Prologue: Cracks In The Ice
The storm was ruthless.
Numbing, dragon-sweeping winds plowed treacherously across the already freezing icy plains. The sound of it was hypnotizing, drawing all attention inescapably to it and muffling any other, lower noise. The snow and sleet it drove pummeled the tough terrain with an outrageous, unyielding force. Even walking through it was out of the question, unless of course, one wished to be impaled by flying debris or get horribly lost.
Yet amidst it all, Shatter paced the icy balcony outside his room, back and forth and back again like a study in perpetual motion. The wind howled relentlessly around his head, comforting him in its frigid embrace. From above, his ice-blue scales would have melted into the balcony without a trace even if the storm weren’t there.
So much the better, he thought with a glance upward. The various windows, terraces, and open hallways of the Ice Palace offered little privacy to any dragon who sought a peaceful moment by themselves.
That’s probably purposeful, he reflected. So that the Queen can keep an eye on her various council members, advisors, and upper Circle dragons. Like myself.
As a member of the Circle of Ministry, Shatter was expected to live in the main Palace. And as the Minister of Defense, he was further expected to remain close to the Queen at all times, commanding her personal guard. Sure, it was the highest position in the kingdom attainable by non-royalty. Sure, he should be eternally grateful for his nomination.
But it wasn’t enough for him.
It was never enough for him.
Three moon more cycles. Only three. Then I’ll be the King of this frozen wasteland and everything in it. I’ll show the other tribes exactly how strong the Icewings really are.
He let out a small chuckle and gazed towards the sunset, a small peach smudge in the white-grey-blackness of the storm. Eleven years ago, his parents had been the top Generals in the kingdom during the final battle in the Skywing-Icewing war. The victory had been so completely and utterly flawless that the previous Queen had rewarded them with whatever they wished. They could have chosen almost anything for themselves.
They chose their dragonet Shatter instead.
They requested that he be betrothed to the Queen’s daughter, Silverfrost, and it was agreed to. Six hours and one royal edict later, Shatter was officially the future King.
And now he was just a talon-length away from seizing that power.
It could not come fast enough.
“Hello? Shatter?” a familiar voice called from the direction of his room, startling him. “Are you here?”
That would be Drift, arguably the most annoying dragon known to Pyrrhia. And unfortunately, the Queen’s private messenger.
“What is it?” he said, glancing towards the archway into his room. He felt the hint of a scowl settling on his face, and immediately replaced it with a mask of calm. It wouldn’t do to anger the Queen again by insulting Drift.
A thin, pure white dragon stalked out serenely, recoiling and ducking her head against the wind as the sleet hit her scales. She had to tuck her wings snuggly to her sides to prevent them from being buffeted every which way by the gale. “I’ll never understand how you stand this, much less enjoy it.”
Shatter smirked inwardly. Not all Icewings enjoyed being outside during the winter storms. The wind was known to occasionally break icicles the size of tree trunks off the various glaciers and fling them halfway across the Ice Kingdom at tremendous speeds. To others, it might seem reckless, but to Shatter, the storms seemed an incarnation of the force and fury in his heart. The storms could not hurt him. They could not hurt one of their own.
“The Queen requests your presence immediately,” Drift said after a moment, watching his face with those horrible bloody pink eyes he had been trying so hard to ignore. She was the only albino dragon in the entire Icewing tribe, and Shatter fervently wished that Queen Silverfrost had executed her at hatching like the other defects and cripples. Those eyes didn’t simply stare, they burned into your soul like red-hot spears or frozen thorns. Like they knew your every thought.
Like they wanted you dead.
“Already?” he said. “Impossible. The next Ministry meeting isn’t for another full moon. Tell the Queen that my defense report will be ready then.”
“You have your orders, Minister,” Drift responded smoothly. Her gaze never wavered for a second, practically daring him to glance away. “I wouldn’t want to be the one to keep her waiting.”
So that’s the way you want to play it, eh? Shatter thought. Like there’s nothing I can do about your insolence because you’re the Queen’s pet? Fortunately, there are ways to . . . change your viewpoint, if necessary.
“Fine,” he said, trying not to sound snappish.. “Tell her that I’ll meet her in the council room. Alone.”
“Actually,” Drift said, expression painfully calm, “I was ordered to escort you to the throne room. But if you’d like to go by yourself, then . . .”
I get the hint, you moons-cursed abomination. Maybe you should get mine.
“No,” he said, forcing himself to bite back a growl. “That will do just fine. In fact, why keep her waiting any longer?”
He took off into the storm and angled upwards towards the throne room. The sound of Drift’s strained wing beats echoing faintly behind him through the howling gale sounded sweeter than any royal musician. It was one of his favorite pastimes to get revenge against her in little ways, to torture her in a manner the Queen couldn’t argue with. This was one of the better ones he had thought of, and on the spot too. Sometimes, he impressed even himself with his killer wit.
Once again Shatter glanced across the frozen tundra towards the horizon. The pink had faded, leaving a beautiful icy blackness free to descend. It really was perfect . . .
A formless mass came tumbling out of the darkness and sliced painfully across his left foreleg, leaving a bloody blue gash. Now that he noticed, the storm really was a bad one. His wings lurched in unpredictable directions as the wind buffeted them, trying to throw him broken to the ground. Perhaps flying dead into it wasn’t the best idea. But on the other talon, if he was inconvenienced, then Drift must be absolutely miserable. His heart felt the tiniest bit lighter at the thought.
All too soon, the balcony leading to the throne room loomed out of the blizzard. He landed and continued inside without so much as a glance behind him.
At first glance, the throne room looked completely undecorated. No gold glimmered from the floor, no tapestries adorned the walls or soaring buttresses, and not a single bloodstain interrupted the translucent blue columns.
Instead, a thousand crystalline designs were etched into every available surface, inside every sweeping curve and behind every arching pillar. Some proclaimed the conquests of past Queens, others the unsurpassable might of the Icewings, and still others the history of Pyrrhia, from the very beginning of dragon rule, the Scorching itself. Nothing was left plain. Blue ice and snowstone tiles formed a colossal mural in the center of the floor, with the face of every Queen to ever rule the tribe. There were hundreds.
But most impressive of all was the throne itself. Blades and needles of ice shot out from behind a stunning imperial blue sapphire carved into the single most intricate object in the entire world. Rare blue-green snowstone in perfect fractal steps formed the dais it sat on. A throne fit for the ruler of the most powerful tribe to ever exist.
Unfortunately, the actual Queen currently sitting on it was less impressive. Yes, she was beautiful, with perfect silver markings running along her wings, claws and horns. Her scales were an ivory white, and her eyes shot dark emerald daggers at seeing him enter. (Must have been my balcony entrance, Shatter thought.) She radiated an air of haughty command throughout the entire room. Queen Silverfrost was most definitely a more independent ruler than her now-dead mother. But that independence found less-than-Queenly modes of expression far too often. Hence an albino as her personal messenger. How undignified.
Almost as if on cue, Drift staggered into the room from the balcony, regained her balance, and bowed low to Silverfrost, completely ignoring the remnants of the storm drizzling from her body. “My Queen.”
Silverfrost frowned at the frozen rain hanging off Drift’s wings, then looked over at Shatter. “Why exactly did you fly here in this storm? Was it to prove a point again?”
She exhaled deeply as Shatter ducked his head, confirming her guess. “Well, the only point you’ve proved is that you can’t be trusted with your own ego. You should have known better than to pull another stunt like that. It seems that simply allowing you to stand outside during a storm is too much of a risk. If you won’t control yourself, then I won’t hesitate to do it for you.”
“I understand,” Shatter said, seething inwardly at being needlessly treated like a dragonet. “I won’t fly during the storms anymore.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Silverfrost said, her voice relaxing. “I can’t lose the Captain of my guard to a moons-cursed icicle of all things.” She paused for a moment to let what she had said sink in.
“Now, for the reason I called you here,” she began again. “Do you remember Starshade?”
Shatter vaguely remembered seeing a shy, anxious Nightwing talking with the Queen at the Night Kingdom’s last Two Moon Festival. The memory was somewhat revolting to him. “I do.”
“Good.” He didn’t like the steely, serious look that suddenly crossed her face. “Because I’m going to marry him in five days and I want you at the ceremony.”
Shatter stared at her blankly, unable to comprehend or do anything but think.
SHE’S GOING TO DO WHAT!?
What about our betrothal?
What about my parents’ reward?
WHAT ABOUT MY KINGSHIP!?
All the power he had waited for, the dream of his entire life, gone. Vanished. Utterly and completely shattered.
“You want WHAT?” he roared at her suddenly. “You’re going to just call off our betrothal THREE MOONS BEFORE OUR MARRIAGE? Do you care NOTHING about me? How did you even arrange this?”
“Yes, yes, I know it’s unfortunate for you,” Silverfrost responded calmly, glancing at her talons. “But please understand that I never really liked you at all. This was all my mother’s idea. You’re a good adviser and a good guard to me. Nothing else. I wouldn’t have married you even if I hadn’t met Starshade. And as for how I arranged this, I’ve been communicating with him by letter and the Seer’s Globe.”
So that’s what all those sessions with the Globe behind closed doors were about. So she could betray me right behind my back.
“I trusted you,” he spat, almost quivering with fury. “I was going to be King. You’d take that all away from me without a second thought?”
“Not completely,” Silverfrost responded, looking sincerely into his eyes. “I never could find a way to tell you, knowing it would break your heart. So I had to do it now, or you wouldn’t have known until the ceremony. Please don’t take it too harshly. I never meant to hurt you. It’s just that I deeply and truly love him . . . and not you. Still, it would mean a lot to me if you would attend our marriage.”
“I WILL DO NO SUCH THING!” Shatter screamed. “You traitor! To think I actually trusted you!” With that, he spun and launched himself out the nearest window.
Drift’s voice echoed mockingly behind him, “He’ll be alright. All he needs is a little time to himself and he’ll forget the whole thing. Just ignore him for now and enjoy your marriage.”
Shatter started to cry and cursed loudly, over and over again, but the storm threw his words away, almost like how Silverfrost had thrown his world away.
It’s all gone. My life, gone. Everything.
You think that I’m going to just forget the whole thing? I never forget an insult. Never have and never will.
I especially never leave one unavenged.
He flew directly into his room and crashed next to his desk. A new scroll lay on top of his mail rack, the seal stamped with a strange geometric pattern in wax.
The mark unique to his spies.
Shatter ripped the seal off and read the contents with growing anticipation. As the last line slipped off his eyeballs, he started to shake his head back and forth, a shallow, painful laugh emanating from his tear-soaked snout.
I have something SO much better for the moment. I’ll bide my time. Play my cards carefully.
And in the end, Silverfrost and Drift are going to rue the day they crossed me. I will SHATTER them.
Chapter One: Fade To Red
One quiet and gentle, one anticipatory, and others that came and went.
Only the first two mattered to him.
They never left. They wanted him.
That was the first thing he ever remembered.
Soft silvery light filtered dimly through the hard walls of his world. It felt like liquid peace. It felt like home.
But it wasn’t where he would stay. Soon he would have to leave the cool darkness behind and join those voices. That was his destiny. He didn’t know why, but he just knew.
For now, though, he would stay quiet. Nothing would hurt him so long as he acted harmless, insignificant, and weak.
A voice echoed from everywhere and nowhere.
“Do you think he’ll hatch today?”
That was the anticipatory voice. The one with slightly too much nervousness. The one that acted a little like him. That much he could tell.
“It should,” the quiet voice said. “Mothers always know when their dragonets are going to hatch.” It paused. “At least, that’s what I’ve been told. But I'm not sure. Somehow he feels . . . late.”
“How so?” the nervous one asked. A sound of restless rhythmic tapping came from outside the walls. It was somehow a comforting beat. “Is he sick?”
“No,” the quiet one said. “Not sick. More like tired. Apparently some dragonets are like that when they hatch.”
A small, recollective chuckle.
“Not me though," the same voice continued. "Mother used to say that I wouldn’t stop wobbling around in my shell. And when I actually did hatch, I immediately pounced at her claws and started gnawing them. I still miss her, you know. My mother. She died of pneumonia when I was seven.”
“So you never actually challenged her for the throne?”
“No. Sometimes I feel soft because of it. And then I remember how she used to fly around the Kingdom with me. She’d show me everything from the largest glaciers to her childhood haunts. Then she’d hug me and tell me how one day it would all be mine, and how great of a Queen I’d be." A pause. "How could I possibly have killed her?”
“She sounds like the second best Queen ever. Because you’re the very best of all.”
“Oh stop it, you. You’re awesome too, if you’d just look at yourself for a moment.”
“All I see is a shy, pacifistic NightWing with a lopsided jaw who’s hopelessly in love with the IceWing Queen.”
“And that’s just the way I like you." He adored the sincerity of this one's tone. "Three moons, sit down and stop fidgeting for one second. Everything is going to be perfectly fine."
“I know. It’s just . . . aren’t you worried about the prophecy? Today is supposed to be the eclipse.”
“Even if he is part of the prophecy, I’ll love him just the same.”
The quiet voice whispered after a moment, close to his walls.
“Oh, my little darling. I love you. And I can’t wait for you to come out and meet us.”
He tapped softly on the wall closest to the voice, where a shadow had appeared. It felt ever so slightly warmer than the rest of his world. He didn't want it to leave. He wanted to stay with it, feel that warmth once again.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to come out now after all.
What was he waiting for?
Not yet, a small voice whispered inside his head. Be patient. All good things come in time.
That was . . . suspicious. It sounded like his own thoughts, but something seemed . . . off. Deeper. Smarter. Like an older version of him had wriggled through the past and into his brain.
You’ll understand one day, it responded cryptically. Although you’re aren’t far off.
If you don’t listen to me—umm, yourself—then everything you will ever love is going to end in chaos and ruin.
Just wait for the light to fade to red.
Trust me. Trust yourself.
Fine. He could wait a little longer.
“Is it just me, or is it getting colder?” the anxious voice asked jokingly. “Is that even possible in the Ice Kingdom?”
“Of course it is, silly. Fall in the Ice Kingdom is famous for its sudden cold snaps. Hold on. How can you even feel cold through your arm band?”
“It’s enchanted to reduce the effects of cold. Not eliminate them. The temperatures here feel like the normal range of temperatures back home in the Night Kingdom. That way I can still enjoy warm summer days and brisk winter ones.”
“Wow. I forget sometimes what a wise animus we have. Hoarfrost really is something, isn’t he? With his massive stacks of notes and strange trinkets all over the workshop, you’d almost think he was a scavenger or something.”
“Yeah, although just a little too enthusiastic about using his magic. I don’t quite trust those soul spells, you know. Darkstalker taught us that lesson.”
“That’s fair. Although there’s always Turtle and Anemone to prove you otherwise.”
Another pause. Longer this time.
“You really are worried about the prophecy, aren’t you?”
“Yes. What if he really does end up cursed like the seer said? And he ends up living a life of heartache, abandoned and alone? I could never forgive myself if that happened.”
“Oh, honey. We won’t let that happen. We’ll keep him right here next to us, show him all the love and care in the world, until he becomes the next King. I don’t have any sisters, nieces, or cousins in line for the throne, remember? And what about him being extraordinarily powerful? How could someone with immense power just be abandoned?”
“So maybe I’m a little irrational. But I’m still worried for him and his future.”
“Then why don’t you move over here, next to me? I could use a shoulder to lean against right now. It’s been a long seven days since I first started staying with the egg around the clock. That’s it. Just lean into me, and breathe. Calm down and let it all go for now. Stay here in the moment, with our perfect, beautiful egg.”
A long, soothing sigh.
“You always did know how to soothe away my fears. Just being around you helps my anxiety. And your beautiful words do the rest.”
I almost forgot just how much they loved each other, the voice in his head said with a muffled sob. Why couldn’t it have stayed that way forever?
What was that supposed to mean? Did they break up later on? But they sounded so happy together . . .
Don’t concern yourself with it right now, the voice insisted. It’s my past, and your future. You haven’t even hatched yet. Why should you know heartache and pain?
“It’s starting,” the anxious voice said.
“Then let’s watch it. To think that we get to see a triple solar eclipse. Us, part of the first and last group of dragons to ever see one.”
“It’s incredible. You know, from this angle, it looks like the moons are going to collide. What a spectacular catastrophe that would be.”
The voices went silent as the light started to wane.
Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, it trickled out of his grasp, like the relentless, unforgiving sand falling through an hourglass.
How did he even know what an hourglass was?
Look around you.
A faint, bloody tinge outlined the walls, although it cast no real light.
He started to kick at the walls with unseen, miniature foreclaws. Why were the walls so sturdy? Surely he could take a little longer to come out . . .
You need to hatch NOW. Try your back talons.
He did so, and a small crack materialized under the force. Another kick, and an entire network of fractures appeared.
An unnatural panic started to feel his veins, and he redoubled the attack on his home-turned-prison.
A lone fragment shot out of place, into the dark, cold world beyond.
Prying at the edges of the hole, he dislodged more and more pieces, but it was still too small for him to fit through.
The entire roof fell away.
And he was free.
Clumsily, he flopped out of the scattered remains of his shell and looked around at his new world. He was laying on a sparkling, harshly cold platform with intricate rails and barriers on all sides.
Ice, his mind chimed. You’re in the highest part of the royal hatchery.
Two dragons sat directly around him, gazing down with watery, far-away looks in their eyes. He instinctively recognized the anxious one, a coal-black Nightwing with deep blue underscales and myriads of glittering . . . stars? . . on the upturned corners of his wings.
The other dragon must be the quiet one, then. The silver highlights along her forelegs and wings looked especially comforting against the soft white of her scales, somehow.
Just the mere amount of love emanating from both these dragons made him want to crawl into their arms and stay there forever.
The scarlet glow to everything drew his large, curious eyes upward. As his gaze met the zenith, he saw a bloody ring in the sky. That was the source of the light. It felt . . . wrong. Horrifying and oppressive. Like someone had drawn out the essence of evil and spun it into a fiery crown, then hung it in the sky to infect the land with madness and disease.
His scales started to tingle. Actually, it felt closer to a relentless, painful itch spreading down his body. Was that normal for a hatching?
Suddenly, the pain flared to an unbearable level. Like he was being ripped apart scale by scale while being burned alive. Like he was trapped on the brink of death with nowhere to go. Like his soul and flesh and organs had turned into liquid sun and were consuming him maliciously. He opened his jaws and emitted a soundless scream with unseeing bloodshot eyes staring skyward, his whole body deathly stiff.
I’m sorry, apologized the voice in his head. But it had to happen. For a chance to save us all.
After what felt like an eternity, the agony subsided and he collapsed to the ground, panting quickly and shallowly. Or what should have been the ground.
“STARSHADE!” screamed the white dragon, whose talons he had fallen into. Clearly, she thought that he was dying. That she was about to lose her only dragonet in the first few minutes she'd known him.
He lifted his head slowly, trying to reassure her. Thankfully, it worked. She crushed him to her chest and held him close, firm and yet gentle at the same time.
“I thought I’d lost you,” she sobbed, almost drowning out her own words. “I thought you were gone.”
“Silverfrost, what just happened!?” the black dragon (who must be Starshade) demanded. “Was that a seizure?”
“I don’t know,” Silverfrost responded, trying to gain control of her racing heart. “But he’s breathing again. As long as he's okay.”
She cleared her teary eyes and looked down at him fiercely. Oh, how he wished he could fall into those beautiful, fathomless pools of soft green for the rest of eternity!
“I will NOT lose you,” she promised. “You are my perfect, beautiful dragonet. You are everything to me. I’ll love you forever, no matter what.
"My dearest Polaris. Guiding star of the IceWings.”
And with that, she let her tears break loose once more and held him tightly to her chest, while Starshade spread his wings around them both.
Polaris, the voice mused.
A fitting name indeed.
But how ironic.
Chapter Two: My Past, Your Present
Almost three years later . . .
Polaris groaned sleepily as the sunrise flooded his room, pouring through the window and into his eyelids. Which he quickly scrunched closed.
Ugggh. Why did it have to be dawn already? Couldn't the world give him ten more minutes?
His teacher would be annoyed if he wasn’t in the council room soon. For another boring policy session, followed by either an etiquette lunch or a council sit-in. And to top it all off, his nobility memorization test was tomorrow. Which meant several hours of studying before collapsing gratefully back to bed.
Oh well. The sooner I get up, the sooner can get it all over.
Shoving his sheets back, Polaris sat up and yawned. The frigid air felt good on his scales. A few snowflakes lay on the ornate sill of the window, where the sun was still doing its best to blind him.
He stood up completely, stretched, and set to work folding the sheets neatly on his bed. Surprisingly, a slab of ice was rather comfortable to sleep on. Just as long as you had a pillow. Or a couple dozen.
That completed, he looked around his room to make sure everything else was tidy. From the open doorway, his sleeping nook was set neatly into the left wall, with dark wooden scroll niches to one side (they had to import those from the southern regions of the Kingdom) and a rectangular, silver-bordered mirror on the other. The far wall contained that one full-length, scavenger-cursed window. And his desk lay to the right, covered in various ink vials, royal dispatches, and his unending loathing for homework.
Ha. Maybe I'm more similar than I realize to the commoner dragonets.
The black leather scroll pouch hanging off the hook on his desk caught his attention. He’d had the thing for over a year now, and it was probably the only reason he’d survived school this long. Lifting it around his shoulders, he felt for the familiar objects inside. Six round, cylindrical scrolls? Check. His favorite paintbrush? Check. His sanity? That was probably still somewhere in the last moon cycle, bobbing around with the 50 Kinds of Ice and How to Recognise Them recitation.
Well, that was normal.
He stepped over to the mirror to arrange his spikes and took a good look at himself.
Even though his scales and physique looked like that of a normal white IceWing, it was immediately obvious he was a hybrid. His wings faded gradually to black throughout their whole expanse, with the darkest parts along the rear border. The signature NightWing star scales that scattered outwards across them glittered in the opposite shade to the background color: black on white, silver on grey, and white on black. If most dragons weren't bothered by hybrids, they might say that his wings were quite aesthetic.
His head was shaped like an elongated diamond, similar to that of a snake or a wolf, with horns curving slightly backward. The curves on his snout were significantly more aerodynamic than a normal IceWing’s, and the central layer of rhombus-shaped scales overlapped in a narrower pattern. But most strikingly of all, in the middle of his forehead slightly above his eyes sat a slightly oblong, four-rayed, convex star in shades of gleaming, metallic silver. Just above the star, an orderly row of long, thin, NightWing-esque spines marched between his horns, then merged into the Icewing mane, and continued once more in a row down to the very end of his tail, where it splayed off into something resembling needles on a pine branch. Very, VERY extremely sharp needles. Each of the spines was colored white at the base, but had the same gradient as his wings, fading to black at the tips.
His teeth and claws were normal, excepting of course the IceWing serrations (and that one small fish bone still jammed between his top molars from last night’s dinner), but he still couldn’t help feeling like they made him into something else, a killing machine in a noir visage. Something cold blooded and ruthless.
He shook that image off, horrified. He’d never be anything like Albatross from the ancient legends.
Even if it means saving my tribe?
That certainly didn’t help his conscience any. He hated this particular inner-conflict.
He met his own eyes in the reflection, seeking answers within himself. All he saw was a pair of deep blue glassy orbs, with soft milky swirls in the iris. And a slight red tinge to the pupil. His other reminder of the moons that cursed him.
Come now, that now-familiar voice said. I wouldn’t consider it a curse.
Why not? You won’t get out of my head.
I never had a choice. We’re the same dragon, in different ways, bound together by the eclipse. Except I’m trapped in all of your futures, and you’re trapped in one of my pasts.
You still haven’t told me what that’s supposed to mean. Are you ever going to tell me, or should I just start ignoring your for the rest of my life?
Like you could ever do that. I can be very persuasive at times, if I do say so myself. Also, I can handily see exactly what I need to say in order to get your attention.
Don’t you think that’s a little twisted? Manipulating me into whatever you want just because I’m blind to the future? I’m no seer, as you already know.
Ah, but you are.
What in the three moons do you mean? I’ve never had a vision, delivered a prophecy, or even felt the strands of fate!
Be honest with yourself. You were born under three moons, remember? Three moons blotting out the sun, but still shining. An alternate set of full moons, in fact.
You would have hatched as a powerful seer and mind reader under those moons, if you were simply thrice moon-born. But the effects of the eclipse were . . . unprecedented. Instead of mind reading, you got prophecy alone. It formed a consciousness from the future paths that you would have seen.
So what you’re saying is . . .
Your power became a sentient entity, somehow.
It became me.
I’m simultaneously experiencing every one of your endless futures, and yet bound to none of them. Which makes me, by the way, an excellent dragon to know.
Or a very dangerous one. You could tell me anything, just to guide me down the wrong paths.
That’s very clever of you. But remember that I also share your future mindsets. Why would I mislead myself? All that would do is generate more painful futures for me to experience. I would not abuse my power, nor myself.
That’s true, I guess. You say that you see all my futures. Tell me, do I end up becoming . . . whatever that is?
Polaris tipped his head at the mirror.
Unfortunately, I can’t say. There’s too many possibilities right now. And even if a certain path was clear, there’s a high likelihood that you would end up falling even further down that path, or maybe even kill yourself in desperation, if I told you the details.
You really see all of that?
So far, you’ve avoided nineteen potential suicides just this morning. And are about to blunder right into a very stern lecture with your teacher if you don’t get to the council room in five minutes.
Great. You just had to remind me of that, didn’t you?
With a last glance at his spikes (they were satisfactorily arranged), he strode out the door, down the hall to the nearest flight platform, and launched into the crisp morning light. Still, he couldn’t help feeling like there was something he had forgotten . . .
He brushed the thought from his mind and surveyed the Palace below and around him.
The main Ice Palace had been continuously improved over the course of centuries, millenia even, and with no opportunity for the other tribes to damage or destroy it (the SeaWing Summer Palace rose unbidden to his mind), it had become more of a small city.
A thousand spires rose high into the air to meet the dawn, complexes of arched walkways soared between the various spiraling towers and domes, and hundreds of dragons in all shades of silver and blue and white reflected the morning light like a vast handful of diamonds and sapphires thrown into stunning chaos. Except that chaos was somehow organized and working with itself to fulfill all the needs of the entire Ice Kingdom’s government.
AND ON A DAILY BASIS.
One day, he’d be the center of all this attention. Him and his Queen.
I’m still waaaaaay too young to be thinking about that. Mother’s lectures must be getting to me. “You’re my only dragonet, I never wanted another, you’re the future of this Kingdom, blah blah blah, stern stare and significant pause.”
He chuckled softly at just how real (and ridiculously serious) Silverfrost’s voice sounded in his head. Although she really was a great Queen. And an even more amazing mother.
There was the side entrance to the council room peeking out of the rest of the palace. It looked just like every other one of the hundreds and hundreds of entrances, but he’d know it anywhere.
He, unfortunately, also recognized the disapproving look on the dragon standing in that same doorway and looking up at him.
Chapter Three: A Trip To The Sea
Bearberry shook his pale, primrose-purple head in frustration as Polaris landed on the ledge next to him, just hastily enough to be awkward. “You’re late. AGAIN.”
“I’m sorry, Bearberry,” Polar said, keeping his face blank and gaze level. Acting submissive or groveling for mercy was below him. Excuses wouldn’t help him either. In fact, they’d only land him in even more trouble. Better just to take the punishment and move on with your dignity intact.
“This is a serious matter,” Bearberry said, anchoring Polaris to the spot with his glare. “Being late once or twice would be understandable, if not acceptable, but seven times in the last moon cycle? Surely you realize that I’m going to have to lower your ranking.”
There go my chances of getting off lightly, Polaris thought with a slight internal wince that he did not by any circumstances let show on his face. He had exceptional control over his outward appearance, thanks to constant, lifelong practice.
“And,” Bearberry continued, pulling an ornate metal ring out of a nearby desk and dangling it on his talon accusingly, “you left your circlet in the armory yesterday. Which means another step down the rankings. As the sole Prince of the IceWings, you are the future of this tribe. Careless mistakes will not be tolerated any longer. Now put this on and follow me to the council room so we can begin our lesson.”
So that’s what I was forgetting, Polaris thought as he fell in step behind Bearberry. My stupid blubber-covered, narwal-tusked, brine-snorting—
An uproar of laughter erupted inside his head, and he cut himself off, stung and confused.
What’s so funny, seal-face? Couldn’t you have at least told me about the circlet? Maybe yesterday, if you had any heart?
Oh, I could have. But the futures told me that it would be so much more fun to watch you curse at a hunk of metal that never did anything to hurt you. By the three moons, was that worth it!
I could have avoided all this nonsense if you had just told me! Ugh. You are useless sometimes. And annoying.
Calm down. Your rankings aren’t going to suffer that much. It’ll be nothing more than an afterthought by tomorrow night. Trust me; I know your future.
Polaris curled his claws in, fuming, but stayed silent. So apparently his Voice not only refused to help him on tests (he never got a straight answer as to why), but he also liked playing twisted jokes on him. Well, he couldn’t change that, so why try?
Looking ahead, the somewhat cramped hallway opened into the side of a massive, U-shaped room with exceptionally high ceilings and a smooth tiled floor. Lavish, well-furnished ledges ran along the walls at all levels, with the higher ones set slightly further back. Each ledge was separated into somewhere around fifty personal sections, with the largest and finest ones at the ends of the room.
On the final side, a spectacular balcony surrounded by gargantuan floor-to-ceiling columns projected out from the middle of the frozen wall. That was where Mother made her various proclamations and edicts, along with sitting through hours of senseless arguments over which village got what supplies or whether such-and-such festival invitation was actually a clever ambush.
Bearberry motioned for Polaris to stay, lept from the tunnel, and coasted to the floor, landing with all the poise and elegance that was expected of a First Circle IceWing. Which was really strange, because Bearberry was usually quite lax in his movements. That could only mean . . .
“Now,” Bearberry instructed him, “you do the same.”
He’s offering me a chance to redeem myself, Polaris realized thankfully. A wave of relief crashed over him. If he did well enough on the tasks his teacher set forth, then he could repair the damage done to his rankings before they even got adjusted! His deepest gratitude went out to Bearberry.
Carefully, Polaris straightened himself up and leaped off the ledge, monitoring the position of his wingtips and tucking his claws in close. He was cautious to make every tiny detail as perfect as possible.
Keep yourself at a thirty degree angle with the ground. The head stays extended and eyes face forwards, focused on the spot where you intend to land. Note the air currents, and be prepared for any crosswinds or drafts.
Just before reaching the floor, he swept his wings up himself and tilted his body slightly above the horizontal, letting gravity do the rest of the work for him.
Bearberry nodded approvingly, sending little shivers of joy through Polaris’ spine and down his tail. He did something right on the first try! That never happened these days. His frazzled brain always forgot where to hold a corseque (one of the various polearms royalties were expected to be familiar with) or how to recite poetry with the correct flourish.
His excitement must have been practically overflowing, because Bearberry was smiling at him.
“You look like someone just dropped an entire Kingdom into your talons,” he laughed. “Startled and dubious, but definitely overjoyed. Is it really that surprising you learned your lessons well? After so long of doing them? Have some faith in yourself!”
“I do, but . . . it’s weird,” Polaris said, grasping for the right words. “Lately everything’s been in one ear and out the other," he admitted. "A blur. You’ve taught me so much in the last half-year that I can’t tell if rules and customs define an IceWing or the other way around!”
Bearberry laughed even harder. “It’s called being overworked. Which is why Queen Silverfrost and I have decided that you will be taking a break from school.”
Polaris’ eyes grew as large as moon globes.
“And,” Queen Silverfrost said, padding out from behind one of the columns, “you will be attending your first polar bear hunt tomorrow. Happy hatching day Polaris.”
“MOTHER!” Polaris yelled happily, throwing himself into Silverfrost’s waiting embrace. “Wait. Today’s my hatching day?”
“Oh, honey,” she responded warmly. “Of course it is. Come on. I’ve got something to show you.”
She took off toward one of the larger exits, and Polaris followed her, not quite knowing what to anticipate.
Strange to think I’m already three years old.
Happy hatching day to us indeed.
Outside, the mid-morning sun shone down cheerily, reflecting off the snow and ice to illuminate everything with hues of amber and gold. In essence, the entire landscape was a gigantic mirror focusing all the light directly into his eyeballs. It was really bright—a pretty adequate description of the whole Ice Kingdom, really.
Polaris ducked his head into the shadow of his wing. That helped a little, although it made flying awkward. Most IceWings had no problem whatsoever with the glare, but his eyes were more sensitive than their's.
In a different Kingdom, he’d probably get mocked for being different, but a) that was against a lot of rules, and b) he was mostly IceWing. Plus, his father and mother had a great relationship, so everyone was happy. All in all, just another reason why IceWings were the best tribe in Pyrrhia.
“Where are we going, Mother?” Polaris asked innocently, listening for little clues in her voice. He was pretty good at figuring out what she was going to say before she even said it, just by noting her tone of voice and (of course) earlier conversations.
“It’s a secret, dearest,” she responded with a loving glance in his direction. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
Was that a glimmer of excitement under her mask of regality? Or a touch of disappointment?
She’s hiding herself more carefully than usual today.
He waited for the Voice to respond, but nothing spoke back to him.
Ok, both of them are acting weird today.
Why did that disturb him? He touched his circlet subconsciously.
Around them, the glacial ridges surrounding the palace fell away to the icy coastal lowlands on the Northwestern coast. That complicated his attempts to unravel the mystery that was their destination.
Let’s see. There are three large palaces on the coast, but two of them are mainly used as fortresses these days. And we’re not flying in the right direction for the last one.
Looking down, Polaris saw a network of cracks starting to zigzag through the ice. It reminded him faintly of his hatching, with that silvery-white sheen.
The Northwestern ice fields were one of the Kingdom’s most distinctive features. Every winter, they grew pretty much exponentially, covering almost half of the entire circumpolar ocean according to the royal scientists. That made the ocean a potential land route for invasion from the SeaWings and SkyWings. And LeafWings, Polaris thought secretly, but he kept that to himself.
But other than that, the fields were mainly just a beautiful mosaic of icebergs and floes, covered with veritable mountains of snow.
“Ah, here we are,” Silverfrost said, then tucked into a steep dive.
Polaris cocked his head in confusion, hovering. Where were they exactly? Everything looked exactly the same as it had for the past thirty minutes. He watched as his mother wheeled out of sight around one of the larger icebergs.
Just follow her.
That’s it? No comment about what in the three moons I’m flying into? Fine. I’m going.
He steeled himself for anything and flew around to the other side.
“HAPPY HATCHING DAY POLARIS!”
Polaris nearly knocked himself out of the air in surprise. This side of the iceberg had been carved out into a wide open hollow. Which was currently filled with banquet tables, moon globes on strings, and around fifty loudly cheering dragons.
Polaris saw Starshade in the crowd, a small island of tranquility in the middle of the chaos, and landed beside him.
“Father, what is going on?” he asked, flustered and embarrassed at receiving so much attention from so many dragons at once. “What are you all doing here?”
“Celebrating your hatching day, son,” he said, smiling back shyly. “Silverfrost’s idea, of course, but we had to do something. Maybe less dragons would have been better . . .”
Polaris laughed and looked around him. Most of the First Circle nobles were here, holding various drinks, along with their dragonets. The tables were covered in everything from trays of penguins to an entire whale on one heavily reinforced slab of snowstone. With the sun beginning to set (Ice Kingdom days were short in the late autumn and winter, due to the high latitude), the moon globes were a pleasing aftereffect on the vibrant party below them.
“Attention please!” Silverfrost shouted over the din, clinking one claw loudly on a crystal glass filled with some unidentifiable bubbly pink drink.
She waited patiently as the entire party brought itself to order in ten seconds flat, an impressive feat.
“As you all know, we are here to celebrate the third hatching day of my son, Polaris. For the past two years, he has been learning the ways of life in the First Circle and, so far, has held himself with all the dignity and pride expected of him. I am more than proud to call him my dragonet. So let us celebrate this achievement together. A toast, in honor of my son!”
She raised her glass to the sky, and a host more followed hers along with a chorus of joyful shouts.
Polaris surveyed the crowd in amazement. All of these dragons were here for him. And not just his friends or nobles in the central palaces, but the ones from the outer palaces as well. Was that a touch of purple on his cheek reflected in the ice? He quickly brushed it away and stood up taller than before.
Pasque, one of his oldest friends, padded up with a huge grin on his face. “You’ve grown a lot since I met you. Remember that day in the Southern palace? 'Cause I definitely still do. Happy hatching day Polaris.”
Pasque bumped him playfully on the shoulder and held out an orb of complex silver rings that changed designs whenever he turned it. It was mesmerizing.
“Wow. Did you make this yourself?” Polaris asked, looking at the orb from different angles and trying to figure out how it fit together. “It’s absolutely stunning. Thank you so much!”
Pasque ducked his head slightly, gratified. “Anything for my best friend. I heard that you’ll be out of school for a while, right? Let’s meet up sometime soon!”
“Absolutely,” Polaris said, grinning back as Pasque walked away. One by one, each of the dragonets at the party (and some of their parents) approached him with gifts in their talons. He’d been introduced to them all at some point during his first year of schooling, and now their names were permanently carved into his brain.
He wasn’t friends with all of them, but that wasn’t because they weren’t friendly. He just liked having a few close, calm friends instead of a large friend group.
Eventually, the party started to die down as the sun set and a couple of moons rose above the horizon. Dragons said their goodbyes, then winged their way silently into the night. The servants started cleaning off empty tables and taking down the moon globes.
Silverfrost walked over to him as the last noble and his daughter took off behind her.
“So? Did you enjoy the party?”
Polaris thought for a moment.
“I did. By the way, the crab platters were really addictive. Definitely don’t bring those to anything where I’m expected to make an impression.”
Silverfrost laughed. “You mean like tonight? Well, I’m glad to hear you had fun. When we get back to the palace, Starshade and I each have one last gift for you. They’re really something special, if I do say so myself.”
“Oh mother, of course they’re going to be awesome,” Polaris said. “They’re from you, the best parents in the world. Thank you for everything.”
He wrapped his wings around Silverfrost and closed his eyes, breathing in her warmth. Nothing was quite as comforting.
Eventually, everything was cleaned up and the servants dismissed back to the palace. Polaris noted that many of them had the remnants of the banquet inside small containers to take home to their families. That was smart of Silverfrost, putting what other Queens considered garbage (even though it was perfectly fine) to better use. A couple of the servants hauled his mountain of gifts back home to his room.
The flight home was uneventful but comfortably dark and absolutely beautiful, as the heavens were covered in stars from horizon to horizon. He really liked the nighttime, and he always felt much less tired at midnight than at dawn. Probably because of his father’s NightWing blood, although Polaris thought he might have just ended up that way by accident.
As they landed on the balcony leading to the royal quarters, Starshade motioned for Polaris to stay while he and Silverfrost went inside. After a moment filled with soft rustling and one outstanding crash, he was waved into the room.
Starshade and Silverfrost were waiting for him by one of the tables, obviously trying to hide something in their claws.
As he entered the room, Starshade stepped forward.
“My son. I’m so proud of you. Happy hatching day.”
He opened his talons to reveal a supple, black leather scroll satchel heavily embroidered with silver thread. Taking it from him, Polaris drew a beautiful scroll with two silver center rods from the main compartment. And inside a hidden pocket on the side, a single dark brown paintbrush with silver inlay glittered dimly.
“They’re enchanted,” Starshade said. “The scroll will never run out of space, and turn to whatever you want just by thinking. The brush will switch colors and never run out of ink. And the satchel will automatically appear on you whenever you want it, along with the brush and scroll. I hope this helps in your studies from now on.”
“Three moons,” Polaris whispered in awe. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Thank you.”
Starshade nodded gently, then stepped back as Silverfrost took his place. She held out two perfect, spindle shaped smoky diamonds with long, triangular facets suspended from silver earring mounts. He put them in his already-pierced ears, feeling the weight.
“They’re gorgeous,” he said, admiring them in the mirror.
Silverfrost chuckled. “Good, because they’re enchanted too. Besides being unbreakable, they have a very special power. Once you do find a dragon you think suitable to be your Queen, give her one of these. It will link the two of you and warn you of any danger to the other, along with making them immune to the cold and the Great Ice Cliff. In case you don’t marry an IceWing.”
She winked and pulled him into a hug, then held him at wing’s length. “Now go get some sleep. Tomorrow is your first polar bear hunt, remember? We wouldn’t want you to be tired.”
“Alright,” Polaris said, stepping over to give his father a hug. “Good night. I love you both so much. Thank you for being the best parents in the world.”
He turned and took off into the darkness. A short flight to his room later, he laid his parent’s gifts down on his desk, running his talons over them gently. Silverfrost’s gift was thoughtful and geared towards the future, but his favorite of all was the scroll satchel, complete with the shy, loving look in Starshade’s eyes.
So that was why you wouldn’t say anything earlier, Polaris thought as he laid down to sleep.
I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for you. Happy hatching day.
Polaris smiled, then closed his eyes and let the calm darkness of sleep envelop his mind.
Chapter Four: Goodbye
Polaris awoke to talons shaking his shoulder gently, warm scales rubbing against his cold ones. Opening his eyes, he saw Starshade sitting next to him, barely visible against the darkness.
That was strange; it didn’t feel that early.
He sat up and yawned, rolling one shoulder. “Hey, Dad," he greeted in a tired voice. "To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Starshade stepped back so Polaris could get out of bed. “Oh, just thought I’d wake up my favorite son on this rather miserable day. Take a look outside and you’ll see what I mean.” The NightWing jerked his head at the large window that cut through the nearby wall.
Polaris glanced over to the window. Outside, snowflakes were rushing past at a steep angle, and the wind sounded in a low moan against a grayscale sky. Not a blizzard then, but definitely not fun to fly in. And even worse to look at.
“It’s delightful, eh?” Starshade commented wryly. “Let’s go downstairs and get some breakfast. Maybe it will clear up before we set out on the hunt.”
Unlikely, Polaris thought but did not say. He could usually tell how long the storms were going to last with relative ease, and this one showed no signs of stopping anytime within the next day.
After a short walk down the icy hallways and a couple of staircases, the smell of fresh fish wafted around them. Rounding a doorway, they entered into the main dining hall of the palace (there was a separate wing reserved for parties and ambassadorial receptions), where piles of tuna, albacore, cod, and salmon lay neatly piled on platters. Looking quite appetizing, he might add.
Shatter was already inside, and shot an odd look at Polaris from the corner as he walked over to grab a plate from the stacks of silver service. Polaris had never liked Shatter very much. The Minister often gave him uncomfortable looks and never actually talked to him. He also slept in late most mornings, so it was unusual that he was here so early.
“He’s coming on the hunt with us as Captain of the Queen’s guard,” Starshade said, following Polaris’ line of sight. “He’s already mapped a route for us to take, and apparently the bears are out in force today. So let’s eat quickly!”
Polaris put a couple of salmon on his plate and walked over to sit down at one of the room-length tables. Starshade joined him a moment later, plopping down just as Shatter padded out one of the back exits.
Why don’t you test out the satchel?
That’s a good idea, Polaris responded, mouth full of salmon. I want my satchel to appear around my shoulders, he continued, visualizing the exact position he wore his bag in. A moment later, in what looked like a blurring of the air, his bag appeared perfectly where he’d wanted it to. The sudden weight of it was comforting, somehow.
That’s so cool. To think that I own a couple of unique animus artifacts. How many other dragonets can say the same?
A few, but definitely not many. You’re going to have to go back and get the earrings before you leave, by the way.
Yeah. I wonder if they were naturally mined, or instead created by magic?
Does it really matter? All you know is that they’re special and that they’re a gift. Don’t take them lightly.
With the last fish gone from his plate, Polaris excused himself to Starshade and headed up to his room. While he was putting the earrings on, a knock sounded from the doorway.
Polaris turned around to see Drift waiting for him.
“The Queen wanted me to tell you that the hunting party will be leaving at noon,” she said, pink eyes blinking tiredly. “Is there anything you need?”
“No, thank you,” Polaris responded, eyeing her astutely. “You seem more tired than usual,” he noted after a second.
Drift chuckled. “Of course it’d be you to notice. I was carrying private dispatches to the major nobles for most of the night. Something about the new border security policy. But I’m back now and can’t wait to get to bed.”
“Well, I won’t keep you any longer,” Polaris promised with a smile as Drift turned to leave. He and the albino had a mutual understanding, maybe even a friendship, and he respected her carefree attitude. She never had a choice about how she looked, but she didn’t let her differences define her.
Well, maybe she did a little. Drift had once confessed that she wouldn’t trade her eyes for anything; that she liked the look on other dragon’s faces when they saw her. It made her feel powerful and respected even though she was only a Third Circle dragon. That was something he’d never completely understand, let alone experience.
Polaris brushed his right earring thoughtfully with one talon and hurried downstairs to join the growing crowd waiting in the main hall. In attendance were his father and mother, several of the Ministers (including Shatter), seven or eight of the most elite royal guards, and a not-so-small army of servants.
In essence, a normal royal outing, tending slightly towards the meager side.
After allowing a few minutes for any stragglers to catch up with them, the entire group took off from the courtyard outside and wheeled towards the Northern sea. The storm had broken up the ice fields, leaving endless expanses of severely choppy water with copious amounts of icebergs tossed in. Swimming in that mix would be decidedly hazardous, but Polaris had no intentions of going for a dunk anytime soon.
As they neared the main hunting area, the party broke up into smaller clumps, most of which were two to three dragons large. Polaris accompanied Starshade towards one of the larger ice patches. Shatter followed at a distance, minding his own business.
The grey skies and swirling snow made it difficult to see anything further than six dragon-lengths away. The fact that their prey was the same color as the snow didn’t help either.
They swooped low over the water, searching the landscape vainly for any signs of movement other than the waves and snow. No polar bears anywhere to be seen; in fact, Polaris couldn’t see even a single puffin or sea bird in the entire sky. It seemed . . . deserted. It seemed lifeless.
“Your majesties!” Shatter’s cry pierced through the storm. “To your left! I think I saw something!” He flew off into the haze.
Polaris glanced over in the indicated direction. What looked like the mother of all icebergs floated high in the water, riddled thickly with wind-carved holes and caverns. It almost looked like the palace itself, although not as grand.
That does look like a likely polar bear hideout, he thought with a flash of smugness. No more hiding from us!
Starshade had apparently come to the same conclusion as him and flew over to land at one of the cavernous entrances. Polaris followed him without a moment’s hesitation.
Inside, the ice formed a network of rough tunnels with deep grooves along the walls, forming thin fissures that reminded him eerily of a spider's web. They looked larger than any normal bear scrapes. Which probably meant an extra-juicy specimen happened to be living inside this particular berg.
A sound of slightly dragon-esque grunting echoed from deeper down the tunnel, along with the sound of claws scoring heavily across ice.
Stay close to the walls. The bear will spot you easily in the middle of the upcoming room.
Noted. Now be quiet so I can focus on my stalking.
Slowly, Starshade crept forward, one cautious step at a time. Polaris tailed him closely, staying as silent as possible.
The scraping grew steadily louder, until Polaris’ eardrums felt ready to burst. His scales tingled in response to the nerve-itching noise.
The walls must be amplifying the echo, he thought painfully, putting his claws over his ears. Although it doesn’t make sense that a bear would scratch at the ice so much. Maybe it’s trying to escape?
The noise cut off abruptly, and the agony inside his skull subsided.
The tunnel opened up into a larger cavern, this one full of dense blue ice. Large pillars held up the multi-leveled, smooth ceiling, although they had been worn thin at the bottom. Recently, judging by the fragments of ice around their bases. A quick glance around revealed no bears and no place where one could be hiding. Starshade padded into the open, his interest piqued by something brightly reflective (metallic?) in the center.
Polaris dropped flat as a large chunk of ice came crashing to the floor, spraying fragments everywhere. With a sickening squeaky crunch, one of the columns came toppling after it.
Directly onto Starshade’s unprotected back.
“FATHER!” Polaris screamed at the top of his lungs as Starshade was smashed flat under the collapse.
Polaris scurried as fast as he could to the debris and started digging frantically.
Please, PLEASE be alright, he prayed fervently, strength boosted by panic and adrenaline. A single black claw revealed itself, then a shoulder, and then Starshade’s entire head. Blood trickled thinly from the corner of his mouth, stark against the ice that it was beginning to drip onto.
“Father? Can you hear me?”
A second passed, then Starshade coughed weakly and lifted his snout. “I . . . I can’t move. Too much ice,” he groaned.
Polaris wiped away the tears clouding his vision with one talon and continued digging. Surely if he could clear the pile . . .
Some unknown force threw him violently to the side as another large icicle, this one wickedly pointed, exploded just where his chest would have been. An ominous icy grating sound rumbled through the cave.
Polaris staggered to his feet, dazed but unhurt, and rushed back to his father’s side as a fine snowy powder started floating down from the web of cracks spiraling through the ice.
No, you idiot! Run away! This whole place is about to come down!
And leave Father behind? NO WAY.
With a last few, desperate heaves, Polaris tumbled the remnants of the crumbled pillar off Starshade. He scrambled to grab the NightWing and lift him so he could try to carry him.
“You’re free, Father," Polaris said, raw terror spilling out into his voice. He kept Starshade's head held up with his talon. "Come on, let’s get out of here!”
Starshade looked around, strained his neck in an effort to move, and collapsed back onto the floor. Polaris didn't catch him in time. “My wings," he hissed in pain. "I can’t move them. I can’t feel them!”
Polaris tried to keep the panic out of his voice as the rumbling got louder. “What do you mean you can’t feel them!?”
You need to get out of here NOW!
“Like, I can’t feel anything below my shoulders,” Starshade said, spitting blood over the ice in front of him, a starburst of gore.
Polaris gingerly felt Starshade’s spine at the base of his neck. It felt shattered, sharp under the scales.
He’s paralyzed, Polaris realized brokenly. More ice started falling around them, shards bouncing off the walls and cutting across their scales. Something large and blue flashed through a tunnel overhead that he hadn’t noticed before, but he paid it no attention. Nothing else in the world mattered more than Starshade right now.
"We need to get out, Father,” he said, the tears spilling down his snout in an uncontrollable waterfall. The lump in his throat was so large he could barely speak past it. “I’m going to have to drag you.”
“Why are you crying?” Starshade asked gently, his voice less dulled by pain than a moment before. His caring demeanor was so out of place in the crumbling scene around them. It was a sinking island of serenity.
Polaris sobbed, tugging at his father’s limp arm. If he could just drag Starshade out . . .
The entire ceiling caved in. Tons and tons of ice thundered down onto Starshade, blasting Polaris into the wall.
He shoved himself upright and looked up.
A single twisted wing protruded from the rubble.
Polaris sank slowly back to the floor, utterly blind to the world. His heart felt like the iceberg, cracking and breaking and falling down, down, down. There was no light. No goodness. Just the shattering.
It can’t be, he swore to himself. He’s still alive. He HAS to be!
I’m sorry. He’s gone. There's no way anyone could survive that. You need to get out before you suffer the same fate.
Polaris didn’t move as massive fissures tore through the floor dangerously close to him. The tears were like a river down his face, drowning out everything. Drowning out sound, sight, and touch. He was numb all over, a numbness deeper than even the coldest ice could bring.
If he’s dead, then why should I escape when he didn’t?
I’m staying here. With him.
That would mean killing me too.
I really don’t care! You said you’re me? Then I don’t need to justify my actions.
With an apocalyptic crash, the iceberg fell away from under him.
He barely felt the water envelop his scales.
A wave of peace washed over him as his eyes started to go misty and the light fell further away. His satchel bumped gently against his wings. A dark mass sank past, the current buffeting it lightly.
It was Starshade.
More specifically, it was what was left of him.
Torn wings drifted around a crushed chest. Claws clutched lifelessly at a twisted necklace. The head was unrecognizable. Cerulean blood turned the water around Polaris into murky blue smoke, a never-ending nightmare come to life.
This is all just a bad dream, the Voice said ever-so-distantly. You need to wake up. There’s still time to save yourself.
No. There would be no going back. The last reasoning remnant of himself knew it would be too hard to keep on living.
I love you.
And I hope you can still run the Kingdom without us.
Polaris closed his eyes and let himself go.
Water flooded his lungs.
The shadows closed in.
Talons brushed his face.
And the world fell away.
Chapter Five: On The Other Side
Polaris stirred quietly in his sleep, half-conscious.
It was too quiet this morning. There was no normal sound of bustling dragons. Surely the servants were up by now?
He sedately opened his eyes to a world of white.
Had a blizzard snowed the palace in again? The last time that happened, it took days to clear all the hallways.
He reached out with one claw, sluggish but curious.
Weird . . .
He reached out to pull the sheets away. Instead of soft fabric, his talons grasped at thin air. He looked down and immediately scrambled upright, shocked.
He was laying on nothing. Just more white emptiness. His eyes couldn’t make any sense of it. There was no depth to anything, or even a horizon line. It was unnatural in every respect, like a void had swallowed his entire life. There was no sound but his own wings rustling, no voice but his own panicked thoughts.
No voice. His Voice wasn’t speaking.
Hello? Are you there?
There was no response. He was utterly alone in this colorless . . . wherever he was.
“Why hello there,” a familiar voice spat from behind him. Polaris whipped around violently.
A thin, white dragon with black tints was standing with its wings tucked in smugly.
He was staring at himself, unbelieving.
My eyes must be deceiving me somehow. I’ve had dreams about this before . . .
“Surprised to see me?” the dragon guessed. It gave a small smirk. “I’ve been living in your head all these years, so don’t act like we’ve never met.”
Polaris tentatively reached out a claw and touched the edge of his Voice’s wing. It felt exactly like his, smooth and cold. This dragon was a perfect mirror image of him.
But he could feel it. That was impossible in every sense of the word.
“Oh, don’t be so shocked,” the Voice mocked, tapping its temple with one claw. “Almost anything can happen in your own brainscape. Such as me apparently having a body for once.”
“That’s what this is?” Polaris asked. “My own mind? That’s imposs—”
“Indeed,” his Voice interjected. “But here we are. Who knows, maybe if you strain your tiny brain hard enough, we might actually have somewhere more comfortable to talk?”
“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way,” Polaris said. He focused on the image of his room in his mind, noting every detail and projecting it onto the milky, featureless surroundings. Nothing happened. “You see?”
“Just wait,” his Voice insisted. Sure enough, the white void blurred around them a second after he spoke, rippling like the world was a pool of water and someone had carelessly poked it. As the air returned to normal, the mirage faded gently into his room. “Told you,” it said with another smug look at him.
I hate how it . . . I . . . get so cocky knowing the future. And I’m the one who was supposed to be the seer!
“What are you even bothering me for?” Polaris demanded. He sat on his haunches and crossed his arms. “Why am I trapped inside my head with you?”
“Oh, you don’t remember?” the Voice asked, dripping with fake pity. “You’re dead.”
Polaris blinked a few times, then rubbed his eyes in confusion. “I’m what?”
“Dead,” the Voice repeated. There was no emotion as it said those words. “You drowned yourself.”
“Why in the three moons would I do that?” Polaris asked, flustered. “Everything in my life was fine!"
“Are you sure? You don’t remember what happened on the hunt?”
“What are you talking about? Last thing I remember, I had just laid down to sleep!”
A strange, horrifying grin crossed his Voice’s face. “Perfect,” he said. “Why don’t you try remembering now?”
Polaris didn’t even need to try. The memories were jarred into his mind like a tidal wave. A vicious flood of agony, suffering, and sheer despair crashed into him with the force of all the glaciers in the Ice Kingdom, relentless and overwhelming.
Those two words kept cycling through his head like a viper, encircling his every thought and squeezing them into a deathly mantra. He had no existence separate from the unbearable pain inside him.
His Voice walked over to his sleeping nook and laid down tiredly. “Are you going to stop muttering that anytime soon? Because I’ll just block the memory again in that case.”
“You did WHAT!?” Polaris shouted, shocked and horrified. “You tampered with my brain? Why would you do that!?”
“Because I can, and because you’d just find another way to kill yourself when you get revived,” the Voice said, shrugging carelessly. “Now I have a way to prevent my own death, should the need arise.”
His Voice let out an exasperated growl. “I still can’t believe that you’d take the one-in-a-thousand chance path. There were so many other options. But noooo. You had to go around killing yourself and me.”
“You know what I’m going through!” Polaris screamed, his horror mutating into fury. “Tell me, do I end up living a happy life after this? Do I? Tell me truly, WHAT DO YOU SEE?”
His Voice turned away, an unreadable expression on its face. “I can’t tell you,” he finally said after an unbearable pause. “Don’t ask again.”
Polaris stared, dumbfounded. Everything he thought he knew about the Voice in his head was being flipped upside down. Was this what he became later in life? A heartless, merciless manipulator? One who knows the future and still does nothing to change it? One who . . .
He shut his brain up, paralyzed with horrific realization.
One who knows the future, with all of its misery, and does nothing to change it.
“You knew!” he roared. He leapt up and ran over to his Voice, brimming with pure rage. "That’s what you meant when you said 'why couldn’t it have stayed that way forever?' all those years ago. You knew he was going to die this whole time!”
His Voice took another undecipherable look at him, getting up to pace the room. “Wow. You really do have a habit of going down the most unlikely paths. Hmm . . .”
Polaris tackled his Voice to the ground, senseless with fury. “Why did you do it? Why didn’t you warn me? I could have told him! He’d still be alive, if it weren’t for you!”
His Voice struggled to free itself, but Polaris had pinned its wings remorselessly to the cold floor. “You don’t understand," it grunted. "It was never that simple. There was no avoiding his death. In fact, I did him a favor! That was the most painless death he would ever get!”
“You liar!” Polaris spat. “There’s always a way out! You let him fly to his death!”
I led him to it, his thoughts chimed.
I’m the real reason he died.
Because I couldn’t put the dots together in time.
His Voice lowered its gaze. “No. There was no way out. I’m sorry for the part I played. I never meant for you to suffer like this. For us to suffer like this.”
Polaris bit back a sob and released his Voice. There was no revenge that would bring Starshade back. Death was final and forever.
Except, apparently, his own.
“If I’m dead,” he said as he collapsed to the floor, his anger draining away and leaving him exhausted, “then how am I still conscious? You said I’d be revived. But even magic can’t bring someone back. Nothing you say makes any sense!”
“You aren’t permanently dead,” his Voice said. “Yes, you aren’t breathing and you don’t have a heartbeat, so you’re dead in that respect. But since you drowned in salt water that was sitting a good distance below freezing, your brain is still alive while the rest of your body is quite dead."
“Also,” he continued after taking a breath, “if you weren’t an Icewing-Nightwing hybrid, then you’d be permanently immortalized, either due to exposure and hypothermia or because of Icewing cold resistance. You’re quite lucky, actually, that you’re aren’t completely immune to cold.”
“But I’m lying at the bottom of the sea by now,” he protested weakly. “Surely there’s no way to save me?”
“That’s a story for later,” his Voice said mysteriously. “Just trust me. No matter how strange it might seem, I still know what’s best for you. You’ll live to see another day.”
Polaris was quickly losing any hope of an escape from the pain.
It’s all falling apart. I’m probably going crazy. My father is dead. What more is there in life that could possibly be worth all this?
He was pretty sure the answer to that question was a solid 'nothing, now or ever.'
The walls of his room pulsed with a blinding light.
“You’re waking up,” his Voice informed him. “Which means I’m going to be back in your head, stuck without a body again. Well, I never really left your head, did I?”
Great. I’m going to be stuck with a voice in my mind for the rest of my life. Unless of course I end up dying. Again, apparently.
It was not a comforting thought.
The walls pulsed again, brighter than the last waves.
A surge of pain shot through his chest and into his wings, physical this time. He barely noticed it. The real agony sat heavy in his heart, so deep it was almost impossible not to drown. For now, he struggled towards the surface, all while being sucked relentlessly towards the bottom.
Another pulse. The surge of pain returned, stronger this time.
I’m stronger than this, he told himself. There’s a future for me. I shouldn’t run from it.
The world needs me.
Ha. What a joke.
There’s no way that was true. Why would he be the one to save everyone? There was nothing special about him, apart from the fact that he had another dragon living in his head. And that dragon was apparently his future self.
What am I? he wondered. Do I even exist separately from this voice in my brain? Will I suffer the same fate?
Polaris guessed he’d never know until it was too late.
A third pulse, and the pain reached near unbearable levels. The body of his Voice looked at him with pity, sorrow, and something deeper. “I guess I’ll see you back in the Priorlife,” it said.
The Priorlife? That was an odd term for mortality.
White filled his vision as the walls flared out of existence, and the pain enveloped him completely.
Another soundless scream.
And the light consumed all.
Chapter Six: Aftermath
Polaris inhaled sharply, then immediately started coughing. Gallons of seawater burned his throat as they gushed from his mouth in a fountain, violently spraying into the air and drenching his already-soaked his scales.
“He’s coming around,” echoed a distant voice, one he didn’t quite recognize. Though that might have been the disorientation doing its work.
The last remnants of his near-demise shot from his lungs and slowed to a dribble as unseen claws crushed him fiercely around his chest. The pure strength of the embrace implied that there would be no option of resistance. But it was a wonderful security.
“You’re alive,” Silverfrost sobbed, her voice like the most angelic music to his ears. She somehow managed to hug him tighter. “Thank the three moons.”
Polaris opened his eyes and looked up. He was laying on his back in the snow, wings splayed to the sides, fairly covered in the water he had regurgitated (which was quickly turning to ice). Pale sapphire-mauve blood spotted and blotched his wings like the fur of a tundra leopard, mixing with the Nightwing stars and staining them frightfully. The open sky vaulted over him, storm-grey and miserable. The fine snow shrouded everything in a blurred, wavering veil.
A fitting stage for the tragedy he had caused.
“Where am I?” he slurred, still considerably dazed. “What happened?” He winced slightly and spat out a sharp crystal of rime.
Queen Silverfrost loosened her grip slightly, enough for him to sit up halfway. “The iceberg collapsed,” she said, tears raining copiously to the snow. “I dove in after you. There were chunks of jagged ice everywhere, and you were sinking to the ocean floor, and it was all bloody and dreadful . . .”
She shut her eyes and ducked her head away, unsuccessfully biting back a low moan. “Starshade was . . . he was . . . it was horrible.” Her moan rose to a broken, keening wail, the very air reverberating with tragedy and loss.
Polaris hugged her back, sobs racking his frame chokingly. This was his fault. All his fault.
Our fault, the Voice said quietly, softly, seductively. Don’t blame yourself alone.
Shut up! Polaris yelled inside his head, feeling dizzy. I don’t have time to deal with you right now!
He blinked away the tears for a brief moment and stared defiantly up at the sky, looking, searching. He didn’t know what he wanted to see, just that he wanted to see something, anything. A sign. Something to tell him that he’d survive this.
The snow drifted thickly to the ground, uncaring. Waves crashed heedlessly into the iceberg they were standing on. The skies ridiculed him. There was no future. There was no hope. Hope was dead.
Polaris looked back down to see Shatter looking at him with that strange look in his eyes. It seemed harder and more vicious than usual, although something in Polaris suspected that he’d try to find the dark side in anything at the moment.
A brief ray of sunshine poked through the clouds, blazing directly into his eyes and mocking his misery with its cheery warmth. He cursed it vehemently under his breath and ducked his head away.
“What do you want, Shatter?” Queen Silverfrost demanded curtly, releasing Polaris from her embrace and standing mostly upright. Her wings still drooped, and her head wasn’t held with its usual commanding grace. But honestly, he couldn't imagine how she managed even that much formality.
“The Palace will be wondering where you are,” he replied with a frown. “You’ve been gone all day, and twilight will be falling soon. As you’re clearly not in your right minds at the moment, perhaps it would be best if you returned at once.”
“I guess so,” Silverfrost said sadly. “Hoarfrost, how are you feeling? I’m sorry for having you use your magic so much in the past few days.”
“I’m alright, although a little tired,” said a white dragon, barely visible in the falling snow. That was the voice he hadn’t recognized earlier.
“Mother, why is Hoarfrost here?” Polaris asked, a dangerous suspicion condensing on his thoughts. Animi didn’t just show up randomly, especially in the Ice Kingdom.
Silverfrost looked guiltily in his direction. “After I dragged you out of the water, you weren’t . . . here. I sent a messenger to Hoarfrost, and once he arrived, he said that he might be able to revive you. Or he might kill himself.” She paused regretfully and stared at her claws. “I took the chance immediately. I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you too.”
Polaris blinked his eyes clear with a brief surge of happiness. Sometimes he forgot how much Silverfrost loved him. There were countless stories of Queens being terrible to their dragonets, or just ignorant of them, but he had gotten lucky. So, so lucky.
“We really should be leaving,” Shatter interrupted without a shred of emotion in his voice. Which was quite normal for him, but Polaris couldn't help the feeling it was different this time.
“Yes, yes, enough out of you,” Silverfrost said less-than-halfheartedly. She glanced over at the ice-filled water, then immediately ducked her head away. “Tell the rest of the party that we’re going home. Don’t tell them about my husband. They . . . I’ll do that myself.”
Polaris sighed painfully and let his eyes fall shut, blocking out the world. Somewhere down there, buried amidst the kelp and silt, was his father. Alone, cold, shattered, lifeless. He still couldn’t quite process it. It was all too sudden.
After a long flight back to the Palace through the failing light, Polaris retired to his room and buried his face in the sheets. The flight had been harrowing, what with giving him and his mother so much time to mourn Starshade, and the exhaustion in his brain was starting to sink into his bones, dragging him down to the peaceful oblivion of sleep . . .
Snap out of it, the Voice commanded. You can’t sleep now. Go to your mother. Comfort her. She’s suffering as much as you are, if not more.
Okay, he thought submissively. He couldn’t argue with that logic.
His satchel bumped softly against his chest, still damp, as he swung himself out of bed. Polaris pulled out the scroll and gazed at it sadly. He’d never been one to write journal entries, but there could always be a first time. Indecision hovered in his mind for a moment, then he brushed it away like mist.
He’d start today. For his father.
Polaris sat down at the desk and started to write. All the pain, all the sorrow flowed through him and into the paper. As he focused on honoring his father’s memory, the story of the past two days unfolded themselves with darkened majesty.
One day, when he was old and failing (if he ever got there), he wanted to look back at this scroll and relive all the time he’d spent with Starshade like he was back in the moment. Even the darkness. Even the fall-outs. He wanted every second to be preserved for eternity, a dedication to his father. A way to make him live on forever.
And when he finished that, he’d chronicle his own life. There was no promise of a recovery from the pain, but at least he could drain a little bit of it into the scroll.
The paintbrush flowed gracefully through the last sentence, lending reality to his memories. This chapter was complete. He’d finish the rest of the biography later, over the course of the next few years. It had to be perfect, for there would never be a second chance.
Now to find his mother.
She probably wouldn’t be breaking the tragic news to the Kingdom until tomorrow morning, so maybe she was in her room. It was worth a shot.
Polaris decided to take the interior passages instead of just flying. Too much snow, too many regrets. Walking would work just fine, thank you.
As he padded down the icy hallways, staircases, and corridors, he felt a shiver run down his spine. Everything felt oppressively harsh, like some malevolent demon had sucked the life out of the entire palace and turned it into a frozen husk. A husk of brittle frost, ready to shatter at a moment’s notice and unleash a tidal wave of hatred and horror.
Unseen eyes watched him from the countless thousands of carvings. Servants averted their eyes and veered sharply out of his way like he was a second coming of the Icewing Plague. A stranger, covered thickly in multi-hued blood, stared accusingly at him from the mirrors. Strange noises echoed through the air. Hushed whispers emanated from nooks just out of sight around corners and behind columns.
The Palace was no longer his friend. It knew his crime. It knew the truth. The dragons inside it might not, but it was watching, waiting to reveal him and his innermost thoughts for all the world to see.
Was his heart supposed to be beating this fast?
Polaris suddenly found his pacing talons very interesting. It occurred to him that a prince walking with head bowed in hidden shame, ignorant of all the normal procedure, would only serve to incriminate him further.
His room beckoned him to its inviting warmth, if such a thing could be said in a Palace made of pure ice and snow. He wanted to run back and hide for the rest of his life, to hide from his crimes. They could never know what he’d done. What he was on the inside.
He was diseased, a blight upon the kingdom. He had seen what his future self had become. What he’d eventually be. Reflections never lied. Neither did the prophecy.
He could only try to delay the inevitable.
That may not be possible. The shadows dawn. The reign of night approaches. And you are destined to be caught in the epicenter of the fates, swirling without will, blind.
Polaris shut out the Voice and kept his eyes on his talons. All he had to do was make it to his mother’s room. Then he could disappear for as long as he wanted. Maybe if he shut himself off, there was a way to protect the world from him and his claws.
And if there wasn’t, then . . .
No. He’d deal with that situation when it came. Not before. And by the three moons, hopefully not after it was too late.
The edges of his vision started to blur, and Polaris realized that his breathing was unnaturally shallow and quick. He was barely managing to keep his balance on the numb talons that no longer seemed to be under his control.
Just a little farther.
He was running now.
What was he running from? The walls? The Palace?
Or was he running from his mind?
They all blended together seamlessly. They were one and the same. Separating them was splitting icicles.
A doorway loomed out of the endless, pitch black walled tunnel that was his vision. He recognized the crest above the lintel.
Thank the moons.
He lurched into his mother’s room and crashed into the floor, panting like Darkstalker himself was a tail-length behind. His legs continued to run against his will, scrabbling uselessly against the ice, and his tail thrashed violently in massive semi-circles. The world was not balanced correctly, and his wild eyes searched desperately for something to latch onto.
Silverfrost poked her head around one of the inner pillars at the noise, then did a double take and rushed over to him. Ironic that he had come here to comfort her, but instead he was the one that needed help.
“What happened?” she asked with growing fear in her voice. “Can you stop running?”
Polaris shook his head violently, feeling like his neck was about to snap and shatter on the floor.
Silverfrost yelled something into the main hallway, then cradled his head in her talons. They felt warm and comforting, like she always did. Her snout was wet, like it had been under the twisted moons of the eclipse so long ago.
Oh, if only he could relive that part of his hatching forever!
Drift hurried into the room, carrying some sort of pouch around her neck. With a careful glance at him, she produced a long syringe filled with a vivid green liquid.
That’s probably going to hur—AGHH!
Drift slammed the needle deep into the side of his neck, close to the main artery. Immediately, his neck went limp, and his wings, legs, and tail followed in succession.
“He’s having a panic attack,” she explained to Silverfrost. “The stress must be getting to him. I’ve injected him with Hivewing venom to ease the tension and prevent him from hurting himself or tearing muscles, but this is serious. I suggest that he be confined to his room immediately, and, if necessary, given sleeping aids.”
She looked at him pityingly. “It must be hard losing your father like that, up close and personal. I can’t even imagine what the trauma would do to your mind.”
The shadows continued to press on the edges of his vision, and his heart felt ready to burst. Another dragon entered the room, behind his back, and Polaris felt himself being lifted onto a stretcher through dulled nerves.
“You’re going to be alright,” Silverfrost said intensely, holding his twitching talons. “I’ll be right here while you recover. We’ll get through this together, somehow. I promise.”
Polaris faintly noted the uncertainty in those words. He wanted to reach out and hug his mother, but the toxin wouldn’t let him. Besides, there was no way he could promise her anything positive without destroying his own conscience.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered with all of the sincerity he could muster in his weakened state. “For everything.”
His dreams caught up with him and swept him away into a roiling torrent of leering, faceless faces and broken, bloody corpses.
Chapter Seven: Torn Apart
Three months later . . .
Polaris sat at the base of a large carved snowstone obelisk. His head drooped wearily, and the ice under him was well-worn. He’d been here before, tens if not hundreds of times since Starshade’s death. Maybe even more.
This is all that’s left, he thought with that pang of hollow guilt he had come to know so well. The only memorial to my father, besides my scroll.
He laid his talons gently on the surface, feeling every detail in the chiseled ice. It was all familiar to him. All too familiar.
It’d been his idea to erect the obelisk in the first place. But his father wasn’t buried here. He was still lying deep under the sea, which was now completely frozen over as winter plowed on. The thought constantly nagged at his soul, dragging him down into a snowbank of depression.
Silverfrost had considered having Starshade’s body recovered, but his horrible death dissuaded her. She didn’t want to have a horribly mangled, shark-eaten corpse as the last memory of her husband.
Polaris looked around, trying to distract himself. The ice fields had been swept clean of snow by yesterday’s storm. Only a few drifts remained, piled in the lee of icebergs. Everything was illuminated softly by the moons shining down. He lifted his gaze to the starlit heavens.
Polaris always visited the obelisk at night, when the light had faded and he could be alone under the stars with his thoughts and memories. Many Nightwing legends said that when a Nightwing died, they would return to the night skies as a beautiful, tranquil star. That they could watch over their living loved ones, no matter how far away they were.
I hope that he really is out there. That I’ll be able to see him again one day.
Stars are mysterious things. No one really knows their purpose. But they contain powerful magic, although weaker than that of the moons.
If the stars really are dragons, could that be the reason why the Nightwings are more powerful at night? Because their ancestors are giving them power?
Do you see anything in the futures?
No. It’s a mystery to me as well.
Polaris sighed. Why were the answers he sought always so far out of reach? (That itself was a question that needed an answer, ironically.)
Sometimes, Polaris wished his life was a scroll. Oh, imagine the hours he could spend reading everything that would ever happen to him! His every thought, all the joys and the sorrows he’d ever experience, revealed to him with absolute clarity!
It would almost be like the foresight he should have been hatched with, except utterly perfect in every way. He’d be able to fix every mistake before it happened, to ace every test.
His eyes grew suddenly misty. A single tear condensed and rolled slowly down his snout.
I’d be able to save Father.
Faint wingbeats echoed through the silence, and Polaris turned his head to see Drift flying towards him.
As she landed a couple paces behind him, Polaris ducked his head towards the ground and closed his eyes. He hated letting other dragons see him like this. Not just because he was royalty.
“Polaris? Are you okay?” she asked with some consternation in her voice. She gave him plenty of personal space, to his relief.
“Yes,” he responded in a dull voice. “Mostly.” He winced at the insincerity shining through those words.
“I really miss your father,” she said sympathetically, sitting next to him. “He was one of the first dragons to treat me as something more than a mistake. He really cared about me and my life, always asking if I needed anything or if I was feeling alright.”
She stared wistfully up at the obelisk, a glimmer in the corner of her ruby pink eyes. “He kind of did that to everyone though. I recently read a history of the Kingdom, and I really think that your father was the best King we’ve ever had.”
And I let him die.
“Your mother wants you to meet her in the council room,” she said after a moment. “Some of the Ministers have called a meeting, and apparently she wants you there.”
“Okay,” Polaris said cautiously. “Do you know why?” His mother almost never wanted him to attend any of her private meetings. Just the boring pre-scheduled ones.
“No, actually,” she said with a note of disappointment. “Which is unusual for her. She always tells me . . .”
“Thank you,” Polaris said, giving her an (at least somewhat) regal nod. “And I appreciate your sympathy.”
He spread his wings wide and lept into flight, snout pointed towards the Ice Palace. A little later, Polaris landed at the main entrance to the Council Room. A cloud descended over his thoughts, heavy and suffocating. He hadn’t been here since his hatching day. He had been truly happy that day.
It might have been the last time he felt joy in his entire miserable, lonely life.
As he entered the main room, he saw Silverfrost talking tiredly with around five other dragons on the tiled floor, most of whom had scales in varying shades of blue and white.
He soared down to the floor, and several of the Ministers stopped talking. Clearly he wasn’t the only one who thought his own attendance was out of place.
“What is he doing here?” one of them asked with barely concealed malice, verbally confirming his unwanted presence. “This is supposed to be a private discussion.”
“He’s my son,” she shot back with an unusual flash of her old spirit. “If his presence bothers you, you can kindly march yourself out of this meeting and down to the dungeons.”
The outspoken Minister averted his eyes with a muffled apology. Apparently he hadn’t been expecting the fierce retort.
Polaris sighed softly as Silverfrost ‘notified’ the other Ministers that discrimination would not be tolerated, not against her son, not against any dragon.
In the three moon cycles since the accident, Silverfrost had almost seemed to take on her husband’s passive, nervous nature. The air of command that had once defined her was nothing more than a wisp of smoke now. The affairs of the Kingdom no longer ran with their previous efficiency without the Queen directing them. Silverfrost had retired from politics almost entirely and devoted her time instead to mourning, much as he had. And also to nursing him.
Polaris felt self-consciously for that now-familiar syringe inside his satchel. The panic attacks (Polaris referred to them as pseudo-seizures) were starting to become a regular occurrence. Whenever he felt himself losing control of his body, he would inject himself with a specially formulated venom from the syringe. Only then would he become himself again.
The venom had been significantly updated since his first attack. Instead of paralyzing him, it would slow his heart rate, lowering his blood pressure and sometimes leading to brief unconsciousness.
Only he knew how to produce the mixture; in fact, he had developed it himself after extensive research. It required several different types of imported Hivewing venom along with that of a Rainwing, all of which were sent through a complicated apparatus in the Palace labs.
Polaris realized that several of the dragons around him were standing silently, looking at him expectantly.
Carp! I should have been listening! They're never going to let me come to one of these again if I can't even pay attention!
Say that you’re humbled to be here.
Polaris did so, and the questioning looks faded, apparently satisfied.
You actually did something helpful, he thought, slightly confused. Why?
I’m not heartless. Just wary of disturbing the futures. I’ll help you when it’s safe to do so.
“Now, for the reason we came here,” Frosinn, the Minister of War, said, clearing his throat imperiously. “It has come to our attention that you, Queen Silverfrost, have been neglecting your duties to the Ice Kingdom since your husband died.”
Oh, Polaris hated him already. Talking down to his mother was not something he took kindly to.
“The Kingdom is starting to fall apart,” Frosinn continued. Not a scrap of his voice sounded like he thought himself subservient to the Queen. “Tensions with the other tribes are being strained. Some dragons are even beginning to wonder if the Icewings are weak enough to be invaded. Clearly, they are most definitely wrong, but the principle is what matters.”
Why isn’t she reprimanding him? Stand up for yourself, Mother!
“Silverfrost, you can’t continue to rule like this. If you are too weak to lead our Kingdom well, it is time you took a new husband to share the burden.”
Polaris froze in shock as several of the other Ministers nodded in agreement. Surely they couldn’t mean that? Silverfrost would throw them in the dungeons for sure!
Silverfrost looked sadly at her claws. “Maybe you’re right.”
WHAT is she DOING?
“Mother, you can’t be serious!” he said, horrified.
“The Ministers have a point,” Silverfrost said meekly. “I have failed. Perhaps it is time for me to remarry.”
Frosinn smirked haughtily down his snout at Polaris. “You see? Your mother is a smart Queen, listening to us. You would be wise to do the same.”
Polaris did his absolute best not to dig his serrated claws into his palms. You wish.
“As for the future King,” he continued, returning his gaze to Silverfrost, “I believe that there is no better qualified dragon than Shatter. And as he was previously betrothed to you, I’m sure he would be delighted to hear that you have decided to accept him as a husband again.”
He withheld a gasp. Mother can't agree with this. No way.
“Very well then," she said, completely devoid of any resistance. He’d never heard his mother so broken. “Make it known to the Kingdom.”
This can’t be real. I HAVE to be imagining it!
Oh, this is no daydream.
Then why would she marry so soon after Starshade’s death? And marrying SHATTER of all dragons? How could this happen?
A shiver ran out to his wingtips.
This isn’t right!
But it’s her choice.
I should at least have a say in this!
Polaris shook his head in disbelieving horror, backing up. Frosinn and Silverfrost turned to look at him skeptically, and the gazes of the other Ministers followed.
“No,” he breathed. “You shouldn’t do this, Mother. You can’t do this! How could you forget Starshade so easily?”
“It’s the best thing for the Kingdom,” she said, eyes averted. He'd never heard her voice so empty. “I can’t rule the Icewings by myself anymore.”
“Yes you can!” Polaris protested. “You’re a strong Queen. The best one in the history of our entire tribe! You don’t have to marry again!”
“It seems that the Prince is interfering with matters that do not concern him,” Frosinn interjected with a forced smile. “You should run along and play with your chemistry sets while we discuss important matters. Things that involve the future of the Kingdom. Things that don’t involve a naive, foolish dragonet with no real knowledge of how to rule.”
Polaris looked helplessly to Silverfrost, lost for words and tears starting to condense in his eyes. For a brief second, it looked like she wanted to correct Frosinn, but instead she continued hanging her head, silent.
Polaris couldn’t believe it. His mother was utterly broken. He couldn’t reach her.
So he did the only thing he could possibly think of.
He tore himself away, launched out the side entrance, and disappeared into the night.
I’ve lost her, he thought hopelessly, blinking away the tears uselessly. He felt betrayed. I’ve lost my mother, too.
It isn’t her fault. Starshade’s death tore you both apart. You lost your father. Imagine how much harder it is to lose a husband.
Polaris knew that, but he couldn’t have ever imagined that it would extinguish all her power, her spark, her spirit.
I’m losing everything I held dear.
Three moons, I’m even losing myself!
It’s all falling through the ice.
It’s all slipping away.
Polaris bit back a desperate wail. Why did his brain ache so much? And why was it spinning in endless circles? He seized his head in both talons and shook it side to side.
I can’t let this side of me take over.
I have to protect them all.
And I know how.