Part 1 of the Divinity Series:
A Destiny Written in Ice

It wasn't like that day. That day. The snowflakes had fallen slowly then, spinning and drifting through the air on puffs of wind that sometimes made them swirl wildly before they finally came to rest, slowly building into rolling drifts and giving the air a gauzy, opaque appearance. Boney hard lined shadows crisscrossed the white landscape, their origins laying at the bases of naked trees stripped clean of their leaves the season before, a forest of pale skeletons that shivered in the cold and dropped their blankets of snow to the earth, standing silently yet enduring. Not a cloud rested in the sky yet the snow still fell, the unobscured sun a blinding yellow that held little warmth as it pierced through the cold winter air and bounced right back off the white ground. It was a bleak wonderland of ice, layers of frozen rain covering the land and turning it alien and unfamiliar, a no-man's land.

All the while the snowflakes never abated, slowly filling in the staggered depressions left behind by booted feet that trudged heavily through the ankle deep drifts. The snow compacted and crunched under the weight of each boot, the sudden displacement sending powdery clouds of ice into the air that delighted in adhering to every surface. It collected on the nose and eyelashes, shoes, legs, gloves, and hair. Everything seemed to attract the fine snow, the warm breath that blew through paling lips offering the only protection against the ever present cold. Even thick woolen gloves could not bar the frigid temperature and so hands were constantly being rubbed together and shaken, the gentle friction created being the only thing that kept fingers above the threshold of going numb.

"Why am I here?" Frostor questioned the snowman before her, arms crossed over her chest as she instinctively conserved her body's heat, a scowl across her young gnome face.

"It's so unfair! I try to talk reasonably and we always end up arguing. They still treat me like a child, all of them, and its so frustrating. Goddess, why won't they listen to me?"

The snowman merely smiled back his toothy charcoal pebble grin, a small icicle hanging from the tip of his yellow corn nose, black eyes sparkling with hidden answers as a tattered green scarf around his neck blew idly in the wind. With an unhappy grumble Frostor swiped at the snowman with her foot, the tip of her boot leaving a wide concave hole in the snowman's spherical base as the snow tumbled to the ground in a heap.

Being lonely had its merits, but one rarely welcomed the isolation when it wasn't brought about by their own choice. Solitude was a privilege not a punishment, Frostor thought glumly as she hunched down and began filling in the hole methodically. The snow seemed to like sticking to her warmer hands rather than the snowman though and she sighed tiredly after a minute, brushing the powder from her quickly chilling fingers despite the thick gloves she wore, firmly convinced that this day could not get any worse.

"I have been reduced to holding conversation with a snowman." A frown spread over her lips as she stood, blue gray eyes meeting those of the figure of snow she had labored to build with her own hands little more than a week ago. It wasn't surprising it had stayed intact for so long, this clearing wasn't far from her own home and she ventured here often, though usually not under such stressing circumstances...

Frostor bit down hard on her lower lip with frustration. Perhaps she had been unforgiving and harsh towards her parents and the Council, but they were denying her the one thing she was sure of in life! Yes she was young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, but that was no fault of her own, in fact she was trying to right that wrong and improve her life but they refused to see anything beyond their own safe home and Council Chairs. She wasn't ungrateful, in fact she was forever indebted to those who had taught her what she knew thus far, but she felt incomplete, and there was a world out there beckoning to her, begging her to come forth and live!

They weren't being unduly harsh, no rather they were acting quite like parents, adults acting on the best interests of the Council which happened to coincide with their own hesitations about the world out yonder. Their little girl, their only daughter, wanted to leave. Of course they'd be hesitant and concerned. Yet the Council saw her undeveloped talents as something that could benefit their small circle of Healers, to be harnessed and eventually brought to benefit their own endeavors, and her parents had readily gone along with the Council if it would keep their child that much closer to them, to home.

Living a life that was never denied the pampered spoils young children often desired was rarely ever seen as a flaw for later development in the eyes of the giver. And Frostor had acted just like one when faced with not getting what she wanted for the first time in her life. Yet no matter how much she protested they merely shrugged and told her that she was too young, unaware of the dangers the world held and so there would be no further discussion on the topic, she was to stay and be schooled by the Council. She could stamp her foot like a spoiled child and turn her icy stare upon them till the end of the world, but nothing made the adults relent. It seemed only an act from a higher power could release her from this place.

"Why do they treat me like such a child?" she demanded angrily again to the cold air, blond hair whipping her icy skin painfully as the sudden gust seemed to carry her question far beyond that circle of trees.

The wind was picking up in its fierceness, but turning back now was not even an option in Frostor's mind. The argument had been heated and they had all exchanged cutting words, some maybe she'd come to regret in a few hours. But she had spoken from her heart and that had given her the courage to speak her mind, despite the anger and frustration that had grown by the second in her parents' eyes. To face them both in that manner had been the most trying moment in her life, assaulted on both sides by the voices she had grown up her whole life as being the bearers of reason and rightness. She was abandoning all the trust she had placed in them, and they knew it.

Tears did little to abate the frustration and helplessness she had felt before them, and they had truly come in earnest at the end, spilling down her pale cheeks faster then she could wipe them away. Even now it wasn't clear whether she'd left or they had demanded she leave first, but either way Frostor had welcomed the sudden biting cold and the chance to run free away. She could remember the sound of the back door slamming shut and the angry voices of her parents, shouting after her or at each other, she was never able to tell.

The snowman was many paces behind her now, a lonely, lumpy white figure standing in the snow, Frostor's footprints slowly heading away from the familiarity of the clearing. Vaguely she hoped that perhaps in some small way they had known she was right, accounting for the reasons they fought so severely to change her mind and keep her close. But she was still a child and stubbornly refused to accept that people were hypocritical enough to produce bad things from good intentions.

The grounds that belonged to her parent's estate extended for many acres in every direction, encompassing whole forests, and even a lake that was a favorite spot of the family's during the warmer months of the year. Land that had been passed down generation after generation through the noble gnomic line that her family originated from, indeed she had been a child born to privilege and wealth. Horseback riding over the glades and valleys that dotted their estate was a treasured pastime shared by Frostor and her father, her mother choosing to remain behind and tend to the animals and gardens that flourished around their home. They had a rose garden unlike any other among homes of similar stature and it had earned her mother much praise and respect, for her gardens were her children, coming only second in importance in her duty to Frostor and her husband. Buds of all smells and colors flourished around their home in near chaos, but was in reality a careful pattern laid out to give the observer the most rewarding experience as they wandered through the extensive grounds.

But it all lay under the ice now, cold unforgiving winter that muffled the life and green of the earth. And strangely she felt at home in it, a kind of cold, comforting blanket that wrapped around her and helped her to escape from the anger and confusion that existed back at home. Out here it was almost dead, yet in truth that was never the case, for the winter was alive, carried by the breath of wind and fed by the water, mixed together with heart stopping cold and you had this - a world Frostor liked to call her own. Perhaps she was biased and favored the nature of her own divinity, but Frostor knew deep down it wasn't so. She was the cold and the ice and the snow, not a creature that paid homage to a temple and a name, bowing down before a temple guardian who waved a hand and spoke the same words of healing no matter where one went. This was her god, the snowy days of winter and frost and ice, snowdrifts and puddles and gray clouds, and a sun that could not banish the cold no matter how brightly it shone.

The wind had been howling loudly through Frostor's ears for the past few minutes, so it was unexpected when the sound abruptly faded and died, causing her to look up as though expecting to see the reason for its sudden death. But there was nothing in front or behind her, and with building trepidation she realized that she had walked farther than she'd intended. It was an eerie quiet that surrounded her, the snow had stopped falling along with the wind, leaving the land around her almost blinding in its whiteness.

She squinted and shielded her eyes, stepping backwards with the intention of turning about and finding some shelter before the chill of the wind decided to pick back up, but she froze abruptly at the sound of a loud crack beneath her left foot. With growing fear she looked down, her eyes tracing the dark line that was creeping away from the heel of her boot. Cautiously, making as little movement as possible, she looked back over her shoulder at the direction she had come, and felt her stomach drop.

The recently falling snow had obscured where the edge of the lake began and now she was standing a good dozen feet out upon its surface. This late in the winter the lake's surface should have been stable enough to take her weight, but with the constant sunlight that had been pouring down all day, it seemed to have been enough to weaken certain areas.

Frostor carefully balanced her weight onto her right foot and slid her left boot away from the slightly fractured ice. She could see now that the crack was only on the surface, posing little threat now that she was no longer standing at that spot, but instinctively she knew that any crack was something to be wary of.

Gingerly she shifted her weight back to her left foot, then nearly jumped when a loud pop rang through the air. A fearful whimper left Frostor's lips as she looked back down at the ice, only to see that her foot had once again stressed the ice to the point of cracking, and the two fissures were now slowly approaching each other. The quiet pops and snaps created by the two growing lines were steadily growing louder as the break sank deeper into the ice, several fingers of breaking ice snaking out along the two larger ones.

With the realization of the immediate danger she was in Frostor quickly turned and bolted for the shore, but fell hard to her hands and knees as her boots slipped on the frictionless ice, sharp daggers of pain cracking through her wrists and kneecaps. She bit back the cry of pain that welled up in her throat and sought to find traction on the ice, pushing up with now icy numb hands, desperation guiding her actions as the sounds of the breaking ice became deafeningly loud.

The block of ice beneath her lurched suddenly and she scrambled to grab hold, hearing the ice now falling into open water, never daring to look behind herself. Ice crumbled quickly under her feet and legs and she screamed as she felt the ice water swallow her up to her knees, the pain so great and immediate that her limbs instantly went numb. She could feel the ice breaking under her chest, more of her body going numb as the water crept higher, now to her thighs, then waist. Her hands grabbed desperately at the frozen surface, strangely hot tears falling down her face as she cried out for help, yet knowing that none would come, they were too far away.

Suddenly the slab of ice beneath her pitched upward, having broken free from the rest of the surface, Frostor's weight tipping it up as it bobbed precariously in the water. For a brief moment her hands found leverage on the edge of the block and she inched herself up, teeth chattering and half of her body numb as she struggled to free herself from the freezing water that sought to swallow her down. But it was too late, and with a strong tremble of fear Frostor felt the block continue to turn in the water, now nearly vertical, half of her small body hanging onto it for dear life. With a scream that echoed over the lake and woods the block of ice flipped over, plunging Frostor into the icy depths below.

It was terribly cold. Not, can't feel the tips of your toes or a cool wind on the back of your neck cold. This was the cold feeling of death approaching, a chill that went straight to your bones and turned your extremities into useless chunks of frozen flesh. A cold that burned like fire and seared off your nerve endings, turning every part of you numb so instantly and wholly it made you wonder if you had ever known how to feel in the first place. It rendered you helpless. You couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't move, couldn't hope to live any longer than this moment.

And what did it mean to live anyway? To somehow against all odds find a way out from this icy grave and return to a life that was going completely in the opposite direction she wanted it to? Death wasn't fun, but what if your future looked just as bleak as the clouded water around you? Would it be so wrong to just let go, to take this chance and escape from a future no better than death? What was her life without purpose, to be forced onto an undesired path that pleased everyone but the one who followed it for the rest of their life. Perhaps the afterlife held better prospects, where daughters weren't placed into a preordained future that kept her as a servant to those who "knew better" and held the power. Wouldn't it be so easy now, to just slip away...

No! A part of her screamed out frantically, as though her brain had suddenly jump started into awareness.

It was natural instinct, the will to live regardless of circumstances, the primal being inside us all that pushed us beyond the normal limits of what our bodies could endure. No animal however far evolved was without it. To struggle for survival until the last burning breath in your lungs gave out, never stopping until your heart quivered its last beat. Clawing, screaming, kicking, thrashing to survive, trapped like a caged animal, willing to break bones and rip away fingernails just to gain that small chance that perhaps you might live.

And Frostor dived into that abyssmal pool feet first, suddenly aware of everything around her: that her lungs were burning with trapped air, that her eyes were stinging and crying, freezing and thawing with each blink, and that she was so terribly cold. Were those really her arms, clawing at the water pushing to the surface? Were those really her feet below, kicking and thrashing faster than her eyes could follow? How could they be, she couldn't feel them.

With a dull thud her head struck the bottom of the ice block that had flipped over on her, imprisoning her inside this freezing coffin of water. Her fists beat futilely against the ice, bubbles escaping from her mouth as the breath she had been struggling to hold slowly seeped out through blue lips. Fingers raked like claws, she sought to find an escape, a hole, a crack, anything. But the fractured pieces of ice had settled back together, leaving no possible exit for the drowning girl.

A strangled cry bubbled out from Frostor's throat, her tears frozen to her skin as she felt herself sinking, falling away form the pale yellow light that filtered through the lake's icy surface. Her limbs were truly dead now, arms that hung useless above her head as she drifted down, down, eyes closing as the dark waters enveloped her.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Frostor awoke to the cool press of a hard surface against her cheek. Eyes blinking open, she became aware that she ached - everywhere. Through cracked lips and dry mouth she gave a low moan, shutting her eyes to will away the beating drums that were being pounded in her head. However in only a few seconds the aching pain began to abate, and the drumming in her head fell to a low din, as though now heard from a far off place, muffled yet steady.
She chanced opening her eyes again and was greeted by a never-ending stretch of iridescent blue, crisscrossed by thin shallow grooves that ran parallel and perpendicular to each other. Wiggling her left fingers she felt the cool glassiness of floor, smooth and unmarked, and with that hand pressed it palm down to push herself into a sitting position. Now she could see the room she had been mysteriously placed into.

Giant crystal stalactites hung from the cavern's ceiling that stretched tens of meters above Frostor's head, no spear the same length as they stretched towards the floor. There were hundreds of them, yet each one must have been at least ten meters long, with bases spanning no less than two meters in diameter. Looking no bigger than icicles on a tree from Frostor's perspective, the distance between her and them was so great that their true size was cleverly mistaken. The light in the room seemed not to come from above but from below, the ceiling barely lit by the yellow glow that was diffused evenly about the cavern, its farthest reaches hidden in shadowy darkness, the long crystals themselves gradually darkening from tip to base. Frostor glanced down and stared back into the eyes of a disheveled girl, blond hair matted and laying wildly against her head, gray blue eyes wide and filled with fear.

Her hand swept against the cool floor, watching her palm's reflection that was clearly brighter, yet tinted blue by the floor's highly polished surface. Eyes followed the evenly spaced parallel lines as they ran away from her knees, coming to rest on the base of the most massive structure in the entire cavern.
Huge blocks of crystal rose one upon the other into the shape of a half completed pyramid, a wide set of steps carved into the side of the pyramid facing Frostor, the stairs lined on either side by large crystal blocks. Upon each block sat a large clear vase of blue flowers, save one halfway up the left hand side that was empty. At the top of the stairs was a platform Frostor could not see even if she had been standing, the tops of two tall, crystal pillars nearest to her just visible. A flicking blue light seemed to flutter from somewhere atop the structure, but it too was also hidden by the sheer size of the altar.

A light cough came from behind Frostor, and she whirled around in surprise. A dozen feet behind her stood a tall silver haired woman holding a large vase similar to the ones along the stairway that held budding blue roses, which sparkled curiously in the light. She seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, for the wall behind her was solid, yet Frostor felt that she must have just entered the room and found her there. The woman's eyes were a beautiful pale gold, with fine silver hair that fell smoothly to a waist clothed in the white silk robes of a priestess, a white folded mantle draped over her shoulders that swept the floor behind her. Her pale hands were delicate and cultured, yet they held the massive vase before her with ease and comfort.

The woman smiled and Frostor scrambled to her feet, standing awkwardly before this woman who seemed to radiate knowledge and power.

"I..." Frostor faltered, at a loss for what to say. She had died... hadn't she?

The woman began walking across the room towards the altar. "I am glad to see you are well, young follower of Alustria."

"Where, am I?" Frostor asked uncertainly, still rooted to the spot.

"You are in the Temple of Alustria," the woman answered as she carefully mounted the steps to the altar.

Frostor looked around herself with renewed awe. "I've never seen a temple like this one before. What town are we in?"

The woman paused in her step and laughed, a beautiful warm laugh that made Frostor feel more at ease, even if her question had been asked in seriousness. "My young child, we are in The Temple of Alustria. It cannot be reached by mortal men unless in the most rare of circumstances. Every temple you will see in the mortal world is only a mere attempt at capturing the pure essence of Alustria that exists here."

Frostor's mouth gaped open in surprise. She was in the temple of her goddess? That was impossible though, the elders always talked about how no mortal could ever reach the true temples of their gods, they existed on a different plane entirely. It was only those few, the ones who had come back to describe their temples, sketchy and foggy details that helped temple guardians construct altars (they believed) that resembled the true temples. Frostor knew now, looking around, that she had never seen a temple anything like what this one was. And if that was true, that she really was where the priestess had said she was...

"I'm dead, aren't I?"
Frostor held back the tears that could clearly be heard in that simple question, her chin raised towards the woman in white who stood placing the vase upon the wide crystal outcropping beside the stairway.

The woman released the vase and turned to face Frostor, her hands clasped tightly together in front of her robes. Her eyes were sad and sympathetic, their color now a ruddy gold that seemed to darken with her emotions. Instead of answering Frostor's question though she raised one pale hand and beckoned Frostor to come closer.

As Frostor slowly mounted the steps the priestess bent down and plucked a single long stemmed rose from the vase, holding it out to the gnome between an unblemished thumb and forefinger. Frostor accepted the gift cautiously, her eyes fixed to the sparkling blue petals of the rose, each which seemed to be covered in a thin layer of frost.

"Ow!" With a yelp Frostor looked down at her pierced finger, a single thorn on the rose's stem now reddened slightly at its tip.

The priestess smiled and took Frostor's wounded hand into her own. "You are alive," she answered quietly, fingers delicately wiping away the small injury.

"But..." Frostor tried to counter, wanting to tell the priestess how she had fallen into the broken ice on the lake, how she had struggled to get out but couldn't find a way, how she had felt her life ebb away in the water, how bitterly cold it had been. She shivered at the memory and looked down at her hand which was still held by the priestess.

"I know," the woman said softly, as though she had read Frostor's mind. "That is past now young one. Death is something few of us experience and are able to reminisce about. You were brought here because your goddess willed it so. Come, I wish to show you something."

The woman turned, and with a gentle tug on Frostor's hand, began leading her up the stairs towards the top of the pyramid, the altar itself becoming more clear as they mounted each step. Four crystal pillars stood freely at each corner of the square platform, their surfaces covered in carvings, runic symbols and ancient depictions that wrapped and spiraled upward around each column's surface. Some of the symbols seemed to pulse gently with a blue glow as the priestess and Frostor reached the top step, like a mirage of dancing lights that flickered in and out of each pillar.

In the center of the altar was a wide, circular pit of blue flames, each one thrusting higher than Frostor's head, yet no heat seemed to radiate from their bright cores. A narrow path encircled the pit, sections of flooring that interlocked together like a round jigsaw puzzle, no two pieces alike or adjoining sides able to fit together with any other piece. The altar's floor too was an opaque blue, yet not as reflective as the one on the cavern floor below, instead it cradled the light of the blue flames without reflecting it back blindingly.

The temple priestess released Frostor's hand and stood before the edge of the fire, arms outspread. With a wave of each hand she brought her two palms together, the flames before her shrinking down in proportion to the space left between her arms. As her fingers embraced their counterparts the flames ceased to exist, and below them where they had once originated was a sparklingly clear pool of water. She sat down upon the raised edge of the pool, robes flowing behind her across the crystal floor, and beckoned for Frostor to do the same.

As Frostor drew her legs up beneath her and peered into the pool the priestess outstretched one hand over the water, the tip of her finger uncurling until it was the only point, then dipped it slowly into the still pool. From around her finger ripples grew and spread, ringlets that had soon reached the farthest corners of the pool, tiny waves that seemed to glow at the peak of each rise until they vanished from sight upon hitting the pool's edge. She withdrew her finger the moment the first ring had vanished, letting the ripples plot their course across the water's surface until they had run themselves out. But as Frostor stared into the pool curiously she saw that in the ripple's wake the water no longer reflected the temple around them, indeed it had grown a dark, bottomless blue, and was quickly growing blacker by the second.

The priestess put a finger to her lips as Frostor's mouth opened to question, and with a disappointed sigh she looked back to the water, one hand idly fingering the blue rose which lay upon her lap. Bending in closer she watched as the dark waters began to shift, a hazy image slowly emerging from the depths of the pool. It steadily grew brighter until a solid image looked up at them, and Frostor gasped in alarm.

It was the lifeless body of a young girl floating in cold, dark waters, her dark hair streaked with gold floating like a curtain around her head, eyes closed and blue lips parted, limbs spread eagle around her body.

"You are at a crossroads, young one," the priestess said softly, jerking Frostor out of the shocked daze she had fallen into. It was enough to have felt death, and to be told you died, but to see your own corpse was so much more disturbing.

The priestess waved he hand over the pool and the image disappeared to be replaced by another, which threatened to spill tears from Frostor's eyes.

"Your family."

Frostor nodded numbly.

Her grieving parents could be seen through a hazy picture clutching each other, Frostor's mother sobbing hysterically upon her husband's shoulder.

"Your death will cause them much pain, you are their only child and they love you despite the hardships they place you through."

Frostor could only watch stunned as the reality of her death crept upon her.

With a wave of her hand the priestess banished the image the pool and another took its place. The scene was that of a wild land, heavy brush and trees creeping over a small dirt path that wound its way through the tangled forest, pale yellow light filtering in through the high treetops overhead, it was a land Frostor had never seen before. Suddenly through the brush came a young boy, wearing simple peasant clothes, gashes and wounds covering his young body, eyes wide and terrified. The source of his injury came soon after, a giant spider that stood two men tall, its venom dripping fangs snapping close to the boys heels. Though no sound came through the pool Frostor could feel the screams of the boy as he tripped and fell, the creature looming behind him ready for the kill. Faster than humanly possible though a dark figure sprang out from the trees and kicked aside the spider, a long staff in their hand which subsequently landed many hard hitting blows against the monster. With a shudder the spider folded up its legs and fell to the side unmoving, knocking over whole trees under its massive weight.

The boy's rescuer knelt down and helped the young lad to his feet, and in that moment a shaft of light fell upon the warrior. The image moved in closer to the man's face and Frostor stared down in wonder. He was dressed in the simple armor of a monk, head bare and shoulder length brown hair tied back away from his face, a face that held much kindness and strength in just that one expression. His eyes were a vibrant yellow gold, a long thin scar running from the corner of his slitted eye to the bottom of his cheek bone, lips that pulled back into a kind smile as he spoke to the boy before him.

Looking into those eyes, Frostor felt a deeper feeling of trust and companionship than she had ever felt with anyone else. This man, whoever he was, with that single smile she knew she would willingly give her loyalty and trust, become his most faithful friend and protector, carrying him through the best and worst times of his life.

Unexpectedly the image changed again and Frostor almost cried out in protest, but kept silent when she saw the next image before them. A war ravaged land was spread before her, bodies littering a burned field, torn flags and weapons now lost to their masters were strewn about. A line of wounded men came into view, blood everywhere and quickly flowing out of badly bandaged wounds, entire limbs missing, cut clean by an enemy's sword or ripped off by things more terrifying and powerful. Slowly, one by one, they fell to their deaths, yet the line of wounded never ended, stretching over the field in both directions.

"There are too many to all be healed," the priestess explained. "Priests are hard to find and some have already perished in the battle. You would have been there." She turned to stare solemnly at Frostor. "Within you lies the possibility of becoming a great healer, more than what the Council of Healers could ever teach you. But when you die, you will not be at that battle field, healing the wounded by the hundreds."

As Frostor silently absorbed this information the image changed again to that of the inside of a warm tavern, firelight flickering off the wooden walls, tables filled with men and women laughing and conversing. Near the large fireplace stood a long table, seated around it a group of intelligent and wise looking individuals, and surprisingly the man whom Frostor had seen before in the forest scene. He looked older, a few more light scars marring his face, but his smile and laughing eyes were the same ones she had seen before. A man-lizard at the center of the table rose and the entire tavern fell under a hush, all eyes turned towards the saurian as he began to speak.

Frostor could see many of the faces in the tavern, individuals she felt she had met before but could not place. A beautiful woman with long shining brown hair, the insignia of the priesthood engraved upon the band of leather around her head. A small halfling that was nearly jumping up and down in his chair with excitement as he watched the elder saurian speak, his jeweled staff that should have been left at the door clutched tightly in his right hand. To the saurian's right was an enchanting woman with flaming orange hair that rested wildly about her head, her green eyes filled with love and intelligence as she watched him speak. A man wearing a dark cloak, jet black hair and bright blue eyes holding a wealth of wisdom watched quietly from a corner table, a quirky smile twitching the corner of his lips. A woman with short blond hair that sat with cat-like patience in her chair, her almond shaped eyes a green-yellow that were largely dilated in the dark room. These were only a few in the room that held over 30, each smiling face like a distant memory to Frostor, one large family, a brotherhood of friends and lovers, husbands and wives.

The saurian had finished speaking and pulling his embroidered cloak about him he sat down once more in his chair as a roaring applause by the rest of the people in the tavern commenced. He turned to the golden eyed monk and placed a warm hand on his shoulder, both men smiling with accomplishment. With a wave for silence each table was brought dishes of food from the tavern's kitchen, flasks of wine and mugs of beer brought on full trays from the bar, and a great feasting celebration began.

As Frostor gazed down into this warm scene she felt a longing to share in the company of these people well up inside her. There was something so appealing about that sense of belonging, of being part of something greater than what you were as just an individual, to be loved unconditionally because you were family and one of them. Yet each person was so unique and different that it was not a family of blood, but one built upon trust and friendship, the desire to protect and teach, to just be there and know that your smile and companionship made all the difference in someone's day.

"Would I, have been one of them?" Frostor asked hesitantly as the image began to fade once more, the bright orbs of torchlight the last to disappear into the dark water.

"Yes, child. Had you lived, many years later you would have been made part of that brotherhood, and quite happily. Your talents would have made you highly sought after, but it is your kindness and understanding that would lead you to create the bonds that tie you to that clan. However," she added, and with a wave of her hand the water cleared, returning it to the pristine blue it had been before. "These images were of a future that has not yet come to pass. It is only what may happen, not what will, for only we can determine what the future holds for us.

"Alustria has taken favor upon you, young one, and you are now presented with a choice, something that very few, if any, are blessed with. As it is now, you have died. Yet you are also here, in living flesh and once again whole. But this is only a fork in the path where you must choose which road to take. Perhaps death would be the right road to take if you feel that you have not the strength to challenge the ones who love you yet hold you back. Life is a difficult and trying journey, with loss and pain and suffering felt many, many times. To forgo that would be to enter into an existence of everlasting peace and solitude, where you will always feel loved and welcomed, and where death is nonexistent.

"However if you were to choose life, that future which you witnessed may not come to pass, or may somehow be changed by the choices you make in life. But know this - none of the horrors will change, nor will you ever become part of that family unless you find the courage to break away and follow your dreams that you so very much wanted to live before you fell into that lake. It will be hard, full of tears and pain, you know deep down that you will have to discard everything you once knew and believed in and turn your back upon the things you love most. My child, have faith!"

With those words Frostor clutched the blue rose, her eyes downcast and focused on the water that once held the possibilities of the future open for her to see. She could hardly believe the words she had heard, that she was being given a second choice at life, but also the option to continue on the path she had already fallen on and enter the afterlife. What inside her had compelled the goddess Alustria to show such favor? She had done nothing in her life that deserved such rare and generous treatment. But no, this wasn't the time to dwell on that. She had a feeling that her time in this place was not eternal, that her decision had to made, and soon.

She had seen the atrocities that the future held for her, a great war that she would take part in, something she knew should could never turn away from, the chance to heal and save lives. And the priestess had spoken of a talent inside Frostor that would come to be sought by many later, oh the temptation to discover that was so great! And that man, the man with the golden eyes that threatened to drown Frostor with their trust, she wanted to see those eyes more than anything.

But, that future was based solely upon her following her dreams of freedom. She had already seen what her demands could do to her family, the friction between them was so great now that to confront them again with her desires seemed a greater trial than anything she could be able to face. Couldn't she decide to live though and return to them without any more mention of what she felt in her heart? She had already lost them once, the thought of losing them once more by her own choice was too painful to even conceive.

Yet the memories of what she had seen here, she knew they would haunt her forever if she chose not to follow that path, trapped forever in her home by the Council and her parents and always wondering if that future was coming true without her. Perhaps it was best to choose the path of death, to move on and accept what fate had already brought about for her. In the afterlife she wouldn't think on what she had given up, wouldn't know the pain of indecision, wouldn't have to face pain and heartache and the horrible images of war and carnage...

'Child, have faith!' The words were so clear in her mind that Frostor knew then without doubt the path she was destined to take. With eyes set hard with resolution she faced the priestess, and made her decision.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

No, it wasn't like that day. Today the wind was fierce and cold, blowing the snow that had fallen into high drifts the night before into a blinding curtain of white. It swirled around the tall mountain like a cyclone, cutting its way through sharp outcroppings and the low passes, namely the one in which stood the army of the Guardians of the Mystic Mountain.

Frostor's white horse snorted a long jet of steam, its hooves pawing the hard snow packed ground in front of it impatiently. With a gentle pat of her gloved hand Frostor calmed the horse, her gaze looking out over the men and women who stood and rode alongside her. Ninjas, Cavaliers, and Slayers lined up ready at the front of the ranks, weapons shifting hands, feet ready to spring forward at the call. Behind them were the Sorcerers and Druids, their spells being muttered through shivering lips as the last enchantments were placed upon the fighters. The Priests and fighter-healers stood ready at the back of the ranks, eyes trained heavily upon the front fighters whose blood would spill first and need their healing powers the most.

With a glance to her right Frostor looked upon her fellow rider with a deep sense of nostalgia and confidence. His bay colored horse stood tall and patient, the rider very much of the same countenance. Though his hair was still shoulder length and oft found tied back, it was now darker than it had been in his youth, loose strands whipping around a face that gained a new scar each time an opponent proved they were able to gain a lucky hit on the ninja. He turned after a moment and faced her, golden eyes twinkling with the expectation of the fight that was about to commence.

"It's your call Frostor," Kyber said loudly over the roar of the wind.

She nodded and turned back to look over the battle field. Below them lay a valley somewhat guarded by the wind, where a formidable army was marching steadily across. Their chosen enemy had taken the bait it seemed. When she gave the signal they would charge down out of the mountains and fall upon them by surprise, a quick defeat with few losses was what they were all hoping for.

For Frostor had seen her share of wars, that she was commander and leader of this one was no surprise. And it had taken her many long and weary years to reach this point. All had come to pass as the pool had predicted to her. Kyber, her most trusted and dear friend, the man with golden eyes who had so entranced her, she had never told him of that time in her past, when she had been on the verge of life or death. She had returned to the living world heavy hearted, knowing what she had to do in order to change the future. With only the clothes on her back and a small parcel of food she had left home, renouncing the family and town she had grown up in. But indeed, she carried her faith in their love every step of her journey, and one day received a letter from a messenger sent by her parents many months later. They had forgiven her and only wanted her to know that they wished her well, and if she was ever in need, to only send word home and they would do everything in their power to help the daughter whom they loved with all their hearts.

Life had held many trying and painful moments since then, but not one day did Frostor regret the decision she made in the temple. The sparking blue rose, forever covered in a thin layer of frost from the Temple of Alustria, lay wrapped carefully in an old chest in the farthest corner of the vault under her home in Duskan. Perhaps one day she'd tell the tale and unwrap the rose. But for now she had a war to fight, and a clan to defend the honor of.

With whispered words a familiar spell left Frostor's lips, and a healing glow descended over the entire ranks of her army. Faces turned up as a hush fell, the wind suddenly dying and the snow drifting down to rest. The pause was long and spoke volumes, for when Frostor suddenly cried out the call of battle, all charged forward as one.