The crescent moon slid behind a cloud, plunging the clearing into darkness. The trees that encircled the grassy expanse rustled, then parted to reveal a young woman. At her side was a silver wolf with a russet underbelly.

"She should be back by now," the girl whispered. A sudden movement on the other side of the meadow drew her eye. Loping across the plain was a large black cat that looked like a jaguar. It approached the girl and rubbed up against her legs like a housecat.

"Did you find her, Rysha?" the girl appeared to address the cat as her sharp blue eyes swept the clearing for other movement.

"Yes. She is with the three mages," the cat replied. She sounded both happy and sad.

"At least we know where she is." The girl crouched down and hugged the cat, trying to console her.

"Yes, but she never saw me. She still thinks that I'm dead! Oh, Rachel, what should I do?" Rysha buried her head under Rachel's arm.

Finally, the wolf at Rachel's side spoke. "Rysha, Lyra will be fine. The blazing star may be inexperienced, but your daughter can take care of herself."

"What do you know?" The cat whirled to face the wolf, eyes blazing. "You haven't spent hours agonizing over your daughter's well-being because she befriended an untrained mage who could easily kill her without meaning to."

"I believe that you are mistaken, Rysha," the wolf answered, voice as icy as the biting wind that rushed through the clearing. "Stormbringer is dead because of her bonded, yet still she refuses to abandon the human. She is trapped in that accursed forest where I can't reach her, while her mage, her so-called friend simply finds another mistwolf plaything to entertain herself with."

"Come on, you two. At this rate, we'll never get home." Rachel turned and disappeared back into the trees. The cat and the mistwolf glared at each other for a minute.

"Rysha! Nyx! Are you going to glare at each other all night?" Rachel's disembodied voice floated back to them on the breeze, causing them to turn and hurry into the brush after one of the most powerful mages in the world.