Svyn looked down the cold grey and white mountain slopes toward the small settlement below. Ishegeln, the town was called and though it was far from the biggest, it wasn't the smallest town he and his master visited during the Summer season. With about 10 families and 70 people overall it felt cosy and friendly. Almost like a large extended family.
"Are you coming, Svyn?" Gryerd called.
"Yes!" Svyn replied snapping back to reality.
This wasn't the time to dream. He and Gryerd, his master, had come to this town to do their job. They'd try their best to cure illnesses and relieve aches, they'd set bones and sometimes they'd even amputate. For many of these smaller villages they were the only type of medical care available aside from the local old grandmas who might know about a herb mixture or two.
In return for their services, the villages would give them enough food and drink to last their trip to the next village. The nomad way of life didn't suit Svyn much, but the profession itself did so all the more. Svyn liked the long winters of IceLand because then all of it's inhabitants lived in the large cave system near the shores of the ocean.
Deep in his heart Svyn knew that he wanted a different life. A life that'd only been described in tales and legends. Of times before the IceLanders had come to IceLand, times when the people had lived in places where the soil was fertile, the game was plentiful and the nights weren't cold. Deep in his heart he could feel the images of the South pull at the strings of his heart. If not for Gryerd needing him and keeping him busy Svyn would have crossed the cursed borders long ago.
"You're dreaming again. You'll fall like that." Gryerd sighed.
Patting the younger man's back he continued: "Dreams belong to those sleeping and dead."
Focusing on the unsteady underground again, Svyn and Gryerd climbed down further, reaching the bottom without major accidents or injuries. A blessing surely.
"We'll reach Ishegeln in an hour." Gryerd nodded, "We might be in time for some afternoon restoratives."
Svyn grinned and said, "Expecting pay without work?"

Saryn added some of the dried roots to the pot boiling above the communal center's left fire. Though hunters had been out repeatedly during the season, prey had been hard to find. There was hardly enough meat to feed the entire village and some of the hunters had collapsed from wounds and fatigue as well. Always one to worry about others Saryn disguised her own worries in front of others. She held a lot of the decisive power in Ishegeln despite her young age. But sadly the decisions weren't up to her entirely.
Saryn looked up with a disapproving look when she saw Yvander stroll in like he owned the entire building. As a constant reminder of his power the young skilful hunter had thwarted her plans more than once in the past. He was a hidebound, narrow-minded patronising man with the intelligence of a senile elk.
"Food ready?" he asked without even a gruff greeting.
"No." Saryn said coldly.
"I catch it, all you women need to do is cook it. I don't see why it takes this long." Yvander crashed down onto a pile of furs and seemed intent on making her miserable.
Fuming, Saryn continued her cooking, but she made sure that the pot hung above the edge of the fire. Yvander was the only one who could actually cause Saryn to lose her temper. What irked her even more were the rumours the elderly passed between them about the two of them being a good match. The thought alone made her cringe. After all Yvander would never have a woman make decisions.

Rygha entered the communal center and immediately wished she hadn't. The cold outside seemed cosy compared to the cold in here. Saryn and Yvander were both inside trying to make Winter come just a tad bit sooner.
Never one to look back on her decisions, Rygha paced further inside and looked at the fire where even she could see the pot was hanging too far from the heart of the fire to actually cook. She was smart enough to not comment on the situation. Instead she walked toward one of the sitting furs and decided she'd blend into the shadows.
Alas Rygha hadn't taken Yvander's mood into account. The two of them had had their share of history and though Rygha usually made a point of ignoring the younger, bigger man, he sometimes decided she needed to be shouted at.
"What're you doing here midget?" Yvander snided.
Rygha stayed silent. Many people looked down on Rygha because of her small, blocked body. Most stopped talking when they noticed Rygha hadn't survived by chance. She was an actual archer and though she couldn't keep up on hunting trips, she was a valuable guard. She was strong and agile and had needed to work twice as hard as others to get where she was today.
"I was talking to you!"
Well, some people were too stupid to learn.
"I have a right to be here." Rygha said calmly.
"Guards should stay outside." Yvander chided.
Rygha cast her eyes to the sky and sighed. No-one could stay out an entire night when Winter was this close. But try tell Yvander that, the boy thought he was better than everyone else. Ignoring him again, Rygha turned to Saryn and said:
"I saw two men approaching. Master Gryerd and Svyn are due. I thought I'd warn you two."
Deciding she'd outstayed her welcome, Rygha got to her feet and walked out again, deliberately slow so her involuntary stumble wasn't so noticeable. As she passed Yvander she noticed Saryn getting up and following her.
"I'll go greet them."

Svyn walked into town and saw only few people out and about. Then two women walked toward him. He knew both of them. Saryn, the young steadfast leader and Rygha the incredible strong and stubborn dwarf.
"Svyn!" Saryn called out excited and waved.
Svyn waved back and walked a bit faster to reach the young women. Both of them were single, a thing Gryerd had pointed out to him on countless occasions. A small smile appeared on Svyn's lips as he admitted to himself that he wouldn't mind getting to know the passionate Saryn better. Rygha did not seem interested in men in general though that might be due to the fact that very few men were interested in her to start with.
"How was your trip?" Saryn asked.
"Cold." Svyn grinned, "But we managed. In fact Gryerd said he was going to visit an old friend before he'd join us."
"Old lady Iriya?" Saryn grinned.
"Gryerd always loved the women in Ishegeln." Rygha grinned, "I'll make sure he gets to the center." she added and left.
"How have you been?" Saryn asked, suddenly less steadfast than usual.
"Same old same old." Svyn answered feeling equally nervous, "I missed you."
The two of them walked slowly back toward the center, talking and laughing. They did not pay much attention to their surroundings which is why a little stalking figure nearly went by unnoticed.
"Sha'uny!" Saryn called when she finally did catch a glimpse of the young girl.
The girl in question froze and turned around. Her red hair was kept short and her green eyes shone brightly in her tanned face. She still had the figure of a child though she was 16 years old.
"I was just walking Saryn." Sha'uny whined.
"You were trying to get away." Saryn sighed, "Like always. It's dangerous."
"I don't go far out." Sha'uny defended herself.
"One day the dragon's shadow'll get you."
"Just stay inside." Svyn added, "I'll tell you some stories tonight."
"Ok." Sha'uny promised, blushing slightly.
The young girl ran off, following Rygha and left Svyn and Saryn alone again.
"She's getting prettier." Svyn remarked.
"She's been going out less as well. I think she finally noticed boys."
"And what about you...?" Svyn asked.
"I might have been noticing them for some time now." Saryn smirked, "Just that the one I notice tends to be away so often."
"He loves his job." Svyn sighed, "But tonight I'll tell you my dreams."

"Rygha?" Sha'uny called when she lost the trail the older woman had left.
"You'll never be a hunter if you can't even follow a simple trail like that." Rygha answered from a nearby roof.
Sha'uny sighed, "But I am getting better with the bow."
"That's true." Rygha smiled, "You've got a good teacher too."
"I'd like some more practice." Sha'uny begged.
"From the town walls then, I'm on duty." Rygha caved.
"Won't we go outside?" Sha'uny asked.
Saryn had said she couldn't go outside alone, but Sha'uny knew that she was allowed if Rygha came along. The outside plains of IceLand had always attracted her. Even though she'd told Rygha she wanted to be a hunter, that wasn't exactly true. Sha'uny wanted to roam around outside of the villages. Go to places no-one had been before. Hunters were the only ones Sha'uny knew about that ventured outside of the safety of villages. Even medics like Svyn and Gryerd didn't stay away from villages long and they stuck to the roads.
"You're dreaming." Rygha woke her up.
"Dreaming is for children." Sha'uny defended herself.
"You looked rather grown up." Rygha said, "What you dream about changes when you get older, but everyone still has dreams. Or nightmares."
"Like the shadow of the dragon..." Rygha whispered, "Many believe in that."
"But that's real." Sha'uny said.
"Maybe." Rygha answered, "Though I hope not because it's said to roam the plains on nights such as the one to come."
"It's rather clear." Sha'uny shrugged.
"We'll have a storm before the sun's gone down." Rygha sighed.
"You're pretty amazing Rygha."
"No sucking up."
"I could try."
The mood lightened and both Rygha and Sha'uny walked toward the fortifications where they practiced shooting arrows.

Night had fallen and as predicted, the sky was filled with clouds and winds. All of Ishegeln's inhabitants had gathered inside the Oval Center. With the arrival of the two medics, the people expected some news. A few of them wanted to inquire about relatives in other villagers while others wanted to know about conditions up north. Gryerd happily obliged with reports of both small setbacks and tragedies. Not all of the news was bad, but the bad news that they brought weighed heavy.
In Svyn's mind doubts and dreams were swirling. He'd done this every year for the past 5 years. Nothing ever changed. People complained and talked about bad luck, whispered about the shadow or the dragon and damned the South. Tonight was no different. While food was passed around and children were laid to rest the voices rose in volume.
"We should stay on the same course." Yvander yelled after one of the younger men had dared utter the proposition of staying in the winter villages.
"It's safer there." Even an elderly woman agreed.
"You're just prejudiced because you lost your children."
"And she's not the only one!" Another woman called.
"I think a lot of things they said in the past are wrong." Svyn said thoughtlessly.
"Like what?" Yvander glared at him.
"It's just an opinion." Saryn argued.
"No let him say it!"
Gryerd got up and tried to calm things down.
"I think we should head South."
A heavy silence weighed down on the people gathered in the center. It wasn't the first time someone had proposed this, but it was the first time it had been uttered so seriously. Nor had it been someone like a medic to say it.
"Rubbage." Yvander called out loud, "You'll be hunted by the Shadow for that!"
"Superstitious fool." Rygha sighed.
"I heard you!" Yvander called, his eyes bulging, "You're all crazy, You'll get us all killed like that!!"
"Calm down." Saryn shushed.
"You're no better than them. If these are the people you associate with I'd rather you'd leave the village."
"You need me here." Saryn said with an ice-cold voice.
"Like hell I do." Yvander cursed, "No-one needs you."
"Then I'll go." Saryn said, refusing to back down,
"I'll prove to you we can go South. I'll even allow you to come along."
Yvander looked as though he'd die on the spot. The rest of the center was silent again. Many of the gathered people hoped Saryn would laugh and say she'd been kidding, but as Svyn looked to his right he saw that Saryn would not back down anymore. She would leave no matter what happened."
"I'll come with you." Svyn whispered.
"I'll go too." Rygha suddenly called, "No-one'll miss me and you'll need someone who can hunt. Now that that's settled we'll leave tomorrow."
Rygha turned round and left. Svyn stood with open mouth but was pulled along by Saryn as she followed the older woman.
"Want to pull back?"
"No." he answered, "I'll go."
"I'm happy about that." Saryn sighed.

Rygha opened the door of her little house and breathed in the cold morning air. Her 25 years experience taught her that it'd be clear weather for at least a few days. Travelling weather.
"Ready?" she heard Saryn ask.
"I didn't overstep my boundaries, right? Yesterday."
"It is soon..." Saryn shrugged, "But it won't be much longer before it's winter."
"Right." Rygha smiled, "And I was fed up with it all. I wanted out."
"I hope Gryerd doesn't mind me leaving now." Svyn sighed from behind Saryn.
"I'll manage." the old man said, "But you've really done it now. I don't think I have the life in me to educate another apprentice should you not make it back."
"I'll make it back." Svyn said.
"I'll make sure he does." Rygha nodded.
"He's in your hands then."
Rygha smiled and winked, "I hope he'll at least be able to keep himself safe."
"You'll know soon enough he's a klutz." Gryerd mock-sighed.
"Let's head out." Saryn said impatiently.
"They want to see you off." Gryerd said, " They want to say goodbye."
"We have every intention of coming back." Saryn said.
"They think we're going to our deads." Rygha said calmly.
Saryn looked puzzled and Rygha smirked, "You're too practical, Saryn."
She shrugged and turned away, "I'll be ready once I get my bow."
The three others followed her toward the fortifications where Rygha had left her bow the previous day. People watched as they passed. Some looked away while others openly wept. Others still, called out encouraging words and gave their support. Rygha felt the bitterness of her words again, They were going to die.
"Rygha!" a young voice called.
The dwarf looked up and saw Sha'uny look down from the little mound they'd practiced on. The red hair of the girl and her dark complexion looked like a bright smear on the distant snow. Like blood.
"I'm going with you!"
"You can't..." Rygha called out shocked, "Your parents."
"I can and I will." Sha'uny insisted, "I'm old enough to decide for myself."
"It's dangerous." Saryn tried to reason with the girl.
"Without you three here I'll feel even more weird. I'm different. Let me follow my dream. let me see my IceLand. I'll be happy even if it kills me."
With all the passion of a teenager, Sha'uny begged. She'd done this the night before as well. And though her mother hadn't agreed yet, Sha'uny knew she wouldn't stop her either. She was going.
Surprisingly it was the old medic Gryerd who came to her aid.
"Such spirit can't be stopped. Take her with or she'll get in an accident trying to follow you."
"See, you have to take me." Sha'uny smiled smugly.
"That was not a compliment!" Rygha called out.


Yvander struggled through the snow. Winter had set in. It'd been two weeks since Saryn, Rygha, Svyn and Sha'uny had left. At first he'd thought they'd be returning before the end of the week. Going to the South was madness. It was crazy, taboo.
And now he was here. He'd followed their tracks as long as he could but as the winds had picked up he'd lost the trail. He was running out of food and felt his heart freeze with every step he took. Yvander knew he wouldn't last much longer. Maybe he shouldn't have followed them. Maybe he should have ignored the eyes of the people blaming him. Maybe he should have buried their belongings and declared them dead. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
"But I just couldn't."
Shivering, Yvander looked South. He didn't need a compass. Just by turning he felt his heart contract when he looked South. Like his body knew by instinct that he shouldn't go there. But he couldn't stop. His mind battled his body and so far he was still in control.
Was he tired? Did the thinking distract him? Yvander soon found himself in trouble. His ankle twisted in the wrong direction. Too slippery to stay upright Yvander crashed down and felt the pain of bones cracking. He screamed as he felt his leg break.
Down on the ground Yvander knew he'd die. Still he was stubborn. Struggling, he got to his knees and then pulled himself up on the branches of the same tree that had made him trip. What was he to do now? Doomed by his own inattentiveness he might as well be dead.
"Help!" he called, hoping someone might pick up on his voice. Yvander would even welcome the shadow of the dragon now.
In the end it was a shadow that reached him, but a human shadow. A small shadow, like a child's. Only when the person got closer Yvander recognised her as Rygha.
"Rygha." he called, "You're alive."
"You're the last person I expected to see." Rygha said and then whistled.
Yvander winced at the sound.
"You can't expect me to carry you." Rygha said, "Help'll be here soon."

Around a cozy campfire, Yvander heard about Saryn, Svyn, Sha'uny and Rygha's  adventures. They hadn't had a careless journey and had dealt with a few setbacks as well, but none had been as careless as to break their legs.
"We're pretty close now." Yvander said, "My heart knows."
"We feel it too." Saryn agreed, "Only Sha'uny seems to be ok."
"I just want to travel further." Sha'uny smiled, "I feel better everyday."
"I feel worse. I want to run." Yvander admitted.
"Like we'll be swallowed whole." Svyn said, "Well Sha'uny is different."
"I don't like it when you say that."
"You're younger, and maybe you're protected somehow." Saryn shrugged.
"We don't mean anything bad with it."
"I know, but it still sounds bad." Sha'uny insisted, "I'm just happy to be free."
"Free in this labyrinth of trees and lakes?" Yvander asked.
"I wasn't free in IceLand either. Crammed into a village with all that open space around me. I'd prefer this, thank you."
"You seem to be quite an unusual IceLander." a strange voice giggled.
"Who's there!" Rygha jumped up and drew her bow.
"Calm down." the person said again.
A woman walked out of the dark shadows of the trees. Following behind her were two men and then three large beasts. A purple, a brown and a blue. Frozen, the small group of five waited for their end to come.
"You made it easy for us by coming this far." one of the guys smiled friendly.
"Would you like to come back with us? To the South?" the other asked.
"We were IceLanders once too." the woman tried to reassure them.
"Who are you?" Svyn asked.
"Lityan, Chaltyk, Ysvelt." the woman pointed.
Recognition flared across Svyn's face, "I heard about you... you vanished when I was just a little boy. Died in a snow storm."
"We were rescued, but yes. That's us."

Yvander - Svyn - Saryn - Rygha - Sha'uny

Lantessama Isle.