"Are you sure you can't stay?"

"Unfortunately, yes. I have other destinations to make before the blizzard's end, I'm afraid." Irena admitted, adjusting her coat as she looked out the bakery window.

"But…it is a blizzard. You can't just go walking around out there!" Colette protested, though was only met with a chuckle.

"Ah, my dear, I am a Snow Elf. There is no cold that will prove harmful for me. I only needed a moment to rest my legs and find my bearings." Hefting the enormous fish over her shoulder, she looked around at the small shop. "Besides…I think you have all you need here now."

"…I'll try my best. To do what you said." She shyly folded her hands together, looking to the half-eaten bread she'd given her guest.

"That's all anyone can be asked to do. Try your hardest, or not at all, should you choose. You don't owe anything to anyone, young one, and certainly not your life." Sighing wistfully, Irena shook her head. "If only I'd gotten the chance to tell that to a friend of mine, not so different from yourself, that I once knew."

"What happened to them? Your friend, I mean."

"Truthfully? I'm not sure. She had a destiny to face, a terrible one at that, and she overcame it. To what end, I've not the slightest idea, but…" Rubbing her chin thoughtfully, the elf reached into her pocket and retrieved a small wooden disc, tribal designs neatly painted upon it. "I think she made it out alright. As will you. Here, take this."

Gingerly taking the small token, Colette examined it with interest.

"What is it?"

"A charm, a little something my people used to make. A way of saying farewell, and good fortune till our next meeting." She smiled, and pulled her hood on. "And so, good fortune, young Marquis…and thank you, for your hospitality."

Colette watched as Irena stepped outside, taking a breath of windy, snow-choked air as if she was a fish reentering water, and clutched her friend's gift tightly before her eyes lit up with an idea.

"W-Wait! I have something to give you, as well!" Sliding behind her counter, Colette retrieved one of the fresher loaves of bread she'd made earlier, neatly wrapping it in paper as she cautiously stepped outside to hand it to the snow elf.

"Oh?" Partially unwrapping it, Irena's expression of confusion quickly changed to a grin. "Much appreciated, my friend."

"The Marquis Bakery hopes to see you back soon." Colette nodded, shaking Irena's hand.

"As do I. Farewell, young one." With a final wave and bow, Irena shuffled off into the snow, slowly disappearing into the night and the raging snow. Colette watched as she left, ignoring the cold as she finally returned to the bakery.

With a contented sigh, she looked at the talisman Irena had given her, and placed it behind her counter, on a small and empty shelf.

"Until next time."

OOO

Though Irena's return visits came few and far between as the years went by, it was always a delight for the pair. Colette steadily grew more confident, taking her friend's words about the magic of helping others to heart as she brought the Marquis Bakery to further heights of fame.

There would be other strange visitors to her shop, as well. All came with varying origins and intent, adding memories to her shelf as they went about their way, with few like Irena realizing the crossroads that Colette lived upon.

Clayem still remained a town on the far edges of civilization, with few visitors, but rumors of her talent and the quality of the bread she made was spread far and wide, from Drachma to the Nexus itself, and eventually she would meet a young and brazen ice mage, on a day that would mark the changing of the world as she knew it.

*FIN*