Gwydion stood at the water's edge, where the icy waves calmly fell against the pebbled beach of sand, snow and ice. A layer of ice clung to the rocks that stuck up out of the water.
It was a world wrought by the Gifted, not by the greater powers, in a time of persecution and escapism. Its fragile existence hung in a realm of nothingness. Every stretch of sea, every snowy mountain, every conifered hill and every snowy plain. All could disappear, in pieces that would fall away into empty darkness, if any more than a half dozen Gifted adults were to cease their prayers.
"Why have you called me here, where the wind is coldest?" bellowed Gwydion.
A watery silhouette moved from behind a rock. It danced gracefully upon the slippery shore, its shins breaking the water effortlessly. The figure, bearing the slender shape of a man, paused to stare at Gwydion with eyes that shone a dangerously electric blue.
"Speak, nymph!" commanded Gwydion.
The raw, elemental being, which had become as unmoving as a statue, shook its head abruptly, sending warm droplets of water splashing against Gwydion's face, as it moved forward.
In the light of the false stars, the old man smiled, for he now recognized the watery sprite that had called his name upon the wind.
"You are Raef's, are you not?"
The sprite nodded, its face a portrait of innocent masculinity. "Master Raef grows ill with sadness, Gwydion. I think you know why."
"I can venture a guess. Things are changing, and he is being left in the dark. His teacher has gone missing, and his sensitive nature reacting acutely."
The water sprite laughed. It was a beautiful sound, like the ringing of bells, but it ended with a cadence of somber finality. "My master cares not where his insensitive teacher has disappeared to. If anything, Vollomeer's departure has made Raef... happier. At least, it had before his gloomy demeanour set in."
"Then whatever is the matter?"
"He almost unsummoned me, Gwydion. The boy's on edge. His nightmares grow worse every night, and I am certain it is that girl he pines for. I think you know the one. She too has disappeared."
"I know of two such girls, who are on academic leave," confided the old wizard. "And I would prefer if you... kept that to yourself."
The nymph nodded, his face etched with desperation as a droplet of water broke from under his eye, and slid down the high cheekbones of his hauntingly beautiful face. "I was summoned out of his love for her, Gwydion. And I'm far more sentient than anything one so young has summoned in quite some time. I am a testament to a breaking heart, and I fear what I may become. Master Raef's sanity is fragile, even without her."
"Yes, I am aware of the boy's condition. However, there is little I can do about the situation that won't put your life and his in further jeopardy," Gwydion spoke harshly.
"How so?" asked the sprite.
"Those girls are leaving Winterealm," whispered Gwydion, and his own paranoia caused him to take a look around. However, nobody was eavesdropping except perhaps the five seals who were sleeping on the beech.
"If I leave, the tide will drop just a bit," said the sprite. "Someone will notice."
"Yes, they will. That is unfortunate. However, we cannot risk what the Skathainians risked with Wolfram. Raef Ak'karell must not make the same descent into madness," said Gwydion. "However, for his sake, I cannot spend any time discussing it with the other Elders of Winterealm. I can see from the way you bristle with with uncharacteristic electricity that this is a dire situation."
The nymph nodded, "Thank you, sir. Will you deploy a third young one in her stead, or will you send Master Raef and I?"
"Wake him, and head to the healing ward. Make haste, and pay no heed of those that mourn the girls' deaths. However, you must pretend to all that they lost their lives in the fire that overtook Vollomeer's tower."
The nymph smiled, as yet another tear dripped from his translucent face. Then, he pranced into a dive, and his shape was barely visible in the water, except for the flashes of apprehensive electricity that sparked through him, as he swam off to his master's island home.
Gwydion turned from the water's edge, intending to return to Arianwen and Jeremi to explain that the mute and traumatized summoning prodigy, Raef Ak'karell, and his watery sprite companion would be accompanying them into Highland.
However, there was a man on the snow-covered hill ledge. He was cloaked in black, and muttering words for a spell under his breath.
The old man swore, and braced himself.