The two boys trudged on, uphill, through the snow.

They could barely see, engulfed in their parkas as they were, but that was alright. Yurik knew to follow Misha, and Misha knew to keep moving forward.

Every so often, Yurik would stumble and fall. Misha would grit his teeth -as though in pain- and force himself to turn back. He'd drag his brother out of the drift one-handed, then hurry on, trying to make up the distance.

The stone held beneath his shirt grew cooler.

The shack came into view.

Misha scrabbled clumsily ahead. Yurik struggled to keep up. This time when he fell, Misha didn't pull him out.

In the time it took Yurik to catch up, Misha had already dragged some kindling into the fireplace and was striking desperately at his flint. The stone rested in his lap.

"Here," said Yurik, pulling a box of matches out of his pocket. Misha took them without thanks. After a few tries, the fire was up.

Misha placed the stone into the fireplace. Flames licked fingertips as he set it down, but his hands were far too numb to feel anything. He stared unblinkingly into the fire.

"Come on," he whispered. "Come on. . ."

Yurik sat beside him and tried to warm his hands. It's not going to work, he thought, refusing to look into the fireplace. We were too late.

The stone began to rock. It cracked and splintered and a moment later, a small bird, composed entirely of flame, crawled out. Burning wings flickered as it flopped madly on the hearth. Gently, Misha brought it into his lap, where it curled up and fell asleep.

For the first time in ages, Yurik saw his brother smile.

He smiled back.


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