Anyu squinted through the biting wind, but there was nothing to see. Only the harsh whiteness of the snow pelting her skin like tiny bee stings and the inky blackness of the night. The contrast was disorienting. She tilted her head up to get a view of the sky. The stars winked secretively. They should have been a comfort, but these weren't any stars that Anyu recognized. The familiar bear racing across the heavens was gone, replaced by cold, sparkling strangers. She didn't know their secrets.
Shesh gave a shuddering bray beneath her, a desperate plea for warmth. Anyu wanted to soothe him but her lips felt numb and she feared if she opened her mouth her chattering teeth would bite off her tongue. Instead she leaned forward, patting the reindeer's flank in a vain attempt of encouragement. Her heartbeat thumped loudly, even louder than the vicious winds. Even Shesh couldn't go on forever, and there was still no shelter in sight.
A child's giggle drifted softly on the wind to Anyu's ears. She whipped around in her saddle, already knowing that she would see nothing. She had come to the conclusion several miles back that the sounds were not the result of insanity or paranoia. Shesh paused to peer into the night, also searching for the source of the noise.
Another sound, like the distant echo of a laugh. This time, Anyu twisted in time to see a silhouette in her periphery, so quick that she would have dismissed it as a shadow if she wasn't so wound up.
Her left hand slowly crept to the spear hanging at her side. Her other hand fingered the bone strung around a leather thong on her neck. The edges were worn and yellow from years of her worrying hands, but it was just as powerful.
Anyu closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, ignoring the freezing air burning her nostrils. For several moments she remained as still as the ice coating her boots, not even breathing. She felt a hint of movement to her left, the intensity of a pair of eyes observing her. In the instant that Anyu released a puff of breath her arm had flung the spear in one sleek movement, and somewhere beyond the cloak of the snow a voice cried out in pain.
Anyu urged Shesh towards the sound and came upon a terrible creature. It was in the general shape of a small child and was completely encased in an uneven layer of ice. The ice was cloudy and scratched. Only when Anyu squinted and leaned forward could she make out the tiny corpse encapsulated in the frozen shell. Except for a few clumps of hair and rotting skin, it was almost completely a skeleton. But most unsettling of all were the eyes; the piercing, beautiful eyes, which were perfectly preserved. Its mouth was twisted into an ugly sneer, but the eyes were forever frozen in an expression of utmost terror. Anyu jerked back in revulsion, but she didn't look away. She recognized the creature for what it was; keeping an eye on it could be her only way to escape this storm.
"You ruined our game of hide and seek!" It shrieked. Anyu's spear had pierced clean through its side. It didn't appear to be injured at all, although the spear kept it pinned to the ground.
"Ijiraq," Anyu addressed it, trying to will her voice to stop trembling. "I command you: lead me home."
The creature let out another wordless screech. "Ooh, very clever!" It barked. "Very clever indeed. You've won the game of hide and seek. I am obligated to obey... If you are truly able, that is." Moonlight glinted mischievously off of its icy façade.
The wind had died down somewhat. It still touched her face like a slap, but she could hear her own voice as she spoke. "I am." Ijiraq were deceptive creatures of shadows and light. They had no real strength, only their trickery and magic; impossible to capture unless they wanted to be, flighty and elusive. A captured ijiraq was a valuable asset indeed, for they are impossible to keep. Blink and they vanish into thin air.
It seemed to regain its composure, and simply sat there expectantly.
Anyu closed her eyes and prayed to the wind spirits to go to sleep. Then she opened her eyes and tugged her spear from the ijiraq's body. The hole in its side crackled with the sound of ice forming and bones repairing themselves until it was completely sealed.
"Shesh is the fastest reindeer in his herd. If you try to run, he'll trample you."