Chinook, Föhn, and I reached my Uncle Skiron’s compound the next afternoon. They could not just teleport there, so I followed behind them, and together we created a fast-moving winter warm front. A storm cell developed between us in the unstable mixing zone, and as we traveled, the weather shifted from rain to sleet to freezing rain before finally snowing wherever we passed over. I silently apologized to the weather forecasters who would be blamed for missing this storm.
His home was on the edge of the treeline in northern Canada. He had a magical barrier to keep out mortals, though he often let the local critters wander in. There was a layer of fresh fallen, untouched snow. A small mountain ravine, lined with a thin layer of ice, led down to a crystal clear lake with trees to the south. To the north, there was an upward slope to a chain of mountains. When we arrived, I saw that the magical barrier was unsealed, and the simple wooden fence around his land was visible. The eastern gates were open, the doors swinging in the wind. The squeal of unlubricated hinges echoed through the sparse woods to the south.
I stopped at the gate, a heavy feeling settling in the pit of my stomach. Something was wrong. The dwarf evergreen trees circling the south half of the complex seemed too still, too quiet. The birds weren’t chirping, and the branches weren’t rustling. There were no tracks in the snow, no footprints, no movement of any kind.
Chinook and Föhn looked at me with big green eyes and turned translucent. Their expressions left me feeling unsettled. They stayed together near the gate as I stalked around the northern border, walking lightly on top of the snow. I sensed a bit of snow shifting behind me, and I let some of my cold aura out to feel where the warmth was. The gate continued to squeak, and when the girls moved to stop it, I heard only silence and felt no warmth behind me.
The weather station was just around the west fence, and I hurried toward it. I felt the snow shift again behind me, and I spun around, but it had moved. The hair on my neck stood on end, and I turned again, seeing a slight movement on top of the fence. I sighed in relief as the creature bounded off. He was afraid of me. He disturbed the lightest amount of snow but stopped behind a tree in Skiron’s compound to peek back at me. I could see him now, a dog size creature that was cold, colder than the air temperature.
I reached my weather station and took in the mess. There were four slashes through the encased hard drive. The plastic dome shell was broken, but the titanium case had some shallow scratch marks. The wires were chopped to pieces, and the wind vane was broken off, lying discarded in the snow. I was amazed it had continued to transmit anything at all. Some of the other plastic pieces were scattered nearby. The entire unit would need to be replaced. I picked up the hard drive and slid it into my pocket.
I felt my hair stick up again, and I grew a short staff from ice. I stood up slowly and looked upward toward the fence. The dog-like creature was staring down at me curiously, his bald head tilted to the side. His hollowed eyes were empty, just black voids. He had some tufts of hair along his mouth, the tips of his ears, and his paws. He was hairless everywhere else. His bald tail wagged back and forth, the tuft at the end softening any sound he would have made in the air.
“What are you doing out here?” I asked him. My voice echoed in the empty area, and he skittered away, tail tucked between his legs as he bounded off the fence and headed into the trees.
I quickly ported to the front gate and met the two aurae. “There is a Qiqirn around. A demon dog. They look like hairless, skinny dogs. They are very skittish, and they rarely attack if you know what they are and their intentions,” I told them. “He’s pretty far south for a Qiqirn. I wonder what he’s hunting down this way?”
“Can he hurt us?” Chinook asked, a tremble in her voice.
“He can’t cause us to go into fits, like mortals. But he can still hunt and attack us if he is hungry enough. Qiqirns prefer their victims to be unknowing about them. They don’t like to be seen. So watch him,” I told them, taking their hands and squeezing. They nodded, and together we pushed the squeaky gate inward and walked into the empty compound.
The hut to the inside left of the compound had deep slashes across it, the door ripped off its hinges and tossed aside. Inside the hut was an untouched stack of dried firewood. I could see no footprints in the snow.
“Can you sense anything here?” I asked the girls. I felt the warmth radiate from them as they let their auras touch the surrounding air, and the nausea returned. They both shook their heads, and the unease in my stomach settled uncomfortably. What could cause these marks? I ran through a list of large animals in my head. Bears would leave five marks. Cats can leave four, but these are much larger than even a mountain lion and so much deeper. I pulled out the hard drive from my pocket and ran my hands against the scratches. They were the same.
“These aren’t animal marks,” I said and stopped. I crouched down to meet the girls’ eyes. “Go hide to the south, about ten feet outside the fence, and get up high in a tree. I’m going to blast the area with my sub-zero temperature.” They looked frightened for a minute, but Föhn took Chinook’s hand, and they ran back toward the swinging gate. It slammed closed with the force of their breeze.
I walked to the middle of the compound, slowly drawing the cold inward. There was something here. The deserted compound should have been a haven for the hibernating animals, but nothing was here. Even the birds had left, and the only other living thing around was the Qiqirn demon dog.
Using the cold within, I conjured a long ice staff, weighted at the top with a snowball encased in ice. The ice glittered in the setting sun, sending rainbows across the compound. I held the staff vertically with both hands, letting the last light hit the globe as I concentrated on pushing the cold I had drawn into the ball. As it filled, the snowball glowed, gradually changing from white to a deep blue. I let the glow reach out to the edge of the compound before I raised it over my shoulder.
I slammed the end into the ground, shattering the ice and the snowball. The cold exploded out in a gigantic wave, plunging the area into a bitter cold that froze everything. The sun slipped beneath the horizon, and the silence was deafening.
As the light faded from blue to black, my senses sharpened. There was movement ahead, and I heard a sharp clang of metal scraping against the walls of the house. There was no warmth emanating from anywhere within the compound. I split the broken staff into two, shaped them into two daggers, and braced for the attack.
Then I heard the high pitch cackle of maniacal laughter from within the house.