My friends and I settled down after making progress towards our destination, the Unfreezing Sea. The days are longer and the nights shorter. Any decent sleep is short lived so we must get as much as we can. Luckily, my shift for lookout is last, so my sleep isn’t interrupted until the end.
I was having a dreamless sleep until I woke up with a snort. Adrian shook me up, waking me, his shift ended. I nodded to him and got up to relieve my bladder. By the time I had finished and got back to the camp, he had settled himself into much needed rest. I sat down and poked at the fire.
Thirty minutes passed after I completed menial tasks to prepare for the trek; sharpening my glaive, making sure nothing was missing from my inventory and saying a small prayer to Halis. The only thing left to do was to stay awake and keep an eye out for any hostiles. But there was nothing. Permafrost stretched for miles. Sparkling mists of ice fell down from the heavens. Mountains towered over us past the clouds and the mists. Trees were scattered among the land before us. It was…familiar. And then a memory crashed into me. One that I had suppressed over many years………
I was eight years old in my hometown of Malatin.
“Asher!”, my father called. “It’s time to get up!”
The sun wasn’t fully up yet when I woke up. I shuffled out of bed and got dressed. I stumbled down stairs to see my father and mother eating breakfast in the dining room.
My father, Joel was a very humble and hardworking man. He was taller with average, had a perpetual stubble on his face, brown eyes and short, sleek black hair with a few streaks of grey thrown in. I often mused if the grey hair was hereditary or just due to stress. Personally, I’d prefer the latter. He was also built like a man who worked constantly. It wasn’t rare to see him all around Malatin helping the townsfolk in whatever they needed. Seeing him do so much inspired me to try and do the same.
Next to my father was my mother, Mei. She was average height and slender. She had blue eyes with long brown hair. She had the same humility as my father but she also held herself with a sort of grace as well, as if every bit of her movement had a sense of purpose. While father was away and busy, which was often, she handled the chores around the house. Of course, I didn’t let her do everything by herself, but when I was sick or away with father, she would still finish by the end of the day.
“Mornin’, Asher,” said my father. “Are you excited about today?”
Today was going to be the first time I left Malatin entirely. One of the townsfolk asked my father to gather herbs from the mountains for medicinal purposes, and he figured it would be a good opportunity for me to learn something new. To be honest, I just wanted to help. “Of course,” I said
“Good. Eat up. We’ve got a busy day.”
The day started off normally enough. I sat down to eat my fill of eggs, bacon and biscuits. I helped mother with the chores until noon, trained with my father for about an hour and then finished with the chores. It was around one o’clock when my father came home with two backpacks full of what I assumed food and camping materials. Before we left, my parents and I said a few prayers to the Goddess of Life, Halis. I felt a small thrum of calm and peaceful power as we finished. It was time for my father and I to begin our travels into the mountains.
Traveling took about half a day, which gave me enough time to take in the details of the mountain environment. It was cold, at the very beginning of winter. The trees and the ground had small patches of snow, getting bigger and bigger as we walked the trail. Deer, squirrels and other forest dwellers scurried over shrubs and bushes. The whole thing was foreign to me, but I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I basked in its serenity. We arrived at our destination barely before the sun went down. We set up camp and slept. The next day, we spent the whole time gathering herbs.
“This here is mugwort,” father said. “It’s used for healing properties and you can even make tea with it. Over here, this is….” He continued on and on, and I took in as much information as possible. It wasn’t until the afternoon when I saw him stop talking to look up at the sky and say, “Son, it’s time to go.”
“Why?” I asked.
“There’s snow coming. I can feel it.”
“Is that bad?”
“In these parts, yes. It’s dangerous, especially at night. The sooner we get back home, the better.”
So we headed back. Not even ten minutes passed when my father’s prediction came true. Snow slowly drifted down from the sky and in response, we picked up the pace. Steadily, the snow started getting heavier and heavier. The wind started to pick up, splashing the ever stronger snow into our faces. Our progress slowed down and it didn’t show signs of letting up. The sun was almost down when we were still hours away from Malatin. It was then that my father saw a small cave ahead of us, some natural protection against the raging snow.
“Just a bit further and we’ll set up camp.” I heard my father call. “It’s too dangerous to travel at night in this weather.”
I started to respond when I slipped and fell to the side. I expected to stop immediately against the ground, but instead found myself tumbling down a steep hill. Down, down, down I went until suddenly, I was airborne and then felt a sudden impact. Slowly, I sat myself up out of a pile of snow and gathered my bearings. I looked up and realized that I had rolled off a small cliff.
Crap. I had to get back somehow. I pushed myself up to start my climb back up but a sharp pain in my left ankle caused me to fall again. I reached down to feel my ankle and found it was swollen up bad. I’m not sure if I broke something or if it was just sprained but I couldn’t walk. Double crap. Only one thing came to mind. I was stuck.
“Help!” I yelled out. “Father, I need help!” I yelled continuously for what seemed like forever. The sun had set completely, leaving me in the mountain forest dark, cold and alone. I yelled and yelled until my throat burned and my voice went weak. I couldn’t yell anymore so the only thing I could do then is wait and hope my father,
or someone in general, heard my pleas.
With my back against the same cliff I fell off of, I sat patiently. I honestly don’t know how long I waited. The seconds felt like minutes and the minutes felt like hours. My patience turned to anxiety and my anxiety turned to pure childish fear, and with it, dark thoughts filled my mind.
Will father come back for me?
Did he even notice I was gone?
Will I see my mother again?
Am I going to die?
Every thought that crossed my mind said that I was doomed on this mountain. There was nothing I could do and nobody was there to help me…unless…
I bowed my head and started to pray to Halis. All of my emotions poured into the words as I spoke. “Halis, please. Help me.” Nothing happened.
“Please. Help.” Again, nothing.
“Halis, Goddess of Life, please…” And for the third straight time, nothing happened.
Then something in me snapped. This was it. I was going to die. I started sobbing, the cold wind stabbing the tears against my face. With one last effort, through the sobs, the pain in my throat and the cold, windy night, I screamed, “Help me, gods damn you! Help me, please!”
Then among the snow and the wind, I felt something. It felt… familiar. It felt calm. Peaceful. Soothing, even. But so… wrong. It was calm, yet unforgiving. Peaceful, but brutal. Soothing, but so absolute. It scared me. It scared me so much I couldn’t think straight. I began to shiver more out of fear than to keep warm in the cold. Then all of a sudden, the wind raged harder than ever. I had to shield my face because I feared the snow would cut through my eyes. Then in the howling wind, I heard a voice. Strong, low and ruthless, it came to me from all around.
“Child of the favored ancestor. Do you wish to live?”
In my fear and shivering, I barely managed a small, pitiful “Yes.”
“Good,” it responded. “It would be a shame if such potential was wasted. Had you not responded, I would have left you to die.” In the woods ahead, there appeared a pair of blue eyes, frozen and inhuman. Slowly, it approached me, gathering snow in the wind to make a body for itself.
“There is much for you to learn. Much for you to see. And you are of no use to the world dead, child.” It came closer and closer.
“Your fate is not here, child. You must destroy that which is yet to come. You must rectify the mistakes of the past.
It was right in front of me. Just looking at it made my instincts scream that I was nothing compared to whatever this thing was. I barely whispered, “I don’t understand.”
You will in time. But for now, live." It moved forward, slowly entering my chest, and I was consumed by the cold. I blacked out.
All I heard after that was the voice of a woman.
“Asher, get up man,” said Adrian as he lightly shook me to awake me. I’d dozed off during my shift and I’m lucky that nothing happened while I did. Everybody was gathering their things together to get ready to travel further north. Adrian looked at me, concern on his face. “You alright? You’re sweating like a mad man.”
I wiped off my face as quickly as possible. “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” I responded. As I got up to gather my things, I began to reflect on what I just remembered, and it made sense as to why I don’t do well in the cold. But that doesn’t matter now. It’s time to press forward towards Sylander and the Unfreezing Sea.