Heart of Ice
The sun was shining brilliantly in a sky of stunning blue and not a cloud was to be found. Jaycee, however, paid the beauty of the day no attention as she had far more pressing issues on her troubled mind.
A frigid wind swept across, tearing leaves off trees and catching Jaycee by surprise. She stopped to watch the swaying trees, but the wind suddenly stopped. Having no reason to feel uneasy about what had just happened, Jaycee moved on.
Moments after Jaycee had continued on her way, a lone snowflake floated down from the sky and landed on the forest floor.
A short time later, Jaycee found herself caught in a sudden snowstorm. The day had turned from a spring delight to a wintry nightmare in the matter of only a few short minutes. So quickly had the snow fallen that it was already heaped on the ground, making it difficult for Jaycee to walk. Nevertheless, she struggled onward, hoping to find shelter.
“How can this be?” thought Jaycee. “Where could this storm have come from? How can it be snowing in the spring?”
In the distance, Jaycee saw what looked like the figure of a woman standing in the snow. Jaycee had to shield her face from the wind blown ice and snow as she focused on the stranger. “You there!” she shouted, hoping to be heard through the howling wind. The woman gave Jaycee no reply and made not the slightest movement.
Jaycee marched onward, and when she made it closer to the woman, the wind died down, allowing her to see who it was who had been waiting for her. There was nothing that could have prepared Jaycee for what she found.
The woman’s skin was a light blue and her eyes were a much darker shade of the color. Her hair was also as white as snow. But the most notable thing about the woman was how she was dressed. She wore a silken white garment worthy of the angels.
“Well, I was wondering when you would finally get here,” said the woman, “my dear little Jaycee.”
A gasp escaped from Jaycee when she found the woman knew who she was. “How do you know my name?” she asked. “Who are you?”
The woman bowed as if presenting herself to a member of royalty. “My name is Alenia,” she said. “And I am a loyal servant of Lord Shadow Kahn.” When she straightened herself up, a grin was gracing her blue lips.
“Shadow Kahn,” said Jaycee, backing away.
“Yes. And the master is quite upset with you. He gave me strict orders to teach you a lesson. A lesson you won’t soon forget.”
Alenia raised her arm high, prompting frigid air to circulate in the palm of her hand. The air formed into a chunk of ice with a sharpened tip which Alenia then hurled at her target. Unable to get out of the way, Jaycee was slashed across the arm. It wasn’t long before a trickle of blood began seeping from the cut.
“You look so divine in red,” said Alenia. “But you would look even better in white!” Alenia then stretched her arms wide, calling upon a powerful gust of wind that contained chunks of ice and snow. Jaycee was hit with a barrage of frozen projectiles that was so fierce that it knocked her to the ground. The snow did little to cushion her fall.
Alenia approached Jaycee and loomed over her. “I must admit,” she said, “I was expecting a better fight than that from you.” Cold air once again began to circulate in the palm of Alenia’s hand. This time, it materialized into a crystal clear dagger. “Goodbye, Jaycee.” Before Alenia had the chance to strike, Jaycee thrust her staff upward and struck her adversary under the chin, sending Alenia stumbling back.
Jaycee got to her feet and immediately went on the offensive. She drove her staff across Alenia’s chest and slammed her into a tree. Unable to stand after the attack, Alenia slumped to the ground, giving Jaycee more than enough time to escape.
A gust of cold wind blew across Alenia’s face, bringing her back to her senses. There was no animosity in the expression on her face. For this was what Alenia had wanted from the very start. To her kind, it was far more pleasurable to hunt their prey, for it made the kill so much more satisfying.
“Now, how am I ever going to find our dear little Jaycee?” asked Alenia, focused intently on Jaycee’s fresh footprints in the snow.
As Jaycee raced through the woods, the frigid air began to burn the back of her throat and her body began to grow numb. If shelter continued to elude Jaycee, then the elements would surely take her soon.
Just when she felt she would be unable to run any further, Jaycee found a cave in the distance. She pushed onward to the cave but before entering she stopped. Jaycee wondered if it was the right thing to do to enter such a confined area when someone so dangerous was after her. A bitter gust of wind then blew across Jaycee’s already chilled body, prompting her to throw all of her apprehensions aside and enter the warmer climate of the cave.
There was an eerie beauty about the cave. The walls were lined with thick sheets of ice and strange blue crystals illuminated the way. Had the circumstances been different, Jaycee surely would have stopped to marvel at her surroundings.
Jaycee thought about turning back, fearing she might be walking into a trap but the warmer air was enough to convince her to stay.
Treading carefully, Jaycee traveled beneath icicles hanging from the ceiling. Portions of the ground had also become slick with patches of ice.
A boisterous laugh began echoing off the walls. “You were a fool to come here!” shouted Alenia. “Don’t you know that this is where I was born? How do you expect to defeat me when the environment so heavily favors me?”
The icicle hanging above Jaycee broke free from the ceiling and plummeted toward her. She was able to elude it but only barely. More icicles then began to fall, forcing Jaycee to escape deeper into the cave. But with her attention so focused on the icicles above, Jaycee failed to spot a patch of ice ahead. When Jaycee made contact with it, she lost her footing and crashed to the ground. An icicle dangling perilously above her then fell. With nary a moment to spare, Jaycee rolled out of the way.
“Your time is running short, Jaycee,” said Alenia, making her way deeper into the cave. “I hope you have a plan to get out of here.”
Jaycee fled deeper into the cave. She had no idea what awaited her but anything seemed better than waiting for Alenia.
After a short sprint, Jaycee found herself in a room brimming with large free-standing sheets of ice set up in a maze-like fashion. The sound of Alenia’s approaching footsteps left Jaycee with no other choice but to venture into the maze and attempt to hide.
“Ready or not, here I come,” said Alenia, entering the room. “Now, which one could our dear little Jaycee be hiding behind?” asked Alenia.
“Why can’t you just leave me alone?” exclaimed Jaycee.
“Because I wasn’t ordered to leave you alone.”
“Please go away.”
Alenia raised her arm high and produced another pointed chunk of ice. “Let’s find out where you’re hiding, shall we?” she said. And with that, Alenia hurled the chunk of ice toward one of the sheets of ice, shattering it into shards. “Hmm, I guess that wasn’t the right one. Well then, let’s try this again.”
Jaycee stayed in her crouched position while having to listen to ice shatter all around her. When the sheet of ice next to her exploded, she let out a terrified scream. This prompted Alenia to begin laughing. “Looks like I found you,” she said.
When confronted with Alenia, Jaycee began backing away.
Once again, cold air began to circulate in the palm of Alenia’s hand as she stalked toward her prey. But instead of the cold air becoming another pointed chunk of ice, it became a beautiful crystal clear sword. “Impressed?” asked Alenia, raising her magnificent sword before her face. “Hmph, you should be.”
Jaycee backed into the wall. Having nowhere left to go, she knew she would have to fight if she wanted to make it out of the cave alive.
Alenia unleashed a vicious attack but Jaycee was able to fend off Alenia’s weapon with her staff. “Not bad,” said Alenia, whose face was so close to Jaycee’s that the two could feel each other’s breath on their face. “But not nearly good enough!” And with that, Alenia drove Jaycee into the wall. The force of the impact was more than enough to send Jaycee crumbling to the ground and rendering her unable to continue the fight.
“Now you know how it feels,” said Alenia. She then took some time to admire her accomplishment. “Whoever it was who trained you, they did a very poor job,” said Alenia. “You never even got off a single attack.”
* * *
Jaycee had just been knocked to the ground by James, who was training her in the art of staff fighting. “What’s wrong with you?” asked James in a less than supportive tone. “You keep letting your guard down.”
James then offered to help Jaycee back to her feet. Rather than accepting his help, Jaycee pushed his hand away. “Why are you treating me like this?” she asked, attempting to fight back tears. “I’m doing the best I can.”
“There may come a day when even your best isn’t good enough.”
Jaycee was surprised to hear such a thing come from James.
“If that day ever comes,” said James, “you’re going to have to look deep inside yourself and find your inner strength, that determination that won’t let you give up.” James then took hold of Jaycee’s hand and helped her back to her feet. “That determination may just turn out to be the only thing that keeps you alive.”
* * *
“Get up,” demanded Alenia. Jaycee gave her no reply. “Then this is how you want to die, lying on the ground like some dog?”
Jaycee got back to her feet. The way she was looking at Alenia showed that she was ready to continue the fight.
Alenia immediately let loose a wild swing of her sword. Jaycee blocked the strike, then followed with a blow to Alenia’s face. Alenia stumbled back and was promptly struck twice more across the face. Her sword of crystal clear ice flew from her grasp and into the wall, where it shattered on impact.
After regaining her footing, Alenia immediately clenched her hand to her battered face. Her breathing then became extremely heavy. It wasn’t long thereafter when Alenia let out a shout so deafening that it produced an intense pain in Jaycee’s ears. The whole cave then began to shake and even crumble in certain areas, forcing Jaycee to dodge falling chunks of rock and ice that were near her size.
With Alenia so enraged, Jaycee was able to run by her unnoticed.
It wasn’t before long when Jaycee could see the mouth of the cave and the daylight that awaited. Large chunks of rock were falling near the mouth, blocking off part of it. Jaycee was able to escape just seconds before the entrance became completely sealed.
Sure that the worst was behind her, Jaycee continued on her journey shortly thereafter. The weather had calmed substantially after Jaycee vanquished her foe. The forest was still covered by a layer of snow but the temperature was far more tolerable. And the biting wind that had abused Jaycee so terribly was gone.
Even though Jaycee was out of danger, there was still a troubled feeling stirring within her. She felt someone was watching her on her journey, but each time she looked for her stalker, Jaycee found there was no one in sight.
Jaycee found that escape from the forest would be no easy task as her way had become blocked by a frozen lake. Knowing it would be far too dangerous to attempt a crossing, Jaycee had to come up with another method of getting to the other side. But going around could take her days to accomplish.
As Jaycee pondered her next move, she could hear the sound of approaching footsteps in the snow behind her. Jaycee’s breathing came to a near halt and her heart began beating at an accelerated pace. She slowly turned her head and was promptly struck across the face with a devastating backhand. Jaycee was sent crashing onto the frozen lake and slid until the momentum from the attack allowed her to come to a stop.
Standing where the frozen lake met the land was Alenia, who looked absolutely no worse for wear. “You would be surprised by how easily you can crack a rock when you have enough ice to do it with,” she said.
Having made her presence known, Alenia wasted no time in taking her first steps onto the frozen lake. The ease with which she kept her balance was nothing short of remarkable. It was as if she was walking on the most solid of foundations.
On trembling legs, Jaycee stood. Not only did she have difficulty keeping her balance once back on her feet but the ice beneath her began cracking ever so slightly under her weight. Jaycee knew she would have to be as careful as possible to keep from breaking the ice and plunging into the frigid water.
Alenia continued her advance, creating not a single crack in the ice as she did.
Jaycee backed away but the ice continued to crack with each step she took. She then took a quick peek at the ice, and when she did, a snowball crashed into her face, leaving her cheek throbbing and a bright shade of pink. Jaycee directed an icy glare at Alenia, who already had another snowball waiting in her hand.
“That one was just a warning,” said Alenia. “This next one is going to hurt much, much more.” With that said, Alenia hurled her snowball at Jaycee. The projectile slammed into Jaycee’s side with the same ferocity of a wooden club. A pained cry burst from Jaycee and to her hands and knees she fell.
Though she was in tremendous pain, Jaycee refused to show defeat. She again stood but her body was trembling badly from the pain.
“You still want more?” asked Alenia. “Then by all means, have more!” She then drove her fist into the ice, creating numerous cracks in the surface. It was shortly thereafter when the ice exploded, sending Jaycee into the water.
An immediate shock traveled through Jaycee’s body after hitting the water, leaving her to struggle mightily just to keep her head above the surface. The fact that she refused to let go of her staff made Jaycee’s task a far more difficult one than it already was.
“If you release your weapon, you might stand a chance of making it back to land,” said Alenia, who was standing on a sturdy chunk of ice.
With only one free arm, Jaycee began swimming back to land.
“How is she doing that?” whispered Alenia. “She shouldn’t even be able to keep her head above water. She’s supposed to die.”
The shore was growing nearer with every stroke Jaycee took. And though she was aware that Alenia was close behind, Jaycee focused only on escaping the lake’s icy grasp. “I can’t lose,” she thought. “Not to her.”
Alenia was holding an icicle and was prepared to hurl it at Jaycee but she stopped herself and allowed her arm to come to a rest back at her side. As Jaycee made her escape, Alenia crushed the icicle within her grasp.
It took nearly every ounce of strength she had but Jaycee reached land. And once she was out of the water, she turned to look at Alenia, who did nothing more than stare back at her. Jaycee then fled into the forest, where she hoped Alenia would be unable to find her.
With Jaycee now gone from sight, Alenia made her way back to land on a path of thick chunks of ice she had formed with a mere wave of her hand.
Jaycee ran as far as her trembling legs could take her. A large clearing was where she was forced to halt her escape. Jaycee’s wet body shook uncontrollably and parts of her were on the verge of going completely numb. “I can’t run anymore,” she said, trying desperately to catch her breath. “I have to fight.”
A swirl of ice and snow appeared at the other end of the clearing. From it emerged Alenia. “It was kind of you to wait for me,” she said. “But you didn’t have to. For I had no intentions of letting you escape again.”
Jaycee immediately readied herself for battle.
“You’ve proven to be more trouble than I had expected. But in the end, your efforts were futile, for all you did was postpone your demise for a later time . . . and that time is now. So get ready to die!”
Alenia then flung a pointed chunk of ice at Jaycee. Having only one possible defense, Jaycee swung her staff and struck it, sending the ice back to where it had come. Not able to get out of the way, Alenia was slashed across the cheek.
Alenia touched her face and was introduced to the trickle of blue blood now running from her cheek. “You little bitch,” she said, burning her glare into Jaycee. “You cut my face. You little bitch!” With an infuriated shout, she charged.
When she reached Jaycee, Alenia grabbed hold of her foe’s weapon and attempted to take it from her. “I’m going to snap this worthless twig of yours in half,” she exclaimed. “Then I’m going to do the same to you!”
As the two struggled for ownership of the staff, Alenia blew a mouthful of cold breath into Jaycee’s face. This prompted Jaycee to throw herself to the ground, forcing Alenia to lurch forward. With her opponent in that position, Jaycee drove her feet into Alenia’s stomach, sending her flipping over, then falling flat on her back.
Getting back to her feet, Jaycee watched as Alenia also picked herself off the ground. It was odd that Alenia began laughing.
“What’s so funny?” asked Jaycee. “Why are you laughing?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
Jaycee was about to take a step toward Alenia but found herself unable to. She looked at her feet and found them trapped within a thick layer of ice. What made matters worse was the fact that the ice was growing upward.
“I didn’t want it to come to this,” said Alenia. “Really, I didn’t, but you left me with no other choice.”
Jaycee repeatedly struck the ice with her staff but could do nothing to break it.
“You should know,” said Alenia, “the harder you struggle, the sooner you’re going to die. So stop struggling and allow my ice to take you.”
The ice had quickly made its way up to Jaycee’s waist. She continued striking the base with her staff but her body was growing extremely weak, making each strike weaker than the one that had preceded it.
“She’s determined, I’ll give her that,” said Alenia.
With no strength left, Jaycee’s staff slipped from her grasp and fell to the ground. The mere act of breathing had now become a terrible chore.
“Can you hear it?” asked Alenia. “The sound of your heart. It’s beating so slowly, struggling just to keep you alive.”
So exhausted was Jaycee that she could no longer keep her head raised. “James,” she whispered, her eyes closing. Before the ice could completely encase her, Jaycee placed her hands together. A single tear then fell from her eye but it froze as it rolled down her cheek. The ice then completely consumed Jaycee.
With the way Jaycee’s hands were joined, it looked as if she was reciting a prayer, a prayer forever frozen in time.
Alenia made her way to Jaycee. “Just one kiss, my dear little Jaycee,” she said. “Give me just one kiss before death.” Alenia then placed her lips on the ice even with Jaycee’s and stole the kiss for which she had been asking.
Having said her farewell, Alenia walked to the center of the clearing and looked to the sky. “Oh, I am going to be greatly rewarded for this.”
Small cracks began appearing in the ice containing Jaycee.
“I’m finally going to get what I deserve.”
A golden twinkle of light began shining inside Jaycee’s joined hands. When she opened her eyes, the golden light extended into the shape of a blade. Unable to maintain its integrity, the block of ice shattered.
Alenia turned toward the horrendous noise but hadn’t the time to do anything more as Jaycee was already within striking distance. Jaycee unleashed a swing of her blade of golden light that cut cleanly through Alenia’s body.
From miles away, golden light bursting into the sky could be seen.
Sage and Aiko had seen the display from their vantage point deep within a decaying forest. They were awestruck by how beautiful it was, but at the same time, they knew it was a sign that would help lead them to the others.
“I guess we know which way to go now,” said Aiko.
James and Archer were making their way through a small village when they saw the magnificent spectacle in the distance.
“Jaycee,” thought James, who was sure the light had something to do with her.
The destructive force behind Jaycee’s attack left no sign that there had ever been anyone in the clearing with her. The closest thing to evidence was a puddle of water. When she looked to her hands to get a look at the weapon that had saved her, Jaycee found nothing. “Could it have been . . .” she whispered.
A single petal of a rich shade of purple floated down from the sky. Noticing it, Jaycee let it drop into the palm of her hand. It was at that moment when the blanket of snow smothering the forest began to melt at an incredible rate. The temperature also increased drastically, warming Jaycee’s trembling body.
When Jaycee exited from the forest, she found herself standing before a field brimming with flowers of every color imaginable. Jaycee entered the field and was immediately hit with an intoxicating aroma. Amongst the flowers, one of a deep purple captured her attention. Jaycee carefully plucked it from the ground and caressed it against her cheek.
Shadow Kahn was sitting upon his throne in his darkened room. “I sense incredible new power,” he said. The prospect of a new challenge did nothing to wipe the grin from his face. “It would seem things have just gotten a bit more interesting.” He then looked to the shadows beside his throne. “Would you not agree, loyal Beast?”
Lurking within the shadows was a monstrous creature dressed in a black robe and hood. Its physique was as solid as the sturdiest of brick walls. But what made the Beast most ominous was the fact that the hood it wore had no holes through which to see.
The Beast made nary a move as it awaited the order to destroy its master’s enemies. And with the strength that it possessed, doing so would be no task at all.