Chapter 1

Corin and Kira left for the southern passes the very evening. Excitement and boredom drove them on. They skated easily enough in the great expanses of Ice and they made good time since the weather was favourable.

"What is the real reason for this mission?" Corin asked as they took a break after skating hard for five hours.

"We are to look for signs of anything that is foreign on the Ice," Kira said sipping water from a water skin.

She tossed it to Corin; he caught it reflexively and took a gulp. Kira saw how easily he had caught it and felt a twinge of that familiar rivalry flare up. The boy was talented and she knew it. From their earlier scuffles, she had seen his skills. She had also seen his heart. He was a true Icecarl by many standards. Corin sat on his pack as he busied himself, sharpening his skates. Kira kept watch on her surroundings and decided to set up a small camp for the night.

"We should rest here," Corin said not bothering to look up from his sharpening.

Kira didn't say anything she simply went through her pack to collect her stove. Corin noticed the snub and sighed. His mission was to establish a relationship with this girl. An odd mission but one that wasn't completely incomprehensible. The girl was obviously the Shield Mother's favourite. Corin was simply someone who could teach her how to be a bit more likeable. Corin thought the idea was folly but the more he thought about it, the more he understood it.

They were both favourites. Corin was actually born from the Ruin Ship, something that wasn't exactly allowed. However for some reason or another he was spared. He deduced that as a baby he was sent into the Far Raiders Clan care until he was old enough to be brought back to the Ruin Ship. Corin knew that although he may have been raised in the Far Raider Clan he had never felt at home there. The only person who cared about him there was the Crone but then she cared about her whole clan.

Corin thought about the mission to the southern pass and his other mission. They weren't really connected. That bothered him but he took comfort in the fact that his whole life was controlled since the day he was born. Corin knew that his fate laid in this girl now. He had to make her see that her life now was simply one of existence. When that was established, Corin could be free to tell her his real mission.

Honestly Corin thought it a troublesome mission because he felt used. Corin knew all about survival and not just physical survival. He knew that to live was different from living. Corin chose to live a life where he would simply survive day by day. He also knew that Kira was the same except her views were slightly skewed because of the Shield Mother.

Looking back, Corin saw how Breg had altered Kira's personality. If they had not met, Kira would have become much like Corin. Putting away his skates, Corin went on to sharpen his favourite weapons, the sais. Kira watched as Corin took careful measures to sharpen his weapons. It was something that Kira never understood about the boy.

Kira had watched the boy since he had come to the Ruin Ship. He always kept to himself. Unless he wanted something, he made no move to put any effort into trying. It seemed he was a very simple person. If he wanted something then he would get it one way or another. Kira knew better. The boy was more than that. If she had not fought him then she would have missed the real reason for his attitude.

Put simply, the boy was a drone. Salama had warned her of this. Salama had not wanted Kira to be like this boy. Corin did what he was told. A good Icecarl by many standards but not a good human. He did think for himself but he was a slave to his own personality. Where others sought a higher purpose, the boy simple did not care. He believed that his way of life was the higher purpose. It was sad really. Kira thought about Salama's words and found that she simply wanted to change the way she saw her people.

It made sense to find a higher calling in life. Was survival the only goal in life? Who would want to live on the Ice for that? Was there purpose to live until the body could no longer tolerate the Ice? That thought made her shudder. Breg would say that living as such would be a waste of breath. After all who really wanted to live in such a way? Kirra looked at Corin once more and caught his eye.

For a brief moment they peered into one another's soul and saw that their basic assumption of one another was right.

"Do you want me to take first watch?" Corin asked.

"Do you want to take first watch?" Kira asked experimentally.

"It makes no difference to me. I can take the first and the third watches if you want me to," he replied.

Kira returned her gaze back to her bubbling pot of selski broth. It was not the answer that she thought he would say. She thought he would offer to take all three watches. Kira knew that was what he was going to say but she was obviously wrong.

"Unless you want me to take all three watches so that you may recover from our hard skate," he said making the corner of Kira's mouth twitch upwards.

"Do you not need rest?" Kira probed as she rejoiced inwardly that her assumptions were correct.

"I want you to be able to keep up with me later," Corin said confusing the girl.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"We are being followed. I want to out run our pursuers or at least confront them if need be," he said returning his sais to his boots.

"I did not see anyone following us," Kira replied implying that the boy was speaking nonsense.

"Rest after you eat. I don't want you slowing me down," said the boy moving to higher ground.

"I'll take the second watch," Kira said feeling the stab of the off-handed insult.

Clearly Corin thought she was not his equal.

"Take it if you want but be ready to out run our hunters when the time comes," Corin said keeping his gaze moving on the horizon.

Feeling even more irritated, Kira stood and tried to keep the anger out of her voice.

"What makes you think I cannot keep up with you? What manner of hunter hunts us that makes you think that I am not ready to fight?" Kira hissed.

"We cannot fight these hunters," Corin answered simply.

"Are you afraid of this fearsome hunter?" Kira jibed.

Corin gave her an unreadable look before he returned his gaze to the horizon.

"Save your strength. I do not believe that you are unfit to fight our hunters. However I believe that fighting our hunters will simply slow us down," Corin answered.

"What do you mean by hunters?" Kira asked now frowning in confusion.

The boy was not making sense.

"Eat. Your broth is getting cold," Corin said moving off to another scouting point.

Giving up in frustration, Kira eat her meal in angry silence. The boy was obvious not telling her something. She grew more suspicious of the boy when she recalled him asking about their mission. He was hiding something. What did he know that she didn't?

Over the next hour, Kira and Corin took their watches. Kira for the middle watch and Corin for the others. When it was time to go, Kira awoke from her breath counting and found that Corin already had their packs readied.

"We must move quickly. The hunters are almost here," Corin said.

If it was not for the sense of urgency in his voice, Kira might have thought he was lying. Rolling up her sleeping furs, Kira shouldered her pack and was about to put on her skates when Corin stopped her.

"We must avoid the open. They are watching the plains. We must climb the cliffs to lose them," Corin said.

"I do not think we need to go that far," Kira argued.

The boy was being ridiculous now. The pass was not far from where they were camped. To go over the cliffs would take them in the wrong direction.

"I saw camp fires in the southern pass. It was only a brief moment but I think we are heading into an ambush," Corin said quickly as he nervously looked down the perch they were on.

"You speak nonsense. It is only a mere scouting mission. What makes you think that Salama would send only two cadets on a dangerous mission like this?" Kira protested.

Corin gave Kira that unreadable look once more before he sighed. It seemed that Kira still had issues in trusting him. Corin knew what he saw. He also felt his instincts warning him of trouble. He had an ill feeling about everything since he arrive that the Ruin Ship. Corin focused and tried to think of a way that he could convince her.

"Let's move," Kira said strapping on her skates.

"We mustn't travel in the open," Corin warned.

"Then you take the cliffs and I'll take the plains," Kira hissed in annoyance.

The boy was really starting to annoy her.

"Wait!" Corin protested as she skated off.

Kicking ice in frustration, Corin immediately strapped on skates and hurried after her. She was already so far ahead. Corin was afraid that he might lose her. As Kira disappeared into the mist, Corin saw a tracking party following her. They had seen her.

"Idiot girl!" Corin cursed as he finally laced up his skates.

Just as his skates touched the ice, Corin was knocked over viciously by a perwal. After rolling over the ice in a frenzy of flashing claws and teeth, Corin was able to free himself only to find that he was surrounded. Four brutish men chuckled fiendishly as they surrounded their prey. Corin watched as they slowly advanced on him. The perwal that attacked him was now being leashed.

Taking a quick count, Corin noted that there were three hunters and one tracker. The tracker was small and lithe, much like his perwal counterpart. Corin judged that he had to be the first to go since the perwal was the most dangerous adversary of the group.

"The Ruin Ship has sent its finest men," said the brutish leader.

The rest laughed openly and Corin suddenly felt the dire need to skate away. There was no way he could take four men and a perwal without hurting himself badly. Corin decided that he had to go after Kira. The girl was in danger without him and he wasn't going to fair much better without her. Corin was on skates and ready to fly but he noticed two of the brutes were also on skates.

Before they could completely surround him, Corin hurled a knife at the perwal and skated away as fast as he could. From the snarl of pain, he knew that he had hit his mark.

"After him you fools!" yelled the leader.

Corin felt grateful that the brutes were half-wits. They may have been good fighters but they were slow. Corin skated hard and followed Kira's tracks. He just hoped that he could reach her in time.