Snow whipped past in a frenzy, shaking the tops of the evergreen pines and leaving behind claws of ice on the branches. The once graceful birch trees were no more than icy skeletons, their pale bark tinted a faint blue from the frozen water collected on their trunks.

It was a devastating storm; a kind of storm that the established clans called a White Death. It was named such because of the way clan-folk would get stranded in the storm, and would never come out. It would only be after the snow stopped falling that their bodies would be discovered, and from the end of their hair to the tips of their toes, they would be encased in a hard mesh of crystallized ice and pure white snow.

It was during this White Death that a group of warriors from the clan of Maris was trekking back to their camp sheltered beneath a towering pillar of marble and granite in the mountain side. The fabrics of their animal pelts were already icing over, and their eyes and noses stung from the torrential wind. If they did not make it to the camp quickly, they would soon obtain Stella’s Kiss, a painful freezing of their very flesh that leaves no warmth behind. The condition was named after Stella Maris, their ancestral clan chieftain, who was rumored to have been born during a White Death and had blue marks all over her body when she was born, as if she had been kissed by the cold storm itself.

No warrior of any of the clans inside the valley corridor would stop under any circumstances during an oncoming White Death, but one Maris man did, his broad shoulders stiffening as, over the howling of the wind, an echoing wail sailed on the snowflakes flying around him.

He held up his arm, his trembling hand slowly closing in a tight fist. It was a sign for the other men behind him to halt.

The other Maris men stopped hesitantly, for they hadn’t heard the wail on the wind. Maybe they had, but didn’t want to give it any attention, for they were more concerned with getting themselves to the safety of their camp than rescuing some poor bastard that had been unlucky enough to be caught in the White Death.

But the man who held a steady fist in the cold wintry air was not so ill at ease. His eyes were just as cold as the storm around him, but he lacked its harshness and cruelty. He would find who had wailed in this storm. Not for glory, not for curiosity, and not even for the Valley Compact, a peace treaty forged between the four mighty clans hundreds of years ago. No. This man would save that poor bastard because he simply was bored.

He let his men decide whether to follow him or not as he turned away from their path and trudged into the knee-high snow, the wind and ice quickly swallowing him up in a white mist more unforgiving than the very waters they used for their clan’s survival.

None of his fellow clansmen followed him.

__________________________

The warriors trained ears led him into a thick cluster of birch wood, the icy, pale, ashen trunks contrasting brightly against the man's umber brown skin. Not much of it was exposed, save his broad, rounded cheeks and calloused hands. He wore a thick grey cloth around his neck and face that covered his chin, lips, and nose, but his breath could still be easily seen as clouds of white before him.

Once again, the snow carried the sound of a wail. The wail was much softer and lower than the one before, as if the person who had unleashed it was holding back, afraid of attracting the wrong attention.

The broad shouldered warrior slowly released a large weathered hatchet from his back, gripping it lightly in his hand. He was also prepared for the wrong attention. He had known of ghostly tricksters who would cry and wail in a White Death to lead even seasoned clans-men such as himself astray. But somehow he knew this was no trick. He wouldn't have come to cure his aching boredom and disinterest if he thought it wasn't worth his time.

And there, finally, in the thickest part of the skeleton trees, was the source of the wailing.

He paused, gripping his weapon tighter, but lowering it to his side, his pale blue eyes widening.

Seated in the snow drift were two young children. One was no more than a newborn, and the other a young girl just barely past her fourth year. The elder of the two was cradling the newborn in her arms with a pale cornflower dress wrapped as a makeshift blanket around it. The cheeks of the newborn were rosy red, and she slept without discomfort, as if the storm around them was nothing more than a warm summer breeze.

But the girl, the one who held the baby in her arms, was hunched protectively over the body of the child, her arms, legs and face exposed to the White Death. It was against her ivory flesh that the markings of Stella's Kiss turned her into a canvas of blues, indigo's, and purple's. Every marking was like a blooming winter flower, just waiting for more ice and wind to grow even brighter.

She did not shiver, even though most humans twice her age would have already died with that many kisses on their skin. No. She dared to glare into the very maw of the storm, waiting for death.

It was her eyes that had the Maris man raising his hatchet again, his gaze tightening with wariness.

They were like molten steel pouring out of a forge, but they sparked and glimmered like moonlight striking the surface of the Lonely Lake. They were otherworldly, and they were not human.

"Who are you girl?" The warrior demanded, his boredom wiped clean by this strangest of discoveries.

The girl did not take her silver eyes off of the building winter storm, though she did speak, her voice no more than a husky whisper.

"Unwanted."

The warrior sighed in frustration, hastily re-quipping his hatchet to his back and striding toward the girl in the snow. He had seen children left abandoned in the forest before, their parents unable to feed them as the valley was too harsh to raise such a precious gift.

"What was the name given to you?" He growled, an urgency beginning to take him. He knew even he didn't have much time left out here, but he had to get this frozen girl and the newborn to safety.

"Never..." she murmured, her throat contracting with the effort of speech. Her lips were cracked, and dried blood stained her chin.

The warrior knelt before the child, keeping an arm's length distance between himself and her. "What kind of a name is that?" He inquired, wincing as a cold blast of wind whipped against his hood.

"Never...I was never given a name," she explained. She hugged her dark cloak around her and the baby, the metal clasp on the right shoulder depicting an eye with flames around it.

The warrior had never seen anything like it, but he decided to shove it aside. It would be dealt with later.

"Come with me," the man said, holding out his hand for the girl to take.

Slowly, the girl's inhuman eyes glided over to his pale blue, her gaze filled with hesitation and calculation. She looked down at his hand, then back up at his face, then lowered her gaze to the newborn in her arms. It was there that her eyes briefly shivered with a feathered gentleness, her delicate hand lifting to caress the baby's cheek, her purple finger tips trembling, as if she was more afraid of hurting the baby than of which fingers she might loose from so much exposure.

"We don't have much time, girl. Take my hand or stay here," the Maris man said sternly, but softly.

She awakened from her pondering, her almond shaped eyes narrowing as she reached out and gripped the warrior's hand with surprising strength, his grip swallowing hers.

The man winced in shock as he felt the young girl's skin. It was warm, much warmer than what should be possible. That was why the baby looked so unharmed and unmarked by Stella's Kiss. The girl had been warming the newborn with her embrace while her flesh was overtaken by frost.

Without a word, the clansmen lifted the girl into his arms, shielding her with his animal pelt and turning and walking away from the clearing of skeleton birch trees. He grunted with each step he made through the snow drifts, but he did not stop, taking strength from the white-haired, frost bitten girl who put out enough warmth to melt the icy indifference in his heart.

"Neveria," he said, looking straight ahead into the storm, "your name will be Neveria."