This is the fifth part of the Wallmaker Saga. I recommend you read the first four: (1) Beyond the Indigo Veil; (2) Children of the Stars; (3) Twilight Doom, and (4) Daemon Wars, before reading this part.
How am I doing, guys? Comments are much appreciated :)
As always, thanks for reading.
The Broken Wall: Part V of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 1: Grey Eyes
Sophie reached the top of the stairs just in time to watch her children sink out of sight in the arms of a daemon.
Dieter and Calcifer were just behind her, she could feel their magic like a great swell of pressure on her back. They had taken off after Nox as the star daemon went tearing upstairs for reasons unknown to them. However, his distress became eminently clear.
"NO!" The silver sorceress' scream echoed throughout the blackened room. Charged with raw magic, it caused the enchanted glass windows in the workshop to shatter. The Captain of the Wizard Guard lurched backwards into the safety of the doorway, fearful to enter the room and brave the witch's fury. Indeed even the fire daemon seemed hesitant, although Calcifer's eyes never left Sophie. The brown-eyed mother staggered forward as the wind tore through the room, snatching at her skirts. Wordlessly, she collapsed to her knees on the spot where she had last seen her son and daughter. The small witch gave a start as the snow-haired man appeared above her and placed a consoling hand on the crown of her head. She looked up at him incredulously, pushing away his hand as wrath and sorrow warred within her.
"You could have stopped them! Why did you let them go!" Sophie's words began in a whisper and ended in a shout that drowned out even the wind.
But Nox simply stared down at her with a gentle smile on his serene features. As always, it did nothing to help the situation. However, his attention suddenly shifted and the stranger stared off to the west. The composure he normally wore like a second skin seemed to slip. It was like he was listening to something far off in the distance. Apparently whatever it was caused him to remember something horrible he forgotten. Desolation dawned on his features. It lingered long enough to pinch his violet eyes with a grieved expression so foreign it aged the man hundreds if not thousands of years in a moment.
Not that the mother of the castle noticed or cared.
The Wallmaker's wife stumbled to her feet, turning to confront the fallen star as she raged at him. For the second time in the past few das, Sophie came unhinged, letting loose all her fear and frustration.
"What good are you to my family if you can't protect them! I thought you were here to help! You… You, Liar! LIAR!"
The silver sorceress reeled back her fist and let loose the blow only to have the velvet clad man-daemon catch her wrist in a movement so fast her eyes could not perceive it. His grip was gentle, but his hold strong as iron as the brown-eyed witch fought savagely to free herself. A different kind of wind ripped through the room as silver fire gathered in Sophie's eyes.
"Let her go!" Calcifer snarled as he streaked forward from the doorway. But Nox's extraordinary luminous eyes brought the living flame to a halt just as they pinned Dieter to the floor as he moved to enter the room.
Suddenly the wind ceased as the world around them seemed to slow.
In that moment, the elder star brought the Wallmaker's wife and best friend into a moment outside of time. Something passed between Nox and Calcifer. As the snow-haired man turned his eyes back to the dumbstruck witch, the amethyst corridors were ablaze with inner light.
"What did he do?" She asked in amazement, staring at the freckle-faced wizard's guard. Dieter was frozen mid-stride, his mouth open and hand outreached. Bits of paper and glass were suspended mid-air all around them. The complete stillness resulted in the most disconcerting silence.
"Nox brought us in between for a moment. He says we don't have enough time to do this properly, so he's improvising."
"What about my children?" Sophie pleaded, desperately casting her eyes from the bright orange spark to the fallen star. But Nox simply stared at her with that same exasperating sad smile that made the mother want to kick him right in the shins. It was not that she found the expression condescending, it was that she knew the star could speak and simply chose not to.
"Nox apologizes but says that he cannot stop Deirdre when she's with the other. He says they're too powerful," Calcifer translated quickly.
"I don't understand," Sophie grated through her teeth.
"When the kid and her daemon broke the black ribbon and forced the Wall to give back your life, it backlashed. The magic was so strong it forcefully merged Drie with her daemon. It's kinda like how fire sometimes makes two different metals melt together. But it also ripped a hole through the fabric of the worlds. Nox says the hole is like a door inside of both of them. Deirdre is linked to the green hills, just like the daemon is attached to the Dull Wall and the Dark."
"I thought they were trapped by Mrs. Danna's curse?" She replied in dismayed confusion.
"The daemon is bound to Mrs. Danna. But now it's also part of Deirdre and vice versa. It's a ruddy mess if you ask me! How do you magi always managed to muck things up so badly?" the living flame snapped irritably.
But Cal shot his attention back to Nox, who nodded gracefully as if giving his consent. The fire daemon continued to speak.
"A spirit that is touched by a human never really looses that mark. It's like Howl and me. We'll always be part of each other, in spite of the fact we're no longer tied to our bargain. Nox, on the other hand, forsake his human ties ages upon ages ago. He had to in order to stay in the otherworld without upsetting the Ancients."
"They don't like it when he meddles; they think it upsets the balance, which it does!" The fire daemon shot a nasty look at the elder star, showing a bit of tooth.
"But for the most part he's remained ambivalent to the troubles of mortals. However, every once and a while, he sticks his nose into things like the truce established back in the Mage Wars. But now…"
Calcifer crackled sadly, speaking in a sober voice Sophie very rarely heard the little flame use, "He says he is here for Deirdre, to protect her and the doorway inside her. But now he must make a choice."
Calcifer fluttered anxiously, fading an unhealthy looking teal. The living flame may have been talking about the elder star, but in a way, he was also referring to himself.
"Nox must decide who he will fight for in the war between mortals and ancients."
"What war?" Sophie exclaimed.
"The one that started when the idiot magi started banishing all daemons to the scorched plains, not just the touched ones," Cal replied testily before continuing among curls of smoke.
"Ancients are just as averse to the mad ones as mortals are, but when humans start banishing the untouched, the elder spirits got irate. When mortals exile clean spirits beyond the Wall they unbalance the worlds. It weakens the green plains and that makes the black barrier brittle. If the magi keep this up, the Wall could break and let out the Dark. From what I gathered, the Mother Ancient of the Wastes gave us an ultimatum: either we piss off and leave her children alone, or all hell breaks loose."
"When did this happen?" The silver sorceress cried with incredulous anger.
"Last night," Cal replied nonchalantly.
"But that's not enough time! What do they expect us to be able to do overnight?" Sophie was thunder struck.
"Hey, don't shoot the messenger! You'd think spirits would get the more patient as they get older? Fat chance of that! They're as cranky as they are impatient. Ancients cannot even comprehend the concept of mortal time, let alone thinking an idea through. Perhaps after we're all dead they'll realize starting a war wasn't the best idea."
"Surely it won't come to that?" The Wallmaker's wife was dubious.
"Are you so sure?" The certainty in the living flames reply turned her blood to ice. "Daemons don't think, Sophie, they act. Remember, this world was theirs first and daemons have a long memory for grudges."
"But, there must be something we can do?" Sophie demanded fiercely.
"Ask Nox! I'm sick of playing his messenger boy!" Cal crackled nastily as he turned away. He, however, remained in the room.
In that moment the man-daemon finally let go of the brown-eyed witch's wrist. Suddenly, he placed his hands on her shoulders, fixing her with such an intense gaze she could not look away. The silver sorceress felt like the ground had disappeared from under her feet and that the world as she knew it would never be the same.
Sophie. His voice washed through her mind like the warm dawn light. Find the children.
"How?" She whispered, trapped in the spell of the handsome man's violet eyes.
The ring. Nox replied simply.
Sophie gazed down at the enchanted band on her finger and she couldn't help but steal a glance at her wedding ring. Furious emotions surfaced within her as the sorceress turned her thoughts to her husband.
Again she was being forced to finish something he had started.
"How much time do we have?" She asked in a solemn voice full of iron resolve.
None… Nox's thoughts were a serene ribbon of indigo silk in her mind. The War has already begun.
"Sophie? Dieter? Calcifer?" Barimus shouted madly up the stairs, but received no reply.
There had been some shouting a moment ago, but all was quiet now. Whether for good or bad, he did not know. Weakly, the red wizard was forced to sit on the landing as his wobbly knees gave out. There was no way he could make it up the stairs using his own legs, nor did he feel like he was capable of using magic to carry himself where he could not walk.
Begrudgingly, he acknowledged the fact he needed a cane.
"Are you alright, dearie?" Barimus snapped to attention only to realize Granny Witch was standing right in front of him, still knitting absently.
"No!" The handsome blond man growled in frustration. He then scrubbed his face in his hands before flashing a winning smile at the faded old woman. "Yes, Granny. I'm quite fine."
"Did you get the socks I sent you?" She asked with a doting sigh.
"Yes, Granny. Thank you very much. What's that you're working on?"
The Lord Councilor realized there was a long trail of yarn trailing after the former witch of the wastes, back to her chair next to the fire. It was then that the red wizard caught sight of the furry tail protruding from under dust-ruffle that hung from the seat of the old woman's chair.
"Heen! There you are!" Barimus cried triumphantly.
The chair jumped about an inch before the tail disappeared out of sight. But the former messenger dog of the Sorceress Suliman was not going to escape so easily. With great difficulty, the Wallmaker's brother stood and hobbled past the gooey-eyed old woman to the couch in front of the hearth. Sitting with crossed arms, the Royal Wizard stared moodily where Calcifer always sat. While he stared the old witch settled back into her chair, winding up into a ball the yarn she had led all over the living room.
"This is hard for me too, Heen," Barimus spoke after a while, "I know you want to be a dog now, but I'm afraid I need to ask you some very important questions. Will you help me?"
After a moment, the bedraggled creature poked his head from under the chair and cast a sidelong glance at the red wizard. With a curt wheeze that could only indicate assent, the dog emerged.
"There you are Heen." Granny Witch smiled and leaned down to pick up and deposit the fur-covered daemon in her lap. The sad-eyed critter wagged his tail half-heartedly as he gazed at his late mistress' student.
"I want to ask you about Earin Danna," Barimus nearly choked on the rage that rose within him over speaking aloud the name. Oblivious to the world, Granny began humming the same tuneless song Nox had earlier. Heen's tail stopped wagging the instant he heard the woman's name.
Was it possible for a dog to look so ominously severe?
"Suliman always lead me to believe that Earin was born magicless. But that's not true, is it?"
Heen shook his head from side to side, indicating no.
"She was apprenticed to a magus, wasn't she?" The blond man continued with difficulty.
Now the dog nodded yes.
"Who?" Barimus all but demanded.
Heen, however, regarded him rather ironically and wheezed sadly.
"Where's Calcifer when you need him?" The blond man grated impatiently and switched topics.
"What on earth would make her give up her magic?" The Royal Wizard could not comprehend trying to deny his gift. Magic had a way of making itself irrepressibly unavoidable.
Again the ironic look; it was disconcertingly human.
"Suliman must have been furious."
The dog shivered, as if remembering his mistress' wrath, and then nodded solemnly.
"They must have fought horrendously about that. I take it they weren't close at all?"
Heen began to nodded and then hesitated as if unsure of what to say.
"Nice doggy…" Granny witch mumbled happily and patted the creature on his head.
Heen stiffened, his hackles rising slightly as he growled at the ceiling. Suddenly, Calcifer shot down the stairs to the hearth with the harried Wizard's Guard in tow.
"Dieter, what happened?"
"They're gone, my Lord! One moment they were there, the next… gone!" The copper-haired twin was flabbergasted.
"Lady Sophie, the star, the children… All of them!"
"The daemon?" Barimus demanded fiercely.
"Gone as well, my Lord," Dieter was contrite and solemn. The emotions did not suite him.
"Where did they go?" The blond wizard turned to the living ember in the fireplace.
"The kids jumped ship so Sophie followed." Cal replied shortly. The flame's eyes were closed and apparently he was focusing his attention on something important. Turning vivid golden eyes to his bodyguard, Barimus issued a curt order.
"Dieter, go immediately to our King. Take the sky perambulator. Tell him he must postpone the sentencing of the daemon queen. The lives of the Wallmaker's children are at stake. Sophie and I will come later. Go, that's an order!"
The Royal Wizard snapped out the command and the freckle-faced man saluted smartly before dashing onto the veranda. Barimus watched him disappear before turning his attention back to the grate.
"Calcifer, what really happened?"
"If you hadn't noticed, I'm rather busy right now," the fire daemon crackled nastily, issuing plumes of sooty smoke. Indeed the ship was turning; the golden-eyed wizard could tell by the way the light was shifting in through the windows.
"Is Markl alright?" The Wallmaker's best friend suddenly asked in a small voice.
"I need you to ask Heen what happened at the time Danna gave up her magic!" The blond sorcerer demanded shortly, gruffly changing the subject rather incompetently.
"Bloody wizards! I'm not your slave and you can't order me about!" Cal swore viciously, flaring up red and black only to shrink to normal as the castle listed slightly, "What did you say?"
"Ask what happened," Barimus grated through his teeth. But Heen was already wheezing at the living flame, standing in the old woman's lap with his hackles up.
"Nice doggy," She muttered.
But Calcifer stared at the fur-covered daemon and then sputtered like a great wind had shaken him.
"Does Howl know this?" Cal shouted, spraying them with soot and embers.
"Cal!" Barimus snapped impatiently.
"Heen says he only knows a little and Suliman refused to talk about it. Danna was apprenticed to Councilor Raia; it was said she had a strong gift of foresight. All was well until she turned sixteen and was presented with her first seeing mirror; you know the huge rectangular ones that look like doors."
Indeed, Barimus did. He could picture the four huge rectangular glasses that the late Councilor Raia used to see into the future. They were the exact size of doors, and even the frames seemed to suggest that the surface could swing outward at any moment. The mirrors had always given him fey chills, perhaps that why he had not discredited the fat old witch's prognostications as some of the other Councilor's had.
But Calcifer continued.
"Apparently Raia locked Earin in the room with it, a bit of an extreme teaching method if you ask me. When she emerged it had cracked. If she had magic, after that Danna refused to use it. After that Raia claimed she was a failure and sold off the mirror to some antique dealer from Tyrn. Suliman pitched a fit and demanded that her sister find another teacher, but Earin refused and joined the healer's guild. The Royal Sorceress almost outright disowned her after that. It was somewhat of a scandal for one of the Suliman family to be branded magicless. Shortly the old coot Raia came out with her infamous prophecy and all was forgotten in the wake of that mess. Apparently it wasn't a hereditary problem, because Danna's son was very talented."
"Danna had a son?" Barimus was shocked.
He had met Alistair Danna several times when he was still an apprentice. He had not realized until recently it was because the mage was married to his teacher's sister. Alistair was a magus of lesser power, but a good man. He did not know the magus had a son, nor did he know his teacher had a nephew. It was amazing how well secrets could be kept in the Capital.
"According to Heen, she does…" But here Calcifer paused and fell silent as the dog began to wheeze again, sadly this time, "Oh… Well, she had a son."
"What do you mean had?"
"He died along side his father. The Wallbreaker killed them both when he took their magic to mend the Wall."
There was a long silence after that. Wearily, Heen jumped down from Granny Witch's lap. With his tail drooped so low it almost dragged on the ground, the dog slowly wandered under the curtains into the old woman's bedroom. Apparently he was done talking.
Calcifer, however, spoke up.
"Wait… A rectangular mirror with a crack that was sold to Tyrn… Why does that sound familiar to me? Hey? HEY? Where are you going?"
Barimus had stood and was hobbling down the steps to the front door.
"To find Howl," the red wizard called back at the fire daemon as he placed his hand on the front door.
"Fine!" The fire daemon snapped angrily, "Why don't all of you leave then? See if I care? I'll just fly this damned castle in circles over Market Chipping until it falls apart!"
The red wizard wasn't listening anymore. It took a great deal of concentration for him to discover the circle magic imbedded in the wood. Much to his surprise, the sorcerer found that the lines of magic had already been shifted twice to take the caster to his bedroom in the palace. The Royal Wizard was about to activate the circle magic for a third time when he realized to his abject disbelief that Suliman's stick was leaning against the wall next to him. It had not been there a second ago! Reaching out hesitantly, Barimus picked it up. It felt like a plain piece of wood in his hands, not at all full of dislike like it had a few times before. At least it made a good walking stick.
"Barimus? Hey! HEY? Barimus, wait! Do you hear that?" Calcifer sudden piped up anxiously from the grate.
"It sounds like bells," Granny witch mused absently.
Seconds later the circle on the door jumped to life with crimson fire and the golden-eyed man opened the door. As he did, a screaming fey wind erupted into the castle from the destruction that existed beyond the doorway. It was like someone had ripped the roof from the palace, exposing a boiling black sky overhead. Bits of smoke and spray gathered in the shattered hallway, collecting like the menacing nightmares that had come to haunt the daylight. The furious air elementals suddenly flooded around the red wizard, pulling at his clothes with sharp fingers and screaming in his mind.
"SHUT THE DOOR!" Calcifer thundered.
The fire daemon roared upwards like a bonfire in the kitchen hearth, filling the room with burning heat and black curls of smoke. Barimus slammed the end of Suliman's stick onto the ground and in a great rush of pressure; the spirits were forced from the castle.
A moment later the door slammed shut.
The townhouse crumbled like a house of cards as the earthquake caused the damaged part of Mrs. Danna's house to give.
Akarshan and Deirdre screamed as the attic room seemed to tumble down all around them. With an ear-splitting roar like some great living beast, the tremor caused the upper-half of the building to rock forward and toppled over. It spun it like a top. Unfazed by the chaos, Door yanked her siblings to her. Just as the beams of the ceiling plunged down to crush them, the chimera caught them. With inhumane strength, she reached up with one hand and held back the debris that crashed around them. The light and air were smothered to nothing as bricks, dust and mortar buried them. Moments after the quaking ceased, the daemon effortlessly threw off the shattered remnants of the roof like a blanket, exposing the devastation around them.
Barefoot and wearing a red sundress, Door hauled her dazed sister and brother out of the ruins that might have been their grave.
"Are you alright?" The half-human demanded with fierce concern as she sat them down in the street and attempted to dust them off.
"Earthquake…" Shan mumbled in shock as he clung numbly to his twin.
But Drie wasn't paying attention to either of them at that moment; her mind was fixed on their surroundings. The other row houses had fared far better than the one they had been inside. All were still standing and the terrified inhabitants clustered together in the middle of the street. The air was thick with dust and smoke, fire must have started elsewhere in the village. Distant shouts and screams could be heard as the rumbling remnants of the shaking ceased. However, the Wallmaker's daughter knew the source of the quake was still present. She could feel them, the presence of the earth golems rippled beneath her feet. It was as though she stood on a surface of a frozen pond whose surface had fractured and was threatening to break. And waiting beneath her were monsters with claws and teeth.
But there were others as well.
Through daemon eyes, Deirdre could see them, like the points of twisting light that danced on the green plains in the otherworld. But these spirits were not the curious playful beings she had encountered before. They clustered all around her with menacing thoughts, hiding in the alleyways and shadows of the gutters and clutter. As she stared in horror at them, they began pressing closer and closer as though they wished to stifle the life from her. Door must have sensed them as well, because she sniffed several times and bristled. As the silver-haired child-woman shrank back against her sister, the other issued a thrumming growl that vibrated deep from within her. The daemon suddenly let loose a grating snarl in the language of magic. The spirits stopped and then slowly shrank backwards, although they lost none of their rancor. Blinking her eyes, Drie stared with mortal sight at their surroundings only to see nothing.
"Why did they stop?" The blue-eyed girl whispered to Door. She reached out and took her sister's hand, lacing her fingers through the other's.
"Because I threatened to eat them if they came any closer," The daemon flashed her a toothy lopsided grin.
"Why did they break the house?" Akarshan suddenly demanded with incredulous horror, rousing from his previous stupor.
Door cast a cryptic look at Drie before rumbling again to the spirits in a voice like metal being torn in half. Suddenly the ground trembled again as half of the cobble stoned street tore itself up from the ground. The animated bricks leapt to life, towering up into a human-like shape half the size of one of the row houses. Its head swiveled with a dusty grating sound, turning to regarded them with empty baleful sockets filled with shadows. Further up the street some of the villagers saw the daemon and they screamed and scrambled away as fast as possible.
Out of the wastes! Mortals must leave! It boomed angrily the in their minds. However, its bellow was incomprehensible to mortal ears, sounding like the growl of a granite avalanche.
Go home, brother earth, and take your kin with you! We will see to the mortals. Door replied curtly, not at all frightened by the creature's display.
"W-what d-did he say?" Shan asked in a voice shaking with trepidation while simultaneously burning with curiosity.
"They want the humans to leave the wastes," Drie translated quickly.
Suddenly a sky kayak buzzed loudly overhead, trailing behind it the piercing clanging of one of the enchanted bells. They stared overhead as several more followed suit, filling the air with a cacophony of dissonant ringing. Again the golem hollered at the sky, put on edge by the unpleasant clanging. They circled overhead like a swarm of angry wasps waiting to strike. Suddenly a barrage of glass vials fell from above to shatter on the streets. The foul reek of agrimony choked the daemon kin. Door and the golem screeched in outraged terror, clambering backwards from the liquid as they scrambled to escape being spattered.
"Don't hurt my sisters!" Shan screamed at the sky perambulators overhead.
Drie grabbed the chimera by the back of her dress as the daemon started forward with a hiss. Both her attention and the golem's were fixed with predatorial singularityon the crafts in the air above.
"They're trying to help us!" The Wallmaker's daughter cried as she tried to calm the other. Immediately Shan joined in.
"Human fools, they understand nothing!" The daemon snarled irrationally. Door still fought forward, dragging along her siblings, oblivious to the fact the child-woman and her brother were attempting to hold her back.
Footsteps behind them suddenly snatched Deirdre's attention elsewhere. A troop of robin colored soldiers led by a man in red came clattering into the street. The hunting party arrived just as the golem reared back its arm and hurled a barrage of bricks into the fleet of milling ships in the air. Several clipped the sky kayaks, but one knocked off a rudder, sending the buzzing craft spiraling downwards. A cry of outrage issued from the Ingarian Wizard's guard at the same time that the bells the soldiers wore joined in the chaotic chorus. Door wheeled her attention around to the men just as the wizard whipped out a flashing mirror and shouted a word of power. With a silent cry of terror, the lingering spirits in the street disappeared.
With a screech of anguish, the doppelganger could only watch as the brick golem disintegrated into ash in the fire from the red circle that erupted from the ground beneath its feet. Much to her dismay, Drie watched as the chimera's hands coalesced into claws. Apparently the other's had regained her magic through the turmoil of her fury. Whipping around, Door howled wrathfully at the started wizard as the dreadfully familiar metallic chorus slowly seeped into her voice. With it came the horrible stench of the Dark. The group of soldiers froze; stunned to hear the bells continue to ring.
"Door!" Deirdre screeched.
She dropped Akarshan and seized a hold of the creature, but her other was beyond reasoning. The daemon savagely twisted in the tall woman's grasp until it tore itself free and slashed blindly at the child-woman. Drie stumbled backwards and fell to the ground next to her brother. The other's obsidian talons cut through the skin on her cheek, but the mark did not bleed. With a truncated gasp, Door shuddered as a twin mark appeared on her face. The pain apparently drew the chimera out of her madness because she blinked her black eyes to stare down in horror at the child-woman.
"I… I'm sorry!" Door stammered in wild consternation as she reached for her other half. But Drie shrank from her in fear.
However, her twin brother did not.
The little boy flew to his feet in a rage, storming forward to yell at the tainted half-daemon. "You hurt Dreiddy! You stay away from her!"
The chimera stumbled backwards from the raven-haired boy's fury. Grieved and brokenhearted, the daemon reached for him remorsefully, her very being brimming with uncertain anguish.
"Brother?" She whispered.
But the Wallmaker's son shunned her touch and pulled away, shaking his little fists at her.
"Go away, Door! You're a bad daemon! I hate you!" He shouted.
"Akarshan!" Deirdre exclaimed in astonishment, finally roused from her shock.
Had the boy's words been a knife, they would have stabbed the half-human's heart. Indeed she straightened and staggered backwards as though she had been struck, trembling violently. The chimera seemed to be crushed under the weight of her despair. Where once she had been so strong the fragile being appeared to be at her breaking point. She sagged visibly and retreated within herself. As Door bowed her head, her face disappeared under her short silver hair. The motion was so similar to a posture that his father made when he was upset that Akarshan immediately regretted his words.
"I didn't mean it!" The six-year-old wailed contritely, but it was too late.
A red circle burst to life beneath the other's feet as the wizard guard at the head of the party recovered his wits and acted. Door shuddered violently and the fire beneath her flickered and extinguished, just as it had so many times before. However, when she shook herself, it was like a stranger lived within the other's body. Suddenly, the daemon chuckled darkly and even her voice was not her own. Deirdre felt like she had been doused with ice water as she recognized the laugh.
The chimera straightened to stare at the Wallmaker's children with cold grey eyes that were hard as ice.