chris held up his lantern checking to see if they were still on the trail.
"Chris!" Buck called as he pulled his horse along side Chris's. "We can't go on in this."
"We have to," Chris insisted.
"We won't be able to help Vin if we're dead," Buck persisted.
"But we can't stop Vin's hurt," Jaydee said. Mystra was sitting in front of the kid and they suspected his agitation and worry was be augmented by her.
"Buck's right," Nathan argued. "We can't even see the trail."
As the others argued Ezra sat in misery. He never liked the cold. The bard cupped his gloved hands in front of his mouth and blew on them. When his hands were a little less frozen Ezra reached into his pocket for his flask. He opened it and took a healthy swallow. As he was replacing it in his pocket he heard a distant call. Ezra cursed their luck and moved closer to Chris. Chris was still arguing that they had to keep going and Ezra grabbed his arm.
"What!" Chris said angrily.
"Listen," Ezra replied.
They all remained quiet for a few minutes but heard nothing. Chris was about to chastise Ezra when they all heard the familiar call.
"Damn!" Chris cursed.
"Great that's all we need," Buck commented.
"Is that what I think it is?" Jaydee asked nervously.
"Maybe I can shed more light on the trail," Josiah said. If Vin's hurt and the orcs find him he doesn't stand a chance."
He raised his staff and began to chant. The globe at the top began to shine brighter and brighter. The light from the staff illuminated the area in a ten-foot radius.
"It will only last a few hours," Josiah said.
"Come on!" Jaydee said and kicked his horse forward.
Chris was close behind and the others followed. Ezra brought up the rear. He just hoped they weren't too late.
+ + + + + + +
Vin wasn't sure how long he lay there. He could no longer feel his leg and the odd thing was it didn't worry him. At first he had been cold and hurting but now everything was peaceful. He just wished the others could be here too. Vin was getting sleepy and he just wanted to close his eyes when something caught his attention. Vin raised his head to see a woman walking towards him. She had long blonde hair and she was dressed in a green tunic. She carried a bow in her hand and a quiver of arrows was strapped to her back. A large white wolf walked at her side. The rest of the pack could be seen standing behind her.
"Myshalla," Vin murmured.
"Vindarin," the goddess called. "Your friends are coming."
"Chris," Vin called.
"You must hang on a little longer," she said. "I have brought my brothers and sister to guard you and keep you warm."
Vin wasn't sure what was going on. All he wanted to do was sleep. That idea was quickly forgotten as a large black wolf lay on his right side and nipped his ear. A gray wolf joined the black one on his left. Every time Vin would close his eyes one or the other wolf would nip him. The other wolves surrounded then just as the orcs came out of the trees. They attacked and were quickly destroyed. The rest of the orcs were reluctant to face the pack but they were hungry. They decided to wait.
Vin's peaceful world was starting to crumble. The warmth of the wolves was pulling him back to reality and with it came the pain.
"No, please, it hurts," he cried.
"I know, Vin, it will be alright," said a female voice.
Vin lifted his head and saw an elf maiden with silver white hair. She was a full-blooded elf with high cheekbones and large eyes the color of emeralds.
"Mira," Vin whispered. "It can't be you."
"I've come to stay with you until your friends arrive," She said stepping closer. Her gossamer blue gown flowed like water as she walked.
"It can't be you," Vin insisted. "You're dead."
"I am," she agreed.
"Please let me come with you," Vin pleaded. "It hurts."
"I know," Mira said as she stroked his cheek. "But it is not your time."
The orcs decided to attack again. Three more left the group and charged the wolves. Mira stood next to Vin and he screamed as an arrow flew towards her. He watched in surprise as the arrow passed through her causing no harm. Vin didn't understand and tried to rise to protect her. The wolves pinned him down so he couldn't move. Vin's feeble attempts to push them away failed and he lay back with a sob. Images of the seven passed before his eyes as he listened to the battle with the orcs. For some reason Ezra's image persistently appeared over and over. Vin smiled remembering he had something for the bard.
"I got a goose for you," Vin said with a smile.
+ + + + + + +
As they neared the lake they decided to split up to cover more ground. Ezra, Nathan and Josiah were going to head east, while Buck, Chris and Jaydee would head west. They were about to separate when Ezra heard something.
"Wait," he called. "Listen."
The sounds of a fight could be heard through the muffling snow. A wolf howled and they could hear an orc scream as it died.
"It's a fight between some wolves and orcs," Buck said. "What's that got to do with us?"
"Look," Ezra said pointing to Mystra.
They turned to see Jaydee struggling with the dragon. She finally bit him on the hand and Jaydee yelped more from surprise than being hurt and let her go. Once free she flew towards the trees. As she neared the line of trees a white wolf appeared and Mystra landed on its back. Together they disappeared into the trees. Shadow cawed and flew off Josiah's shoulder and followed.
"Let's go," Chris said and raced after them.
They cautiously made their way through the trees. As the trees started to thin out they could barely make out shapes fighting in the clearing. Josiah cast a light spell over the area. The orcs cringed from the light and would have run but the wolves wouldn't let them. Chris screamed and charged forward followed closely by Buck. Jaydee followed also. Josiah and Nathan moved forward but stayed at a distance to cast their spells. Ezra surveyed the area not wanting to rush in haphazardly. He noticed a ring of wolves standing guard further back. This peaked the bard curiosity and he urged his horse forward. As he got closer he saw it was Vin. He jumped off his horse and approached the wolves. They parted for him and Ezra rushed to Vin's side. He stooped short when he notice two very large wolves keeping Vin warm. The gray one moved out of his way and he dropped to Vin's side.
"Chris," Vin called weakly.
"Easy Vin," Ezra said.
He could see the ranger was delirious as he called for various people. Ezra wasn't sure how long Vin lay in the snow but it must be awhile since he was covered in snow. The bard started to brush the snow off Vin and found the trap. Ezra cursed and searched frantically for Nathan.
"Nathan!" Ezra yelled as he pulled Vin up against his chest. "Your safe now."
"No it's Ezra," he said as he wrapped his cloak around both of them.
"Ezra," Vin said with a smile. "I got a goose."
"Vin!" Ezra yelled as he saw the ranger's eyes close. "Don't' go to sleep."
"It's alright," Vin whispered. "She said you'd come."
Ezra didn't' know whom Vin was talking about as he started to rub his shoulders trying to get him warm. Nathan ran to Ezra when he heard him call. When he saw the black wolf next to Vin and Ezra he was surprised. Nathan cursed when he noticed the trap around Vin's leg.
"Damn!" he cursed as he knelt to examine Vin's leg.
When the last orc was finally killed the wolves moved away to stand with the rest of the pack. Chris looked around and saw Nathan kneeling in the snow next to Ezra. Chris thought he was wounded and started towards him. The others followed Chris. He was surprised to see Ezra wasn't hurt but he held someone in his arms.
"Vin!" Chris yelled as he ran the rest of the way.
Chris dropped next to Ezra and took Vin's face in his hands. "Vin!" he called.
Vin's eyelids fluttered and then opened slowly. "Chris," Vin murmured with a smiled. "Got geese."
"He's delirious, Chris," Ezra said. "He keeps talking about geese and saying she wouldn't let him go with her."
Chris looked over at Nathan and Josiah, that's when he noticed the trap. They were trying to decide how to get it off. Buck was hunting up sticks by the forest. Jaydee was gathering the horses and brought them closer. The wolves were still there and it didn't' look as if they would leave. The big black wolf was still at Vin's side. Chris was watching him when he heard a curse from Jaydee.
"Hade's balls!" Jaydee said as he sat up in the snow.
"What is it?" Chris asked in alarm.
"Tripped over something," Jaydee said.
The young mercenary brushed away the snow to find three geese frozen to the ground.
"Hey, Ezra, looks like Vin got you some geese," Jaydee said as he carried one of the extra blankets from the horses.
Now Ezra realized what Vin was trying to tell him. The bard was flattered the half elf had thought of him but was sorry that act of kindness got him hurt. Buck returned with a handful of sturdy sticks and dropped them by Nathan. Chris helped Jaydee spread the blanket over Vin. Chris was glad the snow was beginning to taper off.
"What do you want us to do?" Buck asked
"I want you and Josiah to each take a stick and put it in the trap," Nathan explained. "Then as you start to pull I'll wedge these sticks between the teeth. Chris when the trap is open enough I want you to pull his leg out."
"Right," Chris agreed.
"What about me?" Jaydee asked wanting to help.
"I need you and Ezra to hold him," Nathan said. "This is gonna hurt."
They all understood what they each had to do. Josiah and Buck placed the sticks between the teeth and began to pull. Ezra and Jaydee tensed thinking Vin would try to pull away. When he didn't Jaydee glanced at Ezra and he could see the fear in the bards eyes. Chris also noticed the lack of response from Vin but put it out of his mind as he gripped Vin's leg. He watched as the trap reluctantly gave way. Nathan wedged a piece of wood into the trap so if the sticks Buck and Josiah were using broke the trap wouldn't close on Vin's leg. When the trap was finally open wide enough Chris pulled Vin's leg free. The half elf never made a sound as his leg was moved. Mystra watched the proceedings from Vin's lap. Shadow was close by sitting on the back of one of the wolves.
"OK you can let go," Nathan said to Buck and Josiah.
"Now what?" Chris demanded as Nathan checked Vin.
"He'll never make it back to town," Nathan said. "We have to find shelter."
"Vin's camp should be close by," Jaydee said. "He told me he always sets up a camp first when he goes hunting."
The black wolf stood and walked a few paces away then looked back. Mystra chirped then flew over to land on his back.
"I think he wants us to follow him," Jaydee said.
"That's' crazy," Buck said.
"No," Ezra disagreed. "I believe we should. They've helped so far."
"Lets' do it," Chris said and no one argued.
Josiah and Buck lifted the elf between them as Nathan held his leg. They followed after the black wolf. As they did the rest of the pack loped after them flitting in and out like ghosts between the trees. A lone woman stood in the field and watched as they disappear. She smiled and pet the white wolf at her side.
"Come, brothers, my work here is done," she said as she turned and vanished.
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