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Hello all. This is a first draft of chapters 1 and 2 for a story I am working on. Any comments you have (particularly about stuff you may not understand) would be awesome. Enjoy!

Working title: The Woman of Ice

Chapter One

Arthur Dewing surveyed the blood-stained snow before him with a combination of anger and dismay. Before him laid the smoldering remains of the Ensley household. Henry Ensley was a barely recognizable smear on the frozen ground, surrounded by massive blood-stained footprints that had nearly disappeared beneath the freshly fallen snow. The footprints belonged to the savage giants that called the Fahlatian Ice Field to the north their home. His wife, Catherine, and daughter, Joya, were nowhere to be seen, and Arthur feared the worst.

Arthur’s home was here, in the country of Colinwood, and as a captain of the Border Patrol, it was his sworn duty to stop exactly this from happening. The ice sheet to the north was home to all manner of unspeakable horrors, and it was his responsibility to protect the people of Collinwood from raids such as this. He was a battle-worn veteran from the territory wars with the Azardian nation to the south of years past, and was a natural choice for the position. He thought back now, trying to find some moment of his life that was comparable to the animal savagery that was displayed before him.

The sound of crunching snow behind him drew his attention and he turned to see Borris Annor hurrying up the road towards him. The young man had recently moved from the Azardian nation with his family, and was not yet comfortable with the frigid winters this far north. Although it had been many years since the territory wars ended, when Borris first displayed interest to join the border patrol, Arthur was suspicious. Over the last few years however, he had earned Arthur’s trust a hundred times over, proving himself to be a loyal soldier and a keen-minded fighter.

Borris never did adjust to the bone-chilling winters of Collinwood, and although he was bundled head to toe in furs and skins, Arthur could clearly see his discomfort. “I came as soon as I saw the smoke.” He said breathlessly when he stood before Arthur. He turned wide-eyed to the disfigured body that was once Henry Ensley, a skilled hunter and fisherman, loyal member of the community, and loving husband and father. He turned back to Arthur. “Catherine and the girl?”

Arthur shook his head. “I am not sure. Jeremy is checking for them now.”

Jeremy, the youngest member of their team, emerged from the wreckage now, his face covered in soot. He shook his head miserably. There was no sign of the women. Jeremy was a young, handsome fellow from Allana, Collinwood’s capital city. He was an aspiring knight, one of a long line if Arthur remembered correctly, and part of every knight’s training in early years was duty on the border patrol. This was the first incident since his arrival, and he was clearly shaken.

When Jeremy returned, Arthur immediately took charge. “With no evidence to suggest otherwise, we have to assume the women have been taken hostage. It will be our duty to retrieve them and dispose of the creatures responsible for this.”

Jeremy glanced back towards the wreckage warily before he spoke. “Just us, sir?”

Arthur shook his head. “Calistor and Janette are tracking the beasts as we speak. With any luck they will return shortly and we will be able to put a plan in action.”

Jeremy and Borris nodded solemnly. The footprints had nearly faded, covered up by the heavy snowfall. Soon they would be lost. They had no choice but to wait for the others return.

Two human forms huddled on the edge of a snow dune warily. Calistor and Janette had tracked the beasts over the tundra, up the steep edge of the frozen cliff face, and onto the barren, snow-covered Fahlatian Ice Sheet that marked the giant’s homeland. Nearly three hundred years ago, the ice sheet approached from the mountain ranges far to the north, flattening the grand Fahlatian Empire in a matter of months. The giants, who at that time had only called the mountains their home, expanded, claiming the frozen land as their home. Legends told that God had granted the Fahlatian’s with Crystals imbued with great power. But the Fahlatian’s greed made them corrupt the Crystals, enhancing their powers with the spirits of the dead. The stories say God punished them for their hubris, bringing the ice down from the mountains to crush them. Although he knew the Crystals did indeed exist, Calistor never put much stock in the myths and legends that parents told their children at night.

Calistor Onnick was a man of science, and it was only by chance that he had been drawn into service as a member of the border patrol just over a year ago. He was an explorer, an expert as scouring the hills south of the ice sheet for traces of the Crystals - for traces were all that remained after the ice sheet crushed the Empire. Few whole crystals remained, and were coveted by the rich and the powerful, and sold in secret on the black market. People would, and have, killed for that power. Wars had been fought and countless lives sacrificed for control of that power. What Calistor found were crushed and broken fragments of the Crystals in the glacial sediments. While these held much less power than the full crystals, they proved a useful source of fuel for several common-day uses.

It was during one of these expeditions he first had met Janette, and been dragged into the terrifying life of a border patrolman. He was just south of the wall of ice, collecting samples from a moraine, when the sounds of shattering ice drew his attention northward. He turned in surprise to see a huge cascade of ice crashing to the ground. He looked up, and was shocked to see a person clinging desperately to the edge of the ice, a massive giant sood menacingly over them. Horror struck him to the core as one of the creatures raised his massive limbs and brought them down on the ice with a thunderous crash. The ground shook, and he could hear the creature’s guttural laughter as the person struggled to keep hold of the ledge. Cruelly, it was toying with her.

Instinct took over and he threw off his pack, sprinting towards the wall of ice. He stood at the base of the ice, looking 50 feet above him to the dangling form of tormented victim. The person looked down, and as their eyes met he saw she was a woman, her panic clear in her eyes. Adrenaline suddenly pumped through his veins, giving him strength he had not known before. He removed the rock hammer and chisel from his belt and, using them as he would an ice pick, began scaling the sheer face of the wall towards the woman.

He was nearly ten feet off the ground when another crash shook the wall. Ice sprinkled from above and he clung tight to the wall, praying his impromptu ice picks held. He looked up to ensure she was still there, and resumed his climbing. When he was almost twenty feet off the ground, another crash shook the wall, and he heard a scream from up above. He reached out with one hand desperately to grab at the falling form. He caught her in one hand, and her descent was abruptly stopped. For a fraction of a second they were dangling from the wall, supported by the rock hammer.

But their combined weight proved to be too much, and they suddenly found themselves free-falling as the hammer broke away from the ice. They plummeted to the ground, and the woman fell heavily on him. Calistor instinctively reached down to break his fall, and felt his arm snap painfully before blackness took hold of him.

He awoke three days later, alone in an unfamiliar place, with his arm in a splint and bandages all over his torso and head. He called out hoarsely, and the woman from the ledge entered the room, a look of relief on her face. He soon found out her name was Janette Appes, and she was a member of the border patrol. She was separated from her team in a skirmish, and it was eventually her team that found them, broken and battered, at the base of the wall. Hearing of his courage, Arthur recruited Calistor once he was recovered, and soon discovered that he was a skilled tracker and hunter, and a valuable asset to the team. Calistor had never looked back.

His arm had never fully healed, and Calistor thought back on this now as he and Janette crept slowly over the crest of the snow dune to peer down on the ruthless giants. They saw two massive guards wielding clubs as tall as pines standing over a stairwell that was carved into the ice. Human heads on stakes marked the short path to the entrance. He looked over and caught Janette’s eyes. She gestured behind them. He nodded. They began backing up slowly; meaning to return to the others now that they knew the location of the lair, when a sudden noise from the giants made them stop.

A loud raucous erupted from the cavern. It sounded as if an argument were taking place, although it was difficult to tell from the primitive grunts and yells that composed their language. One of the guards left to check on things and soon returned, calling the other inside. The guard glanced about briefly, and the humans ducked down carefully, but he did not see anything of interest, and followed the first guard inside.

“We should go.” Janette said, and Calistor turned to see Janette preparing to leave. “If the women are in there, the longer we wait the less chance they have.” Calistor nodded, and they crept backwards away from the cave. When they were far enough away, they got up and began running back at a slow jog.

Suddenly a massive blast of heat exploded behind them, sending them sprawling to the ground. They looked up, their ears ringing, their backs burning from the heat and their face frigid from the snow. They rushed to their feet, shaking the snow from their head, and turned to see smoke billowing up from over the ridge. They looked at each other briefly, and ran back up the snowdrift. They stood at the top, looking in awe as white flames licked out of the entrance to the cavern. As their hearing returned, they heard a horrible inhuman scream and a giant burst forth from the entrance, desperately patting out the flames that scorched his back.

The smell of burning flesh immediately invaded their nostrils, and they covered their noses instinctively as the creature dropped to the ground, gave one last guttural moan before collapsing, dead. As suddenly as they appeared, the flames retracted, and the heat was gone. The snow continued to fall, and they were assailed by the frightening silence of death.

As one they stepped forward, listening for any signs of life. They stepped gingerly around the burning carcass of the giant, and looked down into the ice cavern. A deep pool of water lay at the bottom, and the entrance had nearly doubled in size, the ice having melted due to the heat. They synched up their waterproof sealskin boots and stepped down into the cave, the warm glow of embers lighting their way here and there along their path.

They waded through the water through a short hallway and soon came to a large cavern with a high ceiling. The enclave was dimly lit by the burning corpses at their feet, and the horrible stench nearly made them gag. The sound of splashing water drew their attention, and they turned to see some huddled forms in the water ahead.

“Catharine? Joya?” Janette called into the semi-darkness, her hand hovering cautiously over her sword.

A woman’s voice broke the silence. “I-It’s me! W-we’re here!” Her words came out disjointed and in a stutter, whether from the shock or the heat or the cold they were not sure. But they breathed a sigh of relief, for they recognized clearly Catharine’s voice.

They rushed forward to find Joya clinging fearfully to her mother, who looked stunned. She looked down at her feet and they noticed for the first time the unconscious form of a young woman lying on her back. Calistor checked for a pulse, and found she was alive. Catharine tugged at his sleeve, and gestured to the unconscious woman’s hands. He saw she had something clutched tightly in a firm grip. Curious, he pried open her hand. In it lay a Fahlatian Crystal, larger than any he had ever dreamed to see.
Lahrette's avatar

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Hello again smile

And you're still awesome at writing. And I'm still really jealous (and still starting my sentences with connectives...). As a quick query, is this a sequel to The Crystal Dagger? I just noticed some similarities, like Callistor (and did you finish The Crystal Dagger/how is it going?).

The first thing I'd say about this is that it's too long to be a prologue. Average word count per page in books is 250-300, so this would go on for longer than your average 1-2 page prologue. Grammar is pretty much spot on, with the only thing I noticed being "other's" which should be "others' " (writing it "the other's" reads like "the other <word missing> is" ).

As before I love the way you weave exposition into the narrative without infodumping and I love the sense of character and world-building you get without it being too obvious. Looking forward to more biggrin
Why hello again.

Actually no, it's not a sequel. Unfortunately I haven't written too much more of the Crystal Dagger. I was tossing the idea around in my head a lot recently though, and thought of a completely different story line that I thought I would try out. So that's this. Sort of an alternate reality if you will.

Thanks for the compliments in any case. smile Hope I will actually have more for you. lol

And I love starting sentences like this. ;p
Lahrette's avatar

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How've you been?

Ah, well it's still cool as an alternate reality smile

Yay, I shall hope with you, because I'd definitely procrastinate on my A-level revision to read this (which is saying something, I've turned down three cinema trips and a night ice-skating due to needing to revise...which I do need to do :'()

It's oh-so-bad to do it. And it's so nice and easy wink
Chapter 2 - Part 1
(Part 2 will likely be short, but I am going to bed. I just wanted to post what I had so far.)

They made their way over the snow and ice in silence, trying to make sense of this new development. Janette led the way, her keen eyes picking out the proper path towards home. Catharine followed close behind with Joya clinging fearfully to her arm, and Calistor brought up the rear, the unconscious woman slung over his shoulders. Wanting to return to safety as soon as possible, they had not yet discussed the strange situation they found themselves. Janette was focused on finding their pathway, and even Catharine was looking around cautiously, determined not to get caught unawares. Calistor tried to focus on guarding their rear, but his thoughts swirled about the enigma of the woman and the crystal.

Calistor had worked as a glacial geologist for nearly 10 years before he joined the Border Patrol; and he had been quite successful at his job as well. Several mines in production today that collected Fahlatian Crystal fragments were located at sites he himself had located. Yet in all his years, the largest fragment he had seen was the width of a toothpick, and barely half the length. If rumors were to believed, then only two crystals in existence were even comparable to the size of the object bulging in his pocket. One was in the possession of the Emperor of Azard to the south. The second belonged to a high king on the other side of the Duranian Sea. He was still thinking of this when they reached the wall of ice.

Calistor caught up to Janette, who was peering over the sheer edge of the wall. He laid down the woman gently in the snow before turning to join Janette. “I don’t think I can climb down with her on my back like this.” He said as he walked to stand beside her.

Janette nodded without looking at him, pausing to think. She turned to him, absent mindedly brushing a blonde lock of hair from her face as she spoke. “I may have to take Catharine and Joya down and to the village, and return with more supplies; rope and some canvas to rig up a hammock to lower her.” She said, nodding to the unconscious woman.

Calistor nodded, and fished the crystal from his pocket. He held it out for her. “You should take it to Arthur. He may have a better sense of how to deal with this.”

Janette shook her head. “You take it. If you are staying here alone, you should have some protection.” He closed his hand around the crystal, and her blue eyes followed his every motion. “Where do you think she got it?”

Calistor shrugged. “Who she is might be a better question.”

Janette nodded thoughtfully. They shared a moment of contemplative silence before Janette set to work guiding Catharine and Joya down the cliff, leaving Calistor alone with the woman and the crystal. Calistor laid his overcoat over the woman, tucking it in around her to protect her from the snow. He noticed her skin was bright pink, whether it was burnt by the sun or the flames he wasn’t sure, and her hair was dark brown and unkempt, as if it had not been washed for days. She was not dressed nearly warm enough for the ice sheet, especially during the winter months, wearing only a thin coat over a couple layers of clothing. Her clothing as well was odd, he noticed, made of a material that was soft to the touch, and much lighter than any clothe he had seen. The coat was rather plain looking, but her underclothes were brightly coloured and, he thought, rather gaudy.

The snow began falling heavier, and he wrapped his coat tightly about himself. He heard a crunching of snow, and turned about in alarm, gripping the crystal tightly in his pocket. He peered through the shroud of snow, but could see nothing. His hand relaxed its grip and he turned back to see that the woman looking at him with light brown eyes, a small, tired smile playing across her faintly blue lips. She tried to speak, but it came out as a croaking mumble he could make no sense of.

He retrieved his skin from his belt and held it up to her, offering her some water. “You should drink something.” She gave him a quizzical look, and appeared not to understand. He took a drink of the water to show her and said, “Drink. Water.”

She perked up at the word water, seeming to understand, and nodded, opening her mouth ever so slightly. He poured some water in her mouth for her until she closed her mouth and swallowed. He did this several times until she shook her head and he stopped. She closed her eyes wearily, and looked as if she were about to fall asleep again. She pulled the coat tighter around her, and curled up slightly. He returned the water pouch to his belt and sat beside her, rubbing her back and arms in an attempt to keep her warm.

Arthur watched the carriage pull away down the snow-covered road, carrying the load that was Henry Ensley’s remains. He was on his way to the mortician, where he would be cremated. Arthur prayed his wife and daughter would not share the same fate.

Arthur took charge quickly, not wanting his squad sitting idly on their heels. He ordered Borris and Jeremy to set to work putting out the embers and salvaging what they could from the remains of the home. If there were survivors from this tragedy, Arthur did not want them to lose all they had. The two young men had put out the last of the embers when Arthur called them outside, saying he had seen something in the distance.

Borris, who had the keenest sight, identified Janette, Catharine, and the girl, but saw no sign of Calistor. As pleased as he was at the return of the women, he was surprised, and Arthur felt his stomach churn. He had lost many men and women during the territory wars, and even during his time on the border patrol. The deaths weighed heavily on his soul, and as Janette approached he prayed there would not be another this day.

Janette approached Arthur directly, and he could see the urgency in her eyes. “You were meant to do recon only. Where is Calistor?” He asked immediately when she approached.

“He is safe. I will explain everything later, but there was another survivor in the lair. Calistor is with them at the top of the shelf, but she can’t climb down on her own.” She turned to Jeremy then. “Run into town and collect as much rope as you can, and canvas. We will sling her down.”

“Of course, how much-“ Jeremy began, but was cut off.

“Do it man! He is up there alone right now!” The ferocity in Janette’s sprung him into action, and he was soon sprinting down the road at top speed.

Arthur noticed Catharine standing resolute in front of the rubble that was her home. He walked past Janette, who was describing to Borris where Calistor was, and approached her. “I’m sorry for your loss, Catharine.”

Catharine was startled from her thoughts and turned to see the sorrow-filled face of Arthur. “Henry.” She said simply, tears welling in her eyes. Joya, not understanding what was happening, realized her mother was upset, and clung tighter to her. Catharine pulled her close. Arthur watched Borris run off towards the ice sheet to offer support to Calistor, carrying extra coats with him as he went. Arthur turned to see Janette beckoning him eagerly. He held up a hand for her to wait, noting the worry in her eyes, and turned back to Catharine, laying a sympathetic hand on her back.

“You are more than welcome to stay at my home, until you sort things out.” Catharine thanked him, saying she had to grab something from the house first. She told her daughter to wait with Uncle Arthur and stepped over the ruined doorway into her home. She returned shortly clutching something tightly to her chest. Perhaps a portrait or a letter, or some other personal effect, Arthur thought. He then laid a hand on her shoulder, guiding her down the road slowly towards his home. She was a strong woman, and held her composure as her life tumbled around her. Janette was left behind to wait for Jeremy’s return, and to struggle with the secret of the crystal that Calistor now held.

Calistor watched the snowy horizon warily. Even right on the border, he was uncomfortable being alone on the ice sheet. Every movement, every noise, made him jump; and it was beginning to wear on his nerves. He let his thoughts wander as he watched, his mind dreaming up impossible scenarios that all ended the same way: with this woman in the cave. Perhaps it was because she was delirious with thirst or hunger, but he was pretty certain she did not speak English. Perhaps she was a master thief, who managed to steal from the Emperor’s treasure rooms, and fled to the ice sheet to escape his wrath. Perhaps she was a spy or an assassin from across the seas, sent to eliminate some political figure or another. Perhaps she was a princess, off on some personal vendetta of revenge.

His stream of thought was suddenly interrupted when he felt a hand clench his leg tightly. He looked down to see the woman staring fearfully into the distance. He looked up and squinted, trying to peer through the snowfall. Then he spotted something that made his heart catch in his throat; nearly 200 yards away, a great white feral cat crept slowly towards him. The massive creature was bent low to the ground, and moved with the stealth and grace of a skilled hunter as it slowly closed the gap between them.

Calistor moved slowly, careful not to reveal he had seen the hunter. He pulled the crystal from his pocket, clenching it so tight his knuckles turned white, unsure of how he could even use it if it came to a fight. He stood up, sliding his sword from his sheath with his good arm as he turned to face the beast. He stepped forward, between the beast and the woman. It was 100 yards away now, and steadily closing the distance.
Chapter 2 - Part 2/2

Arthur walked with Catharine, patiently leading her towards his home. He was eager to get her there and check on Calistor. He was not at all comfortable leaving him alone, but he could not bear to leave the poor woman alone after this ordeal. He had to ensure she was safe. And this was where she surprised him.

As they walked, Joya stumbled awkwardly through the snow on the road, her little legs not quite long enough to carry her easily through the snow. She clung tightly to her mother’s hand, walking behind her where the snow was deeper and hurrying to walk beside her when the snow was shallower. Her young mind did not understand the significance of this day. She only knew that she was cold and scared and her mother was upset. And this made her upset.

Catharine walked in shock at first, nothing but instinct making her put one step in front of another. Her mind, her heart, had been crushed, her life eradicated over the course of a few hours. A little tug on her hand brought her back to reality and she looked down to see little Joya, struggling to keep pace. Joya. Her little girl.

A different instinct kicked in then. The one you only truly understood when a person came into your life you would do anything to protect. Someone you loved unconditionally, and would give anything to see them safe and happy. She stopped and wiped her eyes of her tears. Joya stopped beside her, her little hands clinging tightly to Catharine’s. Arthur walked past her a couple steps, but stopped when he realized she was not following. He turned to her and saw a new determination in her eyes. “Do you need a moment?” He asked uncertainly.

She shook her head, thinking of the young man, Calistor she thought she heard Janette say, alone on the ridge. “I know where you live Arthur. If it is alright, I can make it on my own from here. You should help your friend.”

“Are you sure you will be alright?”

She nodded, and without another word she picked up her daughter, cradling her against her protectively, and turned, continuing down the road. Arthur took a moment to admire her strength in a way he had never seen before turning back and jogging back the way he came, eager to help Calistor return safely from the Fahlatian Ice Sheet.

Borris crashed through the low brush of the tundra at break-neck speeds to reach the wall. He burst out into a lichen-covered clearing and looked about briefly before carrying on his way. Before too long he stood before the massive wall of ice. He followed the markers Janette gave him until he reached the right spot, and then began scaling the surface. With ice picks in hand, he began scaling the ledge.

A skilled climber, he was making good time when an explosion of energy erupted from above. He looked up to see a spray of white flames shooting out over the ice ledge, and a shower of snow fell from the shelf. He stuck a pick deep in the ice and held on tight as the small avalanche crashed into him, the force of it nearly tearing him from his precarious perch. He weathered the snow and looked up, listening, but there was no sound but the wind in his ears. He climbed quickly, not understanding what had happened, and concerned for his friend.

The final meters seemed to take forever to climb. He pulled his head over the edge, dragging himself onto the flat surface, breathing heavily from the exertion. He looked up then, and the first thing he saw was steam, wisping up into the air. He pushed himself up so he was kneeling, and noticed a massive cat limping away. His eyes followed the giant predator for a moment before turning back, and he stared in surprise for a moment. The steam rose from a pool of water that formed a small circular lake. In the middle was Calistor, standing on a solid portion of ice over the limp body of a woman. He seemed frozen in place, his arms held out stiffly in front of him. A soft blue glow suddenly lit up Calistor, as if from the inside, and when it was extinguished he collapsed in a heap.

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