“We should take shelter. Wait out the storm.” Sebastian could barely hear his own voice over the river crashing around the rocks.

Tabitha yelled something about Roan. Holding up her hands, she indicated distance: close. They were already wet. Everything was too damp for a fire. Sebastian realized the town was their best chance. He offered to carry her. She refused indicating with the revolver that he should go first. He took the first step, a small one for him. Water spray attacked his trousers, the cold squeezing his muscles sending pins rippling up his legs. A stretch carried him to the next rock.

Loudest in the center of the river, the banks funneled the river’s roar.

Arms out wide, revolver in her right hand, Tabitha jumped to the first rock. A gust of wind sent her swaying, but she pulled herself upright. She gripped the revolver like death.

Sebastian wished she would put the gun away, or give it back. It was all he had of his father.

A stretch to the next rock carried Sebastian within two steps of the shore. Water splashed over his boot. He checked his footing. The rock felt slick. Looking back, he found Tabitha waiting on the rock behind him.

Sliding to the edge of the stone, making room, Sebastian turned and offered his hand.

Tabitha appeared frozen. Frost coated her hair. The fur coat was no longer black, more of a mottled white and gray with dark streaks. Her face appeared even paler, almost blue. Her demon eyes blazed.

As her foot left the rock, there was no question in Sebastian’s mind that her leap was short, and the frightened face told him, she knew it as well. He reached for her outstretched hand. Her boot disappeared into the river, and she dropped, her hand falling away.

Tabitha splashed face-down into the river, the current pulling her from the rocks. Sebastian stepped into the cold water and grasped her shoulder. He watched his father’s revolver disappear into the river. Gazing into the pleading eyes, into the hellfire, he saw hate and distrust. Tabitha expected him to release her, leave the monster behind.

Sebastian pulled her from the current’s grasp, the soaked coat weighing her down. He lifted her into his arms. Spotting a wall of rocks, he carried her into the protection from the wind.

Sebastian stripped the wet fur coat away, and removed his own coat. Wrapping his coat around Tabitha, he pulled her against the rocks. She shivered against him, and he squatted to get better hold wrapping his arms around her. They shivered against each other, and he kept his arms moving working heat. The river roared beside them, and the wind pulled at the trees. Snow fluttered in circles around them.

“I’m a school teacher,” said Tabitha, lips quivering. “Did I mention that?”

* ~ *

The cold latched on, gnawing, draining life. Snow stopped falling, the wind settled, but the air thickened its frozen grasp closing tight. Darkness swallowed the forest.

Each breath felt like needles. Knees buckled, but Sebastian charged ahead. He could only see a few meters, shapes moving within the darkness. Trees clawed at him. Elbows out, he protected Tabitha within his arms. Tucking down, he shouldered through branches snapping away. Thoughts of losing his cargo to the cold kept his feet moving, but frost clung to his back. He no longer felt his fingers. His heart pounded, and his lungs wheezed.

Feeling the ground drop away, Sebastian slid falling on his rear. He peered into the darkness finding shapes on either side, nothing ahead. He heard something, rocks or balls of clay, tumble through snow and leaves below. Recognizing the edge of a ravine, he stood scrambling back onto level ground.

Somewhere below, a creature snorted, likely an elk Sebastian thought.

His cargo rustled, and he looked down. Twin embers burned illuminated the fractal browns and golds of her irises much like the sun shining through the stained glass window at church—beautiful and dangerous.

“You.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “You rescued a monster.”

“Not yet,” said Sebastian. He tried smiling, but his face hurt.

The orbs shifted; Tabitha looked over. “A road.”

The road led downhill and the forest grew less dense. The patchwork of clouds allowed moonlight turning the snow bright. After the blackness, it nearly felt like daylight, and Sebastian quickened his pace. His legs complained, but he charged ahead nearly running. Little golden lights appeared in the valley, the lanterns of Roan lighting the way.

Sebastian charged the first house, and banged his fist against the door shaking the frame. Latch clicked, door swung open, and warmth spilled outside. A short balding man fell back from the doorway.

Ducking, Sebastian entered the home. “She fell in the river. She’s a school teacher.” He didn’t know why he added the last part. The cold talking he supposed.

The man stood there, dumbfounded. A woman appeared from a back room. Taking charge, the woman ordered the man to fetch blankets and invited Sebastian to the fire. He set Tabitha down on the floor before the hearth, sat down beside her. Warmth scratched his face. The couple brought them wool blankets and water.

Looking over at Tabitha peeking out of a pile of blankets, Sebastian smiled. His face hurt, but not as much as the pain stabbing into his fingers. The firelight hid the hellfire. He liked her brown eyes better. “Now you’re safe.