Despite, or perhaps because of, her social intervention with the Khem siblings, Janaxia had barely been allowed out of the house in weeks, her sole salvation the rare occasions she could escape to have assignations with the Khem’s, only chance to discuss something other than the esoteric arcana of magical theory. Her mother had assigned Kivata to teach her magic, with little success.
She hammered on the door. ‘Kivata! Please, let me out! It’s cold, and I’m hungry!’
Kivata’s voice was muffled, but, even through the thick door, sounded cold and disdainful. ‘I have left the key in the lock. Simply use a spell to turn it.’
Janaxia ground her teeth in frustration. She’d been trying that for hours! She could hear Kivata’s footsteps retreating up the stairs, with a final warning. ‘Mother is away for the week. If you haven’t managed it by then, and haven’t died, you may as well just leave, you’ll never amount to anything!’
The footsteps faded away to silence as Kivata moved away, leaving Janaxia knocking against the door, trying to call her back, only succeeding in tiring herself out.
She looked around the cellar, hoping to find another escape, or some food. The floor was covered with chalk circles, runes and glyphs that she’d drawn to try and focus her energies, all without effect. Most of the room was filled with the detritus that any great family accumulated over time, all sorts of oddities piled into heaps, many not even boxed up, the far walls impossible to see behind the rubbish. It was uncomfortably cold, a metal plate on the wall gently steaming with chill mist, a device to make ice and preserve food.
After giving the door another push, in case Kivata had shown rare mercy and decided to release her, she started to look for other exits, in case the room had a hidden door or suchlike, at least as much as she could without moving a lot of boxes. The walls were all plain brick, flaking from the chill moisture. There were no windows, making the place damp. There was nothing, at least that she was able to find.
At a loss for anything else to do, she went to check the icy plate, first finding a crowbar to break through the ice. It fell to the ground in thin sheets, before she examined the plate, taller than she was, and three paces wide. Covered with thin etchings, it took her a moment to realise they were letters, text hidden beneath the ice, far more than was needed for the spellcraft to chill the metal.
The language was old – she could make out individual characters and some words, but not enough to read the entire text. Something about resting, and a tomb? It said Utremar, an older variant of her family name, so it must have been put in place by an ancestor, centuries ago. She shivered, her outfit suitable for being outside in the warmth, not stuck in a cellar next to an enchanted metal ice plate, but examined it further.
Attaching it to the walls on one side were metal brackets, which, on closer inspection, turned out to be hinges. Her curiosity was now piqued – was the thing a door? That meant it could be opened, which meant she might be able to get out, before she passed out from lack of food. It was likely that her sister would hold to her words and leave her down here for a full week if she didn’t manage to get out somehow.
A few blows of the crowbar knocked the ice of the hinges, but the thing lacked a handle, and touching it with her hands earnt her nothing but raw hands as her skin stuck to it, frozen to the chill surface. Smacking it with a crowbar did nothing but knock more ice off, as she vented her anger and frustration, shouting some exceptionally undignified curses that Mother would be very disappointed to hear from her mouth, only stopping when her arms started to throb from exhaustion.
Why did she always have to follow orders, and just do what she was told? Why did she have to wear such horrible clothing, and be kept inside and not allowed to talk to who she wanted to, all while being berated for her lack of magical prowess? She was proud of her blood and of the deeds of her ancestors, but there was only so much punishment and abuse she could take. She stepped back as the room grew even colder, thick plumes of chill mist boiling off the plate.
Janaxia backed off, digging through a chest of old clothing and finding a (surprisingly fashionable) fur coat, wrapping herself up in it as cold started to settle into her body, providing at least some shield. There was even a hat, fur still soft despite the conditions it had been stored in! When she turned around again, the metal plate had opened, just a touch, now hanging askew, even as her tears chilled her face.
Hopefully, it might be a way for her to get outside, before she passed out from hunger. Using a scrap of fabric to shield herself, she carefully pulled it open, careful not to freeze her fingers to it. Behind it, a secret tunnel extended out of sight, pale blue magelights blinking into existence. It was hard to see details through the layer of frost, but the walls bore paintings and decorations, shapes just about visible. She tried wiped through a layer of rime, sending shards tinkling to the floor, seeing what the pattern was; a skilled rendition of some battle, an armoured figure surrounding by runes, casting powerful spells to slay enemies, sword in hand, a robed figure next to them, hands surrounded with arcane energies. Some honoured ancestor, no doubt – was this a hidden tomb? Although their deeds must have been impressive – both walls were covered with paintings, showing an impressive array of deeds.
She would have liked to stayed to examine them further, if the hunger in the stomach hadn’t pushed her onwards, lead on by more of the magelights, more of them popping into existence as she advanced, those behind her blinking out, making it impossible to tell her far she had travelled, even as the passageway continued downwards, deep into what must be the bedrock.
The passageway finally opened up into a large chamber, filled with all the decorations of wealth, all covered in frost and ice – a chaise longue, frozen rock solid, several other chairs and couches, golden decorations gleaming in the eerie light, ancient-looking tapestries on the walls, even an elaborate tea set, massively out of place in the frozen environment. Despite the weirdness of the place, Janaxia approved; this was the sort of environment she wanted to live in (well, minus the deathly frost and chill); refined, elegant and suitable for pleasure and relaxation, not austere and cramped, all dark corners, jagged edges and occult weirdness. She sat down, stretching out on the chaise longue, imaging herself as the hostess of a saloon, being attended on by dashing youths, exchanging witty repartee, and without the lurking threat of punishment for talking to the wrong person. This is how nobility should be!
Despite the pleasure of the fantasy, the biting chill of the room kept her from indulging in it for too long, as she resumed her explorations. A side-chamber revealed itself as an arming room, with a number of swords and suits of armour racked up, all in the expected shades of black, clearly an ancestor’s, or someone with very similar aesthetic senses. As she poked at a sword, a rune on the hilt glowed faintly at her touch, a scraping, clanking noise came from behind her.
She spun, to find what seemed to be a wall of forged steel, a giant suit of plate armour, standing in front of her. Bright red eyes burnt out from beneath a horned helm, as a giant gauntlet reached for her. She scrabbled backwards, slipping on some ice, tumbling over and cracking her head against a wall. As her vision faded, she saw the thing step closer, hands reaching for her…