Prologue - Dark Depths

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The ice was just moments away from its departure, but the way the ice viewed time was irrelevant. If history was to be believed, a moment could be a day, a week, or ten centuries. The 0Ice Age had happened so many generations ago, the frosty landscape had been accepted and metered into history for as long as history had existed. Texts spoke of a time long ago; so long ago many living today could barely comprehend that period in time. It was a dangerous time, rife with decay and annihilation, yet fruitful in worship and zealous ire. He had been told, as his predecessor had been told, that this new time would come. Hundreds before him had been taught of this stage in time, reminded to pass down the knowledge that the Dark Depths was once a great body of water. Regardless of its current state, it had always been a dangerous part of the geography – only a fool would brave the waters in anything less than the double layering of animal skin and fur, and more poignantly, atop the breast of a great vessel. Only one had braved these depths and lived, still living, after all this time after time had begun. He was here to welcome the return of their ancient herald, for the time had come, the ice was waning in thickness and strength, and the survivor of centuries past would rise from its troubling slumber.

He had no boat – it would have been all but impossible to travel this distance on anything but foot; there had been no body of water for some hundreds of miles. Instead he had been sent with a party of his fellow cultists, each of them laden with supplies and spares of everything. They had no intention of letting this opportunity pass them by, and they were all made aware that this would be a one-way trip for all but one. Even he may not make it back. They had started as a party of seventeen, each carrying enough food for just a few days, most of which was meant for the chosen member destined to outlive them in the frozen wastes. They carried extra furs, shoes, even water skins; there was nothing to burn to melt ice for the final few hundred miles of their journey. Their sacks were filled with small amounts of fruit to keep their strength for the first few leagues, and then topped off with masses of salted dried meat. It was their duty not to consume beyond their need, but merely carry the one man's burden until they could sacrifice no more than their life.

They ranged wildly in age and stature – their cult was neither popular nor particularly populated with avid workers in these modern times. A good two thirds of the living members were a scratch above fifty years of age, and the only reason they had anyone younger was down to the sheer luck that a mad woman might happen upon one of their madmen in a drunken bout. The sons and daughters were encouraged and enticed into the religion with grand promises and spectacular prophecies. Unfortunately, most of them had the sense to leave once they reached a respectable age, or adolescent impatience pushed them to distance themselves from the group of doomsayers. Thousands of years ago they had been a well-known and highly infamous group, worshipping an otherworldly force that had wrought destruction upon the land like an apocalyptic event – one many would never come to face for thousands of years. This cult, they were less than a shadow of their former self, old and aching, mocked and shunned at every moment.

The first in the party had died earlier than expected. He was old, and despite being reminded to consume lightly to extend his service, he had taken it upon himself to defy orders. His zealotry had led him to starvation, and it was now up to the rest to prolong their service a few extra days. They had considered sharing his load between them, in order that the sole survivor of their group might reach his goal unabated, but they chose instead to stick to the plan. They would find the strength somehow. The second had passed even more slowly, almost decaying as he walked in the wake of winter. They had all vowed to press on, regardless of each other's condition. If one fell, there would not be enough time to mourn. Instead they would press on, their sacrifice remembered by the leaders back in the religious court. He had slumped into a pile of skin and bones, but the wind was so cold and the goal was so distant, none of them had turned their heads to check. It wasn't until a few days later that they had done a head count and discovered the loss of one more. He had lasted as long as they could have hoped, but still they were a few days' worth of supplies short. On they went. They would find the strength somehow.

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