“God…. W-w-why… is it… s-s-so cold!?”
I was shivering uncontrollably as the wind howled all around us threatening to take us with it. We had entered the northern area a little after noon and it seemed like the cold wind suddenly whipped around us in what seemed like an instant. Before we knew it, we were struggling to see where the road was so we had to take it slow as to not fall off and end up in god knows where. We had put on coats and covered ourselves with blankets but even then it was still cold, like the kind of cold that would chill someone to the bone.
Me and Sarya were sitting in the front on the reigns while the other three were in the back.
After some time, I switched places with Zephy and sat in the back. I glanced at Cinda but every time I met her eyes she quickly averted her face to the floor with a flustered face.
Thinking back to the time I woke up after spending a ‘night’ with Cinda, the other two knew what had happened without anyone saying anything. Of course Zephy welcomed her will Sarya was puffing her cheeks and glaring at me, her anger soon died down as she told me that Cinda was a troubled woman and now she was showing more emotion.
Indeed, Cinda looked more… lively as she ate and moved around. And even had color in her cheek, especially when I move close to her or looked at her.
Elora had noticed too and even would move closer to her and talk to her a few times on our journey.
It had been three days since then and everyone seemed to get along quite well.
Over course we had the current issue of the snow storm so we had to keep alert.
I sat behind Elora and watched over her shoulder as she read her book. I gave her a squeeze.
“Hey sweetheart, are you cold?”
She shook her head without looking up at me and continued to read for a bit more until she looked up at me.
“Mom, what’s this word?” She pointed at a word on the page. “Kindly.” Without another word, she went right back to reading. Chuckling under my breath, I gave her another squeeze before leaning my head back. The sound of the wind howling couldn’t allow me a wink of rest so I simply waited until we made it to a town of some sort, but that hope soon died as I could hear something strange.
I opened my eyes and looked at Cinda. ‘Um, Cinda? Did you make that sound?”
Cinda blinked for a moment. “Sound? I… didn’t say or do anything.”
“Oh, sorry. I thought I heard-“”I heard it too.” Zephy called from the front seat over the howling wind.
We all looked at her for a moment before we could all hear it: A feminine laugh that seemed to come from everywhere…
I could feel my blood run cold at the laughter which sounded borderline insane. It cackled and whispered a ghostly tune, I could feel Elora hug me closely as she started to trembled.
“Where is that coming from? How can we even hear it in this storm?” Sarya’s voice was one of concern. We all started to search around in the white blind that was the storm but couldn’t find a source for the laughter. It seemed to get louder and louder as if it got closer until it felt like it was right on top of us and then instantly died.
I could feel my heart beating wildly in my chest as I tried my best to settle myself down.
“Is… it over?” I asked.
Not a moment too soon, it seemed like my answer was given as we heard a scream pierce our eardrums and I winced. Zephy looked back at me and said “Behind us!”
I snapped my head back and seen… something following us.
It looked to be a robed figure that flew, or perhaps it had some sort of mount I couldn’t see in this blizzard, with glowing white eyes that locked onto me and had a hand reach out to me, it fingers were like small blades aimed at me.
I immediately shoved Elora towards Sarya.
“Stay close to auntie Sarya!”
I drew my sword and reached the back of the wagon to wildly swing my sword at the creature.
“Spectre!” Cinda yelled as she drew her duel swords and swung with me. Another one appeared and grabbed the top on the wagon and started to tear at it.
“Zephy! Get us to any town close by! I don’t care which one, just get us somewhere!”
“I see some lights ahead, I’ll get us there!”
With a snap of the reigns, we picked up speed. I tried my best to poke through the holes the Spectre made in the roof but it was difficult to hit. Cinda was doing her best to keep the other one at bay, away from the wagon.
With some more bumps and shakes from the road I could hear Zephy repeating that we were almost there and the Spectre’s were becoming more vicious. Just as I thought we’d make it, we must have hit a huge bump in the road as I felt the wooden floor leave my feet and launch us up. Time seemed to slow as the top of the wagon broken from it and flew off into the storm. I watched as one of the Spectre’s swoop pass me and both of them took off just as we landed on the ground.
I was breathing heavily as I pushed myself up and a few boxes and blankets rolled off my back. Groaning, I turned my body and called out.
“Is everyone… ok?”
Zephy was crawling back on the seat of the wagon and Sarya was rubbing her back as they both said yes. Cinda was sheathing her swords as she nodded. Sarya looked up and noticed something.
“The storm has passed?”
I looked up and noticed the same thing too. It was like someone had flipped a switch and the storm had died in an instant. I looked back to where we came from and could see a white wall that surrounded the entire area. Looking forward, we were in a small village with wooden huts and some sheds. The village had roughly six buildings with a few residents stepping outside, looking at us.
Breathing deeply, I moved towards the front. “Elora?”
I started to move some boxes out of the way looking under them. “Elora?”
I could feel a bad premonition run through me and I moved more boxes. “Elora…?”
Zephy and Sarya looked around and Cinda started to move more boxes with me. Sarya said the thing I didn’t want to hear.
“I… don’t think I see her anywhere…”
I practical was throwing the boxes out and I upturned the wagon looking for her, my mind was racing back to how this sort of thing could happen and then I remembered.
‘That Spectre that flew past me…’
I looked back at the white wall… and started to run to it. Just as I could feel the whipping wind, a pair of strong arms wrapped around me.
“Teela! Don’t! You’ll get lost in there!” Zephy was trying to wrestle me but I didn’t want to hear it. Just the thought that Elora was out there was enough to evoke bitter rage in me. I couldn’t hear Elora’s scream in the wind when they took her but I feel like I should have heard her or realized sooner. As the worst of my anger cooled I could feel the bitter tears falling down my face, I felt like a failure for not seeing it or protecting her better. It was the same bitterness when Sarya nearly died.
As I sunk to my knees Zephy rubbed my back. “Come on… we should talk to the people here. Maybe they’ll know more about this situation.”
I knew doing that was the smarter idea, but I just felt as if that’d be a waste of time. I slowly turned around and was heading back to the wagon, a group of people started to come closer, yet they seemed cautious. One of them, an older man, asked us: “Are you here from the city?”
Sarya was the one to answer.
“Yes, the princess has given us some supplies to give to the people because she hasn’t heard from the north in a while so she was concerned. But… well…. Just what are those things? When has all this started?”
“Those things were Spectres. The mages I would hunt would summon them as watched dogs to guard them.”
We all turned to Cinda, who wore a sad expression. Now that I thought about it, she had called out their names when we were attacked. I just didn’t hear it properly.
“So… it’s the work of a mage?” The older man was now pacing back in forth in front of us. “But… how can they make something like that?”
He pointed to the white wall of the storm.
“Well, that is likely Manipulation magic. But I’ve never heard of magic on this scale…” Cinda was pondering.
“No, it shouldn’t be possible to because the elements, the snow, needs to be within ear shot. Or it couldn’t be manipulated. They would also need to keep chanting to words.”
Sarya turned to the old man.
“How long has this gone on for?”
“About a month…”
“A month!? But that’s impossible! To do such a thing for so long the person would die!”
Sarya was now nibbling her nail trying to think of a solution.
I could see some of the villagers gathering the boxes of food that we had gotten from the princess and started to take it back to their homes. With each passing second, I was put on edge more and more. I stood in front of the man.
“When did this all start? Where!?”
I grabbed him by his coat and shook him. I need to find the answer fast, really fast. Or Elora could be hurt, scared, cold… or worse….
“They took my daughter! SO WHERE ARE THEY!?”
Zephy wrestled my grip from the old man as he fell onto his backside.
“You… you’re not the only one who’s lost someone to those things!” The old man had a fire in his eyes as he shouted back at me. For a moment, his words took some of the fire out of my anger.
“What do you mean?” Cinda asked.
A woman, who helped the old man to his feet, answered.
“Those… things came here a month ago, we had over forty people here but now there’s only seven. They kept attacking ever other night, taking some of us and killing others. They seem to keep kidnapping children, I don’t know where they are but we’ve lost children too!”
She pointed to the wall. “We’ve tried to leave, send someone out to get help but that wall keeps us from leaving!”
She was now in tears, and only then I noticed that she was clutching a small toy.
All my anger was gone now, and all that was left was sadness…
“Then… what should we do…?”
We all turned to Sarya who had asked the question.
“Well…. We…. Can’t just let this happen so there had to be something we can do!”
Zephy agreed. “Yes, we are here now so there must be something we can do. If it is a mage then we can deal with it, first we need to take into account everything of these attacks and find something we can use, mainly, some information that could help us. So we’d like to ask you everything there is, but first, let’s take this stuff inside.”
The people looked like they didn’t have any will to try but at the same time they didn’t have much else to go on so they agreed and we all brought the boxes in. I was ready to jump onto them and bombard them with questions but it seemed like Zephy and Sarya were the ones to start asking as we sat at a table.
“Ok… so, we need to know everything about the attacks, around what time it happens, how many Spectre’s come, how long they attack for, how often they attack, every other day or maybe twice a week, all these things will help out greatly.”
She turned to Cinda. “Also, you know of these things so you’ll have to help us when dealing with these things…”
Cinda glanced at me for a moment then nodded. “Yes, who should start? Me or them?” She made a gesture to the villagers.
The old man sighed. “Well… if you really are going to do this then I guess we can help… it’s not like there is much left…”
The woman who helped him up before came back with a tea jug and started to pour it into wooden cups.
“Thank you for the food, we were nearly out. I suppose we should start with our names so this doesn’t get complicated. I’m Nina, this is Werner.” She nodded to the old man. “There are also some others but they seemed to have taken the food and locked themselves inside their houses. I guess they don’t want to help us.”
Zephy shrugged. “That’s fine, we don’t need much help. I’m Zephyra, but you my call me Zephy.”
“Well then, let’s being.” Zephy sipped from her tea and asked how the whole things started. Werner was the one who gave us the story.
“Well… about a month ago we had noticed a big storm rolling in, it wasn’t exactly anything unusual. However, it continued for three days. Eventually, we were told later in the night that we needed to plow the road due to how bad the storm was, the village head, Jenal, had given us this order. We need to keep it at least somewhat cleared so supplies could move through. Just as we were getting ready, we could hear that insane laughter. Before we knew it, those things had descended upon us. They took Jenal and a few others, they also killed all our animals. Now they seem to come every other day and we’ve just taken to… hiding. There is little we can do…”
Zephy sat back as she seemed to digest that information for a moment before looking at Cinda.
“You called those things by name; Spectre’s, so what exactly are they?”
“They are creatures summoned by Mages; usually they act as a sort of guard dog, watching for intruders. To my understanding, that sort of magic was ancient, before the time the Magic Founding Society.”
I frowned. “But I thought there were only three ‘chains’ of magic. Connection, Manipulation and Healing?”
She nodded. “Yes, but those ‘chains’ were made by the Magic Founding Society. But before their introduction, there were many, many more. When that king during the time made the Society, he refused to allow anything but those three ‘chains’. Of course there are many other things… but still… it troubling that someone would use such a thing. Those Spectre’s are made from… people. Their… bodies…. When they use a person’s body, they reanimate them with magic and can control them in a similar manner as Manipulation magic can be used.”
I could feel my blood run cold as her gaze fell to the floor. The entire room was quiet for a moment before Werner spoke up.
“H-How… do you know that!? How can you be sure!?”
“Because I’ve fought them before, it was my duty to find and kill rouge mages…”
“Manipulation magic this huge…” Sarya seemed to be deep in thought, her expression was troubled as she mumbled something.
I wasn’t listening to everything however… I could only think of Elora’s safety. Just the thought that she could become… one of those things…
“The Scourge of the Ice Castle….” Cinda named a title out loud and everyone, including me, looked at her.
“What?” Zephy asked.
Cinda was quiet for a moment. She looked like she regretted her words, sighing, she looked at Zephy.
“Well, everything that we know… the snow storm, the spectres, I just thought that the only one who could have done that would be The Scourge of the Ice Castle. It…. Well… it’s an old legend. It… doesn’t really have any context now so…”
“Cinda, at this point I’m willing to believe anything. If that’s what it takes to get little Elora back then I’ll believe that even The Demonic God Marcrick had descended upon us. So tell us of this legend.”
Werner launched himself up and slammed his hands down on the table.
“This legend is irrelevant! Chasing a myth won’t bring back our people, and you just come and expect us to believe anything you’ll say? Legends of ‘Ice Castles’? This is truly ridiculous, an old wives tale spun by senile women.”
Zephy was, unsurprisingly, the first to shoot back at him.
“I don’t want to hear ‘senile’ from a man who’s three times my own age! I also don’t hear you coming up with anything so unless you’ve got a better idea then shut it!”
Both Werner and Zephy were going at each other, Werner calling her a ‘masculine cow’ and Zephy calling him an ‘old excuse of a man’. Sarya was doing here best to keep them apart while Cinda looked like she was trying to think of something. Their bickering wasn’t helping my temper and soon it boiled over to the point I slammed my fist down on the table sending the cups falling over and shattering on the floor.
“JUST SHUT UP!!! BOTH OF YOU!!!”
They both turned slowly to me with a look of surprise, even Nina, Sarya and Cinda looked shocked by my outburst. I had never raised my voice or even spoken that way to anyone but a few people, and certainly never to those I valued. So I felt a little guilty for doing so, but I needed to find a way to get to Elora so I was willing to be a bit rough to anyone if that’s what it took.
“Cinda….” I looked over to her. “Tell us about this Castle…. Anything will help…”
I tried my best to keep my anger under control but even as I asked her I could hear my rage through my voice.
“W-Well…. It’s a legend that most mages have heard of…”
She placed her arms on the table to start.
“Many have called it The Scourge of the Ice Castle. It isn’t known why people begun to call it ‘Scourge’ but people have claimed to have found, and been inside, a Castle made of pure Ice. The reason why this place is so cold is because of this Scourge. It’s a legend on how something came into being, mainly, winter here. Of course over the years, the legend has changed and so many things have been said the truth has likely been covered up in lies. From things like how the Scourge was the first to master Manipulation magic to being a long lost kingdom and race conquered by humans, it impossible to tell. These accounts have been documented by mages, who had come out here from the Founding Magic Society. All I’ve said was all they’ve found out about this, since it wasn’t much to find, they didn’t look much more into it.”
The room was quiet as she laid out her tale, some looked to be deep in thought, and some looked confused.
Nina frowned and looked down at Werner.
“A Castle made of Ice…? Didn’t someone say they’ve seen something like that when they were hunting?”
Werner looked annoyed as he sat forward and sighed. “Yes… Conex; our leading hunter. He came back to spread that story, of that Castle.”
“If that’s the case then why didn’t you bring it up first?” Sarya asked.
“Because it’s bullshit! You think that we’d expect to believe that a Castle exists out there? Or that that Castle has anything to do with our problems now…”
Zephy sat back and arched a brow. “Well… do you believe it now?”
Werner looked away.
“What happened back then doesn’t matter now, what matters is that if there’s a slight chance this Castle exists then it’s better than simply waiting for those things to come back.” I said.
I wanted to move as fast as possible, sitting around only made me more restless.
Zephy noticed this and nodded. “Yes, but we need a plan. If we just jump into it then we’ll be at a disadvantage. So I have an idea.”
“What?” Werner asked.
“Well…. Where did this man… Conex, say he found the Castle?”
“I don’t remember, he’s been taken away by those creatures. So we can’t ask him.”
“Hmmm… ok then. So when was the last attack? From the Spectres?”
“Well… about four days ago. Why?”
“So it’ll be likely soon, possible tonight. Correct?”
Zephy rested her elbows on the table.
“Then let’s get ready.”