Soon, they could see the walls bordering the House of Meeting, but somehow in her hurried departure from the Great Hall to get to Narratus, Glaciem had been completely turned around. The field ended along the sidewall. She had intended to go to the front where the gates were. When they reached the small path that followed the wall, she quickly turned to walk it, irritated at how it seemed to go on without end. She began to jog, impatient to reach the gates.
Finally, she was close enough to see the road that led through the center. She broke out into a run, but as she turned the corner, she fell back onto the ground. A hand covered her mouth to keep her from shouting.
“What is the matter with you?” She snapped as Bick removed his hand.
They were tangled in a pile on the ground, just short of the corner of the wall.
“What makes you think it’s unguarded?” He whispered back, motioning for her to talk quietly. “The remaining Elders were leaving the Great Hall when you collapsed. By this time they surely would have sent more guards to the House of Meeting. Everything precious to the Village is within those walls and they will fear you attacking it. You cannot expect to be able to pass through freely.”
Bick was right. In her haste, she had not thought about it. “What would you recommend we do then?”
He hesitated. “I’m not sure.”
Slowly, he moved onto his belly, making as little noise as possible. He pulled himself across the path until he could just see past the wall. He stayed there for a moment, then scooted back.
“There are five guards, less than I would have thought, but they’re heavily armed. My guess is there are guards within the House of Meeting as well.” He whispered, standing up.
“We can deal with five guards.” Glaciem said quietly, her palms glowing as she turned them up.
“No.” Bick said when he saw, placing his hands over her palms and pulling her hands down to her side. “We can’t risk you losing control again.”
“Have a little more faith in me, please.” She pulled her hands free of his, trying to ignore the discomfort of knowing Bick no longer trusted her fully.
She crouched down and opened her palms again, whispering to the fog that had gathered within the Village. She called quietly to the clouds overhead and they lazily moved towards her from over the fields and skies. As the fog began to surround her, she gently blew it away, bidding it to thicken near the guards. The clouds danced across the sky until the moon was so thickly covered she could not see anything save the glow of her palms.
The guards raised their voices in alarm. They knew it was the work of the Water Wielder. She could hear the sounds of their swords being pulled from their sheaths and the sounds of their steps as they walked awkwardly in the dark, their feet landing heavily on the unseen ground.
“Quickly!” She hissed, standing up and grabbing for Bick in the blackness.
She found his arm and pulled him along with one hand while the other ran across the wall, using it as a guide. They stumbled along, occasionally stopping in order to listen for the guards. The last thing Glaciem wanted was to walk right into a blade or trip into the group of men. Pulling the fog was not the safest idea she could have thought up, but it was the first thing that came to her mind and time was of the essence.
When she felt they were close, she slowed to a crawl, moving Bick’s hand to rest upon her shoulder so she could use both hands to feel for the open gates. Just as she felt the rough wood scratch her fingertips, she felt Bick’s lips against her ear.
He said it so softly, even with his mouth as near as it was she had barely heard it. She froze. Standing less than an arm’s breadth away, she could barely make out the form of a guard. His back was to her, his sword poised to strike.
She moved her hand towards the guard as slowly as she could manage, working as quickly as their situation allowed. Her hand was shaking with concentration, and she pleaded inwardly that the guard would not turn around. She closed her eyes, searching, seeking for enough water in order to accomplish what she wanted.
There. She thought.
Glaciem clenched her fist quickly, her hand still pointed in the direction of the guard. The guard’s back bolted upright as he shrieked and dropped his sword. He began clawing wildly at his armor.
“Move.” She whispered to Bick, swiftly passing by the gates and shrinking against the wall.
As soon as they were out of sight she released her fist. The guard crumpled to the ground and ripped off his helmet and breastplate, both covered in blood. His howling grew louder at the sight of the red pouring across his skin and the remaining guards rushed to help him. Glaciem and Bick sprinted their way across the grass, the House of Meeting now within sight.
“What did you do to him? I’ve never seen you do anything like that before.” Bick panted as they ran.
Glaciem released the cloak from her shoulders, the tattered fabric whipping away from her body as she ran. It settled on the ground behind them, abandoned.
“Perspiration on the skin. I used it to pierce every part of his body.” She answered, refusing to look back at him.
“You froze his sweat?” Bick asked incredulously.
Glaciem chanced a glance behind them. Three of the guards were running towards them while one stayed behind with the first guard.
“How could Narratus have shown you something like that?” Bick pressed, not satisfied with her silence.
“He didn’t show me.” She snapped. “I read about it in one of the books in his library; he doesn’t know I learned how to do it.”
“You could have killed him.” Bick retorted.
“Are we too good to kill guards now?” She countered.
It was still too dark for her to see Bick’s face, but she could tell by the silence he disapproved of her actions. She did not care. As they were running, she moved her hands behind her, grabbing at the fog still surrounding the gate. It rushed to meet her. In another fluid motion, she bid the clouds covering the moon to float away, offering them easier passage across the ground.
As they drew closer, Glaciem’s heart jumped a little. Though the two white willows remained as they had always been, the living trees that once bordered the walls had moved closer, their branch weaving up the walls of the old building. She could not decide if they were trying to protect the building or hurt it.
She could feel her stomach tightening with worry as they neared the entrance to the House of Meeting. The doors were open and unguarded. It unsettled her.
Are there more guards waiting inside to ambush us?
She stopped for a moment before entering, trying to catch her breath. From behind them, she could hear the shouts from the guards as they neared ever closer.
“What if there are others inside?” Bick stopped short of the great entrance, having thought the same thing as she.
“We’ll do what we can.” She muttered to him, looking critically at the fog that had followed her.
It would have to be enough. She spread her arms wide and flexed every muscle within them as she moved her hands back together slowly. She growled under the strain of the fog compressing itself into a tiny ball of ice. It was not perfectly round, but it was much more manageable in its smaller form; about twice the size of her palm.
“I’m ready. At least, as ready as I shall ever be I suppose.” She said.
She tossed the ball in the air as she looked behind them. The guards from behind were catching up.
“And what about me?” Bick asked.
“You have fists, don’t you?” She called to him as she rushed through the entryway.
On the inside, the House of Meeting looked like it was nothing more than a long hallway with many doors on either side. Each of these doors, however, led to various underground passageways and rooms. She ran as fast as she could to the last doorway on the left and opened it, revealing a long staircase. She jumped back, her ball of ice ready to fly should there be anything on the other side.
The way was clear, but the guards from the gate had nearly caught up to them. Bick and Glaciem flew down the stairs, shutting the door behind them. It was the longest flight of stars within the House of Meeting and it took some time for them to reach the bottom where there was another very large hallway. It was lit with dozens of torches and, much to their dismay, full of armed men.
These men were not dressed in the traditional armor of the Village guards. They were dressed in plain cotton with only the leather straps and sheaths that housed their weapons as adornment. They were known simply as Hunters. They were the only people known to regularly pass through the Forest and return unharmed. They were especially skilled in the art of war; men and women who had traveled from the Mountains to seek livelihoods from the Elders, who paid them well for their services, which were various in nature. Challenging one would have been difficult enough, and there were at least thirty standing armed and ready.
Glaciem sighed, exhausted. She should have expected this. “Stand back.” She said to Bick quietly.
He did not hesitate.
As the first man came rushing towards her, his sword swinging forward, she flung the ice ball out towards him. She directed it with her hands as it raced through the air. It landed squarely in the man’s chest, throwing him back to the ground as he shouted in surprise. She raised the ball up again and sent it spiraling through the corridor. It slipped under another Hunter’s foot, flipping him onto the floor with a heavy thud. More came rushing towards her and she threw her ball through the air, smacking men hard across their chests, feet, and faces.
This is taking too long!
Glaciem clapped her hands together. The ice ball stopped in the center of the room, levitating. It began to vibrate violently, shaking under the strain of her command until she released her hands, her fingers ripping the air between them in two. The ball exploded into thousands of pebble-sized pieces of ice which, at her bidding, began ricocheting wildly through the hall. The Hunters could do nothing but cover their heads in a desperate attempt to protect their eyes as sharp bits of ice careened into them from all angles. Glaciem ran through the chaos, taking care to keep the ice from hitting Bick as he followed close behind.
“That will only slow them!” Bick shouted as they ran.
“I am well aware of that!” She shouted back.
“I fail to see how you plan to leave this place then! And with an old man who is sick?”
Glaciem looked back behind her down the hallway. The ice was still doing its job keeping the men at bay. They were almost there.
She looked at Bick. “I don’t have a plan. I have a goal, which is to get to Narratus. I’m not sure what to do after that.”
“You’ve led us from one death trap into another. How will this do us any good?”
Glaciem ignored his protest and continued running.
They simultaneously pivoted through a large doorway, the doors themselves long since removed. The doorway led them through a dark entry and into a large training arena. This room was more familiar to Glaciem than any other. She had spent years training here with Bick. The stone walls had been painted white and became painfully bright when the large torches along the walls were all lit at once, their purpose being to force anyone in the room to adapt when under high stress situations. The floors were covered in sand and was meant to slow and strengthen. Now, with only a few torches lit, the only hindrance to them was the sand.
In the corner of the room stood a large basin typically filled with water, but when Glaciem reached it she found it was empty. Next to the basin, however, were wooden training swords. Bick grabbed one. She gave him a skeptical look.
“It may not kill a man, but this is certainly better than having nothing at all.” He replied.
“But there is nothing here of use to me.”
“You have fists, don’t you?” Bick replied pointedly.
She rolled her eyes, choosing to ignore the jab. “We don’t have much time left. I’m certain the Hunters will be here soon. Why on earth were they down here in the first place? Mercenaries, the lot of them.”
Glaciem and Bick walked along the walls where the sand was not so thick to the door about fifty feet from them. They opened it and slid through, shutting it quietly behind them.
“My guess,” Bick said as they walked through yet another hallway, “is that my father expected your struggle tonight, at least in some capacity. It seems to me he was planning for the worst possible thing to happen as best as he could. As it stands, the worst possible thing has indeed happened. You know the nature of the First Elder; he likes to be prepared.”
“But there’s no way he could have known exactly how it would happen.” She replied, puzzled. They took the third door to the left. “And even so, if he knew I would resist him so strongly, why would he still insist on the ceremony, and a public one at that? What benefit could there have been?”
Bick only shrugged in reply.
The door they took opened into a large scroll room and library. Another one of Glaciem’s favorite places, though tonight she had no time to scan the many books before her. She walked to the far wall. There were two doors, one to the right, and one to the left. They took the door to the left.
“Narratus?” Glaciem whispered as they opened the door.
The door led into the old man’s room, the very one where Glaciem had stayed, unconscious, for a year.