• Published 1st Dec 2013
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The Book of Water: The Heart of Winter - TalonMach5



Part two, of books two of four, in the Great Slave King Saga. An anthology of Equestria's history

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Chapter 2: The Promise, a Hope For a Brighter Tomorrow

The Book of Water: The Heart of Winter

A Story by TalonMach5

Chapter 2: The Promise, a Hope For a Brighter Tomorrow

He sat at his usual place at the table, however he found that his normal breakfast didn’t seem to be satisfying at all. Looking into his cup, he saw the same iridescent green liquid he regularly drank for sustenance, and found that he desired more. Looking deeply into the emerald colored draught, he frowned slightly at his reflection while the liquid inside his cup sloshed back and forth.

“Beloved, is there something amiss?” he heard his wife ask.

Turning to his left, he gave her a sour look. Though she was an alicorn princess and was his superior on the Pantheon, she sat beside him catering to his needs. She’d been enjoying a bowl of sweetened porridge and stewed apples, and he suddenly found himself rather envious of her for some reason. Looking into his burning green eyes, she offered him a gentle smile. Placing her hoof near his hand, he found himself reaching out to hold it. Realizing what he’d almost done, he drew back his hand, and slumped into his stone chair.

Seeing her husband’s agitation, she levitated a spoonful of her breakfast towards him as a peace offering with her magic. With the spoon resting near his mouth, she looked at him expectantly with her large turquoise eyes as she waited for him to open his mouth. When he refused to cooperate, she looked at him pointedly.

“Husband, say ah,” she said in a tone that suggested that she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Wife, don’t you dare patronize me,” he hostilely said, moving his mouth away from the spoonful of porridge. “I’m not a child.”

Annoyed at his obstinance, she yanked his greying beard with her magic, making him open his mouth in surprise. Before he had a chance to close it, she’d pushed the spoonful of porridge into his mouth. Before he could spit it out in protest, she held his mouth shut with her magic.

“Husband, thou claimst thou aren’t a foal,” she chided, waiting for him to swallow the mouthful of porridge. “But thou insisteth in acting as the selfsame.”

Grinding his teeth, he looked at her flowing mane that sparkled like diamonds, and her coat as dark as the night sky, and wondered if this was to be his life for the foreseeable future. A weak cripple who couldn’t even find peace in the few things he once enjoyed. Tapping one of the metal fingers on his right hand against the stone table they were eating at, he released a heavy sigh.

“Wife, do as you will,” he said, looking back into his goblet.

“Tis the food, isn’t it, dear husband?” she asked, looking at the food some of their servants had set before them. “Tisn’t to thy liking?”

Taking a sip from his cup, he angrily set it down in disgust, causing the draught inside to splash everywhere. When she saw the mess he’d made had gotten onto her otherwise immaculate blue silken coat, she frowned, before using her linen napkin to wipe the offending mess away.

Gripping the armrests of his stone seat, he looked enviously at her breakfast. He could still taste the sweetness of the sugar and cinnamon on his tongue, while the crispness of the apples lingered in his memory. He found that he liked it, and was now desiring more, something that he found rather troubling. Never before had he any desire for sustenance beyond his draught, and now because he found it wanting, he was beginning to worry.

Seeing the hungry look he was giving her food, she smiled and moved her bowl towards him. “Woulds’t thou care for more, darling?” she asked, levitating another spoonful of porridge towards him.

He shook his head. “Wife, it’s unseemly to rob you of your breakfast,” he said, wishing these new found desires would leave him.

“Dear heart,” she said, placing her head against his. “Thou needeth sustenance more than we. Besides, our servants cans’t always make more.”

Opening his mouth in an act of contrition for his earlier outburst, he willingly ate each spoonful of porridge she offered him. As she slowly feed him, he found a sense of contentment as the sweetened porridge and stewed apples filled his stomach. It was much like how he’d felt earlier, when her divinity had been sustaining him, when they had attempted reconnecting his divinity to the source of his power. Feeling thirsty, he drank deeply from his cup, and found it a much more fulfilling experience this time.

Offering his wife a look of gratitude for insisting that he eat, he sat back in his stone chair, feeling completely satisfied. Looking down at his emptied cup, he waited for it to be refilled, but saw to his disappointment that Gunhilde, his cupbearer, was nowhere to be found. Looking around the room, he found that beyond his wife and himself, it was completely empty. He found it odd. Normally, either Harmony would be tut tuting him about his schedule, or Melody would be playing her lute in the corner as he ate. And as far as his cupbearer was concerned, ever since she’d accepted the position he offered her, she’d always been nearby, and ready to fill his cup at a moment’s notice. But now, none of them were anywhere to be found.

Struggling to sit up to his full height, he trembled as his body threatened to slump back into his seat. “Where is my cupbearer?” he rumbled, causing his wife to look up at him in surprise.

Moments later, a diamond dog servant rushed into the dining hall, and looked up at him with concern on his muzzle. “I can see to it that your cup is refilled, my king,” he said with a low bow.

Looking down at his servant, he saw that it was one of the many nameless valets that served him in some capacity. Most were of a treacherous sort, and thus he’d never bothered learning any of their names. He knew that all they most likely wanted, was to simply elevate their position amongst his staff. Leveling a stern gaze down on the diamond dog that dared to elevate himself unbidden, he disapprovingly pointed a metal finger at him. “Where is my cupbearer?” he asked in a low rumble, suggesting he wouldn’t brook any excuses.

“The reindeer, my king?” the valet asked, not entirely sure why he desired her over himself, a loyal diamond dog.

“Yes, Gunhilde, my cupbearer,” he said, growing impatient.

“I don’t know, my king,” the valet said, shifting on his paws nervously. “Perhaps she’s deserted you?”

When he heard him utter such slander against her, his fury burned hot. Rising up out of his seat, much to the surprise of his wife, his flaming green eyes burned like a fiery inferno. “Get out and find her then,” he growled, feeling his anger fuel his new found strength. “Find her, and her companion Chrysalis as well.”

“But… but, my king,” the poor frightened valet stammered.

“If you don’t find them, don’t bother coming back,” he said, showing them a full measure of his displeasure. “Now leave me.”

“Of course, at once, Slave King,” the diamond dog said with a curt bow, before running out of the dining hall and back into the palace.

Hearing the panicked shouts of the valet commanding others to join him in the search echoing through the palace walls, he smiled, before his strength gave out, sending him falling back into his unforgiving stone chair. With a heavy clunk, his crown smashed into the chair’s headrest, chipping its otherwise smooth surface. With concern in her eyes for his wellbeing, his wife used her magic to prop him up.

"Husband, art thou all right,” she worriedly asked, looking into his flaming eyes that seemed to burn even brighter than before. “Shalt we summon our physician to thee?”

“No, Wi… Luna,” he said, looking at her with a softened look for the first time since he’d been struck down by his vile curse. “I’ll be all right, I just need to catch my breath is all.”

“Beloved,” she said, embracing him strongly with her powerful wings. “We wert so worried for thee.”

Though he had little strength left in his arms, he returned her embrace as well as he could. “It’ll be all right, wife. It’ll be all right,” he said, offering her what little comfort he could.

Caught in her embrace, he didn’t quite know why, but found himself enjoying the feeling of her silken coat against him, and the scent of her perfume to be slightly intoxicating. Knowing he needed to extract himself from her grasp, he pulled away from her.

Reluctantly, Luna withdrew her wings and looked down at him. Overjoyed at the small sign of affection he’d just shown her, she beamed with happiness. Seeing the remnants of their breakfast, she looked at him questioningly. “Husband,” she said. “Dost thou desireth to sup more?”

“No,” he replied, looking down thoughtfully at his emptied cup. “But I still thirst.”

Seeing his desire for more of his draught, she levitated a draught filled bottle towards his goblet, intent on filling it for him.

Seeing what his wife was trying to do, he covered his cup with his hand. “No,” he sharply said. But then, seeing the look of hurt and disappointment on her muzzle, laid his hand on her shoulder. “Wife, I desire to sit upon my throne now.”

When she heard his request, any prior bruised feelings she might have once had, evaporated in the aether. Eager to serve him and prove her devotion to her husband, she levitated him onto her back with her magic.

“Come, dear husband,” she said, walking out of the dining hall and towards his throne room with a bounce in her step. “Let us be off.”

“Don’t appear so eager to carry me, wife,” he said, as they passed by some of their servants which were bowing before their king and their new mistress. “The servants might talk.”

“Then let us give them something to talk about, husband,” she suggestively said, sending her magic thrumming through him.

Unprepared for her magic that she’d sent coursing through him, it took all his will power to fight off her advances. Feeling his resistance, Luna withdrew most of her magic from him as she carried him. Feeling flush from their combined power, he contemplated making an issue of it, but seeing her playful smile, thought better of it. She’d enjoyed teasing him, and he decided he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of a response.

Choosing to remain silent, he wondered how he’d ever allowed things come to this.

*****

Waking up from a blissful sleep, he yawned as his eyes adjusted to the low light of the room. Feeling the softness of the satin sheets covering him, he sighed with relief. It hadn’t been a cruel dream after all, he was finally safe, yet all alone. Of course this wasn’t the first time he found himself a wanderer, a stranger in an unknown land. However, this time his reception was much kinder.

Before, his previous hosts had only seen fit to beat and starve him. To give him the taste of the lash for the slightest transgression. To sear his flesh with their brand, marking him as their property forevermore. They had taken everything from him, and yet he was at peace with it. Though those he’d loved were long gone and buried, it seems fate had seen fit to compensate him for his loss.

He’d found himself in the care of a beautiful woman, who claimed to love him greatly. Who welcomed him into her home, tended to his wounds, fed him the first good meal he’d eaten in over a decade, and had given him the first night of peaceful sleep he’d had in just as long. Though she claimed she didn’t expect anything in return for her kindness, her eyes told another story. She clung desperately to a forlorn hope, that he could be who he never could, the Slave King.

Even saying the name felt odd to him. As far as he was concerned, he was the real King. And yet if he was to believe her story, he was nothing more than a copy, a shadow, an echo of a man long since dead. He wondered how he’d gone so wrong, to allow the horrible things he’d been told about. He’d never had any desire to be the monstrous tyrant he’d apparently became. All he’d ever desired was freedom for himself and his family, and yet he’d inflicted such evil upon countless innocents. How could he ever live with the guilt and shame, knowing what he’d wrought?

Sitting up in the bed, he remembered the mottled griffin he’d encountered in the desert. How thanks to his cowardice, had been captured and enslaved. He remembered the tiny blue unicorn filly, crying in her cage, and how he’d stolen food from her. He thought back to mines he toiled in for his masters, and how he’d been nearly beaten within an inch of his life, before the selfsame filly moved gems from her pile onto his, saving him from the whip. He remembered sitting together with them in the hot springs on their weekly days off, and being taught by them how to speak their language.

Picking up the clothes his hostess had provided for him, he began dressing. Looking into a nearby mirror, he saw his reflection, and the many scars he carried. One particularly nasty one, ran across his chest and along his back. He’d gotten it rescuing her from one of their taskmasters. They had decided to beat her after they were done taking liberties with her, when she’d failed to act as enthusiastically as they had wanted her to. That had cost him forty lashes. He looked at his burned face, and sighed. The forge had been burning hot that day, and had his brother not been so slow bringing the coal, perhaps their taskmaster wouldn’t have made an example of them.

He remembered feeling the cool air blowing against face, when he broke through the tunnel. He remembered how happy and excited they both were when he’d shared the discovery with them. He tried remembering more, but couldn’t. He felt the steady rhythm of his heartbeat, and felt it beating for three. He, her and himself, and though they were no longer with him, he would live as they would’ve wanted him to. Though he still felt shame and horror within him regarding what the Slave King had become. For them, he buried those feelings deep within his heart.

“Snowe, Little Bleu…” he said, placing his hand against the mirror. “Sleep well.”

The sound of the door opening caught his ear. Turning towards it, he waited expectantly for his hostess to enter. “Lady Suzaku,” he said, offering the gorgeous phoenix a small smile.

“Hello, Sla…” she said, before catching herself. “I apologize. But I only know you by that name.”

He shook his head, and raised his hands slightly, indicating he wasn’t offended. “Lady Suzaku, it’s alright, I understand,” he said, trying to put her at ease. “If it’s easier for you, simply call me King instead.”

Happy that he’d not been offended by her slip of the tongue, she approached him. “Well then, King,” she said, trying to remember he was a different man then the one she loved. “I wanted to see if you were hungry.”

When he heard her mention breakfast, he felt his stomach rumble as his mouth watered. “I am feeling a bit peckish, Lady Suzaku,” he admitted, grateful for the chance to sate his hunger.

“Oh please, King,” she said, placing her wing against his cheek. “Call me Zuzu, or just Suzaku if you must.”

Though she seemed comfortable enough allowing him to use a pet name, he felt ill at ease doing so. Deciding he wasn’t quite ready to be so familiar with her, he opted to simply drop her title. “As you wish, Suzaku,” he said, waiting for her to lead the way to breakfast.

*****

As it turned out, breakfast had nearly been a banquet. Lady Suzaku had had her servants prepare all manner of food. Not in his previous decade of living had he ever seen such a bounty. In fact, even before he’d come to this place, had he ever seen such an amount and variety of food to choose from. Apparently, she didn’t quite know what he preferred eating. Which he found rather odd, since as intimate as she’d claimed to have been with the Slave King, he would’ve thought the kinds of food he preferred would have been well known to her.

“Darling,” she said, sitting beside him at the table. “Do you find the food agreeable?”

When he heard her address him as darling, he didn’t know what to do. On the one hand he owed his entire existence to her, and didn’t mind that she wasn’t human. But on the other hand, he was still grieving for his daughter and brother, and didn’t know if he was quite ready to open his heart to another. And then there was the issue of their feather folk children. Though he had a good idea of what she wanted with him, he wasn’t quite sure what that would entail.

“Yes, Suzaku, the food is wonderful,” he said, helping himself to some more fruit.

“But I can tell something weighs heavily on your mind, King,” she said, looking at him with concern. “Tell me please, my love.”

Still feeling uncomfortable with receiving such terms of endearment from his hostess, he bit his lip nervously as he looked away from her. “I think some part of me knows they died, and that I should move on,” he said, looking out a nearby window towards the west. “But my heart tells me I still need to fulfill my promise to them.”

“What promise was that, love?” Suzaku asked, intrigued by his past and delighted that he was choosing to share something so personal with her.

“Long before we escaped,” he said, taking a sip from his cup. “We promised each other that if we ever escaped, we would swim together in the Western Sea under the sun and moon.”

Though the Slave King had rarely spoken of them to her, over the years she’d gleaned enough information about his family to know how much they had meant to him. Touched by the romanticism of his desire to fulfill his long standing promise, she decided to help him fulfill it.

“I know your desire, love,” she said, thinking back to her own promise to herself, to one day be reunited with her love once more. “King, I shall aid you.”

Though grateful to her, and for her hospitality towards him, he didn’t hold any affection towards her. But when he heard her offer to help him fulfill the promise he’d made to them so long ago, he felt his heart burn and eyes moisten.

“Thank you, Suzaku,” he said, trying to hide his reddened eyes. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”

Knowing that he was too proud to show her his tears, she placed a wing on his shoulder and embraced him. “All I ask, love, is that you allow me to make you happy,” she said, glad that she could aid him in this way.

Though she seemed to be sincere, his years as a slave had jaded him. Part of him hoped she was being genuine, and yet part of him feared it as well. “Why, Suzaku?” he asked, drawing slightly away from her touch.

“Because I love you,” was her reply. “What more can I say, than that?”

“Part of me still expects this all to be some elaborate, cruel prank,” he said, confessing his fears to her. “That I’ll wake up, back in chains, a slave once more.”

Hearing his concern, she immediately thought back to that fateful day that he’d been banished by the Pantheon. Back then, she’d not given any thought to her vote agreeing to banish him. She’d been flirting with Lord Ouroboros then, trying to catch his eye, and had giggled when he’d mocked the new godling’s punishment. Remembering her previously callous behavior, her heart ached. Even though her vote wouldn’t have been enough to spare him from his banishment, maybe things might have ended up differently had he known not everyfeather wished him harm.

“King, my love, I swear by the moot, as long as I draw breath, no harm will come to you,” she said, wishing to absolve herself of her guilty conscience.

Knowing the power of such an oath, and having seen her power first hand, he felt a sense of relief wash over him. But something still bothered him, and he needed to know for his own peace of mind. “So, Suzaku… What is the purpose of all this?” he asked, gesturing towards the food laden table, the servants waiting on them hand and foot, and pointing towards the fine clothes she’d provided for him.

“Why, love, it’s breakfast of course,” she said, releasing an airy giggle at her little joke.

“Suzaku, are you trying to court me?” he asked, deciding to be direct.

Offering him a look radiating warmth and love, she placed her wing atop his hand. “Yes, love,” she admitted, offering him a gentle smile. “I would have thought it was obvious what my intentions were.”

With his suspicions confirmed, he went silent, returning his gaze towards the west. “When do you think we can go to the Western Sea, Suzaku?” he asked in a lonely tone, indicating his mind was in some far off place.

Hearing his reluctance, she withdrew her wing from his hand. Though it hurt her that he was unable to accept her affections just yet, she promised herself, that she would keep trying until he did. “King, whenever you feel well enough to travel,” she said, looking into his warm brown eyes. “But don’t misunderstand me, love. You’re under no obligation to me. Feel free to reject me, and even pursue another if that’s your desire. All I ask, is you give me a chance.”

He nodded appreciatively at her, and released the breath he’d been holding in for several minutes. “Thank you for understanding, Suzaku,” he said, relieved that she wasn’t demanding that he love her regardless of his own feelings on the matter. “If it would be all right, can we go as soon as possible?”

Seeing the same decisiveness in him, which their daughter Aria also possessed, made her smile. Those two, they were so alike. She only wished she could share him with their children, so they could see him for themselves. But she knew that was folly, there was no telling what the Pantheon would do, to say nothing of how the Slave King might react, once news of his existence became public. Thoughts of everything from banishment, to outright execution crossed her mind.

Though, the wayfarer probably didn’t know it, the source of his creation had spent five centuries bathing in the waters of Well of Eternity. Additionally, the blood of two deities flowed through his veins, the Slave King’s and herself. Which on some level, made her his mother. But as interrelated as the Pantheon was, such distinctions were irrelevant. So while pursuing such a relationship might be frowned upon by mortals, it was far from the oddest pairing amongst her fellow deities.

Deciding that he needed to disguise himself as any other wayfarer, she decided to tell him about her plan. “Love, before we can leave the safety of my domain, we need to discuss some things,” she said, gesturing that he follow her into her parlor.

Getting up from the table he walked beside her, as they made their way together through the gaily colored passages of her Summer Palace. Approaching a pair of ornately decorated golden doors, she used her magic to open them. Inside, the room was richly furnished with thick carpets, soft cushioned seats, beautiful silk tapestries, and gilded cages full of singing nightingales.

Sitting down on a large seat made for two, she patted the cushion next to her, indicating that she wished for him to sit beside her. Though he felt uncomfortable being so close to her beauty, he decided to humor her, and sat down beside her.

Pleased that he’d accepted her invitation, she placed her wing on top of his hand, and looked at him. “King, love,” she said, wishing she didn’t have to breach such an unpleasant subject. “We know your people only as wayfarers.”

“Yes, you told me that earlier,” he said, finding his curiosity piqued by her reticence to discuss this topic.

“Wayfarers do pop up from time to time,” she admitted, stroking his hand with her feathers. “But they disappear as quickly as they appear.”

“It’s a shame I never had that luxury,” he said, bitterly remembering all the cruelty he suffered at the hands of his former masters. “I wonder what had changed to make that possible. I quite literally fell through a hole in the ground.”

“Well during the last great moot, which brought harmony back to Equestria,” she explained, recalling what had happened. “The Slave King demanded we turn over any Wayfarers we find to him.”

“So, Suzaku, what happened to all those who came after me?” he asked, wondering what could have possibly happened to the rest of the humans.

“Truthfully, nofeather knows their true fate,” she said, moving herself closer towards him. “Only that they’re gone as quickly as they arrive.”

“Has someone been killing them?” he asked, worried that perhaps one of the deities on the pantheon had been killing any humans unfortunate enough to be caught by them, in order to get back at the Slave King.

“Not that I’m aware of, love,” she said, deciding now was the right time to voice her concerns. “Love, outside my domain, my power wanes. Also the Slave King might not react too kindly towards you.”

He could understand her concerns for his safety. Judging by what he’d heard about his temperament, it was safe to say the Lord of Earth might take offense that they shared the same face. He knew there couldn’t very well be two Slave Kings after all. “So what do you suggest we do?” he asked.

“I think a disguise would be best,” she said, thinking of the possibilities.

“Well, I suppose I could wear a heavy cloak and mask,” he said, looking down at his brands and scars. “But my burned face, scars, and brands will be hard to hide.”

“Well, love,” Lady Suzaku said, releasing a portion of her magic into him. “I was thinking of something a tad more permanent than a simple change of clothing.”

He felt her power thrumming through him, and nearly jumped off the cushion in surprise. The closest thing he could compare the sensation to, was like a warm current running up and down through every part of his body. “Suzaku, what’s happening to me?” he worriedly said, feeling both fear and something entirely else in the pit of his stomach.

“Shh, my love,” she cooed, caressing his face. “Just relax, King, and let me take care of everything for you.”

Realizing that she was the source of the tingling he was feeling, he shook and looked at her with uncertainty in his eyes. “Suzaku, please stop,” he said, feeling conflicted by whatever she was doing to elicit these strange feelings resonating within him.

Realizing that what she was doing might push him away from her forever, she drew most of her power back inside her. “I’m sorry, love,” she said, offering him an apologetic smile. “You look so much like him, I sometimes forget you’re a different feather altogether.”

“What were you doing to me, Suzaku?” he asked, feeling a barely noticeable tingle still inside him.

“It’s hard to put into words, love,” she said, struggling how best to describe the song of creation. “When the divine wish to join, we sing. It allows us to use our divinity to create and change.”

“Were you trying to join with me?” he asked, wondering if she’d just tried raping him.

Seeing the distant look of anger reflected in his eyes, she realized what he’d meant, and immediately felt her heart ache once more with guilt. “Love, I would never…” she started to say, before falling silent. In truth, she’d once did the same to the Slave King. She’d abused his trust, and been cast out of his domain in response for her betrayal. Realizing that she’d nearly repeated her previous mistake with his doppelganger, brought her to tears.

Seeing her cry, pricked his heart. In truth, beyond it feeling strange at first, it almost seemed pleasurable after a while. “Suzaku, er, Zuzu,” he said, hoping that using her pet name might show her that he held no hard feelings towards her. “I… I was just surprised is all, I wasn’t prepared.”

Relieved that he didn’t bare any ill will towards her, and happy that he’d used her nickname, she dried her eyes, and hugged him tightly. “Love,” she said, knowing he deserved to know the truth. “When we gods join, it’s similar to when mortals become intimate with each other.”

“I see…” he murmured.

“I didn’t mean to,” she said, trying to explain herself. “I mean, I would love to share that with you, but it wasn’t my intent.”

“Then why did you do it?” he asked, feeling slightly annoyed.

“Well joining has functions other than procreation,” Lady Suzaku explained. “We can use it to imbue things with our divinity or even change the physical world.”

“I suppose it has something to do with disguising me then?” he guessed, remembering their earlier discussion.

“Yes, love,” she said, slowly releasing her divinity back into him. “I was hoping to heal your scars.”

Nodding thoughtfully, he sat back as he felt her magic entering him. Though his scars had been a part of him for so long, he held no love for them. In fact, removing them from him, would be his final act of defiance against those who had held him against his will as a slave. He could see the virtue of her idea. If the Slave King had truly been living with these scars for nearly five centuries, removing them would most likely make him unrecognizable at first glance.

“Suzaku, it’s a sound plan,” he said, giving her wing a slight squeeze. “You have my permission to continue.”

When she heard him grant her his permission, she was relieved. Though her time wouldn’t be upon her until next season, being so close to him had reawakened a hunger and desires she’d been unable to fulfill for ages. Though she’d been sincere in her regret in nearly joining with him without his permission, a part of her was demanding she bend him to suit her whims. But now free to infuse him with her divinity, she sang the song of creation as she tried erasing the terrible scars that had marred him as long as she’d ever known him.

She was surprised when she discovered that he was as malleable as clay. On her previous attempts at healing the Slave King, she’d always found him as rigid as granite and as unbending as a mountain. She supposed it was due to his previous years of hard living, spent in the madness that had nearly consumed him. Examining his soul, she found it shining as bright and warm as the sun. In the past, when she’d joined with the Slave King, she’d always found his soul dark. Though it was as strong as arcanum, it held little warmth of its own, and always left her own soul feeling rather chilled.

As she erased the scars from him, she finally saw the feather beneath them for the first time. Though she’d always found him ruggedly handsome, scars or not, removing them from him was a remarkable improvement. Tracing a feather against his hard, lean body, she found herself wishing she could lose herself to the melody of the Song of Creation. But knowing he wasn’t ready to share that with her quite yet, she fought back against her desires, and released him from her divinity’s hold.

“Love, I’m finished,” she said, pulling away from him, lest she give into temptation and pounce on him.

Looking at his arms and chest, he saw that for the most part, the scars had been erased from his flesh. Almost as if he’d never carried them at all. Tracing his finger along one of the nearly invisible scars running along his arm, he frowned when he saw that his hateful brands were still imprinted on his biceps.

“Do you need more time to finish this, Suzaku?” he asked, hoping that she was planning on removing his scars in stages.

“I’m sorry, love,” she said, noting how disappointed he was, that his brands remained burned into his flesh. “I could do nothing for the scars seared into your soul. When you entered the Well of Eternity, the spark of divinity merged with you, transforming you into an eternal being. The parts that defined you, including your brands, were imprinted on your soul, and thus became immutable.”

Sighing in disappointment, he closed his eyes, and breathed in deeply. “Then I suppose there’s no point in dwelling on it,” he said, accepting that they would be with me for the foreseeable future.

“Love, I’ve always found they were part of your charm,” Lady Suzaku said, handing him a mirror. “Come, King, see your new face.”

Holding the mirror in front of him, he slowly turned it around, until he saw his reflection in the mirror’s smooth, glassy surface. What he saw staring back at him, was a stranger’s face. It had been so long since he’d seen himself without scars, he barely recognized himself. Gone was his broken nose, and the pitted scarred skin from the large burn that had once covered most of his face. He smiled, revealing a full set of dazzling white teeth. It was as if he was a whole new person. Sure, if you looked closely enough you could still see traces of his former scars. But for the most part, they were gone or nearly invisible.

“Well, Suzaku,” he said, handing her back the mirror. “You certainly do good work. I barely recognize myself. And I’m sure the Slave King will have even greater difficulty recognizing me.”

Pleased that he’d found her work acceptable, she kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Oh, love, I’m so glad you’re happy with it,” she said clapping her wings together with excitement. “Now we only have the issue of your name.”

“Yes,” he said, realizing any connection to their shared name might raise suspicion. “You can’t very well can’t keep calling me King, Suzaku. Eventually someone will put two and two together.”

“Excuse me, love?” she asked, not quite catching his meaning.

He flashed her a brief smile, and lightly chuckled. “It’s an expression my people have,” he explained. “It means if you keep calling me King, someone will eventually figure things out.”

“Yes, King. That was my thinking as well,” she said, tilting her head slightly. “What we need to give you is a new name.”

“That’s probably for the best,” he agreed, thinking of possible aliases to use.

“So, love. Do you have any ideas about what you would like to be called?” Lady Suzaku asked, spreading her wings slightly as she thought of an appropriate name to offer him. Thinking of the names her people used, she offered him a name she thought was worthy of him. “How about Apogee, dear?”

“No, I don’t think that’s the name for me,” he said, wondering why she’d suggested such an unusual name.

Remembering his connection to the ponies, Lady Suzaku thought he might appreciate a proper Equestrian name instead. “How about Tempered Steel, love?” she suggested, thinking such a name was fitting for him.

“Tempered Steel?” he said in a way that suggested that name left a foul taste in his mouth. “I don’t think a pony name suits me, Suzaku.”

When she heard him shoot down her last suggestion, she furrowed her brow in consternation. Didn’t he know she was trying to help him find something he liked? Well then, King,” she said, pursing her beak slightly. “Perhaps you should pick a name from your homeland then.”

When he heard her say his name, inspiration hit him. “Suzaku, I’ve got it,” he said, clapping his hands together at the sheer brilliance of it. “Call me Elrey.”

“Elrey…” she mused, liking how it rolled off her tongue.

“It means the king, in one of the languages of my people,” he said.

“King, love, er, I mean, Elrey. I like it,” she said, appreciating the irony of changing his name to another with the exact same meaning. “Elrey is a fitting name for you. Now come, love, let’s prepare for our trip to the Western Sea.”

He nodded in agreement, stood up, and followed after her. Looking behind him, he saw the empty parlor where she’d transformed him. Inside, he’d left behind his old name, his old life, and had taken up a new mantle. Though he’d miss the good parts, the wonderful parts of his previous life, he knew it was time to move on. Burying who he once was, alongside his long dead family, Elrey left the past firmly behind him, as he walked forward to meet the future.

*****

She felt somefeather gently slapping her face. Fluttering open her ruby eyes, she saw that everything seemed to be a dark blur. Rubbing her half opened eyes with her hands, she blinked several times, as her vision slowly came into focus. Looking around, she saw that she was still inside the ancient aqueduct. Feeling slightly groggy, she yawned once, and saw standing above her, her sister, Harmony, the Black.

Harmony wore a weary look on her face. Marring her otherwise beautiful visage, were worry lines etched deeply into her brow by years of continuous frowning. Finally noticing that she was awake, Harmony offered her, her hand to help her to her feet. Grasping it, she slowly stood up onto her feet. Rubbing her sore tush, she looked around for her companions.

“Harmony,” she said, looking down at her ruined dress with regret. “Is everyfeather else all right?”

Seeing her struggle with her dirty, torn, and waterlogged dress, she offered her a clean handkerchief. “Beyond being miserable and wet, and unconscious for nearly a full day,” she said, creating a halo of floating lights above their heads. “They’re none the worse for the wear. But tell me, what happened to you down here.”

“We discovered signs of a changeling infiltrator inside the palace,” she said, remembering the events that had led up to them coming into this nearly forgotten place.

“A changeling? Are you absolutely sure?” she asked, already dreading the mountain of paperwork such an incidence would make for her.

“Yes, Harmony,” she said, wiping off her face and beak with the handkerchief, before offering it back. “I think it’s the same one that interfered during the tournament, and it even changed into the same ghast that attacked Aria.”

Grimacing at the condition of the now filthy handkerchief, she held up her hands, indicating she didn’t want it back. “So where are they now?” she asked, involuntarily shuddering when she remembered how fiercely the fight against the ghast had been.

“Once the aqueduct flooded, we were carried away by the current,” she admitted, remembering the changeling turned serpent’s roars of anger echoing through the large tunnel. “They could be anywhere by now.”

Probably already back at their hive no doubt,” Harmony growled, annoyed that she’d been denied her revenge against the changeling that had so brazenly bypassed her wards, and defied their security.

“I don’t think so,” she replied, running her fingers through her filthy plumage, and looking at disgust at the filth she found nestled between her feathers. “We found the changeling inside the treasury.”

When she heard that the changeling had been inside the treasury, she inwardly groaned with despair, there’s no telling what it might have taken. Beyond the mountains of gold and gems without number, there were numerous magical artifacts of all kinds, from the mundane to the obscenely powerful. There was the Vendetta of course, a magical weapon capable of slaying even gods. However, even touching such a weapon was almost impossible, without first being devoured by the vengeful souls that dwelt within it, and anyfeather who would resort to stealing it, was almost surely without a heart pure enough to withstand its rage.

Beyond the godslayer, there were master work weapons from the great weapons smiths of ages past, gems of arcane might, books of esoteric knowledge, and artifacts of great power, that caused even the gods to dread the day they ever reached the hands of mortals. The Slave King had little in the way of security regarding his treasury, to the point of what she thought was foolish, the Domain of Earth couldn’t afford allowing even a single artifact escaping into the wild. There was no telling what mischief such objects of power could cause in the wrong hands, and when that happened, it would most undoubtedly fall to her to fix it to the Slave King’s satisfaction.

“Argh, damn it!” Harmony shouted in frustration, knowing full well how long a complete inventory of the treasury would take her. Opening up her ledger, she began furiously writing in it as she scheduled the preliminary meeting to discuss taking inventory with the Slave King.

Seeing her fury, she offered her sister a cheeky grin. Like their father, Harmony always seemed plagued by rage whenever something unexpected happened to throw off her oh so precious schedule. “Harmony, is something vexing you?” she teased.

Seeing that smug grin plastered on her face made Harmony want to cast a few spells in retaliation. Though she loved her sister dearly, sometimes she could be so infuriating. Her sister could afford to laugh about the situation, she couldn’t. If she didn’t nip this in the bud, while she still had a chance of battening things down before it became too unmanageable, things could get rather dicey between themselves and their neighboring domains. And with things at tense as they were between Water, Fire, and now apparently the Winter, the last thing they needed was adding even more fuel to the fire.

“Oh, ha, ha, Melody,” she sarcastically growled, thoroughly annoyed by her sister’s teasing. “It’s easy to laugh when you’re not the one stuck fixing all this.”

When Melody the Yellow heard her sister’s distress, her cocky grin evaporated. “Harmony…” she said, reaching out her hand to comfort her sister. “I didn’t mean to…”

Seeing her sister’s face reflecting concern for her, melted her anger away. She couldn’t stay mad at her, well not for long at least. Accepting her sister’s embrace, she grimaced when she remembered how filthy her clothes had become. Pulling away, she offered her a sour look when she saw the filth of this place stained on her once clean clothing. “You can go, Melody,” she said, pointing the way towards the treasury. “Gunhilde, Chrysalis, and the seapony are waiting for you.”

“But what about you, Harmony?” she asked, unwilling to abandon her sister to salvage things all by herself.

“I’ll be along later, I still need to fill out the preliminary report about what happened here,” she said, gesturing towards her ledger.

Remembering what she’d been told earlier, she flashed her sister a wide grin. “How about I save you all the trouble, Harmony?” she said, offering her sister a playful smile.

Remembering the last time her sister had helped, she rolled her emerald eyes dismissively. The last time she’d taken her up on her offer, she’d been forced to spend nearly three weeks smoothing things over with the Equestrian ambassador, one Blueblood. He’d had a penchant for the exotic, and found the feathered folk as exotic as they come. She could still feel his lecherous eyes undressing her, and involuntarily shuddered with disgust. If Princess Celestia hadn’t relieved him from his post, there was no telling what he might have tried next.

“Thank you, Melody, but I think I’ve got things covered here,” she said, writing a few notes down in the pages of the ledger, before muttering, “I won’t abide another Blueblood.”

“Ah, but he had such an adorable crush on you, sis!” Melody teased, giving her sister a knowing grin.

“Crush, hardly! More like unwelcomed lust, and perverse lechery,” Harmony retorted, as flames erupted from her black feathers when she remembered how he’d unsuccessfully tried blackmailing her for sexual favors.

“But I know what the changeling was after,” Melody said, in a sing song voice.

“What?” she said, instantly forgetting her anger towards the former ambassador, as her curiosity was piqued. “Well then.”

“Well what?” Melody asked.

“The changeling,” she said, feeling her temper starting to rise.

“What about him?” Melody replied.

Burying her face in her hands, she slowly shook her head, unable to believe they were actually doing this. “The changeling. What were they after in the treasury?” Harmony demanded, having nearly expended all her meager patience on her sister’s antics.

“Oh yes, the changeling,” she said, stroking her chin thoughtfully. “He was after six small gemstones.”

"Melody, are you sure?” Harmony asked, unable to understand why anyone would want them.

She was quite familiar with the stones Melody had mentioned. According to the Slave King, they were his crystallized tears. Proof that Celestia had somehow managed to make him cry thrice. Beyond the extraordinary means of their creation, she was unsure of any power they held. As far as she knew they were unremarkable in every way imaginable. Elsewhere in the treasury, there were many gems which shone far brighter and possessed greater beauty. If not for their significance as his tears, they would have been tossed away as dross long ago.

“As sure as I’ll ever be,” Melody said. “The changeling nearly went berserk when he lost them in the torrent.”

“Well, that makes things much simpler then. The loss of the stones, though regrettable, is of no real concern,” Harmony said, relieved that a full inventory might not be needed after all. “All that’s left then is to hunt down the changeling, and bring them in for questioning.”

“No wait!” Melody shouted, suddenly remembering what she’d been told in her dreams.

“Was there something else?” she asked, dreading the answer.

“The stones, they were something called the Elements of Harmony,” Melody said, relaying what she been told. “We have to find them as soon as possible, or else king daddy will suffer.”

Normally she’d correct her sister for implying the Slave King was their father, but hearing her outburst left her flummoxed. “What are you going on about?” Harmony demanded, confused by her sibling’s claims.

She was concerned, as court magister the treasury was her responsibility. She knew the name of every object of power that resided in the treasury, and had never heard of these Elements of Harmony before. As far as she knew, they were just ordinary stones. When she’d tested them for any magical properties, they hadn’t responded in the slightest. So how could they harm anyone, least of all the Slave King? And even more importantly, why did her sister possess knowledge she lacked?

Narrowing her eyes at Melody, she gave her a searching look. “How do you know any of this?” she said, upset that this was the first she was hearing about the power of the Elements of Harmony.

“Somefeather told me in a dream,” Melody explained.

“A dream?” she questioned, cocking her left eyebrow questioningly.

Though receiving knowledge through dreams was possible, and several members of the Pantheon had free reign over them, including their new mistress, Princess Luna. Such occurrences were rare, rather than commonplace. Very rarely would anyfeather ever be told anything directly. And more often than not, the knowledge they imparted were given through allegories and similes.

“Melody,” she chided, shaking her head. “You should know better than trusting dreams like that. For all we know it’s all something your mind made up.”

“No, I don’t think so,” she said, remembering the Library of Eternity, and the great blue serpent who resided there. “It was Jormungandr, he spoke to me in my dream, and told me about the stones.”

“You spoke to Jormungandr?” Harmony asked in disbelief, having trouble believing that the elusive deity had spoken to anyfeather recently, let alone her own sister. “How? I thought he was missing.”

Seeing her sister’s consternation, Melody chuckled. “Apparently it’s a matter between the gods,” she said, remembering what she’d been told by the Winding One.

“Melody, follow me,” Harmony grimly said, placing her ledger back in the satchel she carried about her waist. “We must advise the Slave King of this.”

Nodding in agreement, Melody followed after her sister towards the treasury to reunite with her waiting companions, before reporting what she’d learned to the Slave King.

*****

He stood proudly out on the balcony overlooking the city, his city. He heard crying coming from the room behind him. Turning around, he cast a scathing sneer at the source of the bothersome noise. He saw her crouched in the corner weeping, as she tried hiding herself from him in the shadows. She flinched when she saw he was staring malevolently at her with his blood red eyes.

Choking back a few sobs, she tried keeping silent, but it was too late, she’d already caught his attention. Seeing the fear reflected in her sapphire eyes, he leered wickedly at her. Though it had been a few hours since he’d last made use of her, seeing her despair had reawakened his appetite. Slowly walking towards her, he allowed the heavy thud of his arcanum clad hooves echoing through the room heighten her fear, as she trembled at his approach.

Looking down at her, his eyes followed the supple curves of her once crystalline yellow coat, now dulled with neglect and despair. Her dull pink mane and tail, once vibrant and immaculately styled to perfection, now hung in a listless tangle. Adorning her flank was her cutie mark, an ornate tiara resting upon a large topaz, and in the corner beside her were the smashed remnants of the arcanum coronet she once wore.

“Pathetic…” he remarked to nopony in particular, as he ran a hoof along her back.

Sniffing once, the miserable pony looked away, trying to hide her face from her tormentor. In response, he used his magic to grab her head, and turned her to face him. Her muzzle was inches from his, and he looked into her large blue eyes, relishing the terror they were reflecting. Licking his lips once, he gave her a hardened look, letting her know what he expected from her.

Too afraid to speak, she simply nodded in understanding. Seeing the cowed mare’s compliance, he released her from his magic’s hold, and waited for her to begin. Looking away from him in shame, she lowered her neck, and began servicing him as he’d demanded.

Looking into a nearby mirror, he saw their reflection, and wickedly smiled. There was something wonderfully primal about being served in this manner, especially given the mare’s former station. This mare, one Topaz III, until earlier this week, had once ruled over the Crystal Dominion as its regent. Once, she’d been one of the most powerful ponies in all Equestria, but now she was laid low serving her better, in the only manner he deemed her worthy of.

He grinned at her reflection, enjoying the show she was inadvertently giving him. Enjoying her ministrations, he felt flush with power. Looking at himself in the mirror, he saw his charcoal coat, and wild black mane, each a testament to his strength and power. Resting upon his head, was an arcanum crown as black as his heart. Jutting up at regular intervals, were spikes, giving the impression he possessed cruel horns. And because he didn’t trust the ponies he lorded over, beneath his red cloak, he wore his thick plated arcanum armor to protect him from any would be assassins.

With a triumphant roar, he finished, reveling in the debauched pleasure she’d provided him. Grateful to finally be free from her distasteful task, she returned to her corner, curled up into a ball, and wept as silently as she could. Using a scrap of cloth from the remnants of her once elegant dress, he wiped away the evidence of her task, and threw the rag at her hooves.

“Go clean yourself up, whore,” he mocked, drinking in her misery.

Turning away from her, he returned to his place on the balcony, and surveyed his kingdom. On the streets below, he saw the ponies he ruled over, silently going about their business. Though he’d been installed here for less than a week, his new administration was going along swimmingly.

Gone was the pointless frivolity of the citizenry. Thanks to his new policies, their energies were being put to better use. No longer did the plebs waste their time in the pubs and shops. Instead, they were better serving the domain and their king in labor camps. No longer did foals play in the streets, instead they were enrolled in his new schools. Being indoctrinated how best to serve the state, to serve him. No longer did most of the farmers farm, and craftsponies craft. Instead, the surplus labor was directed towards more beneficial industrial pursuits. Beyond the bare minimum of laborers needed to prevent starvation and keep the economy in check, the rest had been put to work in the mines, extracting crystals.

Though there had been many who had resisted his rule at first. They, like their former queen, had been brought to heel. It was amazing how quickly the bite of the whip bent the knee of even the most obstinate pony. And when the others had seen their neighbors bloodied for their troubles, any thoughts of rebellion in the remaining crystal ponies had been swept away.

A loud commotion outside the palace interrupted his thoughts. Approaching the balcony, he gazed down, looking for those who had so foolishly brought his ire upon themselves. On the streets below, he saw dozens of crystal ponies, carrying makeshift weapons, fighting with his guards and magical constructs. He glowered, as he saw the rabble beating back his guards as they assaulted the palace.

“Damn it all to Hades!” he snarled, furious that he was being forced to clean up after his incompetent servants.

Entering his wardrobe, he removed his magical horseshoes, and attached them to his hooves. Removing his cloak, he hung it up inside the wardrobe with care, before closing it behind him. Looking into the mirror, he inspected himself, making sure he was battle ready. Satisfied with his preparations, he moved to confront the foals who so foolishly thought to defy their lord and master, and the Slave King of course.

As he approached the door to exit his quarters, he looked back at the mare who was trying her hardest not to reveal her hope that a reprieve from his cruelty was coming. Knowing that he needed to nip any delusions that she’d ever be free from him, he cast a spell on the mirror, allowing her to watch him as he battled against the rebels.

“When I return the victor,” he malevolently said, licking his lips suggestively. “I expect you to reward me properly for entertaining you, my lady.”

Seeing her shudder in fear at his lecherous words, he released a dark chuckle. Oh it was good to be king.

As she watched him close the door behind him, all she could hear was his menacing laughter echoing after him. Turning towards the mirror, she held hope in her heart, as she dared dream that things might return again back to what they once were.

*****

As they walked away from the settlement, he felt a surge of something swelling within his breast. Never before had he felt this way about anything. Not even the thrill of battle seemed to compare to the feeling welling up deep inside him. His companion looked at him, and offered him a cursory glance.

“My son,” she affectionately said, opening her silvery wings slightly. Looking up at him, she deeply smiled. Truly, no parent could feel more proud then she did of her child. Standing tall all on his own, he was a chick no longer, but a strong adult. “You’ve brought honor to yourself and our people.”

“Mother,” he said, returning her gaze with his warm brown eyes. “Do you think that Melody will be all right?”

Thinking back to several days prior, and her son’s nearly disastrous encounter with the earth pony slaver, she nodded sagely. “Your father wouldn’t punish her for the crimes of another,” she said, placing her talon within his. “He might be many things, but unjust is not one of them.”

“I just hope I didn’t cause her any trouble,” he said, wondering if he’d ever see his half- sister again.

Though Melody had teased him relentlessly, there was something about her that always made him want to smile. He thought back to the Golden Eyrie, and his youth as a lone child. He’d never known any siblings before, and now that he’d had the chance to know his sisters, he heart ached to be reunited with them once more.

Seeing his sorrow etched into his brow, she reached down and embraced her son. “I’m sorry, Dawson,” she said, wishing there was some balm she could offer him to ease his aching heart.

Passing by a nearby pond, he stopped to look at his reflection. He saw his black and blue plumage. The dark feathers were nearly the same shade as the Slave King’s mane and beard, while the blue were nearly a match for his mother’s. Reaching down to pick up a smooth stone, he noticed the talons on his right hand. There were five, the same number of fingers that were found on both Melody’s and the Slave King’s hands.

He’d often wondered growing up, what sort of feather his father was. Was he fierce and strict, or gentle and loving? But the things he’d seen over the past month had opened his eyes, to the feather his father truly was. He was nothing less than a cruel tyrant, who possessed not an ounce of love or affection for anyfeather. Angrily throwing the rock into the pond, he watched it skip several times before sinking beneath the surface.

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the nearly black coin baring the Slave King’s image. Running a talon along the coin’s surface, he felt the ridges and bumps engraved into the hard unyielding metal. Turning the coin over, he read the inscription on the back. The Strong Rule. The Weak Serve. The Earth Is Generous. He felt his anger burn within him, for nowhere on the coin did it say, I love you, son.

Holding the hateful coin in his talon, he pulled back his arm to throw it into the pond, when he felt his mother holding his arm back. “Dawson, I know you’re angry right now,” she said, looking toward the south with sadness in her eyes. “But one day you might regret throwing it away.”

Looking at the coin his sister had given him to guarantee their safe passage through the Domain of Earth, he sighed, before placing it back in his pocket. He smiled as he imagined what she might say if she could see him now. Don’t be such a pony, Dawson. It’s just a coin, silly. Besides, how else can we expect you to come and visit us from time to time?

Feeling the edge of the coin resting in his pocket, he remembered his sisters, Ignatius, the dragon-half, Erica, the feathered folk courier, and even the kobold armorer he’d neglected to learn the name of. He felt a connection to each of them, and was determined he’d remember them always as his kin.

“Come, Dawson, let’s go home,” he heard his mother say.

Walking away from the pond, he looked at the pony town where they’d left the slaves they’d freed. Looking towards the south, he saw the harsh badlands and wilderness beckoning to him, urging him to come home. Turning to face his mother, he walked to her side, and spread open his wings. Pumping his wings hard, he leapt into the air, and waited for her to join him as they continued their journey home.

Lady Zephyr, looked up at her son flying overhead, opened her own wings, and joined him in the pale blue skies above. Heading towards their home in the North, they left the town, pond, and all his sorrows behind.

Author's Note:

Thank you gentlereader for reading chapter two of The Book of Water: The Heart of Winter, as always comments are appreciated.

Here we find the Slave King adjusting to his new life with his wife. It appears that even small things such as eating breakfast have become a battle of wills between himself and Luna. But even though he finds himself weakened, it appears that he still has some strength hidden inside himself. But it seems that slowly but surely she's winning her husband over, but the question remains for how long?

And it appears that the Slave King's double, seems to be faring little better. Wracked with guilt for sins he never committed, and holding a long held promise in his heart, will he allow himself to fall into the same pitfalls the Slave king once did, or will he rise above the uncertainty that seems to consume his mind. But what of Lady Suzaku? Though she nearly possesses what shes always desired, she seems to suffers from regret. Perhaps she can take solace in helping King keep his promise, and in so helping him, find absolution for herself. But now having taken a new name, and wearing a new face, courtesy of his hostess. Will Elrey finally find peace, and a place for himself in a world so hostile to his kind?

Harmony having returned from her audience with Jormungandr in the Library of Eternity, and tasked with retrieving the Elements of Harmony by the elusive Winding One, now needs to convince her father of the importance of her mission. One can only wonder what the Slave King, or even Luna might say when they discover what was taken. And Sombra seems to have taken to his new position like a fly to honey, too bad his new subjects seem to be chaffing against the yoke he so generously have given them. We wonder how the battle against the rebellion will fare for him, and whether Topaz will be forced to continue as she has. And finally Dawson seem to have accepted that the Slave King will never be his father, and yet he still seems to long for the harsh land his kin call home. We wonder if he'll ever return to the South?

Find out the answers to these questions and more, in the next exciting chapter of The Book of Water: The Heart of Winter, coming soon to computer near you!

Once again, gentlereader, thank you for reading and all your kind words and support. You make writing worthwhile. Until next time!