Chapter 3 The Wall and The Winters Heart
Sanctuary/Prison valley, The Wall, nearby hill...
"Wow... That sure is a big wall of crystal..." Naja commented at the sight of the said wall before her. Even at a distance of almost a mile away, it was gargantuan in size, reaching from one end of the pass to the other, blocking all potential traffic through it.
"Indeed. I would find it amazing, if it was not a constant reminder of the wrong done to our kin, keeping us from doing our duty properly. Yes there are more than one way to this valley, but they are all on the dangerous side. The floating ice breaking unlucky boats apart when far enough in the open water, and smaller passes and paths are simply a death wish when travelling in groups in these mountains." Ishorn said, standing next to the marilith, who was now covered from head to the tip of her tail in yeti-fur clothing, even with an additional fur-cape for the added protection from the surrounding cold. Even with the day being calm and serene, the cold was still present. She was also given suitable protective eye-wear to reduce glare from snow.
"So in order for me to make my way back home, I need to get rid of this giant piece of enchanted shiny rock?"
"In short, yes. I'm afraid that entirety of your large frame is not suited for our boats or the remaining mountain paths."
"You can just say that I'm fat, heavy or something. I am perfectly fine with my body."
"Well good for you then. But now returning to the wall-issue. We have tried to destroy parts of it, but the darn thing just fixes itself almost right away. You can even try for yourself."
"I think I 'll do just that. Could use some target practice on a huge target as a warm-up."
With that said, Naja raised one of her mitten covered hand, pointing palm at the ample direction of the Wall. Soon a small flicker of flame formed in front the outstretched palm, turning into an almost solid scarlet orb. With a flick of her fingers, Naja sent the orb flying speedily towards the Wall, soon disappearing from view.
They did not need to wait potential results for that long, when in less than a minute a huge fiery explosion went off at the Wall. Both of them could see that it had done some damage to it; a visible crack, that unfortunately began to close itself almost right after the smoke had cleared. Bundled up marilith repeated her second strongest spell five more times, once for each of her remaining hand, only to get the same result of the Wall just fixing itself up.
"Well, that thing is going to be a real pain in the rear to try and remove completely. I don't think my natural spells can do enough damage to destroy it, with a healing factor that fast. We would need either get the crystal ponies to remove the spell keeping the fixing-mechanism up or to try and destroy it completely, in basically one shot, leaving no piece of it remaining afterwards." Naja commented thoughtfully.
"Seems like it. Hopefully your friends send some useful 'maht erria' for you to use at that. Maybe even something that would protect you from cold?" Ishorn said in a hopeful tone.
"We should return to the village. The messenger owl should hopefully return soon, and I can smell the Winter Heart approaching soon..."
"What is this 'Winter Heart' you keep mentioning? Some manner of weather anomaly perhaps?"
"In a way, yes. It is a time when winter and ice are at their most powerful. Especially here in the north. If one is not indoors keeping warm, or without some manner of extremely high resistance against cold, one will surely freeze to death within an hour or so while being outdoors during it. The Heart usually manifests itself as a gigantic snow storm, its eye being the most dangerous part to be in. We have even found yetis frozen solid after being caught in the eye of the storm..."
"... Ok, that sounds like a complete deathtrap for the likes of me. At least if I am without any proper materia equipped. But for now, let's head back to the village."
It did not take them long to arrive to the deer-folks village, located at the safe corner of the their 'prison valley', with cliffs on the mountain covering at the one side and wooden walls on the other. Most of the villagers where doing all kinds of small work, like fixing up parts of the buildings, which greatly resembled viking longhouses, weaving cloths, cutting extra firewood, tanning yeti hides or carving runic marks on some of their items to name a few. Overall, things that someone can keep themselves occupied and be useful for the community. Especially with the Winter Heart approaching any day now...
As they moved closer towards the town square, they where approached by small caribou calf carrying a package of sorts.
"Høvding Ishorn! Your eagle owl returned a moment ago and brought this! I think its for both of ya."
"Why thank you lass. Run along now, we all have things to prepare for. You don't want the Great Cold to come and bite your little hoofs don't ya?" Ishorn said to the little one, while accepting the package, lifting it up with her antlers, offering it towards Naja, who took it with her lower-righty.
"Let's go check this somewhere indoors." Naja commented, heading towards one of the buildings, which happened to be the one she woke up in.
As they entered, there was a nice fire in the fire-pit, courtesy of still mildly short Tirek, who was at the moment fixing up some spots on the mariliths given dwelling to ensure there be no extra holes for the cold breeze to get in. A gesture Naja very much appreciated.
"Nice work there Tirek. Now could ya help me peel this winter coat off of me?" marilith asked while removing her fluffy mittens.
The centaur proceeded to help the snake lady to remove trickier parts of her arctic-winter level clothes, mostly the enormous part covering her equally big purple hued tail. He even was considerate enough to keep his hands on the side of Najas back, trying not to touch her underbelly. Just in case she might take such a touch the wrong way.
"Now then, let's check what we got here." Naja said as she began to open the package. First thing that caught her eye in it, where four materia crystals; three green and one blue, all gently glowing there. And there was a folded letter on top of them too.
Before checking the crystals, Naja went to grab and read the letter first.
'Greetings Naja, Hera here. Hopefully you are fully thawed out when reading this. After we received a word of our northern allies finding you, moral here rose rather high. On the flip side, a cult worshiping you also seems to have gotten a word about it. We're not sure what their big plan is, but it most likely is nothing good. Among few mild terror attacks on our Twin-towns and Equestria, they have also tried to take over your temple house as some kind of sacred site, only for some kind of sentient ash-clouds to appear and violently drive them away. My personal theory is that Shadow Petal and many others of our founders are indeed watching over your home from beyond the veil.
On the other end, the Equestrians don't seem to have caught wind about your return, but I guess it's only a matter of time. They have pretty much parked an entire regiment of soldiers on our northern border, mostly guarding the main road, I guess they are hoping we eventually fold and open our borders to them again. At the moment our towns Council is not submitting to their demands, but we are negotiating with the Trade alliance and the Union of Free towns to get by economically and militarily if needed. Luckily their shared navy is a lot more capable Equestrias, and is helping to keep our sea-route open.
There have also been report of our big snake friend, Dalamadur, appearing in Equestria randomly. Mostly to either look around intimidatingly, or to destroy princess Celestia's property. Last known target was her personal villa, which was basically a semi-hidden mini-palace, and was destroyed so thoroughly, that not even foundation remained in one piece. Few of the Church of Two Sister locations have also been targeted, but not as much. Mostly only getting half-destroyed.
I hope these materia's can help in your return. We would have sent you more but the eagle owl of Høvding Ishorn can only carry so much, so in the end we selected few useful ones. Ice, Barrier, Time and Elemental to be exact. Other more powerful or potent ones are unfortunately needed by my fellow Materia Keepers to help in towns defence efforts, in both as a deterrent against Equestrians and as more of a fire power against the damn Cult, who also managed to nab few of the lesser materias. Luckily for us, both of them fear a potential retaliations from the 'The Big Guy'. Especially after we gave a small warning shot via spell granted to me by him(?), named Holy. Not sure was it the blinding light from the spell or the implosion that followed afterwards. Luckily no creature got harmed in that show of power.
Hopefully we see again soon, whether it is before or after this craziness with Equestria is over.
Best regards, Hera.
PS: Blueblood says hello. He has given towns a heck of a financial help after leaving Equestria, and finally marrying his three sweethearts, Lacte, Fofa and Scarlet, who are now planning a friendly competition on who bears his firstborn, after he gets out of the wheelchair and pain-killers. Their Honeymoon-night was extra wild apparently. No idea why they asked me to write about it...'
Naja could not hold a smile after reading the letter, folding it neatly and setting it aside for now. Next her attention was drawn to the materia crystals, gently picking them up and reaching out with her senses to confirm that they indeed where ones mentioned in the letter.
She proceeded to equip Barrier and Time first in her hidden sockets in her wrist-wear, feeling the knowledge and skill of their spells flow into her mind.The Elemental and Ice materias where next to go in another wrist, more specifically into the metallic 'courting-band' given to her by Tirek. When the Ice materia slipped in, it did sting Naja a little, like a sudden stinging touch of an freezing icicle poking on a really warm skin, mixed with a nasty gadfly bite, making her hiss in pain for a short moment. Luckily the stinging cold seemed to calm down with the contact with the Elemental materia, turning it to a soothing feeling, that soon faded to overall normal feeling.
"And now test if this combination works..." Naja said, while making deep blue hue surrounded cluster of ice spike appear on the floor with a flick of her wrist. It certainly impressed Ishorn.
"Please open the door, and be ready warm up the fire-pit just in case."
This request made Tirek to go and be ready to get fire pit going hot, while Ishorn started to open the door, visibly hesitant.
Soon the door was fully opened, letting the cold winter air in. Naja almost expected to feel its freezing sting, only for it being almost like a gentle spring breeze. Encouraged by this, she proceeded to slither through the doorway, still expecting coldness of the northern weather to start making her lethargic and lose consciousness...
Only for the direct winter air and snow felt almost pleasant and cool in a good way. A feeling she had not felt for a long, long time... And she genuinely enjoyed it. So much that she let out a joyful laugh, while doing a little spin and letting herself to fall against the snow on her back, sending plenty of loose snow flying, which in turn encouraged few younger fauns and calfs to do few playful jumps over her.
"I had no idea how long I missed this feeling." Naja said out loud, while moving all of her arms on the snow blanket, like she was trying to make some manner of snow-angel.
"Well, great that you can play in the snow now. But could you maybe explain to me, how its possible? Just a moment ago you needed yeti-fur clothing before opening the door." Ishorn asked, which made Naja rise into her stand up-position from the snow.
"To make the answer short, Elemental materia combined together with the Ice materia in my clothing, or in an accessory, like say in a ring or wristband, grants me protection from ice and cold, perhaps even a level of regeneration with how good I'm physically feeling. I guess this was what Hera hoped for when picking them to send to me."
This information seemed to satisfy Ishorns curiosity, and she was about to say something, before something in the horizon drew her attention.
"That is good to know. And they certainly arrived in time. The Winters Heart appears to be arriving a little early..." she said, pointing at something. And pretty much everyone else looked at the same direction.
Just rising over the visible edge of the horizon, was a wall of storm clouds, that had an odd, barely visible, greenish hue to it.
"That is just the edge of the freezing storm. And with this wind, it hits here by late evening. With any luck, the eye of the storm should pass by somewhere else. But for no... GET THAT EXTRA FIREWOOD INSIDE, RIGHT NOW!!!" She continued, before giving a loud command, which she also followed.
Soon everyone where cutting and hauling more firewood in to their dwellings, which went well with Naja with her blades and Tirek with his physical strength aiding in the effort.
By the time when the sun was starting to go down and the approaching snowfall getting more and more intense, everyone was safely indoors, killing time, making sure warm fires did not go out and waiting out the storm. On Najas part, killing time was good'ol meditation followed by a nap. Tirek was half-forced to go with some bucks, and was now playing several rounds of horn-dice with them.
And of course, they hoped that the eye would pass them far away, or at the very least pass them quickly.
Later around midnight...
Wind blowing outside had momentarily robbed Naja of sleep, and she was trying to find it again, while laying on her back, staring at the roof-boards in the dim light of the fire-pit. She was also thinking on how to get rid of the Wall.
'My strongest fire-spell did no permanent damage, and it would take far too much effort to just try constant bombardment it to be actually effective. Such a tactic would only just drain my pool of magic. I could try Flare, but I would have to get overtly angry for it to do big enough damage. But a non-elemental explosion of that size would bring with it an enormous chance of friendly-fire and most likely civilian casualties... Yeah, definitely not taking that risk...'
Her thoughts were cut by an odd sound mixed in the wind outside. Almost like a singing note. She would have chalked it up as just a random whistling that wind sometimes does, but this just felt different. Like something was calling her, but not in a siren-way. More like something wanting make contact. Almost like Carbuncle once did, only in a more active way.
Deciding to go with her instinct, Naja proceeded to open the door of her dwelling and slither outside, where the snowfall and wind began to fade out rapidly. And one glance upwards at the clearing night sky explained why.
The eye of the storm had just arrived upon the village, bringing with it vast amounts of frost on all of the outside surfaces of the buildings. Few smaller items left outside, like a wooden wind chime or an old axe handle, looked like they where already frozen solid.
'Good thing I have a cold resistance now... Luckily it seems to also extend to my clothing and other accessories' marilith thought while looking at the 'courting band' with now very important protective Ice-Elemental materia combination.
Her attention was next drawn by small patch of swirling snow. Which was odd, due to eyes of the storms usually have no air currents to do such swirling.
'There is definitely some magic at play here... Let's see if meditation brings something forth...' Naja decided, swearing she saw swirling snow take a vague humanoid-like form for a fleeting second. With the decision made, she took her meditative-stance.
Minutes went by, and marilith just stayed still just breathing calmly, with the odd swirling snow as her company. Few more minutes passed, when the oddly swirling snow began circle her in a pattern of sorts. As the meditation started to near its peak, Najas arms began to do slow, flowing movements, as if dancing, following floating snows pattern by instinct. Or maybe something was guiding her movements? All these movements were followed by gentle song-like notes.
Finally after almost an hour, Naja reached her meditations zen-phase, a red materia crystal began to grow in front of her, drawing in the floating snow. Almost like it was waiting for it to appear. By this point the eye of the storm began to pass the village, bringing back the wind and snow, which in turn brought Naja out of her meditation.
"Well would ya look at that. Guess there was something wanting to make contact." she muttered to herself, while respectfully picking up the red crystal. And from the get-go she could feel that this one held the power of ten thousand great blizzards and more within itself.
"My humble greetings to you, Empress of ice and cold..."
Later after the storm...
"- and you just went outside on a hunch, did not freeze to death, danced in place, and now you are offering me this red crystal?"
"In short, yes Ishorn. And I think I can call what lies within it, due to it wanting to meet you."
"...Very well. Call forth this entity."
After receiving permission, Naja took a slither back a little bit, before beginning the non-battle summoning.
"O Empress of Ice, wreathed in frost. Hear thy name and come join us! SHIVA!"
With the chant spoken, the red crystal began to glow brightly, followed by a gust of winters wind from it. This made some of the snow on the ground to rise up and coalesce into something large. Then the mass of snow visibly hardened and began to crack, like an egg or a cocoon.
And soon it broke apart with some manner of flourish, revealing a humanoid figure almost as tall as Naja in her standing-position, with icy blue skin, bright blue eyes that almost looked white, deep blue flowing hair, wearing an azure harem dancer outfit and a crown of ice in the form of deer antlers.
Needless to say, entirety of the village was in awe of this creature, whose whole being seemed to breathe vast magic and power of winter.
"Greetings Høvding Ishorn. I am Shiva. And I would wish to form a pact with thee..."