Twenty hours later, Jenny stumbled to a halt, dropping her pack onto the snow

Twenty hours later, Jenny stumbled to a halt, dropping her pack onto the snow. Gwydion was already hunting around the bases of trees for firewood. She fell to her knees, feeling slightly dizzy with exhaustion. Oh, man. She liked hiking, but they hadn't stopped for more than ten minutes all day. Still, she couldn't appear totally useless…groaning under her breath, she opened the nearest pack, searching for the rocks Gwydion had indicated as fire-starters. By the time she found them—who had put the bloody things on the bottom?—Gwydion had created a fire pit and a large stack of wood.

"Catch!"

She tossed him the rocks, then came over to watch, ready to witness an incredible, technology-less feat of fire starting.

"Hrekin. I hate these things. Where's Rhapsody when she's needed?"

Jenny laughed, watching him bash the rocks together. Good…it was nice to know someone else was grumpy, too. She went back to the packs to find something to eat.

Later, she stared into the embers, wrapped in a "bedroll"…a huge (Johnny-sized, she supposed, although hopefully not as dirty) bag stitched out of several layers of feathers and furs that, while definitely not vegan, was quite warm. Her huge overcoat, hat, gloves, and mittens were at the bottom of her bag, to ensure that they wouldn't be frozen in the morning. She sat leaning against the wide trunk of a tree, a foot or so away from Gwydion. They had eaten beef jerky and dense, tough bread, followed by—surprise, surprise—beer. It tasted better, Jenny decided, heated over a campfire. Still, some tea would have been nice…with sugar and Mocha Mix…fat chance. She sighed, too tired to fend off homesickness any longer. What was happening back on…well, back on earth? When she returned (and she would return), would any time have passed? She imagined her family frantically searching for her and shuddered. No. Nobody would even know she had been gone. She closed her eyes and curled into a ball on the frozen moss, back against the tree and face to the dying fire.

"Good night."

Gwydion, half asleep already, murmured a reply.

"Good night."

Brrrrrr. The girl pulled her nose farther into her bedroll, and tucked her knees up to her chin. Why did it have to be so bloody cold? What time was it? Urg, all she wanted to do was sleep…she could feel the cold air from the ground seeping through her blanket, making her legs and back icy to the touch. Shifting again, she tried to summon up Casper, the friendly gust of wind. She hadn't seen any sign of it since the encounter with the F'dor. Pushing away the thought that he might be gone for good, she tried to force herself back to sleep. No luck. Grimacing, she pushed herself to her hands and knees, poking her head out into the cold night air. Gwydion was gone. The fire was completely out, a dark pit of ashes. She swore under her breath, then gasped. The sky…

She stood, slipped her feet into her leather boots, and walked out from under the tree. Stretching across the sky were the brightest stars she had ever seen. Galaxies crisscrossed overhead like a kindergartener's sparkle-glue project, illuminating the snow around her. How had she missed these last night? Staring up, she could almost imagine Rhapsody calling down a star to smite Anwyn, or even a race of people descended from the orbs overhead. Not other suns, she remembered, but Ether. Whatever that was. As she watched, one star shot across the sky, leaving a silvery trail behind it.

"Incredible."

She jumped, and whirled around. How the hell did he move so quietly? Gwydion stood a short distance away from her, staring at the sky.

"I've never seen a falling star before. I wonder where that one will land…and into which hands."

He stared at the sky a moment longer, then lowered his gaze to the figure standing in the snow. The woman shivered, wrapping her arms around her chest, face upturned. She still wore the blue zipper jacket and loose pants, although he had convinced her to leave the useless shoes back at Haguefort. The look on her face was riveting—awestruck fascination. Did they not have stars where she came from? A world without magic or stars… What was she thinking about? Could she possibly miss such a place? And if her power was truly new to her…well, it had to be frightening.

The woman shook herself and turned to Gwydion, face quizzical.

"Anyway, where did you go off too?"

He smiled sheepishly.

"I was cold. I haven't been winter camping in months, and this is the worst possible time to do so. I walked our perimeter, checking for trouble and trying to warm up."

"Did it help?"

"Somewhat."

"Great. Mind some company?"

Gwydion grinned and shook his head.

"No—come on."

The woods were beautiful at night, with the starlight filtering down onto the snow in glowing, abstract patterns. Gwydion, Jenny reflected, was surprisingly easy to talk to. He had a sense of humor, but wasn't a conversation hog, either. Unfortunately, this could easily be taken as evidence that Gwydion, and this whole Navarne thing, was just a figment of her imagination. Further proof that she was actually in a coma or something. Oh well, not much she could do about it if she was…she shoved the thought from her mind and focused on the conversation.