by Dr. Faust
Dreams have a strange way of coming true, sometimes in the cruelest way...
PROLOGUE: THE PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE
As the last of the daylight began giving way to the night, an unsettling feeling crept over the crew. The passengers too shifted uneasily. It had been over a month since the journey began from the Southern seas and for over a week now, the nights had been stormy and turbulent. The waters of the Southern seas stretched from the Isles of Orion to the frozen continent of the north, Pagonis, and these waters were never violent. The docile waters made the long voyage plain sailing. That the weather was this stormy was making the crew, and hence, the passengers, nervous. Wild rumors ran free and it was believed that the charts had been sabotaged and that we were hopelessly lost. For my part, I was content with the fact that we hadn’t already sunk.
After a rather somber dinner, I decided to take a walk on the deck before the storm hit again and I was confined to my cabin again. But that night was different. A gentle breeze wafted through the sails, the sea was so calm the ship barely bobbed and the countless stars of the Northern skies threw a soft glow on the light sea-mist. The atmosphere was eerily calm. Then, to the North, I saw a sight that overshadowed the effect of the calm of the night: the faint, steady, ceaseless glow of the legendary Lighthouse, Wyvern’s Crest.
The momentary wave of relief that washed over me was quickly replaced by anticipation. There, before my eyes, stood my life’s dream, the lighthouse that guided ships past the Cape of Winter’s Grasp and into the harbor of the port city of Mistral, the entrance to the Northern Kingdoms by sea. Before me was the land of scholars, an intellectual haven. All the years of blood, sweat, and tears had finally paid off.
The Isles of Orion were inhabited in most part by hardy folk, fishermen and sailors and their kind, the kind prone to excessive drink and who sweat altogether too much. The few who, by some miracle, didn’t spend their day in a drunken stupor traveled further south to the meadows of the Southern continent, Apricum, and took up agriculture or some such occupation. They were all men suited for physical labor. So naturally when a child as inquisitive as me was born amid this medley of sweat and liquor, the tales of the northern kingdoms drew me towards them like a flame does a moth.
However, the passage north was very expensive. If I were to take it, I’d have to earn and save every nickel I could. And so it was that I found myself apprenticed to the nearby blacksmith. It was fascinating work, but I was never one for physical exertion. So the very moment I had enough gold pieces for the voyage I bid the blacksmith farewell and made for the harbor. It took me almost eight years to gather the gold I needed but the sight of the Wyvern’s Crest made every single one of those days seem worth it. There I was at last, at the beginning of a new era of my life, having faced a multitude of obstacles of the widest selection, the details of which could fill a book!
My plan was to study at the College of Frostholme and get my signet ring and then, work as a traveling consultant. And in the same way that I had made my way to Northern Kingdoms, I hoped to make my way to the northernmost kingdom, the most fabled of all, The Frozen Fjord. It was often referred to as "the crevice at the end of the world", because beyond it was the endless sea, ever-stormy and rough, and no one knew what lay beyond it. It's ironic how things turned out, despite the naivety of my plans.
The ship docked two days later. The sight I saw was nothing like what I’d expected. In a port city back in Orion, the word “chaos” was personified. Here, there was perfect order, like ants in a colony. The air was distinctly chilly and the name “Winter’s Grasp” was getting more and more justified. Instinctively, my first course of action was to make my way to the western watchtower and climb it to the top to take in the view. Up at the top of the tower, I felt the essence of Winter's Grasp flow through me, an ancient land, filled with knowledge. I knew then that I belonged here.
It was a week's journey from Mistral to Frostholme. The path we took passed through a vast green plain and into a mountain gorge along a river. As we progressed north the bite of the cold grew deeper and the landscape transitioned from green to gray and then to white. By the fifth day, I was positively shivering from the cold. We crossed the gorge and entered a neat little city tucked away in the valley. The river originated somewhere on the mountains that surrounded the city, flowed through the valley and then beyond. The early snow had already capped the mountains and was beginning to powder the valley as well. Some of the tougher shrubs, however, still braved the cold and threw a hint of green along the mountainsides.
As I walked the streets of Frostholme, I noticed for the first time the distinct architecture of the north. Unlike the southern islands, where most buildings were made of wood and grass, the buildings here were solid stone. It was as if the presence of so much crag around them had made them fond of the element. After wandering for a while, I made my way to the College.
The college was located in a glade among the pine woods on the outskirts of the city. The river flowed through the college grounds and the path leading to the college followed the river for a while before branching away. The path curved through arcades of ancient pines and terminated at the college entrance. The college was housed in a massive four-storey building made completely of stone. In olden days, this building was the manor of some long forgotten baron. A little over five centuries ago, the place had been discovered and had been restored to house the college and since then, it had been a beacon of knowledge. Over the years, as the world advanced, the college had kept up with it and now it boasted the finest alchemy labs, the most well-equipped smithies, the most well-stocked library, everything one seeking knowledge could dream of.
The smithies were below the ground and the heat from the furnaces flowed through veins in the rock-walls, keeping the three stories above ground warm. As I stood before the large doors, contemplating the insignia of Aeolar carved into them, I thought of how well it beckoned and warned at the same time. Aeolar, the wise eagle, was the keeper of all knowledge and his insignia was a winged blade pierced through a human skull. The message was simple; the eagle offered knowledge to those who sought it, but should they overreached, that very knowledge would be their undoing.
For six years after I walked in through those doors, I was immersed in an intellectual haven. I worked under the wisest scholars of the realm, working on requests the college received from the kingdoms across the continent. I studied alchemy, siege engineering, the northern tongue, the history of the kingdoms and so much more that I barely left the college. I spent a lot of my time in the library, aptly named "Scholars' Retreat". It was the second largest library in the world and that was where I learned about the fabled fjord at the northern tip of the continent. If the documents I found were to be believed, the Frozen Fjord was well ahead of its time in technology, architecture, and engineering.
The whole kingdom was built along the face of the landward side of the mountain which formed the fjord. At the peak, where the mountain split letting the sea in, was the mist-veiled keep, Aegis. Within the keep was housed the Throne of Aeons, the seat of the King of the Frozen Fjord and what caught my attention the most was the library housed in the keep, the largest, most impressive one in the world, named the "Halls of Stories". The Halls of Stories held a collection of scripts from the ancient kingdoms which once thrived on the continent before war and plague had wiped all civilization off the land. Then, centuries later, voyagers had found the abandoned continent and built their settlements. It is believed that they came from the west, but no one knows for certain. But a lot of the texts and scrolls from the olden days were preserved in the library.
The most curious "fable", let's call it, that I came across, was about a set of artifacts called "the Timeless Trine". They were ancient weapons, representing creation, sustenance, and destruction. Were they just symbolic, I would have dismissed them as irrelevant. But if what I read was to be believed, they actually possessed the powers which they represented. It was intriguing, if unlikely, and for days I searched for any other works that referenced these artifacts. but search as I did, I found nothing more than I already knew. Over time I forgot about them, but in retrospect, I suppose one could call that the beginning of everything that transpired.
In the six years that I spent in the college, I worked extensively on siege engines and the alchemy of war, and so it was no surprise that upon receiving my Signet ring (which bore the insignia of Aeolar) I was invited to join ranks with the army's siege engineers. While the kingdoms of the north were not part of an empire, they had formed an alliance and had a common military to avoid conflict. It was this force that I joined. In the meanwhile, war had broken in the east, with the armies of the Lupine Empire besieging the walls of the Crystal Plateau, the easternmost Kingdom, named after the ice-covered mountains that formed a natural wall.
To the east of these mountains, at the foot, were thick woods, and in these woods I found myself soon enough, building, repairing and developing siege engines in a military camp. With the arrival of war-alchemy, the scales tipped in our favor and the invaders began to fall back. In a few weeks, the woods were almost cleared of the invaders and we advanced further, forcing them to fight in the barrens beyond the woods. During these weeks I scarcely had the time to breathe. But as the invaders began thinning out, I got more free time and that was when I began craving my old companions, my books.
It was late one evening, and I was returning to the engineering camp after a routine maintenance run along the forest's edge. Several engines needed some minor calibration and I was later than usual. The forests were clear but as a precaution, I had one of the sentinels to escort me. A raw wind howled through the trees. It had just snowed that day and a fresh blanket of snow covered the ground, making our progress through the forest slow. A sullen moon peeped over the treeline, throwing depressing hues on the path as if prophesying the events about to unfold.
The moment we reached camp, I knew something was wrong. There was a deathly silence, the campfires were out and the sentries were nowhere in sight. I froze in my tracks, debating what to do. I was about to suggest that we return to the outpost for help when I heard a low moan and the sentinel crumpled to the ground. I looked around. There was no one in sight. I knelt beside him to check what was wrong. He was dead. I saw no wounds, no punctures on his skin but he was clearly dead. I was debating whether I ought to run back to the outpost or look for help nearby when my mind was made up for me by the faint sound of a footstep cracking a twig beneath the snow.