9 YEARS LATER …
Chapter Two The Mirror
The ice-chilled wind burned against his cheeks as he trudged across the tightly packed snow, the winter conspiring against him. He had considered, and quickly rejected, waiting for the more forgiving spring. Enough time had passed.
Olcán’s dark exposed hair, damp with sweat from the trek, had frozen against his cheeks. He pushed aside the stiff strands, tucking them into his fur-lined hood, the crackle of breaking ice the only sound to breach the drone of the wind.
He straightened his back, barely feeling an ache. He cupped a hand over his brow to shield his eyes from the wind and studied the land before him. The whiteness of the sky and the winter-swept land merged together so that only the odd jumble of snow-capped boulders stood out, their sides not yet overcome by the snow. Then he saw it, the wall of blue ice a short distance away: the glacier’s beginning. He picked up his pace.
Another thousand steps or so, each with a half-conscious mantra of soon joining his footfalls, and he reached the wall. He yanked his sheepskin gloves off and threw them to the ground, then pressed his hands against the burning ice. The cold bit into his skin.
He opened his mouth to speak and found his voice lacking, dry from the journey. He swallowed and cleared his throat then spoke.
“Open,” said Olcán. “Open.”
He tried again, face red and anger beginning to leech into his features, “Open.”
Then it seemed within the ice, shadows moved like figures walking on the other side. The amorphous shapes, two or three of them, came close to the surface as if looking closely at him. Dark shapes with no identifiable features. He kept his hands pressed and said again, “Open.”
The shadows moved to his left, not so much walking as gliding away along the ice wall. He abandoned his grip against the ice, feeling a pinch as his fingers left the surface, and followed. The shadows took their time, and though they were faceless, he felt watched.
After a few minutes they paused, coming to a jagged crevice in the glacier, the ice protruding over Olcán’s head like a narrow roof. He saw now there were three shadows, which came together almost like an embrace. The dark shapes within had become one, and appeared to be just beyond the surface of the ice wall. Then they stilled.
It took a few moments before Olcán realized there was no longer a shadow beyond the wall of ice, but an opening instead. Nothing appeared to have changed, but he felt an absence like space being created, and when he reached out his hand to touch the wall, he found only the empty space of the opening. He tilted his body slightly to the side to get another angle and saw clearly the tunnel before him. Returning to a straight posture, the wall still seemed to bar his way.
He stepped inside.
<!–nextpage–>The tunnel before him was bright, devoid of darkness. He pushed back his hood, feeling some warmth return to his cheeks despite the remaining cold. The shadows that he had followed were gone. The tunnel gave the appearance of having been created by a serpentine creature as tall as he stood, polishing the ice walls into a jewel-like perfection. Scattered points of brilliant light forced him to avoid looking too long at any one spot. The source of the light was not obvious; it was too still and constant to be fire-borne.
He followed the tunnel deeper into the glacier, noting the winding course it took, until reaching a small chamber filled with entrances to several more tunnels, some beginning in the ceiling of the ice. The points of light reflected against the curving walls a hundredfold, so that the chamber seemed full of lightning bugs. He noted that there was otherwise nothing special about the chamber.
“Where are you?” he said, studying the entrances.
He noticed one of the tunnels seemed to darken further in, as if a light had been turned off. He entered.
Within a few steps, the cold walls had gone dark, though he felt underneath his fingertips what he could no longer see. The circle of light behind him from the chamber’s glow could not pierce this darkness, and he walked on. He felt the curve of its slope rising and falling in a gradual descent under his feet, and he used his hands to guide himself blindly into the depths of the glacier. After a time, what could have been hours or only minutes, the tunnel walls disappeared beneath his hands and he fell into space. He hit the hard ground, smacking his cheek against the ice.
He could sense the open space he was now in, a chamber that felt wider than the first, though still dark. The magician pushed himself to his feet, touched his cheek briefly and clenched his jaw. Blindness, even the illusion of it, unsettled him.
Then he noticed it: the tiny cluster for shimmering lights, each no more than the thickness of a grass seed. He stepped closer and looked closely at the cluster, which seemed to float in a flat plane about waist-high. He reached a hand to touch them and his fingers met solid ice, freezing to the touch.
“Light,” said Olcán, and the blue glow from his hands swiftly lit the room with a wavering light as if being underwater.
The cluster of lights continued to flicker, though he now saw that rather than floating, they were embedded in the surface on the top of a rectangular column of ice. The pinpoints of lights resembled a circular constellation of stars. The column’s purpose was not clear, not the reason for the lights.
Olcán looked up to see the chamber was indeed wide, nearly big enough for a house. Then he sensed he was not alone, and smiled.
“You are here,” said Olcán. He turned around to face the wall to his back and saw his own reflection.
The surface of the ice wall here was perfectly flat, and the light shone so that it worked as an ideal mirror, where the dark shape of Ulfr stood frozen inside the ice. Olcán stepped closer to the captive, seeing his own features reflected over Ulfr’s stilled expression.
He came close enough to look into Ulfr’s open eyes, slightly above his own. The merging of his face and Ulfr’s conjured the image of a twisted, broken creature.
“I will release you,” said Olcán. “My blood is yours.” The frozen face did not move.
Then Olcán touched the ice wall and spoke, “Break.”
<!–nextpage–>The ice cracked immediately, a thin line spreading across its surface like a lightning bolt, small chunks slipping free to the floor. Then a circular section of the wall shattered, radiating from where Olcán had pressed his fingers. For the most part the countless pieces remained in place and formed an imperfect white circle, the broken ice now shielding Ulfr from view. The ice shifted, and Olcán saw Ulfr’s hand move, then the pebble-sized shards flooded out into the chamber room.
Olcán took a few steps backward, his feet crunching on the ice underfoot, and beheld the freed captive. Ulfr stood within the circular alcove left behind, his eyes already locked on Olcán’s.
“Not my blóð,” said Ulfr.
Olcán felt his body lifted up into the air by invisible hands at his throat, pressing hard against his windpipe, though Ulfr remained still. Olcán kicked his feet in mid-air, a flash of his last encounter with the Witch flitting through his mind. He almost smiled at the idea that a journey could begin and end the same way. He tried to speak but could not. Then Ulfr’s mind touched on his, and his strange words clicked into sense. Not his blood. He saw then that Ulfr had no descendents, only the brothers who betrayed him did. Not his blood.
Now that Ulfr was freed from the ice, Olcán saw him clearly: a thin, yet muscled young man with long blond hair tightly knit into a braid. Barbed, jagged pieces of metal skewered every inch of the braid like sawteeth. Ulfr’s lean face was defined by his sharp nose and thin-set lips pressed without evidence of emotion. Rather, the thin man would have come across as uninterested in Olcán, save for the look in his blue eyes. Indeed, Olcán saw, no resemblance existed between the two men.
Olcán’s head swum with a dance of lightness and heaviness. The bright blue glow filling the room dimmed, his magic weakened along with his breath. Ulfr’s face remained still, betraying nothing of his thoughts. Darkness briefly clouded Olcán’s vision, then returned to normal. Then out of the corner of his eye, Olcán took notice again of the pedestal and the flickering lights on its top. His thoughts shifted into place, and he felt clarity.
Olcán struggled to get a word out, pressing his hands against his chest, and spoke, “Léoma.”
The grip on his throat slackened, but kept him aloft. “The Léoma,” said Olcán, loathing the desperation in his voice, “I know who has it.”
The invisible hold tightened once around his throat, then left him and he collapsed to the floor. He turned his back as he got up, keeping his scowl to himself, then turned to face Ulfr.
The thin man reached out a hand in what seemed a gentle motion, until he locked a tight grip onto Olcán’s forehead before the magician could stop him.
<!–nextpage–>“Kunna,” said Ulfr, and Olcán felt his mind being touched violently, a sharp pain inside his head. He shuddered and his body felt chilled, then Ulfr released his grip and Olcán staggered backward.
“Where does the Léoma lie?” asked Ulfr, turning around to face what remained of his shattered prison.
“We are the same,” said Olcán, after a moment’s hesitation. “They have betrayed me as well.”
“You are one of them,” said Ulfr, a sharp note in his voice, trying the new words with some interest. He spoke with scarcely an accent of his own. “Where is the Léoma?”
“My brother’s grandchildren,” said Olcán. He sighed, caressing his throat. “It would have to be in their possession.”
“That it is not in yours,” said Ulfr, glancing at Olcán, “implies a weakness on your part.”
“The young Sprouls were underestimated, not only on my part,” said Olcán, his eyes squinting with the memory. “They had help.”
He stiffened his back, yanked his dark hair back with several motions until he gripped the locks in one hand, then pulled out a thin cord to tightly bind it. Ulfr studied the younger man. Though centuries had separated the lives they lived, they appeared to be the same age.
“Besides,” said Olcán, “The Léoma was unknown to me until a year after my powers were taken. You notice I have won them back, to your advantage.”
Ulfr betrayed nothing of his thoughts.
“I studied the Sprouls from time to time, from afar, before I set out to find … you.”
“It was not me you sought.”
“Fair enough. The Léoma. It is obviously not here. Therefore, they must have it already.”
Ulfr waited. His eyes spoke enough.
“And I do know where they spend their time. We can seek them out together, you and I. The Léoma will be ours.”
“Yours. I only ask to serve you.”
“You are a serpent that cannot be trusted,” said Ulfr. He grinned, an off-putting expression on his otherwise stoic presence. “I understand how to keep a serpent under control.”
Olcán’s nod was slight, hesitant, and his mouth a thin line of distaste. “As you will.”
“We won’t be going to them,” said Ulfr.
<!–nextpage–>“You have already shown your weakness,” said Ulfr. “A lord does not go into battle when he has soldiers to send. Vakti.”
From the wall opposite the broken prison, three shadows emerged from behind Olcán. The blurred shadows paused before Ulfr and gradually became clear figures: two pale-skinned and blond-haired men and one woman, her golden tresses spilling down her back. The three were clothed in armor resembling obsidian dragon scales, knotted leather belts clinched around their waists with daggers tucked into sheaths. Olcán noticed the black tint to their lips and the deadened blue irises of their eyes, fixed on Ulfr.
“Allvadr,” said the woman.
Ulfr looked to Olcán and spoke, “Where do I send my soldiers?”
The village lay in ruins. Not one home had escaped the flames during the night, and now the haze that had filled the sky was beginning to clear. Only a few scattered billows of smoke drifted from the charred remains. A village of skeletal homes now abandoned to the dead. In the smoldering wreckage, in the doorways to houses no longer standing, and on the rough roads lay bodies with tormented expressions and skin blackened not by smoke but disease. Their eyes lost to shadows, tongues spoiled by dark death.
Satisfied, she turned her back to the village and began to walk away. The raven-haired woman, clothed in dark and tattered robes, smiled slightly and touched a finger to the labyrinth tattoo inked into the softness of her left wrist.
She stopped, and quickly turned her face to the West, stray locks of her hair falling across her cheeks.
“Ulfr.” A whispered name.
She left the road behind and set out in the new direction.
READ CHAPTER THREE