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“This plan is really unorthodox…. But I guess anything will do now. We can’t be too picky…”

Even though I said that, I still felt like this plan was too much of a long shot.

I stood in the middle of the town at the dead of night thinking back to when Zephy had said she came up with a plan. I suppose she was good at planning as she was a leader of her people so she made a natural leader and planner. But even then, I was still questioning whether this was a good idea or not.

She said that we needed to get ready for the night so we would need to put all our talents to good use. First Zephy had asked if the town’s people had any soil left, which to our surprise they did. It was however, frozen but after I used my magic to melt some water and then heat up the soil, we put it in boxes. The boxes we brought in we still good so we used them as fire wood and for some, makeshift weapons. Werner had tried to gain the help of the other people but only one came forward, a small teen girl who had her mother taken away.

With weapons made, soil ready for Sarya to use and access to fire, we had everything we could use.

Zephy’s plan required someone to stand in the middle of the town, the girl, whose name was Palie, immediately offered to do so, but Zephy turned her down. I was the one who asked and she wasn’t sure if I should but I told her I’ll do it and I didn’t want her to say no.

So here I stood, waiting for the Spectres to appear.

I looked up to the night sky and exhaled, my breath quickly disappeared. Despite the white walls surrounding the town, the sky remained clear. The stars twinkled in the black sky, signaling for me to follow their charm.

I could suddenly hear a familiar laughter cackle which snapped me out of my train of thought. I looked over to some ice covered boxes and seen Zephy and Sarya looking back at me and nodding.

I could see them come out of the white wall, two shapes swopped over the town and circled around and around, making a sort of tornado. I felt as if they were mocking me for my lack of flight, my inability to strike them.

They soon swooped down straight at me and I raised my sword. Just as they got close Zephy yelled “Now!”

A sudden howl of dirt flew in front of me.

Werner, Cinda, Nina and Palie all stood up from their cover and moved closely to the dirt storm, I could still see the creatures surrounding by the dirt. It looked like they were confused.

“Drop the storm!” Zephy said.

The storm died in an instant and everyone threw their pieces of wood that were on fire at the creatures, igniting them in an instant. The creatures screamed and flayed as they tried to put themselves out by rolling onto the ground. One of them flew up to the sky as a ball of fire. Zephy and Sarya used their weapons to strike the creatures, Zephy using the blunt end of her axe and Sarya used her staff.

Cracks of bone sounded out from the Spectre as we continued to bludgeon it, soon it stopped moving.

Breathing hard, I looked over to the others and seen that their Spectre was also dealt with.

It seemed like we had dealt with both of them. Just as I was about to asked Zephy what she had planned next, she raised to cowl of the Spectre and frowned.

“Sarya… these bones… they look like…”

We both stood behind her and Sarya gasped as I noticed what she was looking at. The skull was a little long, which wasn’t too unusual. No, the thing that stood out was the skull had ears that were pointed.

“These bones… they belong to an elf…?” I asked.

Sarya didn’t answer; she just continued to stare at the bone in disbelief.

“Did… elfs come this far…?” I asked her.

“Maybe… but… I’m unsure…”

Zephy sighed and stood up.

“Well… either way, those came from that direction… we now we know where to go so we better get ready. We’ll use our horses, thankfully we still have them so it’ll be easier on us but we still need some supplies and such.”

Zephy was rubbing her chin while she laid out the plans, and we were placing some supplies in the wagon. I looked back at her and was about to ask if this was really a good idea but I stopped myself. In all honesty, at the point I was at now, I didn’t care if it was or wasn’t. I just wanted to do anything to get Elora back. It seemed reckless to just rush head long into a storm but every moment we spent thinking about was another moment we lost to help Elora and the others.

With everything ready, we got into the wagon and I was surprised to see Palie, the young girl, get in. Zephy looked ready to deny her help but she sighed and shook her head.

“I guess there’s no point in me saying that you should stay with Nina and Werner…”

She sat in the back and shook her head. “I don’t want to sit back when I could actually do something. If I was out there I know my parents would do the same thing.”

I knew exactly how she felt.

“Well… I won’t tell you to stay here but stay behind us, alright?” I said. She nodded.

As we left, I could see Werner and Nina watch us leave and a few of the other villagers walk out of their houses to watch us as well.

…………………….

“Well…. Think anyone’s home?” Zephy tried to bring some humor into the situation, but I didn’t appreciate it.

We had entered the snow storm, heading the direction where the Spectres came from. It seemed like we had spent well over an hour in the storm before we could see a large outline in the distance. It seemed to loom over the area with an opposing profile, as if it dared us to enter. With some difficult maneuvering, which seemed to take another hour, we had final found a path that took us straight to the Castle. It looked like a road of sorts, with barriers on each side and a bridge built over a huge chasm.

As we made it halfway over the bridge, the horses suddenly started to panic, so we were forced to pull them the rest of the way. All in all, it likely took us about two and a half hours to make it here. We all were frozen as we stood in front of the gate.

The Ice Castle was huge, which wasn’t surprising. The wall was built closely to the edge and stood roughly 30 to 40 feet high.

When I had first heard of the Ice Castle, I had thought that it sounded like a stupid idea, ‘a Castle made of Ice?’ But it looked to be made of blocks of ice which we couldn’t see through. Its white color made it look much brighter than normal and more elegant than one would expect.

When we had approached the Castle, we could see that it was built in the side of a large mountain and stood even taller than it.

Outside of the material that it was built out of, it looked like any other Castle.

Me and Cinda were holding the horses still as Zephy made the comment, none of us gave her a witty response, likely because we were all too cold to care. Standing in front of the gate, Zephy tried to push the gate but to no avail, she used her axe to strike the gate but nothing happened.

“It’s probably made with magic so it’ll be impossible to break it with sheer force.” Cinda informed Zephy.

I could feel my frustration growing, both because I was freezing and because we needed to save Elora and the others.

Palie came forward with a length of rope and tried to throw it over on her own but it didn’t fly high enough.

Zephy picked it up and looked at it.

“First, young Palie, we need a hook. It’s good though that you had used this, I forgot we had it.”

Zephy went back to the wagon and pulled out a hook and tied it off, she came back and threw it up, catching the top of the wall.

“Alright then, Cinda, Sarya and Palie, stay here, me and Teela will go up and see if we can open it on the other side.”

They nodded and Zephy started to climb. After I seen her go over the top, I grabbed the rope and started my own climb. With both of us over the top, I noticed that we stood on the top of the wall but the drop over the edge was too far.

“Well… this is a moment of stupidity on my part…” Zephy muttered under her breath.

I looked at her for a moment before grabbing the rope and pulled it up.

“Oh… yes, I wasn’t thinking…”

I reset the hook and let the hook fall down on the other side. I climbed down first and Zephy followed. We were now looking around the area, anything to open the gate. Zephy called out to me and found the problem we had on the other side.

“Geez… that’s a lot of ice…” I remarked.

Despite what we seen on the other side of the gate, on this side there seemed to be an actual gate made of wood; however, it was frozen solid. It seemed like the front of the gate was covered in ice so it was impossible to tell that it was originally a wooden gate.

“So…it’s just covered in ice? Then is the rest of castle the same way?”

I didn’t have an answer for her. I just started to pick away at the ice, Zephy helped me as well. With most of the ice broken away, I called to the other side for them to back up. We kept kicking it and it cracked and finally broke open. With some struggling later, we forced it open and managed to get the horses through the gate, as we made it in they gave us more trouble.

We didn’t waste any time getting into the main doorway and finally inside.

Inside the hallway which broke off into three different pathways, we shook off the snow our coats caught.

“Finally… inside….” Sarya said.

Everyone, including myself, seemed ready to collapse. The horses, strangely, stopped acting up. After a fifteen minute break, we started to look around, as there were three pathways it was confusing.

“So… what should we do?”

“Well… let’s just go down one of the paths and see where it leads. I don’t want to split up in such a place. For all we know this place could be a complex maze…”

“What do we do about the horses?” Palie asked.

“We’ll take them with us, first unhook the wagon. If what Werner said is true then we can’t just leave them. If those things are flying around in this hall and spot them, they’ll likely be killed.”

Zephy unhooked both of them and handed one to me and another to Palie. Looking at the paths we tried to agree on which one to take and soon settled for the middle one. Walked down it, struggling to keep our footing on the ice, we found ourselves entering even more halls.

“Well… this is great… now what?” I asked.

Zephy was staring at a one of the pillars that line up on the side of the wall. I walked up behind her and place a hand on her shoulder.

“What’s so interesting about that pillar?”

“Well, look…” she wiped her gloved hand over the pillar and I could see stone underneath. She told me to step back and she swung her ax into the pillar. A crack sounded out as pieces of ice started to fall off and she swung it once again and soon more ice fell until we could see that under it was just a normal pillar made of stone.

“It’s stone…? So this isn’t a Castle made of Ice?”

No sooner did Zephy say that the ice on the pillar started to reform and solidify itself, covering itself with ice once again.

“Well… if that isn’t the strangest thing I’ve ever seen…”

I could only stare at the pillar with disbelief.

“Well… whoever this mage is must be capable of great feats. In order to rebuild something that quick”

As Sarya laid out the fact Cinda came up with an idea of her own.

“Perhaps they have a tool that allows them to amplify their magical abilities, like how a staff made with blood and hairs of a more powerful creature, there could be something similar to that? If that would be that case however, I’ve never heard of such a thing that’d allow someone to achieve something like this…”

 Sarya shook her head. “Even if that’s the case, they would still need to be keep eye contact with the element they are manipulating…”

“Well maybe the mage isn’t human?” I suggested.

Sarya tapped her chin in thought.

“Well… I suppose that’s a possibility but I never heard of any monsters casting magic….”

“Come on… we need to find the people. I need to find my mom…” Palie egged us to move.

Agreeing, we begun to move once again and keeping our eyes on every hallway and pathway we could see. Despite the ice at covered everything, it seemed like a normal Castle, even similar to the Castle back at Boncre. Paintings, chairs, vases… and suits of armor.

“Cinda…” She looked at me. “Let’s pretend that this is the same Castle as Boncre. Where would we go to find the dungeon?”

Everyone looked at me frowning so I explained my reason for asking.

“Well look around you. This place looks exactly like a Castle, specifically, a Castle like Boncre’s Castle, so perhaps they share some similarities? If not then I’m willing to hear any other ideas.”

Cinda sighed. “There is a possibility that it’d be built the same but I don’t know. I guess it’s worth a try.”

We had all agreed on it and started to follow Cinda, she had looked around the area watching for signs of where we were. I had decided to ask Cinda because she had spent time in Boncre’s castle, doing their bidding and watching over Princess Delphina. So it would stand to some reason that she had some idea of the layout of a Castle.

We had taken roughly half an hour searching every room and every nook and cranny. It seemed with every passing minute, I was growing more inpatient and restless. I was practically tearing doors open to find any sign of someone here.

Any sign of where Elora was taken.

Zephy pushed against a large set of doors but they wouldn’t budge.

“Damn… they must be frozen on the other side. Could there be another way in here?”

Zephy’s question was directed at Cinda, which she shrugged.

“If I had to guess, this is the main hall of the castle. So I don’t think there are many other ways to get in.”

“Well its worth a look at least isn’t it?” I asked.

All of them glanced at me, I could see a slight worry in their eyes.

“Well… I suppose so…”

I wanted to ask them why they were looking at me strangely but Cinda started to walk again and I followed her.

With a little more time spent looking, we found a few more doors but they were also frozen solid. Now I was starting to get really on edge.

“Come on…. There has to be a way through...”

I placed my hand on the door and tried to look through the small gap in between but I couldn’t see a thing. Taking out my sword, I tried to push through.

“That would take forever to get through. We should look for-“

“There is no other way!” I snapped a Sarya.

I immediately froze as I know realized why everyone was looking at me strangely, I was on edge and desperate and it wasn’t doing anyone any favors.

My gaze fell to the floor. “Sorry… I’m just… I haven’t been split from her so I was…”

Zephy placed a hand on my shoulder and nodded. “We know, but we still need to keep our heads on. However…”

Zephy looked at the door and back at the horses. “I think I have an idea…”

I scowled as I watched her return to the horses and grab some ropes and then bring them back to the door and started to tie them. I immediately understood what she had in mind and I helped her tie one of the on the large door knockers. With both of them tied off, Zephy had the horses start to pull on them.

Me, Zephy, Cinda and Palie started to pull on the ropes as Sarya was doing her best to keep the horses steadily pulling the ropes.

With as much effort as we could muster, we started to hear cracked from the door which gave us even more motivation as soon the doors broke open and ice flew everywhere, skidding across the floor. Not waiting for the ice to reform, we made our way inside.

The first thing I noticed was a rise drop in temperature, with a coat on, I almost immediately started to warm up. I glanced back at the others and they also took notice, Zephy even took her jacket off.

A few cracking sounds could be heard behind us and we turned to see that, while the door was still open, a layer of ice now froze over the door, blocking us off.

“Well… I guess this is a one way trip…” Zephy sighed.

We looked over the room and some mutters of confusion were heard. There was a huge catalog of books, bookshelves and scrolls everywhere. All the bookshelves were lined in two rows and leading down the grand hall, it was nearly impossible to see pass all of them. Tables were also scattered everywhere and a bunch of scrolls were also scattered on top of them.

“It’s like a study hall…” Cinda muttered.

“But who is studying?” asked Sarya aloud.

Ignoring them, I walked up to one of the tables and opened one of the books. I blinked in confusion for a moment before realizing that if was written in a different, yet, familiar language.

“Hey Sarya, isn’t this Elvish?”

She looked over my shoulder.

“That’s…. yes. But it’s… different… could it be…?”

She picked up the book and started to skim through it. I watched as her interest grew with each passing minute.

“It looks like it was dated before the Age of Clarity….”

I waited for a few moments to fill me in, when she continued to read with saying anymore I tapped her on the shoulder.

“Sarya…. Uh, Age of Clarity…?”

“Oh! Sorry… I was getting caught up….”

‘Yeah… I could tell…’

She cleared her throat before answering.

“The Age of Clarity was a time where the elves became the kind of people you know them now a days. Before that, we were… well we were more violent and ruthless. Elves were a ruthless race that was hell bent on continuing war. We were a more narcissist race and only wished for cleanliness, mainly, only elves as the dominate race. Of course, we had gained many enemies and people begun to form against elves, from far and wide, even across the seas. Surprisingly , that wasn’t what ended the elves bloodlust. It was themselves.”

“Themselves?” I asked.

“Yes, many elves believed that we were leading ourselves to doom and a huge civil war broke out. Elves had mostly destroyed themselves with very few left; only a few hundred or so were left. The humans had formed an army only to find barely any left. Figuring that they’d leave us to our fate, they didn’t finish us off. The remaining elves traveled to what’s known as the World Tree. After they gathered what was left, we ad rebuilt ourselves and eventually, we had regained ourselves. It was called The Age of Clarity is because the elves had believed we were cleared from those ruthless times and became more peaceful and overall, better.”

She sighed. “More or less, this is the reason why you don’t see many elves. Despite the fact we live very long, we nearly destroyed ourselves; we have been spending most of our time regaining ourselves.”

I took in her story with much interest, mainly because it surprised me. To think that elves at one point were so violent and ruthless. Just looking at Sarya, it was difficult to believe that.

“So… you were alive around this point?” Zephy asked.

Sarya’s cheeks redden slightly.

“N-No! This was well before I was born!”

“Oh, sorry, I wasn’t implying anything…”

I moved passed her and down the aisles of bookshelves and at the end I could feel my heart stop.

Pass all the books were a bunch of ice statues. They were dotted all across the floor, facing towards the throne that sat at the top of some stairs. As I moved closer to the ice statues I gasped as I realized that they were people! People were frozen, or cover, in ice.

Judging by their fur clothes, it looked like they belonged to the village.

All of us where walking through the statues for a few moments in silence before Cinda broke it.

“This is Manipulation magic… but on this scale… I don’t think I’ve see something like this before.”

“MOM!”

We all turned to see Palie run to one of the statues and grab it by the face. I walked behind her as she silently wept. The woman looked to be in her mid forties with some laugh lines. Sarya crouched behind her and rubbed her back to sooth her. Just the thought that Elora could be one of these statues suddenly rushed through me and I turned to start looking for her myself. As I did, I could see some of the statues were also children. My fear tripled as I examined every statue and then… I found her.

Elora was huddling, hugging her knees, in a small ball as she was frozen in a similar way the others were.

I fell on my knees as I placed a shaking hand on her head. Her fearful expression was enough to cut me deep. She still had the coat that she wore when she was taken.

“Now who are these curious guests…?” There was a voice that sounded out through the hall which had the profile of a woman, and spoke in a graceful manner.

I looked over towards the throne where I seen a single tall figure standing behind it.

The figure had to stand about six feet tall and wore a pure white robe with a mask of similar color. The figure took off the mask to reveal that it was a female elf that had tattoos covering her face. They looked to be red vines that, instead of leaves, had thorns covering them.

Her eyes immediately shot to Sarya.

“Well…. To see one of my brethren here is quite unfortunate… still I won’t deter just because you are here.”

“You… you are one of the original elf’s who were opposed to the civil war… you are one of the war clans who were at war. I recognized those markings on your face.”

Sarya continued to stare at the Elven woman with disbelief.

“Yes, that’s right. However… what you said about the elves traveling to that ‘World Tree’ is false. We scattered, taking our separate ways. Some of us took our people to the north and even to the deserts.”

‘She was listening in on us…?’

“We wear these marks proudly. They are our birth right and our promise we made for a better world.”

 She held her hands up, as if to show the entire room. Ice begun to shape and form off the walls.

“This Castle is also our birth right, built for the very sake of war. Everything that happened here… is for the sake of our people.”

“At the expense of the live of innocents!?” Sarya accused.

“Innocents…? Don’t make me laugh… humans are hardly innocent. Well over the years since the ‘Age of Clarity’ they expand and conquer. Taking whatever they like, they doom themselves.”

“So if that’s what you think… then why freeze the people?” asked Zephy.

“Well…. That ice isn’t there just to hold them into place…”

I could feel a bad tremor run down my spine as the ice finally formed around the Elven woman.

“It seemed like the humans curiosity was their own undoing. They are the ones who woke us from our slumber.”

“When the hunting group came back and said they found an Ice Castle…?” Palie said aloud as more of a question she thought of rather than asking the Elven woman.

“A hunting group…? So does hunting involve trespassing and destroying others things? They broke into the Castle with force and proceeded to trample these grounds with their filthy presence… just as you have.”

She formed an ice ball in her hand.

“So tell me…. How am I in the wrong?”

“Y-You kidnapped my mom! She had nothing to do with that!”

“Irrelevant…”

I slowly stood up.

“That is such a stupid thing to say.”

The tall Elven woman blinked in surprise as she turned her head to eye me with a murderous glare.

“What… did you say?”

“’How are you the bad person?’ You are just using that as a means to enact this, doing what you will. Just for your ‘reasons’ that don’t matter anymore. Nobody cares about this war that the Elves had, it was dead and gone. The Elven people are trying to rebuild and become better and now you trample all over that. In my eyes, you are just looking for an excuse to enact war, you are nothing more than an old relic that wishes to become relevant again.”

She looked ready to kill me with her bare hands. I unsheathed my sword.

“I don’t care about your damn war, because you involved my daughter in this, I will kill you.”

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Gunner ten

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