This short story was written by Blaze for Northern Lights' ninth anniversary, 2001. The inspiration comes from the IceCrown quest.

[Northern Lights]

The Icefear

By Blaze

Grasping her greatsword firmly, the Legend Gabriele trudged up the Old Road, her boots muffled by the grass of the forest floor. She shifted her burlap sack closer to her body, knowing that robbers lurked in these woods; only yesterday she'd heard that Alfred the Highwayman had robbed a Hunter of all his belongings before attacking. The thief Borka had then found the Hunter while he slept, stole his small knife, and attacked him, mortally wounding him so that he'd fled into the forest. The story went that the Hunter had fled right into a clearing where three Grey Dwarves attacked at once. With no weapon and no food, he died almost instantly.

Gabriele considered casting a spell to discover the whereabouts of Borka. She had the spell nearly mastered, and it worked nearly every time she cast it, but she knew to cast it now would drain her strength too much--strength she would need for the battle ahead.

Instead, she continued up the Old Road, pausing again at a few logs tied together to make a bridge. Her greatsword burned fiercely, and she was glad she chose it for this quest. She hoped its fiery glow would help defeat the icefear that enveloped the land of Midnight. She had fought the Djinni in his own King's Hall for his sword, and prayed it would serve her well.

When a light mist began to swirl around her feet, and a slight chill permeated the air, she knew Midnight lay close. At the Warm Haven, the Bard had whispered tales of a land to the far north, oppressed by a paralyzing icefear brought on by an evil Witchking. He'd said something about the iceblade, forged by the Witchking himself, and made of pure ice crystals. Gabriele feared this king, but had chosen her quest just the same. She guessed the Witchking would spread his icefear further than just the borders of Midnight, and she hated to think of what it would do to the beautiful Elven Forest.

Tiggerone the Sorceress had pulled her aside at Warm Haven and warned her against taking on such a dangerous quest. "Stay away from that frozen realm," she'd whispered, taking Gabriele's hand. "If the icefear doesn't kill you, the Witchking will! I tell you, the icefear has made him so strong he cannot die!" Gabriele knew many had died in Midnight. The icefear had overcome some, and they died where they stood. Some took a wrong turn onto the Desolate Road, where their limbs had transformed into ice. Still others had gone further, only to be slain cruelly by the Witchking. But it was the icefear that made Gabriele most afraid.

Standing by the fire in Warm Haven, Gabriele knew she would go to Midnight still. In the morning before she set out north, she knelt at the White Altar, gathering all her strength. Ellyll the Wood Elf, who was also a powerful Wizard, blessed her with the rune-covered scabbard he always carried. Touching each shoulder and finally her head with the weapon, he invoked an ancient and powerful magic to surround and protect her as she journeyed to Midnight. Tiggerone hugged her close, and Gabriele waved as she stepped down from the Forest Chapel and onto the western forest path that would lead her to the Old Road.

Now, the mist gathered thickly, blotting out the sun and shrouding everything in a white coat. Stumbling through the forest, droplets gathered on Gabriele's clothes and in her hair. Her breath steamed from her mouth as she shifted the black shield strapped to her arm. Her visibility limited in the fog, she nearly ran into a dead tree, and cursed when one of its branches fell, knocking her on the head. She sat down hard, her breath leaving her in one gasp. As she got to her feet, something cold and wet brushed against her ankle. The Mistmonster! Slimy and brown, the serpent attacked immediately, but Gabriele far overpowered it in strength. She also had the advantage of a shield, brown leather boots, a dented metal helmet, shiny silver gauntlets, and a jacket sewn with threads of steel to protect her from the monster's blows, while it had nothing. It quickly died, its corpse whispering "rosebud" before it seeped into the ground.

The fight had sapped some of her strength, but she had enough left to press on. Without warning, the mist lifted, and Gabriele found herself in front of a shimmering lake in the middle of a frozen plain. Still and silent, no ice gathered on it. In fact, a strange warmth seemed to radiate from it. Gabriele nodded to herself, surmising that this was Lake Mirrow. Stories had been told at the Seadog Inn of this mysterious water. Here, the icefear was mild, pressing only lightly at Gabriele's temples, so she did not worry yet. The icefear was stronger at the Battlefield. A chill seized her and she stumbled, at first not seeing the two Doomguards looting the dead bodies of the orcs and elves that littered the ground. Kregash immediately snatched her swagbag away from her, and Skrysh attacked, hitting her lightly on the arm. Gabriele muttered the words she'd memorized, and five red missiles appeared beside her. Pointing her finger at Skrysh, the missiles flew towards him, wounding him so that he became angry and taunted her.

"I first mistook thee as a statue when I regarded thy head of stone!" he shrieked, hitting Gabriele hard. With a final thrust of her greatsword, Gabriele hit the Doomguard in the neck. Sinking to his knees, Skrysh died among the other corpses. It was a harder battle with Kregash, and Gabriele suffered many wounds. Staggering back to Lake Mirrow, she collapsed, breathing heavily and shivering. Frosty crystals had gathered in her hair, and she shook her head, trying to free herself of these. The icefear stirred a faint nausea within her.

When a few moments passed and her strength returned, Gabriele scrambled to her feet and stared south at the silhouettes of the Dodrak Mountains. Chilling winds slapped her, making her skin red and her eyes tear, and she considered turning back.

The icefear gripped her suddenly, and she cried out, falling to her knees, a shower of frost from her hair sifting down around her. Her vision blurred, and a cold numbness cloaked her. A black haze crept over her slowly, choking her. Get up! she screamed at herself. Fight it! A great heaviness stole over her chest, and she wheezed, trying to get air into lungs that had magically constricted. Her face paled to a pasty gray as the black haze drew closer, smothering all sight and all feeling, letting its cold creep into Gabriele. Her veins seemed to run with ice, and her eyes poured frozen tears that ripped her eyes as they exited. Blindly, she crawled forward, led only by instinct, digging her fingers into the frozen earth.

Just then, the powerful ArchWizard Og released a massive wave of healing, and Gabriele was one of those who benefited from it. It melted the icefear, which seemed to rise from Gabriele's body in a fine steam. The frost crystals in her hair melted, leaving wet strands. As she clambered to her feet and silently thanked Og, she found herself close to the tall, thick adamantine gates of what could only be the Witchking's castle.

The castle loomed in the white mist, its black stones radiating anguish and despair. A single black tower rose from the castle, its top disappearing into the mist.

Gabriele approached the tower warily, trying to be as quiet as possible as she slipped her metal key into the tower's great oaken door. She hesitated only a moment before pushing it open, having to give it a hard shove to close it against the freezing wind.

Barely a sound emanated from this room. A fire snapped in one corner, and Gabriele tiptoed around a red armchair and the stuffed head of an ice troll. The obsidian walls were carved with arcane symbols, and throbbed with malice. As Gabriele approached a single doorway, a hate began to bubble within her. Confused as to the source of this foulness, Gabriele paused, searching for the strength Ellyll had bestowed upon her, but before she could find any, she came face to face with the source: the Witchking himself.

He sat on a deep black obsidian throne, shrouded in blue-white robes, with long, deep black hair cascading over his shoulders. He was of undeterminable age, with smooth, pale skin and startling blue eyes that glinted sharply. White fingers clutched a single silvery blade that glowed with runes. The iceblade.

Gabriele gasped and shrank against the wall, but the Witchking appeared deep in thought. He stared into space, turning his blade over and over in his hands.

"The other Wise have foolishly decided not to join me in my conquests. They are weak and will have to be destroyed," he remarked, as if they had been carrying a conversation the entire time.

Gabriele said nothing in her shock. She'd expected some sort of monster who would attack her immediately, not this preoccupied creature. From the stories at the Seadog and Warm Haven, the Witchking had been painted as a fiend, an evil being who should be avoided at all costs.

"Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes," the Witchking advised, shaking a loose strand of black hair out of his eyes. "And it is said that God is always on the side of the heaviest battalions. What do you think?"

Gabriele could say nothing still. Was this king mad?

"All delays are dangerous in war. And the art of war is like the art of the courtesan--indeed, they might be called sisters, since both are the slaves of desperation." The Witchking nodded thoughtfully, still twirling his blade in his palms.

Confusion overcame Gabriele, and she wondered if she should just leave. This was just a rambling man, not even bothering to attack her.

"Mankind has grown strong in eternal struggles and it will only perish through eternal peace," the Witchking noted, nodding again.

"I . . . beg your pardon sir?" Gabriele asked tentatively.

This stirred the Witchking out of his reverie. His blue eyes found Gabriele and he smiled. "I guess you have come to slay me, little hero. Go ahead, make my day."

Now Gabriele was embarrassed. Why had she come here, anyway? This Witchking was laughing at her. She was foolish to think she could kill a being that was, by the looks of him, almost invincible and in excellent condition. "Er, sorry," Gabriele said, slinking towards the door.

At the doorway, she stopped. Behind her, the Witchking was still muttering, "Midnight is finally in my grasp. With Luxor dead there is no lord powerful enough to stop me!" She could not let this being live. She thought of the Elven Forest, the tranquil pool that housed the Unicorn, and the Braidwood Forest covered in snow and ice, the icefear ruling over these peaceful lands. She had not come all this way only to run away.

Turning back towards the Witchking, she rushed at him, striking him in the arm with her greatsword. Laughing at her, he pointed his ghostly fingers at her. Bolts of blue, icy rays shot from the tips of his fingers and pierced Gabriele through her shield. Crying out, she fell to her knees, and the Witchking hit her hard with his iceblade. The freezing rays vibrated through Gabriele's veins, thick with icefear, and she staggered to her feet, gasping.

"Hell shall soon claim thy remains!" The Witchking laughed, jumping in the air and landing behind her, swinging his iceblade easily and catching Gabriele in the back with it. She felt her strength drain and blood flowing from her back. She devoured the rations she was carrying, hoping they would sustain her enough to get up.

She slashed at the Witchking hard, and managed to stab him dead in the face. Crimson blood gushed from his forehead, and as it flowed down his face, tiny frost crystals grew on the blood itself. The blood turned white-blue and froze on his face, cracking as the Witchking laughed hysterically.

Gabriele grew afraid. I should never have come here, she thought. I should have listened to those who warned me!

The Witchking shot bolts of icy rays at her again, and she stumbled. Gobbling a second set of rations, she got to her feet and squinted in concentration. Invoking the spellwords she remembered, five red missiles appeared beside her. She pointed her finger at the Witchking, and four of the missiles flew towards him, striking him one after the other. The icefear had made her doubt her aim, and the last missile bounced harmlessly off the wall.

Now it was the Witchking's turn to gasp. As he floundered in his shock, Gabriele struck, and this time her greatsword pierced the Witchking in the shoulder, bringing forth another bout of blood that froze as it flowed from him.

"Resistance is futile!" The Witchking yelled, firing yet more icy rays at Gabriele. The rays again brought with them the icefear, and Gabriele's vision began to gray.

No, not this time, she thought, growing angry. With that thought, the Witchking fired yet another flurry of icy rays, and Gabriele fell to her knees. Tears of pain squeezed from her eyes, and the Witchking chortled with glee, feeding on her anger.

Gabriele stared at her greatsword, which was now glowing red. Closing her eyes for a moment and gathering the last of her strength, she staggered to her feet and swung the sword with all she had left. The sword sliced off the Witchking's head neatly, and as it rolled across the carpeted floor, its mouth opened in surprise.

"This cannot be!" The head gasped. It rolled to a stop against the throne, its black hair splayed on the carpet. Its eyes dimmed of their evil light as Gabriele watched, gasping for breath.

The iceblade clanked to the floor, startling her, and as she jumped, a feeling of spring came into the air, and a warm breeze flooded the throne room. The room stopped pulsating, and a single birdsong from the nearby Forest of Kor echoed in the new stillness.

She needed to sleep, and now. But not here. Not with this head staring into nothing. In fact, not anywhere in this cursed land at all--

The powerful Og then summoned her to the Temple of Paradise, where he, Ellyll, Tiggerone, and Uncle were gathered. Tiggerone threw her arms around Gabriele, and Ellyll smiled happily.

"We felt the feeling of spring come into the air and knew you'd done it!" Tiggerone crowed, supporting Gabriele as she slumped to her knees.

"But we knew you would," Ellyll nodded, patting the scabbard he carried. Gabriele could not reply for her shivering.

Og handed Gabriele a nice, hot cup of Gunpowder Green, and she sipped it gratefully.

"Have you seen my turkeys?" Uncle asked all present. He was ignored.

As the remaining frost crystals melted from her hair, Gabriele knew the icefear had not claimed her, and would not again.

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