Day 21 of 100 Word Prompts: Ice
Zhen watched the ice creep along the ground as the temperature dropped rapidly. He took a step back, trying to avoid contact with it, looking in either direction for an escape from its path.
“What are you doing out there!?” a woman’s voice called from an open doorway behind him. “Come in here before it reaches you!”
Zhen turned and ran through the door just before it slammed behind him.
“What were you thinking being outside tonight?” she said, waving a finger at him. “You could have died. You should know better-wait. What are you?”
Zhen took a moment to ponder the woman’s question as he looked at her. She had black hair and pale skin that looked as though it were made of the powder some women wore, though she wore none. What she did wear was simple linen clothes, telling him that she was of the lower caste in the city.
“I’m Zhen,” he replied, “I am grateful. I had nowhere to hide from it. Thank you.”
“I’m Meng. It’s a good thing I looked outside to check on the frost. You’d have been dead by morning,” she said, “Come warm yourself by the fire.”
Zhen looked around the simple home. It was little more than a tiny common area with a bed and two chairs. He approached the fire, holding his hands out for the warmth, letting it fill him.
“You didn’t actually answer my question,” Meng said.
“Technically, I did answer your question, just not with an answer you were expecting,” Zhen replied with a smile.
“I know in this city there are many races that mingle and deal with one another. I can honestly tell you I’ve never seen anyone quite like you,” she said. “And answering a question with the answer to another question is hardly answering a question at all.”
“I’m a genasi,” Zhen replied, sitting on the floor, pulling his knees up to his chest in front of the fire. “My father is a Djinn, my mother. I don’t know. I assume she’s human.”
“I’ve heard of genasi before, but I’ve never seen one. Your hair is mesmerizing,” Meng said. Zhen felt his cheeks grow warm as he ran his hands over his hair. “It never holds still. It’s like you’re in the water or something.”
“I don’t know why it does that,” Zhen admitted. “I suppose it’s something to do with the blood in me. I can also float sometimes if I have to, but it wears me out a bit to do it.”
“You can float?” Meng asked.
“Sort of,” Zhen replied, the memory of the last time he had used it coming to the front of his mind. “Sometimes, it gets me out of sticky situations with bad people.”
“Can I see?” Meng asked.
“I don’t know. It really is draining to do it,” Zhen replied.
“Please,” Meng pressed.
“Alright, I guess,” Zhen said as he closed his eyes and concentrated.
Zhen reached deep inside himself, touching on something that he knew was there, but didn’t truly understand. He felt his body grow lighter until the feeling of the floor vanished from beneath him. He opened his eyes to find Meng looking at him awestruck.
“That’s amazing!” she said.
“Not really, it’s just something I can do,” Zhen replied, lifting himself slowly until he was almost touching the ceiling.
“No, it’s incredible. Thank you for showing me,” Meng said.
Zhen extended his legs beneath him and floated gently to the floor.
“You did save my life,” he said nodding. “It’s the least I can do.”
“Have you eaten today?” Meng asked.
“Yes,” Zhen replied with a smile. “I don’t have a problem with food on most days.”
“Alright, well it is getting late, you are welcome to sleep on the floor,” Meng said as she walked over to her bed.
Zhen felt his heart skip. “No, no, no, I couldn’t do that. You don’t even have a separate room to sleep. I couldn’t share the room with you while you were sleeping.” he said, waving his hands.
“You do know what tonight is, right?” Meng asked, throwing back her bedcover.
“It’s the solstice,” he said.
“Exactly, and so, where you are here, and the ice has come, you don’t have much choice,” Meng said, looking almost content about the situation.
“But what about you? I couldn’t share a room with you. It would be improper,” Zhen said, looking for an acceptable solution.
“I’m not the one who has the problem with this arrangement, though. Am I?” Meng replied as she sat down, slid off her slippers, and slid her feet under her blanket. “There’s an extra blanket on the chair furthest from the hearth. Make yourself comfortable and get some sleep.”
Zhen walked to the door and touched the latch. It was so cold it was almost shivering itself.
“I guess I don’t have much choice,” he said as he walked back to the warmth of the fire. He sat in one of the chairs and pulled the covers over himself.
“Guess not,” Meng repeated with a yawn as she turned her back toward him.
Zhen sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the fire crackle and sputter, utterly unaware of the brutal cold that held the city in its grip just outside.
“Meng, can I ask you something?” Zhen asked, barely whispering.
“I suppose,” Meng replied, turning back toward him.
“Do you know how the ice started?” Zhen asked. “I know it happens every year, I’ve seen it happen every year, but I’ve never had anyone tell me why.”
“The legends about the winter solstice are obvious. I’m surprised you haven’t heard them. I’ll do my best to tell it right,” Meng said. “A long time ago, when Teshal was only a small territory on this continent, before even Algar the Ancient ruled, a King’s ego began to swell. The King thought himself better even than the gods, and acted as such, making it illegal within his territory to worship any deity other than himself.
“The gods watched as the King’s power grew, and along with it, his demands on the people rose as well. Every man in the territory was forced to march in the King’s army, and many of them died in battles they had no business fighting. Well, the wives of those soldiers pleaded with Kelemvor for help. The solstice approached, and the veil between the material and the divine grew thin. Some of the wives prayed for the King to die, while others prayed that the winter would be so brutal that the armies would never be able to march again. In the end, Kelemvor heard those prayers and acted on them.
“The King was marching, even through Winter’s Mourning, and his horse suddenly stopped. When he looked down, he saw the hooves of the horse had become frozen to the ground on which they walked. The ice spread out from there, rising over the King, and out from his location.
“As proof of his actions, Kelemvor also covered Cochigton with a deadly frost, claiming livestock and anyone who didn’t live inside. The diety’s voice boomed from the sky as the ice spread. His message was clear. Because the city hadn’t mourned the loss of their dead in decades, he would forever keep the solstice as his day of reclamation to ensure that future generations never forgot Winter’s Mourning again.”
Meng rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling as Zhen thought about what he had just heard.
“Did anyone ever find the king?” Zhen asked.
“No, though there are other legends that the king somehow survived the ice and haunted the wastes to the southeast,” Meng replied.
“That’s where Algar the Ancient’s castle is,” Zhen said.
“True, but that is also where the Frozen King met his end. There’s a reason why those lands are cursed. Many have fallen there in a vain attempt to live forever or gather as much power as a god. The Southern Wastes should be a lesson to never toy with powers mortals can’t possibly understand,” Meng said. She turned her back on him once more, “Get some sleep, Zhen. The morning will arrive faster than you know.”
“Sorry for keeping you up. Good night, Meng,” Zhen said as he got comfortable.
Between the fire, blanket, and chair, sleep found Zhen faster than he thought. His dreams were filled with stories of Kings, Liches, and deities, battling it out for dominance over a scarred landscape.