A dim ray of light shone through the ice window into the greeting room of the Atlantian Empress. She wore an exquisite dress of blue satin and velvety soft furs that were white as fresh snow, and silken gloves. She sat upon her luxurious throne set atop a plinth of white marble. Towering pillars lined the hall, where a few servants and nobles cautiously milled around the vast room, knowing their empress was displeased. Through the door entered a man with an unenviable task, a man who had to convince the stubborn empress to hear reason. He was the head minister, Alcander.
Alcander walked past the large statues dedicated to her ego and to the bottom of the raised edifice where he bowed low in respect. The empress paid him little attention, taking a small treat from the nearest servant and chewing it for a few moments. After waiting at least a minute, the head minister cleared his throat in an attempt to speak with her.
â€œOh, very well. Rise, Alcander,â€ she said sighing, â€œI suppose you have come to tell me, like all the other bean counters, that we must abandon our ancestral home.â€
â€œI, I suppose you could say that, my Empress,â€ he replied slowly.
â€œYou know what my answer will be, so why have you come to waste both our time?â€ she asked tersely, leaning lazily to the side of her throne. â€œI am curious.â€
â€œBecause, your highness, the mine upon which this city is built has run out. You must understand what the geologists have found; there is more opal out there, but we cannot reach it from Atlantis as it sits today. We must move for the sake of our cityâ€™s future.â€
â€œBah! I, Sapphire Magnus, shall not go down in history as the one who lost Atlantis for a second time,â€ Sapphire spat, rising from her throne. â€œJust, construct a new mine on this nearby deposit everyone is going on about. Or, simply tunnel out to it.â€
â€œSuch a tunnel would collapse,â€ he explained, keeping his cool, â€œand without the heating of the great city above, the mines could not exist below. We simply do not have the manpower to heat and keep the shifting ice at bay in two locations.â€
â€œThen get more manpower,â€ she demanded, advancing down the steps. â€œFind a way to save our city, thatâ€™s your job isnâ€™t it?â€
â€œNow see here, I have done everything I can to delay our move this long,â€ he insisted, starting to lose his temper.
â€œI knew it,â€ Sapphire spat, â€œyouâ€™ve wanted to relocate our city for years, this opal shortage is just the excuse you need.â€
â€œWhat exactly are you accusing me-.â€ Alcander began, advancing towards the Empress.
â€œThis is enough,â€ Chiron said quietly, stepping between the two of them.
The wise teacher looked between the two of them, concerned. Chiron was the oldest and wisest of the Ice magic wielders and Sapphireâ€™s personal tutor. At his insistence, she backed down and returned to her plinth, feeling a chill in the air.
â€œPerhaps there is some truth to Alcanderâ€™s statements, yet he must understand how important this city is to our very identity.â€
â€œI, I uh,â€ Alcander stammered, taking the old masterâ€™s words to heart, â€œI suppose there are a few avenues left untried, perhaps foreign engineers, or even Union equipment, perhapsâ€¦â€
â€œAnd, I shall take the Ministerâ€™s words into consideration,â€ Sapphire said sighing. â€œSo, is there anything else to discuss?â€
â€œOh, there is a dispatch that arrived earlier today, something from your sister I believe,â€ he said searching around his coat.
â€œWhich one?â€ Sapphire asked sarcastically, laying herself back atop her throne.
â€œCalista, I think,â€ he said pulling the parchment scroll out. â€œAh yes, it saying something about a rumor, about the destruction of something. Iâ€™m not entirely sure, though, on closer inspection.â€
â€œAh, yes, I really would love to hear all about rumors my dearest sister has heard about.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t need to get that upset,â€ he said, folding the scroll back up.
â€œYes, well, I think this has been a productive day,â€ she said rising from her throne for the last time. â€œIâ€™m going to call it an evening, thereâ€™s a lovely ball tomorrow afternoon and I have so much to reflect upon in the meantime.â€
With that Sapphire glided out of the throne room and down a short vaulted hallway to the dining chamber. She sat herself at the head of her long table, carefully pulling off her gloves as a servant dropped a steaming plate of goodies before her. There was always to be a plate ready for her by decree. As she began carefully eating the delicacies the map of her large and quite empty empire looked at her from the opposite wall.
The ministerâ€™s words rang true enough, but the thought of losing her motherâ€™s city was simply out of the question. For a time she pondered what the right course of action might be, but decided that the minister would come up with some solution. Finished with her meal, Sapphire rose from the table and strolled to her private rooms. Two sentries patrolled along the corridor leading to her rooms.
â€œPlease tell the stokers to give me a little extra heat, I felt a draft earlier,â€ she commanded while walking past.
â€œYes, your majesty,â€ the guard replied, pulling the heavy doors closed behind her.
Inside her chambers Sapphire carefully disrobed, hanging her magnificent dress back in the large closet. With the air starting to warm up quite nicely, she lay down on her soft bed sheets and settled in for a long nap. She stretched out on the downy bed, gazing at the intricate frescos on the ceiling above. Soon her eyes grew heavy and the Empress drifted off to sleep.
As she dreamt, a creeping coldness worked its way into her thoughts; into her very soul. She awoke with a start, freezing all over. Her breath crystallized before her eyes, her bed sheets twisted around herself in a desperate attempt to keep warm. For a few moments she shivered in confusion, still hazy from her dreams. Then as she regained her senses. The room was freezing. Sapphire started to get angry. Somebody was going to get an earful for letting her heating fail.
â€œGuards, somethingâ€™s wrong with the heat,â€ she shouted contemptuously.
Concerned, Sapphire threw her sheets aside and pulled on her slippers before marching up to the door. She pounded on it, drawing no response. She threw them open and peered out into the darkened hall. It was completely empty. A chill spread to her bones. Quite cross, she stormed to her closet, donning the thickest clothing she could lay her hands on. Once wrapped sufficiently, she grabbed her oil lamp and headed out into the palace proper, wondering how many people she would have to sack for this outrage.
As she walked through the empty halls, finding not a soul in sight, a dark thought entered her mind. Sapphire increased her pace, trying to ignore the thought. The kitchens were deserted, several pots and pans out of place. Growing worried, she walked as quickly as she could without running into the throne room, finding it equally devoid of life. High above her a hellish wind howled through the broken skylight, echoing through the hollow chamber.
â€œHello, assistance, your Empress requires assistance,â€ Sapphire called, the words echoing around her empty city.
She gazed around, noticing only then the signs of struggle. Scratches on the walls, torn carpeting, and all of the statues defaced. She put a hand to her mouth, trying not to scream. Then, for some reason, she turned to look at her throne. Upon it she spied a scroll of paper. Hesitantly, she approached, taking the note into her hand as though it might explode. Slowly she unfurled it, looking for any information that might alleviate her growing despair. Upon the sheet was written a single word.
â€œA-alone,â€ Sapphire whispered to herself.
â€œAlone,â€ echoed a distance voice.
She spun around, looking high and low for the source of the voice. After a few moments she realized it was an echo, which both relieved and disheartened her. The dark feeling started to flow through her entire being, the weight of it all crushing down upon her. She slowly approached the massive doors, only now realizing how empty the vast hall was. She pulled on the door with all her might, unaware until that moment how heavy it was. After some effort she managed to pull it wide enough to step out into the great city itself.
The large palaces of Atlantis spread out before her, forming a large circle around descending levels. Above the city was a vast sheet of clear ice, the moonlight flicking behind clouds, casting down an eerie light. The terraced levels descended in concentric rings, towards the mine at the cityâ€™s heart. She looked around, the once inviting manors now standing dark and empty. Slowly, numbed to what was happening around her, Sapphire walked around the upper level of Atlantis. Trails of frozen blood and dropped possessions littered the ground, all leading towards the centre void.
She could not bring herself to look over the edge, terrified at what might be visible below. After walking clear around the chasm she arrived at the stairwell to the surface, unsurprised to find the gates blasted in. As she mounted the stairs, walking towards the howling wind, it occurred to her that live or die no one would ever return to her city, her motherâ€™s beautiful city. She sobbed, tears rolling down her cheeks as the reality caught up to her at last. She staggered out into the Antarctic wind, gazing at the vast wastes in every direction. Knowing that the city below was a frozen death-trap, Sapphire fell to her knees utterly defeated and useless.
â€œWho did this, and, and why?â€ she feebly asked.
â€œWho indeed,â€ said a cruel voice.
Instantly the wind died, leaving only a terrible silence. A figure approached, wearing a dark cloak. Sapphire looked towards the approaching figure, catching only a glimpse of his terrible visage. The manâ€™s skin was completely colorless and streaked with grey veins, his eyes bloodshot and filled with pure hate. He glided right past her, giving her no notice. She turned and stared as more figures emerged from the darkness. She stared helplessly as they worked.
The assembled crowd began chanting, casting a powerful spell of some kind. She could do nothing as the great dome shattered and powerful winds blew in from all directions. Several of the figures collapsed, unable to resist the cold any longer. They were swept into the vortex along with more ice and snow than Sapphire could imagine. The mass filled into every crevice of the city below, covering every last remnant of civilization beneath a sheet of ice. Atlantis was lost, again.
â€œSo, my dear sister, we meet at last,â€ the cruel man said, turning to face her.
â€œWhu-wha, wo,â€ she mumbled, unable to form words anymore.
â€œI did this, this grand act, because I hate you,â€ he said quietly, his followers gathering around. â€œI hate you and our other vile siblings, living in opulence the lot of you, while I grew up in on a hellish island. My entire civilization was destroyed, wiped out by our father because, in a drunken haze, he gave my mother too much of his precious treasure and decided that he wanted his gold back. And, and you and the rest of our family did not do a thing about it. You did nothing, Calista did nothing, Katharina did nothing, and so you have all been made to suffer as I did.â€
Then he turned to his fellows, barking orders to them in a strange tongue. They began levitating, their command of the winds expertly honed. At last Sapphire rose to her feet, staring at her brother in horror and shame. Her mind wandered to the gruesome thought of her own violent death. She wondered how he was going to end it; if her death would come quickly, or not so quickly.
â€œNow? Now I leave you to the tender mercy of the night,â€ he replied, rising up into the air. â€œI go to our father now, to give him a taste of what he has wrought. I doubt we will ever meet again, dearest Sapphire. Goodbye.â€
The last of the wind-magic wielders vanished into the night, leaving Sapphire truly alone. For awhile she remained still, thoughts churning through her head. She cried for a few moments before suddenly feeling like laughing. The thought that it was all a terrible dream floated back and forth as the faces of those she lost danced before her, almost touching her reality yet she knew them to be far out of reach. Then she emerged from her thoughts and found herself on the move.
Without commanding it or even desiring it, her body had begun to move towards the port city Thyra, which was the only place she might find help. She moved inexorably down the long trail, one foot then the other, forward towards the coast. Cold, tired, and devastated, Sapphire moved solely because the act took her mind away from everything else that had happened. The pain of the cold, the weariness of her limbs, filled her mind with something other than what had transpired. Then, just as the town appeared on the horizon, the first rays of dawn broke. In the distance the small houses appeared to be lit.
The thought of other survivors gave her a burst of energy, propelling Sapphire down the last slope and into the snowy little town. A group of people gathered near the townâ€™s square, a large ship docked at the harbor. She slowed as she approached, realizing that many of the people looked foreign. She slowed before coming to a stop, looking intently at the group in the centre of town.
â€œHeus, adepto Alexander,â€ one of the strangers barked. â€œCito!â€
She stood in the cold for a few moments, waiting for something to happen. One of the people walked toward the nearest house, while another offered her a steaming cup. As Sapphire accepted the liquid, she started to cry. She downed the contents, feeling immediate relief as the warmth coursed through her. Then a figure approached her, his eyes filled with concern.
â€œUh, oh, Iâ€™m so glad to find someone,â€ he said quickly, â€œI am Alexander Klein, and my goodness, you look unwell Miss. Perhaps you should come inside and warm up.â€
Without thinking, without hesitation, Sapphire stepped forward and embraced the figure, tears streaming from her eyes. He returned the gesture, folding his arms around her. She slowly released her arms, taking a step back from Pahwon. He looked up at her, looking confused. She blinked, her mind floating back to the present. For a few moments she remained still, feeling wrong somehow.
Her mind whirled, the room swaying in her vision. For some reason she felt good inside, though the recounting had brought her to tears. She swayed back around to face Pahwon. Everything seemed slower somehow, though she didnâ€™t mind much. What she did mind was the heat; all her reminiscing about her frozen home, the vast snowy plains, had accentuated the warm desert air.
â€œI sensation warmish,â€ she said slowly.
â€œYeah, it is a bit warm, still, isnâ€™t it?â€ Pahwon replied, feeling a bit odd himself. â€œSo youâ€™re an empress?â€
â€œI indeed fact am,â€ she replied, â€œPerhaps cooler undressed I future feel.â€
The remains of her dress fell to the floor, leaving her nude. It registered in her mind that she should feel embarrassed but didnâ€™t. She wondered about this for a few moments, realizing that something was amiss in her mind.
â€œYouâ€™re beautiful,â€ Pahwon said quietly.
â€œThank you, youâ€™re quite handsome yourself,â€ she replied, approaching him.
The two stared at each other for a few moments, almost aware that something was wrong. Then Pahwon reached out and embraced Sapphire. She smiled and the two lay down together.
â€œI wonder if itâ€™s something in the air,â€ Pahwon said quietly.
â€œThat could be,â€ Sapphire replied before leaning in and kissing him.