What a joyous, boastful line of merry men and women they were. About forty of them, give or take. Most had followed Arnlaug and his cousins from Hoelbrak, incensed as they were by the big norn’s speech and days of continuous libation. Others were collected by the marching wave from the far-out settlements they had passed by, motivated by the crowd and their own old grudges.
They were mostly young, the lot of them. Rare were the elders that joined. Most had argued and pleaded, calling the enterprise foolish and ill-prepared. Arnlaug called them cowards, and complacent. Then, not wanting to lose steam in pointless in-fighting, he had the troop leave after a couple hours of preparations.
Fiel’s armor didn’t fit him too well –it was one of Geirholf’s– but it didn’t matter. He was in the middle of a small army of hardened warriors, sure to flatten any opposition foolish enough to cross their path.
The young norn pushed a little further up the line, where Arnlaug –and Lulla– were. Erland caught up with him, and held him back.
“Fiel…” he leaned into his ear. “Don’t go in the front. Stay back, you’re not used to fighting icebrood…”
Fiel turned to him, insulted. “And how am I ever going to learn?”
A nearby norn, a blonde bearded hunter with a massive rifle resting on his shoulder, and whom evidently overheard the conversation, gave him an approving slap on the back. Validated, the young norn smiled, and Erland slunk back.
He had been sour ever since the crowd cheered, back at the Great Hall. Fiel attributed it to fear. He really couldn’t blame him: he was scared too. But at least he was trying to go with the flow.
Since the moment they set out to arm themselves, Erland had been trying to convince him to reconsider. To stay home. To not join Arnlaug in his foolhardy quest. He even had the gall to tell him that doing all this just to try and impress some girl was ridiculous, that there were many other girls in Hoelbrak, that surely one of them would be interested in him for what he is, to not risk his life pretending to be something he’s not.
Fiel could have slapped him then, trying to imply that Lulla was just “some girl”. And sure, maybe this wouldn’t work in the end. Maybe, after all this, Lulla would still not be interested in him. But still… at least he would have tried.
He left without warning his parents –he knew they wouldn’t have approved. They too, were complacent. Arnlaug was right.
They walked for a couple of days, resting only at night, and it was pretty impressive that they didn’t lose any momentum on the way. Fiel wasn’t used to this unrelenting pace. He would have complained, but the warrior spirit was infectious. He was happy being among those people.
Some that had brought ale from Hoelbrak shared it with this small improvised army, and they kept going, further and further up North, towards their ancestral homeland.
They met a few Sons of Svanir in a small camp along the way, and the murderous wave swallowed them quickly. It was brutal. Fiel didn’t even get to see the action, only the aftermath.
And it was also the first time he ever saw a dead thing that wasn’t an animal.
Or were they?
They looked like any other norn, except for their blue, frost-covered skin, their eyes glazed white, and the tiny shards of ice poking through their skin. They looked ill. They looked like they were possessed by something… alien. Even the ice covering them looked… wrong.
Should he have felt sorry for them? Gored mercilessly by a bloodthirsty mob, without warning or provocation? Or was it mercy?
Fiel didn’t have time to reflect on this too much. Already the wave had rolled forward, emboldened by the small victory, already aching for more, and swept him along.
Eventually they reached the vast expanse that was Frostgorge Sound. Kodan were said to have ships moored there. Fiel had never seen a Kodan before, or their ships, and he hoped he would get to see one before going home.
The further up North they went, the colder it got. Dark spires made of that same aberrant ice he had seen on the Sons were encountered in increasing frequency. It worried him, and he didn’t know why… but the others didn’t seem to mind, so he did his best not to as well.
After all, this was it. They were finally entering the portion of Tyria that was truly Jormag’s.
Fiel had expected the army to be besieged by monstrosities made of ice and bones as soon as they stepped foot in the area, but everything was eerily silent. Silent, save for the battle songs and the taunting roars of the norn crowd, daring the ice dragon’s minions to show up and fight. Fight for their master, fight for the land they claimed.
They did encounter a few ice wolves, their fur indistinguishable from a pelt of tainted icicles, but their were steamrolled in an instant.
This wasn’t enough. This was insulting.
Where were all the icebrood? Did the loss of their Champion truly shake them so much, that they all fled back into the icy bosom of their frozen master?
This wouldn’t do.
The righteous vindication that had animated the band so far quickly turned into a crazed bloodlust, and they pushed ever forward, plowing into the icy plains. They would march right up to the dragon’s damn doorstep if they had to.
Fiel remembered hearing Erland’s voice at that point, complaining about something. Arguing against the purpose of this mad chase, no doubt. Fiel wasn’t listening to him. Even he was itching to stick his axe into the frozen skull of something.
And then. It happened.
It started small: the wind picking up, whipping their faces with frigid lashes. The norn didn’t mind. They were norn. A little wind wouldn’t scare them.
Then the clouds rolled in, thick and grey, descending over the plains like a herd of crazed minotaurs. In an instant, everything turned white, a blizzard rose, the wind roared and snow pelted their skin. They couldn’t see past a few feet in front of them. The brave warriors’ advance crawled to a stop, and everyone struggled to even stand upright.
Orders were shouted, but the words got lost in the wind. Some attempted to use magic to provide a barrier against the storm, but they were too small, the blizzard too strong. Everyone was suddenly entrenched in snow up to their thighs.
Fiel kept hearing that roar in his nightmares for years. It haunted him. He never got to catch even a glimpse of the creature that had descended upon them that day, but he still remembered its roar. Loud like thunder. It drilled into their ears and shook the ground they were standing on.
A streak of bright blue fire pierced the sky to their left, cleaving through the front of their line. An even stronger gust of wind tossed Fiel and all the other norn to the right. When he raised his eyes, a wall of glistening ice spears was barring their way.
Arnlaug was encased is that wall.
He was frozen solid, his finger pointing to the sky, his hammer raised.
Not too far from him, was Lulla.
She had been caught in the middle of nocking an arrow, her russet braids stuck in the wind like frozen pennons.
Other norn had been caught in the blast. They too had been turned into ice sculptures.
Some lucky or unlucky few got only grazed by the blue fire. They were screaming, holding a frozen arm, a frozen leg, choking on a half-frozen face.
Fiel was numb. Paralyzed with fear. He couldn’t stop staring.
Someone grabbed him and pulled him out of the snow.
He dragged him back, away from the horror. But the beast roared again, and swooped down upon them once more.
It hurled gigantic spires of dark ice on their path, cutting off their retreat. They fell upon a few of the panicking warriors, splitting the ground beneath their feet.
It was chaos.
Everybody around him was screaming, running in all directions, running into each other, trying to flee the unseen creature that was quickly whittling them down with freezing breath and crushing spears.
A shock. Erland lost his grip on him. Fiel remembered tumbling into a crevasse, the thick snow cushioning his fall. He remembered curling up in there, not moving. There, out of sight, out of the wind, he was safe.
For the decade to come, Fiel would think back to that day. To that particular moment.
To the things he could have done.
He heard Erland calling him. Soon another voice joined his: Geirholf. They were looking for him.
They were close. So very close. So close, Fiel could hear them despite the roar and the wind. But they couldn’t see him.
I’m down here! He could have shouted.
Down here! Help me out! He could have said. Help me out and let’s flee together!
He could have called for them to let them know where he was. They would have known where he was, and they could have fled together. They could have jumped down and join him in his shelter.
He could have called.
They could have died together.
They could have hidden together.
He could have called.
But he didn’t.
He was afraid.
He was terrified that, if he ever made a sound, the monster would hear him. It would hear him, and it would find him.
It would find them. It probably heard them, calling for him.
He was so afraid, he wanted them to shut up, to stop calling.
He wished they would just
Fiel squeezed his hands over his ears, whimpering.
FIEL! FIEL! FIEL!
FIEL! WHERE ARE YOU?!
The roar answered.
It only lasted a moment.
It lasted forever.
Then there was only the wind.
Fiel didn’t know how much time had passed after the attack. A few minutes? A few hours? Days?
He was in a daze. He wanted to die. He wanted to fall asleep and not wake up.
His body decided otherwise. Hunger finally motivated him to dig out of his shelter, and pull himself onto the plains above.
The sky was clear, blue and cold. Of the carnage, there was no trace. Everything was covered by a thick blanket of fresh snow. Pure. Immaculate.
The walls and its grim trophies were gone. There were no bodies. No discarded weapon. Not a single piece of frozen armor.
Only the spires remained, towering over him like dark judges. Mocking him. Each tainted glimmer on their frigid edges screaming only one thing:
It was his fault this whole thing started.
His fault that Arnlaug, Erland, Geirholf, Lulla, and all those other people were dead.
His fault that they didn’t flee when they could have.
His fault they died screaming.
Fiel was too numb to cry. Too cold. Too hungry.
Shivering, he let his feet lead him…
Wherever he was going, it wasn’t back home.
He could never go back home.