Beneath the Ice, by AshurDreleth

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Since time began, the clans had fought beneath the ice. They were blind to each other, just as the gray snow is blind to all other snows. In this blindness, they fought eternal vein-wars for access to hunting grounds, and for lordship over the heat plumes and their myriad light colonies. Many fell and many more were made slaves. And the blood of countless sacrifices flowed inside pale temples, on steps and altars built from ageless glass and coral. The surface world was a forbidden, gloomy mystery, covered by the sacred aurora. After a time, the long night would come, filling the distant surface with a far deeper darkness. Even the mighty aurora scattered across the heavens. Then, the echoes of the distant stars could be heard.

During such rare events, all clans agreed to a sacred truce. Their sorcerers, warriors, and workers would enter a dreamless state, all eyes closed, aware, yet careless of their surroundings. Yet on one particular long night, change came. A great thunder was heard upon the surface plain, which stretched eternally from frozen sea to frozen sea. The holy winds above were dimly heard, lashing about in their fury. The clans were content within their sleep, not even stirring in curiosity. But one sleeper among many opened all of his eyes. His name and allegiance have been erased from the histories, so that none might worship that which is not born of the aurora. Yet the clans still honour his bravery and insight, so they call him the Seeker. With tools of ice and darkest glass, they carved his tale on the bones of swimming-prey and on the altars of the palest temples.

It is said in the carvings that when the Seeker woke, he gasped as if struck by a harpoon, or overcome by a vision. The carvings also say that he was a sorcerer and that his household was asleep all around him. He listened through the ice – first with his eyes, then with his hands, and finally with his heart. And then he felt that something new had come to the forbidden surface, which they called the upper death. He emerged from his dwelling space and walked among slumbering retainers and thralls. The Seeker did not pause to wake any of them, but covered himself with the skins of walking-prey. With him he took the spear of his fathers, made from bits of bone, ice, and stone melded as one. As he approached the threshold, his lamp bearer awoke and, upon seeing his master preparing for departure, asked:

'Lord, where do you go?' And thus were made all lamp bearers holy from that time onward.

The Seeker is said to have answered:

'I go to the upper death, for I feel the echoes of new life.'

None know for certain if this was so, but fleeting uncertainty is in the nature of all tales carved in ancient bones. What is certain is that the Seeker began his ascent. He climbed for a long time, slowly, silently, steadily, always listening to the sounds far above. Although his joints were stiff and his movements sluggish from his sleep, the Seeker climbed on until he breathed the harsh and deep darkness now covering the surface world. Hidden in a crevice, the Seeker waited for the winds to cease. He waited and waited, although hunger gnawed at him. He dared not move, for the holy winds were born of the aurora, and during the long nights they dominated the surface. Like all dwellers of the under-ice, Seeker knew that when the holy winds were angry they could remake the ice itself into living shapes, sometimes driven by new purpose. When silence came at last, the Seeker climbed towards the plain. He used his climbing tools and sometimes his own claws, and reached the surface quickly. Then, as the aurora slowly returned in the skies above, he bowed low before the sight he had uncovered, his forehead almost touching the ice.

The great one before him was unlike anything he had ever seen, whether swimming or walking, whether predator or prey. Its gigantic body seemed like a black, unbreakable stone, with four wings, bent, but unbroken, and adorned with curious drawings. The winds had ravaged it before claiming it as their own, like they always did. The great one, though wounded, was now encased in the living ice which always formed in the wake of the holy winds. Gripping the spear, the Seeker rose and approached with cautious steps. Right next to the great one, he found two shapes of twisted flesh and sinew, remnants of strange creatures, though not quite unlike his own kind. The holy winds had caught them in the open. They could no longer be called living, but were still not fully gone. He gave them the peace of death with his spear. Then, the great one spoke.

Without mouth, without lips, without tongue, its tone was powerful but melodious, echoing across the plain, into the crevices, then deeper still. The Seeker did not understand the words, but eventually realised they were the same, repeating from time to time, perhaps according to the whims of the living ice crust which covered it. He listened mesmerised and in doing so, he felt the clans waking below. His return to the under-ice led to the end of all war. Afterwards, a surface temple was built in honour of the great one, who was accepted as a progeny of the heavens and the aurora. Henceforth, its words were kept by all the clans.

When long nights come, the holy winds blow. Black is the night beyond and deep the echoes of the distant stars. Above, the aurora burns eternally. Beneath the ice, the clans now

stand as one. And these are the words they keep, though none have found their meaning: "Touched down smoothly on the ice field."

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