Another gust of frigid wind tossed the hood of his cloak off of his head; Kanrik growled and yanked it back over his hair. It was a foul night to be out in the snow... but then, there weren't really any good nights to be out on the Mountain. This evening, though, seemed exceptionally cold. Not even the warmth of the frail little fire he'd lit felt as if it had any effect. Worse, the Gelert was restless in a way he'd not been in years, but there was nowhere for him to go. Only fools went wandering around on the Mountain in a snowstorm, and yet, Kanrik was sorely tempted to...
...But then, he wasn't much used to waiting.
From across the fire, Armin caught his gaze and gave him a shy smile. "She'll be all right," the Bori commented."Hannah's tough."
Kanrik glanced into the brightly-illuminated window of Taelia's igloo and shrugged. It had been hours since he'd carried Hannah to the snow faerie's dwelling-place and they'd had no update whatsoever. There were those who'd say no news was good news, but in Kanrik's experience the opposite had always been true. His story about his village—the one he'd told to Hannah when he'd needed her to trust him—had not been a lie, at least not entirely. The setting of the tale had been real enough, once, and he'd had a sister there, but it had been many long years since he'd thought of her, and he didn't know for certain, but he guessed she'd been gone for most of them. After all, none of the others in the village had got better; they'd sent him away not to find a cure, but to spare him the same fate. He could still remember how it had been when their parents had fallen ill, how the tiny village's only healer had left his sister and he without news of any kind for hours and hours and how that healer had finally emerged from the infirmary only to inform the pair of them that they were now orphans.
That Taelia had not come out to inform them of Hannah's condition did not bode well. Still, he would not say so in front of the boy, in front of young Armin. The Bori's youthful optimism reminded Kanrik of how he'd been a long, long time ago... and that optimism, that innocence was fragile and needed protecting. "That she is," the Gelert agreed.
Armin shivered and rubbed his hands together. "Everything will be fine. Taelia's magic is strong. I can remember the old ones telling us stories about her, before we were all frozen, that is."
He paused, and suddenly looked sad. "I suppose we were asleep for a very long time. Funny, that. It didn't feel like much time at all. The world must've changed so much while we slept."
"Change is nothing to fear," Kanrik offered. "It is simply a law of nature; adapt and survive, or perish. That is the way things are."
Armin's head tilted to one side. "I suppose you're right. Anyway, it isn't like I'm the only one facing it. The others-"
"A word of advice, Armin," Kanrik interrupted. "Do not count on help from others. Often as not, it will not come. There is no one in this world you can trust to save you but yourself."
The Bori looked offended. "That's not true at all! Maybe there's some bad people in the world, but there's lots of good ones too!"
Kanrik rolled his eyes. "Good and evil? There are no such things. There's alive, there's dead, and there's what you have to do to be one and not the other."
"You're wrong. What about the Bringer? My people did nothing to him and he attacked us. That's evil, isn't it?"
"Perhaps if your people spent less time philosophizing and more time arming themselves, they'd not have needed to be frozen in the first place." Kanrik shook his head. "Think about it; if your leader had truly cared about his people, he'd have stopped the Bringer rather than make his people sleep for Fyora knows how long. If you ask me, he was out to save his own skin. People cannot be trusted; they may act as though they care, but when the time comes and they have to choose between preserving their own lives and preserving yours, they will always choose themselves."
"Hannah didn't," Armin shot back. "She helped you even though you left her to die."
Against that statement, Kanrik had no counterpoint. He turned his head away from Armin's judgmental stare and focused on the fire.
"We could've left you out there, you know." Armin continued. "I would've probably done it. If somebody lied to me and made me trek halfway across the world just so I could stab them in the back, I wouldn't have given them shelter."
"She didn't exactly want me there," Kanrik hissed.
"But she didn't force you to leave, either, and you know what? It ended up being a good choice, because if it wasn't for your help, she and I would never have been able to stop the Bringer. My people would've been... " The Bori's voice trailed off momentarily. "But you helped us. You could've run for your life and you helped us. You're not a bad guy, Kanrik; you just needed to find the right people. When the time came, you showed us who you really are."
Kanrik met Armin's gaze again, and for the first time was reminded of how old the Bori actually was. Physically, he was still a child, but in actuality he'd been alive much longer than that. He'd been through a great deal and though he looked as innocent as his age implied, there was wisdom there, too, borne of hardship, of sadness.
"I repented for one transgression," the thief said. "But I can never repent for them all, and I do not mean to try."
"You don't have to go back to them," Armin said suddenly.
"Go back to who?" Kanrik raised one eyebrow.
"To the Thieves. I know you're thinking about doing it, but you don't have to. You could stay with me, or go adventuring with Hannah. You could-"
"I am a thief," Kanrik grunted, "that is my lot in life. I accepted that a long time ago, and I think it best if you do the same."
"You don't have to be that, though. You only think you're like the rest of them, but I know better. None of them would've carried Hannah all the way out here in a blizzard."
"And if the curse takes her? Will you still think me a good man if she never wakes?"
"She will," Armin objected, "and yes. Because you tried. You cared enough to try, and that's what matters."
"Armin," Kanrik shook his head sadly, "I know she's your friend, but I don't think she-"
The door to Taelia's igloo swung open and the snow faerie stood in the entrance, her expression unreadable. Armin grinned, and Kanrik stared at his feet. He did not want to be there when the boy's hopes were dashed, when the faerie told them
Hannah was gone, but if he left, there would be no one else to comfort the boy...
"She will live," Taelia intoned, "but know this; if you had been even a little slower in getting here, she would not have." The faerie smiled at Kanrik. "You are to be commended for your quick action."
Armin rushed to the faerie's side and grasped her hand. "May we see her?"
Taelia nodded. "Only briefly. She needs her rest."
Armin turned to Kanrik and gestured for him to follow. For reasons he could not quite fathom, Kanrik did just that. Perhaps, he reasoned, he felt he owed Hannah at least the courtesy of a proper goodbye.
Hannah lay on the ground, wrapped from neck to toe in thick blankets. She was still extremely pale, but she was breathing, and when Armin dashed to her side, she somehow found the strength to smile.
Moments later, when she'd got her bearings a bit more, the Usul smiled at Kanrik, too. Her eyes were tired and her expression weary, but there was something about her... the thief couldn't quite explain it, but meeting her eyes with his own made him recall Armin's words. There was a spark in her, a kindness that reminded him of the fact that he was not, despite Armin's insistence, a good man...
... but he could be.