Phantasmagoria - Chapter 10
Thomas had stayed up far too late waiting for news from Kelloran and Stone. He had drifted asleep at his desk until he was awoken by a russling noise outside his shop. Beneath the winter's moon, Thomas swung open his door and saw albino, vine-covered arms holding the limp form of Chells. In the blink of an eye, the uncanny arms and Chells vanished into the distance.
Utterly stunned, Thomas muttered. ''What the Hell...."
The alchemist rooted around and found a Spirit Caller Dust and swiftly through it in the air. At the moment it turned iridescent and active, Thomas called “Chells!” There was no reply. He thought to beseech Allahn for news of Chells’s welfare. Thomas lit one of his sun candles and started to kneel to begin his prayer, when a voice filled his mind.
“Thomas I have heard your orison come to the White Stone.”
Thomas wondered at Allahn’s miraculous recovery from his cursed sleep. The Candleman could now hear his prayers before he even said them. Bundled up, Thomas strode across the crunching snow to the shadowy White Stone cemetery. There he saw the Candleman hovering over the ice-shrouded grave of the Telltaler. Before Thomas could greet his lord, Allahn addressed him.
“Thomas time is of the essence. Ymir is blocking all divine prayers connected to the wintery wastes outside of town. The ice covering this grave is a magic binding to block your spells from reaching your friends. Swear on your honor to serve my cause and channel your virtue of honor into your blade and strike NOW!”
Thomas had no time to react. He did as his god asked of him and swore by his honor and slammed his blade upon the ice. His blue-glowing blade shattered the ice in spray of frozen shards. Thomas turned to Allahn and saw the Candleman’s face had cracked like a mask. The god stretched out his hand and intoned “SLEEP.”
Thomas’ world went black.
Hours later in the Forest of the Condemned, the three chilled men debated their course of action.
“I say we go for Ymir.” Stone decided for himself.
“Dddidn’t he freeze you into an ice crystal and force you to take us to the Vernal Hall?” asked the teeth-chattering Chells.
“When was this?” Kelloran asked intrigued.
“Back in like ’98 or so. When Ymir insisted he leave town, tromp through the snow and restore the Sleep of the Dead.” Chells replied trying to warm himself after the gust of cold Stone let in.
“Well the reason he flash froze me is the reason I say we go with Ymir. I swore to serve him and gained his divine blessing so I have it an in with him. Of course Ymir is not one to give something for nothing, so we need to be willing to pay the piper when we are done.”
“Not me, man, YOU! You have the blessing; you pick up the tab.” Kelloran snickered, only half-joking.
“Well whoever takes the icicle in the ass, it’s better than freezing here. Besides, I think Death-Warmed-Over here” Stone said pointing to Chells. “Could use some divine intervention.”
Kelloran grabbed Chells’ and Stone’s hands and instructed them to “Link up!” In the tiny tree-bough shelter, the three men closed their eyes, centered their thoughts and silently prayed to Ymir.
A few moments passed before the Lord of Ice answered their prayers in a most dramatic fashion. A howling northwind stripped the pine boughs of their snow cover, exposing the three to brutal, icy gusts. Like a leaf blown across the wastes, Ymir floated swiftly across the snowpack toward them. In his wake, fine powder and frozen pellets were whipped up into a squall and then scattered across the frozen crust. Stripped of all snowy insulation as well as camouflage, the friends could only stare in awe at the approaching god. None of them had expected such a powerful manifestation and all were speechless as the Winterlord alighted before them. Feeling like children caught ineptly hiding and huddled together, they peeked their heads out from beneath the pine branches.
Stone began his usual blundering when facing a divine being. “Hi… I mean greetings… ah… mighty Ymir. We wanted to ask you… ah, beseech you… if …”
“Spit it out, Druid!” Ymir blustered.
“Okay we need your help in dealing with a bunch of problems.” Stone blurted and then went quiet. The audible chattering of Chell’s teeth was all that could be heard.
The Lord of Ice gestured at Chells and the Believer’s threadbare sleeping clothes were replaced by a heavy, hooded coat of white fur that all but enveloped him.
Peering into the tiny opening of the hood, Kelloran quietly asked “You okay?”
Chells only offered a muffled reply. “Warm… very warm.”
When the Restorer returned him attention to Stone, he saw the druid was speaking to Ymir and pointing up toward the summit of the Far Hill. The Winterlords glittering, frozen form made him hard to look at in the bright morning sunlight but Kelloran could read an _expression of anger there and heard a sharp inhale before he spoke in a powerful voice. “They are the Breakers of Time and seekers of the inert! They are enemy to my brethren and me! You would do best to avoid their foul den.”
Stone lapsed into his usual insatiable curiosity and let his thin pretense of reverence drop. “Really, you hate the Nihilists? I thought you would be their ally after all you are all about freezing stuff and stasis and they want time to stop the Wheel of Time from ticking so I naturally thought tha….”
A boreal blast of air took Stone off his feet and hurled him many yards away into a snow drift. Ymir raised his hand to further smite the impudent druid when Kelloran intervened. Dropping to a knee, averting his eyes and speaking in tomes of pure veneration, Kelloran inquired “May I ask O’ Ymir who are your brethren?”
Distracted, the Lord of Ice lowered his hand and turned to address Kelloran and the fur-encased Chells. In formal tenor, the god replied. “My brethren are the other three Keepers of the Seasons.”
Chells mumbled something unintelligible that indicated he wanted to know more and Ymir obliged him.
“As you know, one of my many titles is Ymir, Keeper of Winter. The current Keeper of Spring is none other than Vine the Greenman. The Keeper of the fire of Summer is my fellow Aesir-usurper Surtur and the title of Keeper of Autumn has been passed down to the Jack O’Lantern. As Keeper of the Seasons, our role is to mark the comings and goings of each of our respective seasons. Like the Phoenix turns the Wheels of Ages, light to dark and back again, we work on a smaller scale and denote the turning of the Cogs of the Year. The Nihilists would shatter the entire Clock of Time if they enacted their will and destroy all seasons, years, ages, epochs, eras… They would let it all fall to ruin… They are my foes in much the same manner as the Telltaler has made himself an enemy of the Keepers with his repeated dredging up of the past.”
“Stone was wrong. I do enjoy the calm and deep sleep of winter, but I do not seek it to remain that way forever. Without change, without seasons, our time in the worlds would be a hellish, uniform eternal limbo.”
Chells struggled with his hood but eventually his sallow face emerged. “Ymir, how come we never heard of these titles and roles before now?”
“Because you are mortals and mortals are fools. Better to ask yourself why you never heard of the four Ladies of the Seasons.”
Meanwhile in Fallenstar, the east was bright with the late morning sun sun. At the sound of explosions and a brilliant flash of blue light, Thomas sat bolt upright from his bed of snow. Half awake, he shouted ''Chells don't mix those two!"
Convinced that the Believer had finally done himself in by once-again screwing around with the Alchemist's re-agents, Thomas staggered to his feet.
Allahn still hung above the grave in reverie. The cracks again appeared on the Candleman’s face and Thomas called upon all his virtue of Truth to see what was hidden the night before. Allahn’s false visage crumbled before him and an uncanny spirit hung in the air.
The spirit's gray cloak fluttered in ethereal breezes as he manifested upon the Hill of the Dead. The wide-brimmed hat shadowed the spirit's face, but the unmistakable tome revealed Telltaler for who he was. The pages of the Tome of Ages rustled in the spirit winds. The leaves of the book flipped faster and faster as the Telltaler gazed off at some far, unseen point, on something far in the past. His stare sharpened as he focused and the book snapped shut at that same moment. The sound of the slamming cover echoed off of Chells' empty home as a deep azure light emanated from the ground beneath the Telltaler and then spread outward. The spirit stood at the epicenter of a deluge of blue radiance. Thomas watched as all the trees on the Hill of the Dead became increasingly thinner and shorter. Rotted limbs regenerated and then reattached themselves to their parent trees. Dead leaves yellow, then green, then flutter up cling once more to the canopy above.
Time continued to flow backwards as the Archeo-Locus defused outward farther and farther, enveloping the entire White Stone Cemetery. Thomas witnessed Bobrik the Guardsman appear, alive and on patrol. Numerous ancient graves appeared and then disappeared on the Hill of the Dead. Anatee was seen being berated by her companions for referring to their band as the Fist of Fallenstar. Hyat the Thief came into view as his spirit was damned by the spirits of Vesper, Apadzloti, Eyre Littleman and Molly Montcalm.
Minute after minute, the blue aura of the Archeo-Locus grew wider and wider and the time visions moved further and further in the past. Soon, the time-quake enveloped the entire silent town. Glimpses of the fleeing Fool and the pursuing Wild Huntsman appeared on the town green, followed by a Wizard War raging in the town between the Knights of the Thorn and Mechella's shades.
On the Hill of the Dead, Thomas shook in anger. “You lying bastard! You tricked me!”
Before much thought went into his next action, the Alchemist swung at the spirit. Thomas’ mildly enchanted blade was magical enough to make some contact with the Telltaler. The blow snapped the Teller of Tales out of his trance-like state and knocked his over-sized hat cock-eyed. As surprised as Thomas was that he had taken a swing at the powerful Elder Spirit, he was more surprised by the Telltaler’s swift and vicious response. Swinging his massive tome into the bridge of Thomas’s nose, the Telltaler laid out the Alchemist. Pain blossomed hot and sharp across the Alchemist’s face and blood gushed from his nose as once more Thomas’ world receded into darkness.
Elsewhere, time had no meaning in the pallid fog of Stone’s thoughts. He knew that he was cold very, very cold and he could see a diffuse all-encompassing white light. He noticed when he looked up towards this illumination that his eyes felt wet and cold every time he blinked. He felt a jolt and then he was pulled up into the blinding brightness. He screeched and grasped as Kelloran dragged his head out of the snow drift where he had been buried.
“Man, we are going to have a fund-raiser and send you to seminary school so that you stop pissing off the gods!” The Restorer said as he roughly patted off the snow.
“What happened? … Where’s Ymir? … Why are my ears so cold.” The druid grumbled.
Kelloran curtly retorted. “You pissed off a god, so he left and he stuck your head in a snow bank for being an ass and saying he is like his mortal enemies.”
“I just asked… I mean you think he’d hate Surtur not a bunch of spell-crackers like the Nihilists… I just wan…”
Chells interrupted Stone’s muddled ramble. “Forget it. Surtur is Ymir’s ‘brother’ not his enemy and he hates Nihilists. End of story.”
Kelloran continued. “Hates them enough to offer use a big boon to figure this out if we head home and avoid rather than trudge home to the Nihilist Glade.”
Chells piped in “And he threw in snow-shoes to boot!”
Stone looked at his friend and sickly brother in confusion. “How…?”
Kelloran chuckled. “We’re Templars. When it comes to kissing God-ass and getting results, we are the guys for the job!”
Sniggering, the three strapped on their holy snowshoes and began to trudge up the long hill to Fallenstar. They found walking atop the snow far easier that slogging through the drifts but still it seemed the town was far off. Just as the town came into sight a giant wave of blue light and power swallowed them whole. Visions of the past swam all about the three and the only comprehensible noise was Kelloran’s brief curse. “Ah Crap!”