by Dr. Faust
A new city, a new life. A dream come true.
CHAPTER 1: THE IRONY OF DREAMS
The Frozen Fjord held its keep at the apex of the mountain, and its fortifications along the rim of the cliffs, overlooking the endless seas to the north, the frozen wastelands to the south and the cities cradled in the valley below. To enter the hold, one must pass through a narrow gorge passing below the bridge that connects the two halves of the Aegis keep. Once the fortifications are passed, one enters the civilian districts of the Fjord.
A path leads from the cliff to the center of the valley where a hub was formed by pathways leading to the various parts of the hold. At the center of this hub was a pedestal, perched upon which was a statue of Aeolar, the wise eagle. Aeolar was the patron deity of the Fjord. The entire hold could be described in two colors: White and Grey. Despite this monotony, there was an atmosphere of crisp, vibrant existence. The stone-and-mortar houses were closely spaced and had veins running through their walls, much like the College of Frostholme. But unlike the College, large furnaces below each district heated whale-oil and pumped it through the walls, keeping the insides warm.
At night, phosphorescent crystals that stored the energy from the sun during the day lit the streets in an eerie shade of blue. These crystals were an example of the alchemy of the North. Even in the dead of night, the cities bustled with activity and yet, no sound but that of the wind and sea could be heard. This unnerving lack of sound and the spectral light gave the Fjord the ambiance of a ghost town. Since the Fjord was so far north, the temperatures were always sub-zero, so liquid water was hard to come by. Blocks of ice harvested from the mountain tops were brought to refineries where they were melted, purified and distributed through a network of quartz-lined canals that ran throughout the hold.
Without the hint of any vegetation, timber another material hard to come by. So all their structures, ships and trinkets were made from sheets of ice fused with stone to form a workable composite, another fine example of the alchemy of the north. The majority of the alchemy labs were built in natural hollows and artificial caves carved into the inner walls of the cliffs. To reach these and the military districts along the clifftops, several elevators were built along the cliffs at various places. The caves were connected by a network of railings along the face of the cliffs in such a way that every related lab was easily accessible by its dependents.
The siege workshops in the industrial district were responsible for the great siege engines mounted on the cliffs. These engines overlooked both, the land approach and the sea approach. These were more defensive than the ones we had built for the war in that these had less mobility and more impact radius. The shells were modified too, to suit their purpose, causing them to explode on collision and showering the surroundings with a blast of shrapnel. Past these, at the apex, was the keep, Aegis. The Throne resided in the Imperial Quarters of the keep, along with the offices of the King's Council. These included the great hall from where conquests were planned, adorned with maps of each of the holds and various scrolls and books. The other half, known as the Anvil's Rest, held the court alchemist's lab, the royal smithy and the Halls of Stories, the library.
The alchemy of the North was different. In many ways, it could be considered more advanced than the rest of the empire. Due to the lack of organic matter and the means to grow any, all their compounds were prepared through mineral transmutation. Mineral transmutation required more preparation, complex procedures and better equipment. This made their labs considerably larger than the ones from the College. But this also made the compounds more potent, since minerals were strengthened by years of tectonic activity. The siege engines powered by this alchemy were so formidable that for decades, the Fjord had never once been besieged. A few years earlier, when the threat from the West grew, the North took over and within days the rebel camps had been leveled.
And then there were the Halls of Stories, the immense library housed in the keep. Every script, every scroll, every book from across the empire could be found in it. The Halls held the largest collection of texts from the past eras, the most authoritative collection of the continent's history. Among these were a series of tablets from the First Civilization, These tablets were known as the "Pieces of Dawn". The set was incomplete, but they still had the clearest reference to Timeless Trine.
As I read the tablets, a bittersweet memory of my time at the college washed over me. I remembered all those days I'd spent in the library searching for clues about the Timeless Trine and how eager I was to find the passage to the Fjord, how I longed to read from the Halls of Stories. It was my dream to be there, and there I was. And while the Fjord was every bit the haven I dreamed it would be, it was my prison. If one knew the circumstances under which I'd reached there, one would see more meaning in what I've said. So I recall your attention to the day I was abducted.
The ones who took me captive, I concluded much later, were spies from the East. My camp had been annihilated, the corpses of my comrades were stacked in a neat pile just outside of camp, the sentry sent to escort me had died before my own eyes with no signs of injury and all of this seemed to have been accomplished by two seemingly unarmed men. They wore no armor. The insignia of the Lupine empire was on the chest of their robes with hoods drawn over their masked faces. They spoke nothing, presumably because they didn't know the common tongue of the Empire, but the sight of my camp impressed such fear in me that when they gestured me to follow them, I did so unquestioningly.
Over the next few days, they led me northeast, across the plains. We stopped very little and traveled both by daylight and by night, lit dimly through snow-clouds by a fading moon. The snowfall had persisted, relentlessly thickening the blanket of snow on the ground until, by the fourth day, we were wading sluggishly through knee-deep snow. After a few days of dazed walking, I began gathering my senses and examining my situation. Given the state of my camp, it was apparent that they needed me alive. So I convinced myself that eventually, soldiers from the Spire would track us down and that my best move, for now, was to go along.
It was sometime during the third week of this seemingly endless journey that things took a somewhat interesting, if dark, turn. We had crossed the plains and were at the base of some obscure mountain. I hadn't the slightest idea where I was or where I was being led, except that our heading throughout the journey was northeast. They led me to a pass that led further north. As we walked into the pass, my captors froze for a moment before I heard the sickening sound of an arrow sailing through the air. This was immediately followed by a rapid barrage of similar sounds and both of them fell to the ground on their back. From the pass, a group of men emerged. My heart leaped with joy because I recognized the insignia on the armor: a frozen flame with an ice-bladed dagger hovering over it. These were men from the Frozen Fjords elite group of warriors, the Frozen Verdict.
They approached cautiously, with weapons drawn. I raised my hands in submission, but then I realized that their weapons were pointed at the corpses. It was not until they had fired off another round of arrows into the motionless bodies that they came for a closer examination. Even then the archers stood some way off with arrows notched. Two of the men secured me while two others examined the corpses, preparing to transport or dispose of them. The leader of the group, in the meanwhile, approached me and said, "Let me explain your situation to you. The Empire thinks that you are an enemy spy and that you aided the slaughter of that camp. Even if we hauled these two to your trial, you would still be accused of aiding the enemy and charged with treason. As of now, you are a traitor, a fugitive. If you go to any of the holds, you will be captured, tried and executed. That is one of your options."
"What other options do I have, then?" I asked, shaken by this revelation.
"Not options, you just have one more. You could join us in the North. We are aware of your work as an alchemist and as it happens we happen to be in need of one. However, should the empire discover that you are in our employment, it would lead to civil war, which is exactly what the enemy wants. So you must never leave the Fjord. It will be your sanctuary and your prison alike." As he said that, he moved to the side and nodded towards the corpses of my captors, now unmasked. I looked at their faces, except that they weren't there: where their faces should have been, there, instead, were glass orbs filled with quicksilver.
I accepted, of course, saying that I would never want to leave the Fjord anyway. And so it was that a few days later I found myself in the place of my dreams, a prisoner, with an empire, possibly two, seeking to execute me. Dreams are cruel that way. They have the strangest ways of coming true.