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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 7:47 pm 
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One Cold Morning
by razorborne
Status: Private (until Ossia is complete) :bmelee:



They waited. Still as statues, silent as ghosts. On another day, in another time, Mil’Tar would have been proud. He had trained them well. But now was not a time for celebration.



He looked back again, into the depths of Alqin. They would return, of that he was certain. The Frigid would one day reclaim the Seat of Death. It was their birthright. But what would there be to return to? Visions of his home, shattered and broken, played through his mind. There was no other way. He had to believe that or he could not make the charge. Alqin would survive. It had remained for millennia without his protection, but it had never needed it quite like this before. But no. There was no other way.



“We should leave.” Ozhra. His apprentice. Mil’Tar was fond of Ozhra. She had tried to kill him a few times, sure, but that was to be expected, and besides, she’d never tried that hard. “Night won’t last much longer. The journey will be hard enough without sacrificing the cover of darkness.”



“No,” Mil’Tar shook his head. “We wait for the dawn.”



“We won’t make it in the light.”



“Enough of us will.”



They had to wait. They had to be seen. He couldn’t explain. They wouldn’t follow if he did, but they had to wait. The Council had been clear on that. He wished he could tell Ozhra, if only to wipe the disgust from her face. All she saw was a tactical error, because he couldn’t explain the deeper need. Qelan needed a villain. It needed someone to hate, someone within its own borders, and for lack of another volunteer, that villain had to be the Frigid.



But Ozhra wouldn’t understand. Mil’Tar barely understood. He’d sat with the Council as they explained it, the wolf, the dryad, and the others walking him through every eventuality. Together, the Council had examined every path, every possible means of reining in the djinn, bringing the wilding bands under control. They had all agreed. There was no other way. They had to be seen.



Mil’Tar looked up again at the assembled djinn as Ozhra drifted away. She was right. They wouldn’t make it, not all of them. They trusted him, and they would die for that trust. Every one of their deaths would rest heavy on his shoulders, but they had to make the charge. Had to reach the cave. They couldn’t hold out in Alqin any longer. Not against the coming storm.



Mil’Tar sharpened his blade for the hundredth time that night. The wait was unbearable. The charge itself would be fast and brutal, and once they reached the cave they could fortify it quickly. He had made sure of that, spent long hours with his people working out the details of the defense. They’d seal the cave entirely in a matter of minutes. He glanced instinctively at the team assigned to move the stones and shivered. When the cave was sealed, they’d be on the outside. There was no other way. There was no other way. There was no other way.



He looked out into the darkness. Fires blazed across the Qelanian islands, djinn sleeping around them. How many would stand in their way? How much blood would be spilled at the coming dawn? How deep a scar would he leave across his home? They were numbers he didn’t want to contemplate, but he couldn’t escape them. If the Council was wrong, this bloodbath would be for nothing. If the Council was wrong, his people would bleed in vain and it would be his fault. He could only hope the Council wasn’t wrong.



He was vaguely aware of the approach of Sel’Van. She was a legend among the Frigid, almost as respected as Mil’Tar himself. But she was old, and would probably rest among the dead by nightfall. That was another weight he would have to bear.



“We don’t need to do this, Mil’Tar,” She began, following his gaze into the night. “Alqin is unassailable. It hasn’t fallen in millenia. We retreat to the depths, weather the storm within the ice. They’ll grow bored, you know they always do. Taking the cave will only provoke them further.”



Good, a grim voice whispered in the back of Mil’Tar’s mind, but he was wise enough to say nothing. He merely shook his head.



“Many question your judgment, Mil’Tar. You provoke the wilding bands. You abandon our home to them. Ozhra says you refuse to leave before sunrise. Even in this needless charge, you take needless risks. What possible gain is there in exposing ourselves?”



They had to be seen. There were a thousand explanations, but none of them suitable. He stared out into the night, straining to avoid eye contact with Sel’Van. “It’s a risk we must take.”



“Why?”



“There are forces at work here neither of us understand. I’ve spent many nights with this, Sel’Van. This is the only way.”



“That can’t be true. I challenge your command.”



Mil’Tar had thought there had been silence before, but now the noiseless roar was deafening. He turned to meet the ancient warrior’s gaze, her eyes a pale blue steel. “Please don’t make me do this,” he whispered, but they both knew it was too late. Already djinn were pulling back, making room for the coming fight. Sel’Van’s blade was in her hand. The challenge had been issued. There was no other way.



Ozhra was there, then. She locked eyes with Mil’Tar, silently imploring him to back down, to concede and call off the charge. He shook his head once, and she gave the signal to begin.



Sel’Van’s first strike came quick as thunder, but Mil’Tar was faster, whirling out of her way and leaving nothing in her sword’s path but a trail of mist. He thrusted toward her exposed side, and she barely got her sword in the way. They retreated then, eying each other as they drifted in circles, waiting like caged animals.



She came in again, feinting to his left before whirling around and coming in hard from the right, but Mil’Tar was again prepared. Sel’Van had been an incredible fighter in her prime, but that was long past now and Mil’Tar was clearly her superior. He knocked her thrust to the side with his curved blade, then lashed out with his pommel, smashing her hand and sending her scimitar clattering to the floor.



“I don’t want to kill you!” he shouted as she cradled her wounded fingers. She looked up, and her glare carried daggers. Mercy was not a welcome concept in the Seat of Death. The moment hung in the air, Sel’Van’s pride weighing against Mil’Tar’s weakness. And then it collapsed, and everything happened at once.



Sel’Van drew out a knife and dove. Mil’Tar was caught off guard and the blade pierced his abdomen, spilling hot blood on the frozen ground. He grabbed her hand, pulled it away, and brought his scimitar down on her neck, its razor-sharp edge separating her head from her shoulders. Mil’Tar watched as her body collapsed, stood silently as she bled out onto the ice. Ozhra stepped forward, but Mil’Tar swung his sword around, warning her back. He was vulnerable. He could trust no one. He pulled the knife from his gut, pressing down with his free hand to stop the bleeding. The ice. There was something strange about it. It was almost… Glittering? As if… No. Not yet. He wasn't ready. He needed more time. He looked up, and his breath caught in his throat.



The sun was beginning to rise.



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