As the suns fall the air grows frigid, a dark and dreary cold and weary night shatters the clouds, and the scene is light with the glare of the covered frosty blades of grass and falling mist. Shining are two moons in two places, the ground is blue under a night lit in duality with both full and radiant moons, as they begin toward the mountains. A shallow hollow abandoned town, not only in the moonlight but also in the shadows where the damned are not the silent. Strange evils roam the dark mists where the life cannot mention its own sake as clothes and no patrons hang about on walls within the few small dwellings, on tables and chairs in vacant shelters.
Off unto the North, to the luminous looming city, passed the eerie encampment, is a monolithic stairwell at an entrance beyond the ice blade grass. The two stand amazed below the city carved upon the mountain’s face, small and statuesque hanging deeply far above them, at the end of a lengthy and twisted road of stairs. Nickolas looks over the pooling ice in puddles to Merlin who gazes upon the summit. Merlin sets forth to the first stair with Nickolas keeping swift pace.
Nickolas – “It is said they are born of ice.”
Merlin – “They are these days.”
Nickolas – “What are they, who are they perhaps?”
Merlin – “Long ago they were trapped outside in a winter of ages for many seasons. Family after family they became less colorful, each child more acclimate to the cold, until eventually their affinity for colder climates and their exploratory behavior called them farther into the cold.”
Nickolas asks – “Even on a planet of many suns?”
Merlin – “Several ice ages led their nature to require a certain distinction, and ultimately to a species of the separation, and as the world once again warmed they preferred staying on the ice.”
Nickolas – “Would they not return?”
Merlin – “Would you not stay with something beautiful?”
Twin moons play games of chase, dancing as a dim light shines from the slanted cragged edge of the mountain where the suns hath set. The wind brushes the stone and dries the skin and the land below begins to frost over the visible land, with exception to the adequate town below and beyond the flight of stairs, whose lights seem to cut into the cold night. Merlin stops, pulls a flask and takes a drink then says, "In the north ice age, some came south, others fought to survive, the ice age ended and they became light skinned. A second ice age and they harnessed the wind, lightning and the separation of magic from the water.” He passes his drink to Nickolas.
Nickolas – “They separate magic from the water?”
Merlin – “Not quite, it is more so a science. They now live in the height of the mountain, with such knowledge. You will see hence, keep up now.”
Merlin shows a sign of amusement as they continue to foray in a slow but steady stomping march into the precipice. Nickolas looks up again at the massive mountain, to see how far along the stairs he has traversed, to see that he has much to go, to his consideration not nearly far enough.
Merlin – “In cold castles they grow food in gardens with torches in caverns now and play in ice tunnels with undressed feet.”
Nickolas – “I hope to see it before I die.” Merlin laughs aloud and then says to Nickolas, “You will see it, and we will be well received, but after our arrival, never…, touch the lightning they make."
They have been climbing the steps for ages, their mettle tested to the limits as they reach such great heights. Long stairs travel far up the mountain until an abrupt turn in the distance. Nickolas is getting tired and overwhelmed as the sight of the mountain holds stairs from many doors strung across the mountain like a city of towns stacked upon the other. As Nickolas stops and stares above, Merlin says to him as he passes, “At least it keeps you warm.”
The stairs transition into ice further ahead of them, eventually turning clear, each angled so that their footsteps cannot slip away downhill, beneath and behind them. Unknown by visual cue, scouts of the mountain city have long past noticed them ascending the stairwell, though Merlin had inferred by inclination. Climbing the stairs, Nickolas' mind races over the questions Ana had asked the day before and how they seemed to have no common relation besides him, how each question skipped a beat like a strange song he could not place but had heard before, and of how he had never seen this place, nor heard its mention.
Nickolas sits as a guard of the city on high, wearing a hardened pale leather suit, of both the leggings and vestment, fur sleeves of some creature with hair more sparse and course than bear, is walking down the lengthy stairs to meet them. When they find it is Merlin, by way of him holding his hand up and showing a symbol on his wrist identical to the symbol on their weapons, they vigorously help him and Nickolas up the stairs. One of them larger in stature than the other, though both as swift as the next.
The smaller guard – “You should have paced yourselves, lowlanders who heat and sit usually stay and we feed them to the white wolves."
Their pace is swift, and slowed by carrying the two visitors, slowed once more upon the guest’s requests, as the sentries quite nearly haul them to the top, not as prisoners but as guests. At the finish, the two citizens of altitude release them to rest at places coved from the cold elements of the air, as they remain alert, standing and steaming from the bare and vulnerable skin between the barren gaps of their armor. A clouded shadow casts over their position, below the light of the sky that scales the mountain, only a minute portion to where the ice begins. Above where the billows break, the stars shine through an empty black sky, only taken away by roving veils of dark clouds. As Merlin and Nickolas remain dazed and dreaming, exhausted from the ascent, before calming and catching their breath, they are once again ushered, through doors to an interior, no longer dark as the outside world, far above the land below the bastion.
The citadel of the frozen throne is a bright and spacious market of tables where pale and colorless men and women are making goods and not bartering, gradually packing things into containers, each labeled in markings of the old language, in a hall of ice. A bright white frozen structure carved within the ice, possibly clear yet covered in frost, each wall and each pillar. A domed terrace of a second level seen in place to place along a second and hidden third balconies, as denizens young and old pass through hallways, in and out of the forum, in which they harness meat and shell of some unknown creature.
Freezing, arctic, bitter and wintry air rushes into their lungs and begins to freeze, the ice felt within each breath, and with each breath expelled the steam bellows as Nickolas begins to shake. Yet from the locality the steam is absent, even from the youngest among them, the small ones running about without shoes, barely covered as if to play in midsummer of the lower lands.
The frozen throne waits as the scouts lead them to it, similar to a fantasy crystal palace, the people notice and ignore them as they walk through it to their destination. Moments later, a third guard arrives with a heavy coat, the same as those below in the abandoned outpost in the foothill, giving it away to Nickolas. Soon he is to find that it is large for him, but he welcomes the warmth of the fur that surrounds him, the comfort of not feeling the cold up to his ears, the hood of the coat not yet over his head, large as a child in an adults wear.
Through palace doors of clear ice, they enter a hall with two rows of pillars, between each one, podiums and scribes each dressed as if on some summer day. Coming of age children speak and flirt with each other throughout, turning to stare at the Nickolas in his hefty winter coat, an honest sign of his foreign nature, awhile Merlin paces without one, merely pulling his clothes snugly around himself. Nickolas is to take particular notice of the meager lack of prodigal clothes they wear, standing in the hall of the royals scantly poised, and some fanning themselves in the arid cold. Nickolas is oblivious to his location in the castle as he overlooks the King and Queen, due to their complexion holding comparison to frost and ice itself. The King and Queen are ash white, with undersized furs draped seeming warmer than Nickolas can imagine, as he first pulls his plush furs around him the entire sentry laughs as the king's laughter soon follows.
Before Merlin can present himself to the king, two guards carry in a man, darker than the patrons of the scene, yet still fairer than Merlin and Nickolas combined, dragging him by his arms as he twists here to there in resistance. They carry him to a scribe at present, not letting go of the man whose head hangs. Held by his arms behind him, he whispers to the cleric with pen in hand. The man with plume writes into the book as the guards carry him before the high court.
Guard – “A penalty required your highness.”
“What is this brought before us,” said the king staring at Nickolas shortly.
“A miscreant,” somberly stated the guard.
Guard two – “This man has stolen, and has been once warned.”
Next to the king stands a staff with spinning metal wings around a bright and intense light. The king stands and takes the staff, with four spinning blades that look like butterfly wings, without lifting the staff only leaning it forward, lightning shocks the peasant for a crime. The bolt is not brief and it strikes his chest, as his body tries to reject the punishment his arms and legs straighten behind him. The arching torture rescinds to the weapon and the court is silent as the criminal falls to his knees.
“Twenty days confinement in the low mines of the south town to remain hot and bothered,” the king spoke. Within an instant, they drag the unconscious offender away, as he passes his skin seemed dry and made of scars. In the moments to motion, Merlin has stepped forward in front of Nickolas.
“Where are the heirs to the winter warmth?” said Merlin as he approaches the king.
King – “They are just beyond in the denizen art study.”
Behind the throne, another hall filled with children playing and sleeping, resumes its actions when parting with the commotion of the sentencing prior.
Merlin – “There are none in the town below your fortress.”
The king and Merlin meet in open arms, smiling and cordial as if long acquaintances, they look each other over for signs.
King – “We have moved away from the lower entrance since the traffic has lessened, since the towns have grown.”
The queen who had been talking with maidens gathered behind her, who eye Nickolas and seize his eye as well says, “Did the post seem desolate?” She stares at Nickolas, awaiting a response.
“It surely does, it was an empty post and coats,” scoffed Merlin.
Queen – “We’ve always traded from ability and not necessity.”
King – “The towns now come to us on the easier path. What brings you?”
Merlin – “I have need of things only you have, and I bring stark news.”
The King asks, “, of Horus perhaps?”
Merlin – “I have sent Horus back as far as I could through cipher's gate.”
King – “So the painting still works after all these years, did anything change?”
“Hopefully Horus,” said Merlin, causing the queen amusement, she snickers.
King – “You have been gone a long time, you and your strange family.”
The queen says – “You and that wild Horus, who plays king down there, attempt to build anxiety with the people by mere longevity and not living auspiciously.”
King – “I will leave when hell freezes.”
The entirety of the court’s company laughs jovially.
Merlin – “We must speak.”
King – “Entertain our other guest my cool bride.”
She gives a brief look of contempt to Merlin and to the King, to which Nickolas notices, but in the blink of an eye she is on her feet standing before him.
Queen – “Bring us wine,” she said and within only moments, a servant brings them stemware of ice with sparkling white wine with a tinge of rose to its suffusing shaded color. To Nickolas’ surprise the glasses were in fact fashioned of ice, the rim sharp as frost can be in a perfect circle, the contents of which giving a steam through the opening of each chalice yet the wine quite cold.
Queen – “How does it fare you?”
Nickolas – “It is quite good, what is it?”
In actuality, the wine had an intensely sweet flavor and an exacted bitterness in the same instance.
After a brief pause – “It is ice wine.”
Nickolas – “How does the vine grow in this cold?”
Servant approached and says – “Beyond our waters, the springs flow into the plains.”
Queen – “Come with me…” She turned and looked to Nickolas.
Nickolas – “Nickolas.”
Queen – “Follow, our castle has a great view of the lake this time of year.”
Merlin and the King separate from the court, as the queen shows Nickolas the frozen grounds and tapestries with her sapphire Ice Wine in hand, past bright windows and dark hallways, to the royal quarters. An ornate room filled with large arching ceilings and magnificent chandeliers of rubies and diamonds. Each wall is scratched and scoured, industrious barriers to the outside of her bedroom realm, each partition as thick as any stone separation in rock castles elsewhere in the supple lands. Many rooms surround the private chambers of the emperor of the ice, and though Nickolas cannot see through the faded reflective sheen, the fog of the ice that seems like glass filled with winter mist rolling across the plains, he canst almost discern a bedroom, the likes of which is draped with blood red curtains.
The crystalline doors of a balcony hang open and adrift, to a view overlooking a midday glacier. Across the frozen plains, burrowed ice mounds adorn the open snowfields, snow grass reaches for heaven in blues and yellows near the edges of the rising stones, in an otherwise barren wasteland.
Within the walls lie beds of smooth silk and rare furs, wardrobes draped across sofas and in open closets, dressers of solid diamond ice built into the walls. Massive treasure chests and matching trunks too big to carry off with thieving hands even of many, nightstands and pedestals, tall and narrow armoires and black and mysterious obsidian mirrors above vanities, the last of which the queen approaches.
She stares at herself and then to Nickolas as he stares out of the open balcony, huddled tightly in his winter fur. As he notices her, she takes a small vial of a red potion from beyond a crystal decanter and pours it into the water within, slowly the water becomes red as the contents of the vial, but as it slowly stirs, the water becomes clear.
The queen says – “Come out to the ledge and enjoy the view.”
She stood and walked to balcony. Nick walks over slowly, the brightness of the plains shining bright against his eyes, torches of short fierce flames, similar to the weapon the king had used prior, are along the banister, mounted among the surface of freezing fog that has covered the rail in the style of the mist.
Queen looks to Nickolas and with glass in hand gestures below, “View our mainstay.”
Nickolas – “Yes your majesty.”
Queen – “In the summer months, the sun doth not set idly on this side of the mountain. In one equinox, the darkness will rule for the same length of time.”
Queen – “In the summer months, the sun doth not set idly on this side of the mountain. In one equinox, the darkness will rule for the same length of time.”
The cup he holds breaks in the warmth of his hands, now empty. His attention draws to movement on the fields of snow, people sit in wait around fires far below, and as barely in sight, and as they begin to drift swiftly across the ice, ahead of them, branches begin to grow from the white mounds. Crawling out is an arctic monster into the air beneath an approaching snowstorm, met by a certain conflict. Masked by a barren snowfall nearly the same color of its shell, has crawled out a monstrous spider, looking no different from freezing frigid water from below the ice, like a walking snowflake. Behind the fleet of soldiers rushing to confront it, are a handful of small lights, torches of oblivion, rushing to follow.
The queen has entered her room again, making noises from within another dormitory area, distracting Nickolas, causing him to look inside to find her exiting the doors of the bedroom with an iron mug.
The queen chides Nickolas – “Be not harrowed by the cold, use this and that torch to warm your drink.”
Nickolas – “Very pleasing, my oblige I give thee.”
She approaches the dish of diluted drink, rests the cup to the bottom, and lifts it out handing Nickolas a dripping stein. He warms the mug, wondering what fuel could power such a device.
Queen – “look out before it escapes your tell.”
He looks confused at her as she stares out to the wintry event far below them on the ice lake. The traveling lights that rushed the creature had slid to it, leaping over cracks in the ice. Assuredly, within moments, those that paced below have circled the insect. In the distance, they have captured the spiders with a system of a down, with nets and intimidating torches they fell the beast. Slowly and with some resistance met with equal deterrence, they escort the ghastly creature to the base of the winter palace. Closer and closer to the entrance below, it glimmers catching light, a crawling diamond in the rough winds of an onset blizzard and a setting sun.
The queen turns her eyes to him and he replies – “What a wonderful place this is.”
Queen – “Mont Blanc is a dreadful place, always so hot this time of year.”
Nick – “Variety is balancing or a nuisance.” The room no longer less than austere, with a sullenly calm everlong silence, she stares to him blatantly ascetical with void eyes.
Queen – “Care to see the creature.”
Nick says – “Away from doors and windows?”
Queen – “To where you wish.”
Nick – “To a kitchen perhaps somewhere with fire my liege.”
Queen – “Anywhere is warm in this wasted dungeon.” She murmured and then led him through dark halls in bright merriment.
“Follow me,” said she, already walking out clad in shadows, through the main doors, into the twilight hallway. She is tall and narrow, stealthy and within the blink of an eye, she leaves the room and enters the corridor. A virtues fate offered to his poetics, “damn, how quick,” he said and quickly begins to follow as she swiftly sweeps through the twilight hallway. Her majesty’s graceful gliding steps carry her swiftly along the dark antechamber.
The cold breath of the queen freezes in the dim air as Nickolas follows, clinging in mind, swaying in step his path to near the warm torches as he passed them in the desolate downward tunnel to a despondent light at its end. The light reveals a large, bright room with equally large doors. Servants and boxes like those seen during his entry to the bastion surround pillars in the center with empty wrapped cords.
Two grand swinging doors with unlocked barricaded buckle swing open letting in cold and darkness in rampant gusts, turning down the wicks strength. Out and upon the frozen lake, the hunters of the creatures of the open plain are taunting and chasing around a count of three winter spiders the size of carriages. Each translucent to a varying degree have a darkened core with diamonds that gather and form on their joints counting many more knees than the carrion crawlers of cobwebs do. Their skin is adept to ice, a perfect camouflage for a winter storm.
The sunset begins to evanesce as they guide the spider with knives on their feet, as it wavers in an incoherent doldrum, a spell of listlessness and despondency. The trappers walking along showing a lofty and courageous spirit, with staffs with fiery burning of white light within them, as if a wind within their staffs blows the flame to their ends, lighting the ground around them, highly intimidating to the giant spider as it gives massive attack. They lead it in through the door below the balcony as the snow-white queen stands with a nobility of feeling and generosity of mind, with an impressive poise seated in a chair of her absolute designation of the small arena.
In the ice fields far into the distance, red campfires burn among the snow squalls of the burgeoning gale as the sun falls slowly initially than seemingly faster and faster. As it falls behind fires in the powder snow that blows over them, the fading sickle of a dawning moon attempts to glow on the rise. The doors slowly close as the myrmidon drag along the creature into the center of several pillars of iron and tie its legs, stretched and taught, until near paralyzed.
Nickolas quite stunned with awe, he asks, “What are they?”
Queen, “They are fangs of ice, or as we call them, dawn crawlers.”
Thoughts and anger induced by the cold begin to freeze in the extreme evening, let in through the now closed doors.
Nickolas – “I was told of your arrival in the cold but not of such strange things as living off wintry spiders.”
“Many things are different here and we enjoy them all. There are more things than just spiders out there in the ice, yet rarely or naught it is that we are joined by intrusion,” she uttered without acknowledging Nickolas.
“To fear yet many things of yore,” he asked.
Queen – “Part of me will always see the sun.”
Nickolas surveys the diamonds in amazement by their glare and captivated by their splendor.
“Can I have one?” He asked of her majesty, to which she replies, “Yes.”
He goes to the creature, passed the towering soldiers gripping the remaining ropes as others lash cords to the encompassing pillars. The icy insect taunts and tugs, the soldiers look to her as Nickolas makes his advance. She raises her hand and they let him approach, the shimmering crystal surface is magnificent and as the ice melts down it looks like a river of diamonds. While looking over the glistening surface and staring at a large diamond eye, he is deceived by the spider’s gloze, and in an instant Nickolas is knocked unconscious swiftly and silently.
King – “Why did you end the story?”
Merlin – “Our fates differ from your heraldry sire.”
King – “The darkness is eternal.”
Merlin – “I do not understand sovereign.”
The king whets his pallet, mixing in a red potion from a vial, just as the queen, and drinks.
King – “You have not met this villain yet, come with me, I have to show you something.”
Merlin – “Will it be the archetypal demise?”
They walk fast and quiet, down the hall king looks back and says, “No but some will be lost.”
"Who," Merlin asks.
The King replies – “Not for telling.”
“Inedible,” Merlin touted.
King – “You have countless more stories before you meet him,”
Merlin – “Where are we?”
“In the fortune hall,” replied the king.
Merlin asks, "Where?"
King – “I have a prophet now.”
“A soothsayer apostle?” asked Merlin.
King – “yes, it is quite a remedy.”
Merlin – “And my ill fate you speak.”
King – “Your villains are of your design. You cannot defeat what is not evil.”
Merlin – “It goes to show that I shine beyond horizons, but I am not in the story.”
King – “Nor is your villain.”
Merlin is veritably confused. They approach a door in a dim part of the castle, where the walls are made of stone. Covered by a cloth, candles and bowls of burning coals for heat glow from in a room of many hanging blankets.
Merlin – “You have word of my death?”
“Not you, I cannot ruin it from here, even if I can.” The king’s response was terse and unwelcomed. Merlin’s face shows signs of contempt as he follows the king and cape down the hallway. The king stands in wait in front of the doorway waiting for Merlin’s entry or for him to draw the curtain for him. Merlin by means of magic sways the curtain without his hand, and passes into the chamber of secrets. In unsound physical condition, an elder stands from a sofa in an area strewn with books. A table in the room balances a crystal sphere with internal radiance on a precarious chain mail sheet, draping over the table’s edge.
Merlin – “Who are you?”
Prophet – “I am the bleeding prophet praetorian.” He said hobbling over to them.
Merlin – “Tell me something now and be quick of it.”
Sitting down, the old man coughs and shows signs of aging as he sits again to his table holding the edge as not to fall or wear his bones. The light of the room begins to fail as the flames of the candles and the embers of the fiery bowls begin to glow stronger. The prophet looks over Merlin's hands, noticing their scrapes, bruises, and countless scars, and begins to prate.
Prophet – “You draw out your villains well, there is a black hole sun and times are gone for honest men on this world, sound asleep you send hell away, and wash away the rain before evil molts.”
The light in the crystal ball begins to fade, as the elder begins to slip into sleep, leaning forward into the table. Merlin wakes him as the fire beneath the orb slips into darkness, the fortuneteller takes a drink from a flask taken from below the table without subtlety.
The prophet orates, "Too many variables, the story is missing, he will be watching with black smoke."
The old priest gets up and walks out, reaching up high and patting the king on his shoulder on his way to the exterior of a single room, saving strain to a shorter leg with a short stave.
Merlin stands staring to the king in an awkward silence and notices a cloth strewn on a table and several frosted diamonds in the shape of tears lay out on stranded necklaces of lustrous metal.
“May I take some of these with me?” Merlin asked.
King – “Of course you may.”
As he awakens, healers with bluely tinted skin surround him, sitting at the end of the mattress and pampering the queen, from the comfort and solace of a fur covered bed. He lies in the same room as when affronted and stricken by the giant spider, merely in another portion of the slaughter hall. He looks around to notice men with tinted glasses sleeping in tall chairs with their back reclined as others hew at slain spiders, quartering and sectioning pieces, which are then ushered to differing places.
Nick – “What the hell happened?”
Queen – “You sound like Merlin, are you from far?”
Nickolas – “I, well, am from a great distance.”
1 – “Ashland?”
3 – “Heaven?”
Nickolas – “NO.”
2 – “Hell?”
Nickolas with indignant character says – “What?”
3 – “The city of the dead?”
Nickolas answers – “No. city of the dead?” with a confounded look upon his face.
Queen – “That blow should have killed a life such as yours.” She said trying to comfort him.
Nickolas – “Perhaps it did.”
Queen – “Perhaps the question is an awakening sundry.”
Nickolas – “I’m from Midgard?” The statement formed as a question, for he was not sure of the name of his world for them to understand.
Queen – “Than you are far from home, wine?”
Even after the sun fell and the lucent inviolable winter wall grew dark, is it that those who wear the dyed glasses take down their visual armor. Others, who passed into the vestibule from the darkest of tunnels, wore theirs to and from their destinations.
The queen is sitting at the end of the bed, stroking the course furs that adorn the bed, giving a deigning stare to Nickolas, as she lifts her hand and sways it to her side. A servant rushes to her assistance with a platter holding a wine glass, but it melts at her touch. The drudges quickly brought her a crystal glass and poured a deep and dark, blood red concoction into a crystal cup, placing it to a new platter before handing it to her. It is at this time that Merlin and the ice lord enter the scene.
Merlin – “What is this?”
Queen – “He did it to himself.”
3 – “He heals well.”
Merlin – “What happened?”
3 – “He was bitten, he should be dead.”
King – “Who is this?”
Nickolas interjects – “Bitten?”
Merlin – “This is the shadow Nickolas.”
Nickolas – “Shadow?”
The King spoke – “Ah, yes, what’s mine is yours for the time being Nickolas, welcome to Mont Blanc.”
Queen – “So you’ve brought him here to be prey to the dawn crawlers, how fitting of you Merlin.”
Merlin – “I brought him here for just that.”
Merlin has some ice wine causing his eyes to sparkle like blue ice. The king is soon to approach the butcher’s arena. At the introduction of a new spider into the hall, one looses and the king swiftly grabs a sword and disables the spider’s mobility, finishing things with a piercing judgment. They take diamonds and glimmering armor from the giant insect, toasting and commenting in jest. With the blood, Merlin, the King and Queen as well as Nickolas and others toast, not before Merlin heats his own goblet, as nick swivels from and steps out of the divan.
“So cold,” said Nickolas shaking and alert as soon as he becomes aware.
King – “Than move,” said the King with confidence.
Nick sits upright and pulls his coat closed. Another grouping of laughter from the current audience, as nick sits up slowly, unwittingly taking an axe handle to stand. He notices what he has grabbed, and decides to take it to the creature and splits the already desperate spider’s face open, taking an eye and wrapping it in a readily available rag, shorn from another of the great spiders, and put it into his vestment. The workers had paused but now listlessly toiling at the slain beast as Nickolas wipes his hands on another leather rag.