The tunnel wound through the bedrock, warding glyphs glowing bright as they approached, Janaxia doing something occult to deactivate them. The cold in the air intensified, enough that their breath started to mist, both Semari and Janaxia shivering, Misutira’s clothing standing her in better stead. Stone blocks shuddered open, ice cracking and splintering as magic forced them apart.
Finally, the passageway came to an end, as frosted patterns started to form on Stathis’ armour. A stout wooden door was topped by a statue of a warrior, swinging a stone sword as though practicing. It turned to stare at them, eyes glowing deep, piercing blue. Janaxia stepped forward, staying hunched up but extending a hand, allowing it to stab her finger. The door creaked open, even more intense cold washing out, making Stathis shiver, despite her armour.
The chambers inside were more suited for idle gentry, reams of shelving filled with books, neatly arranged chests in nooks, except everything was either coated in a thick layer of ice or warded behind protection spells. Janaxia and Semari were both starting to shiver intensely, teeth chattering as Janaxia led them through the frozen apartments, Semari leaving behind skin on the black ice that slicked every surface. Misutira knelt to wrap scraps of cloth around Semari’s feet, giving at least some protection.
A giant seated suit of armour, with far more spikes and points than was necessary, loomed at them, sat in an oversized throne, whorls of cold iron, inlaid with dark crimson gems. In calmer times, investigating might have been wise, but the other two looked like they wouldn’t last much longer, Janaxia was noticeably stumbling, her slender frame shaking and shivering. Semari was in somewhat better shape, able at least to poke the armour, her fingers freezing in place. She winced in pain as she ripped her hand away, spots of blood soaking into the ice, bright against the frost.
The apartments were mercifully small, Janaxia leading them through at a brisk pace, coming to an icy metal plate, slightly ajar, the floor slick with condensation. Passing through, they were suddenly surrounded by comparative warmth, the ice-covered plate clicking shut behind them. Stathis twisted, trying to warm her limbs up, relishing the warmth as they went upstairs, coming out into the hallway of Janaxia’s house and asking the obvious question.
‘Why is there a frozen tomb underneath your house?’
Janaxia was blowing on her hands, colour slowly returning to her skin. ‘It is something of a family secret.’ Kindly keep it to yourselves
She glanced at each of them, although still looked half-frozen, making it somewhat less intimidating than it might otherwise have been
Semari was still all hunched up and shivering. ‘Who was creepy armour dude? Way too spiky to be a nice guy!’ She shoved her hands onto a windowsill, relaxing slightly as she soaked in the heat.
An honoured ancestor
By now, Stathis had managed to get the heaviest parts of her armour off, glad to be rid of the freezing metal. ‘Frostreaver? The Frostreaver? In your basement?’
Pride, awkwardness and chill discomfort mingled in Janaxia’s face, pride finally winning. Here is where he wished to be. As an heir to his glory, I deem it an honour that he rests so close
That would explain the chill, oppressive aura of the house. An ancient, powerful necromancer-warrior being buried in the basement would explain a lot. And probably a lot about Janaxia as well, given that she had been raised here. ‘Wait, is he dead? As in, actually, properly dead, or do we need to worry about that as well?’
Kinnevar is not a threat, I assure you
Stathis really, really hoped being on first-name terms with someone that had died centuries ago was an affectation, and not something the Frostreaver had personally approved of. Misutira returned, already having changed into a uniform better suited to heat rather than chill caverns, bearing hot tea. ‘Would you like some, Lady Stathis?’ Somewhere, against her will, Stathis had been upgraded from a ‘Miss’ to a ‘Lady’, probably due to Carissia’s visit. Something else to hold against her, although minor compared to everything else.
‘Thanks.’ The tea was oddly scented, but the warmth was welcome, after the cold of the frost. Sleeping knowing that armour was just a few stories below was going to be hard. Maybe the stairs could at least be blocked off with something heavy, as Janaxia probably wouldn’t be willing to have the thing destroyed, and it would be far too risky to sell.
‘So, you know anything about this Galondwyn? They steal emotions or something don’t they?’
A most fearsome foe, said to have been the downfall of Hadari, the city of the Emerald Emperor. She is less openly monstrous than many of her kin, instead taking the hearts of her victims, and basking in the resultant chaos
‘Which means what?’ Stathis could remember horror stories of communities falling with no survivors left, and a lot of corpses missing their hearts, but nothing more concrete.
‘They take hearts, leaving the victim without emotion, causing havoc and chaos. And leaving them empty and cold.’ The stories tell of the entire city consumed in epic revels, hundreds trying to ignite some spark of passion before they fell to despair and gloom, Galondwyn consuming their hearts and their very reason for being, as they fell to debauchery and death
From the slight flush and distracted look on Janaxia’s face, some of the stories were not suitable for polite company. ‘OK, so what do we need to do?’ Stathis asked.
‘And is Parth, like, super-immune, or do we need to go check if she has a heart? ‘Cos she’s pretty dead inside.’ Semari seemed to have recovered somewhat from the frost, although her fingers and toes were still an unhealthy colour, even as she hopped around, trying to warm herself up.
‘That’s a good question. Janaxia, anything else to check for? The heart-stealing thing’s pretty literal, isn’t it, so anyone with a scar there?’ Stathis couldn’t resist craning her neck slightly, staring down Janaxia’s top, the tattoo staring at her reproachfully, but no sign of any scarring. Not that, despite her flaws, Janaxia had ever showed any lack of emotion. Much the same for Semari, actually, although Parth was something of a worry.
Creeping through their own house felt strange, although considering the general aura of oppression and darkness, was scarcely a surprise. Semari seemed more adept at roguish skills in the familiar environment, dashing between patches of shadow, perching on decoration and ornaments, high on the walls.
In the time they had been here, Parth had mostly lived in the library, making herself a den amongst the books and tomes, emerging only to request food or drink. For all Stathis knew, she was sleeping in there as well, despite there being any number of actual bedrooms she could use.
Semari hauled herself onto a stag’s head, contorting herself to peer through the shadowed doorway, giving a thumbs-up back to them. Stathis walked around the corner, Parth’s eyes peering up from the shadows, gleaming like those of a cat. Unnerving, but normal for an elf.
‘Hi Parth. Been a bit busy, thought I should check up on you. Everything OK?’ There was a plate on the floor, meticulously clean, and the corner of a sleeping roll poked out from beneath a shelf. So she had been living in here. Would a demon still do that?
Parth nodded, looking up from whatever she was reading, her low-light vision enough to make out the words, despite the room being almost entirely dark.
Janaxia was lurking in the doorway behind her, failing to be inconspicuous, especially with Semari’s head peeking in above.
‘This is a weird question, but are you a demon? Do you have a heart?’
Parth’s look was as blank as ever as she stood, carefully folding over a corner of the page to mark her place. ‘No.’
‘No, you’re not a demon, or no, you don’t have a heart. And don’t just say “yes”!’
‘Elf. Still.’ She raised a hand, cupping it over the plate, the smell of fresh, verdant growth pushing away the scent of musty tomes. When she withdraw her hand, several berries had appeared there, all bright green. Parth ate one, then offered one to Stathis. It tasted sweet, a slight burst of energy flowing back through her, shaking off the last effects of the cold. Stathis backed up, whispering to Janaxia.
‘Can people with their hearts taken still do magic stuff?’
It would depend. A wizard likely could, their power coming from knowledge. Parth is blessed with the powers of nature, a link that would likely be severed by having one’s heart removed by a demon. ‘Probably.’
‘OK, let’s assume she’s fine.’ Stathis tried to sense Parth’s aura, but between Janaxia and the pure, seething darkness of the place, it was impossible, like trying to see a shadow in a lightless room. She quickly filled Parth in on the details, trying to ignore that Parth’s gaze kept drifting down to the book. When she was done, the gong ran, announcing that dinner was served.
The main dining room was excessively large and filled with creepy ornaments, so they had been eating in a sideroom, where most of the creepy decoration could at least be covered up, and they could talk without having to raise their voices.
A dark broth had been prepared, a tantalising scent filling the room. Misutira regarded them blandly, before serving up, retreating into a corner to wait until she was needed again. Stathis ate gladly, unsure of quite what was in it, but the depth of flavour was impressive. The others all ate as well, even Parth.
As she ate, a darkness crept into the corners of her vision, exhaustion suddenly taking her, body relaxing, a cold, depthless slumber overcoming her as she fell into the void, feeling herself sag in her seat, before unconsciousness claimed her.