The place was abuzz with magic. It was so strong it made Samal’s teeth ache, but even without sensing the aura it would have been obvious – snow whirled all around, driven by wind bitter enough to sting through Samal’s dense white pelt, but that one spot was calm, lush, and by all appearances warm. Time was out of joint there – the gloom of arctic night was split by the illumination of a sun at zenith that shone only there, on that placid water garden.

The centrepiece of which was a block of unmelting ice – with a figure trapped inside.

This discordant zone was doubtless the very source of the region’s eternal storms which he’d come seeking. It stank of black magic, but didn’t seem directly harmful to anyone but its hapless focus. Samal stepped over the boundary.

One moment, he was leaning on his staff with both hands and planting all four paws against the wind. The next, all was calm, and sunlight poured down on him. The reprieve was sinfully delightful – but he wasn’t here to enjoy the scenery.

The ice was a strange dark shade of blue, giving it a curious illusion of depth. It wasn’t actually that big, though it stood unmelting in the midst of a pool of warm, sunlit water. The figure within was human, and though his features were alarmingly pale, distorted by unnatural stillness and warped by an expression of wide-eyed terror, Samal could still see the beauty under those things; strong-boned, smooth of skin, the eyes a deep green. He was built a bit on the light side, and looked to be at the cusp of manhood – just old enough to call a man without exaggerating, not so much so that he couldn’t also be called a youth. Somewhere in his late teens, perhaps.

How long he’d looked that way was anyone’s guess. The Anvil Valley’s endless storms had first been recorded some three-hundred-odd years ago, and the weave of this curse, while strong and self-sustaining, was brittle; it wouldn’t survive such a major revision like swapping out targets. This hapless young man was the spell’s initial subject.

There was also still a pulse of life, deep within the weave. The natural rhythm of it was too slow to detect, though most likely it was there – slowed down to an incredible degree; Samal had read of such things, though this was the first he’d actually encountered. Sometimes such spells were used to contain a threat that, for whatever reason, the binders couldn’t or wouldn’t destroy. In this case, though, there was no sense of determination or desperation in the binding – just a deep and foul hatred.

Potent stuff, but it also brought its own vulnerability. A spell sealed with hate could be cracked by the opposite, and in this case that crack ought to be enough. Breaking the spell would let the weather on the Anvil Valley return, in time, to what it ought to be – and then his people would be able to settle here.

That it would also free someone who’d probably done nothing worse than vex the wrong powerful person was a bonus.

Breaking the spell would let the cold press in, though, and outside the storm was still raging – that wouldn’t be so quickly dismissed. The poor young man was dressed in good furs, but around here they’d barely be adequate as summer clothes, certainly not for a winter blizzard.

Samal pushed back into the storm, working quickly to dig out a den in the drifted snow. It wasn’t fancy, but it would suffice to give two people shelter for a few days, if that was what it took for the weather to ease somewhat. If need be, Samal could reinforce it, leave the fellow with some supplies, and trek for help.

The trapped young man might wind up wet as the ice around him cleared – for that matter, it’d be hard to do get close enough to do anything without getting wet. He’d need to prepare for that. And odds weren’t good that the youth spoke any language of today – but that, too, Samal could work around.

Balancing two half-woven spells in his mind was a difficult task. He could probably have mustered up thoughts of family and friends and driven a wedge of love into the weave of hate, but it would’ve been harder still. Just as well that there was a more symbolic way to conjure that element.

Samal waded into the pool, spreading a gloved hand over the ice by the youth’s shoulder. It bit even through leather and fur, but he ignored it, leaning in to touch his muzzle to the leaf-thin ice over the young human’s lips. Direct contact brought so intense a cold that it almost burned, but he held strong.

So it was wistful longing rather than proper love that kept him going through that kiss; it was close enough. The aura recoiled as the spell shuddered and broke, the unnatural ice growing weak, cracks spreading over its surface.

As the ice crumbled, Samal tore at it to help the process along; and just as a gasp reached his ears, he got enough of the stuff away to reach in and pull a shuddering form out of the crumbling mound of ice and up against him.

He pulled the youth back onto the shore, all too conscious of the winds already starting to tug at them, and shaped the first spell he’d been holding in mind, conjuring flame – not for actual fire, but for heat and as the antithesis of water, drying and warming both himself and the too-cold body shivering against him. Feeble whimpers shaped themselves against his shoulder – weak, distressed, and confused, but with meaning behind them, albeit meaning that escaped him.

The last weave was more subtle, more intimate; it sank into them both, linking them together, and the meaning in those stammered utterances became clear – the poor youth wanted to know what was going on.

“Easy now,” Samal murmured. “You’re free, but a storm’s pressing in on us now. I’ve got shelter nearby. I’ll see you safe.” Though plainly still bewildered and disoriented, the youth had enough of his senses about him to cling a little tighter; taking that as a good sign, Samal stomped through the shifting snow, out of what was lately the warm zone and into the deeper snow, ducking down into his little burrow.

A quick conjuration brought a spark of light to the centre of the little cavern, and with that illumination Samal slid out of his great cloak and stuffed it into the entrance, blocking out the wind, if not its furious howl. With that done, setting up a little fire, and melting an ice-walled hole to the surface for the smoke, was a bit easier to do.

Once he’d laid out his sleeping furs, Samal finally lowered the youth onto them. “You’re safe now,” he murmured. “Rest easy.”

“Thank the kind gods,” the youth said. Now that his voice was steadier, it proved to be very pleasant indeed – and with life returned to his features and fear fading from them, the look of him was just as pleasing as he’d thought it would be. “I could see the seasons go by, and I thought nobody would ever… ever…”

“You can put that worry to rest, now,” Samal cut in. “I’m Samal Burning-Eye, flamecaller for the Deep Frost tribe of Narami.”

“Narami? I’ve never even heard of your kind before,” the youth breathed, looking Samal over with an intensity that was quite shocking given the state he’d just been in. “Even when I had hope of rescue, I never dreamed it would come from someone so…”

“Large?” Samal supplied. “Furry? …Male?”

“Well, all of those things,” the human laughed. “But they’re all quite fine.” He reached out to stroke along Samal’s jaw. “I was going to say, beautiful.”

Samal shivered, struggling to rein in a surge of desire. He’d known enough humans well enough to read the longing in this one’s eyes, but in the circumstances… “Steady on,” he said, touching the back of the man’s hand. “It could be that the curse you were under – or what I did to break it – had an effect on you.”

“I was put there by a sorceress who wanted my affections,” the man replied, fingers sliding over Samal’s neck, “and I turned her down in the hopes I’d go back to my Vulen lover.” Stiffening, he looked aside, too late to hide the sudden pain on his face. “He’s dust by now.”

Fox-folk. So even if he’d not heard of Samal’s kind, he’d at least had furry male lovers before. Samal cupped a hand to his cheek. “Well, if that’s not a new inclination for you, don’t let my caution make you think I’d be unwilling to give you some comfort and friendship to ease you into this time. You’re really quite fetching, ah…”

The man looked up, smiling. “Davin,” he supplied. “I’m Davin. What did you plan to do with me, Samal Burning-Eye?”

“Please, just Samal will do,” the Narami urged. “I’d planned to bide in this little den for a few days, hoping the storm would ease by then, at least enough to travel easier.”

“Those would be long days,” Davin whispered, “if I couldn’t know some warm touch through them.”

Samal gave in. Whatever the future held, in the present they both had a need for one another. “Touch me where you like,” he invited with a chuckle.

Davin’s hands were quite deft, and surprisingly strong for their seeming delicacy; even through Samal’s dense white pelt and thick musteline hide, his touch went right to Samal’s core, following muscle and sinew, exploring him with intoxicating eagerness. He did falter, though, when he had Samal on his back and took in the length and breadth of the Narami’s overfull sheath, running his hand along that two-foot ridge with a gulp, stopping just shy of the flesh emerging from it.

Samal reached in to press a midpaw against his cheek. “Don’t worry,” he soothed. “I rather like loving men outside my kind – I can take them in without a great deal of fuss and preparation.”

Davin gave him a nervous grin, starting to tug at his furs. “In that,” he laughed, “I think I can oblige you.”