Sparks leapt from my flint and a thin golden flame flickered to life. I leaned forward, warming my hands over its light, feeling it flood through and calm me in the way only firecrafters can.
I closed my eyes. I could feel the fire in my mind, feel it reaching out to warm my soul. I took hold of it, and slit my palm with a knife. Pain spiked up through my arm, made all the worse by the raw life coursing through me, out of me. I let my blood fall into the flame, and the fire changed. It was a part of me now, fueled more by my soul than by the wood it danced on.
I took a deep shuddering breath as the familiar cloud of lust and despair and hunger and ecstacy swept through me. The fire called to me, licked towards my hands, and I wanted more than anything to slit my wrists deeply and bleed out there, letting my lifeblood join the raucous dance, let the fire grow into a maelstrom that would consume every— no. With a strength born of years of practice, I wrenched myself back from the abyss, reminding myself of my purpose.
Flesh and bone took shape at my command. I did not need my eyes open to see my work, to see the still creature coalescing in my bloodied hands. The years of ugly practice it had taken to come this far, the broken sacs of flesh and warped tissue I'd had to cast away, faded into the distance as the certainty of what I was now building consumed me. Eyes, teeth, legs, flesh all came together in perfect harmony.
The fire roared brightly, and with one more spark of will I breathed life into my creation. I felt its pulse start up, blood - my blood - coursing through its small, furry body.
I opened my eyes. In my hands, covered in the blood of its birth, was a small horned squirrel with pure white fur. I watched in pride as it took its first breath, and opened its eyes to behold its creator, its mistress. They were bright and golden, just like mine.
I held her in my arms as I trudged, weak from my exertion, through the snow back to the village. She nestled her head between my breasts, and I wondered at the sensation of a second life burning inside my soul.
My people were waiting for me as I emerged from the woods, their heads bowed in prayer. As I approached, the old shaman lifted her head, and I let the squirrel scamper up to my shoulders. She smiled, and held out a hand. I took it, and knelt.
"Kerith, daughter of Ingar," she said, her voice barely a whisper above the wind. "In the sight of the gods, do you pledge your soul to the wholeness of your people and to the service of Heaven?"
"I do, holy one."
"Then rise, shaman Kerith, daughter of the North," she responded, and as I stood she embraced me gently. "You have done well."