I guess I should start from the beginning... One hot summer day, I wanted to make a winter story, and since Rocky and I came up with the idea, we turned into an RP. The oneshot we made, roughly called "Surprisingly orange" by me, was to be published with the very first day of calendar winter. While I haven't managed to put it all together yet, I was able to get another piece of work done.

The story is based on a role play I made with Rockerduck once, though we have never finished. But it is also a winter postcard. A way of giving you a snapshot of Castle Vesthom at it's coldest and most unfriendly days. And... since it is snowing in Poland, I give you "The Meltdown". Just to make my day a bit warmer.

The editing honour - Rose. Thanks, no one can point out my mixed polish-english punctuation better than you!

Oddly enough, the song my Windows Media Player chose from the random list for the time I am writting this is "Kingdom of Ice" from The Rise of an Empire soundtrack.

Anyway, enjoy the lecture! Another oneshot for this story may come on December 21st!

Author's note: there is a moment in which Alandra mentions Fire Warriors and Ice Fighters. The first version was Ice Warriors and Fire Fighters. That sounded both amusing and wrong.


THE MELTDOWN


Little white snowflakes were falling on the already frozen window of the living room. It was calm in Castle Vestholm: the only sound heard was the fire cracking cheerfully.

Alandra was sitting on one of the couches by the fireplace with her face hidden behind some reports. Her left leg, covered with a bandage, was put on a footstool. The little accident had happened a few days before, when she was simply having a walk in the castle gardens. Fresh snow covered the deeply frozen pathways, and Alandra ignored the hidden threat. She just remembered stepping on the path from the terrace, then there was nothing and the next picture was her lying on the ground with a blunt pain in her leg.

The female Knight grimaced as she recalled the moment of falling.

Dumb. And irresponsible, she thought. I should've known better.

The room was quiet and lit by the fireplace, giving it a welcoming atmosphere that was only slightly tainted by the barely concealed grumpiness that somehow lingered in the air around Alandra. She heard heavy footsteps at one of the doors. She had already recognized that they belonged to Thordal, since they had worked together for such a long time already. The sound that the giant Viking made was unmistakeable.

Thordal sat down next to her with a strange, big package behind his huge back. He didn't know how, but he just felt the slightly grumpy aura around his friend.

"Heya, lassie. You sitting here all alone?" he asked covering his concern with a cheerful smile.

Alandra smiled faintly in return.

"Since I am not in any condition to walk, the medic advised me to spend time sitting down or lying. I prefer the former, therefore I chose the nicest place in the castle do do so."

"Strange for you to listen to a medic, aye?" he laughed. "Aw, you look like a lost little puppy there! Leg still hurting? I got just the right thing" he added, unfolding the big furry package which turned out to be nothing other than a bear rug.

Alandra raised her eyebrows, surprised, and smiled.

"Oh! Where did you get that?" She took the bear skin and covered herself with it, like with a cape."I am Alandra, the worst of the bears in Westerlin …" - she cracked up laughing - "… currently in winter hibernation!"

Thordal's laugh probably shook the Castle's foundation. Alandra looked out of the window, where Kestral and Crimson Sabatt had built a snow fortress in the garden, and were currently chasing the guards around with snowballs, making more noise than necessary. Their target suddenly changed: Hakim had put his foot outside the castle. The Janubian walked right into the crossfire of white torpedoes, soon learning why the snow had been called 'fun' by both women atbreakfast the same day. He doubtfully liked it.

"Poor Hakim," Alandra stated. "He knows little about snow."

"He's going to know a lot more about snow at the day's end, I reckon," Thordal peered through the window to see his friend fall on the ground under the sudden attack. "The castle is under siege anyway, so not much you could do, right? The girls already knocked out half of the watchmen out there."

"I guess they will run to Marcus whining about it, and he will give them some stupid advice just to keep the face as their leader, and then just go to Kestral and start laughing about it ... What I would give for a good snowball fight." She sighed.

"Ah, go easy on the lad, will you? He can't just run around throwing snowballs in front of his boys. You'll be up and running again in a couple of days, then you can have all the snowball fights your heart desires. Guess you should just enjoy shooing everyone around to do your bidding for the time being!"

"That might just be interesting," she grinned. "I'd love to see Kestral bringing me tea and biscuits!"

"See, that's more like it, sweetheart! Leave that silly papers of yours, nobody reads that!" Thordal chuckled.

"But ..." Alandra protested. "Somebody does read them! There surely is a reason for those reports to be filled in!"

"Do not get the wrong picture, Allie," the Knights heard the voice from the living room door. Elias was standing there, leaning on the door frame. He smiled, walking towards them. "What are those anyway?" He took the reports and after a brief look he shook his head. "Don't bother with those, my dear. We have servants for such minor jobs."

The dialogue was suddenly interrupted by a single-THUD- sound as a snowball hit one of the windows and left a white mess sticking to the glass.. That was followed by Kestral, who ran through screaming like the watchman from earlier ... followed by Sabatt and two snowballs.

Elias observed the scene with growing amusement.

"Girls will be girls, I guess … At least Crimson Sabatt is finally socialising with the castle staff," he murmured.

Thordal grinned.

"I know what we need, Elias. Chess duel!"

"You're on!" the merchant replied. "I have to avenge my loss from last Monday!"

Thordal walked out of the room to get the chessboard, while Elias looked at Alandra's paperwork again.

"Don't bother with those, dear. They are not worth it. If you're up to something that boring, then let me send you some reports that you might actually find useful for yourself." He smiled. "I've just received a pile of papers, all about medicines and medical staff around Westerlin. You interested?"

"Of course!" Alandra replied. "Anything is better that this! Especially if you have a medics list to check!"

The merchant smiled.

"That's what I thought."

Thordal returned with the chessboard and the Knights started to set out the game.

"You play white ones," Elias noted cheerfully.

"Why do I always end up with the whites?" the Viking murmured.

"Because I always play blacks," the merchant explained. "I don't know why you sulk about it. You have whites... because your land is covered with snow for most of the year."

"Then why do you get blacks?" Thordal asked with a bit of irritation, but keeping it as a joke.

"Well ..." Elias paused for a moment to think. "For black market's sake of course!" He smiled, putting the pieces on the correct squares. Alandra cracked up laughing.

"Do you always play like this?"

"You still haven't seen the best part," the Northerner replied, looking at the chessboard with sixteen little warriors put in position.. "This is a literal war," he added.

"What's the story for today?" Elias asked, making Alandra both puzzled and curious.

"Lemme think." Thordal leaned his chin on the elbow. "You wanted ice. Well, you'll get it mate. What say you, an epic battle between the Invincible Ice Kingdom ... which is me, by the way, and … the Hellfire Army of Doom!"

"How come I am the hell in this story?" the merchant asked with amusement.

"Black market, you sinner. Black market got you there."

"Ha-ha, very funny, Lord Iceberg," Elias replied.

"Good one! I shall call you ..." Thordal took the white king into his giant hand. "… Lord Iceberg!"

"Hey, no fair!" the merchant shouted. "That was my idea!"

The Viking just shrugged.

"Send me a memo," he laughed.

Alandra looked at her friends, puzzled.

"Did I miss something when I was learning how to play chess?"

"You probably missed all the fun!" Elias chuckled and pointed at the board. "We play imaginary battles with fantastic armies made of wood and our own creativity. You'll get the hang of it." He looked at Thordal. "Give all the names, bard!"

"There you go," the man grinned. "These are ... Ice Golems, Blizzard Warriors and Snowstorm Battalions," he said, pointing the pawns. "Moving on, the Frozen High Priests," he introduced the bishops, "Cold-blooded Knights, then ... hm ... Ice Gate Defenders!" he shouted, pointing to the rooks. "And, the lady ... The Deep-Freezed Queen!"

That was just too much for Alandra. She had just stopped laughing, but now she started all over again.

"Wait for me," Elias smiled. "These will be ... Molten Lava Fighters, Burning Blade Squadrons and Bloody Assassins!" he said, showing the pawns. "The Doomed Knights, Sinner Bishops ..." He paused for a second to invent the next name for the rooks. "And the Denounced Birds of Prey!"

"That one's lame," Thordal commented. "Who needs birds in hell?"

Elias just shrugged.

"Who needs Knights made of ice?"

"Good point, mate," the Viking replied. "And the royalty?"

"Of course. I introduce to you ... The Hellfire Queen and Devil Himself!"

Thordal just burst into laughter, hearing the king's title. The roaming sound he was making made the castle inhabitants stare suspiciously through the room's doors.

"So ..." Alandra looked at her friends. "You happen to be ... the Almighty General Thordal of Vjoskerg, and you are the Unstoppable General Elias Walter Carraway?"

"Something like that," the merchant grinned. "Your move is first," he noted to the Viking.

Thordal just sighed and moved his pawn.

"Soldiers not motivated?" Elias mocked him.

"In your dreams, merchant," he replied. "I've just started hurting you with my new strategy."

"If there is any!" The older man also moved his figure.

Alandra looked at the chessboard even more intrigued.

"Why not motivated?"

"Our friend here usually shouts a lot throwing his wooden army into the battle."

Thordal shook his head.

"I command Frozen High Priest ice shard attack!" he exclaimed, pushing his bishop diagonally across the board.

"Ha!" the merchant shouted. "Your strategy is totally random! You just don't want to show it! My Birds! Protect your Sinner Bishops!"

"My strategy just seems random to confuse my enemy!" the bard replied and the walls shook with the sound of his voice. "CHAAAARGE!" He pushed out the pawn with his bishop.

"No ..!" Elias started to pretend to have a heart attack, which made both Alandra and Thordal laugh. "My armyyy... " he whined, and then, just suddenly came back around. "No worries." A sly smile appeared on his face as he captured the white bishop. "Victory! We have won the Battle of Ice Volcano!"

Thordal rolled his eyes.

"That, my friend was just a battle. I shall win the war!"

"Bring it on, Mister Frozen Guy!"

Thordal moved his pawn without any word.

"Aha! There I got ..." the merchant didn't finish the sentence, as his rook had been pushed out.

"No strategy, huh?" the Viking murmured with a wide grin on his face.

"You're gonna pay for this," the merchant replied. "Doom Knight, attack!"

"Ice Gate Defenders, squeeze 'em!"

"March to victory, my Lava Fighters!"

"Nooo! Not my Queen!"

"Yesss! You deserve that, you cold-blooded ... hey, give me back my Knight!"

"Go ahead and take it! Ice Kingdom armies attack!"

"Oh, no, you don't! Hellfire Army, charge!"

"Blizzard warrior! I now promote you to my High Priest! You must first go through the trial of ice to become the FROZEN HIGH PRIEST!"

"Go ahead, promote him," Elias shrugged. "I still have my Hellfire Queen!"

"Not for long, mate!"

The more those two played, the more surprised Alandra was. Thordal and Elias were making so much noise that the people around the castle started wondering what was going on.

Finally, there were just a couple of ice fighters and fire warriors left on the chessboard. Thordal moved his Lord Iceberg, unknowingly singing his own warrant.

"Finally!" Elias moved his knight to a final position.

The Northerner looked at the board, noticing the situation. There was a bigger grimace on his face with every single time he though of a way out.

"That's a checkmate, my friend," the merchant claimed quietly.

A loud groan came out of the Viking's mouth as he pushed his king to fall.

Alandra stared at the board, amazed by the battle made of black and with figure on a gridded board.

"And the fire melted through the ice," she said.

Both Knights now turned to her with surprised looks on their faces.

"What?" she asked, seeing their expressions. "That was epic! I mean, I almost felt the heat on my cheek when the Hellfire army attacked, and I was cold when the Ice Kingdom came! This was too real, you two told me a story by just playing a stupid game! And there was more to it that met the eye! By the heavens, you are so much better than Hakim when he plays!"

"You bet we are!" Thordal exclaimed.

Elias just shrugged with a smile.

"Life is too boring to play chess normally, you know."

"I want a duel! NOW!" the female replied.

"Oooh, a duel!" a voice could be heard from behind the living room door, making the three Knights turn around. "Hey Crim, come on!"

Suddenly, the door burst open, letting the two female Knights rolling on the floor. Both stood up still covered with snow, trying hard to hide their amusement under those innocent faces.

"Spying on us?" Elias asked.

"Checking on you, that is all," Crimson Sabatt replied.

"I see" Thordal grinned. "Had fun outside?"

"Surely enough ... I think I have snow in my blood," the Guerannan said, sitting on the armchair. "More important, what was the duel you were talking about?"

Hakim suddenly walked into the room, murmuring different words in Janubian. They probably wouldn't be appropriate for a Knight of Vestholm. He stopped, noticing the company sitting by the fireplace.

"Am I missing some secret meeting, or are you plotting another scheme to cover me with snow?" he asked, particularly meaning Sabatt and Kestral.

"Hey, don't look at us like that!" Kes threw her hands in the air, pretending to give up. "It's them who are plotting!"

The Southerner's eyes met the two epic generals sitting by the chessboard and the lady between them.

"That matter cannot be serious. They are just playing chess."

"Just chess," Thordal mocked his fellow Knight. "See?" he turned to Alandra.

"See," she replied. "Do you still want to play?" she asked Elias. "I play blacks."

"No, you don't!" the merchant said, but before he could react, she took all the black figures. "All right, just this once."

"Give me names," Thordal smiled to her, making the other three Knights look both surprised and curious.

"Hm," Alandra looked at her little army. "How about ... the Army of Extraordinary Ladies?"

"I like that one!" Kestral suddenly took a seat next to her. "Can I be your … lieutenant?"

"No fair, I want one too!" Elias interrupted. "Thordal, up to the task?"

"You're on!" the bard changed his seat, now being next to his game partner.

"What are we?" Sabatt shouted. "Some sort of observers?"

"We could be the ancient gods giving the rules of the game and being able to wipe out any figure we would want to ..." Hakim said, looking at the ceiling with an innocent face.

All the Knights looked at him. If there was anybody who wouldn't find the imaginary battles fun, that would probably be Hakim. Now he just made all of them drop that opinion.

Sabatt smiled, probably already making her plan for the game.

"Rule number one: we make all the rules."

"We never pushed the game that far," Thordal said. "But I like where this is going."

"Me too," Kestral added.

"I'm in," Elias grinned.

"This is going to be amazing," Alandra stated. "How about your name?"

Thordal and Elias looked at each other.

"The Tavern Runners," they spoke together, making Kestral and the others laugh.

"Your move is first," Sabatt said to the Viking. Elias moved the pawn.

"Bring it on."