Crystal stared at the maps in front of her, knowing they could tell her nothing she didn’t already know. They hung on the wall behind her usual worktable, dotted and colored with painstaking detail. She’d made meticulous notes over the years. Her gift worked to let her find things she needed, but it was easier when she knew where to look.
Had it been winter, there wouldn’t have even been a question. She could have brought entire carts of it back from the northern side of the mountain in a day, maybe two. A single bag would have been easy.
With summer nearing its peak, there was no way to get even a flake, much less keep it frozen all the way back to Lucinda’s cave.
The door opened, banging into the wall behind it and she looked up. “Crystal? Crystal!”
Juniper slammed the door shut again and pulled her to her feet. The feel of icy hands on her skin startled her. “You’re freezing, are you alright?”
“Yes, yes, yes! I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I have it.”
“Have what?” Crystal said and Juniper grinned.
“The bag of snow,” she said.
It took Crystal at least a full minute to properly understand what Juniper was saying. “How?”
“I have a friend,” Juniper said. Her excitement came through as a bright glow on her face. “Who knows another person, who once spoke with Godmother Dawn, and they recalled from speaking with Godmother Dawn about where to find a very tiny patch of ice.”
“Ice,” Juniper said. Her cheeks remained flushed as if she’d just stepped in from a light winter snow, and her eyes blazed with delight.
“Is that why you’re so cold right now? You’ve been digging in ice?”
“What? Oh. Oh, I hadn’t even noticed. That’s not important, what’s important is that I have the bag.”
“A bag of unmelted snow.”
“Yes! The only condition is that I can’t simply give it to someone, I have to trade it,” Juniper said.
“I—oh. You’re not going anywhere near that cave.”
“Of course not. I’ll trade it to you. I can think of at least half a dozen things I’m willing to trade it for. A hot cup of tea sounds lovely.”
“Then one cup of tea, unsweetened, for your bag of snow?” Crystal offered it with a faint lift of her brow. She knew how Juniper liked her tea and the resulting grin was enough to lighten her own bleak mood.
“Good,” Crystal said and kissed Juniper’s cheek. “You’re absolutely frozen. It’s a good thing I just took the kettle off. It should still be hot.”
The water was still steaming as Crystal poured it over the leaves. Juniper settled to the kitchen table, her delight clear. The smell of hot tea spread through the kitchen.
“How exactly did you get it?” Crystal questioned as she set the kettle down. She scooped one of the last tarts out of the basket on the sideboard as well.
“Oh, well,” Juniper hummed a little. “It’s a bit…of a story.”
“What sort of story?”
“Nothing serious,” Juniper said. “I just had to go argue with an ice spirit, that’s all. Listen, the bag will only work for a year and a day and it can’t be given, only traded.”
“A year and a day?” Crystal brought the steaming cup over and Juniper wrapped her hands around it.
“Yes,” Juniper said and then smiled, pulling it from her belt. “As agreed. One cup of tea for one bag of snow.”
Crystal took the bag with care. It felt like simple, plain leather and she frowned as she opened it.
“Juni, it’s empty.”
“It is,” Juniper agreed. “Now turn it over.”
A little concerned that Juniper had gotten tricked by a spirit, Crystal nevertheless complied. A few soft flakes drifted out, falling to the kitchen floor where they melted, dotting the floor with miniscule puddles as they faded from crystal to water.
“Snow,” she said.
“One bag of snow,” Juniper said. “It will only work for a year and a day.”
“And after that it will return to being a leather pouch,” Crystal said.
“Yes. If anyone attempts to gift it, it will also stop working, or so I’ve been warned.”
It was probably information she should give Lucinda, she realized, but right now she was more concerned with how cold Juniper was.
“Juni, what did you trade?”
Juniper hesitated and then sighed. “I know you liked that ribbon I wore,” she said and Crystal smiled as she came around to hug her. “And a day of my warmth,” she said.
“Silly, I only like that ribbon because you enjoy wearing it,” Crystal said. “I’m more worried you’ll get too cold.”
“It’s summer,” Juniper replied. “I’ll be alright.”
“Still. I’ll ask Mica and Jasper to stay with you.”
“What about Coal and Jet?”
“I’ll have Coal come with me,” Crystal said. “Jet can keep watch for us from the farm.”
Juniper smiled and stood, wrapping her arms around Crystal. “Just come back to me, that’s all I ask.”
“Always,” Crystal promised and squeezed her for a moment. “I won’t be long.”
They separated and Juniper smiled. “I have some sewing to do anyways,” she said. “It’s tedious, but I can sit on the back step. It should be plenty warm enough there with the sun.”
Crystal nodded. “I’ll send Mica and Jasper along soon,” she promised.
“Thank you,” Juniper said.
Crystal took the time to collect her lantern, and her longer knife before she left. The farm wasn’t far outside of town, but it still took her several long minutes to reach it. As she approached, she could already see the where her brothers were focusing their efforts, trying to catch up on the work they had missed in the days they’d been trapped by Lucinda.
She knocked all the same, though part of her told her she could have easily gone in. It had been her parent’s home, the same place she’d spent her childhood in.
It wasn’t until Coal swung the door open that she dared to step inside. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I have the next item,” she said and a thump from the other room heralded Jasper as he shuffled in. She glanced at him and then back to Coal. “I want you to go with me, and wait at the entrance.”
“Why not go all the way in with you?”
“I can’t risk you like that,” Crystal said. “But I’m not silly enough to think I can carry Flint all the way back home by myself if I don’t get him out before sunset.”
“The sunlight,” Jasper said. “That’s what wakes us.”
Crystal nodded as she looked at him. “Juniper’s at home, can you and Mica sit with her?”
“Of course, but why?”
“That’s how we got the bag of snow,” Crystal said. “There’s a patch of ice she knew where to find, so she traded one day of warmth for the bag of snow. I just want someone to stay and look after her, just in case.”
“We’ll do it,” Jasper said.
“You haven’t even told Mica,” Coal argued and Jasper chortled.
“We’ll do it,” he said. “Are you certain about this?”
“I am,” she said.
“Then let’s go,” Coal said and pulled another lantern from the hook by the door.
“I’ll go get Mica now,” Jasper promised and turned, shuffling off to wherever their oldest brother had hidden himself.
The path up the mountain was becoming familiar, but Crystal felt her heart pounding as she moved along it. If something went wrong, Juniper could be tangled up in the consequences.
Spirits weren’t likely to actively cause harm, but if their prices weren’t paid, they were twice as vindictive as any fae.
Coal stopped her at the entrance. “Are you sure it’s safe for you to go alone?”
“No,” Crystal said. “But I’m even less certain that Lucinda won’t try and tangle you up in this mess as well.”
“I just don’t want you getting hurt,” Coal said.
“I won’t,” Crystal said. “I know what I can offer and I know what she wants.”
“That doesn’t mean much,” Coal counseled. “Don’t take anymore risks than you absolutely have to.”
She smiled. “I won’t,” she said and took a second to adjust the lantern wick. “I’ll be back. Hopefully before sundown.”
Coal only nodded, but his expression indicated he wasn’t sure he liked it. Crystal inhaled once, slowly, and turned back to the cave. A soft wind made the air inside whistle and she had to steel herself for a moment before she went down, stepping into the darkness of the blood fae’s realm.