The Ice Runner

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As the fog surrounding his mind dispersed, the first sensation that Tranton became aware of was that of warmth. It infused his skin and bones down to the marrow, enveloping him in the comforting embrace of childhood. He was on his back, strapped down tightly. As he swam up to consciousness has feared that he had been physically restrained or trapped, and he shifted stiffly as he willed his eyes to open. He tugged at his brain, dragging it from its stupor, and perceived a ceiling, crafted by human hands. The deliberate geometry of the thick wooden beams startled his eyes, otherwise so used to rock and sky and cloud. He turned his head to one side, towards a crackling noise which revealed itself to belong to a roaring fire, flickering away on its hearth, with a stuffed stag's head mounted above the mantelpiece. The rich, sweet aroma of burning wood filled the room. The room was small and cosy, with a wardrobe and chest of drawers and a low table next to where he lay in an adequately-sized bed. He wasn't trapped at all, but had simply been tucked beneath clean-smelling blankets.

"If I'd known this is what death is like I'd have given up much earlier," he muttered to himself, his throat proving dry and cracked.

"Oh, you're not dead," came a gruff voice from the other side of the room. "Seems you're pretty good at not dying. At any rate, I've got far too many questions for you to let that happen."

Tranton turned towards the voice, still slow and absorbing his surroundings as if through water. Sat on a chair in the corner of the room with his arms crossed was an older man, grey haired and with a hardy, well-worn face. Tranton hadn't seen the face of another human for almost a year and his eyes drank in every detail of the man's pockmarked, stubbled, weather-lined features, from the scar on his right eyebrow to the streak of pale white hair among the grey.

"Who are you?"

The grey haired man laughed. It was a deep, throaty, welcoming sound. "I'm the man who gets to decide what happens to you," he said. "My name is Roldan Stryke, and I'm in service of the king."

Tranton blinked twice and frowned. "You have a king?"

Stryke smiled wryly, as if a suspicion had just been confirmed. "Given that mine and others' efforts are what have kept you alive these last few days, I think I'm owed some answers first."

"Seems fair," Tranton acknowledged, grunting as he pushed himself up into a seated position. His broken ribs made themselves known and his frostbitten hand pulsated with agony as he accidentally applied pressure to it. He leaned back heavily against the headboard and inhaled slowly and deeply, recovering his composure. "Ask away."

Stryke nodded, unfolded his arms and leaned forwards. "What's your name?"

"Tranton Seldon."

"Where are you from?"

"Born and raised in Hollanhead."


"Capital of the Headland." Tranton's eyes narrowed. "You have heard of the Headland?"

Stryke huffed and sat up straight, crossing his arms. "Heard of it, yes. The same way one might hear of unicorns, or cities flying above the clouds, or frost giants."

"We don't have any of those. Sorry to disappoint."

"Forgive my geography, then," the man said, waving a hand dismissively. "The Headland is supposed to be to the west?"

Tranton shook his head. "South-west, assuming you haven't taken me far from the glacier. Across the Barrier Mountains. And it's not supposed to be anywhere. It's real."

"You're claiming to have come from there?"

"From where?"

"The Headland."

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