The wind whipped down the side of the mountain like death, knifing through five layers of fur and wool to lash Fox’s skin. He lifted his hand and moved numb fingers inside his icy mitten to reset the slipped warming spell, clinging to the bow of the dogsled with one hand. The sled went on, bumping over the uneven surface, the runners shifting beneath Fox’s feet.
He had to try three times before the spell set. Stunted pine trees to the left and right told him why. He was nearing timberline. Once the trees were gone, Fox could depend on nothing.
The feel of the sled runners under his feet changed as the snowpack became icier. The vibrations shot up Fox’s legs to his knees. Ahead of him, the dark line of seventeen dogs dug in and kept going. Strands of the russet hair that had gained him his mage name escaped Fox’s hood and whipped into his face.
Fox smiled a little, adjusting his stance on the sled runners. At least the dogs were still game to run. He himself was running short on stamina, and even shorter on optimism.
Maybe it was time to turn back. He’d hoped—foolishly, perhaps—that he would find the dragon before he reached the magically debilitating timberline. He should have known better. If it were that easy, someone would have found it before him—Hopping Mouse, or the Great Gray Turtle who had lived two hundred years. Why would he succeed where these far greater wizards had failed? He was, after all, barely thirty, and only a small red Fox.
But he was a fox with a question. He wanted to know why he had been forced to trade his soul for his magic. He wanted to know what had happened to it after he’d given it up. And, most of all, he wanted to know if he could have it back.