The sound of the nearby explosion was still ringing in everyone’s ears as a very cold wind blew past them. It was like a sudden snowstorm had stuck the group. Near the city’s gate there was a large billowing of white mist and what looked like falling ash.
“Take cover!” Captain Springbloom said as she put herself in between Riffen and the source of the explosion.
As soon as the ringing stopped, the group could hear shouting and yelling coming from the city wall.
“What just happened? What was that?” Grace asked.
“I’m not sure but we need to check it out,” Riffen said.
“No, Prince Riffen. You must stay here,” Captain Springbloom said. “There could still be danger.”
“I’m fine. I can -”
“Sir, I’d advise you stay here,” Captain Springbloom said, her face deadly serious.
“Yeah fine,” Riffen said with a sigh as he stepped back and the two guards from the embassy moved to stand next to him, one on either side.
“Captain, explosion at the gate!” Another member of the Soulon Army yelled out.
“We need to help,” Juniper said.
“Right,” Sigthyme nodded.
“Fight boom!” Tak yelled and started to run toward the white mist.
“Hold on, big guy,” Sigthyme said as he yelled after him.
Grace turned back toward Riffen who looked anxious and worried.
“We’ll be back,” Grace said.
Riffen just nodded and both Grace and Juniper took off toward the city’s gate.
“Lock down this camp, make sure everyone is accounted for,” Captain Springbloom shouted. “Take defensive stances on the perimeter of the camp. Be on your guard, but do not engage. There could be more explosions.”
Then she turned back to look at Riffen and the guards.
“Take the Prince to the central tent. It’s mine. He’ll be safe there,” Captain Springbloom said. “Defend him with his life and don’t let anyone into the tent unless it’s me. You understand?”
“Yes, Captain,” Each guard said in unison.
She nodded and Riffen was led away to the center of the army camp.
While Captain Springbloom was commanding the army, Sigthyme, Tak, Grace, and Juniper all made their way through the camp and to the main road leading into Xylon. There they could see the extent of the damage to the gate. Above them white mist still hung in the air like smoke from a large fire. Small snowflakes floated down and the ground was covered in patches of frost. Several people were yelling and shouting from their wagons as they did their best to calm horses and secure their goods. The gate itself was covered with a thick layer of ice which stretched from the ground to above the city wall. A few different bodies were laying on the ground, blown back from the explosion. They were covered in ice as well and weren’t moving. Pieces of wood and metal were also strewn about the ground.
“What happened?” Sigthyme asked one of the people who had been waiting to enter the city.
“I don’t know. Some sort of explosion,” The Male Human said. “All I saw was white and blue and lots of ice.”
Juniper approached one of the frozen bodies. This one looked like some sort of local farmer who was probably a trader within the city. As Juniper nelat down to examine the body, she felt for a pulse, but all she felt was the icy chill of his body.
“Looks like they were killed instantly,” Juniper said. “Some sort of cold spell from the looks of it.”
“Juniper, look,” Grace pointed toward the wall and Juniper looked in that direction.
Closer to the wall of ice that had formed one of the Xylon City Guards had what looked like a one-handed hammer and was slamming against the ice.
“Ingrid! Ingrid!” The Dwarven man yelled as he slammed the hammer against the ice.
All four members of the group ran up to him.
“Sir, sir!” Juniper ran up to him, but the man did not notice her.
He just continued to slam his hammer against the ice. As he did this, small specks of ice chipped off, but he was barely making a dent.
“Can you tell us what happened here?” Juniper asked as she placed a hand on the man.
The Xylon Guard almost jumped as he finally noticed the group there. He turned to him and one side of his body was badly injured. He was covered in a layer of frost and he was bloodied.
“The other guards. They are trapped in there,” The man said. “My poor Ingrid. She’s…she’s…”
Tears welled up in the man’s face as he dropped the light hammer and slumped up against the icy wall.
“She’s….” The man just put his head in his hands and began to cry.
The sound of warning bells started to ring all over Xylon as shouting came from the other side of the gate. From the sound of it, it sounded like a group of Xylon Guards had arrived on the scene and were trying to make heads or tails of the situation on the other side of this large block of ice.
“Come on, let’s get you out of here,” Juniper said as she helped the crying guard to his feet. “We’ll get you a fire.”
Sigthyme turned to Tak.
“Buddy I need you to do some smashing. Use that hammer to break the ice,” Sigthyme said.
Tak gave him a nod with a toothy grin before lifting his warhammer.
“Smash ice!” Tak said with a yell.
Tak began to slam his warhammer into the ice over and over again. At first the ice seemed sturdy and only small cracks appeared, but with each swing of the warhammer, the cracks grew larger and larger.
“Good job, big guy,” Sigthyme said as he took a step back.
Sigthyme then began to hum and wave his hands through the air. Purple spell energy began to swirl in front of him, spinning faster and faster until it ignited into a perpetual ball of fire.
“This should help!” Sightyme said as he propelled the ball of fire forward with his hands.
The flaming sphere struck the thick ice and there was a hiss of steam as it started to melt the ice. By now the white mist had dissipated and the frost on the ground had melted. Even parts of the ice had begun to melt on their own and crumbled to pieces. Between Tak’s Warhammer and Sigthyme’s magical fire, they had melted away most of the ice on this side of the wall.
Once they made it to the gate proper, they noticed that the other side of the ice had also been melted and destroyed. There was a group of Xylon City Guards using hammers and pickaxes to break the ice as well as a group of Druids from The Pact of Thorns using their magic to melt the ice.
As the ice was melted and destroyed, both groups found several more bodies of both farmers and traders as well as Xylon City Guard members that were stationed at the gate. Less than an hour ago the group had passed through this gate and seen these guards. Now they laid on the ground, dead and covered in ice.
“What happened here?” One of the City Guards asked Sigthyme.
“We’re not sure,” Sigthyme replied. “We were at the Soulon Army Camp accompanying Prince Riffen when we heard an explosion go off. We came running and found this.”
“You didn’t see what happened?” The guard asked.
“Uh. No. We just heard it and ran to help,” Sigthyme said.
The guard looked Sigthyme up and down before giving him a nod.
“Very well,” He said before turning to another pair of guards. “Tell them to stop the warning bells. Whatever caused this seems to be over. Keep the guards on high alert and shut down every gate. Let The Chief know that I advise to start a lockdown over the entire city.”
“Pact members. See what you can do about this gate. If you can figure out what caused this explosion, it could be helpful,” The guard said and the group of Druids nodded.
“We will do our best to trace the cause of the explosion,” One Druid said.
“Likely someone was trying to smuggle in something very dangerous,” Another said as they appraocehed the gate.
“And you, Halfling,” The guard turned back to Sigthyme. “If you are staying at the Soulon Army Camp, I’d advise you return there. We will be locking down this gate first and you will be unable to get back.”
“Actually we were staying at the Soulon Embassy with the Prince,” Sigthyme said. “Are you saying we’ll be able to travel back to the Embassy?”
“I’m not sure how long the lockdown could go on for,” The guard said. “I’d pick one side of the wall and stick with it.”
The guard then walked away from Sigthyme and started to shout orders to other guards about cleaning up the bodies and locking down the gate.
“Come on buddy. Let’s get back to the others and make sure everyone is still alright,” Sigthyme said to Tak as they left through the gate.
On the outside Juniper was using her nature magic to heal the Dwarvish Guard who was no longer crying, but now sat in silence, shell-shocked by what had happened.
“Can you remember anything else about what happened?” Grace asked him but he did not reply. He just stared straight ahead, barely moving.
“Well I think he’s pretty much done for the day,” Grace said with a sigh.
“Be kind, Grace,” Juniper said. “This man has experienced a great trauma.”
“Yeah, right. Sorry,” Grace said as she kicked at a small rock.
“Is the situation under control?” Captain Springbloom had made her way from the camp to the frozen gate.
“I believe so,” Juniper said. “There seemed to be some sort of magical, ice bomb that went off at the city’s gate. Sigthyme and Tak were doing their best to break through the wall. Lots of people are in rough shape.”
Captain Springbloom nodded.
“I will go quickly to assess the situation and see what I can do to help. All of my people are accounted for and none were hurt by the blast,” Captain Springbloom said. “Obviously Prince Riffen and his safety is our number one priority but we can lend aid to the city if need be.”
“Ingrid,” The man muttered to himself.
“Ingrid? Who’s ingrid?’ Captain Springbloom asked.
“We’re not exactly sure,” Grace said.
“One of the other guards stationed at the wall,” Juniper said. “It doesn’t look like anyone close to the blast survived other than this guard here.”
“Very well,” Captain Springbloom said. “If guards were killed at the wall, then they could definitely use some manpower. I will go talk to the people in charge and see what we can do. Soulon is once again coming to aid its neighbors.”
Captain Springbloom then took off, walking towards the city gate leaving Juniper and Grace with the shaken, Dwarven guard.
“You don’t think…” Grace’s words trailed off a bit. “You don’t think the army had something to do with this? Like maybe they’re trying to start a war.”
“I…” Juniper thought for a moment. “Oh gods, I hope not.”
Back at the Soulon Army camp, Prince Riffen was quickly escorted to the middle of the tent city the Army had put up. In almost it’s exact center was a large tent that stood taller than the rest.
“Here we are, Sir,” One guard said to Riffen.
“Thank you both,” Riffen said.
“Do you need anything from us?” The other guard asked Riffen.
“No, I think I’ll be alright,” Riffen said as he looked out at the white mist hanging above the city wall. “Just let me know if the situation changes.”
“Yes, sir,” They both saulluted Riffen and then he went inside.
Once inside the large tent, Riffen got a chance to look around. This large tent seemed to be not only a place where someone could sleep, but it was large enough to act as a sort of war room or meeting room. It was stationed off into three parts with the large meeting room in the center. The chamber to the left seemed to be a bedroom, which Riffen assumed was Captain Springbloom’s sleeping quarters, and to the right was a washroom equipped with a chamber pot and a small bathtub.
“I’m not sure why someone would choose to sleep here when they could choose to sleep in the Embassy,” Riffen said out loud as he took a seat at a wooden chair in the center chamber.
He had spent both time in a nice soft bed and sleeping on the ground in the woods, and even though he enjoyed looking up at the stars while surrounded by nature, he definitely preferred the nice warm bed.
Riffen wondered what sort of life he would have after returning to Frost Haven. Would his family accept him back with open arms or would he be exiled? Or worse, killed. He did not know his fate, but he knew he had to return to face whatever consequences laid before him. His friends had endangered their lives, Lillian had run off, and an entire regiment of the Soulon Army was now stationed here outside of Xylon because of him. He now knew the power and influence he had taken for granted and how spoiled he had been. He ran away from his duties in order to pursue a fleeting love. He was foolish.
Riffen just shook his head, but then Shadow, the black, blink dog, began to growl, disturbing this train of thought. Riffen looked down at Shadow which had sat beside him and noticed Shadow was staring at the door. Riffen then heard voices coming from outside the tent.
“I want to see him. Let me see him,” A female voice said.
“I’m sorry but we are under strict orders -” One guard began.
“I don’t care about your orders. I’m giving you new orders,” The woman replied.
“I don’t think you -” The second guard began before getting cut off.
“Just let me see Prince Riffen. I don’t have time for this,” The woman said.
Riffen stood up and opened the flaps of the tent to look out.
There standing there were the two guards talking to a woman with long black hair dressed in her finest armor with the crest of Soulon on her shield.
Riffen couldn’t believe his eyes. She had returned.
“Lillian,” Riffen said.
Header Photo Credit to Moimq Lofter