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Home » Encyclopedia » Cracks In The Ice
Cracks In The Ice
Change is inevitable.
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We are the Gaolers.

Wemba woke with a start, the memory of her terrifying encounter sending adrenaline coursing through her veins.

"Stay away from her, you monster!" Trendal’s voice quavered nearby.

"I am healing her, as I have healed you," came a deep rumbling voice that sent Wemba into a state of renewed panic. "You should be grateful."

As her vision cleared, Wemba turned her gaze upward. She was in a rough-hewn chamber, different from the catacombs she and Trendal had plummeted into earlier. In front of her, three enormous, shaggy figures came into focus. She scrambled to her feet, backing up instinctively as her mind finally caught up to their situation.

Gaolers...

"Wemba! You’re alright!" Trendal cried joyfully as he leapt to her side, affectionately nuzzling her with his snout.

The wrenching pain in her hind legs was almost entirely gone, replaced by a dull ache. To her relief, Trendal also appeared to be in good health. But Wemba could feel his fear and reached out to comfort him. She gently stroked the young Tundra’s mane, "I was scared too, but we’re alright..." Wemba was unsure how long that would be true, but for now she was just relieved to have Trendal solid and alive next to her.

The ancient dragon in the center of the group spoke again. "I see you are feeling better. That’s good. I am Solveig, Warden of the Keeper Order. I have healed you and your friend. Now you will answer my questions."

Wemba nodded cautiously.

"Good. Why have you come here?"

Wemba paused. She didn't want to explain their plan to jailbreak their friend from the wardens’ prison. Provoking the Gaoler seemed like a bad idea. "We’re explorers, charting the unmapped regions of the Southern Icefield."

The massive brown creature to Solveig’s right let out a growl, "Shade-touched mongrels! Your scent reeks of fear and lies, just like the other prisoner!"

Trendal’s ears perked. "You mean Magnu? He’s alive, then? Can we see him?" he blurted out before Wemba could motion him to stay silent. She was quickly hit by a wave of shame emanating from the brown Gaoler as it turned its gaze away from them.

"Yes, it’s true. The other creature with the same scent as you. This...’Magnu’ has escaped our captivity," Solveig explained, nodding her head toward the brown warden to her right. "It is the responsibility of Sentry-Warden Vidar’s order to keep watch over those who would trespass in these tunnels. The creature’s escape has brought shame to the Sentry Order."

The Keeper-Warden continued, "From the beginning, Gaolers have been charged to seek out and contain the Shade and any creatures they control for all time. To do so, the Icewarden made our kind exceptionally perceptive. We are able to, shall we say...sniff out information, as it were."

"You speak too freely, Warden Solveig!" Vidar interjected. "But it matters little. I pledged to the Icewarden that the Sentry Order would not fail again!" Vidar turned back to Wemba, "You get one more chance, Shade-touched. Lie again and you’ll join the worst of the horrorbeasts, frozen for eternity in the depths of the Fortress! How did your friend escape the gaols?!"

"I don’t know!" Wemba cried, her voice breaking in fear as she clutched at Trendal.

"Treachery!" Vidar hissed, exhaling a stream of frigid magic towards the pair. Before she could respond, Wemba felt her body lashed with a sudden, bitter cold. She looked down to see bindings of ice encircling her limbs, chaining her to the cold stone floor. But as quickly as they appeared, the crystals shattered in a cloud of ice shards.

Solveig moved her claw out in front of a shocked looking Vidar in a gesture to stop, her expression unreadable. "It seems you have your answers, Sentry-Warden Vidar. Your ice shackles’ inability to contain them suggests they’re dragons blessed by the Icewarden." She glared down at Wemba, "Where were you hatched, child?"

"We’re both from the Icefield!" Wemba cried out, tears in her eyes, "And my name is Wemba! You yourself just said we’re blessed by the Icewarden!" She shot a glare at the one called Vidar. "We’re not ‘Shade-touched,’ whatever that is!"

An uncomfortable pause hung in the chilly air.

"So it seems. Please forgive me, ice-dragon Wemba," Solveig glanced at Vidar, and then back to the Skydancer "Vidar’s reverence to our duty can be...passionate, but his apprehension is a feeling we both share. More importantly, a vital question hasn’t been answered: why would ones blessed by the Icewarden also carry the scent of the Shade?" Solveig’s eyes brightened with anticipation, something Wemba had not expected

"I don’t know," Wemba shook her head. "The elders say the Shade makes certain beasts more aggressive and areas of land more dangerous, but it’s not like we’ve ever physically seen it." She thought for a moment, racking her aching head for old memories from when she was a hatchling. "As far as we’ve been taught, stories and songs make it sound as though the Shade’s just a part of Sornieth, and has been, all the way back to the destruction of the World Pillar. Some say that remnants of it fell to the ground like rain and seeped into the land."

She looked to Trendal who nodded. Wemba turned back to the Gaolers, "But I don’t know why Trendal and I would smell of the Shade any more than...well, everything else in the world!" Wemba was unprepared for the wave of shock radiating from the trio of ancient dragons in response to her words.

The third Gaoler in the chamber, an ancient behemoth of white and gray, finally spoke, "Sentry-Warden Vidar, almost half your Order were once Seekers, correct?" Vidar slowly nodded his head in acknowledgement.

Solveig grunted. "The same is true with the Keeper Order." She turned to her right and said, "Sentry-Warden Vidar, these two will now be under the jurisdiction of my Order. Go, prepare for a Gathering. This foreboding news of the Shade is something all of our clans must hear."

Vidar’s eyes narrowed. He nodded and left the chamber at a speed Wemba wouldn’t have thought possible for something so massive.

"Be sure not to lose these two like Vidar lost the last one," the third Gaoler said to Solveig with a smile as he turned to leave the chamber.

"I don’t intend to let them out of my sight," she said to no one in particular, lowering her head until she was eye-to-eye with Wemba. The faintest hint of a smile broke across Solveig’s face.

"Especially since they are now the key to reinstating the Seekers."


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Only a short time passed before Solveig led her captives out of the barren chamber and down a spiraling descent. The passage ultimately led to a dazzling amphitheater, glittering reflections playing off a million icy surfaces. Blue flames emanating from a crystalline trench that lined the giant room bounced shimmering aquamarine light off the glacial walls. Wemba was alarmed by the sheer number of Solveig’s kind filling the raised theater steps. Only a short time ago she wasn’t even sure Gaolers existed, but now it was clear: they were both real and many.

"Wemba, where are we?" Trendal whispered in a quiet voice, but she had no answer for him.

"This is the Glacial Assembly," Solveig spoke quietly as she led them to the slightly raised circular dais at the center of the amphitheater, "where the Wardens meet to openly discuss matters that impact all of us. It is the central congregation point between the Fortress of Ends and its many ancillary gaols, where we encountered you. The front row is reserved for the Wardens of the other three Orders. Vidar of the Sentries—who you’ve already had the pleasure of meeting—Hertha of the Overseers, and Asmund of the Sentinels. Each order has its purpose, from defending the surface from intrusion, guarding prisoners, or watching over—" she abruptly stopped, as though she had said too much. "The rest you see are representatives of various clans, but they all ultimately follow the decision of their Warden."

Asmund spoke out at their approach, "Keeper-Warden, you called a Gathering and have brought Shade-touched intruders into the Glacial Assembly. With these actions, you defy tradition and mandate." A murmur began to rumble through the chamber, several dragons shifting uneasily. Asmund continued with an authoritative tone, "I must assume that you have a good reason, for your own sake."

"I do indeed, Sentinel-Warden Asmund," she replied, positioning herself for a longer response. "Our first, last, and only order from our great father Icewarden was to defend our world from the Shade. That is our purpose, and we have performed this duty faithfully within the confines of this land, from Reclaimer’s Glacier to the Fortress of Ends.

Solveig’s voice carried throughout the amphitheatre. "But times have changed. We have all felt the rocks shift, and watched as the outer chambers have continued to collapse. It is only a matter of time before these structural instabilities reach the innermost cells and threaten to release the Imprisoned. That is why we must seek help from the outside, and likewise provide aid where we can." She paused for a moment. "We must reinstate the Seekers and return to the surface. The Shade weaves its evils through the very crust of Sornieth, and our pledge to the Icewarden can no longer stay contained solely to our home." She gestured for Wemba to step forward, "This dra—"

Solveig was cut off by a bitter growl. "Is this a joke, Keeper-Solveig?" Overseer-Warden Hertha shouted out, her black mane rippling with anger. "What you speak of is blasphemy! The Icewarden’s charge is explicit: we must remain here, containing the Imprisoned. To do anything else would go against the mandate of the Icewarden! You dare defy our most divine of duties?!" Another wave of disgruntled murmuring moved through the assembled crowd.

"Peace, Overseer-Warden Hertha. I wish only to make my case with the evidence available to me, and then we can discuss the theology of my recommendation." Solveig paused before continuing, her voice echoing throughout the hall, "This dragon is proof of the changing world of which I speak. She is an outsider, yes, but also an ice dragon blessed by our great father." Wemba smiled nervously, awkwardly waving her talons in greeting to the unruly crowd.

"Despite this," Solveig continued, "she and her companion have the faint scent of the Shade, just like the prisoner who escaped. The fact that even a hint of the Shade exists on these blessed ones makes it quite clear that the Wardens have not succeeded in containing it in our current state. We have failed. The Seekers are needed again."

"This one looks nothing like a daughter of ice!" a voice from the crowd shouted. At this outburst, the assembled audience erupted in loud chatter. They were quickly silenced by Sentinel-Warden Asmund pounding his heavy, shaggy tail on the stone floor in a series of deafening thumps.

"What exactly are you, intruder?" Asmund asked, staring down imperiously at Wemba.

"I’m a Skydancer, Sir!" Wemba squawked out nervously.

"Skydancer?" said Overseer-Warden Hertha, chuckling at her compatriots, "That hardly sounds befitting of the Icewarden’s grand design."

"Well, I mean, I am an ice dragon and come from an ice clan, but according to the elders, the Skydancers originated from the Windswept Plateau..." she trailed off sheepishly.

At this statement, the crowd burst into shouts of shock and anger. Wemba staggered backwards at the thunderous noise. This time it took all three of the inquisitorial Wardens pounding their tails to quiet down the crowd.

"I refuse to accept this ridiculous premise!" shouted Hertha. "Get this abomination out of my sight!" she growled and slammed her heavy tail onto the floor, causing a massive monolith of ice to materialize. Fractals and crystals climbed out of the floor, completely encasing Wemba’s small form.

"WEMBA!" Trendal shouted in alarm, but before he could take any action to break her out of the icy prison, cracks began to run up and down its walls. Moments later, the massive ice prison shattered into a cloud of glittering snow falling lightly over the assembly, now shocked into silence after seeing what should have been impossible.

"An abomination?! Of all the things!" Wemba shouted into the now silent space, incensed. "I AM an ice dragon through and through! I don’t care how big or ancient or Gaoler-y you are, I AM STILL AN ICE DRAGON!" she stamped her feet in emphasis with each word "And I DO NOT UNDERSTAND what this entire ‘Shade-touched’ obsession is! What is wrong with all of you? You’re not mystical dragons of legend! You’re just a bunch of bullies!"

As the echoes of her disdain faded up into the vast ceiling, the only sound remaining was that of Trendal, trying to stifle a nervous laugh. Hertha, the most surprised of all, was leaning away from Wemba, speechless.

"Impossible..." Asmund whispered contemplatively. "Perhaps...we truly have failed..."

Solveig motioned to the Wardens to come down to the dias, "Overseer-Warden Hertha, Sentinel-Warden Asmund, please, take in this dragon’s scent." She whispered to Wemba, "Bear with them, your very existence is a bit hard to accept."

Wemba stood indignantly as the Wardens sniffed the air around her and Trendal. Hertha closed her eyes in resignation, holding in the inhalation as if it pained her to release it. Finally, she said, "There is no doubt, these two clearly have the scent of Shade and she is very much ice-blessed."

Asmund and Hertha made their way back up to their inquisitorial position in the first row of the amphitheater. Asmund took in Wemba and Trendal a final time before turning to the assembled clan heads. "In light of these truths, I put it to vote as to whether or not the Seekers shall be reinstated. I vote yea."

"I also vote for reinstatement of the Seekers," Sentry-Warden Vidar announced. "Even if it reduces my order by almost half," he said with a grimace.

Hertha looked taken aback. "This is blasphemy!" she proclaimed, "I don’t care what evidence you show us, Solveig, we should never break our oath to the Icewarden!"

"I vote for reinstatement," Solveig said with a placid smile, "That overrides your vote, Overseer-Warden Hertha, so sorry."

"With that, it’s decided. The Seekers return! The Wardens will discuss what the future holds," Asmund declared, pounding his tail. "This gathering is adjourned!" As the rowdy crowd exited the hall, one member of the audience walked up to Solveig. Wemba recognized the huge white and gray Gaoler from earlier.

"Looks like things are finally going your way, Solveig. But if you’re planning on returning to the position of Seeker-Warden, the Keeper Order is left somewhat leaderless," he observed with a knowing smile.

"I was thinking maybe I could coax you into my current position," Solveig said with a wide-eyed look of feigned innocence.

"Eh, the current batch of novice whelps are doing well enough under my second," the white and gray Gaoler rumbled. "If it means Solveig and the Seekers are back, I suppose I could return as Keeper-Warden," he drawled out casually.

"Well then," Wemba interjected, "I’m glad things worked out for you, but Tendral and I still have a missing friend to find. So if you could just lead us to the exit of this impossibly huge ice fortress, we’ll be on our way!"

"Oh, no," Solveig said, turning to her. "You’re very much still our prisoner. But seeing as your crime lead to the reinstatement of my Order I will give you this opportunity to work off your sentence by acting as our guide. It’s been quite some time since our kind have wandered the world; we’ll need all the help we can get."

Wemba stared at the smirking Gaoler, speechless as the meaning of her words sunk in.

"Huh." It was Trendal. Still in shock, Wemba looked over at the Tundra who appeared unfazed by Solveig’s claim. Then he shrugged. "Well, we are currently unemployed."

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