• The wind blew through her meager coverings with a vengeance, banking the snow against her fur covered calves as if it meant to bury her where she stood. From her perch atop the cliff, she watched her people in the valley, packing away their tents and tools and tying the dogs to the sleds in preparation of the fast approaching race against the weather. Some of the oldest of the elders claimed that storms such as these never happened on the home world, on Earth. She looked to the sky, trying to find that star, the sun that birthed her race, knowing she wouldn’t be able to see the planet the elders called home. She found the star, for she knew, as did all the young, where it was and, without even realizing she did it, bowed her head in respect. After a few minutes of deep thought, she made her decision. With one last glance at the valley, she shouldered her bow, instinctively checked her quiver and felt her boot for her knife, stood, tucked her bola into her belt, and followed the track through the blue-white snow to where she knew the other hunters waited.

    “We can’t hunt tonight. All the game will be hiding from the storm. We will travel behind the village.” Her words were met with a few icy stares. Her leadership had not been accepted by all, even yet. A tall and slender female, her blonde hair and icy blue eyes already had set her apart from the others. The elders called her “Nordic”, and said her features had been considered beautiful on the home world. She couldn’t help but find that hard to believe. Her hunting party was dominated by olive skinned, brown eyed faces framed with black, curly hair. They had always mocked her, and since the group had reached the age of puberty, the mocking had become worse. The other girls her age were buxom, dark, and beautiful. Most of them were already mothers, the youngest mother in the village being only in her twelfth year. Already nearing 18, Kiarah had still not lain with a man, and had no intention of doing so. She could not see what the other girls found so attractive about these creatures that seemed to fit the elders’ description of something on the home world called a “gorilla” so well. She knew she was different, and she knew that the young men of the village would not have taken her, even had she wanted them to, because of her strange colouring. She was the best hunter in the group though, and they knew as well as she that it was this colouring that allowed her to be so. She was perfectly suited to camouflage herself against the snow of this world of perpetual winter. She had once crawled unnoticed next to a sleeping b***h to steal one of her pups as it suckled from her breast. She rested her hand on the head of the village's best hunting dog, the grown wolf that was her prize for this proof of her ability. Steadying herself, she looked around the group and addressed them again. “If any of you wish to disobey me and hunt despite the storm, go ahead. You do not carry my blessing, and the elders will not search for you if you become lost. This is the way it is and you are all aware of that. Strike camp. We shall leave when the village begins to move.” She was well aware of the menacing glares she received from one or two of the older members of the group, but she ignored them as she was obeyed, and turned to pack her own things.

    There was a network of caves, somewhat north of where the village had been camping, that were convenient to shelter from the frequent storms. Thankfully the caves were not far off their path. They were bearing a load of coal, a gift from the southern coastal settlement of New Africa to the fortress of State in the north. On this planet, it was always cold. Seasons were measured by the frequency of the snowstorms that could change the landscape in little more than a day. It was summer now, and they had been fortunate in that they had not seen a storm for over two weeks. This one had been building for a while, but they knew they had time to make it to these caves. As the leader of the village’s hunting party, Kiarah had a seat around the fire of the elders. She was glad of this, as it allowed her freedom from the others her age, and the oldest of the elders seemed to hold a lot of respect for her. She was allowed to work on her tools. One or two of the elders would even offer her advice. She was currently working on what one of the elders called a “crossbow”, although she had no idea where he got that name from. She had designed it herself, using a small child’s practicing bow, after hearing stories of deadly weapons that would fire with almost no effort from the wielder. She would work on it again at this evening's fire, and try to make the bolt stay on the string without compromising the tension, as she listened to the stories the elders told. Some of the elders claimed that they remembered what life was like before the Sleep. From what she could tell, the Sleep they spoke of was not a matter of a few hours rest snatched from the cold as one curled near the embers of a dying fire, but a very long span of complete unconsciousness. They told of how they had been hand picked for this very settlement, because of a gypsy background. Kiarah had no idea what a gypsy was, but the elders assured her that, though she looked more like one from the far north, her ancestry sat with the Romani of Europe, the gypsy people. She took their word for it, mainly because she did not have any way to prove, nor any reason or wish to believe, otherwise. When she asked about her looks, her ability to blend with the snow during the hunt, they could or would not answer, she was unsure which.

    All knew that Kiarah was the favorite of the oldest of the elders. He spoke rarely, less and less these days, and she was his most common topic of discussion. However, he never spoke to her. More often, he would sit opposite the fire and watch her work on her hunting gear, smiling as she carved the wooden handles of her knives in ornate shapes that made it easier for her to grip, or honed the bone blades until they shone. When she was young, he had spoken to her frequently. He had been the one to teach her how to chip patiently at small pebbles of the grey-black stone that was scattered along the floors of the valleys until they were the shape of the hunters’ simple tents, and how to attach these to thin, straight sticks. She did not see the point in these strange weapons until he tied to the empty end of the stick a small, carefully crafted bunch of feathers from the village’s domestic fowl, and then taught her how to cure the tendon of a kill until it would not rot, and how to then use it to make a bow. She had shown a skill with these amazing weapons that drew awe from all that were gathered. The elders were not amazed at the weapons in the slightest. In fact, it seemed they found them quite amusing. However, after only a few weeks of practicing alone with her elder friend, even the most revered stopped in their ramblings to watch. By her fifteenth year, Kiarah had joined the hunting group, her skill with the weapons she was given surprising even the most skilled of the hunters. By her seventeenth year, she was the highest ranked hunter in the village, and no one dared to comment on her lack of interest, even as a young adult, in finding a partner.

    Kiarah was well versed in the history of her people. The teaching was begun in a child’s fourth year, as the elders insisted. They had come from Earth, on huge ships that could float on the night sky. The First had traveled in a sleep that lasted many years, and had been woken in groups as their skills were needed for the building of the new world. At times, there had been years between Awakenings. The founders of the village had been the last to be Awakened, as their purpose was to act as a trading caravan between the larger, permanent settlements that had been built. They were Awakened so long after the ships had landed that most of the people they had boarded the craft with had already withered into old age and died. The elders were therefore some of the most revered storytellers on the planet, as they were the last remaining few who remembered Home. They said it had been almost two centuries since the ships had landed, half a century since they had been Awakened. They guessed it to be about a hundred years since contact with Home had been lost. They were not sure why the contact was severed, but the oldest said that he had been shown a vid of the last contact that was made, and he claimed that it was a war that had obliterated Home and left the colony to survive on its own. Kiarah had no idea what a vid was, but decided it must have been a very useful tool before the power supplies were lost. She vaguely remembered seeing lights with no flame at one of the settlements they had stopped at in her youth, but that was before the storms had started. It had been cold for almost fifteen years, but before that, there had been plants that grew outside of the glasshouses at the settlements, and she remembered the village traveling through areas without snow. She remembered the horror on her mother’s face when news had reached the village that the Great River had frozen solid. She had explained to Kiarah about the “power station” that had been on the river, but Kiarah hadn’t really understood. All it meant to her now was that there were no more flameless lights.

    Kiarah paused in her musings and stopped packing her hunting gear as a huge shadow passed over the group. She could hear screams from the village and snorted. She was glad her party had more discipline than the rest of the villagers. They watched the huge creature that caused the shadow. The elders called it a dragon. No one had ever killed one. As the giant reptilian thing flew over them, Kiarah swore that it looked back at them. She hurried to finish her packing. If her wolf didn’t panic, she saw no reason to worry, but the presence of the dragon meant that the storm was closer than they had thought. She hurried her party up and they set off to join the village.

    When they arrived at the caves, the fires had already been started, and, with a nod from Kiarah, the party split to join their own family fires. She ignored the glares as the separate groups received the news that she had called off the day’s hunt, although there were a few relieved and grateful smiles from mothers of the younger members of her party. She approached the wagon that held the dried meat, preserved for occasions such as this, and gave the woman in charge of it the news. She would decide how the meat would be distributed after consulting with the Weather Watchers, a group that would know best how long the storm would last. The woman was possessive of her cache, but bore no malice towards Kiarah. She had lost a son in a hunting party that had ignored an approaching storm. She trusted the lead hunter’s judgment and approached a Watcher as Kiarah left, heading for her precious seat at the elders’ fire.

    She had been seated and working on her crossbow for almost an hour when the oldest of her hunters, a man in his thirty-fourth year, started to shout, disrupting the hushed evening quiet of the village and alerting all to his existence. Kiarah suspected he had been drinking turp again and stood to discipline him, as was her right. She did not need hunters whose hands shook from the consumption of too much of the fermented beverage that was usually saved for village gatherings and solstice celebrations. He beat her to it and ran towards her, bellowing insults and recriminations, brandishing his short hunting knife. The elders stood as one. It was forbidden to approach the fire of the elders without permission, and the fact that he was obviously about to attack his immediate superior had the supportive members of her party rushing to her aid. Those others that were disgruntled at her position stood and cheered on their drunken fellow. Kiarah’s hunting instincts kicked in and, without thinking, she loaded her crossbow, quickly aimed at her attacker’s knee, and squeezed the release.

    Silence fell as the hunter dropped, shock on his face, barely two meters from Kiarah.

    She turned to the gathered crowd, her features tense. "Why are you all staring? I need a healer. The rest of you boil water and gather cloths. We may need a lot." With that she dropped to one knee next to her hunter. The bolt had gone straight through the cartilage, cracking the bones on its way through, and the head had pierced the skin on the back of his knee, coming to rest with a few finger widths free of the wound. Kiarah assessed the damage quickly. She looked into her hunter's face, her eyes ice cold. "You will be punished, but later. For now, I will tend your wound. You've seen me do this before, and you know what's coming." The hunter nodded, his face pale and the sweat beading on his forehead. Kiarah pulled a leather strop from her belt and folded it, offering it to the hunter to place between his teeth. For a second, he looked defiantly at her. Then his knee spasmed and he almost cried out in pain before accepting the leather gratefully. When he nodded to her, indicating that he was ready, she deftly snapped the shaft of the arrow where it protruded from his kneecap, removing the feathers. Before he could react, and in one swift movement, she pulled the shaft through the wound, removing the arrow through the back of his knee. Cloths were swiftly pushed under he hunter's leg, soaking up the sudden gush of blood. Kiarah stood, giving the healer room to attend the wound with his specially cured tendon and a boiled curved needle.

    As she walk silently towards the mouth of the cave, she could feel the eyes of the village following her. She knew there would be consequences for her actions. She was perfectly within her rights to defend herself, that would not be argued, but she doubted that the injury would heal enough for her attacker to return to the hunting party. She knew he was skilled as a weapon maker. He had made one of her favourite knives, and at least half the hunters in the village bore bows made by his hands. He would still be a valued member of the hunting community. She knew that his true passion had been hunting, as was her own, and she felt a sudden, sickening, wave of guilt at the knowledge that she had taken that away from him. She approached the kennels, near the mouth of the cave, and called to her wolf. At times, she felt that the snow white b***h with the icy blue eyes was her only true friend. This was one of those times. Unbolting the run gate, she knelt next to the animal and buried her face in the warm folds of fur. With a soft whine, the wolf nuzzled her owner's hand, offering what comfort she could. Kiarah stood again and, closing the run, walked resolutely towards the portal of wind and snow that lay well beyond the last of the village's belongings. As she stood on the rocky shelf and allowed stray flakes of blue-white snow to nestle in her hair and clothes, the wolf sitting loyally next to her, she watched the reptilian form of the storm bringing dragon swooping playfully through the eddies and flurries of wind and ice as they fell through the grey sky.


    As the immortal revelled in whipping the storm to a frenzy, she saw the Pale One standing at the mouth of the cave she had seen the group of humans scurry, panicking, into a few hours earlier. An almost maternal pang struck her powerfully muscled chest. It was not yet time, she knew, but as her 15 year turn at reigning over the planet began to draw to a close, she knew that the time would come soon. Twisting her scaled face into a gruesome approximation of a smile, she turned her wings towards her home, leaving the storm struggling in it's dying throes.


    Kiarah watched the dark blue creature vanish into the blizzard, apparently tiring of its game. She knew what this meant, although she had never told anyone in the superstitious village that she instinctively understood that the movements of the dragon controlled the storm. Nor did she confess that she inexplicably knew that it was only one creature, not the huge community of them that the stories told of. In her mind, she would fantasise about meeting the huge being, for the word "animal" did not suit it, and she had at times dreamt of conversing with it, seeing it as an almost kindred spirit, seeing it as belonging, as she felt she did, to the cold and ice that coated the world. In her dreams, the dragon would seem to shimmer in a heat driven haze, shifting inperceptably as it approached her, until it reached her in the guise of a tall, elegant woman who spoke in a husky, seductive voice. She had long, straight, black hair, with a hint of blue shimmering across the shining tresses. Her eyes were a dark grey colour, and Kiarah felt that they pierced straight to her soul. Her lips were full, smooth and deep red, as if her entire life's blood was contained in them. She was always clad, her arms bare, in a flowing gown the colour of a clear sky an hour after the sun's last rays had vanished over the horizon. Her flawless skin was as pale as bone, giving her an almost transparent appearance. The combined colours had a quality that made it seem as though she wasn't really there, her dress and hair a void, her exposed skin a mere idea. The only part of her that Kiarah could ever focus on was her eyes. Nothing else about her seemed real. Upon awkening, Kiarah could never remember what they had spoken of, other than the entrancing woman's name.


    She closed her eyes and savoured the image in her mind, feeling the shape of the name on her tongue. Slowly Kiarah turned and walked back into the depths of the sheltering cave, stopping by the leaders of the various groups of the village and informing them that the storm would be over by morning.